Geraldine Pilgrim trained at Leeds Polytechnic Fine Art Department at the time when the term performance art was being coined. With John Darling, Jeff Nuttall and John Fox as her supervising tutors it is not surprising that her visual arts interests became channeled into experimental theatre. On leaving college in 1975, she performed with John Bull Puncture Repair Kit before forming her own company Hesitate and Demonstrate with fellow-student, Janet Goddard and later, Sally Cranfield. Their highly visual, surrealistic and powerfully evocative work was importantly based round female protagonists and initially would use sound montages created by John Darling. Hesitate and Demonstrate toured the UK and mainland Europe extensively with shows such as Minutes, Frozen Moments, Points of Departure and No Regrets. After Cranfield and Goddard left in 1979, Pilgrim remained the sole artistic director of a company. She would work collaboratively with performers, lighting and set designer and sound editor in the devising of shows, that would be meticulously planned and scripted – such as, the award-winning Goodnight Ladies. Hesitate and Demonstrate was wrapped up in 1986, but Pilgrim continues to be a prolific artist with a huge international reputation – specializing in creating installations and performances in unusual buildings and landscapes. The recent Handbag ‘a celebratory gem of a performance with great music, dancing and handbags made for ballrooms, civic halls and unusual spaces inside’ has been performed national and internationally in venues as varied as Stratford-Upon-Avon and the Barbican to Rennes women’s prison. Pilgrim has lectured at St. Martins, Goldsmiths College and LAMDA.
For further details and images of Hesitate and Demonstrate visit the company page.
Below are some extracts from Geraldine Pilgrim’s interview – a full account of the topics covered in her interview can be accessed at Geraldine Pilgrim’s Topic List.
Forming Hesitate and Demonstrate
‘In the last year [of college] Janet [Goddard] and I began to work much more together and we did performances together. In our last year it was our degree work show and we formed a company together and we called ourselves Hesitate and Demonstrate. And one of the reasons we called ourselves Hesitate and Demonstrate – I can remember we used to sit there for hours, in our flats, but trying to – a bit like guessing the names of paints – and trying to think of a name that would work. And two things really influenced us – one, was Eadweard Muybridge, the photographer, his photographs, we loved them, we loved freeze frame photographs, we loved the idea of breaking down a movement that wasn’t mime, and we also used to go to the department store, I think it was called Schofields in Leeds, and we’d go there a lot – we loved shopping , we didn’t actually buy anything but we used to like to go and window shop. And in the basement we used to watch out of work actors demonstrating how to chop vegetables with machines that you never see in anybody’s kitchens, but they would always do it brilliantly, and we watched them how to clean mirrors with stuff that if you cleaned it with stuff you would never have to clean your mirror again; and also the famous women in perfumery departments that’re so terrifying in the white coats and come towards you carefully made-up, and spray perfume at you and we were studying them because they were brilliant and we realised that what they were brilliant at was performing – they weren’t acting, they were performing, they were using an element of themselves to create a persona. Janet and I were fascinated by this and we used it a lot in terms of who we were. We used to use it a lot in some of our early shows – we used to do demonstrations in shows. One day we just came up with this word, I think Janet said ‘hesitate’ and I said ‘demonstrate’ and we just looked and went, ‘that’s it’, and we called ourselves Hesitate and Demonstrate. And what I love about Hesitate and Demonstrate was that at some point the Conservative Party were trying to get the Arts Council to have their funding cut and named politically motivated groups including Hesitate and Demonstrate which made Janet and I fall about laughing, because they saw us as a radical political group because we had the name ‘demonstrate’ in the title. So we invited them to come and have a cup of tea with us and they never did because when they saw our work it … we were actually radically, political, but in a very different way from what they imagined. We didn’t rehearse, we never rehearsed, what we did was – when I say we didn’t rehearse, when we made a show, we sat in coffee bars – that’s all we ever did and we did most of our creation of our shows in ‘Patisserie Valerie’ in Soho – the original one – that was fantastic, and I think Janet and I did actually spend about nine hours there once, and we went through breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and early supper – and that’s how we used to work. So we always knew exactly what we were going to do and we did drawings, we wrote scripts and we talked and talked but it was the joy of creating together. It was just talking, and we’d go to the cinema, we’d go to galleries, we’d go on inspirational visits. We’d just think and talk, and although Janet’s artistic vision was very different from mine, and mine was very different from hers – we had a sensibility that understood each other.’
Do Not Disturb
Geraldine Pilgrim’s Unfinished Histories interview is now deposited with the British Library Sound Archive, V&A Theatre Collections and Sheffield University. See Viewing Interviews for contact details.
Geraldine Pilgrim’s website
Dreams and Deconstructions, Alternative Theatre in Britain ed. Sandy Craig (AmberLane Press Limited: Ambergate, 1980)
Hesitate and Demonstrate: A Photographic Portrait and Script by Adrian Henri in P.S. Primary Sources on the International Performing Arts (vol.1 pp.8-13, June-July 1979)
Geraldine Pilgrim by Luke Dixon in Performance Magazine (vol.17 p.13-14, 1982)
Night Train to Freedonia by Neil Hornick in Performance Magazine (vol.17 p.15-16, 1982)
Paintings You Can See Into: Hesitate and Demonstrate by Theodore Shank in The Drama Review, New European and US Theatre, (Mit Press: New York University, Vol.27 pp. 3-16, spring 1983)
Breaking the Boundaries: The People Show, Lumiere & Son and Hesitate and Demonstrate by Lynn Sobiesky in Contemporary British Theatre ed. Theodore Shank (Backingstoke: Macmillan, pp. 89:106, 1994)
ArtsAdmin 20 Years (ArtsAdmin, London 1999)
Devising Performance, a Critical History by Deirdre Heddon and Jane Milling (Palgrave McMillan, 2005)
Histories and Practices of Live Art ed. Deirdre Heddon and Jennie Klein (Palgrave McMillan, 2012)
Geraldine Pilgrim interviewed by Natasha Morgan (audio) 1986. CD 1-2-3. Copies are held at the Unfinished Histories Archive, British Library Sound Archive and Natasha Morgan personal holdings.
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