As an undergraduate in Bristol I reviewed regularly for the Times Educational Supplement, edited the Green Room Broadsheet and New Theatre Magazine, directed, inter alia, all the then extant works of Samuel Beckett, was awarded the Racine Prize for performing in French and played the Fool (as well as other parts too numerous to mention). As a result I took a degree which was just on the right side of respectable, but still managed to land a job teaching Drama in a College of Education. There I wrote my first play, Liberation Day, which won a Sunday Times/NUS award for new writing. This bought me to the attention of the Professor of English at Exeter University who was looking for someone to set up degrees in Drama. In the knowledge that it was my extra-curricular practice which had had provided my true tertiary learning experience, I determined to put some doing into mainstream academe. (‘Drama’ does after all come from the Greek word for ‘to do’). Modelling ourselves on scientific laboratory courses rather than literary criticism, we made studio work assessable and ‘finals’ to include a Practical Essay; postgraduate qualifications also came to admit ‘research through practice’.
At the same time I considered it essential to continue my own practice and founded, with a group of graduates, Medium Fair Theatre, a touring community company which I directed for ten years before concentrating on Theatre in Education with an offshoot called Fair Exchange. After twenty years of teaching the university finally gave me sabbatical leave – and I took the academic board’s hint that it was time to write something other than plays. Most of my practical work had been based on that of the French director Jacques Copeau and I consequently wrote a monograph on him for the Cambridge series ‘Directors in Perspective’. I subsequently co-authored Jacques Copeau: texts on theatre for Routledge and have writtenchapters on various aspects of his work for compilation volumes.
Another extramural activity as an undergraduate was working as a showman, flyman and rigger at the Bristol Old Vic. As well as providing the opportunity surreptitiously to study various directors at work (including Canada’s Tyrone Guthrie) I also gained a grounding in most technical aspects of theatre which stood me in good stead later when designing drama studios and doing fit-ups in village halls. Lighting design interested me in particular and I was asked by Anne Jellicoe to light the first three of the community plays she animated for the Colway Trust. Eventually we disagreed over methodology and to prove my thesis I later co-wrote and directed major productions involving several hundred people in Milton Keynes and Bristol. A new community work, The Great Prize, based on the history of the Civil War in the City of Exeter, is currently in preparation.
Changes to the funding of English Universities in the early nineties convinced me as Head of Department that we would either have to expand or close. Being of the Schumacher persuasion that ‘small is beautiful’ I watched helplessly as first Philosophy, then Music and even eventually Chemistry were mown down. Leaving the Drama Department with a top research rating and a massive undergraduate application rate, I emigrated to France to emulate Copeau once more by setting up a small rural centre for performance research. Centre Sélavy attracted students from all over the world, and it was there and with them that I was at last able to devote the time and attention to commedia dell’arte that the form demands if one is to become more than a dilettante.
Now theoretically retired I’m still writing books and plays and taking workshops and role-playing in learning environments.