Festivals and Special Events

The longest running arts festival in the region, the Stockton International Riverside Festival, was first held in August 1988. Taking inspiration from European festivals in Holland, France and Spain, the Stockton festival soon became an outdoor arts spectacular with a focus on international performers and companies. As enthusiasm increased, the budget grew to allow for more street theatre, dance, circus and music acts to get involved.

The 2016 festival, which ran from 4 to 7 August, opened with Mark Anderson’s Furious Folly, an open-air immersive theatre piece about World War I, and featured street art, interactive performances, shows for children, physical theatre and dance, circus and a community carnival. It culminated with a spectacular fire, music and dance show from France, Le Concert de Feu.

The TakeOff Children’s Theatre Festival reached its 18th year in 2016, and took 70 performances of 10 shows for children aged from 6 months to 10+ years to 22 venues in Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Carlisle, Crook, Darlington, Durham, Ferryhill, Newton Aycliffe, Pelton, Peterlee, Shilbottle, Shildon, Stockton, Stanley and Washington.

TakeOff is organised by Theatre Hullabaloo in Darlington.

Jabberwocky Market is a festival of small-scale theatre in Darlington and 2016 was its 4th year. It featured four shows: Second Hand Dance’s Grass for children and families at Darlington’s Cattle Market; Touretteshero with Backstage in Biscuit Land at Teesside University’s Darlington campus; a work-in-progress of new play, Empire of the Rats, by Van Badham, directed by Selma Dimitrijevic (of theatre company Greyscale) and produced for Jabberwocky Market by Luxi, and, finally, Sean Mahoney’s Until You Hear That Bell, presented first at Darlington Boxing and Martial Arts Academy and then at the Dolphin Centre.

The Cultural Spring, a three-year project which aims to get more people in Sunderland and South Tyneside to experience and be inspired by arts and culture, completed its third year in 2016 and in September won a won a Leading Culture Destinations Award. In October its funding was extended to 2020.

A little younger is Sunderland Stages, set up to bring new theatre to a range of venues across the city, from established theatres to shops and unexpected spaces. It first ran from autumn 2014 to summer 2015 at four venues: Arts Centre Washington, The Royalty Theatre, North Shore and The Bonded Warehouse (both part of the University of Sunderland Students’ Union).

The 2016 event saw six venues hosting six shows: Bookish at Independent; Thrive at City Space (part of Sunderland University), FANS at Pop Recs, Faust in St Mary’s Carpark, Swan Canaries at the Royalty Theatre and What I Learned from Johnny Bevan at Sunderland College’s Bede Campus.

The largest (in terms of size and finance) event of the year was Kynren, a spectacular show which aimed to tell the story of 2000 years of English history and was performed in a specially constructed arena below Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland, Co Durham. It cost £35m (no public finding was involved), had a cast and crew of almost 1,000 and all the performers were people from the local area. The (recorded) voices, however, were of NE actors.

Visually spectacular, it is intended that it will be revived annually to make Bishop Auckland (and thus Co Durham) a tourist destination. It garnered mixed reviews, some enthusiastic, some… well, not so.