Coquetdale Creatives: John Harrison thriving on discovering emerging playwrights

An occasional series of portraits of Creative Coquetdale Folk by Katie Scott. This week, John Harrison: New Writing North East.

Thursday, 19th December 2019, 4:00 pm
John Harrison. Picture by Katie Scott
John Harrison. Picture by Katie Scott

Playing Up is a theatre company based at Northern Stage which showcases local creative talent.

John was born in Preston in 1962. As he grew up, he became keen to leave what he felt was a ‘cultural desert’. However, it wasn’t until he was 45 that he ended up changing his life, creatively, by taking the great leap of leaving work and studying for an arts degree. He now lives in Coquetdale.

At school and college John excelled at economics; but it was literature that inspired him. He found work in a shoe factory. He was popular with the workforce, if not the management, after figuring out how to improve the odds of qualifying for the weekly bonus. “It was an awful job on the production line, but the people were great,” he said.

John left for a less well-paid post, but in a sector within the local council that really did interest him – social housing. “I knew a lot about council house building, and also, tower blocks.” Later, employed by a housing association, he became proficient at the computing aspect of the job.All this time, however, John had been writing poetry and reading literature. His main hobby was (and still is) cycling. He has completed some of the classic climbs of the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, and cycled much further afield.

After his marriage broke up, John re-evaluated his life. It was at this point he took the brave step of enrolling on the prestigious Literature and Creative Writing degree at Lancaster University. He said: “I loved it. Loved studying novel writing, poetry, short stories. But it was play-writing that I developed a strong interest in.”

Unsure what to do next, thinking about teaching, an opportunity for change arose: “I was offered a job, out of the blue, at Cheviot Homes (now Bernicia). Accepting would mean moving to the North East. I decided to go for a six-month trial, but I loved the area so much, I stayed.”Newcastle is wonderful place for those interested in culture. “I was never home! I went to poetry gigs, dancing, comedy. It was wonderful.”

Then John enrolled on a play-writing course at the Live Theatre and had his first play staged. “It was a thrill.”

Since then his energy has gone into playwriting; and supporting new and emerging playwrights. John and a number of others established Playing Up in 2012. Their 12th event will be taking place in February. Short plays are submitted by new writers. Selected dramas will be directed and performed at Northern Stage.

“I am currently reading through the submissions. We usually have around 40-50, so it is time-consuming. There are some wonderful ideas and it is a pleasure to be part of a small team making this happen.”

John has had several plays performed and is happy to offer feedback to people who submit their work.

Bookings are being taken now for February at www.northernstage.co.uk/event/playing-up-12

John was talking with Katie Scott