Sunday, 16 October 2011

Woman of the Day KATHRYN BIGELOW

Kathryn Bigelow - the first female director in history to win the Academy Award for best picture with The Hurt Locker, which she also produced.  In addition, she's the first woman to win the BAFTA for Best Director (also for The Hurt Locker).

She's only the fourth woman in history to be nominated for the Academy Award.  The other three were Jane Campion, Lina Wertmuller and Sofia Coppola.  I think that the quote below tells us all we need to know about her opinion on women directing.

If there's specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can't change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It's irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don't. There should be more women directing; I think there's just not the awareness that it's really possible. It is.
Kathryn Bigelow

She spoke to one journalist at The Governors Ball, and said: "girls who dream of being directors should believe that anything they want to happen can happen"

The Hurt Locker is vintage Bigelow, gripping characters, riveting action and explosives.  Kathryn Bigelow proves that female directors can direct action to equal any male director. She has long been demonstrating this. 

This is her acceptance speech from the 82nd Academy Awards:

"This really is when ... there is no other way to describe this.   It's the moment of a lifetime.
First of all, this is so extraordinary to be in the company of such powerful - my fellow nominees -such powerful film makers who have inspired me and I have admired for -- some of whom -- for decades.
Thank you to every member of the Academy.   This is again the moment of a lifetime.
I would not be standing here if it wasn't for Mark Bohl who risked his life for the words on the page and wrote such a courageous screenplay that I was fortunate enough to have a great cast bring that screenplay to life. Jeremy Renner. Anthony Mackey and Brian Garrity.
And I think the secret to directing is collaborating and I had truly an extraordinary group of collaborators in my crew:  Barry Akroyd and Kelly Juliason, and Bob Murawski, Chris Innis, Ray Beckett, Richard Stutzman.  And if I could also just thank my producing partners, Greg Shapiro and my wonderful agent Brian Suberal, and the people of Jordan who were so hospitable to us when we were shooting.
And I'd like to dedicate this to the women and men in the military who risk their lives on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world and may they come home safe.
Thank you"

The Hurt Locker Trailer

I always want to make films. I think of it as a great opportunity to comment on the world in which we live. Perhaps just because I just came off The Hurt Locker and I'm thinking of the war and I think it's a deplorable situation. It's a great medium in which to speak about that. This is a war that cannot be won, why are we sending troops over there? Well, the only medium I have, the only opportunity I have, is to use film. There will always be issues I care about.
Kathryn Bigelow

Artist & Film Maker

Kathryn Bigelow's creative journey started in earnest in 1970 - she went to San Francisco Art Institute.  It says on the IMDB website that she was a very talented painter.  She graduated in 1972 as a Bachelor of Fine Arts and went on to be accepted into a scholarship program in New York where one of her professors was Susan Sontag. 

Whereas painting is a more rarefied art form, with a limited audience, I recognized film as this extraordinary social tool that could reach tremendous numbers of people.
Kathryn Bigelow
Bigelow then attended Colombia University where she earned her master's degree in film.  Her first short film, The Set-Up was a twenty minute deconstruction of violence in film. 

Her first feature length film came in 1982 and was an outlaw-biker movie The Loveless which starred Willem Dafoe. 

After this, came my favourite Kathryn Bigelow film, and the one that first brought her onto my 'must see film-maker' radar.  The film was Near Dark and Kathryn Bigelow co-wrote it.  It's a vampire film - and for my money it's also one of the best vampire films ever made. 

Near Dark Trailer

After Near Dark she made Blue Steel a cop-action thriller starring Jamie Lee Curtis as a tough New York cop, fighting to clear her name.  Around this time she also wrote an episode of The Equalizer a P.I. Series starring Edward Woodward.  The episode was entitled 'Lady Cop'.

Blue Steel Trailer

After Blue Steel came one of my favourite action films.  Point Break - a rip-roaring, fast-paced bank-heist film about a group of dare-devil surfers who rob banks dressed as ex presidents.  An FBI undercover agent becomes one of them and his loyalties are tested to the limit.  The film starred Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves.  At that time, people would say women can't direct action films.  I'd enjoy asking them if they thought Point Break was a good action film - which they invariably did and then I'd let them know who directed it! 

Point Break Trailer

After Point Break, she went back to TV, directing Wild Palms and then on to the science fiction feature film, Strange Days starring Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett.  After this came three episodes of the ground-breaking cop show Homicide: Life on the Street and the film The Weight of Water which is about a journalist investigating a murder from the past, starring Sean Penn and Catherine McCormack.

The new millenium dawned and in 2002 Bigelow created K19: The Widowmaker a film about the troubled crew of a Russian submarine, starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson, she also produced this film and after it produced and directed The Hurt Locker - the rest on that is history!

This year saw her at the helm of The Miraculous Year - an HBO TV pilot starring Susan Sarandon.  Currently Kathryn is working on a yet untitled international thriller - she'll be the producer and director of the project. 

I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about what my aptitude is, and I really think it's to explore and push the medium. It's not about breaking gender roles or genre traditions.
Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow is a hugely respected and much celebrated film-maker and desrevedly so, she's been a member of the jury at the Sundance Film Festival in 1990, a member of the jury at the Venice Film Festival in 1998 and a member of jury at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2003.  Long may she continue to break-ground and entertain us. 

Kathryn Bigelow on Directing

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Psycho-Biddy OR Grand-Dame Guignol

The "Psycho Biddy" genre originates back to "The Grand Guignol"

The Grand Guignol operated in Paris for over sixty years and ended in 1962. It produced one-act plays of up to 40 minutes in length and was famous for it's violent works of horror.  The theatre was based in the middle of the Parisian red light district, so visitors would have to pass by prostitutes in doorways on their way through the shadowy alleyways which led to the theatre space.

(Source: Richard Hands excellent Grand Guignol books)

The alleyway leading to the Grand Guignol Theatre in Paris.

The Psycho-Biddy Genre or Grand Dame Guignol

This outstanding sub-genre is also delightfully known as 'hagsploitation' and is widely believed to be dervied from the Grand Guignol genre. 

Basically, psycho biddy offerings usually exist in film, and are often chamber pieces - neat theatrical stories concerning a woman trapped in some way, or those of a woman who has trapped somebody in some way. 

Forms a psycho-biddy can take:
  • The crone
  • The matriarch
  • The malevolent grandmother
  • The nanny
  • The woman 'past her best'
  • The terrifying and dominant psychopath

You know the sort of thing!

Psycho Biddy or Grande Dame Guignol is a fusion of two key concepts - the older woman and Grand Guignol.   The older woman is often powerful, flamboyant or eccentric.  In other words strong, present and nuts! 

When looking at the history of Psycho Biddy, we can't begin to imagine the impact that films such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) would have had when they were released. 

Psycho Biddy uses suspense, realistic violence and psychological intensity and follows in the gothic horror tradition and arguably, that of Grand Guignol - to my mind the Psycho Biddy genre keeps gothic horror and Grand Guignol alive.

Many older female performers have been redescovered in the genre and many strong female performers have made a name for themselves within it too.

These include:

  • Bette Davis
  • Joan Crawford
  • Ellen Burstyn
  • Kathy Bates
  • Barbara Stanwyck
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Shelley Winters
  • Lousie Fletcher
Psycho Biddy or Grand Dame Guignol attracts the very best performers. 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Shortly before the release of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, an advert appeared in the Hollywood Reporter. 

It read:

“Situation Wanted, Women/Artists.  Mother of three, divorcĂ©e. American.  Thirty years experience as an actress in motion pictures.  Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it.   Wants steady employment in Hollywood"

The advertiser was Bette Davis - the Oscar-winning star had been suffering a shortage of opportunities for nearly a decade. 

By the time her ad was published though, Baby Jane was about to be released.

Bette Davis & Joan Crawford
in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Scripted by Lukas Heller, who also wrote the screenplay for 'Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte', 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' is set in a decaying Hollywood mansion, where Jane Hudson (Bette Davis), a former child star 'cares for' her sister Blanche (Joan Crawford), a film star forced to retire after a terrible accident, they live together in isolation.  You could chew on the tension in their relationship which in my opinion defines how sibling rivalry should be played.

As time goes by, Jane exercises greater and greater control over her sister, intercepting her letters and ensuring that nobody from the outside has any contact with her.  As Jane slowly loses her mind, she torments her sister - it is one of the greatest films of all time. 

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte

Bette Davis
in 'Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte'

Charlotte Hollis is an aging recluse in a state of dementia brought on by horrible memories, she lives in a secluded house where, thirty-seven years before her married lover was beheaded and mutilated by an unknown assailant. 

The Night Walker

Barbara Stanwick
in 'The Night Walker'

Written by Robert Bloch, who wrote the original 'Psycho' and went on to write several Alfred Hitchcock Hour and Tales from the Darkside episodes, The Night Walker starred the sublime Barbara Stanwyk and told the story of a wealthy woman having nightmares about her jealous, blind husband who supposedly burned to death in a recent fire.

During the course of the film she tries to convince her lawyer that her nightmares are real.

The Nanny

Bette Davis & Wendy Craig
in 'The Nanny'

Scripted by Hammer Horror's Jimmy Sangster and starring the spectacular Bette Davis - who gives one of her most remarkable performances as the nanny of a British family who's spent her life caring for the children of the wealthy whilst neglecting herself.  She is trapped by a deep dark secret from her past.

Flowers in the Attic

Louise Fletcher
in 'Flowers in the Attic'

Based on the fabulous novel by Virginia Andrews, the screenplay was by Jeffrey Bloom a TV writer who'd worked on series such as Columbo.

Flowers In The Attic starred the incredible Louise Fletcher - best known for her performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest (a character who could be described as a psycho biddy in her own right!) 

Flowers In The Attic tells the story of a mother, who after her husband dies takes her kids off to live with her parents in a huge old house.

However, the kids are kept hidden in a room just below the attic, visited only by their mother who becomes less and less concerned about them and their failing health, and more concerned about herself and the inheritence she plans to win back from her dying father, to the point of murder.


Kathy Bates & James Caan
in 'Misery'

With an original story by Stephen King and a screenplay by William Goldman you really can't go far wrong.  Add in Rob Reiner as the director and bring the unbelievably talented Kathy Bates to the mix and we have lift off - before we even need to mention James Caan! 

The story starts when novelist Paul Sheldon is on his way home from Colorado after completing his latest book.  He crashes his car during a blizzard and is badly injured.  He's rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes who claims to be Paul's "number one fan". 

Annie takes Paul back to her remote house in the mountains.  Unfortunately for Paul, Annie is also an absolute lunatic and when she discovers that Paul has killed off her favourite heroine in his novel, the resulting scene shatters all expectations!

Richard Hand's books:



Woman of the Day VIOLA SPOLIN

For a short while on my facebook account, I've been discovering and sharing a woman of the day.  Some of these women have been my personal SHEROES (thank you for the description Maya Angelou!) All I know is that all of these women have been inspiring, real or fictional, from any walk of life...they are all outstanding, motivating and amazing. 

I've been completing this task as a challenge to myself to discover a little more every day about women's stories. 

I'm extending my task to BLOGGER today! 




"She has genius and shares it" - Valerie Harper

In the 1920s, a young Viola Spolin studied with Neva Boyd at the Recreational Training School in Chigago.  Neva taught a one-year educational program in group games, gymnastics, dancing, dramatic arts, play theory, and social problems. (Her book 'Handbook of Recreational Games' contains descriptions for 300 childrens games and their uses)

Inspired by her training Viola Spolin began to explore the use of games, storytelling and folkdance as tools for stimulating creative expression.  Along with Neva Boyd, she started out on a life-long journey to explore this.  The godmother of improvisation was born!

During her extraordinary life as a theatre practitioner Viola went on to work extensively in professional, educational, community and children's theatre.  Her techniques have massively impacted on so much work created today by actors, directors, writers and educationalists.  She has also inspired the worlds of social work, mental health and psychology.

Her book 'Improvisation for the Theater' sets her apart as the go to person for inspiration in practice. 
I certainly use this book, along with the excellent 'Theater Game File' and her others.  I use them constantly in the course of my work and I always strongly recommend others to use them too. 

Viola Spolin died in 1994, but her legacy lives on through the techniques that she created.  There is also the Spolin Centre, which carrys on exploring her techniques. One day I hope to visit.  It was run for some time by her son Paul Sills, who was a key player at THE SECOND CITY improvisation theatre in Chicago.  Another on the list of places that I must go!

The Spolin Centre website is well worth a visit:  http://www.spolin.com/

As is The Second City website: http://www.secondcity.com/history/

As for this posting, the last words belong to the magnificent Viola Spolin:

  • Play touches and stimulates vitality, awakening the whole person – mind, body, intelligence and creativity

  • Everyone can act. Everyone can improvise. Anyone who wishes to can play in the theater and learn to become 'stage-worthy.'  We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. This is as true for the infant moving from kicking and crawling to walking as it is for the scientist with his equations. 

  • If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever they choose to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach. 'Talent' or 'lack of talent' have little to do with it.

  • Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves. It creates an explosion that for the moment frees us from handed-down frames of reference, memory choked with old facts and information and undigested theories and techniques of other people's findings. Spontaneity is the moment of personal freedom when we are faced with reality, and see it, explore it and act accordingly. In this reality the bits and pieces of ourselves function as an organic whole. It is the time of discovery, of experiencing, of creative expression.

  • We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. This is as true for the infant moving from kicking to crawling to walking as it is for the scientist with his equations. If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach.

My hat is high!

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Balloons Have It...

There's magic in many unexpected things...not half.

Consider the simple balloon.

A Balloon, if you will.

Who knew that such a world of possibilities would be gained from a small air filled rubberised novelty item? 

Well, Keith Johnstone knew (http://www.keithjohnstone.com/) being the maestro of play, of course he knew.  I attended one of Keith's courses in London and he used balloons to assist with character dynamics.   It was truly amazing work. 

My creative balloon journey began though with Teresa Arajuzo of Stone Crabs Theatre (http://www.stonecrabs.co.uk/).  I was attending a brilliant and inspiring weekend workshop with Teresa - we'd come back from lunch to be asked to participate in a relaxation exercise on the floor.   We came to the end of this experience, lying with our eyes closed, all chilled out and ready for action, when music started to play.  When we opened our eyes we were surrounded with scores of balloons - it didn't take long for the fun to begin. 

Blow Gabriel Blow!

Balloons have made quite a reappearance for me this month...I've been using them in SCAM rehearsals with New Strides Productions - using them as a means by which to playfully explore relationship dynamics and to discover possibilities within the text.   

My beam could not have been broader during this process - rehearsal at its best.  We were in a gazebo, somewhere in Coldingham, doing an 'anger run' with balloons!  The actors went peanuts, and beautiful, chaotic balloon carnage followed...more importantly, the text flew out of them in a dynamic, authentic fashion and there was a very real sense of risk in the scene.  It was a joy to witness.

My balloon journey was randomly continued with a bunch of kids in a school in South London - we were engaging in a physical comedy workshop...and the balloons became the source of all inspiration.  The hit of the month.  A delightful afternoon was had by all...especially me!

One man and his balloons - now that's what I call inspiration!

On each occasion with the balloons:

We felt safe.

We felt like being a bit silly.

We felt the need to be playful.

After all, balloons are fun...with or without strings attached.

Here's to wherever balloons can take us! 

They can make us want to sing:

    99 Red Balloons

They can be the impetus for higher thinking (no pun intended)

Sylvia Plath, if you please:

Since Christmas they have lived with us,
Guileless and clear,
Oval soul-animals,
Taking up half the space,
Moving and rubbing on the silk

Invisible air drifts,
Giving a shriek and pop
When attacked, then scooting to rest, barely trembling.
Yellow cathead, blue fish--------
Such queer moons we live with

Instead of dead furniture!
Straw mats, white walls
And these traveling
Globes of thin air, red, green,

The heart like wishes or free
Peacocks blessing
Old ground with a feather
Beaten in starry metals.
Your small

Brother is making
His balloon squeak like a cat.
Seeming to see
A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it,
He bites,

Then sits
Back, fat jug
Contemplating a world clear as water.
A red
Shred in his little fist.

Balloons!  Balloons!  Balloons!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Jeanette Winterson

"I seem to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line" (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit)
"To be ill adjusted to a deranged world is not a breakdown"

Jeanette Winterson appearing in the short film "What Matters?"

Bertolt Brecht
"What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?"

"The theatre-goer in conventional dramatic theater says: Yes, I've felt that way, too. That's the way I am. That's life. That's the way it will always be. The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is no escape for him.  That's great art — Everything is self-evident.  I am made to cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh. But the theatre-goer in the epic theater says: I would never have thought that.  You can't do that.  That's very strange, practically unbelievable.  That has to stop.  The suffering of this or that person grips me because there is an escape for him.  That's great art — nothing is self-evident.  I am made to laugh about those who cry, and cry about those who laugh"

"Food first, morals later"

Lotte Lenya sings The Alabama Song from Brecht's "Threepenny Opera"

Tom Waits

"We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness. We are monkeys with money and guns"


"In the forest, there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. Every day, the straight tree would say to the crooked tree, "Look at me...I'm tall, and I'm straight, and I'm handsome. Look at you...you're all crooked and bent over. No one wants to look at you." And they grew up in that forest together. And then one day the loggers came, and they saw the crooked tree and the straight tree, and they said, "Just cut the straight trees and leave the rest." So the loggers turned all the straight trees into lumber and toothpicks and paper. And the crooked tree is still there, growing stronger and stranger every day"

"The big print giveth and the small print taketh away"

Neil Gaiman

"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe" (The Sandman)
Jack Kerouac
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Ooohhh!'" (On the Road)
"Happy.  Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red-fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running—that's the way to live.  All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there, that's all"  (The Dharma Bums)

John Cassavetes

"Most people don't know what they want or feel. And for everyone, myself included, it's very difficult to say what you mean when what you mean is painful. The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to...as an artist, I feel that we must try many things - but above all, we must dare to fail. You must have the courage to be bad - to be willing to risk everything to really express it all"
"Let's let people laugh at what they want to laugh at.  Why shouldn't they laugh?... Listen. I've had people close to me die, and I giggled.  No one is going to tell me about it.  You can't tell me how I feel.  You can't tell that...Do you know why people don't laugh at people? Because they are too high and mighty to laugh, because if you laugh at somebody, you know you're going to have to be connected with them.  You know that you are going to have to put some time in with them.  You know that you are going to truly like those people.  The truth of the matter is that nobody can afford to laugh at anybody. That's why some fucking psychologist comes along and says, 'Don't laugh at him.' When friends get together they laugh at each other. When enemies get together, no chance baby. No laughter"

Thursday, 9 June 2011


If you only buy one book on the craft this year then please make it this wonderful e-book by Brian Astbury. 

I bought it 24 hours ago and so many of the things that Brian talks about in the book are resonating with me stilll, it is an exciting and long overdue piece of work by (in my opinion) one of the most knowledgeable drama practitioners on the planet. 

Every page (or e-page!) exudes a love for the craft, respect for actors and a desire to share a working process.  It is totally brilliant and already has informed my thoughts about my own process...I can't wait to put some of his notions into practice.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough...and having had the pleasure of running a session for Brian's acting students on one or two occasions in the past I can safely say that his process is one of the most exciting I have ever had the good fortune to witness, I say this as somebody who has run a number of sessions with a number of groups over the years.  Brian's students were open, ready, willing and there to honour the process.  His book doesn't come a moment too soon.  We can all stand to learn a little something from this astonishngly talented man. 

And priced at the BARGAIN amount of £3.44 there is no excuse to avoid reading it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Trusting-the-Actor-ebook/dp/B004Z8S7ZS
BUY it and devour it. 
You won't regret it.

Just Like Starting Over...Devising and Maggie and France...oh my!

April 2010 to June 2011

This post is an update for anybody who is mildly interested in the film projects:
  • Lost & Found
  • Looking for Maggie. 
And now, a brief summary...


During one wonderful week in April 2010 I invitied eight amazing actors to join me at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington to work on a devise project - working title 'Lost & Found'.

I'd gathered impetus material: poems, quotes, pictures and props and I'd allowed myself be free when it came to all the tools selected for this process. I'd endeavor not to 'block' my instincts, efforts and offers or attempt to justify my choices. 

It was without question that if the actors made an offer I’d follow it - even if that offer took an idea in a wildly different direction to the original intention - terrifying and exhilarating all at once! 

Accommodating all offers was most definitely to be the key to emotional safety in the creative workspace that week.
I assumed the film would be an anthology piece, with each short story covering one element of loss but I wasn’t absolutely fixed on this.
We started the week by exploring identity. 
Due to the nature of the introductory session and the way in which the ensemble embraced it, a vast array of ideas were shared and explored.  By time we began to ‘get on our feet’ and devise – the actors were ready to wholly offer themselves to the process. 

Nothing seemed ‘forced’ or ‘manufactured' and I believe this was due the spirit of the team and how they embraced the work and each other.

Nicola Vincent during an identity exercise which explored the situation of the Chilean women who danced alone with photographs of their 'disappeared' loved ones in their hands. 

The plight of these women was brought to the attention of many by Sting with the song 'They Dance Alone' from the 'Nothing Like the Sun' album.

I'd covered the entire space in quotes, including:

There is more than one way to be heard. Your hands tell a story.  Doing is creating.  You don’t have to make a sound to be heard" – Jeanette Winterson
It is easier to live through someone else than to complete yourself.  The freedom to lead and plan your own life is frightening if you have never faced it before.  It is frightening when a woman finally realizes that there is no answer to the question 'who am I' except the voice inside herself" - Betty Friedan

As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone.  Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfil the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs.  Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others.  We are, in effect, trained to listen to others' versions of ourselves.  When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfil our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if...if we had known who we really were - Julia Cameron

The one who cannot howl will not find ones pack - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

The craft of questions, the craft of stories, the craft of the hands - all these are the making of something, and that something is soul. Anytime we feed soul, it guarantees increase - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Anna Soderblom & Ruth Urquhart
Improvisation - 'Lost & Found' April 2010

L to R: Sally Mortmores, Jane McGee, Matthew Blake, Lori Mclean, Jennifer Norton & Colleen Daley
Women's Rituals - 'Lost & Found' April 2010

L to R: Ruth Urquhart, Matthew Blake & Jennifer Norton
Women's Rituals - 'Lost & Found' April 2010

We explored:

Lost Inhibitions
Lost Hope
Lost Rituals
Lost Identity
Lost Confidence
Lost Humour
Lost Love

The results of a starter exercise

The idea was to work in pairs and create the basis for a scene - using only two props, a label (containing the timescale of how long ago this scene was left) and a note (done using the automatic writing technique).  The group would work in rotation around several 'sets' one pair creating the 'letter', the next pair adding the props, the next pair labelling the time frame. 

L to R: Matthew Blake & Sally Mortmores 
Improvisation from text - 'Lost & Found' April 2010

Lost & Found - Women's Rituals.  April 2010
L to R - Lori Mclean, Jennifer Norton, Ruth Urquhart & Anna Soderblom.

Update:  Summer 2012

Lost & Found has ended up as six seperate short stories - each to be shot seperately, each as inportant as the next.  The first two of these are shooting this summer.

LOOKING FOR MAGGIE - A documentary film

Ruth Urquhart - Having a pitstop by a motorway side somewhere in the South of France.
'Looking for Maggie' - Currently in Production.

The wisest word I can give is that in every success there is a point of failure, and it is at that point that the new creative work must at each and every time begin.  There is no end to the work and no end to the quest  –  MAGGIE WALKER

Around a four years ago, myself and Ruth Urquhart set off on a quest.  It was a journey to locate Maggie Walker, the founder and principal of the drama school that both Ruth and myself attended - East 15.  We'd been planning this journey and the documentary about Maggie for some time -  she'd proved a little difficult to locate at the beginning. 

When we eventually located her, we booked a passage on the next channel ferry and set sail for France - by moonlight! 

Would it be a case of 'ill met by moonlight?!'

If we shadows have offended, / Think but this, and all is mended, / That you have but slumber'd here / While these visions did appear. / And this weak and idle theme, / No more yielding but a dream, / Gentles, do not reprehend: / If you pardon we will mend. / Else the Puck a liar call. / Give me your hands, if we be friends, / And Robin shall restore amends

 - PUCK - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Would Maggie be pleased to see us? 

It had been twenty years and whilst there had been some contact, we hadn't actually seen Maggie since the day we left East 15. 

But we'd found her now and so down through France we trotted and as we did the memories of our time with Maggie at the old school came flooding back...as they would!

Ruth in a random town in Northern France checking out what we could have for our brekkies.

Our long journey at an end, we arrived in the small town where Maggie and Wilf had shared their home. 

It was early evening and, for some reason, we didn't have the house number.  We parked  and wandered up and down the street asking any passing French folk "Ou est le maison de Maggie?" which resulted largely in shrugs and confused stares, partly due to our terrible French and partly due to the fact that perhaps they didn't know her. 

And then we heard the calling of our names from above! 

We surveyed the skies and spotted Maggie on a balcony calling us to her house! 

We spent a couple of wonderful days together reminiscing and filming and drinking wine and reminiscing some more and soon we realised that our nerves had been entirely unnecessary. 

All was well...Maggie was amazing. 

Me (Wendy Richardson) and Maggie Walker, in the home she shared with Wilf.
France.  June 2010

Ruth Urquhart and Maggie Walker, in the home she shared with Wilf.
France. June 2010

During the filming we spoke of her early days pre-Joan, then at length of her days with Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop and right through to the founding and development of East 15 Acting School or as Mike Leigh once described it 'a unique conservatoire'. 

When we left we were euphoric - our expectations had been met, and more. 

Since this time, Ruth and I have taken a trip back to Sheriff Hutton Village near York, where we spent two of our happiest terms at East 15.  This used to be a part of the second year training, to spend time at Sheriff Hutton Hall. 

At Sheriff Hutton explored many productions in a promenade style, using the house (A grade I listed building dating from 1619, remodelled in 1730 with another addition in 1848) which became the centre of our productions.  I think they now call it 'site-specific theatre'? 

During our time at Sheriff Hutton we performed 'A Midsummer Nights Dream', 'Richard III', 'Three Sisters', 'The House of Bernarda Alba', and 'The Snow Queen', as well as participating in an immersive project on WWII. 

Below are a couple of photos of the house, one as we remember it and another of how it looks at present. 

Sheriff Hutton Hall as we knew it.

Unfortunately, when we returned, the house had been let go and was in a state of rack and ruin, it was clear that the last owner simply couldn't cope with the place.  It has now been sold to a property developer who is working with English Heritage to restore it to it's former glory. 

The entire place is being stripped down to the basics. 

Sheriff Hutton Hall.  May 2011.

Despite our dismay at finding the old place like this we had a wonderful day filming around the area and speaking to locals who rue the day that the school shut down its premises here. 

We approached the house with caution as it is on private property, and is currently guarded day and night by a security team. 

What was particularly nice for us was that one of the team approached us and soon realised during our initial conversation that we had genuinely lived here when it was a drama school. 

He called his boss and got us permission to go into the grounds - but unfortunately not to film.  However, we were allowed to take a couple of snapshots of the place and we had a wonderful conversation with the security guy who was all golden teeth and roguish charm and who shared many common experiences with us of being in and around the house. 

He wanted us to fill him in on some of the stories from the old days which he had heard bandied about the village as rumours! 

He was a lovley feller and once we had left and were heading down the drive we heard him shouting our names out.  I thought perhaps his boss had changed his mind and we may have to leg it fast!  But no, he'd been inside the house and located some brochures that he and his mates had found during the clear-out, which gave details of the school - he ran up to us with one of these brochures open and excitedly asked: 'Is this Maggie?' at which I hugged him!  He didn't seem to mind. 

He was genuinely excited and interested in the history of the place.  He then presented Ruth and I with a brochure each - dogeared and slightly the worse for wear...but they'd been kept in there all this time and he wanted us to have them - before the developers got stuck in - and they were chucked into a skip. 

I won't forget that feller in a hurry. 

Right now, we are organising interviews with ex-students and tutors and will be conducting these interviews from here forward. 

If you know anybody who attended the school or if you attended the school yourself and would like to participate, please don't hesitate to drop me a line on springboardarts@gmail.com

Update: Summer 2012

We're STILL filming 'Looking for Maggie' - it is truly a mammoth task (but a labour of love nonetheless) and I plan to post an update blog about it very soon...watch this space!