Kathleen McCreery appraisal of her time at Broadside

‘My six and a half years with Broadside were rewarding, exciting, stimulating, challenging, frustrating, exhausting, and sometimes heartbreaking. During the 6 years I worked with Red Ladder, the British unions, in particular the miners and engineers, were posing serious challenges to the employers and the government. When Richard and I left to form Broadside, the wave of industrial unrest was already ebbing. We recognised that, but felt there was still important work to be done with women and immigrant/migrant workers (Tricot, Grunwick, Garner Steak House strikers, hospital workers, etc.) and with unions such as UCATT, in their attempts to unionise building sites and fight the invidious system of lump labour.

We had become friends with Dr. Mike Cooley and his colleagues at Lucas Aerospace. We were inspired by their visionary plan to use their sophisticated skills for socially useful purposes. They knew from experience that worker participation meant helping management exploit workers more efficiently. Workers’ control meant having a say over what was produced, and that was the ultimate challenge. They helped us write The National Air Show, which I rewrote as The Participation Waltz (1976). (They also helped us design and test our portable stage!). The opportunity to collaborate with such creative thinkers was a privilege.

In 1975, we travelled to Portugal, driving down through Spain which was still under Franco, and breathed in the heady air of freedom after the overthrow of half a century of fascism. This inspired my play We Have the Power of the Wind (1977), and led to the founding of the Portuguese migrant workers’ theatre group Alem Fronteiras with whom Richard and I worked for several years in our spare time. They translated the play into Portuguese, and later, Isabel Bartolomeu and I collaborated on another (with her beautiful Fado influenced songs) about the experience of emigration and work in the hotels of London. Isabel was a chambermaid at the Grosvenor House Hotel, and I was to write about their dispute with Trust House Forte in my play The Chambermaids (1986).

In Red Ladder, we had not specialised, in Broadside we recognised that not everyone could or should or wanted to do everything, so I began to take on more of the writing and directing. I was being stretched, and it was good, but it was also tough. The problems were manifold: funding, obviously, although I’m rather proud of the fact that Broadside was never in the red, financially. But more difficult was finding company members who combined political understanding and experience (especially of the labour movement) with artistic and administrative talent and training, and who were prepared to commit to us for a long time. Joining Broadside was not going to count on an ambitious actor’s CV, and our first grant was so small we could not pay Equity wages (we did as soon as we could). It was complicated by our attempts to keep shows in our repertoire. This meant we were able to respond to diverse audiences’ needs, but every time someone left, they had to be replaced in several productions. Our idealistic structure was also problematic. Some who joined got fed up with lengthy assessments (full members were assessed too), resented being mentored by more experienced members, and grumbled at the length of time it took them to achieve full membership (some never did). To those core members who stuck with us for several years, I remain grateful. It was a glorious vision, we achieved a lot, touched many lives, and we had amazing experiences. But I was becoming physically tired and frustrated at our inability to combine my dream of making theatre that was as good as the Berliner Ensemble’s and Dario Fo’s with the need to respond to workers in struggle, when they were most open to new ideas. And then I had a baby. I realised I could not work 18 hours a day, 6 days a week, nor did I want to. The group was going through a particularly fractious period. It was time to go. I was asked to direct one last show for Broadside, in the spring of 1981, and then I joined Richard in Berlin, where he had begun working with his brother’s company Theatermanufaktur.

I went on to write, direct, teach and facilitate, working with Avon Touring, Cleveland Theatre Company, Northern Stage, Chester Gateway, English Touring Theatre, Snap, Compact Theatre, Cheshire Youth Theatre, University of Northumbria, University of Sunderland, Newcastle College and North Tyneside College among many others. I was awarded a Northern Arts Writers’ Exchange Bursary in 1989 which took me to Zimbabwe, and led to further work in Ghana, South Africa and Lesotho. Through my experience of running creative writing workshops for people with mental health problems, I became interested in counselling. I received my diploma in 2006 and worked with Streetwise in Newcastle, and voluntarily with Freedom From Torture, Place 2 Be and Someone Cares. In 2009, I moved to Donegal where I continue to write and take part in theatre, arts, and community projects’.
Kathleen McCreery 2013

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