Bringing together the cultural community of the North East again
It is with great pleasure that we can announce that Chris Connel has agreed to once again host the 13th Annual Culture Awards at Middlesbrough Town Hall on May 23.
In an atmosphere of great excitement, Chris has a knack for keeping things going.
One of the most successful actors in the region, he is at ease in front of an audience and knows how to push it into the palm of his hand with a touch of Geordie humor.
Chris helps give the annual event its distinctive Northeast flavor, so it’s great that he’s back with us on D-Day.
âIt’s an honor,â he said. âI feel like I say this every time I’m asked, but it’s truly an honor to be a part of it and to recognize all the hard work that my peers, colleagues, do over the course of this year. ‘year – and also to see faces and things I haven’t seen before.
âI think it’s really important because it brings together the creative and cultural community in the region, and there aren’t a lot of events that do.
âFor tonight everyone is there and you can see that we are all in the same boat. It really is a bit special.
Chris’s acting career has included both stage and screen roles.
He was in the first production of Lee Hall’s black comedy Cooking with Elvis and went to the National Theater and Broadway with The Pitmen Painters.
Most recently he was in Brassed Off in Wolverhampton and appeared in the Sunday for Sammy charity fundraiser in Newcastle.
On TV you may have seen him in Inspector George Gently or Crocodile Shoes.
But none of this could have happened, as he makes it clear as we chat in a cafe overlooked by an aquarium of big, beautiful fish (not inopportune, by the way, because Chris – a man of surprises – has a garage full of even finer fish which he sells to UK enthusiasts).
Chris tells me about his unlikely stumbling block in acting. He grew up in Walker – his father was head of engineering at Tyne Tees TV and his mother ran the Walter Cox store on Welbeck Road – and attended Benfield School.
This educational institution has produced a series of successful actors including Trevor Fox and Dave Nellist. Playwright Lee Hall also visited.
âThat’s what happens when you have a great drama department,â Chris says. But Chris resisted his appeal – at first.
âI never wanted to be an actor. I didn’t like children who did theater. I thought they were a littleâ¦ well, dramatic.
âHowever, I took the theater as GCSE because I thought it was easy. Then I performed the school play which was Grease. I still have it on video. Then, outside of school hours, I did The Dracula Spectacula.
âI liked it but took a lot of stick for it at school. You tended to be sorry if you left and did something on your own. “
Chris stayed for the A levels even though he had only landed a total of two GCSEs, in theater and electronics. He then failed his A-levels, as he puts it, without showing up.
As you can see, things were going great. (Do these fish look at us with disapproval?)
His school days were drawing to a close, Chris was lost. Then another student applied on his behalf to Newcastle College for a drama class and Chris accepted it, auditioning with two script pieces selected by his uncle Jim who knew a bit about acting.
Chris remembers there was a passage from the comedy by Tom Stoppard Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (a spin-off of Hamlet) and something from Brecht. He entered.
Of his mischievous and unwitting benefactor, he says, âI still don’t know if I would shake his hand or punch him in the face.
We should probably recommend the less violent course of action.
Thanks to a teenage prank, thousands of us were entertained by Chris’s acting and his old school, though it must have seemed unlikely at the time, can count him among their successes.
That said, Chris says he almost got out on the first day of acting at Newcastle College. He felt that the other students were very different from him. “In my imagination, I was sort of a working class hero.”
An exercise that had everyone making monkey noises and dragging their fingers on the floor prompted Chris to head for the exit.
âI thought it wasn’t for me. Fortunately, the lecturer walked me around, persuading me to see the light of day. Afterwards I loved it. I have become a different person because I have met different people and been exposed to different points of view.
He left with a B-Tech qualification and soon after got his “very first paid gig”. It was a little weird dubbing for a Sunny Delight commercial.
âI had to put on a West Coast (American) accent and what I thought was, ‘Someone just paid me Â£ 50 to do this! “”
Better work was just around the corner. Chris was hired to star in a reading of a play by the late Colin Sharp, a Newcastle actor, playwright and lecturer whose Ant and Dec.
Then came his “first large-scale play” which was Cooking with Elvis.
He played Stuart the Baker, the role that would later be played by Frank Skinner in the West End.
But Chris says, “For me, personally, one of the most enjoyable moments I have ever had on stage was when I entered as Alan Shearer in You Really Can’t Make It Up.” (Michael and Tom Chaplin’s play on Newcastle United’s struggles under Mike Ashley).
âFor a long time the audience was chanting ‘Shearer, Shearer’ and for a moment I got a feel for what it must be like to be Alan Shearer. I met him once later and told him that I had played him on stage. He said: ‘You have good hair.
Today, at 46, there is a little Chris who does not know how his profession works. He is currently the president of the regional branch of Equity, the actors’ union, which has around 400 members.
But he also recently landed the job of his dreams. A leading role in a major touring production? A role in a Hollywood movie? No. Having decided to take a break from the plays, Chris applied for and got the job of the Bird Keeper at Pets Corner in Jesmond Dene. It started in January.
âI remember when I was young it was my dream to work at Pets Corner. I didn’t dream of being an actor. I have had a pet shop license in the past for my fish and have always loved animals of all kinds.
“I went to the interview and they let me in. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Chris now tells me about his new feathered friends.
âWe have 20 chickens, 10 ducks, three peacocks, two pheasants, 10 guinea fowl, three turkeysâ¦ hey, I can’t give you the full list. “
But I say I want the full list because Chris’s eyes are shining on his coffee and cake. And I’m curious to see if he can remember them all.
“OK. Three Amazon parrots, six cockatiels, a rosella, 10 quails, a barn owl, a black-headed caique, 15 lovebirds (this odd number seems uncomfortable), many Bengali and zebra finches, canaries, a ring-necked parakeet and 40 parakeets.
Chickens, says Chris, who keeps a few in his home garden, are “a little sheepish, in the sense that they all look alike, while ducks have personalities.” You get cranky, happy, puzzled.
The same, of course, can be said of actors, spectators, critics, laureates. Come meet Chris, actor and birdman, at the Culture Awards and you are guaranteed to have a good time charlatanism.
A program of musical entertainment for the evening will be announced in due course. Tickets for the event, organized in association with Middlesbrough Council, cost Â£ 20. Email [email protected] or tel. 0191 201 6430.
VISUAL ARTIST OF THE YEARsponsored by mima / Teesside University
This award recognizes an artist based in the North East whose work left a lasting impression on you in 2018. This nomination could relate to a particular piece of an individual’s work or an exhibition / showcase of their talents.
PERFORMANCE OF THE YEARsupported byNE cultural partnership
This award is for a group or company that you saw or heard in 2018. Did a performance in the Northeast lift the hair on the back of your neck, did it move or inspire you? If the answer is yes, we want to hear about it. Examples could include dance, music, theater, or comedy productions.
ARTIST OF THE YEAR
This award recognizes a group or individual performer who stood out in 2018. We welcome nominations from actors, dancers, musicians, singers, spoken word artists and comedians. Nominations may be for an Outstanding Performance or a Collection of Performances throughout the year.
NEW OF THE YEAR
This award recognizes any writer, artist, performer or visual artist based in the North East who has exhibited, performed or has been brought to the public attention for the first time in 2018.
WRITER OF THE YEAR
This award recognizes an author, playwright, screenwriter or poet who has published or performed outstanding works in 2018.
NORTH-EAST MUSEUM OF THE YEAR
This award recognizes the innovative and excellent interpretation of a project developed by an accredited museum or gallery in the North East in 2018. In particular, the judges will look for projects that reveal collections in a new light and inspire and delight visitors. .
BEST ARTS AND BUSINESS AWARD
This award recognizes an exceptional commercial / artistic partnership that has demonstrated an innovative way of working together to achieve respective goals.
ARTS COUNCIL AWARDsupported by the Arts Council
Arts Council England is looking for nominations for an artistic or cultural event or work that has particularly inspired you this year.
BEST EVENTS in Tyneside, Sunderland, Northumberland, Tees Valley and Durham (and best event overall)
This award recognizes large and small scale events, festivals and exhibitions in each sub-region. The best overall event will then be selected from among the five sub-regional winners.
Durham County Council sponsors Best Durham Event
The University of Sunderland sponsors the best Sunderland event
Tees Valley Combined Authority sponsors the best Tees Valley event
SPECIAL PRIZE FOR THE ACHIEVEMENT OF YOUNG PEOPLE
This can be for an individual or a group and will reward special achievement in the arts by young people (aged 18 or under) in 2018.
SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION AWARD TO ARTS AND CULTURE
This is an award given to someone who has made a significant contribution to arts and culture in the North East for a long time.
HOW TO ATTEND THE AWARDS EVENING
Tickets cost Â£ 20 and can only be purchased from Dawn Owens by emailing [email protected] or tel. 0191 2016 430.