I'm gutted with myself that it's been so long since my last post but I'm determined to keep up with the bi-weekly posts in 2018. I have so many fantastic women to share with you this year, it would be a crime NOT to keep on top of it!
I thought I'd return with a lady who is very special and a great inspiration to me personally. This is Viv Buckley, welsh teacher and theatre director. I met Viv this summer during the Hear the People Sing Project in honour of Jo Cox where I worked with Viv when she wrote and directed the More in Common Project, a piece devised based on Jo's values and I honestly can't tell you how much she taught me and just how chuffing wonderful I think she is. I knew from the off how perfect she'd be for this series and how well we'd get along when we hit it off on day 1 after realising our connection to Jessica Swale's play Blue Stockings which I was part of early last year in York and Viv directed the welsh premiere for.
Being primarily a teacher also, I thought it was a brilliant edition to the series as for most of us in this industry, a teacher like Viv is where it all began.
I'm very pleased to share this interview with Viv as she is a woman who personally inspires me and I feel very lucky to have the privilege of knowing. Here it is!
Which women inspire you? Do you have any idols or icons?
That's interesting. I think that would be very different depending on which bit of my life we were talking about. So if I think about when I was younger; I was massively, massively inspired by female comedians, so Jennifer Saunders as an example. I was a massive, massive French and Saunders fan and Jennifer Saunders is one of the only people who I have met, I met her very briefly once, and I couldn't speak to her. I couldn't do it. And its funny actually as they were also training to be teachers like I wanted to, they both did the teacher training course in Central and then became performers, and I think when I trace that back it was that thing of, in a sense, attacking that male stereotype that only men could be funny, only men can actually work in the world of comedy. I think the pair of them really changed that stereotype, but without being girly. Their comedy was all about characterisation, it had sketches- very Monty-Python-like I suppose which is seen to be a typically male humour and there was something about that when I was younger, that absolutely fascinated me. And then in terms of other women I've been inspired by? There's hundreds of them! Like loads of female actresses that I think, you know are just fabulous for the kind of things they do.
My biggest influences then, because a lot of the stuff I studied when I was younger, was literature. So like, I was obsessed, when I was finding my way in what interested me, with black women's literature; Maya Angelou, Alice Walker. I obsessively read their work, I wanted to read anything they'd ever written, from poetry to books. And I think there was something about that, yes there was the historical struggle of it but I think there was something, and I don't know whether it's just because I am a woman but there was something about it being told from a female perspective that gives it another slant. That gives it something else that for me, is really important. And I suppose if you then add that layer of racism on top of that, that's what blew my mind I suppose, they weren't just dealing with being a woman in a man's world, they were also dealing with being a black woman in a white man's world. So black feminist writers I think and female comedians.
What first inspired you to be involved in theatre?
I never ever wanted to be a performer. Never, ever. I did like a bit of Am Dram stuff when I was a kid and whatever but I never wanted to be a performer. I wanted to be a teacher and I absolutely knew that teaching was the thing for me. I've got a phrase that when you talk about actors, there's some people that I teach, and I always say like if you cut them in half they're an actor. There are some people that thats just what they are and other people kind of learn it or fake it, but some people are performers naturally. If you cut me in half, I'm a teacher. That is my craft and my profession. I have happened to also be a theatre director but I am, first and foremost, a teacher.
I went to an all girls school and people always think I went to a posh school because I went to Bryn Hafren School in Barry but it's just because that's how it is in Barry, there's a girl's school and a boy's school. I mean two and a half thousand girls from a very working class area in one building was a petrifying place to be and there used to be a lower school and an upper school and the year I started, they were going to close the lower school down so when I was in year 7, it went from us straight to year 10 and 11. There was nobody in-between us. So you were an eleven ear old girl in a massive building, you went from primary school to that, it was horrifying! But rain or shine, you had to go outside in the lunch hour, unless you did drama. Because if you did drama, you were allowed to stay in and rehearse or you were allowed to clean out the costume cupboard. So I suppose if you put all the things that interested me in one mix; one, I wanted to be a teacher, one, I suppose I always wanted to do things for people, I was very interested in charity and that sort of stuff, I wanted to have a voice. So I suppose the two things became a perfect mesh. For me it was never about performing, it was always about getting other people to tell their story or to tell other people's stories but the purpose of theatre is education as well. It drives me mental when people do theatre for young people and there's some kid in a hoodie saying 'don't do drugs kids, this is what happened to me', it drives me mad. If you want to teach kids about mental health awareness, show them a really good production of Hamlet. It was always about telling stories that weren't explicit but stories when you watch it, you live through what that character does, you can feel an empathy and then ideally think you can change the world. I think thats what I wanted to do; I thought it was going to change the world. Change little worlds, possibly.
I did my first degree in Theatre and Media Drama so I studied a lot of film stuff and English, then did my teacher training and then I did an MA in Directing at Central. So for my MA, my dissertation was actually called 'Changing the Nature of a Little Society', which is a quote from Timblerlake Wertenbaker's play 'Our Country's Good', which is a beautiful play about the Australian convict ships that used to go back and forth to Australia. I took a production of that, with Nick Evans, to South Africa and my dissertation was about how we thought we were going to go to South Africa and show this play to a group of young people and give them a new experience but actually, I think we learnt far more than they did. So it was that whole like, actually being part of that creative process, certainly for young people, that can give them a political voice, that can teach them who they want to be in the world and its so often isn't actually about if they become and actor or a singer. In fact, I couldn't care less about that, in a sense, it's just a really good by-product of it. Don't get me wrong, I'm terribly proud of the young people I've taught that are now playing the lead in Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, but I am equally as proud of the young people I've taught who are now better doctors, teachers, workers in Wilkinson's, I couldn't care less what it is but they are better for doing it. I've directed plays, really good plays that have been performed in London and things like that but the main by-product of all that has just been better humans. I think more than any other artistic medium, theatre forces you to question. If you're watching a film, you can turn it off, you can shut your eyes, if you are in a theatre, there is something about that is very immediate and very real.
Is there any experience you view in your career you view as pivotal or special?
Yes, I suppose the biggest one for me was knowing that I wanted to teach. I was doing my teacher training and on my course, it was three months in the university and then five months on placement. The guy took me into the office and told me my placement was at Gorseinon College which was about fifty miles from Cardiff where I was living at the time and I remember being so disappointed and looking at him and saying 'Is it good, is it worth it?' and he said 'it's the best performing arts placement we could find' and I remember saying 'I am trusting you that this is going to work for me' and I then worked there for ten years and thats where I met people like Nick and Julie, so ultimately I was so glad that I took the risk. Because, without that risk, I think my life would have taken a very different path.
How do you define a feminist? And do you identify as one?
(Laughs.) I can remember being in university and having this debate once and I said something along the lines of 'I don't think I'm a feminist' and someone said 'Oh don't be so stupid, of course you're a feminist, you're a woman' (laughs) and I was a bit like miffed but in a way, as an older person now, I absolutely agree with that statement. I don't think you can be female in this world and not be a feminist. Any woman that says they are not, are, because if you asked her all the questions like 'Do you think men should be paid more than you?', she'd say 'No.' But feminism, its developed, and this a very 80s/early 90s thing, it kind of developed this really terrible stigma of being a really bad thing. But I do think it's because some women behaved badly though because what they did is they confused feminism with behaving like a bloke. So what they did in the 80s and 90s, they started dressing and behaving like men and as a product of that, you get Margaret Thatcher, who's more of a bloke than any bloke I've ever met, because of the aggression and almost the violence that came out of all of that stuff. But even if you look at the clothes, they started wearing shoulder pads to give them a more masculine frame and I don't understand why you can't be a feminist and be pretty. So I suppose have I ever been an overtly political feminist? Fundamentally, I believe in equality. I believe that everyone should be treated the same. But I get just as mad that men get paid more than women that in London, more black people than white people live in tenements. It irritates me just as much so personally, I think I am more of an equalitarian than a feminist but am I a feminist? Of course I am, because I believe in the ideology of it.
Do you think, if you were alive a hundred years ago, you'd be a suffragette?
I think it would have depended on how old I was. So if it was me at the age that I am now, I think I would have been brave enough to stand up for it, to encourage people to do it, to try and help that cause. If I had been like 16/17 or younger, I still would like to believe I totally believed in that cause but if I was honest, I don't think I would have been brave enough to do it. When I was younger, I did a lot of like protest marching and things like that but it was very organised and safe, it wasn't like 'we might get arrested here'. So I think I probably would have turned up to the bigger events, because I did when I was younger but maybe wouldn't have been brave enough to fully stand for it.
More in two weeks time with the next #WomenWednesday!