ARC and the art of audience development: two interviews with Annabel Turpin

by Maddy Costa

When I think of the people I’ve met through NTiYN who’ve most inspired me and transformed how I think about relationships between people who make, watch and write about theatre, Annabel Turpin always comes top of the list. Which is difficult, because she’s also the person who’s had the most troubled relationship with NTiYN, resulting in her making the decision last month to withdraw from the research project. (Clarification: Annabel had talked to Fuel previously about withdrawing from the project; by the time the decision was made for ARC to leave, the decision was mutual and Fuel had reassigned that portion of funding to other NTiYN venues.) Annabel is the chief executive of ARC in Stockton-on-Tees, a multi-purpose arts centre that seemed a perfect partner for NTiYN, because of the low attendance for its theatre programme. And yet the venue and the research project have consistently been in friction, and as NTiYN moves into its final phase, it feels important to address why that is, and what this model of audience development might learn from ARC.

What follows draws on two interviews with Annabel, one in March 2014, a little over a year into the research project, the second in May 2015. Unless it’s relevant, I’ll dart between the two without specifying the date: some big shifts did happen at ARC over that 14 months – not least the introduction of the Pay What You Decide ticketing system for all theatre and dance shows – but Annabel’s frustration with NTiYN remained consistent.

The primary problem for Annabel was the local engagement specialist model, whereby a local artist or arts enthusiast is employed to meet community groups and other local people and talk to them about an upcoming show. This is the part of NTiYN that has been most successful elsewhere, and to Annabel that makes sense: “I think it’s really right for venues that aren’t doing that. But it felt to us that the local engagement specialist was doing what we would be doing anyway. She kept wanting to talk to people that we were already talking to, and I don’t think she had networks that we didn’t already have.” The LES’s focus on Fuel shows also disrupted rather than complemented ARC’s longer-term strategies. “You can’t just burst in and tell people about a show happening next week: it’s an ongoing dialogue, and we have to think carefully about all the messages we’re sending them. So the local engagement specialist was getting in the way.”

Not only that, but for a venue dedicated to “connecting incoming artists with local people”, Annabel often felt that Fuel themselves were getting in the way: “We’re dealing with Fuel, who are dealing with the artists. We’re having to liaise with a third party, so everything takes longer.” When we speak in May 2015, she points to specific examples of problems related to The Spalding Suite, and the programme of workshops connected to it, that arose through faulty communication between venue and producers. She’s particularly exasperated that the workshops weren’t as effective as they might have been – while aware that, without the additional resources of NTiYN, ARC wouldn’t have been able to afford workshops around that production at all.

Asked for useful outcomes of the connection with NTiYN, Annabel returns to the day, just as the project was beginning, when Fuel as a team came to Stockton, to meet local people and talk about why they wanted to present work there. “That felt really positive, and probably the best bit of the project so far,” she said in 2014. Similarly, she was very happy with the opportunity NTiYN created, through Fuel’s production Phenomenal People, for local artist Kathryn Beaumont to spend time with groups of women from the former mining communities of County Durham – people the venue had long been trying to forge a relationship with. “We were particularly interested in targeting that area: it hasn’t resulted in audiences and probably never would, but some lovely artistic work came out of it, and useful learning for Kathryn in engaging with remote communities.”

It’s this dedication not to ticket sales but engagement and interaction that make me so admire Annabel and her approach to audience relationships. At its most idealistic (which is the place I sit), NTiYN isn’t just an exercise in shifting tickets either: it’s an attempt to build meaningful connections between Fuel and the communities they sporadically visit. Annabel isn’t arrogant about ARC’s mismatch with NTiYN: “I don’t want to say we’re doing it all already, because no one can ever be doing enough and no one can ever be doing it well enough, and we were as keen to learn as anyone.” But the fact that she feels “we haven’t learned from NTiYN” makes me want to communicate exactly what ARC is doing, and the methods it has in place from which Fuel, and others, might learn. For the sake of concision, I’ll list them:

1: “Our whole thing is about trying to find opportunities for audiences to meet artists.”

“By meet, I don’t necessarily mean in person,” she clarifies. “Meet, encounter, interact with artists, before the point where we say: now commit your time to sitting in a dark room watching them.” That encounter might be with a letter written by Andy Field to the people of Stockton, beautifully printed and strung like lanterns on a washing line in ARC’s foyer; it might be Tangled Feet visiting the head of communications at North Tees hospital, who then introduced them to other NHS staff; it could be an interview with an artist conducted via Skype and screened in ARC’s cinema. Quite often it’s ad-hoc performances in the town centre, the library or a school canteen, and artists being ushered over to the pub next door to take part in the open-mic night. “We send them in there to make friends, to talk to people,” says Annabel. “That’s our method of marketing, is to talk to people – and artists can do it much better than we can.”

This meeting of artists and audiences performs two prime functions. It humanises the people behind the work, creating a sense of connection. “We’re still working on this, but I’m really keen that we get images of artists in Stockton, in places people are familiar,” Annabel said in 2014. “Familiarity is a word we use a lot when we talk about bringing artists and audiences together: it’s about their not being complete strangers.”

It also creates familiarity with different concepts of theatre: all the stuff that ARC programmes that isn’t what Annabel describes as a “straight play”. “We’re really recognising that we’re asking people to come and see or get involved in work and they don’t know what it looks like,” she said in 2014. Hence the pop-up performances across town, living breathing trailers that put something of the work on show. “It’s about confidence,” Annabel says. “The main reason people in Stockton don’t go to the theatre is they’re not confident to come. It’s about people feeling confident about saying: I know what that person looks like, I know what that’s about.”

2: “Our audience development needs to happen alongside the artist development.”

Since many of those meetings rely on artists being resident in the building, ARC increasingly avoids booking finished touring work, preferring to be involved at the development stage, better still in the commissioning process. “That’s not about telling artists what to do or make. It’s about making artists more audience-focused.” Partly that’s achieved by inviting artists to conduct research in the local community, as in Tangled Feet’s interactions with NHS staff: although Annabel is concerned that this “transaction” should be one of “value exchange”. “Whether those people see the show or not, they should feel that someone cares about their story, and should feel like they’ve had an experience. It’s reciprocal.”

A key audience group Annabel is keen to develop consists of other, local, artists. By getting incoming artists to run “professional development workshops” as part of ARCADE, the venue’s programme for emergent writers and makers, she ensures that the two kinds of development happen symbiotically.

3: “We’re trying to make all staff local engagement specialists.”

For every show that goes on sale, Annabel sits down not only with her programme communicator and marketing people but box office staff and anyone else from the organisation who is keen, and discusses: “who we think might be interested in it, who we’re going to talk to, and who is best placed to have that conversation”. It’s the same work assigned by Fuel to the local engagement specialist – but at ARC, all venue staff are invited to be involved.

Also, when an artist or company arrive at ARC for a week of development work, Annabel sits all staff down with them at the beginning of the week, for a conversation. “I ask the artist about their work, and what they’re trying to do, so all the staff understand and feel empowered to have a conversation with them.” Before those welcomes were introduced, very few of the staff would speak to the artists. “Now the whole organisation understands what artists do, and with that comes a confidence in how to talk about the work.”

Annabel wants her staff to be confident not just in talking, but “listening to our audiences”. “I’m not saying you should trap every audience member after the show and have a conversation with them. But it’s amazing what people say if you ask them. And people feeling like their viewpoint and their interpretation is valid means they’ll come back.”

4: “The vocabulary we use is not just about words.”

Glossy flyers are such a staple of theatre marketing that it’s hard to imagine a production surviving without them. Yet Annabel wonders what kind of messages they’re communicating about theatre. “This is going to sound very patronising, but it’s a little bit like: are you buying from Waitrose or Aldi? If you’re buying from Aldi, there’s no point sending you something that’s packaged like Waitrose, because that will send out a signal that it’s too expensive for you. This isn’t about dumbing down: it’s about being sympathetic to what people might have been exposed to culturally. It’s about the images, the font, the material, the whole way we sell it. You can’t be snobby about that.

“We’ve pulled away from printing lots of high-glass expensive flyers – we love them, but it sends the wrong message. I want people to have the opportunity to choose, and I’m not giving you that opportunity if you’re looking at a flyer and thinking ‘That’ll be too expensive’ or ‘I won’t understand it’. Not having the opportunity to decide: that’s what we’re battling with.”

5: “Pay What You Decide.”

The most radical decision Annabel has taken to give people that “opportunity to decide” has been to make all theatre and dance performances at ARC pay what you decide, “taking the risk out” of coming to see a show. She’s cagey about results, but will say that early signs suggest a tangible positive effect in earnings and audience numbers. “It’s not the be all and end all: we still need to show people what work looks like, and invite them to come. But Pay What You Decide is a really lovely way of inviting people.” (NEWS FLASH! Annabel has now written a brilliant piece for the Guardian blog detailing how successful PWYD has been.)

With so many mechanisms in place to attract people into the building, I wonder how Annabel rationalises the fact that audiences for ARC’s theatre programme, although growing, are still quite small. Her answer is simple: to value quality of experience over quantity of people. “Is someone going to go home and the show be a fleeting memory, or are they going to be thinking about the things posed in the show, and telling other people about it? Making memories is really important. I don’t want to see bus-loads of kids shipped in and out and not remember what they see. And when someone sees things on stage that they can connect with, that resonate with you and reflect your world in the broadest sense, that’s fantastic.”

Is there anything she feels ARC isn’t doing yet, or still isn’t getting right? “I don’t think we’re capturing enough evidence and shouting about it,” she says. This isn’t just a matter of raising ARC’s profile: it means other theatres don’t have the opportunity to learn from their successes and failures. She points to the work done by director Javaad Alipoor in advance of a touring show called My Brother’s Country, programmed at ARC in February 2015. “Javaad did the most amazing audience development work: he came twice in advance, went out and made friends, if he saw signs in Farsi he’d go in for a chat, he found an Iranian group who meet in a church and got invited to one of their house parties. The show was about Islam and homosexuality, which is quite a hard sell, and we had 80 people over two nights. Javaad really went out there and talked to people, and that’s why the show was successful.”

Ever since, Annabel has been planning to write a case study to share with other artists ARC works with, but she just hasn’t found the time. “So that’s what we want to do more of: analysing what really works and trying to capture it.” And until she gets around to it, I’m perfectly happy to do it for her.

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Sparking desire

by Maddy Costa

It’s been a good couple of weeks for reflections on how more people might be encouraged to come to the theatre. Playwright David Eldridge revived his blog with a rumbustious argument for “a vigorous new theatre which can reach out to a wide audience”. He confesses to a growing anxiety that: “new theatre is becoming too inward-looking, focused disproportionately on formal experiment and innovation, and collapsing the boundaries between traditional theatre and play-making, and live art.” He believes most people are put off by that kind of work; most people “want to go the theatre when they think they’re going to have ‘a good night out’.” And, he states, theatre-makers can best give them that by: “making an audience laugh and cry and catching them in a drama, and telling story and exploring ideas through dramatic action”.

A few days later, Matt Trueman wrote a column for What’s On Stage, reflecting on David’s blog alongside a couple of surveys of audience numbers and demographics. While agreeing with David to a point, Matt argues: “Accessibility is more than a matter of plain comprehensibility.” Attention needs to be paid to the culture beyond the show itself: as Matt puts it, people come not only because they anticipate a good night out, but when they “have the resources and the desire to get out to see these shows”. It matters not only what the work itself is like but where it’s programmed, how much it costs, how people hear about it, and what residues remain.

These are all questions Fuel are addressing through New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood. In developing the local engagement specialist model they’ve been looking at how word-of-mouth and personal invitations encourage more people in to the theatre, employing people who live and work in each community to make contact with local groups who might feel a particular sense of connection to a show. They’ve been looking at how touring work might be tailored to reflect a specific community, giving additional R&D time to Tortoise in a Nutshell to remake their show Feral for Margate and Poole. With Phenomenal People, staged in a gallery space in Colchester, and The Red Chair, programmed into a community hall in Malvern, Fuel are beginning to look at how they might attract audiences by staging their work outside of theatre buildings (which they do as a matter of course in Preston, programming their work into a pub, the New Continental). And, through the Theatre Clubs that I host for them, they’ve been looking at how post-show conversations might give audiences a chance to digest what they’ve seen in a fun, informal, social way that encourages them to come back and see more.

These shifts in Fuel’s relationship with audiences are vital because a lot of the work they produce is experimental, innovative and collapses the boundaries between theatre and live art – that is, precisely the stuff that David represents as elitist and off-putting. But NTiYN refuses to see this work as inaccessible to a wider audience. It says it doesn’t matter if you’re a schoolchild or a retired schoolteacher, if you earn £5,000 a year or £50,000: whatever your background, this work could be for you. It says that this work, like more traditional theatre, has the capacity to make you laugh and cry and think, it just does so in different ways. Above all, it concerns itself not with a generalised “wider audience” but a series of communities, each one made up of individuals, each one with their own resources and desires.

Working on NTiYN has encouraged me to look past the big picture to a panoply of small ones. When Matt talks about theatre shows as “social interventions that should leave a mark”, I think about Kathryn Beaumont working with groups of women in the Stockton area: women who didn’t make it along to Phenomenal People so won’t show up in its audience figures, but had a heartful time together thanks to its existence. I think about the conversation I had with two teenagers at Phenomenal People in Colchester, explaining the UK political system to them. Two years after this happened, I still think about the two teenage lads in Poole who were given free tickets to see a show by Inua Ellams, and afterwards sought him out to shake his hand, they’d loved it so much. For both of them, it was the first time they’d set foot in a theatre. It matters to me that it might have been their last, but at the same time, it doesn’t matter at all.

Theatre-maker Hannah Nicklin had similar stories in mind when responding to Matt’s piece through a series of tweets. She reflected on her own work in “community-based storytelling participative theatre” – work she doesn’t even call “theatre” when talking about it with prospective or actual participants, because: “it’s an unuseful word”. This work doesn’t show up in the kind of audience surveys that Matt made reference to, because it’s usually free or “pay what you decide”, and its profile is even lower because it doesn’t get reviewed: as Hannah puts it, “I wouldn’t invite a critic to it as that’s not who it’s for”. (I always feel a bit sad when “critics” are considered a separate species of human.) This work happens off the radar – yet it’s vital to the UK theatre scene, being the very definition of a social intervention that leaves a positive mark.

In Hannah’s work, and in the touring model NTiYN is developing, theatre isn’t a product but a cultural interaction: an invitation to step out of the ordinary, to reflect on previous experience and encounter or imagine something new. And the thing Matt doesn’t really address in his column is the extent to which, at this moment in time in the UK, under this government, the value of such cultural interactions is being systematically eroded – and, along with it, the possibility that more people might have the resources or the desire to go to the theatre. At this moment in time in the UK, under this government, theatre isn’t seen as essential to education, to social debate, to a definition of citizenship, to the health of the human brain. It’s superfluous, unless it can be quantified and measured according to market values. This is what makes me anxious every time there’s talk of “wider audiences”, every time percentages are used in reference to people. I feel like the economic argument, and the terms of that debate, are winning.

Wor Lass

A reflection by Kathryn Beaumont on her involvement in Phenomenal People

When Fuel asked me to write about a woman that inspired me, I knew I couldn’t limit myself to just the one. But was there a way to bring many women together in one idea?

Who inspired me?

To inspire:
1. 1) fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. 




2) create (a feeling, especially a positive one) in a person 




3) animate someone with (a feeling). 




4) give rise to
2. 5) breathe in (air); inhale

Who filled me with ability to do or feel something? Who created feelings in me, animated me, gave rise to me? Who gave me breath? Perhaps I took the question a little literally:

‘But everyone will write about their Mam,’ I thought.

This has been a good year for me: a year for putting down roots artistically and emotionally too. As a backdrop to a run of work with, and produced by, North East companies, I made the decision to stay. Sure, my stuff is still in storage, but there’s a flat on the horizon, and it’s in Gateshead – where my Mam comes from. Home has always been more of an idea than a place, growing up as an expat you get used to not feeling at home when you are at home. I made a friend in Theodor Adorno at university, but have increasingly felt a need to know feelingly where I come from.

In studying transactional analysis and script theory I was taken with the idea that motifs repeat down family trees: that families can pass on ‘scripts’. You see it played out time and again on the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are – professional actors who happen to be amateur yachting enthusiasts find out they come from a line of seaman, etc. I started to wonder whether the women who went before me passed anything on.

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Lucky for me, me Mam has an encyclopedic memory, and gave me a lot of detail that Ancestry.co.uk couldn’t. That already had me thinking about who passes down the stories, men’s names move forward, but it seemed to be the women who passed the legends down from one generation to the next. Thing about looking up your female ancestors is they disappear behind men’s names, either their husbands’ or their Dads’ so tracing mothers requires a little more digging. That’s where the title Wor Lass became obvious, women are labelled in relation to someone else, if not a husband then a father. It’s also a Geordie term of endearment and one that can be applied across the board to sisters and daughters as well as Mams and wives.

I was primed to be told wor lot were barn stormers and ball breakers, shaking placards on the barricades and marching for their rights. What I found, was that my line accepted their marching orders and got in line with everyone else. The first story Mam told me was about my great-grandmother’s sisters, who used to go to town during wartime rationing ‘to queue’. A queue meant there was something worth queuing for, so you joined the line first and asked questions later. This became a metaphor for me throughout the development of the piece, as I started to spot more and more lines that my lineage lived on.

As a sub plot to the development of this piece I was also working as a Local Engagement Specialist for Fuel’s sister project New Theatre in Your Neighbourhood. Talks with ARC made it very clear that the communities they wanted to reach out to are the old mining villages in County Durham, communities who wouldn’t necessarily think of travelling to the theatre for an evening’s entertainment. There was only one thing for it: I was going to have to gatecrash some village halls and find out what the craic is.

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I wish I could remember how to knit. Thankfully I can talk, which is the other major activity at craft afternoons. The craft and chat session in Trimdon has been going for 30 years; the women who attend take it in turns to introduce new crafts to the group, but there’s always the option of bringing whatever bit of knitting, crocheting, bobbin lace or tatting you happen to be working on, and cracking on over a cuppa. There they were again, more lines, of yarn and wool and thread weaving and looping as the lasses talked. I took notes.

So I did what anybody with an approaching deadline and limited time would do: I drew a tenuous literary connection between me and my ancestry. Their lines and mine. They worked on washing lines and factory lines and here’s me wanging on over a blank page. Every new thing I found out about my family seemed to demark a greater distance. They left school, got married, had children: that was success. I’m doing my third degree, happily independent, and would quite like a french bulldog. The lines they drew about what was allowed or desirable look like sentences to me, life sentences that is, of drudgery and acceptance – but only because there wasn’t any choice, the inevitability got my back up.

When I sat down to write Wor Lass the first two lines rhymed:

I’ve been invited here to tell all you’se
About a woman who inspired me muse (!)

That’s all right I told myself, there’s a strong rhythm to draw people in, a cheeky allusion to the openings of epic ballads, and a knowing bathos about writing heroic couplets in Geordie. Canny craic. But then the second pair of lines had to rhyme too, and now I’m writing poetry. Oh bliddy hell. Thing is it fits (my scansion might not always), but what’s more inevitable than rhyme? What is less likely as the subject of a string of heroic couplets than a series of Gateshead lasses who worked in factories and other (grander) people’s houses? Somehow it let me feel more connected to these women who, whether it seems likely or not, inevitably lead down to me. And what’s more, Wor Lass, who has to borrow names from Da’s and Husbands, is suddenly sharing an heroic playing field with Odysseus, maybe. Indulge me. No more tapestry and tatting for ye pet, you’re the epic main event noo. And if it’s good enough for Chaucer’s ‘Legend of Good Women’… Reet, what else rhymes with ‘family tree’…?

Oh, and you’ll never guess what: I start recording my first radio drama this week, playing a factory worker in a munitions factory on Tyneside. This one’s for ye Wor Lass.

Wor Lass

I’ve been invited here to tell all youse
About a woman who inspired me muse (!)

I sat and thought about who got us here?
Who’s stood behind me yammerin’ in me ear

To keep on keeping on and keep ya heed?
Thing is most of those lasses are well deed.

And that got me to thinking about lines
The ones we stand in from the start of time

The kin now buried deep, from yonks ago
Who shaped what we are, but they’ll nevaa know.

And so I started digging for me roots
Past factory clocks and clarty miners’ boots

In censuses the women disappear
You need to knaa whose lass they were, each year

I mean you need their Da or husband’s name
If Mam’s and wives you’re looking to reclaim.

Sometimes they nudge you back by saying ‘née’
Naysaying being labelled in this way.

There’s nee mistaking lineage for the lads
Ancestry gans: ‘here’s me, and there’s wor lass.’

Wor lass! That’s it! I’ll sing her famously
She’s one and many simultaneously

She’s mams and wives and sisters, maids and gannys
She’s mine and yours, she’s wors, and she’s dead canny.

I’ll sing the bords doon from my family tree
Find names for who made me phenomenally

Replace ‘Wor Lass’ with Kathy, Florrie, Lizzie
Wor Mary, Meggy, Rosie, Winnie, Kitty.

And youse could find ya own if you’re not busy
For now I’ll lend ya my lot in this ditty.

“Reet Mam!” I hollered “who comes afore Nanna?
Were we on’t pickets? Did we march from Jarra?”

“Whey nar” Mam said (and her name is Patricia)
“They just cracked on, nee feminist militia.”

Awh.

“Did they not want to change the status quo?”
“You divvent wish for owt if you divvent know –

They just cracked on, the lads went doon the pit
The lasses left school and got on with it.

They towed the line, there wasn’t any choice
Nee buggar telt them that they had a voice.

During the war wor Lizzie’s sisters, two
Would gan doon Gateshead high street just to queue-”

“To queue?” “Aye, well with rationing still on
You saw a line and joined it-“ “now haddon”

“I’m telling ya! Wor Katie and wor Bella
What are we waiting for?” “Whey what’ they tell her?”

“Whatever bit of meat or veg was on
You got in line before it was all gone.

(They had a press packed chocka with molasses
Come World War Three they’d still be sweet them lasses)”

“And what about wor Lizzie?” “Your great gran?
He ran the Askew Arms, but she was banned.”

“He didn’t let her serve behind the bar?”
“No, she refused, felt it a step too far –

“The bar’s nee place for lasses”, so she said
She worked in Sinclairs packing tabs instead.”

Nee place for lasses; what we waiting for?
I follow lines cued by who went before.

Me Nanna, Kathy, was a cracking singer
Worked in Osrams: had asbestos fingers

From testing light bulbs, picking oot the duds;
Would pass yah bait straight oot the oven, nee gloves

“How Nanna man! That’s red hot! Where’s a cloth?”
“Yee’d be nee use on line, yee, ya tae soft.”

Her Mam, wor Florrie, filled her washing lines
With giving birth at hyem a full six times

But only two bairns made it oot the cot
She planted four graves with Forget-me-nots

Nee National Health to help those poor bairns in
And naen for us if the bastard Tories win.

Not one for soft touch, Flo kept up her guard:
“Away with ya slavour”; grief makes you hard.

In factories and at hyem they worked on lines
My lineage file along the winding Tyne

Next, great great grandma, Flo’s Mam, Mary Ann
Had ten bairns, although not to the same man

Widowed at twenty six and mam of two
She left Derry for Felling, to start anew

And lost nee time in courtin’ a new Da
For Rosie and Maggie who didn’t knaa

That Florrie was already on her way
Arriving six months past the wedding day!

Eeeeh scandal! Worse, hypocrisy to boot
She threw wor Lizzie and wor Meggy oot

For getting preggers afore they’d been wed
Coincidentally both by men called Ned.

Meanwhile wor Rosie grafted doon Armstrongs
Making cartridge cases, but afore long

The war was over and her contract too
Was put on short time, or to me and you

A zero hours deal. Sound familiar?
S’Almost as if progress is not linear.

When Wall Street crashed wor Rosie headed South
Laid off and paid off, living hand to mouth

She found a family in that London who
Were looking for a maid, and said she’d do.

Living in service did not gan to plan
The cook was always pissed, she missed her Mam

So Rosie caught a train to come back hyem
“Cockneys” she’d say, “you canna understand them.”

Three of her sisters had since gotten wed
Wor Lizzie and Meggy had married the Neds

Wor Florrie had led the charge down the aisle
Winnie, Kitty, Norah still in single file.

Poor Rosie, an old maid in more ways than one
Still mourned the lad she lost in World War I.

When Kitty started courting, Rosie ‘changed’
They said the menopause made her deranged

Maybe she finally grieved all her losses
Father, sister, lover buried under crosses.

She crowded Kitty’s twosome: suitor flew
“I would be married if it weren’t for you”

The line was drawn between these half sisters
Neither were missus to anymore misters.

Not hitched at thirty and you’re on the shelf –
I’m glad to be free of that sentence myself.

The Beaumonts lead on to Isabella
Living in service ‘til she meets her fella

Miners die young, so did this poor codger
Bella eventually married the lodger.

Her bairn, wor Ella, stops me in my tracks
A mishap at home, she ran oot the back

Starched apron, flat iron, an ember let fly
Her daughter, wor Ethel, watched her Mam die.

And then in another cruel twist of fate
She orphaned her son, who was sent away.

Grasping at straws noo, one more Mary Ann
1831: far as I can gan.

These lines I follow are getting hazy
Wor names are misspelt, scribes getting lazy

Beaumont is Bowman; but with no arrow
To give me a route down straight or narrow

Lines that would link up more roots of my tree
That lead from these lasses reet doon to me

The lines that join birth date with when you’re dead
That quick dash between in which whole lives are led.

Wor lass joined the queue, and worked on the line
Made weapons and warriors along the Tyne

She loved and she lost and she buried in droves
Her husbands and bairns in neat little rows.

Wor lass towed the line, wor lass knew no choice
Nobody had told her that she had a voice.

She sings to me now, sends a call down the line
I’m freelance, and free-wheeling on my own time

No forgone conclusion on whether to wed
I stayed at school and make theatre instead.

Wor lass stands behind me, wor lass is good craic
She’s driving me forward e’en as I look back.

Here is my line; cued by who went before:

Haway wor lass what are you waiting for?