Middlesbrough-based Northeast Producers travel all over the country to perform their shows. In fact, they go just about anywhere they’re wanted.
The company is the brainchild of Heather Matthews, who is also its artistic director.
‘I set up Northeast Producers a year after graduating from university,’ explains Heather. ‘After graduating, I was fortunate enough to audition and be accepted onto the InterAct programme run by Northumberland Theatre Company. There, I was working with various theatre companies around England, from Northern Stage to Forest Forge – experimenting and experiencing different styles of theatre work.
‘The idea of InterAct was to train and retain theatre practitioners in the north of England, so when I decided to start my own business – Northeast Producers – it was a given that we would forever be a northern-based theatre company.’
Heather set up Northeast Producers in November 2009, and since then has overseen all of its productions and directed all but one of them. She has also directed productions for other companies as well as co-directing a feature-length film.
Heather’s style of direction focuses on the actor’s ability to engage the audience, without relying on elaborate sets, costume and lighting – and they always make sure their scripts allow for plenty of audience participation.
Ideas for the shows come down to Heather. Sometimes she is inspired by a particular genre or era, and will then go about researching not just themes and trends that were prominent, but also popular music of the time.
‘I incorporate the music in the show, or use the songs themselves as inspiration. For example, George Formby inspired our show When I’m Cleaning Windows – a performance by two actors who play the role of window cleaners on their lunch break. The hour of their break is the duration of the show – I love playing around with the idea of a show within a show.
‘The song One Fine Day inspired our production of One Fine Day, in which we explore aspects of a husband and wife's relationship in a comical and emotional manner. We try to play on themes that are universal and relatable for as many of our audience members as possible. We have no limitations other than my imagination.’
Over the years, as word has spread and demand for their performance has increased, so has the amount of travelling they have to do. They now head out across England and into southern Scotland, putting on up to 1,500 shows a year. They do musicals, pantomimes, singalongs, school shows and children’s shows, and as their sets are free standing, they can be adapted to fit just about any space.
‘We take our shows to anyone who wants them,’ says Heather. ‘We perform in a large number of care homes, day centres for older people or adults with learning difficulties, sheltered schemes, cafés for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, community centres, church halls, restaurants, schools, hospices… As a company, we aim to make theatre more accessible for everyone.’
Build it and they will come! If you can find them a temporary home, Northeast Producers can probably put on a show – they have even performed in gardens. As a touring company, there are challenges to face which other, theatre-based companies may not encounter.
‘We need to ensure our tours are manageable,’ explains Heather. ‘We also need to create scenery that is effective and impressive, but can also be moved around.’
Heather designs all the scenery herself, and once it’s been used, that is it. ‘I would never reuse them for a different show,’ she says, ‘every piece of theatre is unique.’
The theatre company has a core team of actors, backstage staff and administrators, and when they need more actors for a particular show, they just advertise.
‘When we require actors, we put out a job post on the Spotlight Site – a site specifically designed to source professional performers,’ explains Heather. ‘We then bring them in to audition, they perform a song and monologue for us, and we choose the most suitable candidate for the roles we require. Finding talented actors who are suited to the work is a challenge we face as a touring company.’
Northeast Producers have three summer shows lined up so far for this year: Memories are Made of This, No Business Like Show Business and Mothers Know Best. At Christmas they will be performing Jack And The Beanstalk, Puss In Boots, A Christmas Carol, Oliver, Annie and Alice In Wonderland.
For show information or to find out more, go to www.facebook.com/NEProducers