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Northern Stage

Northern Stage

The theatre seized opportunities offered by digital tech to inspire new artists and audiences and to reach people in remote locations.

Northern Stage and KTP

Theatre company Northern Stage produces everything from large-scale commercial musicals to touring drama.

It is particularly engaged in working with economically disadvantaged communities in the North East of England and aims to:

  • raise aspirations
  • enhance educational achievement
  • promote social cohesion

We have lots of ideas but none of us are technology specialists or really have the sort of know-how we need to do it. I think what the KTP provided was somebody who could provide us with solutions.

Amy Fawdington, Director of Communications for Northern Stage.

Opportunities

Northern Stage harnesses the opportunities offered by digital technology to inspire fresh, new artists and audiences. The theatre reaches people in remote locations, from those living in rural villages to people who may be in care settings which renders them unable to get to the theatre.

Because it needed more expertise to embed the latest technology into its productions, the company took part in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Newcastle University. This was part-funded by Innovate UK. Two skilled research associates from the University, Christina Vasilioui and Katie Oswell, worked closely with the theatre for 15 months. During this time they imparted their extensive knowledge of human-computer interfaces and digital creative arts practice to the company.

Improving processes

The associates aimed to identify the benefits of new technologies and plan for their integration. This led to working with the Newcastle University Business School's Professor of Innovation Jonathan Sapsed. Interviews were held with the theatre team, across all disciplines, to create a process map that allows the company to more efficiently plan for the incorporation of digital elements from day one of production. This has proven an excellent way to pre-empt and avoid possible friction between this modern technology and traditional stage craft.

Led by Dr Tom Schofield of Culture Lab, part of the University’s School of Arts and Culture, they also introduced technology to the company’s production of A Christmas Carol. This included digital project management tools, 360-degree behind-the-scenes cameras that created a 3D interactive video, and digital artwork that was animated by audience members as they ventured past.

Artistic Director Lorne Campbell explains: "For us it’s all about finding out what digital technology is out there, how we could be using it in different ways and how we need to change the way we plan our work. That, interestingly, has been one of the major outcomes to emerge from the KTP - that we need to put digital planning, both for how we construct projects and perhaps, even more critically, how we budget projects at the very front end of our processes."

Bringing knowledge

Director of Communications for Northern Stage, Amy Fawdington, adds: "The big thing for us is that we have a desire to increase our digital output, but a lack of knowledge about the best way to do that. We have lots of ideas but none of us are technology specialists or really have the sort of know-how we need to do it. I think what the KTP provided was somebody who could provide us with solutions."

Technology is increasingly important to theatres. Funding organisations such as the Arts Council are seeking greater innovation while programmes such as National Theatre Live, which streams live performances, have shown that it can help to win audiences. Northern Stage is embracing the growing interest in digital techniques. It recently joined Newcastle University experts and tech businesses on a visit to Shanghai as part of a collaboration between the UK and China - one that explored the use of digital technologies in the creative economy.

KTP programme

This partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) programme. KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base. This successful Knowledge Transfer Partnership project, funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.