The joy of bringing top entertainers to small village halls
Continuing our look behind the scenes of the Highlights Rural Touring Scheme, we meet the vital volunteer promoters
IN villages across Teesdale, an army of volunteers are pounding the autumnal streets with flyers in hand, multi-tasking as box office managers, roadies and lighting technicians, as well as caterers and hosts to a stream of professional performers and musicians.
Highlights Rural Touring promoters are dedicated folk and their hard work is mirrored in more than 50 communities across the North East and Cumbria.
Most have never been involved in the arts before but what unites them all is a shared passion to bring professional live arts performances to their communities.
Peter Collyer, who along with wife Joy, has been a Highlights promoter at Cotherstone Village Hall for five years, said: “It’s such a wonderful thing to be part of. By simply ticking a box on a form, amazing, talented artists from all over the world arrive to perform in our tiny village.
“Cotherstone audiences really love their folk music and we have had some incredible musicians over the years.
“A privilege of being a promoter is that you get to welcome the performers into your home and share a meal with them after the show.”
He added: “We had a singer from Yukon, Canada, performing beautiful, emotional songs in her mother tongue in the village hall and five minutes later there she was sitting around our kitchen table eating Joy’s fishcakes.
“We love getting to know them as people, not just performers. Those moments of connection are something very special and a huge part of why we do what we do.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Libby Thompson, Highlights promoter at Mickleton Village Hall, who always finds time to bake biscuits for a visiting theatre company and feed them a meal before the performance.
She said: “Pre-Covid, we often had performers to stay overnight at our house and that was so special.
“When the cast come to the pub after the show, the audience just love getting to spend that time with them, chatting and sharing stories. That’s what rural touring is all about – those special connections with people.”
Highlights provides the promoters with a menu from which they choose the shows they want to bring to their community.
Then begins the logistical feat of delivering every village hall with the performance they want, when they want it, as well as subsidising the shows to make it affordable for a smaller audience.
Ms Thompson said: “I used to be so anxious about choosing the performances.
“It felt a bit like hosting a party – I had no idea whether people would come, or whether they’d like it.
“But I know what my audience wants now and I get a buzz out of bringing something in that’s a little bit different. The fact that it costs people less than a tenner and they didn’t have to do a 100 mile round trip to Newcastle to see it is amazing.”
Mr Collyer concluded: “I take a lot of pride in being involved in something like this. I love it. It enriches all of our lives to have such an amazing experience right on our doorstep for the evening.”
l Highlights Rural Touring Autumn Season continues with Hefted, at Middleton-in- Teesdale on November 6 and Moveable Feast, at Mickleton Village Hall, on November 13. For full details and to book tickets visit https://highlightsnorth.co.uk/