The Austrian actor and director Richard Stourac joined the core group that became Red Ladder in 1969, and with Kathleen McCreery went on to co-found Broadside in 1975. Immersed in the Brechtian approach through his experience in Vienna with the award-winning company Die Komödianten, an activist and an athlete, Richard brought intellectual rigor and a remarkably precise, gestic, dynamic and funny physicality to playmaking and performances. He and Kathleen began researching workers’ theatres, and in 1986 their book Theatre as a Weapon, Workers’ Theatre in the Soviet Union, Germany and Britain, 1917-1934 was published by Routledge & Kegan Paul. Dr. Edward Braun declared it ‘Based on theatrical research of unusual depth and enterprise…unique in the scope of its coverage.’ After two years with his brother’s company Theatermanufaktur in Berlin, Richard accepted a lecturing post at the University of Northumbria from 1983-1996. His students speak fondly of a passionate and inspirational teacher whose classes in clowning and acrobatics were highlights for many. He taught them to ‘Work hard. Take it seriously. And then laugh. Repeat.’ (Rob Walton). Richard sought the influence and craft of other impactful and important theatre-makers, bringing Augusto Boal to Newcastle to run training in Theatre of the Oppressed, and travelling to Italy to study in Commedia dell’Arte with Antonio Fava. These practices were ones Richard was able to introduce to his students in Newcastle (and, for many years after leaving the UK, as a visiting artist working with students at universities in Portugal and Norway), and and use as tools in his own theatre-making work. In 1996 he moved to Italy with his second wife designer Fiona McPeake, where he continued performing. Collaborating with Fiona he developed comedic solo performances (occasionally joined by his daughter Rosa) using mask and strong aesthetic qualities, and worked with an Italian singer and musician performing Brecht songs and poems.
Here are tributes from his colleagues, comrades, friends and students… compiled by Kathleen McCreery
May Day Theatre
From Pauline Moriarty:
Thank you for enriching my life & inviting me to work alongside you in Mayday Theatre. I’m thinking about you now as I often do & our working time together…I have sent this picture before taken at Beamish with the lovely Joe Scurfield…..but it’s a good one…you proclaiming at the top of a ladder! Treasured memories!
From Lorna Edwards:
It means a lot that Richard got our messages before he died, that he knew, somewhat anyway, what he meant to us.
I’ll write something about my first meeting with Richard (and of working with him) – after climbing the stairs to 58 Holbein Place (have I remembered right?!) and sitting for an interview for BMWT opposite the most intense person I had met in my life – talking of areas of life I had NO knowledge/experience of …
From Paula Brown:
Richard was my comrade,Broadside colleague and friend ; a man of exceptional intellect, artistic creativity and moral integrity who had a profound influence on my life and that of many others.
I highly recommend his online biography (text andimages) ‘Stourac’s blog- Memories Thoughts and Reflections of R.Stourac’ (stourac.wordpress.com)
From Colin Langton,
I was really sad to hear of Richard’s death. It’s a great loss. He made such important contributions to the fight for socialism, to political theatre and to education but he was also a good comrade and loyal friend. I have so many great memories from our days together in Broadside and in Newcastle, which I’ll always cherish. I can still see Richard performing with that amazing combination of intensity, precision, and humour that he had. I’m so glad we had a Broadside get-together on Zoom last year and had the chance to see and talk to each other. Thanks for everything, Richard.
From Maria Tolly/Rocca:
Maria here. Goodness! – how long ago was it that I came to audition for Broadside.? However, I see you in my mind’s eye as clear as can be. What an important event it was when I first met you and Kath. Undoubtably, it changed me – and so – my life.
….. that meeting has enriched me beyond measure. It was my good fortune that you were able to see through my ignorance and so consider me fit to join Broadside. I think I’m correct in saying that other members of the group were not in agreement with you and Kath about that, but as always, you stood your ground, and I became a member. What a wonderful learning curve that was! It changed my life and changed it permanently and for the good.
During the coming winter, I will be 90 and still I have much to learn, but I find old age a good time for learning and am glad to have lived so long. ….. Broadside was a lighthouse, I’d have surely landed on the rocks without it. It was the most important time of my life.
…. my life was all the better for having been a part of Broadside. My heart thanks you – can you feel its warmth and sincerity? Again, I must say it – – meeting you, learning from you, gave me a wealth which cannot be measured.
From Kerrigan Rudon
……I learnt so much from Richard during my time as a member of Broadside, both politically and artistically. His legacy will live on through the many people he touched during his life. La Luta Continua.
From Ian Saville
…..Richard was certainly an amazing, inspirational individual, and will be much missed.
From Marian Sedley:
…….. What crazy days those were – I wouldn’t have missed them for anything, including working with you with your great sense of humour. ……..Sending decades of love. Marian
From Rod Dixon:
Such a powerful legacy and influence on the British theatre world (I dislike calling it an ‘industry’ – we don’t manufacture commodities – we give audiences much more than that!)
From Donna Tonkinson, U of Sunderland, Department of Arts and Design, currently working on an exploration of psychodrama, psychotherapy, childhood development and psychoanalysis
….I have been thinking a lot about Richard and have recently signed up to do a clowning congress in Bristol for 3 days. He…inspired me. A testament to him.
Richard will be remembered and continue to be loved by many, a legacy to what he gave to so many. I …. know he will live on in all those people he influenced….. I will be attending a Clown Congress in Bristol at the end of the month in his memory xx
From Sarah Caden:
…..Perhaps…you’ll remember anti-fascist theatre in school playgrounds. Not our best..idea! Although I can’t help but think with work there is a way to do it! …I was allocated a different 3rd year tutor, I came to you and begged that I could swap so I could work with you. You told me sternly, only if I worked really hard. I think that I did! You were an inspiration to me! I hung on your every word, I was learning brilliant stuff, it was glorious! Thank you, Richard you have been magnificent.
From Gail Waddington:
Richard, thank you. for the time you put into our education all those years ago. I will always remember falling off the back of the stage during Arturo Ui rehearsals. Some of my happiest times were spent during your acrobatic and clowning sessions.
From Jan Alexander:
…..I gained so much from studying with both of you. I told Rosa that a highlight of the course was clowning. I recall student services wanted me to use a portable loop system in class rather than provide me with a BSL interpreter. They gave me an extremely heavy silver case with a very long wire (loop to go around the room). I saw a glint in Richard’s eye as I opened the case and we both knew it was a clowning opportunity. We proceeded to try and herd the ‘’group inside of the ‘loop’, getting them to step over and under it, gradually everyone got tangled up in it, it was hilarious and ingenious! I managed to get an interpreter after that fiasco! …….I set my sights on studying at Newcastle after training and working with Red Ladder in Leeds. I’m on the board of Red Ladder at the moment. Your work together is legendary! Thank you so much. Xxxxxxxx
….I’m crying reading this
…you were both trailblazers and your work has influenced me in so many ways! It’s the foundation of my practice. You are both extremely skilled and talented….. Rosa is awesome and I know you are both so proud of the woman she has become. ……I’ve just got ACE funding for a project exploring references to deaf and disabled in Icelandic Poetic Edda Havamal (13 Century with parts dating back to 7th) I’ll be working with other Deaf artists and staying in a reconstruction Viking village near York. I’m going to light a candle to your legacy tonight and raise a toast. …..The project has landed on fertile soil, will have support from education team and Viking re-enactment group …. you are in my thoughts as I work as you both contributed so much to the development of my ‘craft’.
From Amanda Simpson:
……I found him inspirational not just for his politics but for his passion and commitment to what he believed in. His love of physical theatre which deeply coloured my life for 20 years or so and led me into my master’s in Dance Movement Psychotherapy, and movement analysis. He…had a huge impact on my life as a model of someone who led his life for his beliefs and passions, and this….was inspirational.
From Martin Aitken
Thinking of your marvellous direction back then at the Lipman Building in, what, 1984 perhaps, I’m probably a little embarrassed to say that I don’t think I’ve Fanshen’ed yet. But my copy of David Hare’s play is on the shelf here somewhere, the very one I used then, with notes in the margins jotted down, I’m sure, whilst listening attentively to your wise and careful instruction. It was a brilliant time, the first and only time I’ve appeared in a play, in fact. We toured it through Northumberland and Cumbria. I vividly remember, on the first night at the Kendal Arts Centre, noting your exasperated face-palm out of the corner of my eye as I appeared on stage in one of the first scenes wearing a headscarf that in some flustered state of supposed enlightenment I’d suddenly thought would add a subtle touch to my character. The truth, as I instantly perceived from your reaction, was that I’d turned my Chinese villager into a fish wife from Byker. I blush to this day. And to this day, if anyone asks, I still tell people I studied drama under Richard Stourac, co-author of Theatre as a Weapon, on the Creative Arts course at Newcastle Polytechnic in the early 1980s. We were all rather in awe when you came to teach us, in our second year, I think, after Fred departed to Canada, and you took his place alongside Tony Goode and later Baz Kershaw (who had no option but to chuck me off the course a few short months before the end, when I failed to take the only written exam seriously). We learned of your illustrious background with Red Ladder and the very heavy tome you’d written with Kath (whose classes in creative writing I followed too). Your workshops were an inspiration. We felt we were at the forefront of something, because you were our teacher. And on at least a couple of occasions, running some errand or other, perhaps while rehearsing Fanshen, you drove us around Newcastle in your fabulously European left-hand drive Volkswagen camper. But the pathways of our lives are curious maps to study. I moved to Denmark in 1986, taking up studies in linguistics, writing a PhD in semantics and pragmatics, passing through the doors that opened and ending up a senior lecturer in English language in Copenhagen. But the creative arts were embedded in me, not least because of that inspirational and explorative time in the Lipman building environment. Instead of examining language, trying to figure out how it all worked from behind, my constant urge was to employ language creatively. And so I gave up my tenure and have since worked freelance as a translator of Scandinavian literary fiction, including most recently the works of the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard as well as Olga Ravn’s novel The Employees, a work whose underlying themes I’m sure would delight you, which was shortlisted for last year’s International Booker Prize. Reflecting on what I do, my thoughts circle often around the strange imperative that compels us to pursue a life in art, an imperative that so pervaded your teaching of us in Newcastle. What we gained then is what propels me still.
……Richard touched and influenced a great many lives, including my own back then in Newcastle, and he’ll remain as vivid to me now as always.
All my thoughts to you, Richard Stourac, of Austria, Newcastle, Italy and the world.
Shortlisted, 2021 International Booker Prize
A POSTCARD FOR ANNIE, by Ida Jessen (Archipelago Books, New York)
From Steve Drayton:
…please …. remind Richard of the time his toenail came off whilst playing football on the beach at Druridge Bay. It was horrible, but he continued playing and managed to score a goal as everyone was avoiding his awful toe. He was a great supporter of our first forays into comedy with the Big Fun Club and would laugh at our early attempts at being funny. In fact, I would go so far as saying he secured us our first paid gig at a Union event in Blackpool.
From Rob Walton, teacher, writer, performer:
…..There were some very serious conversations and discussions on the course – and most of them were necessary. I remember spending a long time talking about whether we should use the c-word in our production of David Hare’s Fanshen. ….Richard taught us to be very serious (and to be good respectful listeners) about the work but not to be so serious in other aspects. Whatever I do now I take seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. I very pointedly have a laugh about things. This was something very important that was around Richard in those days. Work hard. Take it seriously. And then laugh. Repeat.
From Giles Schumm (https://side-views.com/team/):
„So ist das Leben und so muß Man es nehmen; tapfer, unverzagt und lächelnd – trotz alledem.“ Rosa Luxemburg (That’s life and that’s how you have to take it; brave, undaunted and smiling – despite everything.). My love and deepest condolences to Richard‘s family and all those he inspired. A true Mensch.
From Putschka Soldi:
…..You are part of the fabric of my life, there in the weft and the weave. You were….important, both to my mother and to me in those teenage years, as I was formulating how one can react to the way the world works. I’ll never forget the impact from agitprop theatre then, and the strong political force & stories coming out from Red Ladder & Broadside. … We need some of that now to defuddle the crap that’s going around!
PS My mum thought the world of both of you! Xxx
Trade Unions, and Woodcraft Folk, Newcastle
From Keith Hodgson, a NUPE/UNISON official:
……I was recently in touch with him trying to track down a copy of the video of the Craigielea play. He was so instrumental in making that happen. It was a truly remarkable piece of political theatre. I had two hours this year on a zoom with one of the students who was involved with the sacked workers in developing the play. The student was called Sharon Jacksties and I think it had a phenomenal effect on her life. I loved hearing her perspective.
We seem to be living in such dreadful political times here and in America, Italy, Palestine, Ukraine. The Climate Catastrophe is now so obvious. It sometimes feels hard to see how fascism can be stopped. I often think of Tony Benn, who I once had the pleasure of having round to my house in Heaton for tea, and he would often say when finishing his speeches:
Such wise words. I am thinking of you at this time, Richard, and your immense contribution to the struggle over so many years.
……He was a larger-than-life character who made such a difference to so many. He made theatre skills accessible, and I wonder how many on Tyneside used those skills throughout their life. The Craigielea play was one of the high points in my union work which turned a terrible union defeat, with the sacking of the 21 staff, into a major victory…….
From Roger Kennington:
Roger Lane and I had a drink last month and were reminiscing. We…discussed the drama techniques Richard taught us and we continued to use for years.
……..As I said to Keith, Roger Lane and I were reminiscing last month about ….the drama techniques that Richard taught us. On the face of it very simple but got to the essence of what Woodcraft was about in getting the children to come up with the ideas. We used them a lot, but it was interesting that some of the more teacher orientated people find it so challenging.
Those were exciting times when WF was on the up and a refuge from a right-wing tory ethos. (Like now but there seem to be so many other options than WF)
I recall one hilarious session where we were doing some disability awareness and role playing a Devon landlord who had refused access to a wheelchair user. Richard was too good at acting the baddie so there was mass booing from the kids. I think we managed to de-role everyone and restore cordial relationships.
Researchers and academics interested in Theatre as a Weapon and our theatre work
From Eva-Maria Kubin, Senior Lecturer, English and American Studies, University of Salzburg:
……..the wonderful conversation we had and thoughts and experiences he and all of you shared back in our online meeting have made it possible to make the work you all did with Red Ladder and Broadside almost come alive again. I’ve been able to introduce many students and some activists and theatre scholars to this, and they were all extremely appreciative of being able to…listen to him (and you and the others, of course) talk about the experiences, the approach and the motivation behind Red Ladder and Broadside.
I’m certain that you made a difference in many people’s lives. Even just showing people snippets of your work and how you approached it still makes people fall in love with your shows and way of theatre-making. And – perhaps most importantly – your work still resonates strongly with present-day students and continues to educate and engage (as well as entertain) even decades later. So, I’d like to say thank you!
Love and solidarity from Austria,