Video transcriptions three

Jamal Ali

Jamal: The Radical Alliance of Poets and Players really meant that we started from the foundation -it’s a radical movement, a radical movement to explain and tell people, rather than just to sing and dance – it was not a sing and dance movement it was expressing the community in our movement and we chose to do – not kind of straight theatre but community theatre, in time to time, we are communicating direct, direct it’s from you to me, you there, I here and I’m transposing things that you will understand, you will know, it’s like a dialogue which becomes a culture. But we were radical and we did not spare, to call a spade a spade, or a honky a honky, and that kind of radicalism we had it played on the whole politics of the time, of being abused I mean there was a lot of abuse happening to people like me and to a lot of us. Fair enough I mean times have changed most of those days had to disappear because we live in a community where everybody communicate with everybody, black communicate with white you have white families you have black families, black families have white families, those are the realities you can’t escape that. (Question: Where else would you all perform RAPP, where else would you take or tour to?) We perform around the country, I can’t remember all the places, but we perform a lot in London we perform at the Commonwealth Institute we performed at some place in Ladbroke Grove, and we performed at Edinburgh in fact we went three times to Edinburgh Festival and performed at a lot in universities and colleges and so on. That end about 1974, yes.

Poulomi Desai
Starting HAC

Poulomi: Well it was quite common [starting your own company] but not the age [she was 13] I was the youngest, and Mum used to encourage me to recite poetry. And how HAC started was a guy a young guy who was videoing a poetry recital I did at, when there was something called the Commonwealth Institute in those days, which put on a lot of, you know, a real diverse cultural programme. And I was reciting and he came up to me and I had a sort of semi mohican, you know a little bit, funky hair, anyway trying to do funky hair, I don’t think I had shaved – no I was still at school so I hadn’t shaved it then. So he came up to me and said would you be interested in starting a group. And I was, because of Harrow [and its insularity] I was constantly looking outside to try and find like-minded people. Punk had happened, I was influenced by that, by the idea of the do-it-yourself, some of the better politics of it, but also trying to find a space for myself, cos there were some punks who wore swastikas for example, you know, I was called Paki and everything, so I was trying to find somewhere where I could find like-minded Asians who were, yes, similar. And I did find them in Southall and Hounslow via this chance meeting and then we decided to set up a theatre company eventually, yeh. [Interviewer: So had you been exposed to theatre at school or was it almost exclusively from your home life or your friends and community?] Difficult for me to remember, as really young kid but certainly, obviously you do the Shakespeare stuff and you do Ibsen in school and the standards as part of the curriculum. But also, I, there was history option I remember at school which we were the guinea pigs for that year where you could pick modules, so I picked Shakespeare, but a particular strand of Shakespeare and I picked the rise in China, the rise of Mao in China. So learning little bits about theatre and performance through that at school. That was probably the most radical it got besides the usual Christmas plays and all that, a bit of panto. But all the really interesting stuff, because I’d been exposed to [by her parents] Dadaist ideas, Realist ideas, watched Cocteau’s films at a really young age, bunking off school in school uniform to see certain exhibitions, so that – it really was outside of the formal curriculum that was the most exciting. Or going to Brixton, or Camden. [Interviewer: Do you remember a very specific moment or turning point that really provoked you to start HAC, or made you think, you know, this is something I need to do or need to become involved with?] I think for me it was that longing to be part of something and finding like-minded people. I think for the co-founder, Hardial, it was very much to do with that reaction to…[the politics of the time] and starting up something to have a different voice as well. Because also at that time there were still more traditional plays going on and we had a very different take on it so we were influenced by Dadaist stuff, Situationist stuff, Punk stuff…and we were younger, and all of us actually, I think nearly all of us, hardly any of us had been to university and stuff so it was…it came from a slightly different perspective. But I think, yes, for Hardial, it def…all the politics of that time, all the racism was definitely there for us but it was also about the sexism, the casualness of sexism, I mean just the casualness of it. You know being touched up, just the whole works, it was so casual in the 70s and even the 80s.

Liz Leyh
A Day at the Seaside

Liz:  I did a lot of props and sets for the Almost Free Theatre. Day at the Seaside, yeah, I devised that one. I’ve got photographs [of that] a folder of photographs. A Day at the Seaside , was funny. I remember going to see a play there [at the Almost Free] and thinking ‘Oh how wonderful if you could just change this whole room and make it something else’. I thought ‘Well, a day at the seaside – wouldn’t it be wonderful, people walk in the door and they’re at the seaside’. [Interviewer: This is in the heart of the West End] Yes, Rupert Street. I have the original drawing I made which I showed ED and a committee of people. Naftali Yavin, who died at that period, Israeli theatre director, he was one of the committee and I showed the committee my idea of transforming the room into something else. ED said ‘You’re crazy, you can’t flood that room with water, that building will fall down’, And I said, ‘Well you don’t know that, you’re not an engineer. So we get an engineer to look at the floor to see how much water it will take.’ And in the end, it was quite amazing because I think there was seven or eight inches of water, or six, I can’t remember, something like that. But because you were in a room and didn’t expect it, it was like amazing, you didn’t realise there was only that much water. It was quite wonderful the performance – you have to see the photographs of it to understand it. Half of the room was a beech so we got flint driven in on a lorry from Brighton because I wanted a Brighton pebble beach. There was water. The audience sat in water. They sat in water, yeah, but the water…I remember chopping up rubber bits covered with Vaseline and it was seaweed in the water you see, so it was very dark, the water was very dark. And of course the beach was very light with lights and a lifeguard and a jetty coming out, sand, and a little bit of sand in front of the pebbles. So half the room was water, half was the pebbled beach. The audience came in through the water and my idea was that the whole room could be used, and the lifeguard was there and I think there were one or two people on the beach. And there was nothing…talking to each other. And there were bikinis and swimsuits and there was a changing room on the beach and there was nothing saying the audience couldn’t go sit on the beach. I went to almost every performance and it took about 5 minutes before people thought ‘why am I sitting here?’ And the people started going to the beach and sitting in the warm bit. I think it was put on in early January. It was freezing cold outside. Eventually…I think people talked – people met each other, the audience were sitting on a beach and some people even got swimsuits which were available in the changing rooms in the corner of the theatre. There was no script whatsoever. The script was the physical thing. That was idea that the physical room would be the script and that was it. People talked and people met each other in the audience. ‘Do you think it’s OK? Do we really sit here? There’s nothing saying we can’t, isn’t it warm and lovely’, and whatever. And I actually remember somebody in the Inter-Action office talking saying ‘Yes, I met that person on the beach at A Day at the Seaside’. It was bizarre, it was in a theatre in Rupert Street, in the West End. It was quite wonderful. The end of it was a thunder storm. This was my idea. There had to be a limit to how long people could talk to each other. It could be anything from half hour to an hour. Suddenly there was thunder, thunder, thunder, and the foyer had a seaside caff in it with everything a seaside caff would have. And everybody had to leave the beach because of the thunder. [Interviewer: So the action is the audience speaking to each other spontaneously, there is no other action?] That’s right. No other, no nothing.

Nancy Meckler
The Cat as the starting point of the work

Nancy Meckler’s exercises with actors – drawing from Stanley Rosenberg’s La MaMa Plexus workshops

Nancy: Well, all the people that were there were open to the idea that this was a new way of working and we would do ‘The Cat’ – which is really a series of – I think it was created by Grotowski – it’s a sequence which is like doing a yoga sequence – it has a lot of yoga poses in it, but it flows, and we would do this thing which I had learned in New York with the Plexus [La MaMa Plexus]: you do ‘The Cat’ and it gets you into a very specific,  almost like a trance-like state, and then you go into a big physical exploration with the rest of the people in the room, and it’s totally like acting out impulses… it’s like – dancing a dream, almost because it can be / anything can happen…except that people tended to move very slowly and often we would play music during it, you know like Stanley [Rosenberg] would put on a record – The Beatles, or something – and everybody would be moving to this music. But it meant that people would get into this very free flowing state and the improvisation that would come out of it was extraordinary. People would get lifted in the air, people would roll over each other, images would form, images would disappear – it’s very difficult to describe it, but it was like a trip without taking LSD or smoking pot, you know – it was like acting out a trip …and sometimes the music would inspire images that you would act out, or whatever you were working on, you know that would sometimes… and so that technique of freeing everybody up to explore material and that way when nobody says anything, everything keeps moving, images keep appearing. I found it absolutely fascinating and I would quickly, because there was no question of filming or anything, I would quickly write down as much as I could. And another thing that we learned when we did it with Stanley Rosenberg, which I thought was really fascinating was, we would do a very, very long improvisation like that and then afterwards he would say, ‘Now I want you to remember it, and repeat it’ and when he first said that we thought that’s ridiculous I couldn’t possibly remember it and repeat it – but it’s a bit like with a dream, if you knew you were going to be asked what your dream is the next day, often you can remember it if you knew, but if you don’t know you are going to be asked the next day, you won’t remember anything and what fascinated me was that everybody really could remember – ‘I was here, and then you rolled over and then I lifted you and then these three figures moved forward’ – ‘oh, yes, and I was here’…We could actually put it all back together after we had done it, so when we would do these improvisations, if I thought there was a useful sequence or section, we would just repeat, we would actually repeat it and then you would remember it – particularly as a lot of it was in slow motion so it was very, it was very concentrated – we did a lot in slow motion which was another way of getting people to get into their bodies and to be… playing with time – and experiencing time in a completely different way. It wasn’t that easy to bring that together with classical text and end up with something, but, but it was do-able but that was because we spent so much time doing the exercises. If you get together with an ad hoc group of people and you want to do that sort of  work, you couldn’t really do it unless you had several weeks to get them into the exercises – also they have to  all be willing and interested in going there and if they aren’t really, really, keen on going there it’s a waste of time because there will always be someone hanging back and then you can’t explore in that kind of way, So it was, it was extraordinary, yes  it was really an eye-opener into this whole idea that if you start physically people can work in a deeply intuitive way and express themselves in ways that they wouldn’t ever have dreamt of doing.

Joan Oliver
Oval House beginnings

Joan: [It was a] Boys Club!
John Fox: And how did you shift it around?
JO: It was never planned, but it was a freezing old vicarage where Lord Montgomery was born, freezing cold, so we had to raise some money to put some central heating in. That meant a lot of work had to be done, so we could close down, which is what we wanted to do. Close it for a certain amount of time, to re-think. That’s what happened. I think it closed for 3 or 4 months. We did a survey of the area and nobody was doing any of the arts in any of the clubs. There were about 20 clubs all doing the same thing – boxing, soccer. I think we lost the soccer team, that’s right, because Peter wouldn’t blow up the footballs, which the previous worker had done. He just said, ‘Well, you want to play soccer, blow up the balls’. They knew that I wouldn’t wash the shirts! So we lost the soccer team. He [Peter] hated competition and I hated competition. So, they drifted away, and that gave us the opportunity to start…I think we ran a poetry evening, a folk evening was the first [art] thing we did.
JF: What kind of people came?
JO: The few hippies – they weren’t hippies then – the few ‘arty’ youngsters, they were 17 and 18 year olds.
JF: What was the rest of the neighbourhood like?
JO: Pretty rough. We inherited a gang, who were absolutely wonderful. I described them as creative in their anti-social activity. They were really creative about it. And they had some rough girls. I think you went there – Landsdown at the back of us – I think you did something there? They were going to have a fight one night, and I couldn’t figure out… they all came in – they were all walking stiff – ‘cos they had baseball bats, or the equivalent of baseball bats, under their coats. They came up, you know the steps at the Oval, up the stairway, Connie was at the top with her shoe off, her stiletto, banging on their head as they came up. She helped form a dance company. We had a little dance group – a wonderful woman, a young woman who ran the dance group which Odette [her daughter] was in.
JF: So how old was Odette then?
JO: 14. 12, 14.
JF: How many girls were in that?
JO: Not many. They used to meet twice a night – twice a week in the house. They weren’t allowed… they were only allowed one night a week in the club to do gym, and that’s when the boys found a hole in the roof, that flat roof, and they were all standing around and looking down at the girls changing in the changing room. It was awful. And of course they loved it when the girls had leotards on. Always the arts were going on [in amongst the club’s other activities], just quietly, and then when we closed down, and then we re-opened as a… and then we saw Ben Benison – he was the first that we invited to come on a Sunday to demonstrate and that’s when – the youngsters just loved it. Loved him, and [we] asked him if he would come back and teach them.
JF: What kind of workshops was he doing?
JO: Mime. D’you know Ben? Yes, you do.
JF:  He was great.
JO: Yes, he was the first one…and from then on it was just wonderful. Work was never work.
JF: How many, who did you invite in then along with Ben, other people like – I know you invited us [Welfare State] down then.
JO: Yes, well we had Ben Benison, a comedian who’s name I can’t remember who lived in Streatham – Roy Hudd, that’s right, Roy Hudd came, and then later on John Cleese came. It was just a Sunday night, that was all the arts…
JF: I mean, all those people had roots in English Music Hall.
JO: Yes, that’s right.
JF: Was that a conscious act on your [part]?
JO: No, no, taking…the opportunity arose, so grab it. We found out that Roy Hudd lived up the road in Streatham, asked him, and we also met, wonderful West Indian man, Stuart Hall, cos we used to run weekends and Stuart came to speak one weekend. He did lectures on teenage heroes, mainly on James Dean, he wrote a lot about James Dean. Wonderful speaker.

Pam Schweitzer
A Place to Stay

Pam: But I started feeling then that we must reflect a more multicultural London and decided to do a play called A Place to Stay with actors from different ethnicities. We had two Asians actors, Caribbean actor and Greek Cypriot and a Canadian woman, Musical Director. And each of the actors plus other researchers went out into their communities and interviewed people about…why they came and what they thought was going to happen and what did happen and why they were still here. The material was fascinating. Some of the actors were interviewing in Mother Tongues but they didn’t have the where withal to transcribe to write these interviews so we had to hire in people to do that. And the actors worked together and each actor took the responsibility for the scenes which were about his or her culture. It was a very powerful and interesting process and we cooked food for each other in the different ethnic styles which was lovely. I mean we rehearsed and ate the right meals and we took the show around, had a beautiful, very simple set by an Italian designer. Jo Richler was the Canadian woman, Musical Director, very innovative, using ethnic instruments and harmonium and so on. A beautiful piece of work really. I think it was a bit before its time and it wasn’t always easy to place. You’d go and perform in an Indian venue and people would love the Indian bits but they were a bit foxed by the Caribbean bits and the Greek bits and so on and so forth and similarly the other way round. But it did attract a lot of attention and the book A Place to Stay was a bit of a first, you know, to have something based on pensioners experience but in so many languages.[Susan Croft – that must have been difficult to put together] It was a nightmare an absolute nightmare. Finding people to do that transcription and making them do it in time…And the play was called A Place to Stay because people had said ‘It wasn’t home, but it was a place to stay’. And Jo Richler wrote some beautiful music using words from some of the testimony and Dorendra for example, the Asian actor, used a lot of Indian music, sang and played, beautiful music, and the Greek-Cypriot woman, Georgia Clark, marvellous actress, she sang Greek-Cypriot song playing an old woman. And they all played in each other’s scenes, so they became the casts for each others scenes, and we took that play to Frankfurt in Germany where it was very well received.

Iris Walton
Breaking with female stereotypes

Iris: I think we were quite unique, I mean we …. We never really talked about it in terms of as a feminist issue, I thought I was free, I didn’t know there was a difference. Although I was told -even though I was brought up being told  ‘nice girls don’t do that’ ,  it never occurred to me it’s ‘cos I’m a girl. When I ran away, and did what I did, it didn’t dawn on me that sixteen year old girls don’t run away from home and learn how to survive by themselves. It just  never …It just….I was just me and that was simply it. And when I think through most of the Stunts shows, we maintained that and it took a while, maybe other people realised more than I did…but we used to… I do remember in the first show going ‘OK which bits of us don’t we like? ‘cos we’re going to expose that part of our body – I hate my thighs, Right! Short skirts up to there!’ you know, so we exposed them! So there was an awareness that – ‘cos we did have Julie Felix [popular folk singer]and people like that being all [feminine], you know, singing ‘nicely’ in those days. So that’s when I thought ‘…and a trumpet! I’m going to make a noise’ – you know, and we all did that. I don’t know if there has ever been a line-up of so many women playing brass instruments ! Saxophones, trombones, etc  and circus skills and theatre and singing and we never talked about women’s issues..[but] people had never seen women perform with that kind of power, that we had, without making any issues about it – just taking the piss out of ourselves and anybody else and anything else – so I think that was its uniqueness, em actually.

Emil Wolk
The Dream of a Ridiculous Man<>strong</>

Emil: The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, though, was – I remember we had these elements like Tai Chi that Roderic Leigh taught us and then Chris [Jordan] had obviously done a lot of work on the music so we had those as basis on what we could work with, but I think that was, in my estimation, it was much more in Pip’s [Simmons] head that than it was for the other pieces that we did, somehow…he had something that he was working towards that I wasn’t, I wasn’t able to tune in on (pause) and so it was a wonderful surprise – I think we did it in Cardiff first. We did it and we had a great – people loved it! And… but still I kind of, didn’t really know what I was in. I was surprised that there was such reaction to it, as we got, and then I began to really see the journey within it, that had – I think I might be quite happy to say I was quite a selfish performer, too – you know what I mean? I was quite… I wanted to get my own stuff across at that point, you know – ‘I’ll be on stilts’, ‘I want to get my circus stuff in’, you know, ‘I want to do’…. and Pip was very good at seeing that, and using it, and that’s one reason, I think, why he wanted me, because it looked very theatrical my… like my Death – Dr. Suicide was on stilts – you know seven foot high, on enormous stilts. I had this enormous cloak and shaven head and very, very Pip, very rock, you know all the stilts were studded like punk, like a punk rocker, you know, so. And he was very good at, I thought, tuning in on the, on the meat of the moment, you know what people were either very precious about – which he would shit on completely – or what was very, considered very dynamic in that day, you know, was, was beyond the kind of middle-class sort of attitude and ideology of what theatre should be, you know Pip was great at breaking that all apart and so were the performers like that too, a part of the group you know. So hence An Die Musik was very shocking, in its day and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man you know there was lots of nudity in it, really, I remember Roderic going on his head stark naked and his whole …., he was in his … like a nightshirt, he was all in a nightshirt because it was a dream, he exposed himself completely upside …., it was one of those quite wonderful, shocking moments in those days ‘cos they weren’t just… the nudity came out of nowhere – it wasn’t like gratuitous in a sense – it was because that was the action he had to do and he was, so it wasn’t… its wonderful in that respect.