A WORK IN PROGRESS

 

A CV might have been easier, quicker,  but a life often requires narration.

 

I graduated with a BSC Hons in Sociology, a degree that taught me the invaluable lesson that society is a construct, then promptly left England for New York City.

It was 1975, I was 21 and Manhattan seemed like the Wild West: lawless, dirty, dangerous and open to all comers.

 

My first year in NYC was spent in arduous physical training within a Commedia dell'arte troupe, Sidewalks of New York. Despite the company name, we performed indoors, often touring the tri-state area to perform in psychiatric institutions, where our stylised & often brutal depictions disturbed the audience of patients. A year later in 1976  I joined The Jean Cocteau Repertory (JCR)  and also passed the two auditions to gain a place in Uta Hagen's Masterclasses at H.B. Studios. 

The Jean Cocteau Repertory inhabited the Bowerie Lane Theatre, a landmarked cast-iron French Second Empire building located among the flop houses of the Bowery and by night,  the roar of punk rock bands blared out of CBGBs the other side of the Bowery. Under the artistic directorship of Eve Adamson, the JCR had become New York's sole rotating classical repertory company, with a well-heeled subscription audience from the Upper East side, who came for her traditional stagings of neglected international classics - - plays like Le Cid & A Mad World My Masters - in addition to the canon of Elizabethan, Jacobean, Restoration and Greek texts.   Adamson insisted all actors learn one additional repertory skill at the JCR and I chose costume construction, learning to make bum rolls, stomachers and corsets. We were given weekly fencing, voice and dance classes and were paid $125 per week for 5.5 days work. This was a living wage at a time when a railroad apartment in the East Village cost $200 per month, the subway cost 35 cents and you could eat out each day, for a few dollars.  In any given week we would have 5 separate plays in performance including an 11pm Friday night showing of a contemporary one act play  It was Adamson's staging of Tennessee Williams "Bar in a Tokyo Hotel" in this late night slot that drew the playwright himself to our theatre. Mr Williams liked what he saw and wrote his last two plays for production by the Jean Cocteau Rep. I played Ms Rose in the premiere of his penultimate play, "Kirche Kuchen Und Kinder: An Outrage for the Stage", a satire on home, hearth and country, featuring a homosexual hustler.  Ms Rose, apparently an homage to his sister, Rose, was the only lyrical character in the text: a 19th century lady in a purple satin riding outfit.  Mr Williams wrote the bulk of the play from Key West, visiting us several during rehearsals and on opening night arrived with two tiny, very elderly ladies on his arm, each dressed from neck to ankle in in black lace. We all hovered in the beam of his generosity, his great good humour..

http://rickontheater.blogspot.com/2013/10/an-interview-with-eve-adamson-part-1.html ;

                                                      http://www.tennesseewilliamsstudies.org/journal/works/0204dorff.pdft For two years I was company ingenue at the JCR while studying with Uta Hagen. The experiences could not be more dissimilar. While Adamson favoured a declamatory, presentational, stylised acting with formal staging patters, Hagen demanded a fierce realism unfettered by blocking or traditional stagecraft. Hagen's methodology, grounded in the early work of Stanislavsky, demanded precise, deeply felt scene study underpinned by an analysis that revealed an internal psychological logic and authentic physical expression. She did not tolerate shoddy, self indulgent or lazy work. Sitting at her desk at the front of the studio, chain smoking, taking notes, we were all careful to avoid her ire. Hagen's training for the stage proved invaluable to me in almost all circumstances and eventually formed the basis of my teaching practise. The only place where I was hard pressed to use this form of uber realism was in my next repertory work in the New York avant garde.

In 1978 I joined one of the leading experimental theatre companies in New York: Creation Production Co, led by artistic directors Matthew Maguire and Susan Mosakowski. http://www.creationproduction.org/home.htm. Third in line after Mabou Mines & the Wooster Group for state and national funding, Creation Production Co rehearsed out of a loft in Soho, and were  a resident theatre company at La Mama ETC  under the artistic directorship of Ellen Stewart. For 10 years as a one of the six acting/physical theatre performers in this collaborative multimedia company we were commissioned to stage work in non-traditional and site specific locations, working together with a range of freelance artists, architects and musicians in non-linear, postmodern productions. Our work was opaque, often thrilling and always visually stunning. One highlight was our Obie award winning play "The Memory Theatre of Guilio Camillo", the first production to be staged inside the Anchorage of the Brooklyn Bridge.

       https://dsrny.com/project/memory-theater

In the 14 years I lived and worked in New York City I trained, performed, wrote, directed and got to see some wonderful theatre. I also moonlighted as a script reader for Walt Disney Productions, the Women's Theatre Workshop and ABC Video Enterprises, Inc..  A production of my  first play"From Hunger" was staged at Ohio theatre in 1988 and my second, "Uncontrollablelements" was staged at The Kitchen in 1989. That year,  with a young family in tow, I returned to live in London.

In 1998 I took an MA Theatre Arts, Directing (Distinction) from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and then in 2000 I won one of first practice as research doctoral scholarships from the AHRB. My practice was to be in something called 'digital theatre', a form of online theatre that required what I termed 'distributed performance practices' and eventually became summed up in the organising metaphor, cyberformance. This was at a time when we were all working on dial-ups and where the whole concept of digital theatre online was an anathema to most drama departments.

 

Publications for my MPhil research include:

 

Joint winner of the Trace New Media Writing Competition in the ‘Process’ category: Writing 4 Cyberformance, by Karla Ptacek & Helen Varley Jamieson,       http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/Process/index.cfm?article=108;

 

“Avatar Body Collision: Enactments in Distributed Performance Practices”, published in the peer-reviewed Digital Creativity Journal, 9/03, Vol 14, No 3,SwetZeitlinger.

Abstract:http://www.szp.swets.nl/szp/frameset.htmurl=%2Fszp%2Fjournals%2Fdc.htm

 

“lawful acts”, playscript published in peer-reviewed Journal of MediaPractice,Vol2,No3, Intellect. Abstract:http://www.intellectbooks.com/journals/jmp/abs/jmp2_3.htm

After 2 years of MPhil research I left academia to develop work with the cyber-feminist troupe I'd co-founded in 2001 with Helen Varley Jamison, Vicki Smith, Lena Saarinen. We were AvatarBodyCollision, https://www.creative-catalyst.com/abc/ a globally disbursed virtual theatre using digital chatrooms, video, live performance, sound and animation. For 6 years we performed at international theatre festivals in the USA, England, Scotland, Norway, France, Finland, Greece, New Zealand, Australia, Croatia, Denmark, Slovenia, Canada, Germany, Wales, Serbia, Hungary and Cyberspace. 

What was it like? Performing online often meant getting up at 3am on a winter morning, to sit in the dark at your computer, performing from the waist up to an audience of 600 people in a theatre on the other side of the world in Sydney. If you were the live performer it was like being in a theatre in Cardiff, Glasgow or Munich, often trying to reconnect to the 3 other performers at their computers in Helsinki, Wellington, Berlin. Everything happened in run time and sometimes you'd just get dropped. It was unchartered territory. There was an awful lot of technical multi-tasking. It was frequently frustrating but a became a surprisingly communal experience despite the distance and perhaps because of the technology. Always there was rampant CMC: computer mediated communication a/k/a miss communications. Improvisation and digital skills were key. Sometimes everything just failed.

Avatar Body Collision  disbanded in 2007 after fermenting the seeds of what was to become UpStage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/UpStage

https://www.creative-catalyst.com/abc/about.html  

At about this time I started teaching, gaining a teaching qualification from Greenwich University via distance learning in 2007. Initially I taught in higher education: as a tutor teaching Hagen's brand of Stanislavsky at Goldsmiths on the BA Acting degree, then as academic tutor on the MA Advanced Theatre Practise at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and as a Director at Wimbledon College of Arts on the B.A. costume design and the MA Scenography. From there I moved to Lewisham Southwark College and spent 13 years creative years teaching acting, directing plays. So many highlights from this period but I particularly enjoyed the challenge of adapting Shakespeare's "Tempest' for a staging by MA students inside the 1869 Cutty Sark  sailing ship at Greenwich.

When time allowed, I kept performing for my own pleasure and because what I learned in the professional world enriched what I had to offer my students.  Of note was Nic Greene's astonishing Trilogy at BAC & the Barbican in 2013.https://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/trilogy-rev; and

Caryl Churchill's 'A Light Shining in Buckinghamshire" directed by Lyndsey Turner at the National Theatre 2015.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/apr/26/light-shining-in-buckinghamshire-review-caryl-churchill-national

A commission from the Arts Council enabled a month long research  to Nepal in 2014 culminating in a performative installation. http://www.thegreatandthesmall.com/  For three consecutive summers I directed the Jam Factory's International Performance Festival in Uplyme, Dorset.

After leaving teaching in 2017 and moving to the Middle East for 18 mths, I began writing plays again and established and taught acting workshops for film students in Riyadh.

When lockdown began in March 2020 it was easy for me to return to working online: Zoom was a far more stable platform from anything we'd had in the early noughties, and now everyone seemed to know how to use it. This website mainly documents the work I've created online during lockdown.

 

In March 2021 I was commissioned by Winning Moves to make a 15 minute video- 'Making Light' as part of Carole Thorpe-Gunner's Art Council Lottery project on neurological illnesses. An account of the making of that project occurs here:

 https://themagdalenaproject.org/en/content/showings.  

 

Entering 2022, I'm delighted to be cast as Gabrielle York and working an Australian accent in a SEDOS stage production of Andrew Bovell's When The Rain Stops Falling' opening at The Bridewell Theatre Feb 22-26th, directed by Helena Bumpus.  Reviews here 

I am thankful for my affiliation with the Magdalena Project through whom I've formed a new collaboration with Bianca Mastrominico and John Dean of Organic Theatre /Digital Hotspot. In May-June 2022 I will be co-teaching part of the Online Digital Theatre for Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh.

https://www.qmu.ac.uk/study-here/continuing-professional-development-cpd-courses/cpd-courses-folder/online-performance-practice/

And the beat goes on.