Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Looking for Maggie - Discovering Joan DOCUMENTARY UPDATE

The Background

Looking for Maggie - Discovering Joan is a documentary currently in co-production between Springboard Arts & New Strides Productions.  Or put less formally, it's a film by myself and Ruth Uruqhart who met over twenty years ago whilst attending East 15 Acting School! 

Here are a couple of snaps of myself and Ruth talking to Maggie during our visit to her French home in 2010. 

Wendy Richardson & Margaret Walker (Founder of East 15 Acting School)
We're looking at pictures of Wilf's dad & Maggie's mum. 

Ruth Urquhart & Margaret Walker  (Founder of East 15 Acting School)

They're taking a break whilst I was changing the shot. 

To explain how Ruth and I came to be making this film I feel it best to give you a little background.   

Whilst we were students at East 15 Acting School we were in a production of Lorca's 'House of Bernarda Alba' - doing this show was a really useful experience which gave me a passion for Lorca and his work which simply won't go away!

[Recently, along with Stewart Pringle of Theatre of the Damned, we worked with a group of Year 4 children in London's East End.  Their topic was Spain and so we entered the world of Lorca and what it was like to live in Franco's Spain, we then explored Lorca's poetry - the kids loved it & went on to write letters of dissent to Franco!]

If the East 15 legacy does anything, it ensures that so many people continue to create theatre for all - no matter what background or status, people should have an opportunity to experience live theatre.  I think Joan Littlewood would like that.

Back to those rehearsals for 'Bernarda Alba'! 

We'd been doing a lot of improvisations and exercises surrounding character relationships - on one occasion I remember being blindfolded & roped together with 'my sisters' then taken for a walk by our mother, Bernarda Alba (Babs Millington) who led us with the front of the rope.  We stumbled and tripped about and the exercise gave us a real sense of oppression and how important (or not!) obedience was to each of our characters. 

We did many many other improvisations, but that one sticks in my mind as I remember running the scene directly afterwards and our energy was immense.

Performance OR Skydiving Practice?!

Back Left: Wendy Richardson Back Right: Hazel Barnes
Front Left: Samantha Roberts Front Right: Ruth Uruqhart

Roll the clock forward another ten years and Ruth & I are back together working on SAB! - a production for which we begged, borrowed and even sold posessions, including Ruth's fridge! 

We took the show to the Edinburgh Festival. 

 The huntsman's horse from SAB!

We then played at a pub in Belfast, where we accidentally gate-crashed a Patrick Kielty gig that the BBC were making a live recording of.  You'd think the landlord would have mentionned this.

We only had four guests, so, joined by a man dressed as Margaret Thatcher (Tiran Aakel), we hurlted into the bar led by Roger the Fox (guilty as charged) shouting, in dulcet Geordie tones:

 "Help!  Morda!"

The plan had been to chase Roger the Fox around the bar for a couple of laps, then drag some bemused drinkers upstairs to see the show - the reality was that we were met with a stunned silence - it was only as we shot out of the bar that we noticed the BBC crew. 

Patrick Keilty was agog. 

And if by some bizarre stoke of co-incidence he turns out to be the second reader of this blog then I'd like to extend my utmost apologies - we had absolutely NO idea.  

L to R Ruth Urquhart, Jem Rycraft and Me

Rehearsing SAB! in a Harrow park (2000)
It's a glamorous life!

Hopefully this gave you a taste of who we were...and possibly of who we are. 

The reason we want to tell Maggie's story is simple, we feel connected to her and we want to share her story more widely.  We both have strong political views and want to chart our journey into discovering more about our own theatre heritage as women, as citizens & as practitioners who trained at East 15. 

Looking for Maggie

For the past five years myself and Ruth Urquhart have had quite an adventure as we've discussed & researched the idea for this documentary - we've talked to everybody we knew and then chatted to everybody they knew too! 

Theatre Workshop arrive in town and look who's with them!
I love the placard: The Theatre is HERE!

We began ACTUALLY shooting the film just over two years ago - in true 'Theatre of Action' meets early 'Theatre Workshop' style - we didn't have much of a penny between us but we decided to do it anyway! 

At the start, we managed to beg, borrow and steal enough dirty-moolah to hire a camera and sound kit on the cheap. 

We were 'relying' on the fact that one of us had spent a few years working in media production along the way!  We had a two-man production crew - and we were IT! 

Photos of Margaret Walker

(also known as Margaret Bury and Margaret Greenwood in the past)

Filming got off to a flying start - and aside from some unfortunate sound problems it otherwise went very well...the discussion had started!

We spoke to Maggie about her early years, of her first ever encounter with Joan Littlewood, of her relationships with various members of Theatre Workshop - particularly her good friends Yootha Joyce and Harry H Corbett. 

We talked about what it was like to be a part of Joan's company, we spoke of her journey to playing Lysitrata, we spoke of her husband Wilf & we discussed the founding of the school. 

We went on to talk at great length about East 15 - the processes that were developed there & the people Maggie encountered across the years - staff and pupils. 

Maggie shared with us both her part in the Theatre Workshop story as well as her founding and running of the East 15. 
She was a complete joy to interview and had prepared many old photographs, flyers and programmes for us to see. 

She looked after us for two nights and three days, feeding us and staying up late into the night as we wandered down memory lane...we were like three naughy school-kids sitting under a blanket for a midnight feast - except without the blanket and the midnight feast was Maggie's memories! 

The entire experience felt like a colossal honour. 

One of the many photographs that Maggie had looked out for us to enjoy.

We have no idea who these people are (but we'd love to know if anybody knows where they are now)
They are possibly rehearsing the Mechanicals Scenes. 

Since interviewing Maggie, we've gone on to irregularly interview a number of people who were involved at East 15 as tutors & directors and also as students.  They have all been incredibly generous with their personal memories and seem to have understood the spirit of the film, giving their time willingly and with grace, they include: John 'Ginger' Halstead.  Simone Vause & Maureen Sweeney. 

We'll publish an extensive list of interviees & others involved once we get into our next big push September. 

Maggie with the dog which preceeded Clifford.

Again we'd love to know who that is rehearsing in the garden behind her. 
And what the pooch was called (perhaps Maggie can tell us that!)

The project has been on haitus for around six months due to the arrival of a child - Sally & the launching of a new company - Springboard Arts but we are now ready to roll again and complete things. 

We have gained so much in learning this amazing story and we'll continue to do so as we continue with production for the next ten months - the coming year will also take us further into the past as we start to tell the story of Joan Littlewood, making the link between Theatre Workshop and East 15 as clearly as we can.

One final note, to everybody who has not appeared in the film but who has helped us along the way - we owe you a debt of gratitude!
Howard Goorney who wrote the wonderful book "The Theatre Workshop Story" also wrote this very good blog: http://www.wcml.org.uk/contents/creativity-and-culture/drama-and-literature/political-theatre-19281986/


Anonymous said...

I'm crying, no, sobbing. After reading that intimate and honest outpouring the hairs are standing up on my arms.

Wendy and Ruth I salute you and to Maggie Walker I bow.

Colleen Daley
East 15 graduate 90-93

Springboard Arts said...

Your contribution to the film was particularly special to Ruth and I Colleen.

Your sobs were not shed in solitude - we've wept like babies for most of this process so far.

This means something to each of us, and we are honoured to be documenting our communal story.

Thank you.

Ron Knee said...

Hi, I have just read your site. After all these years someone has done a positive thing...........
I was one of the first students of the move to the new E15 Acting School at 'Hatfields' in October
1964 I remember walking up the drive and reaching this Georgian House which was in turmoil of renovations headed by the loyal Tom Arnold,who remained at the School for many years. Everything is owed to Maggie who worked tirelessly to fulfil her dream. I still have so many wonderful memories of those early days and I am so please I retained an archive of those early years and fondness of Stage Managing all of Maggies productions.............

Ronnie Knee

Anonymous said...

Please post an email address. I don't do Linked In or Facebook.

The dog is Max.

Springboard Arts said...

My email address is springboardarts@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

hello there,

good to see you having some interesting time with Maggie..

i was an 'attendee' at East 15 during the 90s and was talking about this with a friend tonight who also went there ~ a few years before me

since leaving there i've been a filmaker and director so if you need any help with editing or shooting more stuff please (especially sound!) gimme a shout ~ you can get me at pol@scratchermedia.com

i was sorry to hear recently (from another good pal at East 15) that Maggie had passed away recently... please get in touch when you get a wee chance...

when (what years) did you attend the sacred place?

looking forward to hearing from you

best wishes
Pol Clementsmith

Denise deegan said...

I was a stage-management student at East 15 1969/70, and am so grateful to Maggie for giving me the opportunity to learn all I did there, and as I afterwards found out tried to get me a playwriting bursary from the Arts Council. I had a brilliant year there, and remember on the first day of the first term there was a tube go-slow and so most students were late. The BBC were filming a Man Alive documentary about the school, and filmed us as we all arrived and were greeted by Maggie in the house with a speech about the necessity for punctuality in theatre, and how we should pick the tutors brains for information rather than wait passively for them to impart info to us. I remember too, setting a restaurant table for a scene in Camino Real, and Maggie appearing and reminding me I wasn't setting out cutlery for a cafe. East 15 was the only drama school I aspired to because of the Theatre Workshop ideology, and Maggie admitted me with my one O level and age 17, despite the official criteria. I wish I had taken the opportunity to tell her how much being at East 15 meant to me.

Springboard Arts said...

Denise, thank you so much for your comment - if you'd like to know more about the film then please feel free to email me (Wendy) on springboardarts@gmail.com

Many Thanks for your lovely words...

Springboard Arts said...

Pol - many thanks for your earlier comment - I've been remiss in not getting back until now I'll drop you a line today.


Springboard Arts said...

My email a dress for anybody who wants to get in touch is above.