About Wendy (& other, far more inspirational sorts)

This is the showing off section.

You know the drill:

“What I’ve done, who I am, yadda, yadda, yadda”.

So, to offset against all that, let’s start with a bit about a woman who inspired the theatre world & risked it all for her craft.

It’s my firmly held belief that Joan Littlewood changed the face of British theatre for working class actors and audiences alike. I also think she was absolutely ‘on the nose’ when she said:

“Theatre should be free, like water, love or air”

Accessibility is the name of the game.

The arts should & must be for everybody.

Everyone needs to experience what Joan described when she once said to an interviewer:

“Have you ever seen people who’ve never danced before, dancing?

They become so beautiful and alive.

That’s what theatre is, you see?

Love.

Communion”

And that is the crux of it for me.

Communion. Community. Caring.

We all need a bloody good laugh, to relate to others, to learn a little & to experience a bit of magic.

Get On With It!

OK, OK, back to ‘this is me’.

As the great Dorothy Parker once proclaimed:

“Excuse my dust!”

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Dusty Image

What’s Yer Label, Mabel?

I won’t bore you with a list of jobs I’ve done. Instead I’ll pop down some labels wot I can justify should I be asked because the world seems to like labels – and so, here’s some labels I can offer back to the world:

Documentary Maker.

Theatre Maker.

Ensemble Member.

Story Teller.

Workshop Facilitator.

Fool.

Folktale lover.

Mucker Inner.

Drama Explorer.

Joan Littlewood Inspiree.

Giggler.

“Cobblers!” I hear you holler. “Stop showing off & get back to ‘who you are’, you great ninny”

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The Fine Art Of Boozing

Memory Lane Alert!

I’ve been knocking about in the arts game for about 30 years now – sounds like a cue for a blues number.

(Imagine a bit of ‘dirty blues’ underpinning the next section – zaps it up no end!)

When I was a tot, I lived in the North East of England. My parents wanted to take me to see a panto but it was expensive & we weren’t millionaires so they let it go. As luck would have it, a couple of weeks before Christmas the Chopwell Village Hall put a notice up on the door:

“BRUVVERS PANTO – PAY WHAT YOU CAN”

[Mike Mould ran Bruvvers, which he’d brought to the North East because he wanted to “Take theatre to the people” having grown up in London’s East End experiencing the work of Joan Littlewood & Theatre Workshop].

So off I went to see my first bit of theatre – along with about half of Chopwell village.

It was magic.
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“Now THAT’S magic!”
Later, when I turned 17, there were few prospects for ’80s yoof’ like me. But there was an advert in the Evening Chronicle:
‘Youth Theatre welcomes new members! No audition. Free entry’.
It was at Live Theatre in Newcastle Upon Tyne & after a couple of weeks, the writer in workshop, Steve Chambers pulled me to one side & told me he thought I should also try another free youth theatre group in Wallsend which held no auditions, anyone could go.
So, off I went.
They were playing games when I arrived & they welcomed me as they welcomed everybody, asking me to join in immediately with a daft game. In fact, the ‘game’ was swinging a rope around the room at speed & folk leaping into the air to avoid being whacked in the shins by a massive knot! I remember thinking “Looks like fun. I’m ‘in’!”
Spike Hale was the youth theatre leader in Wallsend & during my first session he got me improvising before I realised I was even improvising. It just felt like mucking about and enjoying yourself. I remember feeling proud & confident when I left, which was ace, as I was not a confident yoof.
Mike Mould was a supporter of the local Youth Theatres & he would come along, run the odd workshop & encourage us to see local theatres. I remember thinking that if I could work with Bruvvers – doing what they’d done for me & the kids of Chopwell – it would be a dream come true.
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Mr Mould, if you please!
Sharing Is Caring!
I also recall taking my Mum & Dad to Live Theatre around that time to see another Bruvvers show which had been written by the brilliant C.P. Taylor, we howled our arses raw with laughter. My Mum still mentions an actor who played a budgie to this day & I believe that ‘the budgie’ is now a producer for BBC Radio Newcastle! At the end of the show, we went nuts – then the company stepped forward & applauded the audience! This was something different.
Further Exploration

By 1989, I’d decided drama was something I had to explore further. I was like a junkie for workshops. So, I went & looked into drama schools. At the same time, I didn’t want to be around what I perceived to be ‘luvvies’.

So, after a bit of research & the purchase of Theatre Games by Theatre Workshop’s Clive Barker (who I got the honour of working with a little later), East 15 Acting School stood out to me as it was the nearest in practice & philosophy to my own youth theatre experience.

I got the prospectus & knew for sure I had to audition there. It spoke about ‘exploring further’ & ‘risk’ & ‘fun’ & ‘play’ & ‘improvisation’ & ‘inclusion’. And it had original, colourful, insane artwork splattered on it. This was a definately different type of training. They seemed to work by their own rules & practices & they seemed edgy in their desire to explore further.

I wanted in!
That Autumn, I took the all-night bus to London to audition at East 15.

The school was on the outskirts of town, near Epping Forest – so these were definitely the outlaws of theatre training! The Dick Turpins of the drama world! They appealed to me more & more.

“Stand and deliver! The story of your life!”

I had everything crossed for acceptance.
(Which is a nice trick if you can do it, but I digress)
It was a workshop audition & we were encouraged to go off at one point & speak with the current students about the training here. The student I spoke to spent five minutes slagging the whole thing off!
I got the full monty.
But I remember thinking “Any place that doesn’t fear criticism is a place I need to be!”
And as it turns out they did accept me.
But the council wouldn’t give me a grant!
I was gutted, but such was the community ethos of our youth theatre that a campaign was started by one of the other yoofs, Trevor Todd! How wonderful was that?! And Mike Mould was one of the first to write a letter saying that if the council gave me a full grant he would hire me at Bruvvers at the end of the course.
I got the grant.
I went to East 15.
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Not so much ‘star’ as ‘starfish’.
Pay It Forward
On my last day at East 15 Acting School, Mike Mould contacted me to say I had a job with Bruvvers, starting that Autumn.
Magic.

Is There A Point In Our Future?
I owe a lot of people a lot of credit for my 30 years (thus far) of exploration, fun & risk in the arts game!
I am very lucky.
But now is not the time to speak of luck.
Now is a time to fight for others.
The arts have been hijacked & monetised & those open doors are in serious danger of slamming shut.
We must raise our voices for all who follow us.
Everybody should always have the opportunity to get involved in the arts & to explore their creativity.
Too many people today are not given the chances that I was lucky enough to receive.
And that is a disgrace.
Everybody, no matter their age, background, class, ethnicity, sexuality or gender should be included in the arts – not as an experiment or a tick-box funding arrangement or a pet project but because art must be for everybody in the community because art is resistance, art is expression, art is love, art is challenge, art is communion!
Like many others, I’ve spent years working away in communities, providing workshops which encourage folk to realise that you can do it too. You CAN get involved. You must believe you have a right to create. And this is something that I will always endeavour to do. Because it matters.
Are We Nearly There Yet?

I’d like to bring things to a close by sharing what I was taught, from an early age:

You have to be able to laugh at yourself.

In ‘The Rebel’ by Tony Hancock, the incredible Irene Handl (as Mrs Crevatte, the Landlady) goes to Hancock’s room to have a gander at his “genius”.

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There was only one Irene Handl

The scene is everything:

Mrs Crevatte:

(Pointing at a piece of artwork)

Oh my good gawd, what’s that ‘orrible thing?

Hancock:

That, madam, is a self portrait!

Mrs Crevatte:

Who of?

Hancock:

Who of? Laurel & Hardy!

Whenever I make work I always ask myself:

What would Mrs Crevatte make of it?

That keeps things real.

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Life is nowt without the likes of Brendan

The late, great Brendan Behan, who always kept it real (surreal!) once wrote:

“The only bad publicity is an obituary”

True words Brendan, bonny lad, true words.

So in the end?

To end where I began – with the foremother of modern theatre herself! (Or at least with those she had inspired)

Joan was the beginning for countless numbers of arts folk.

She took no prisoners, she took risks, she took the piss, she inspired with her work and her actions.

There aren’t many who deserve the label ‘genius’ – but Joan Littlewood was a genius.

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Maverick!

She once told Philip Hedley:

“I built my life on the rock of change”

Yes Joan Maud Littlewood, you most certainly did that.

And I am one of legions who had a door opened to them thanks to your efforts – we built our lives on the changes you made to our culture.

We owe you a debt.

But let’s not get sentimental. I’m told you’d hate that shit!

Instead I’ll continue to do my bit in the fight to ensure those doors Theatre Workshop fought so hard to crack open – stay open.

That’s how our debt can be repaid.

“Everyone an artist”

Too bloody true.

We’re on it Joan!

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