Cards on the table, I wasn’t massively excited when I heard the Rugby World Cup 2015 was coming to Newcastle.
Sure, the £43m boost to the regional economy sounded like smashing news and, what with me being Mrs Empathy, I easily found it in my heart to be thrilled for rugger fans of all ages that some of the best players in the world were going to be doing their thing on Tyneside in front of a worldwide TV audience.
But as far as individual small hand-claps go, my lifelong aversion to giving any attention to rugby translated to me not really giving two hoots.
And then I got wind of the Conversion Festival – a nine-day cultural feast which has been programmed to run alongside the on-pitch tournament action.
Produced by NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s Culture Team and funded by Arts Council England and Newcastle City Council, the festival will feature live music, performance, arts, street food stalls and a very special evening spectacular to entertain the tens of thousands of fans and spectators celebrating Rugby World Cup 2015 in Newcastle. The festivities kick off on Saturday, October 3 with a day of street theatre and music across the city centre celebrating the musical traditions of Scotland and South Africa, who face each other in the first of Newcastle’s three Rugby World Cup 2015 games.
Fans heading to the Scotland v South Africa game will be treated to a mass ceilidh, complete with a South African twist, on the way to St James’ Park.
And fellow food fans will be thrilled to hear that, on the same day, the EAT! North East Food Heroes Market gets underway.
Local street food traders offering some of the best local produce the North East has to offer will be taking up temporary residence in Newcastle city centre until Sunday, October 11, and a special EAT! fringe event will run throughout the month of October too.
On all match days (October 3, 9 and 10) in Newcastle, visitors and local people will be able to enjoy live music and street entertainment that reflects the nations of New Zealand, South Africa, Tonga, Samoa and Scotland. Musicians and performers will be dotted around the city centre and St James’ Park before, during and after games.
To celebrate the arrival of the New Zealand rugby team to Newcastle, visitors to the dedicated Fanzone at Science Central (adjacent to St James’ Park) on Friday, October 9, will be treated to a live performance of Haka Day Out – a celebration of New Zealand Maori culture and art performed by Corey Baker Dance.
Spectators will also have the chance (phone cameras at the ready) to have a go at New Zealand’s famous Haka.
Saturday, October 10 will see the revival of the Rugby Nations’ Dance, which was first performed as part of Newcastle’s New Year’s Eve celebrations in 2014. Choreographed by mass movement director and creative consultant Jeanefer Jean-Charles, dancers from community groups across the city will once again come together to perform alongside the People’s Street Orchestra in a unique Geordie celebration of rugby and the nations competing in Newcastle. Quite the prospect. Then, on Sunday, October 11, Newcastle’s Fanzone, which will play host to a big screen – on which all Rugby World Cup matches will be shown – a funfair and a variety of culinary activities (including Oktoberfest on October 2). Meanwhile Grey Street will host an attempt a set a new world record for the largest linocut (see below). The Rugby World Cup 2015 celebrations in Newcastle will come to a spectacular close on the evening of Sunday, October 11 with a performance by Les Commandos Percu and Deabru Beltzak inside the Fanzone.
Expect drumming, fireworks and an energetic performance from the two internationally-acclaimed percussion companies.
Carol Bell, head of culture and major events at NewcastleGateshead Initiative, says: “We want to create a festival atmosphere around Rugby World Cup 2015 in Newcastle; something extra special that will make it memorable for everyone, whether you’re attending a game or not.
“It’s a chance for us to celebrate the visiting teams and the nations they represent. We’ll be bringing a flavour of each nation to Conversion through culture, food and art.
“Conversion will bring the city to life and the closing performance from by Les Commandos Percu and Deabru Beltzak in the Fanzone will be something very special.”
Leader of Newcastle City Council, Councillor Nick Forbes, adds: “We are planning to celebrate our Rugby World Cup games and welcome visitors from across the world by throwing a party that has something for everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are a rugby fan or not – the city will have a real buzz at tournament time.
“You can enjoy the Fanzone at Science Central or join in the fun across the city centre – we want everyone to enjoy the big tournament atmosphere and make sure our visitors leave Newcastle with great memories, regardless of whether their team wins or loses.” Well, that’s me told. And completely sold too. See you there. (I’ll be the one doing a Haka dressed as a rugby ball.)
For more information, see the website at www.conversionfestival.com . The festival hashtag is #ConversionFest
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