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Recording the History of Alternative Theatre in Britain (1968-88) through oral history interviews and the collecting of archive material
 


July 2011 Newsletter
CONTENTS:

  • Supporting Unfinished Histories
  • New Interviews
  • Palatine Learning Resource project
  • Fun Art Bus 2012
  • Obituaries
  • Recent Publications
  • Notices

SUPPORTING UNFINISHED HISTORIES
We would like to thank everyone for their support, enthusiasm and appreciation of our project. Unfinished Histories relies largely on voluntary effort including that of its Co-Directors Susan Croft and Jessica Higgs. It receives minimal funding. This year we have received two small funding awards, from Lipman-Miliband Trust and the Society for Theatre Research, towards some urgently needed capital items. In both cases the amounts awarded were slightly less than requested and we are looking to find some match funding.

The items we are looking to purchase are:
• A3 scanner for large fliers, programmes and posters
• digital flash card video camera to save time spent uploading and editing our interviews
• handheld audio recorder for those unexpected, ad hoc recording opportunities

We have a short fall of £300 on the scanner and £140 for the recorder. If you are able to help us with some match funding please contact us.

SPECIALIST ADVICE NEEDED
Currently Unfinished Histories operates through its parent company, In Tandem TC. We have decided to constitute Unfinished Histories independently as a Company Limited by Guarantee and also explore becoming a charity. We are interested in hearing from anyone who can give us, or advise us, as to where to go for pro bono help in constituting the company, and/or helping prepare our annual accounts. If you have knowledge in this area – or know someone who may be able to help us please get in touch.

NEW INTERVIEWS
Unfinished Histories has recently recorded interviews with:
• Julie Holledge (Women’s Theatre Group, Mrs Worthington’s Daughters) and
• Mary Moore (designer – Low Moan Spectacular, Gay Sweatshop, Women’s Theatre Group, and many others)

These interviews along with those of Michael Almaz, Ros Asquith, Ed Berman, Sarah Evans, Annabel Leventon, Libby Mason and Beth Porter will be available later in the year. We are awaiting funding decisions which will enable us to embark on a further series of interviews later in the year. Watch this space. For a full list of our interviewees to date see our 'Viewing Interviews' page on the website.

PALATINE LEARNING RESOURCE
Susan Croft is continuing to gather information for the Unfinished Histories learning resource, with the University of Sheffield, indexing alternative theatre coverage in a number of publications from the 1970s and 80s, as well as books covering the period and published scripts of works created by and with alternative theatre companies, especially small press editions. Those who have agreed to allow digital scans of articles they published at the time include: Lesley Ferris, Natasha Morgan, Tricia Kelly, Stuart Bennett, Peter Ansorge, Norma Cohen, Anthony Hozier, Tony Coult, Steve Gooch, Jonathan Chadwick, Albert Hunt, Georgina Lock, Deborah Phillips, Carole Woddis, Chris Johnson, Roland Rees, Ed Berman and Lloyd Trott as well as the late Noel Greig and the estate of Richard Tomlinson. If you published articles or reviews at the time, and would like to be part of this illustrious company, or if you published scripts with a small press, that we may not know of but should list, please contact susan@unfinishedhistories.com

FUN ART BUS
Connected to our recent 8 hour interview with the indefatigable Ed Berman covering the multi-faceted Inter-Action which included the Ambiance, the Almost Free Theatre, The Father (and Mother) Xmas Union, Dogg’s Troupe, The Other Company as well as the first City Farm, Community Media Van –the list goes on and on, we began to hatch plans with Ed to revive one of the most famous Inter-Action projects, the1972 Fun Art Bus, to be re-created in a new guise, with the support of Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance and its scenic design and technical students, for 2012.  Ed is currently seeking funding and offering an exciting opportunity for an intern to help develop the project. If you – or someone you know - might be interested in the internship or getting involved generally, for further information please go to: www.unfinishedhistories.com/history/individuals/ed-berman/

OBITUARIES
It has been a sad period recently for losing key people who contributed to the alternative theatre movement. We aim to pay tribute to the contribution of individuals through the web site and are always pleased to hear more information about their careers or specific memories of their work which we will add to their page in the Individuals section (under History). See www.unfinishedhistories.com/history/individuals/. Also if there’s someone whose contribution has been overlooked who ought to be acknowledged here, please let us know.

Pam Gems, playwright (1925-2011)
Pam Gems was one of the key playwrights to emerge from the first wave of the women’s theatre movement in the 1970s. Though she went on to do much of her work with the RSC and more mainstream venues, her earliest plays were produced at the Almost Free Women’s Theatre season and by the Women’s Theatre Group and Women’s Company that grew out of it. Click here for more information.

Boris Howarth (1949-2009)
Boris Howarth was co-founder of Lancaster Street Theatre with his wife Maggy, and a long-standing friend and collaborator of radical poet and playwright Adrian Mitchell, working with him on The Hot Pot Saga (1968) before going on to help found with John Fox and Sue Gill and others Welfare State International, becoming associate director of the vibrant collective of artists producing large scale events and celebrations. He also worked in 1973 with John Arden and Margaretta D'Arcy on the Non-Stop Connolly Show at Dublin's Liberty Hall. For more see: www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/may/18/obituary-boris-howarth

Frank Whitten (1942-2011)
Born in New Zealand Frank Whitten came to London in the 60s to study at LAMDA, staying on there as tutor and eventually vice-principal where his students included Harriet Walter, Ian Charleson and Jim Broadbent. He was co-founder with playwright Chattie Salaman of influential West London-based community theatre company Common Stock. For more see: www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/mar/27/frank-whitten-obituary

Ian Hinchliffe (1942- 2010), artist
A recent memorial event at the Beaconsfield gallery in Vauxhall celebrated the life and art of Ian Hinchliffe with some of the many great performers, artists, musicians, organisers, publishers and friends who were touched by his work making contributions. The event also include a fully restored screening of the film The Poppy Seed Affair from 1979 and other interviews and rare footage never seen before: www.beaconsfield.ltd.uk  Ian Hinchcliffe was an artist who drew on his Northern roots and influences as various as trad jazz and music hall in creating performances that were comic, menacing and absurdist. His company Matchbox Purveyors were one of those who grew up around the Oval House in the late 60s, influenced by early People Show and its key members Jeff Nuttall and Mark Long. Click here for more information.

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
Sistershow Revisited: Feminism in Bristol 1973-1975
collected by Deborah M. Withers
(Hammer/On Press, 2011, £8. Order at: www.hammeronpress.net )

In 2006 the inaugural Unfinished Histories event included a ‘Whatever Happened to Women’s Theatre?’ discussion at the Theatre Museum. Our list of women’s theatre groups formed between the 70s and the 90s then ran to about 80 companies, which seemed an amazing number. Still, it wasn’t complete and many more have now been added to the list, including one of the earliest, the Bristol-based Sistershow. Their first show, produced in 1973, pre-dates even the Women’s Theatre Festival at the Almost-Free Theatre later that year, out of which grew Women’s Theatre Group and later Monstrous Regiment. Until now the group’s history and significance has remained undocumented. It is down to the excellent work of Debi Withers that this is no longer the case. This book was produced as part of a larger project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to collect oral histories on the group and stage an exhibition, opening earlier this year with a reunion of surviving Sistershow members and an inspiring programme of talks, workshops and performances.
The book reproduces much of the exhibition content including vivd colour photos, personal testimonies, as well as many of the surviving archive items Withers collected including hand-written lyrics, drawings for flyers, letters, ‘cyclo-styled’ leaflets: Letraset, marks of correction fluid, crossings-out and annotations, bearing evidence to the technologies – or lack of them – that were available at the time. Most importantly, as its sub-title implies, the book contextualises the performances within the larger framework of the women’s movement in Bristol, a space of fierce argument and passionate personal commitment: the Women’s Centre was the basement of activist Ellen Malos’s own house, a space where before campaigns for refuges, vulnerable women and their families would sleep on the bed in the office. 
The Sistershow performances were large-scale, irreverent and whackily surreal, suggesting  the  influence of 1960s of happenings and multi-media. They also reflected the input of two powerful individual women, memorialized here: visual artist Jackie Thrupp who died in 1991 and Pat VT West, poet, playwright and performance artist who died in 2008.  They played with gender and parodied femininity including in a Miss Women’s Liberation contest – ‘won’ by black drag queen, Sapphire. They were punk, before punk. They included songs, poetry, used tape-slide projections, music, paintings, ‘sideshows and surprises’.  Withers re-creates in as much detail as possible what survives of the texts and scenarios of each Sistershow, along with the working process that created it and the conflicts over class, parenting responsibilities or the lack of them, organisational methods, strong personalities that affected it, a familiar litany. As Withers writes, this ‘only underlines the group’s achievements more’. This is an inspiring and important account of vital era.
Susan Croft, July 2011 

Ken Campbell – The Great Caper
Michael Coveney, foreword by Richard Eyre
(Nick Hern Books. £14.99. Order at: www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/?isbn=9781848420762)

Ken Campbell was a one-off. Anyone who saw him will remember that he was inimical; he simply couldn’t be replicated. It was in part the wild eyed effervescence and joy, the digressionary tales that beavered off into highways and byways and took such circuituous detours you thought he’d never get back to the main road – or thematic thrust. And then there was the tumbling erudition, pouring out of him, the absurdity of it as well as the cosmic intelligence. And those eyebrows. Set for take-off.
I didn’t see him nearly enough, only catching up with him towards the end of his life when he had practically become a National Treasure. So I missed The Warp, Recollections of a Furtive Nudist, Illuminatus and many more. I think I may have caught The Pidgin Macbeth, Jamais Vu and Theatre Stories.
For anyone wanting to know exactly how the lad from Ilford ended up wowing audiences at the Cottesloe as much as in Liverpool’s Hope Street, look no further than Michael Coveney’s ebullient `authorised biography’ according to the grey parrot who shares Coveney’s cover page.
Coveney’s admiration and appreciation of Campbell as a force of nature and maverick counter-balance to the puffed-up worthies who dominate British theatre shines out from every page. Coveney, another unlikely lad from the Essex marshes, clearly feels affinities with Campbell’s egocentricities as well as his obsessions. There is hardly a dull moment in the entire 250 odd pages and a more engaging, juicy and yes, erudite account of the spirit  that animated `alternative’ and fringe theatre through the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s it would be hard to find.
This is a first rate primer of that extraordinary time, filled with egocentricity, sci-fi and paranormal happenings. And unputdownable. Carole Woddis, July 2011 

Coming soon reviews of:
The Reluctant Escapologist: Adventures in Alternative Theatre, the autobiography of Mike Bradwell, recently selected by the  Society for Theatre Research as Theatre Book of the Year 2010 (Nick Hern Books 2009)
The Spanner Experiment by Ernest Dalton two rare 1970s agit-prop plays by North West Spanner, scripted and introduced by Dalton (Just Press, 2010)
Black and Asian Theatre in Britain: a History by Colin Chambers (Routledge, 2011)

NOTICES
The Magdalena Project – 25 Years Challenge and Legacy
Cardiff 16 – 21 August 2011
In August The Magdalena Project – International Network of Women in Contemporary Theatre will be 25 years old. Over those years hundreds of festivals, gatherings and events have happened across the world made possible through the fortitude of some extraordinary women artists defiantly determined to give an equality of voice to women’s performance. Many of the women’s work emerged from experimental physical and visual ‘laboratory theatres’ and the frustration of women who found their experience was marginalised or under-represented within them.
Find full details on www.themagdalenaproject.org or contact: 
Jill Greenhalgh, Performance Studies,  Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University/ Pryfysgol, Old College, King Street,
Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 2AX UK Tel: 01970 623111

What a Way to Run a Revolution
Wendy Chung is trying to organise a reunion in Brighton for the musical What a Way to Run a Revolution written by David Benedictus first put on in Brighton 40 years ago. She would be grateful to hear from anyone who was involved in the production or anyone who knows where to find them.  Her contact details are 07718 987 732. The names of cast and crew are: Musical Director: Robert Stewart; Set designer Roger Glossop; Costume designer: Ralph Oswick and cast: Gladeana Ali, Neil Appelt, Lel Bostock, Orde Browne, Natacha Fairbanks, Terry Gardner, Tisha Green, Julia Hatts, Caroline Holdaway, Michael Hucks, Sue Johnston, Douglas Lamont, Mike Laye, Michael Lindenhart, Pat Martin, Gerry McGuire, Diana Milstein, Anthea Meadows, Ian Pillinger, Dianne Schwab, Adrian Selby, Joshua Smith, Charlie Stancey, Pearl Ann Turner (Pia), Jack Youens. Lighting operator: Christopher Baldwin; Properties: Ralph Oswick. Projections: Dave Lovett. Wardrobe: Jilda Popplewell. Sound: Mike Gray. Assistant Choreographer: Lucy Fenwick. Musicians: Laurie Wise, Paul Hiley, Nicholas Worters. Contact Wendy Chung at: wwmchung@yahoo.com

Unfinistories Histories would like to thank Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance for their continuing support.

Best wishes,

Susan and Jessica

Susan Croft and Jessica Higgs
contact@unfinishedhistories.com
www.unfinishedhistories.com

 

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