English, Rose (9 of 13). National Life Stories: Artists' Lives
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2005-12-08, 2006-02-03, 2006-04-11, 2006-05-08, 2006-06-05,
Interviewee's home/studio, London
English, Rose, 1950- (speaker, female)
Dyke, Anna, (speaker, female)
Part 9: [Session Five: 5 June 2006] [1:37:04] Since last recording: RE performing in Frank Bock [FB] and SV’s ‘Invisible Dances’, ‘epilogue’; in Nottingham, Brussels and Laban Centre. Also presentation for ‘Wild Gift’, live art season at Theatre Museum curated by David Lillington and Rosie Cooper; objects from RE’s archive, what is left over after performance; eg. eyelashes from ‘My Mathematics’; glass wand and pipe from ‘Double Wedding’; scripts of ‘Double Wedding’ and ‘Tantamount Esperance’; letter written to Roselee Goldberg [RG] in 1978; 1968 Sothebys catalogue of Ballet Russes costumes. RE’s letter to RG; answering what had brought RE to Performance. Critical attention; 1977, RE was invited to submit a proposal for Documenta; had to ask Mark Chaimowicz what Documenta was. First review after 10 years of shows. [08:30] More detail re-‘Invisible Dances’; 7-year project; RE’s role. Working with FB and SV; mentions working with Richard Jones [RJ], MH. FB and SV’s work ‘challenging’ - reasons. Walk-outs from RE’s performances; eg. solo shows late 1970s/early ‘80s in gallery spaces; RE sometimes followed them out, made something of that moment. [16:35] First solo show 1979, before ‘Gold Diggers’ project; RE invited to season featuring women artists from Europe and Los Angeles, curated by Susan Hiller [SH] and Suzanne Lacey [SL], at Franklin Furnace, New York, hosted by Martha Wilson [MW]. SP’s other commitments, ‘Thriller’, plus musical trio The Marx Brothers. RE’s one-off solos at X6Dance Space. ‘Adventure or Revenge’; trunk of theatrical costumes from Fox’s; entirely improvised performance. Being in New York, different milieu; permission to try new thing. Exhilarating; made audience laugh; discovered oratory, speaking to audience; shaping work from inside it, digressions etc. Coincided with rise of stand-up comedy. Not recorded; second performance in Toronto; had to trust ability to do it again. [22:26] No script or cue cards; had question to address; costumes unplanned. Important that audience didn’t know RE was improvising; not like improvised comedy. Later would talk of having a script to reassure theatres. Themes: the void, sex, death, nature of theatrical representation; RE would adopt different personae. ‘Plato’s Chair’; ‘the sublime’; correlation between comedy and philosophy; and ‘the void’. Had always been interested in traditions/mechanics of theatre, but not plays. Interest in language came via speaking; later recorded/transcribed the improvised speech, which led to writing. 1970s work had little speech. Had no idea that speaking for hour-and-half performance was something she could do; exhilarating; presence of audience; refers to debating society at school. Being present when audience arrived; avoided expectation of ‘coming on’; took away formality. [31:34] RE not entirely in control; invited interaction; not manipulating audience. Gallery space; New York audience; positive response. Performing in Toronto; Canada became important place to take RE’s work in 1980s. Less anxiety in New York than U.K. about defining the work. Artist-run spaces in Canada; enabled work to be made. New York trip; London artists: RE, Carlyle Reedy, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Hannah O’Shea, SP, Tina Keane, SH; from LA: SL, Cheri Gaulke [CG], Linda Montano; MW. RE performed in CG’s piece. In Toronto met curator Tim Guest [TG] of Art Metropole; first met Martha Fleming [MF] - now RE’s partner; mentions meeting artists Kerri Kwinter, Colin Campbell, Lisa Steele. Describes work at Franklin Furnace called ‘Sprout Time’ about survival. Artist video scene in Canada; distribution network, spaces to show work. [47:43] ‘Adventure or Revenge’ not recorded; everything after was. Wild stage presence. ‘Plato’s Chair’ 1983; TG organised five dates across Canada; fare paid by British Council. Going from large scale of ‘Gold Diggers’ to minimal solo show; trunk of objects. Fear - always there, but never incapacitating stage fright; night sweat three weeks before. ‘Plato’s Chair’, ‘Thee Thy Thou Thine’, ‘The Beloved’, ‘Moses’ and ‘Walks on Water’ unscripted; though gradually started recording/transcribing so that they were repeatable; loose structure to enable cues for music, lighting. Building up of elements show by show, eg. scenery, other performers, presented in theatres. ‘The Beloved’ (1985) performed in theatres, Tate Britain, Museum of Modern Art in Vienna. Audience participation, shouting out the word ‘abstract’. Enjoyed moving into performing in theatres; a new audience who hadn’t seen a lot of Performance work. [57:16] ‘Plato’s Chair’; difficulty finding venues in U.K. compared to Canada. MF’s home/studio in Montreal, shared with collaborator Lyne Lapointe. RE realised she needed a producer; contacted Luke Dixon [LD] who ran theatre group ‘Shared Experience’; LD organised season for ‘Plato’s Chair’ at Drill Hall, performing in bar. Association with LD until 1988. ‘Plato’s Chair’; different venues in Canada; at Drill Hall used auditorium as dressing room. Theme: representation. Adapted the show for each venue; eg. in Drill Hall used plaster pillars; in Vancouver a log and Mickey Mouse ears. [1:02:30] Reviews in New York and Canada; LD; theatre reviews for ‘Plato’s Chair’ and ‘The Beloved’; theatre critics’ references, eg. Quentin Crisp, Bea Lillie. In New York, RE discovered recordings by Ruth Draper, eg. ‘The Actress’, character monologues; aunt of Joyce Grenfell. Quotes review of RE from New York critic; ‘arrived at edge of some complex insight’. Performing; not being a character, but personae; heightened, formal version of self. [1:09:06] LD’s role as producer; arranging dates; finances; successful shows. Creative relationship; talking to LD when creating the work. ‘Thee Thy Thou Thine’ decision to work with actor, Richard Wilding [RW]. ‘Moses’; working with (two) girl performers, who were on stage for first time; unrepeatable moments, eg. Dorothy’s answers to RE’s questions. RW’s role, based on second person in Plato’s Dialogues. Decision to work with actor; refers to working with Lumiere & Son etc; interest in ‘actor-manager’ persona; saw ‘The Dresser’ and Mamet’s ‘A Life in the Theatre’; wanted a performer who embodied the theatre tradition. ‘Thee Thy Thou Thine’; reconstruction of ‘Oklahoma’; theatre tradition opposite to concept of originality in visual arts. Each show grew from last one; act of performing presented new questions/ideas. Lived in Hillview Estate, Kings Cross; living room/studio; accumulation of notes, material. Date and title for new show; choosing elements from the material; took classes to get in shape, or learn new skills; rehearsals with co-performers. Videos made as documents; for ‘Double Wedding’ used video as rehearsal tool. [1:25:00] Hillview Estate built by East End Dwelling Company, run by Short Life Community Housing; residents had licence to occupy, licence fee/rent. Previously lived in squat in Huntley St; 1979 eviction; meetings with Ken Livingstone; barricades; test case for Criminal Trespass Bill; police scrutiny; eviction by Special Patrol Group. Residents given flats in Hillview; RE lived there 1979-1994; scary place at first; residents refurbished the estate. Residents included artists, musicians, circus performers; RE met collaborators, eg. Ian Hill [IH], who created music for 8 of RE’s shows; also Jonathan Graham [JG] founder of The Circus Space; conversations; vibrant place. 1976 onward; housing had been time-consuming activity; politics of squatting; ‘Thriller’ and ‘Berlin’ were made in squats; knowing how to organise, the possibility of changing conditions. Relationship between RE’s politics and work, eg. ‘Walks on Water’ 1988, miracle inside intransigent culture, of Thatcherism, ‘privatisation of the soul’. Persona in ‘Double Wedding’. [1:37:04]