‘Hi, are you the theatre company? The one that’s doing the walking project I saw on facebook?’

‘Yes, that’s us’

‘I don’t really get it, is it a play or a walk?

‘It’s kind of both’

‘Well if it’s a walk, I want to join. I walk a lot. I don’t really go to the theatre much. I walk with someone else, but not during Covid, so now I just walk on my own. How do I sign up?’

….

I’ve had chats like this a lot when trying to explain ‘Walk in Your Shoes’, our project that starts tomorrow. There has been lots of interest across the last few months, some excitement and a fair amount of questions as well.

Admittedly a theatre company producing a walking project is a little different. Months of organisation has gone into ensuring we are prepared to begin this ambitious 125 mile adventure next week and take public with us.

In short, Walk in Your Shoes can be described as an unusual project for unusual times.

As we prepare to depart on Thursday morning it feels important to revisit the reason for my first big project.Walk in Your Shoes Logo

….

Running an arts company is brilliant, but it’s also hard. I try to be honest about this with people I talk to. I imagine it’s even harder in the middle of the pandemic, although I have nothing to compare it too.

The first few months of my tenure seemed to involve a lot of questions. I expected these questions at a company level, I was prepared for them and I was often the one asking them. But I also found myself thrust into questions at an industry level whilst I was still getting used to my job. These industry wide questions seemed really big.

How do we transition back to live work?

What will our audiences want?

How do we build back better?

How do we ensure we don’t return to a place of exclusivity and irrelevance?

It didn’t feel right to sit in my office (then my spare room), and decide on something I wanted to make, then persuade our audience to buy a ticket as if nothing had happened in the intervening months. It felt like we needed to re-imagine what we could be, and we needed to meet our audience in a new way.

We needed to meet again with our existing connections and our loyal audience. But I also wanted to meet potential audiences who knew of us but had never engaged before. Perhaps more challengingly we wanted to meet those who didn’t know who we were yet and what we did. Sat in my spare room it felt like this meant getting out into Northumberland, in a way that was safe and secure but brave.

So a few months later, I sat in my first creative meeting…

‘I’ve got a mad idea, I’m also a bit scared to say it as it’s a bit strange. I have been thinking of walking the length of Northumberland. To meet our communities and raise our profile, raise a bit of money and hold conversations with our audiences. Even the folk who don’t know they are our audiences yet. Especially them.’

A moment of silence… and internal panic that everyone HATES the idea…

‘That could be a really great project actually, I don’t think it’s that mad.’

….

Doorstep Theatre logo Walk in Your Shoes has evolved and changed in that time. It now has a sister project, Doorstep Theatre, which will perform on the doorsteps of houses in the communities we visit, providing intimate, safe theatre in Northumberland’s rural and coastal villages. I am pleased with the way the idea has grown and proud that we have chosen to use our share of the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to provide free work and activities in these places.

But the intention remains the same. To hold space, and meet people where they are. We will meet people in many different ways across the next month. By walking with them, bringing theatre to their doorsteps, sharing cups of tea beside the sea and eating pancakes behind an old school. I hope there will be many conversations about what who we are now, and who they are, and where we might go together.

It is still my intention to walk all of the way, all 125 miles. I live with disability and this will be hard, in a different way to running an arts organisation. It may even impossible. But November Club is about more than just me, It will be a joint effort with our brilliant volunteers, the amazing staff and trustees and most of all, you, our audiences.

There is still time to join up for both Walk in Your Shoes and Doorstep Theatre. I do hope you will consider pulling on your boots at some point in the coming month.

More info here: https://www.novemberclub.org.uk/Event/walk-in-your-shoes-doorstep-theatre

If you can’t join us in person you will be able to read about it on this page as I blog our journey and record the conversations we have had. You can also join in the conversation online using #wiys2021

My final ask that if you can, you consider sponsoring us (and me) as we walk. We are proud to offer all of our activity this summer for free, but the future is uncertain for all arts organisations right now. So if you think 125 miles is worth a fiver (or more) you can click the link below.

See you on the road, Joe. 

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/walk-in-your-shoes?utm_term=W48Y3Y64R