Date: 05.06.13 and 01.08.13
Location: Crouch End
Interviewer: Susan Croft
Technician: Sara Scalzotto
Topics List: Sue Timothy
00.00:00 Personal Background. Born Putney. Dad in printing trade, Mum a housewife. But grandparents had a theatre company called Pilgrim Players that toured parks and stately homes. Dad took over company and directed shows at Battersea Town Hall until Gerry twelve. Gerry became interested in theatre. Favourite lesson was art. Holidayed in Looe. Friendly with daughter of hotel owners who went to art school. So Gerry wanted to go too. Was in school plays. So dual love. Parents wanted her to get proper job so ran away from home when in 6th form. Taken in by Bohemian family. Observed. Only happy when doing work. Troubled-didn’t understand parents’ attitude. Joined youth theatre company which became her home. Started going to Oval House.
00:10:25 Higher Education. Went to St. Martins. Hated it. Hot art school and Gerry not cool. Research going on at college into rate of nervous breakdowns. Put off art. Escaped to Oval. Discovered alternative theatre. Still very shy. Peter Oliver very caring of young people. So much going on there. Went to live in Clapham with youth theatre company members. Observed again. Did odd jobs. Saw Francis Bacon painting and wanted to go back to art school. Got charity grant to City and Guilds. Loved it. Still going to Oval. A bit of a pull between art and theatre. Left London for Leeds Arts School. Mum pleased. Decided to act confident but still nervous. Bonded with Janet Goddard in a tough environment with very few women. Important art school – no separate departments – you studied what you wanted. Met John Darling who understood performance art and gave her Gordon Craig’s book On the Art of Theatre. Realised she could mix theatre and art and that the word is not God. Leeds was extraordinary. 35 out of 40 students interested in art and theatre. Amazing tutors like Kate Westbrook, Diz Willis, Ian Hinchcliffe, John Fox, Roland Miller. Students formed group – ‘Soft Soap’ – funded by college – which toured. Show was juxtaposition of images. Did art attacks. Created jazz group which was nothing to do with music but invited to Harrogate Jazz Festival. Every piece of work was new Encouraged by tutors. Everyone did their own thing. Template for later work. John Darling and she bonded. John did soundscapes. Janet and Gerry became ‘Bertha’s Boarding House’. Performed at Oval Soft Soap began to separate. Leeds taught Gerry to be tough but retain sensitivity. Male environment – not allowed to be girly.
Gerry got grant to go to London in 70’s. Went to Oval Summer School. Changed her life.
00:53.00 Birth of Hesitate and Demonstrate. Gerry and Janet worked together and became Hesitate and Demonstrate. The name of the company came from watching demonstrators performing in department stores. Worked on streets in Leeds. Degree show Occasional Tables was set in a tea room. Inspired by Anna Kavan, Jean Rhys, the Brontes. Roland Miller (external tutor) intervened. Adrian Henri loved it.Cutlery and tea cups were a running icon. Art school allowed Gerry to form own language. Adrian Henri invited her to create a performance at Liverpool Gallery. John Darling invited Hes and Dem to perform Blackbird at Bradford festival.Hes and Dem had arrived. Got grant from Yorkshire Arts. Did art attacks. Middle class looking girls doing unexpected things. Popular in festivals in Yorkshire.
01:05:26 First Indoor Show. Oval House invited Hes and Dem to do a residency. So Gerry and Janet created Midnight Ladies and did a show called Points of Departure.
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00:00:00 First Indoor Show cont. Important because first interior show together. John Darling created soundscape.
Created a world of ambiguity set in an hotel. Show went down well. Text taken from book and film. Never rehearsed.
Created show in Patisserie Valerie in Soho.
The joy of creating. Gerry and Janet different but understood each others sensibilities. Lots of shopping to find relevant objects. Lived off Yorkshire Arts grant, the dole, odd jobs and an enterprise allowance. Used Oval as base. Show pre-created – story board and drawings done – then went into room at Oval and allowed to do what they wanted. Hes and Dem owe existence to Oval House. Loved John Darling’s lighting and sound but always women at centre of show. Became known as painterly performances. Used dynamics of place. Used objects and clothes not props and costumes. Used imagery of Delveaux (Belgian surrealist painter) in show as well as images of perfect murder and hats a la Agatha Christie. Lots of research in tea rooms. Toured Points of Departure. Liked touring.
00:17:06 More shows in Leeds, London and Amsterdam. Then asked by John Darling to do show in Leeds which was then taken to Oval. Called Haha and inspired E.M. Forster short story, Anna Kavan, Delveaux, Cocteau. Invited Sally Cranfield to join them. Show about house being auctioned with images from formal gardens. Ordered trees which when arrived were much too small. So improvised which taught her to always think of something else.
John Darling vital to work . Invited to Melk Weg so said let’s do Hes and Dem show. Created Horrid Things – image of hidden village – in Oval upstairs. Created lovely world which became horrid. Second version done at Melk Weg.
John Ashford invited company to ICA (a step up from the Oval). Created Minutes inspired by T.S. Elliot’s Four Quartets, 1940’s/1950’s London. Very sad piece. Bigger budget which meant dearer clothes. Built ruined house. About broken hearts, passing of time, change.
Hes and Dem becoming better known and John Darling said let’s take show to Melk Weg. Ritsaert ten Cate (from the Mickery Theatre) saw show there and liked it.
After Minutes did show at Acme Gallery at short notice. how inspired by advertising jingles. Very surreal. Not best moment but enjoyed doing it. Galleries more liberal than theatre.
Invited to the Mickery. Jan Hardisty joined company and Janet fell in love with him. He was in No Regrets. Melanie Thompson joined show. Done downstairs at the Oval. Inspired by Strenville photographs and Woolworth assistants. Influenced by Busby Berkeley.
Show developed to go to the Mickery. Wonderful place. Ritsaert great. An Oval atmosphere. Gerry loved it. Show did Mickery tour of one night stands in Holland.
Back to London. Did second version of Horrid Things. Then Scars.
00:59:04 Squatting. Important to survival. When left Leeds where she survived by bar working and singing in Jeff Nuttall’s jazz band she came to London and moved into squat in 3 Carol Street in Camden. In number 1 were Leeds students, in number 5 Belt and Braces and in number 7 Oxbridge students. Friendly with guys in number 5 and moved there. Got to know Jan Hardisty there. Belt and Braces and Hes and Dem became close. John Fiske (from Belt and Braces) became Gerry’s partner and did some work with Hes and Dem. Gerry then fell in love with a shoemaker and lived with him in an Islington squat with lots of architecture and arts people. Naïve and at first didn’t realise that squatting could be dangerous.
01:06:00 Politics. Conversations with the politics in Belt and Braces. Had been to Prague to study on bursary. After Prague Spring  and came across somewhere where you were not allowed to speak out. Nothing in the shops, bugging, political movement through art (animation). Not happy with communism. Discussions with Belt and Braces. Confused and had to think hard. Privileged to be part of changing world and free. Believed in the ‘Aunty Minnie’ factor – if she could understand shows anybody could. Lived in extraordinary times and with the shadow of the bomb. Baby boomers and yet same insecurity. This influenced work. Maybe without realising.
Gerry and Janet not part of political movement. Did their own thing.
01:13:16 Scars. Things changing. Janet pregnant. Best show.
01:13:45 Feminism. Hes and Dem not aware of possible anti-feminist reading of No Regrets (because of use of Victorian underwear as costume) because they didn’t regard themselves as attractive women. They were not part of feminist movement but were sure of role as women and used to tough environment (Leeds). Didn’t want to be labelled. Wanted to be themselves.
01:17:53 Scars. Different because Janet would be leaving soon. So did Scars which Janet was in. About Yorkshire, Brontes, death. Knew Hes and Dem splitting up. John Darling came back temporarily. Done at the ICA. Didi Hopkins was in show. ICA became home. Everyone met there. Central. Show went extraordinarily well. Influenced by Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea. Had week’s residency to set up. Timing of sound crucial: the soundscape was the script. Lots of research into Brontes. Toured to Scandinavia in December 1980 with a pregnant Janet (very worrying).
01:29:29 Without Janet. Excuse Me- first show without Janet. Worked with Didi and Jan. Inspired by Cafe de Bree and afternoon tea dances. Exciting show but was not ready to go it alone. Work in progress. Did it at Oval. Due to go to Mickery but Ritsaert didn’t like it because it wasn’t ready. Hes and Dem successful so there were expectations. Very upsetting and alone.
Had been with ArtsAdmin as producers since 1979. One of first companies with ArtsAdmin. Everthing different.
Dad guaranteed overdraft. Always in banks. Missed Janet.
Show was better at the Mickery but Ritsaert had moved on. Hes and Dem didn’t fit but Gerry did solo shows. Seen a lot in Europe. Entered European touring circuit. Janet not there. Had to toughen up.
01:42:44 Second Phase of Hes and Dem. Became involved in Half Moon through John Fiske. Asked Lisa Aitken to join Hes and Dem. Alex Mavro –introduced by Mark Long.
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00:00:00 Second phase of Hes and Dem cont. Alex Mavro –introduced by Mark Long.– was part of Excuse Me. Meeting Didi Hopkins [Beryl and the Perils] Tom Donellan from Half Moon did brilliant lighting.
Invited to do residency at Chapter Arts Centre. Week’s research at Butlin’s, Barry Island for Do Not Disturb. Inspired by Singer Sargent painting. About stranger coming to English hotel. Good show. Gerry got confidence back. Together with Lisa and Alex formed a new language. Toured the show. A new company. Went to De Lantaren for festival.
Hes and Dem grew up. Had Board etc. Caught in funding trap – pressure to do 3 shows a year.
Used tape from old show to create Goodnight Ladies. About Anastasia who people didn’t believe was Anastasia. Worked with students at Central School of Art, began to understand power of design. Did the show at the Jeanetta Cochrane as a try-out. Went down a bomb.
00:11:00 De Lantaren and International touring. At Lantaren two men came onto stage during the show. Audience thought it part of show. Gerry and Lisa were removed from the stage by the police. The men were from a fascist artistic company who planned to kidnap a theatre company. They were arrested and deported. Terrifying event. Changed Gerry.
Goodnight Ladies was done at Lantaren, Belgium, Spain and Italy. Now international touring group. Invited by People Show to start building with them. Still never rehearsed. Invited by Lantaren to do residency. Was in second part of Goodnight Ladies and created Shangri La which was based on Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Supported by Lantaren.
Did Secret Garden at Mickery.
Shangri La not right. Missed Janet more and more. Show a theatre piece. Gerry not in it and so was director. Rehearsing now.
00:23:13 Third Phase of Hes and Dem. Went to Polverigi, near Ancona in North Italy. Fell in love with Italy. Goodnight Ladies performed in festival. John Darling came with family. He wasn’t well and disappeared. Manic. Carabineri called, found him and took him to hospital.
Gerry and Roberto, the festival director, bonded. Wanted to do big tour of Shangri La. Chahine flew to Sardinia. Gerry stayed in Rome unable to pay bill. Roberto paid and Gerry stayed in Bologna. Had four weeks to kill before show. Love of Italy grew. Invited to create show in Italy.
Created No More Songs of Love – world of East End and docks. Woman going through series of doors. Tyrone Huggins played taxi driver.Invited to perform it in Polverigi.
Meanwhile when John Ashford came back from Japan found his position at ICA was not what he thought and he left. Michael Morris took over and ethos changed. Polverigi became last bastion of ICA world. Best festival ever. John Ashford came over to festival.
Gerry also directed Kidnap at the Mickery about a fake kidnapping. Ritsaert a visionary.
Invited to Polverigi alongside No More Songs. Living in Amsterdam and commuting all over Europe. Went to see No More Songs in Holland and shocked to discover show had been changed. Central figure had been changed to a man. Gerry changed show back and took it to Polverigi along with Kidnap.
The man in the show attacked Gerry and when at lunch with Chahine and John Ashford she felt ill and was taken to hospital with damaged neck. Stayed in Bologna to recover. Missed Hes and Dem’s 10th anniversary. Thought about life, went back to Amsterdam and re-arranged anniversary party.
00:43:37 Building with People Show. This was when invited to share building. Had left Arts Admin and Fester was producer. Goodnight Ladies went to USA without Gerry and show changed. Gerry never clear about role of director and difficult for woman to be in charge of company. Hated having work changed.
Moved into People Show space and faced for first time with rehearsal room. What to do ? Felt she was saleable commodity. Janet visited but couldn’t join. Did Midday Sun with Caryl Churchill and Pete Brooks. Put together by John Ashford. Opened at ICA in 1984 season. Designed set (had done Motley course). Opening night gala Gerry was sobbing. She didn’t want to do it any more
00:51:16 Tring Thing. Invited by Clive Tempest to be part of first Tring workshops 1983. Met Tim Albery and Natasha Morgan. Began to understand language of theatre. About to do Motley course. Theatre more accepting of alternative work. Bonded with Tim. Did Secret Garden which opened at Mickery and went to ICA. A success. ICA was headquarters. Link between Mickery, ICA and international touring circuit. Show based on the book of same name. About life, death, colonialism, India. Incredible mixture of people worked on it. Ground breaking. Music theatre. Dance theatre.
Gerry mourned loss of experiment and couldn’t develop ideas. In England we worship the word. Worried about need to define. Still didn’t/don’t rehearse.
01:01:50 The Finale. Had created international company for Roberto – A Woman Alone– whilst living in Bologna after attack. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Opened in Italy. Third phase of Hes and Dem – Gerry alone.
Chahine and Gerry touring Goodnight Ladies in Italy. Went back home and Alex and Lisa took over. A crisis so Gerry went back to London and couldn’t get back to Italy. There had been an accident with the truck and had to cancel first half of tour. Show had opened at Warwick Arts Centre. Company needed increased overdraft because of loss of tour. Couldn’t get one so went bust: Hes and Dem ceased trading. It happened very quickly.
By then Gerry wasn’t really enjoying the work. It had become a business. Hes and Dem was the only thing she knew.
01:11:54 Talk about Magdelena project.
01:13:49 Trent Polytechnic. Needed a job and replied to an ad for a job at Trent Poly. First proper job although female tutors were lowest of low and not paid very much. Barry Smith a mentor there. Given freedom. Created site-specific work. Students put Gerry back together. Loved teaching. Moved from Amsterdam to Nottingham. Barry asked Gerry to programme the theatre. Given her head. So the Powerhouse was born. rogrammed first Forced Entertainment show. Kept her friends and peers close in this way. A popular touring venue. Did it for three years. Met Steve Roberts who worked with John Ashford at The Place. He commissioned work by Gerry and students. Invited to do it for a second year and college said no. Gerry left.
01:22:19 Italy again. When Hes and Dem went under Italy lost money and Gerry lost Italian connection. Roberto died in 1988 so didn’t see him again. At this time Gerry was about to design Mrs Vershinin at Riverside Studios and at the same time creating a piece for National Review of Live Art in Glasgow – Shattered. Made with ex-Trent students. This piece was commissioned again. Utterly numb and left teaching in 1989. Went to Polverigi and did Shattered. A very emotional night. Supposed to go to leaving party but didn’t.
01:27:26 Nottingham Playhouse and London. Invited to design play at Nottingham Playhouse. Stayed on for three years although living in London. In a proper traditional theatre. First show was The Importance of Being Earnest [Oscar Wilde – set a giant handbag]. Became part of exciting team – Ruth Mackenzie, Pip Broughton. Did lots of other things to earn money.
Moved back into old social circles in London. Anna Furse at Paines Plough invited Gerry to be artist in residence and she did site-specific performance. As a freelance designer she did a piece in Salisbury. After she stopped teaching got a grant from ACE to make a show. Started company called Betty, Vera and Doris. Did a show called Coup de Foudre at Riverside. About Gerry’s life. Text by Terry Johnson. Had problem with bank again and had to pull show. 1990. ACE wonderful. Didn’t have to pay money back. Two disasters in two years. Went to stay in Portmeirion to get together.
Back to design. Got bored. Never found right director. Can’t compromise. Loved some shows and learnt to do big. Worked at Traverse, Hampstead, Salisbury. A different world. Not part of it.
01:37:16 Site-specific work. Asked to do work in two house near station in Salisbury. The House. Multi-media and site-specific. Worked with students.
Invited to do site-specific work for Royal Court YPT in Hackney. 300 students involved.
Invited by LWT to create work for South Bank.
In convent on Holloway Road – Dreamwork – 300/400 young people.
Beginning to form new language.
Invited by Islington Mayor to do site-specific work. Did it at St. Pancras in 2000. Involved 400 young people and big team. 100 design placements.
01:43:02 Corridor. Started new company: Corridor. Performed in empty swimming pools, hotels, Morecambe pier etc. No producer.
In 2005 Deep End in Marshall Street baths. Helped save baths.
Loves buildings and giving them identity and history.
Has team of people like Chahine to draw on. Works with different people but has a core group. Cast recruited from community groups. Likes mixture of people. Important way of working. Different levels of experience.
Handbag in the Great Hall at BAC. One-off piece rehearsed in one day. No set. Recruit women (5 to 200). Dance around handbags to ‘Billie Jean’. One woman’s dream. Very choreographed. Men come in to It’s Raining Men. Re-imagined for different spaces. Can’t define it. Very simple and moving. Makes people smile.
Installations – another strand. Creating images without people. Work not ephemeral – important. Created pagodas for Brighton Pavilion. Can’t afford to store them.
01:56:33 Summing Up. Feels privileged. Has lots of opportunities. But completely broke. As an artist not a bright shining candle flame but a constant glow.
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