Putting the spotlight on The Customs House’s 25th Anniversary

A spectacular sound and light show will be the highlight of celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of South Tyneside’s leading arts and culture venue.

Planning to celebrate a quarter of a century of The Customs House is well underway and a joint commission by the venue and The Cultural Spring has been won by an award-winning creative design agency.

NOVAK had already completed a research and development (R&D) project before being chosen to deliver the prestigious commission.

“We’re delighted to have won the work and have already completed some of the preparation through the R&D project. We’ve spoken to a lot of people about what a special place The Customs House is, and we’ll continue with those conversations,” explained Adam Finlay, Studio Director of NOVAK .

“We’re creating a narrative, the story of The Customs House, and we’ll then use this to produce a large-scale sound and light show, with video being projected on to the iconic South Shields building,” he added.

NOVAK specialises in motion design and large format video and are specialists in projection mapping on to buildings. They also work on art installations, stage visuals for music artists and video accompaniments for theatre and dance performances. The NOVAK team has worked on the UK’s largest light festival, Lumiere and their work has also featured at leading music festivals including Glastonbury, Fuji Rock (Japan) and Roskilde (Denmark).

Adam and his team have also already worked on large-scale productions for The Cultural Spring – the outdoor dance spectacular RUSH, which was performed at the St Hilda’s Engine House in South Shields in 2015 and WordPlay, the mass participation dance event which opened The Word in 2016.

Three designers – Adam, Keith Daniels and Elliot Thomson – who had been working regularly together, established NOVAK in 2006. Although none are originally from the region, they studied at Newcastle College and Northumbria University respectively and they’re now based in the Biscuit Tin Studios on Warwick Road, Newcastle.

NOVAK’S plan could also involve an illuminated walkway from The Word to The Customs House which might feature a series of projections or live performances detailing key moments or people from the venue’s history.

“We’ve met plenty of people who’ve given us some interesting stories about The Customs House over the past 25 years and we’re looking at ways at interpreting those stories into our narrative.  We’re looking at stories, the people involved and how the growth and importance of South Shields was reflected in the development of The Customs House over its wider history,” said Adam.

NOVAK will be working with long-time collaborator Ed Carter on a soundtrack for the celebration, which will take place over two evenings in late October.

Michael Barrass, Joint Project Director for The Cultural Spring, said: “We’ve enjoyed working with NOVAK in the past and were impressed with the ideas and energy they brought to the R&D project. We also like the way in which they’ve engaged with so many people to really understand what a big part The Customs House plays in South Shields and South Tyneside.”

Ray Spencer MBE, Executive Director at The Customs House, added: “I think it’s a great idea to celebrate the people, performances and stories that have made us what we are. We’ve come a long way during our first quarter of a century and I think NOVAK’S ambitious plans for our celebrations sound like a fitting way to mark and enjoy our anniversary.”

The Customs House was formerly a customs post, built in the 1860’s for commercial shipping, just before South Shields was declared an independent port and at a time when the River Tyne was a thriving centre of trade and activity.

After the decline of the shipping industry, the building fell into disrepair and was derelict during the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1990s, Tyne and Wear Development Corporation funded a redevelopment of The Customs House, turning it into an arts and entertainment centre. This was done by refurbishing the original building and adding a new purpose built theatre. The Grade II listed building opened its doors in November 1994, providing South Shields with a new theatre and its first cinema in 12 years.