Mick: It was the time of the moon landings, so anything to do with astronauts was very, very, you know, sort of fashionable. And we did our own version, Earthnauts, where we landed on a patch of derelict land using our Bedford van as a landing module, and then we emerged from the Bedford van with microphones, wired up with microphones, so you could hear our breathing, and the changes, you know, the effort that it…just as in the moon landings, the whole thing was accompanied by the sound of [STRONG BREATHING] breathing, so this performance was, and we went round taking samples of the material that we’d landed on and conducting experiments with water, pouring water onto the ground to test for the M.U.D. effect and so on. We were talking between ourselves, it was really the very first outdoor show which was more, couched more as a theatre piece than anything else. It wasn’t just visual images, there was a kind of, there was a relationship, you know, and again it used humour to kind of ease, to make people feel comfortable with it; but it was very much kind of about monochrome images and colour. It was all done using yellow and white, and we deliberately chose places to do it like that [indicates on photo] so you get the contrast. It was mostly done at festivals like Bradford Festival, and we performed it in various towns that were having outdoor programmes. It was very much the beginnings of Street Theatre. The whole idea of having theatre outdoors was something very new. There’d only been Mystery Plays before, really, you know like the York Cycle. This whole idea of doing something outside, and of trying to make it in some way relate to the environment you were working in was totally new and you had to have an infrastructure in order to make it work in the sense of bringing people to the spot where it was, where it would take place. So these were all done at festivals – except on one occasion we worked at Jodrell Bank for Granada Television.
Games Sessions as the starting-point for Inter-Action work:
Patrick: They were his invention I think, the Games Session, and Naftali [Yavin] did the same thing with actors, so they’d somehow created it themselves. There would be a group, circle of people, and – I’m sure they’re based on American camp, kids camp games, I don’t think they were entirely original, but he then took the form and grafted things onto it. But it was essentially a group of about, you could do ten up to about thirty, I saw a Games Session with like a hundred people, so you could do it with lots. But it was usually about twenty, thirty people sitting in a circle on chairs, and then…the basic thing was that you do a rhythm pattern, where you clap, so you’ll all be sitting around the circle and Ed Berman would be going, ‘OK, we’ll do a three rhythm pattern’ – [CLAPS], two, three, and then you’d say your name: ‘Patrick’ [CLAPS], ‘Ed’ [CLAPS], and then he’d go ‘Make a sound how you feel right now’ – so we go ‘Omygod’ one, two, three, ‘Ah!’ – ‘Make a sound about how you feel about the person sitting beside you’ – so you [CLAPS] – ‘And now we’re gonna tell a story’ – so it was great for like kids – ‘Once upon a time…’ So there was a structure, that was what it taught me; and what was revolutionary about it was in terms of working with kids, for example, or mental patients, or whoever, whichever group it was, was that it was a way of guarding against kind of chaos, really. ‘OK, let’s all, let’s make a play, folks!’ – I mean, you know, chaos. But this was a way of… ‘Well, let’s tell a story.’ ‘Once upon a time’ [MIMES CLAPPING] ‘there was this man, he had a big head’ [MIMES CLAPPING] ‘and the big head blew up’ – then you could do you could.. tell a story that people acted out in the middle, you could mime things and hand it… I mean it’s limitless, really. And then it could be, I saw him work with mental patients, I saw him work with kind of therapy…although he kept saying it’s not therapy; he’d say, ‘This is not therapy’, always, and…well, very helpful for, kind of, actually, but people being able to describe how they’re feeling, make a sound, or make a movement, how you feel and how you…or how you feel about the person in the middle. ‘Go up and… Oh yea, go up and stand in front of the person you feel closest to, go up and stand in front of the person you’d like to get to know’. I mean it was, you know, people used it for all sorts of nefarious reasons, but it was an interesting way of opening up, of telling…But I became very good at doing these. He used to say, his way of saying…he had such an authoritative voice you kind of believed him: ‘This is Geoff Hoyle, he’s the most talented mime in Europe.’ And…where did he get that? And I’d be the most talented game leader in the Northern hemisphere or something – kind of ludicrous really. But I mean I did get good at it, and I did…although it’s nerve-wracking; going to the Stamford House Remand Home, with kids with knives and things – really, really scary sometimes… But there was some amazing stuff happened, I mean amazing, you know, middle-class Games Sessions they were great, actors and people, coz they were all kind of…but when you had to get kids involved who were tricky, rough, tough kids: ‘Wha’s this? Wha’s we doin’ now then, wha’s wi’ this fuckin’ rubbish?’ then you, then it was quite, that was very challenging. I, now, in my theatre work I always use lots of participation. National Theatre of Brent, for example, one of the things we’re well known for is we’re very good at using the audience and stuff; and I, as an actor I love using the audience and going amongst the audience when a lot of actors…can’t… ‘I can’t do that – don’t even ask me to look at the audience’ – I don’t even like the lights too bright, I like to be able to see everyone. And that was definitely Ed. I mean it’s partly that I love doing it anyway. Ed taught me a lot about working with audiences without any fear.
Bette: I’m not really nearly as sophisticated as you think I might be. I started The BLOOLIPS so that I could be in the middle and I could be boss. That’s why I started the group. There were no other noble reasons I’m afraid, that was it. And I worked night and day to maintain that. I was very good, I knew I was a very good comedian, and I taught all the others, apart from John who was already a professional actor and comedian; but none of the others had done anything you see, so I had to shape sentences, had to give stresses, I used to teach them about breathing, about the curve of a sentence, with a feather up its arse, you know? You go bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-boooooop…BOP! And they all laugh. So it was teaching those kind of things, very technical stuff, to very gifted people. You can’t teach dumbos, and you can’t teach talent. I had the talent there and I saw it, completely differently in these four or five men. And so I didn’t care whether they accepted my methods or not; that’s what there was, so ‘Deal with it!’. You’d get people coming up to you and saying, ‘Look, Bette, this is a rather difficult passage…’ ‘Overcome the difficulty, dear!! Now where were we…’ – shuffle, hop, tap, step ball change…do you know what I mean? I was very practical, I didn’t want any fluffy sort of Royal Court airy-fairy bullshit: no! I just wanted them to do this show as best they could, make it as funny as they could, and as funny as it was. I knew all about the politics behind it, I never discussed it with anybody. We never, for instance, we tried very much never to insult women – that was just a given, these queens weren’t like that, they didn’t do that, it wasn’t part of their thing that they did, you know, and… We were bawdy, yeah; I mean, Bananas was a huge success: [SINGS] ‘Oh B-A-N-A-N-A-S bananas, they’re lovely in tuxedos or pyjamas. We love them here, we love them there, we even love them in our hair, so share…a banana with a friend’ – and so on; so it was all very bawdy and suggestive and very funny. Loved it – people loved it. We loved it, we loved it, it was great material. And rather well performed I have to say…
Oval House under Peter Oliver
‘And it was all much more excavated [Oval House]; the place was… it was broken down. It was run by, as you probably know, this wonderful man Peter Oliver who had come from youth work, and his brief was to create a place where people could make things happen, it was inclusive. I remember once having had a terrible time with my Mother or something and he said, ‘Do you want a whisky?’ And this was amazing, this older, simpatico, wonderfully creative man, who in later years went on himself to be part of the Pip Simmons Theatre Company and tour the world doing this show called An Die Musik about the Holocaust, and he gave me this glass of whisky and gave me some amazing advice. And he was kind, he allowed me to do all kinds of things. I started off a whole load of creative play workshops with teachers, so teachers would come to this centre…he originated a whole load of clowning workshops, creative play stuff, we did shows, we did pantomimes. We even got invited by the cricket ground across the road to join a circus. So I took a troupe from here and we walked across the road into the sawdust, and I just remember being trapped by an elephant, it was the most terrifying moment. I was meant to be leading the workshop, clowning workshop, but we were just thrown in. Would that happen now? No.
I think I just remember this space really, these big rooms, that you could just move from room to room and there were shows that took you round various spaces. And people shouting, it was very vibrant, it was more the overall atmosphere of the place. I remember the café and cooking food in the café that then went on the menu-I devised the recipe and it went on the menu, Alphie and Ros who worked here too was amazingly good at initiating possibilities for everybody. Just the whole thing, it was like a great, big party – with its own rules’.
Audience participation and working with women
Jan: Yeah, yeah, we sort of inflicted it on various audiences really, so I would’ve advised in the early days not going to see the Stunts in the first sort of ten performances because it was very much work-in-progress, as we, we chucked stuff out that didn’t work and we kind of included more stuff that did. So generally speaking the shows did carry on evolving, because we had to do things, kind of, keep our merriment up I think. I mean most bits [were] improvised anyway. We’d always have audience involvement things, rather than audience participation. We didn’t get people up on the stage or anything like that coz we didn’t feel that was very nice, and to do it was really embarrassing. But we’d involve entire audiences in participation like when the conquering heroes came back from the Ithacan Wars or whatever we’d supposedly been up to, we got the entire audience to hide under their seats to do this surprise party. So they all had to hide, everybody hid under their seats and then they all burst out with party poppers; they all burst out with party poppers when the heroes came from the wars, and sort of stuff like that. I mean when Erin was a dinosaur – God knows why she was a dinosaur but anyway she was a dinosaur – and she had this thing about energy and getting more energy, and you could get more energy if you ate your greens. So for some reason we had the entire audience given these bits of string that was sort of like a cat’s cradle, that would kind of mesh up the entire audience. And they had bits of, they had cabbage leaves, they had to sort of pass along these sprigs to each other, to give each other energy; I mean it was just ridiculous. But we didn’t like I say, we didn’t bring people up onto the stage and things, we just did daft stuff that everybody could get involved in. I think we made people laugh. I mean we didn’t care, you know, we didn’t care what we looked like, we genuinely didn’t care…I don’t know… so yes, it was liberating. And there is something very liberating about working with a group of women – very, very liberating coz you’re so supportive of each other and I don’t know, you can just kind of, when people did funny stuff or daring stuff or whatever, you just had everybody…it was just much easier than… I can’t imagine how if you worked in a mixed group, that women would have been able to be that sort of strong and that funny with each other. I can’t see how that would work. I mean maybe it would.
Theatro Technis in Crowndale Road
George: You know it was a radical magazine [Time Out], a young critic came to see the, Old Democracy and he raved about it, ‘The best show in London’ you know? And we had people all over London and even from America they were coming. Royal Shakespeare actors, Shakespearian actors came to see the production, this remote… 1976 I think. And as a result of that a young, a young officer from – up to then we receive no grants from nobody. We carry on doing, you know, what we could and putting money ourselves. And then a young officer came from the Arts Council, and we had five plays including Old Democracy at that time, and he raved about it; he said, ‘Joan – it reminds me of Joan Littlewood. I gonna to bring the whole drama panel of the Arts Council to see your work’, and he did – they all came. And they said, ‘Mr Evgeniou, just write a letter and we give you money’. And they start funding us, till the middle of ‘80s when Thatcher came to power and that changed… We were in the railway shed when the Arts Council came and saw that production. And then Camden Council come and said, ‘George, sorry, we’ve got money, we’re going to build housing’. So I did that, the programme, on Open Door, Save Theatro Technis (it’s on You Tube…), and was shown on BBC2, and…Camden Council invited me to a full council meeting to put my case. They gave me three minutes. So, the night before I heard that the Labour group had decided to demolish the theatre. And I said, why talking to them, they have already taken the decision? Then a friend of mine said, ‘Come on George, you’re an actor, this is theatre; go and tell them’. So I went. And it was packed. And I started, ‘We work in the rain, in the mud, day after day, week after week, for two years to build something for the people – the Greeks, the Turks (because we had Turkish Cypriots, students working with us), the old, the young. And you’re gonna demolish it? And you call yourselves Socialists?’ And then, it was Old Labour then, before the New Labour, and the Socialist, you know, idea was something, was very proud of, and you attack that… They all started applauding, you know, and like you do, like you give a performance of Oedipus at Colonus and Lear they all come backstage and say that ‘Oh darling you were wonderful’. They said, ‘Don’t worry, George, we’re gonna find you another alternative place’. I said, ‘No’. They gave us, they offered more garages, I said, ‘No no no no no no no no, we’re gonna find a more decent place than garages’. So I went to the church commissioners, and I said, ‘The first building you put in the market, you let me know’. It was this one, this building. 1978. My wife and me used to have a little council flat near Russell Square, and just we walk here and we saw it and I said, ‘Marulla, this is the place for us’. She said, ‘Oh, well, is it gonna be our grave?’ I said, ‘This is our place’. So the price was £30,000. We didn’t have money and we said we make the first bid and we gonna buy it. We don’t have money but we gonna buy it. Within a week I heard that Camden Council raised the price to £40,000 and bought it. I said, ‘What the hell you doing?’ I said, ‘We bought it from you.’ So I said, ‘Thank you very much’. They gave us a lease of five years on a peppercorn rent – do you know what it means, peppercorn rent? That means we were responsible for the renovation; it was in appalling conditions. The priest, there was a vicarage and a church hall at the back, it was a Sunday school. And the priest neglected it. I mean, I remember when we moved up there, the postman brought some magazines, pornographic magazines for the priest. I said, ‘Wha…??’ So we started renovating, on a voluntary basis. And the kitchen area, they said to me, ‘Do you live here?’ I say, ‘Yes’. ‘Do you know the place is haunted?’ I said, ‘Yes – we came to chase the ghosts away’. And there is a rumour that there is a ghost called Margaret, a woman that the priest has mistreated, and turned against and chased them out and welcomed us. She’s been very beneficial, benevolent ever since. So we, it was a good thing, you know, because the Camden Council did it. It was a working-class area, white working-class area, very xenophobic, racist, and they started a petition against us, not to give us the building, because we were Greeks and were womanizers and gamblers. Took them over a decade to find out we were not that kind of people. And we brought the advisory service here, we started the luncheon club, we developed the community work. And really it was the Eighties, the golden decade for us. Camden Council opened purse, they gave us £105,000 grant, we had eleven workers, Arts Council was giving us money, and really it was thriving, we had a children’s theatre, a young people’s theatre, a women’s theatre, an adults’ theatre, a laboratory theatre, a workshop, a darkroom, an exhibition space, a library, you know, and it was really thriving. So after five years the Council said, ‘OK George, we give you a long lease of…a commercial lease of twenty years’. I said, ‘What does it mean?’ He said, ‘Well, you pay rent of £3,000 a year – and goes up and up…’ And I said,’ Suppose we don’t have money to pay the rent, you’ll throw us out, won’t you?’ He said, ‘No, no, no, we’re gonna give you a grant to pay the rent’. I said, ‘No, no, you sell it to us at the price you bought it, it belongs to us. You demolish our railway shed, and you took the building away from us, you know; we are going to buy it, it belongs to us’. ‘No, no, no, we don’t sell Camden Council property.’ ‘But this is a special case,’ I said. So they said, ‘OK, you go to the fifteen’, er, ‘Labour-controlled wards in Camden’, er, ‘ask the constituents’, er, ‘put your case to them, if they give you their blessing then I will, so will we’. So I went to the fifteen wards, and every one of them gave their blessing. So the Camden Council say, ‘Yes, OK, you have our blessing. But…’ – you know, I, this beautiful word in English, b-u-t, ‘but’, your beautiful ‘but’ – ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘In order to sell it at the price of £40,000 you have to ask the permission of the Secretary of State. And you being a radical theatre and them a Conservative government, you’ve got no chance.’ ‘So what do I do?’ ‘We raise the price to £90,000 so you don’t have to go to the Secretary of State.’ ‘£90,000?’ I said, ‘Where, where I am going to raise that money within three months?’ – they gave me a period of three months. ‘Well, that’s your problem.’ Then another good voice, always there is a nice good voice, a light at the end of the dark tunnel: ‘George, ask them to give you a loan grant of £50,000. After all, you’ll be saving a lot of rent.’ So I went, and the chairman of the council committee was the present principal of the Working Man’s College, what’s his name, [???] – very nice man, said, ‘OK, OK George, we’ll do that’. So I got fifty thousand and raised forty thousand, and we bought it, Freehold. It was really a blessing we did, because two years later there was a big row with Camden Council. Had we not had the building we’d be out in the streets.
John Fox and Sue Gill
John Fox: We did a lot of kind of experiments on the road really, we did processional theatre which [was a] very romantic interpretation of English Mummers and seasonal festivals and seasonal celebrations. And then the processions got bigger with large puppets, we do something simple or the marriage of the sun and the moon at a particular seasonal point then we would….
Sue Gill: …. but we would learn about, within a procession, how you could have, we’d move to this and you’d have a live band playing, you’d be in costume then you’d have a pause, and you’d have been carrying something so things would be made specifically to be up high and to carry and to have within them a transformation so there would be some small dramatic intervention and then it would kind of pick up and reprieve and move on. So people either could be static and enjoy it as it went passed or you could gather people and the procession would grow and grow till you would move to a spot for a finale or something like that.
JF: We just tried lots of different things and we tried the processions, we got into doing very simple fire shows, we got into street…
SG: …working with ice, working with the elements, but learning one particular skill at a time and sometimes we’d focus entirely on that and then…we’d learnt all this about fire and then we’d think – I wonder what you can do with ice? so we’d drill it and put fire inside it and build with it and allsorts and then of course the next show – lets have fire and ice and something else, you know and it kept getting richer and richer …
JF: ….We collaged the things together then we learnt kind of stages as we went along. And there was always a big element of street music, because we were able to work with some very good musicians even very early on like Lol Coxhill, who died a year ago…
SG: Mike Westbrook
JF: Mike Westbrook but also Boris Howarth was very important because although Boris didn’t become kind of a joint director of the company until much later on, in fact in 1965 he was doing very crazy wild things with Hell’s Angels from his house in a terrace street in Lancaster. He was doing things like, oh a celebration of the New Year by getting in a car and driving in to a river (via a ramp) and then getting rescued by teams of cadet soldiers in canoes who came rowing along and looking like lookalike Hiawathas and pulled him out when he was about to drown..
SG: ..but that project was called New Planet City, we weren’t part of that, but he’d already started doing that.
Susan Croft: You didn’t know about that at the time?
SG: We didn’t know about it when it was happening, by the time we met Boris he’d been doing this for two or three years and then we collaborated in 68, in an event that happened to be in Lancaster. But he was very, very, seminal and instrumental in those very early street bands take, ‘cos he was a fantastic musician, everything from concertina to bagpipes to percussion to whatever and he really studied all the rhythms be they African, Latin whatever and he would drill us and teach us. He was an amazing musical director.
Neil: It’s true that it was a highly theatrical show in that it was strictly a proscenium end-stage production and we wanted it to be that rigidly presented because it was the content that was very unusual – a show consisted entirely of questions. There wasn’t a single statement. Anyway, we did consider throwing in one statement, but thought better of it and it was presented actually somewhat in the form of a poetry recital or even a music recital because scripts were placed on music stands in front of the actors who, to some extent, although they had learned much of the script, recited the lines, the questions, and even referred to the scripts when they didn’t need to. All to give the impression of something quite formalised and classical. And this was reinforced by the use of music, and also, in the background, a sequence of slides which punctuated the presentation. So the challenge here was to see whether it would be possible to create an absorbing interesting piece entirely in the form of questions. That to us itself seemed interesting enough, but of course in talking directly to the audience – it was a direct audience address piece, like other work we’d been involved in – the idea was to see whether we could provoke a kind of responsive state of mind, without people necessarily participating – this was one audience piece that we didn’t want people to respond to by calling out anything. Of course it did occasionally attract hecklers, but we did request in our programme note beforehand that people not respond vocally but to respond inwardly, and for the most part, I have to say, people did observe that condition, which helped us to create the rather strange, meditative atmosphere that we wanted in the piece. Reactions to it were very diverse. At one extreme there were people who found it tiresome and taxing. I can remember when we performed it at the Performing Garage in New York I invited along a friend, who was a therapist, to see it and afterwards, since he’d said nothing, I asked him what he thought about it. He said bluntly, ‘It gave me a headache’, but we didn’t discuss it any further, that was his verdict. There were some people who did find it rather too taxing which is understandable considering that they’re there for a couple of hours hearing nothing but question after question. While on the other hand there were people who were quite elevated by it, otherwise we couldn’t continue to do it if we hadn’t got a favourable response.
David Johnston: So the first thing we changed was the work. Over the first two years we went from doing one of Brian’s shows and a good children’s theatre show to moving towards more thematic work. We brought in writers who I’d worked with before who were ex TIE people. Michael Maynard who’d been at Greenwich, Carol  who’d worked with us at Perspectives, to try and use them to use the Brian Way Model but to do more issue based work. So Michael did a show about bullying called Witch Play, going back in time and becoming a witch and that having a resonance on playground bullying now. Carol did a show about pollution, a mini infant version I guess of David Holman’s Drink the Mercury. There was no one to write infant shows so I started writing infant shows for about 3 years. We would use the form of 4 actors participation, but we’d do specific themes. So I’d do one about robots in a hundred years time taking over the world. We did a version of the Pied Piper, Maggie Thatcher as the Mayor. We transposed the form and we brought in new writers. The Arts Council had a very good new writers scheme at that time. Basically if you wanted to work with a writer for 6 months, they would pay for them. Very few companies were taking up on this. Stratford East under Clare Venables was, a lot, and she was on our Board, we got her on our Board, and we brought in people like Charles Way, came to us as a new writer, various other people. The significant turning point really was I brought in David Holman who had been at Coventry as their main writer, had gone to Stratford East as their resident writer with Clare Venables. And basically when Clare Venables – the whole thing was under minded – he came and joined us as resident writer in 1978, officially ’79. David I think is a superb writer of this work and he’d got all that experience. [Susan Croft – had he come into writing as an actor, how did he start?] He’d been writing for years. He was at Coventry, Belgrade, with David Parminter and Sue Johnston, that whole crew, for about three years. Then he worked for M6 for about two years, then Clare brought him to Stratford. So David was able to start writing most of our top Primary and Secondary shows. The first one he did was called Playing 78 which was about pollution, was about the big thing of the time about pesticides and its effect on rural communities. Then he stayed on and he started writing the top Junior plays. I continue writing the Infant plays and we worked together, doing those together sometimes. Then eventually after a couple of years David started writing Infant shows, partly because of the participation thing but also because he hadn’t done it before. Effectively from 1979 to 1982 David wrote most of our plays, we still brought in other writers, but we developed a house style I think over that period.
Mark Long: John [Darling] designed the tape, I designed the lights and it was as tight as anything could possibly be, and it was purely visual and sound and John Darling and Laura Gilbert were the only performers in it. It was a very, very severe… technically it was it was smashing. I don’t think anybody had seen anything quite like it. It only lasted 29 minutes. And we knew that – you were talking about coming away with something with enormous satisfaction, strange that you mentioned that one because that would definitely tick that one its…We knew we had done something really, really special with that, and that show influenced everything we did for years and years and years after that. Our lighting and our sound….Nobody was lighting and doing sound like we were. It sounds arrogant to say things like that but they weren’t. They subsequently they have… but…. We just knew that we were going somewhere where there wasn’t anybody else and we really, really liked where we were going and from then on the amount of attention that paid purely to lighting our images and the way we brought our images into play – it became more and more cinematic and our soundtracks were like movie soundtracks … and one of the big influences was, I’ve forgotten his name and I’m not going to remember it here, one of the Marvel artists, who started doing close-ups in his comics. You know, frames that weren’t within the square, that broke out of the square and just a close-up of a flower and a close-up of a woman’s lips, or a heel, and that’s what we started doing – lighting things and just … they come and they go … and the sound and people, and we really, really got into it.
Susan Croft: What would be the images – the starting point for the ….. ?
Mark: A glass tree, made out of glass – broken bottles , a tree. In Shorts Gardens – I’m pretty sure it was Shorts Gardens, round the back there, of Shaftesbury Avenue, we lived above a very, very, very trendy clothes shop. Expensive – very expensive. They loaned us a beautiful white suit – for Dodd – John Darling and really immaculate and a chauffeur’s cap , he looked liked something else and the gloves. And Laura was at a dressing table… getting ready to go out – it was incredibly simple – the action in it. There was a moment when a glove seized that bit of glass on the tree, I remember, and then the glove came off and there was blood, but there was, there was… most of the show was glass or white but there was the lipstick and there was a rose and there was this blood, and the lighting was incredibly white and incredibly harsh and it was a woman getting ready to go out and there was this chauffeur character that was John, and Dodd could really hold a character. He was a terrific performer. And it’s interesting this different way we use the word performer rather than an actor. There is a difference – maybe you know it better than I do. John was a terrific performer he had a huge amount of certainty – an audience would never doubt Dodd and in our area of work that is so important. You can, if you ever – and it’s very easy to betray, to think – not believe what you’re doing… and in our area of work one second of that and you’re gone. Some people can, some people can’t – John could – he just had this (exhales whilst making the gesture of straight line cutting through space) and it was – Glass – really, really it was terrific. I loved that piece, it was really, really good. Very influential to a long period of our work.
I Go Back Tomorrow
Mike: Start with the …[Jo Stanley:..boaters..] …the boat people as I call them – the people who actually for centuries, from the 19th century…a family tradition of being born, living on the boats, dying on the boats – that was virtually dead by the time we started in 1972 – about two years before the last regular narrow boat run carrying coal down to London, stopped . So when we started doing the shows – shows about canals, we suddenly noticed that these people were turning up and started to talk to us, and so we thought, we’re going to be able to write shows about them. But that took us five years before we felt sufficiently confident and they felt (I think we felt) that we weren’t trying to exploit them – because there was always that feeling that we were trying to exploit them, and what we were trying to do, was to say – this was what their lives were like. In many ways great lives because they were so independent but in other ways, incredibly poor – very badly paid, etc. So we eventually plucked up the confidence to do – to do the show that was called I Go Back Tomorrow which like quite a lot of our shows, has the woman as the central character. The woman was the boat woman who was 80 years old, looking back on her life and that to me is one of the best shows we’ve ever done because it absolutely captured the essence of these boat people – the boat people themselves came to these shows – recognised themselves and appreciated what we were doing. I think it gave the boat people pride – there are proud people and it was nice that people appreciated their lives.
[Susan Croft: The earlier plays were the ones which eventually became Black Pieces?]
Mustapha: Those were my first thing. And when I sat down to write it was magic: one of the ethos of the black movement was in, when faced with the hypocrisy and the schizo behaviour and attitudes [of white British people] was to emphasise what, tell it like it was – the truth, honesty, to get to the truth and speak the truth. And so my, one of my conscious decisions was to write in the Caribbean language, because it’s no good writing about working-class Caribbean men coming to London, very little education and speaking posh – it wouldn’t make sense! So you had to write the way they spoke, in their language, and once I started doing that, hey presto! the door opened for me. I mean the voices started coming out and the situation that I had observed previously and experiences I had since I was conscious, they all started coming out, and it was like a cave of golden jewels were just there waiting for me, and it was wonderful. And I showed these plays, short plays, had no idea what to do with them or that anybody would be interested in them, because they were short and they were about West Indians and no-one was interested in West Indian lives, so I showed them to my friend who was an actor and I thought, well maybe, who knows, this could be one way of bonding together, of moving our lives from a personal connection into a professional or creative aspect. And one of them showed the script to Roland Rees who was running a programme for Ed Berman, Almost Free Theatre, and he was doing a season of plays at the ICA, Black And White Plays, and he snapped up my plays and said, you know, ‘Yes, yes, this is what I’d like to do and can I do them and you must let – they’re very good’, and so, which was a big surprise to me; I never thought they’d go beyond my friends, and it was in a way just like to impress my friends, show them what I could do and so it wasn’t going further than that, but he put them on and I went away on holiday to Cornwall and I said to my wife at the time, ‘Let’s go and get a newspaper because I think there might be a review of my plays in The Telegraph’, or in the newspaper, so I bought a copy of the Telegraph and there was a review, it was a very complimentary review and much to my surprise, it was very good. That began my career as a writer.
The Big Lump
Kathleen: We contacted some people in UCATT, which would have been the Building Union at the time, arranged to meet them [us] at Farringdon Road around the corner from the Morning Star probably, and they never showed up. And then we made another meeting with them, and they never showed up, and then we got a bit pissed off, so we rang them up and we said, ‘Look we’re actually serious about trying to make this play about this very important problem in your industry, we can’t do it without you, so are you going to meet us or not?’ (Laughter) We were getting a bit stroppy with them. So they showed up and the first thing they did, they sat down, we were in a pub, and they sat down and they looked at us and they said, ‘Any of you Trots? (Laughter) Are you Trotskyists?’ ‘No!’ we could truthfully say we were not Trotskyists. So they said, ‘Right, that’s alright then’. And then they helped us. And we had a wonderful working relationship with these guys. They were mostly in the communist party but that didn’t impinge on the work, it was actually fine. We spent hours in their kitchens on Sunday mornings, when they were off work interviewing them and recording these wonderful conversations with them about the industry, and they told us stories and we got the jokes and the culture and the laughter and the… it was just a gift, and it was just wonderful and they came along to rehearsals and they showed us how to lay bricks and they – ‘cos we had to mime it, you know we weren’t gonna have real bricks being laid – and they told us great – for example, what you do when you want to work to rule in the building industry they said, ‘Well we dust down the bricks (laughter) and we measure them; and of course you have to wear goggles and all of this because the work takes you know, five times as long’, and so actually very little work gets done ‘cos you do everything by the book you know. And so we had a building worker come out to show a work to rule in the play with a feather duster and an apron around his waist and they would howl with laughter ‘cos they knew immediately what we were talking about and the goggles and all of that and the tape measure everything had to be done just so, and all of that got mimed, And of course building workers just loved this. And this was what – we had done and in Red Ladder too and it’s really important to say that it had started with Red Ladder and we carried it on into Broadside and I think we developed it further, became very intense this relationship with the people we were performing for. That they taught us and they informed our plays and our plays were… we couldn’t have made our plays without them. It wasn’t about us coming and telling them what to do it was them telling us how it worked you know and we would, we would of course use our political abilities to analyse and look at what was going on and put that into a context, and present it and give it back to our audiences in such a way it was richer – there was more there. But the sets for that play was made of scaffolding and we used to go on to building sites and carry the scaffolding on and they would be laughing because they would see us setting up and they would come they would all stand there commenting about what we were doing, you know. But the set was great and Richard [Stourac], my former husband played one of the subbies – the sub-contractor. Richard was very athletic and very good at – he could juggle as well, and I can remember the set consisted of this scaffolding with a rather narrow set of two by, you know, two by four boards going across with another board right at the top – one board. Richard would be dancing on that board up at the top juggling with his hat in his hands dancing on the board , it was stunning, it was really amazing. He was very skilful.
Roland: When I came back from San Francisco – we’d agreed to do a play, which was Sedition – so that was 1980, ’81, Sedition 81 I think, yeah Sedition 81 came…yeah. What happened was….Thatcher was in power now, and the writing was on the wall, and everyone, we, you know, they, we could see it was coming, you know, we were all gonna get done. And somebody mentioned last night about the 7:84 being really vocal, and that – we were, we actually were, but we were a much smaller group than them in a financial sense. But they went to live in Scotland; Belt & Braces chucked the whole thing in, and we said were going towards cabaret and new variety, because we had noticed now that our audiences increasingly wanted us to be more, in a way, comic or cabaret style than they wanted plays. And we were moving in that direction ourselves, although they were productions. So Sedition 81 was our realization that we were for the chop – clearly we were – so what we did was, we did this play where I gave a big marijuana joint to the audience and told them that it was a refund from the Arts Council, from the government; they’d paid taxes and now they could smoke it, y’know. So then we, this was quite amazing, and then we put £,2000 away in my, in case I got arrested. Yeah, they were real joints, and I’ll get arrested, and then I’ll say I want a thousand other times to be taken into consideration. We would blow it up and carry on doing the production – I mean, this was our idea: we would fight them, you know. So we’d cut the Queen’s head off and we’d shot Lady Di and Prince Charles, and Mrs Thatcher – Claire was Mrs Thatcher – and she came in on the end and got hold of my ear and said [IMPERSONATES THATCHER SPEAKING], ‘[?] What a nothing human being you are. Why do the Arts Council keep paying you?’ – it was that kind of thing. In the end we threw the people who produced asbestos into the asbestos vat, and we had, you know, people became monsters because they were, cactuses because they’d been to do with nuclear…thing; the whole thing was just attack! and it was, you know. And halfway through the play we showed this film we owned on Ireland of Scottish soldiers rioting in Ireland, and we let off large maroon bangs – bang, bang, bang, bang!! – like it was an IRA attack. This thing was incredible, you know. And we went round…first of all we’d got Belt & Braces money and when they realized, how over the top we were, they were a bit worried, you know, ‘cause they’d been a bit respectable. And when we got to Swansea or Anglesey University, the poster’s got all marijuana leaves round it, and they’d cut them off because somebody’d told them they were impregnated with THC and they were smoking them in the Students Union. But the play was very popular and we packed houses with it all, and played it in London and then we got a TV thing about it; but the Arts Council issued an edict that said we must not go on stage and say the marijuana has been paid for by the Arts Council and thereby the government. So we came on and said, ‘Look it’s actually, this is a leg o’ lamb’ – a joint, a leg o’ lamb, and this’d be, and everyone knew and laughter about it all, you know, and then we’d tease them about whether it was real communion, like, you know, when you have a Catholic, it really is the body and blood of Christ: is this joint really…? And there were all these jokes. When we finally… the Arts Council came and sat in the front row at the Half Moon, we rolled one made of that tobacco you can buy, colt’s foot anti-smoking tobacco. And I remember the joint coming down the line, you know, being passed to them, and the guy from the Arts Council – can’t remember who it was – got his assistant to puff it: ‘It’s not, no, it’s not marijuana’, and yet all the rest of the audience had got a free one by the Arts Council, you know. And another time, we were in Glasgow and Belt & Braces were really popular in the University of Glasgow and they got us up in this room and they were upstairs and then they’d heard about the joint, and the professor came out and said ‘I hope you’re not going to try and put that joint out to our students’, and we said, ‘We’ve got to, this is in, this is how we’re billed, we’ve got to do this’, you know. So, she said, ‘Well I don’t want you to do it.’ So we got the joint out and it came out and she came out from behind the curtain and took the joint off the student. But we all smoked it, all the group smoked it, everyone thought this was the great hypocrisy. But everyone was smoking it; you’d go into recording studios or on TV, or in advertising – they were all into cocaine – everyone was into all of these things, but on the level no-one was, and we thought this was the great hypocrisy, and sure, there were crooks involved in it and all the rest of it, criminalisation, but we were arguing for decriminalization really.
Geraldine: During this process we realised that we liked lights going out. We liked working in the dark. We liked the mystery of it – and I began to fall in love with lighting. I was absolutely inspired by John Darling and the way that he lit and I began to learn about what was possible, and the sound – what John taught us and what John created was like – I always imagined that Hesitate and Demonstrate was about the women, as in me and Janet [Goddard] – and then it gradually became about me, when Janet left – it was what , we showed what this woman was thinking – so there was always a female centre-point in the pieces – because I was a woman, that’s the only reason. So we would create what we thought people would like to know what was going on in their heads and so John explained to me very much that if there was a scene that was set in the rain, the sound shouldn’t be rain, and we began this whole thing about juxtaposition of sounds – so you’d see a woman under an umbrella and it would be raining but the sound would be what she was dreaming of and that’s when we became known as ‘painterly performance’ because we created pictures and we created sort of like three dimensional pictures that moved. Jeff Nuttall wrote an article which I think I’ve got somewhere for when we were at the Mickery, he did an introduction for our first show and he talked about the difference between painterly performance and sculptural performance and that how Hesitate and Demonstrate was absolutely painterly. Janet and I never talked about what we did but other people talked about us in that sense. But I agree that we were about paintings – but at the same time for me we were also about the dynamics of space. I mean, I didn’t know what I meant by that all those years ago but I do know now, but it was very much to do with where we placed each other and where we placed objects and I think going to art school had really helped us with that as well. Points of Departure, I look back very fondly on it, and I think it was to do with dark green and we always used to go shopping to Miss Selfridge – all our costumes came from Miss Selfridges. Neither Janet or I could sew and we – and this was very important in terms of, we liked what we saw and we got it. We didn’t design it and then get it made – ‘cos we did that later on and it was a real mistake, we actually had a friend who was a costume maker, and she said ‘let me make you some costumes’ and Janet said ‘mmmm’, I’m not sure, anyway we drew what we wanted and she made it and they didn’t feel real what I’m talking about I realise is that we wanted it to be reality and we’d often wear the same things so we’d get identical dresses and because Janet was blonde and I was brunette, we saw each other as contrasts and..[Susan Croft: So you were wearing clothes rather than costumes ….] …. that’s it, that’s what I mean, we were using objects not props, we created environments not sets and for us that was absolutely integral to what we did we weren’t theatre.
Belt And Braces collective
Gavin: So I may have been central to Belt And Braces, which I was, because I was confident, experienced, and had a lot of different influences on me, so I kind of became pivotal; so eventually they ended up with me being elected by the Collective to be an Artistic Director. Which I was not altogether easy about but which solved some structural problems at the time. I was also, we were all very aware, that collectives are… collective is the aim, a collective is the ideal, but you’re working against tidal waves of opposition sometimes or attempts to undermine you financially, or politically, all kinds of stuff. So, how do individuals in a Collective decide,’ Oh, I’m redundant sir, because we have no money’. It can’t happen – d’you know what I mean? At the same time if you said, ‘Well ok, what we’re gonna do is, you know, we’ve got half the resources we had last year, but we’ll carry on working and we’ll all take half as much’ – now we’re breaking our Trade Union agreement. How much loyalty does this collective owe to the union of which we’re all members? So you had – you know, we were young, shit we were young, you know? How did we deal with all those things? And we were learning the politics at the time, we all were learning. The political movement was learning, we were all learning, and the debates that went on were necessary – some of them, yes, they would’ve been long and tedious, some of them not, some of them were volatile and exciting and generally speaking I would say there wasn’t a wasted second, and that the disruptions, the splits, the disagreements, the people going off and forming their other- you know, at one point all the women left and formed a women’s company called Monstrous Regiment, which I was terribly unhappy and hurt by – at the time – they were all good things. New good things came out of all those splits and divisions; those splits and divisions were actually the teaching mechanism, they were teaching us what we probably didn’t really fully realize till the Nineties – that our movement, our ideal, our dream, our socialism must be to embrace more and more diversity, and that you only really get that diversity when you are dynamic; so it may be quite hurtful, it might hurt at the time, but it’s a strength for the future.
Working on the dole
Jane Boston, Tash Fairbanks, Debs Trethewey, Jude Winters:
JW: Every two weeks we had to sign on, so the tours –
TF: No, it was every week that we had to sign on.
JW: It was every two weeks. Every two weeks that was, at that point; it was so many people on the dole. It was every two weeks, and so we had to make the tours, make sure we could come back to sign on, and…
DT: Or if we were away for longer we had a holiday. You were allowed to –
DT: You could register with a holiday form. That could’ve led us to be away, we could be three weeks…
TF: Because we weren’t properly, we never really got proper funding; if we’d managed to get an Arts Council grant then we wouldn’t have needed all that, it would’ve been great. But you know, that’s how we had to do it, in order to do what we wanted to do, what we felt was, you know, important.
JW: And I feel very clear that, it felt it was very justified; there was no, very little funding for the arts, for alternative arts, women’s arts was not being funded –
TF: Not our kind of radical…
JW: No. Yeah – and it just, it felt like, well ok, it’s something that we thought was good both for women and for society, and we felt very justified about signing on and performing and it’s interesting now with all the sort of scroungers on the dole living a, you know, easy life; we worked our butts off! We worked! And we all worked as washers-up. We were, we had a rota in a fish restaurant and we used to just do washing up to try and survive.
JB: I think it’s very interesting that you say that. We were very connected to a work ethic. You know I sometimes used to find that we were [unclear] our work ethic, ’cause we never stopped. We were driven, on many levels. And, so, apart from us up-skilling all the time and inter-relating and, you know, so it was a very, one could hardly accuse us of kind of you know just wasting taxpayers’ money in that respect ‘cause it was a constant sense of transformational desire certainly I think [unclear] to do something with our society, for our society and so that was our choice.