[on the day Mark Ravenhill made his speech to mark the beginning of the Edinburgh Fringe, I happened to catch Northern Stage artistic director Lorne Campbell’s speech at the opening shindig at St Stephens. It’s shorter than the Ravenhill, but was eloquent, timely and moving. And he’s been kind enough to let me reproduce it here...]
So, those are all of the friends we wanted to thank for making this transformation of St Stephen’s church possible and this is the programme we will fill the building with this year. Before we show you some extracts of that work, I’d like to talk about why we are bothering to do all of this at all.
Why we pack up most of a theatre in Newcastle, why we load trucks, recruit volunteers, invite artists, sleep many to a room, come to this church, turn it into two theatres, fill it with all of these unlikely people and join this glorious unsolicited outpouring of human spirit that is the Edinburgh Fringe.
This is happening now, in this moment when we as a society are doing the most terrible things to ourselves.
We are closing libraries and swimming pools.
We are increasing class sizes and ratcheting up tuition fees.
We are removing benefits and inventing new taxes for the poorest while the richest grow exponentially richer.
We are waging a war thousands of miles away, where drones bomb subsistence farmers on the say-so of intelligence gathered through rendition and torture.
We are cutting funding to the arts.
We are consciously and deliberately reducing the spaces and moments that we we can enter with the expectation and responsibility of being treated like a citizen, while teaching our children to approach their experiences of education and healthcare as customers.
And yet, in the middle of all of that. This happens.
Audiences and Artists of every race, colour and creed travel to this place, this Athens of the north, to meet, to barter themselves, to change and be changed. To act like citizens, not customers and service providers. This glorious unplanned civic moment that becomes ever more precious as it grows ever more rare. A space in which we are invited to imagine and experience ourselves in new liberating and terrifying ways. That is the space we are thanking our friends for helping us to form, that is the space we will try to inhabit for the next three weeks and that is the space we would like to invite you to join us in.