Joe Hufton is taking over from Cinzia Hardy as artistic director and chief executive of November Club, the ground-breaking theatre company based in the town.
It is a big move for all concerned.
Cinzia founded November Club in 2007 and its predecessor, European Players, in 1990.
The award-winning company has since made a name for itself performing in libraries, gardens, National Trust properties and even Hexham Auction Mart.
For Joe, this will be his first chance to get to know Northumberland properly, although his parents now live in Whitley Bay and he did direct a show called First Footing at Woodhorn Museum last Christmas – that was where he met Cinzia and got to know about November Club.
He was delighted to land the job of following in her footsteps and is undaunted at the prospect of leaving London, where he has been based as a freelance theatre director, for England’s northernmost county.
“It looks like a real challenge, but November Club have been doing the type of things I’ve always wanted to do – ambitious, high-quality work with a participatory element,” said the 32-year-old.
“They work in unconventional spaces and I’ve spent my working life doing that, so when I looked at it, I felt that I could offer something to the company and build on what has already been achieved.”
Joe, who says he had a “rather nomadic” childhood, studied English at York University. This is where he became involved in drama, joining a company called Belt Up Theatre.
It earned many plaudits before it was wound up and Joe went to drama school in London to learn about directing – what he calls “the nut and bolt skills for the rehearsal room”.
After that, because it was “exciting”, he was attracted not to theatre-based companies, but to cutting edge outfits that mounted shows in unconventional spaces.
His most notable successes have been with Les Enfants Terrible and particularly Alice’s Adventures Underground, its Lewis Carroll-inspired extravaganza that led audiences through a labyrinth.
It became a hot ticket at The Vaults, the space beneath London’s Waterloo Station, and was nominated for a prestigious Olivier Award.
When the show was re-staged in China, it was Joe who went over to direct. It was, he recalled, “an enormous undertaking”.
Not only did he have to work through a translator because the cast and crew spoke only Mandarin, but the venue was a disused shopping mall.
Once more, and in spite of the obstacles, the show was a winner, with Joe saying: “It was a fascinating process and I now have quite a lot of contacts in China.”
Looking ahead to November Club, he said while he and Cinzia had much in common, he hoped to do some things differently, perhaps inviting in guest directors.
He added: “I also think that while much of the amazing work November Club has done has been in libraries and gardens, I’m interested in the kind of work we might be able to do in different types of spaces – not just heritage venues, but perhaps in industrial or commercial spaces.
“I’m looking at how we can engage with people who might not normally come to art or theatre events.
“My other goal is to really make the company a voice and a beacon for what Northumberland can achieve.
“Much of the work the company has done has been of Northumberland, but also in Northumberland. Part of my pitch was that we should be really proud of what we can achieve and not be scared of going beyond our borders as an organisation of excellence.”
Cinzia – whose November Club shows included the musical Beyond the End of the Road, which premiered at the auction mart - plans to focus on other theatre projects.
“Joe is going to be a great pair of hands to hand my beautiful company over to,” she said.
“It has been a huge chunk of my life and I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved, but also incredibly relieved to have found the right person to take it on and continue to grow it.”
Cinzia will stand down this month. Joe and his wife Gina, who also works in theatre, plan to move to the North East early next year.
The club’s activities and goals, highlighted on its website, include the following: ‘Delivering high-quality productions in non-traditional venues, bringing together different art-forms – storytelling, music, dance, movement and design – involving the audience in the performance and creating moments of magic.
‘Collaborating with local people, whose own views and tales become central to our projects.
‘Challenging people’s thinking about what constitutes theatre and creating informative thought-provoking work.
‘Nurturing local talent, professional performers, musicians and artists, as well as volunteers and amateurs.’
For more information about November Club, go to www.novemberclub.org.uk