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Catrina, Fiona and Kay talking about Open Clasp



Kay Hepplewhite, Fiona MacPherson, Catrina McHugh


Opening up Open Clasp



Open Clasp


Open Clasp

“The play was proper class. It was a belta laugh and we've learnt a lot.”

(from Open Clasp web site

Open Clasp Theatre produces what constitutes ‘a good night out' for a female audience.

However, Open Clasp is not just a national touring theatre company but also facilitates extended drama workshops with groups of women and girls in the Newcastle area to raise self esteem and empower the groups around issues affecting their lives. Catrina McHugh uses these collaborations to develop material into a script for a theatre performance which is returned to the women's groups for further workshops. The script is then shaped in rehearsal with the actors by Fiona MacPherson as director. The performances are toured to groups of women and girls, including the workshop groups, who have the opportunity to see their own lives portrayed on stage. The groups then have further workshops to review the material and processes.

The innovative element of the processes developed by Open Clasp lies in the inclusive facilitation of a theatre staging for the concerns of the groups of women and girls from the areas of social exclusion in which the company works. The lives and experiences of women and girls from this working class culture are rarely given a centre stage position in theatre performance. Placing the work in the North East adds a particular resonance to the approaches. Questions of representation, disruption and reconstruction are raised by the portrayal of both feminine and masculine characters by the all women performers. A feminist ‘we' is also challenged.

The methodology evolved by the processes utilised by Open Clasp provides an example of applied or social theatre techniques. The whole participatory process of drama workshop and theatre performance aims to raise self esteem and confidence, recognising the issues that affect the lives of the women and enhancing their ability to contribute to the regeneration of their communities. The company also draws on community arts practice and, with the current project based around mental health issues, ‘Mind the Gap', enters the domain of arts as therapy.

The performances draw very heavily on drag and populist performance genres including for ‘After Her Death', karaoke and talent contest (audiences were invited to participate in the performance at some venues). ‘Falling Knives and Runaround Wives' touring spring 2006, was originally created after an approach for a performance to give a platform to the experiences of a domestic violence survivors group. The play also explores debt and homophobia, culminating in an Abba tribute concert during which a teenage girl gives birth. ‘Stand and Tan', performed 2004, weaves stories from an Iranian asylum seeker with a wedding and a funeral to further explore issues effecting working class women's communities. Social realism combines with comedy and camp in a performance for a (usually) single sex audience to create the ‘good night out for women'.


Click here to go to Open Clasp website




The paper is presented by Kay Hepplewhite, Fiona MacPherson, and Catrina McHugh. Catrina McHugh is the Artistic Director of Open Clasp Theatre Company. She is a writer and performer. Fiona MacPherson has directed three plays for Open Clasp. She is Senior Lecturer in Drama at Northumbria University. Kay Hepplewhite works in Social Theatre projects, recently employed at Northumbria University as a Research Associate.



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