Ruth Mackenzie Topics List

Ruth Mackenzie Topics List taken from her interview with Susan Croft, May 2007, recorded by Arlan Harris.
Video and audio extracts edited by Jessica Higgs

Personal Background
Feminism informed by her feminist direct grant school: South Hampstead
Girls, established by feminists in 19th century
On Sue Sharpe’s Just Like a Girl on girls and boys performance
Involvement in children’s choir and contemporary opera
Influence of English teachers Gay Watchman and Joy Macaulay
Playing in The Winter’s Tale and the ‘Button Holder’ in Peer Gynt
Directing Ibsen’s The Master Builder

Cambridge University
Studied at Newnham –academically rigorous
Studying History – changed to English, auditioning for drama groups
European tour of Julius Caesar
Rachel Feldberg’s (RF) production of Steve Gooch’s Female Transport
inspired RM and RF to write and stage feminist plays:
The Honeysuckle and the Bee
Wife Fronts
(went to Edinburgh)
Brute Farce ‘a hilarious comedy about rape’
The Mummy’s Curse, on menstruation, then became the first show
by Moving Parts
President of Cambridge Mummers 1976-9 – involvement of distinguished women like Pip Broughton and Annabel Arden

Moving Parts
Setting up of company coincides with Thatcher’s cuts to the arts
Vision of company, committed to playing youth clubs – audience ‘commissioned’ the company and chose topic for next play
A skills-sharing collective, swapping roles, training others
Initial focus on touring to Lincolnshire, Kent and East Anglia
Drama Officer, Neil Wallace, offers them accommodation in his own house on tour of 10 Lincs youth clubs
RM renting shared flat in Camden and temping as editorial asst. on Time Out
Company’s commitment to work
Company members
Tension between RF and RM as co-founders/ leaders and ideal of collective working
Anita Lewton – brilliant at physical theatre, administrator
Saffron Myers and her then husband Alex, gifted actors and administrators,
later administrator of Women In Entertainment, which RM later chairs
Ralph Brown – involvement of men
Jenny LeCoat, comedian

Moving Parts Shows
All funny, physical with a band and songs
The Mummy’s Curse on menstruation, sexism and demonisation of women

Space Invaders on the capitalist work ethic, collectively written
On the introduction of the clock and clocking in – working classes must deserve leisure time – irony of this in a company doing 85 hour weeks

Out of Order – on law and order
Writing process
Set in the jungle
Group criticism

Nightmare van stories of touring and breakdowns
GLC funding
Paying Equity minimum by 1980 – they’d found a niche working in youth clubs, YOPs (Youth Opportunity) and YTS (Youth Training Schemes)
Playing in Leicester – highest National Front vote in Britain
Dealing with violent and enraged members of audience
Developing mechanisms for conflict resolution

The Empire Strikes Back – on racism
Dr No (the last one RM wrote)

Theatre at the Mill, Bradford 1 and closure of Moving Parts
RM takes over Theatre at the Mill from Graham Devlin
Success of RM lifetime’s ambition to run her own company, aged 22
Moving Parts closes due to quarrels within company
RF appointed Artistic Director of Red Ladder and transforms it from agit-prop  collective, later Kully Thiarai takes over
RM’s frustration and upset at audiences where women’s ambitions were limited to being a hairdresser or joining the police, and with racist young men in Baldock

Closure of Women In Entertainment (RF on Board)
Coincides with end of GLC
Networking groups move from being open and embracing to ‘insular, closed and not terribly welcoming’
Proliferation of groups
Katrina Duncan
Involvement now in City University Leadership courses – ‘I’ve been doing Glass Ceiling conferences for at least 20 years and it’s still there’

Theatre at the Mill, Bradford, ACGB (Arts Council GB) and South Bank
Running the arts centre, with theatre fellows, music fellows and volunteers
Work is empowering and motivating
Produces No Offence about Bradford – 12 young Asian boys arrested for protecting the streets against National Front
Cultural diversity issues, working with Kully Thiarai on    women’s rights issues
RM wrote her first opera
Goes to Arts Council as New Writing Officer ‘for a rest’
Then to South Bank Centre

Jobs after South Bank
Applied to run Nottingham Playhouse with Pip Broughton as Artistic Director
Audiences –  highest proportion of concessions in audience of any British theatre, culturally diverse proportion reflects ethnic mix of the city
Runs Scottish Opera
Director Chichester International Festival
Director Manchester International Festival, 25 commissions over 3 weeks

Influence of Feminism on her work
Developing women theatre artists, using women trainees central

Legacy of those times
Glass Ceiling – advocacy and developing opportunities for women
RM’s lack of women models – she was the first women to do most of her jobs
Style of modelling – how are women better e.g team-players, at multi-tasking
Do women want top jobs as presently constituted?
Problems remain
Confidence gap

Pushing definitions as central theme in her career
Restructuring / re-imagining arts and organisations
– e.g what a National Theatre might look like – Vicky Featherstone in Scotland, Rose (Fenton) and Lucy (Neal)’s project ‘The Tipping Point’ on art and climate change at Manchester International festival
20 years on from Moving Parts, RM still rethinking, in less crude ways, issues of community, theatre, art
As Arts Council New Writing Officer, re-thinking what plays might be included commissioning Heathcote Williams’ Whale Music, an underwater piece from Ken Campbell etc

Documentation of Moving Parts
Work little seen by reviewers
All shows were videoed and Susie Clayton, feminist filmmaker filmed The Mummy’s Curse
Saffron Myers, RF, Anita have scripts and photos

Closure of Moving Parts
Company limited by guarantee and charity, project funded
When the company quarrelled there was no authority and it imploded
RF takes vision into Red Ladder
Anita goes to Sheffield as Director of small-scale company where Stephen Daldry starts, later to L.A. to make films
Saffron becomes asstistant director with Paines Plough
RF did an excellent alcohol abuse piece by April De Angelis at Nottingham Playhouse
Ralph Brown becomes well-known actor
Jenny Le Coat becomes a stand up comedienne

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