There is no doubt in my mind that Live has been a constant and at times pivotal force in my life, it has raised me, educated me and opened a world of possibilities in both subtle and profound ways.
I’ll tell you how, I’m an ordinary person and this is what Live is to me.
I was fascinated by the Newcastle Quayside as a child, in 1990 I was ten and a regular at the Sunday market that stretched the length of the Quay as it does today, the exterior buildings were grand and a nod to the city’s affluent industrial past, but the interiors were damp and dilapidated.
It was a hive of activity, much more cloth sellers with stonewashed jeans stacked up in piles than todays artisan bakers and vegan chocolatiers.
At 15 I regularly wagged school, undiagnosed dyslexia and a home that was no shelter left me secretive and in emotional turmoil.
The outlet I needed came from an unexpected source when at 14 (1994) I was asked to attend a touring production of Live Theatres production of Alan Platers Close the Coal House Doors at my School. The performance ignited in me a sense of wonder, of escapism into a familiar story, a story of a different time but the place I knew, having grown up in the shadow of a slag heap I knew all too well about the solidarity and ultimate cost of the coal mines. Watching the play felt like I was reaching into a part of myself, a part I didn’t even know existed.
I had to have more. I got the opportunity aged 15 when I went off script for my work experience, I phoned Live myself, looking back it was quite brave of me.
The two weeks I spent there were a real taste of the day to day running of the place, I met the team and worked in the Office, Max Roberts was the artistic director and Trevor Fox a regular actor at Live popped in and was so kind to me.
I stuffed a lot of envelopes in those two weeks, it’s wasn’t all glamour and famous faces.
I did get the opportunity to meet one local hero, that was the day I pulled my first and only pint. Tim Healy was shooting a poster for a play and they needed the pint as a prop. I was useless at pulling a pint. Tim chatted to me, there were no airs and graces, the kind of person that treats everyone the same no matter who you are, he told me that he was off to do a charity golf match to raise money for a friend, I stayed and watched until the end.
I came along to the Youth Theatre two years later when a friend told me about the Robson Green sponsored group open to any young person. It felt like rare good luck that it was free to attend, I didn’t have two pence to my name and neither did any of my family. I wonder if Robson knew when he set the group up that word would reach as far as his home town of Dudley and inspire the next generation of local thespians.
I remember the steps to the rehearsal room, the sound of the boards as I climbed to the top, excited at what today would bring.
In that space that overlooked the rooftops of the Quay, we were taken on a journey of discovery, we were encouraged to think and reflect. Power and relationships were the themes that stood out for me, mirroring the themes in my own life at the time.
In a series of classes, some played the role of oppressor and others of the subjugated, we found that to oppress came naturally to us in role play, this was disturbing and a window into the human condition. I was learning something then and on reflection I’m still learning from those early lessons even today.
The workers were my teachers, my youth workers and my friends. I felt whole, listened too, relevant and seen in their presence. Paul James was the youth director at the time, he gave a lot to us all, he saw in us our potential, as artists and as people.
I will always remember the sound of the class descending from our weekly sessions, all full of chatter and enthused with adrenaline, we felt like anything was possible and the future was ours for the taking.
It was short notice when we were taken to one side and received the news that Sir Richard Attenborough was visiting. A group of us were asked to attend a question and answer session the following week. I remember going to a second-hand store in Newcastle called Revive, it sold vintage American clothes. I was determined to wear something original. I chose a brightly coloured knitted 70’s tank top and wore it with a denim shirt underneath, with hindsight I’m so glad there was no photographic evidence from the day.
We sat in the theatre, in a semicircle. We stared at Sir Richard sat behind a spotlight in centre stage, my heart quickened in my chest, his familiar face looked back smiling, he spoke and asked ‘tell me about your group, what do you do here?’ I looked down the line at my outspoken, confident friends, it seems the moment was a bit much for them to comprehend, right I thought this moment is mine. I spoke, I stuttered a little but managed to respond, then he spoke for a moment as if it were just the two of us in the room, a special moment I will treasure for my whole life, a few stolen exchanges with a real life movie star.
He explained he was not as academic as his brothers, he went into acting because it was something he could do. He spoke of the difference between stage and film acting and of knowing your mark, he rose from his seat to demonstrate, he stepped into the spotlight. The room fell silent as he told us the inner secrets of his craft, he encouraged us to intensify and condense a performance for film, saying that the same performance could be amplified for stage. His generosity shone through and he will forever remain a favourite of mine because of it.
Another highlight was spending the week in the west coast of Scotland to make a documentary of the TV movie The Last Musketeer. This was my first time on set, it was a massive learning experience. I was 18 and I remember the job centre telling me I couldn’t go if I wanted to sign on the dole, to this day I’ve never been on the dole. I went and Paul James, Robson Green and the gang all looked after me and the other young people. We were a team. The shoot ended in a magnificent fireworks display.
On my return the pressure to earn became the motivator as I had to support myself and my time at Live youth theatre came to end. I had no reserves or support to follow my dreams, I was an ordinary girl, from an ordinary village in the north east.
Shortly after I began a career in youth work, and this has been my vocation ever since. In 2017 at 37 years old I started a youth charity called Projects4Change. The work we do is partly inspired by my mentors from Live. Projects4Change helps young people to believe in themselves like Live Youth Theatre helped me to believe in myself.
I saw many productions over the years, most notably a captivatingly stunning performance of Cabaret staring Charlie Hardwick, as well as plays brought to live by Paul James exploring themes of race and immigration. As well as more recent performances such as Our Ladies of Perpetual Succor.
As time goes on I’m not sure acting was ever really for me, the region, the stories, the people are my passion and Live is all about all of those things. Looking back, LIVE gave me a voice, they wanted to know me, my ideas, my struggles, they nurtured my character and fanned the flames of love for the theatre.
I always take the opportunity to spend time in the theatre, whether it’s grabbing a coffee or seeing a show, the smell left from the old bonded warehouse is still present in the walls, full of the fondest memories of a well spent youth.
I want to thank you all on the 21st anniversary of Live Youth Theatre, you have made a huge difference to me, you gave an ordinary girl extraordinary experiences because you all believed she could, that is a very special thing indeed.