At Forest Forge Theatre we are proud of the work we do with our Associate Artists to support and nurture their careers. At the end of 2019 we welcomed actor Michele O’Brien as an Associate Artist. Michele tells us here about her career as an artist and what it means to her to be part of the Forest Forge Theatre family.
Introducing Michele O’Brien…
Forest Forge audiences will know me most recently from the 2018/19 production Rumplestiltskin and the 2019/20 production Little Red Riding Hood, collaborations between Forest Forge Theatre Company and Bumblefly Theatre Company. Amongst many other roles I portrayed the ever hopeful Piggy, attending an audition with a flamenco flourish.
I also worked with Sean Aita on John Yates’ script Axe last year – a great challenge as it involved learning Neolithic language! I just love the art of taking great writing off the page, making it come alive and reaching out to audiences.
It’s a great privilege to be asked to be an Associate Artist at Forest Forge. My links with the Theatre Company go back to 2008 when I toured with their production of To the Marrow written by Sean Aita and directed by David Haworth. Again the play involved portraying many different characters in the usual expertly crafted script. Set in the competitive environment of an allotment site in the run up to the annual produce and flower show we had a lot of fun. I have fond memories of touring around the many community centres, village halls and theatres of Hampshire, Dorset and Wiltshire.
After the performance at the Mangella Theatre (Newport, Isle of Wight) The Stage wrote:
“Michele O’Brien excels in at least six parts …..and wonderfully ignites both halves of the show”.
“…….the quite amazing Michele O’Brien!” March 2008
I was very pleased to get that review.
I am currently devising my new show The Ark and Dove at Forest Forge. I was asked by Elspeth Giddens at the Isle of Wight Literary Festival to portray the historic story based in 1633, when a company of travellers left Cowes for Maryland in America. It tells the story of a gripping journey to seek a life in a new land, the challenges of the voyage, arriving in Chesapeake Bay and relating to the First Nation tribes they met on the Potomac River.
I’m loving working in the professional and creative environment that Forest Forge provides.with a script written by David Haworth, Lucy Phillips as Director, Lizzie Watts as Designer, Teresa Grimaldi as puppet maker and Dom Phillips advising on sound and light.
However my links with Ringwood go way back to childhood, as my Mum, Gina lived at No.1 Riverside on The Bickerley and she would tell me stories of life there with her two sisters, Joan and Lea throughout the Second World War. Now 94 Mum is thrilled that I’m working “up at Crow” with Forest Forge again.
I’m Glad I Asked
In 2016 I developed a one woman show featuring Gina (represented as a full size puppet made by Teresa Grimaldi). Along with Director Katerina Redava I’m Glad I Asked captured stories and built on interactive workshops with Mothers and Daughters to encourage them to share thoughts and memories in an attempt to avoid the old adage: “If only I’d asked!”.
“My Mum is a great storyteller. She’s been a Club Owner, Landlady and run businesses and has a mine of stories to tell. I became aware not only of the need to capture these stories, but to support women in having what can often be uncomfortable conversations about the past, our views on sex, relationships, the place of reminiscence”.
The piece premiered at the Shelley Theatre as part of Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival and went on to Lighthouse, Poole and Lyric Theatre, Bridport.
Pre-show installations and post show Q and A’s added to the interactive and immersive aspect of I’m Glad I Asked with women being able to share experiences and galvanise the need to speak out about the ageing process.
Link: I’m Glad I Asked video
Spice Box Street Theatre
The Art Council funded Spice Box has been performed to tens of thousands of people in a diverse number of settings. Telling the story of the race for spices in Tudor times, I worked with Director Amy Rose (Bocadulupa), Designer Chris Pirie (Green Ginger) and puppet maker Teresa Grimaldi (Sisters Grimm):
“I wanted to create a piece of theatre that people would just come across when they were out and about, visiting a historic property or shopping on a Saturday. The enticing ‘Spice Box’ brought entertainment, education and fun. People of all ages got something from it”.
Spice Box has been performed in the street in Bridport on market day, on the lawn at Montacute House, Corfe Castle, a Park in Devizes as part of the International Street Theatre Festival there and Poole Quay where the piece premiered as part of the Poole Street Theatre Festival in 2011.
Link: Spice Box video
Another Arts Council funded project followed and was commissioned by the National Trust at Corfe Castle as part of their ‘Land, Outdoor and Nature’ strategy in 2016. The Spice Box team was joined by Sarah Corbet who made the set.
The challenges of managing one of the Trusts busiest properties whist conserving many species that are special to the Purbecks such as the Silver Studded Blue Butterfly, Smooth Snake and Dartford Warbler, were highlighted by LAND, a double header with Colin Phillimore. We raised important environmental issues in a fun and entertaining way, one audience member commented:
“I loved it (age 7) I particularly liked the way the play was not ‘preachy’ or forced. It was engaging and enriching”
Link: LAND Video
Valise Noire Storytelling Theatre Company
Through further collaborations with Hazel Evans as Valise Noire Storytelling Theatre Company I was able to create a modern fairy story. Girl and the Shoes (with its adult version Killer Heels) was performed at Lighthouse Poole, Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis and as part of the Bournemouth Arts by the Sea Festival. Hazel and I then developed Poppy Fields together, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, commemorating and acknowledging the contribution made by women in the Home Front during the First World War, especially the nurses.
We returned to our roots in Poole for the European Maritime Festival there in 2017. Again through funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cargo celebrated thousands years of trade that has passed through the Great Quay. We collaborated with the Cirdan Sailing Trust and Poole Harbour Commissioners in bringing the training ship Queen Galadriel to perform off. Actors and community members moved to music composed by Bournemouth based musician Timo Peach:
“Working with Hazel allows us both to interpret history from a women’s perspective using her contemporary skills as a fine artist to create an immersive and cathartic piece that can reach audiences in different ways.
I wanted to arrive at Poole Quay on an old sailing ship made ethereal and dream like, being surrounded by mist as it approached the Great Quay. We processed along to the Sea Music sculpture where a violinist greeted us and we ended with a calling to the Oceans”.
Walking along the Quay has never quite been the same since. It was an amazing achievement and just the kind of spectacle we wanted to provide.
Link: Girl and the Shoes
Link: Poppy Fields video
Link: Cargo video
I also work on other heritage projects: with Tony and Gill Horitz through State of Play Theatre Company I recently performed in Tommy’s Sisters at the Priesthouse Museum, Wimborne and The Aftermath in the historic setting of Deans Court. Also, Wimborne Community Theatre regularly ask me to work on their productions.
Link: Tommy’s Sisters
I’ve recently worked with local actor Tam Gilbert on her HLF funded piece Sensing Helen. The piece involved research at the Dorset Heritage Centre and visits to Bristol to record the life of two young women who had very different experiences in Victorian times, through their blindness.
Link: Sensing Helen video
In 2018 I had the pleasure of working with Becky Lewis and Emma Powell on Becky’s one woman show Small Victories at Swindon Museum and We the Curious museum in Bristol. The piece told the story of the Garrard factory in Swindon and the life of women employed there to test the quality of the record players. It was a really sweet story that involved another pig – this one being rescued from the canal!
So I guess the constant theme of my work in recent times, (apart from pigs!) is channeling the work and lives of women throughout history, ensuring that their contributions, views and feelings are heard. I love going into schools in role as Lady Annie Russell Cotes or Suffragette Minnie Baldock, Ann Boleyn or Queen Victoria and facilitating children exploring issues and objects, letting them ask questions. The craft of Acting and Theatre allows this to happen, something magic occurs when all the aspects of theatre from writing to lighting, design and the actual performance come together and enchant an audience.
Thanks to Forest Forge I will be able to create new work in a professional setting and continue my collaboration with so many wonderful artists.
Michele’s website: http://micheleobrien.co.uk
Granny Cousins Ghost Walk: Granny Cousins Ghost Walk