Sister To Shakespeare -15th - 22nd October 1982

Submitted by root on Sun, 02/12/2012 - 12:02

Front of the Blackie with Sister toShakespeare banner

Held at the Blackie Sister to Shakespeare was a week long celebration of the centenary of Virginia Woolf (born January 1882) based around the ideas present in her work and life. The title comes from her essay 'A Room of One's Own'.

Sister to Shakespeare focused on women as artists in general and women as writers in particular.  It was a day long event starting at 11am each morning and winding down after the evening performances. The activities can be divided into three parts, 'artists at home'; performances and workshops

It took place on the ground floor of the Blackie which had been divided into separate 'homes' using silky curtains coloured pale green, lilac, and silver, and hung with works by Judy Bates (now Gough) www.borderlandvisualarts.comMags Blackwell (on facebook), Wendy Harpe and Maud Sulter.  

Below are shots of the layout showing the stage where the dancer performed with the cafe in the background,  the spinners 'home, and the Birthday Book work area.

 ground floor layout showing performance area layout showing spinning and reasing area

 Layout of room showing the birthday book 

 work by Mags Blackwell hanging in the writers 'home'Detail of work by Wendy Haroe hanging in the spinning areaWork by Judy GoughMaud Sulters Blazer created for Sister to Shakespeare

The  textile works above were by Mags Blackwell which hung in the writers 'home',  by Wendy Harpe  which hung in the spinners 'home',  by Judy Gough, and by Maud Saulter which hung in her workshop area. 

As a way of focusing on the range of women's creativity each day started with someone spinning (Lesley Earnshaw, Sue Lewis, Maureen Miller, Bertha Powell,) and sitting in front of them someone else  (Carol McCormack, Sally Morris, Judy Bates….) reading from Virginia Woolf's  Works

Carol McCormick reading at the start odf the day        Sally Morris reading at the start of the day

Carol McCormack and Sally Morris Reading from Virginai Woolf at the start of the day

Artists at Home

Dance Stella Mae and Singer Jenny Dunbar in their 'home'Each day there were a range of artists in 'homes' who when asked would perform a dance, sing a folk song or read from and discuss their work. This was, in the first instance, quite difficult both for the for the audience and for the performers. The audience were shy not normally being in a position where they could request someone to perform for them (something normally reserved for the aristocracy). The performers  feared that no-one would invite them to do anything and kept asking couldn't they just perform - they were told they could but only when someone asked them to. However like many good ideas once people got used to it the flood gates opened.  By day two the artists were looking forward to the the moments when they were not performing.

The dancer was Stella Mae who would, upon invitation, perform a dance choreographed by Bill Harpe. This was performed on a gym form and drew its inspiration from the Virginia Woolf quote "Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down. I feel giddy. I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end"

 Stella Mae progressing along the form Stella Mae's dance

                          Stella Mae performing Bill Harpe' s choreography along a school form Stella Mae getting down from the form at the end of her dance

Stella Mae performing her dance 

The singer was Jenny Dunbar who would, upon invitation, perform from a selection of new songs written specifically for Sister to Shakespeare.  Both Jenny and Stella were there for the whole week.

                                       Jenny Dunbar singing  Jenny Dunbar singing Jenny talking to members of the audience

                               Jenny Dunbar singing and talking to audience members

The writers were Gillian Allnut (Thurs 21st) Gladys Mary Coles (Wednesday 20th) Libby Houston (Sat 17/Sun 18th); Frances Horovitz (deceased) (Fri 22nd) Anna Livia (deceased) (Tues 19th/Wed 20th); Liz Lochhead (Fri 16th);  and Michelle Roberts  (Mon 18th).  As with the performers they would read upon request. The writers  'home' was next to a raised area where they could easily read from their works.  So audience members could sit and chat with them and then they could easily move into asking them to read.      

Pictures of writers in their 'home', reading to visiters and audience members reading    

Liz Lochhead in the writers 'home' Liz Lochhead reading Writer reading her work audience members reading during sister to shakespeare

There were also a number the small publishing presses who came with their wares and writers: Allison & Busby Publishers; Falling Wall Press (Susie Fleming); The Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers; Jabberwocky Poetry Society (Peggy Poole); News From Nowhere (Liverpool); The Onlywomen Press; Sheba Feminist Publishers (Gillian Allnut, Elizabeth Baines, & Anne Hunter); Toulouse Press (Sylvia Hikins) and The Women's Press.  

Sheba - Gillian Allnut and fellow writers News Ferom Nowhere setting up                                                                                                                   

Sheba Press - Gillian Allnut and  fellow writes and News from Nowhere setting up their stall.
And there were the visual/ performance artists. In particular our guest of honour Judy Chicago ( who came to give two lectures but also held a seminar during the day on her work )

Judy Chicago at a seminar                               

Also present running workshops were Maud Sulter (died 2008) and the performance artists, Roland Miller and Shirley Cameron (

Finally there was an eating and talking area where visitors and artists could make themselves 'at home.'   The cafe area is, to use Illch's term, one of the tools of conviviality which makes it possible for a lot of people who do not know each other  feel at ease.

                                          Shot of kitchen

        People socialising in the cafe area artist socialising over lunch

The Performances

These took place each evening at 7.30pm

1. Friday 22nd The Sister To Shakespeare 100th Birthday Party, hosted by performance artists Shirley Cameron and Roland Miller.  Their introduction to it reads "The party on the first evening is a performance art event which means that certain elements have been carefully planned in advance.

We have divided the world of the party in two: Now (which is black) and Then (which is white). Between the two is a tent in which a Time Traveller will 'examine' the guests. The two areas span the century  between now and 1882."

2. Saturday 16th  'Alone With Friends' -  poems by Libby Houston, music and songs by Cathy Williams. Two artists who nirmally perform solo  - for the first time  performing soem of their pieces together.

3. Sun/Mon/Tues 17th,18th, 19th.  'Life Stands Still' readings by Eleanor Bron (on Facebook) from the works of Virginia Woolf, in a special selection by Virginia Brown which tied together the magic of the novels, the strong medicine of the essays and the domestic and business miracle of the Hogarth Press. Directed by Christina Burnett from Manchester Exchange Theatre the reading was in three parts; a) from A Room of One's Own, b) from the Diaries and Letters, and c) from the Waves.

               Eleanor Bron reading from Virginia Woolf  Set for Eleanor Brons reading with printing press  lectern & easy chair

Judy Chicago lecturing

4. Weds 20th 'From the Dinner Party to the Birth Project' - slide show talk by Judy Chicago focusing on what was at that time her current work "The Birth Project".      

5. Thurs 20th "Women, Art and Society: a tribute to Virginia Woolf" - a lecture with slides by Judy Chicago. This was specially commissioned for the event being a 20th Century response/update to Virginia Woolf's essay "a Room of Ones Own".  We have - 20yrs later - published the Lecture which is available from the Black-E for £8.00..

Judy Chicago lecturing

 6. Fri Oct 22nd   'Playing It Out' - a farewell party to close the week hosted by Sharon Landau with Jenny Dunbar, Francis Horovitz and Stella Mae.

Sharon Landau performingSharon Landau perfromingSharon Landau performing   

Film Shows  

Poster giving times of film showings

There were two special screening of The Waves, by the Dutch filmakers Annette Apon and Rene Scholton, which had recently been premiered in Britain; based on Virginia Woolfs' novel of the same name.

The screenings took place at 11pm on Tuesday 19th and 7.30pm on Saturday 23rd October.   



The Workshops        

There were two workshops created by the artists at the Blackie (The Birthday Book and My Room), and two led by visiting artists, plus opportunities to add to or complete two works created by the Blackie.

The Birthday Book. Appropriate since the whole event was a celebration of Virginia Woolf's Birthday and her work as a woman writer, The Birthday Book set out to celebrate women artists. Each of the 365 days was intended to commemorate the birthdays of female artists (present and past).  There was a set format within which people could fill with different messages, poems and designs relating to the artist born on that day. There was also space in which to enter the birthdays of friends. Visitors could look at pages which had already been printed or designed - and join in the research, creation, and printing of other pages. 

The workshop was run by Judy Bates (now Gough) and Chris Rodis with Daphne Davies, Angela Phillips, Helen Prescot, Ingrid thomas and Christine Trenery. The intention was to complete the Birthday Book in the months following Sister to Shakespeare. It is a sad fact that despite a large amount of work it was never  completed.

Judy Gough reviewing birthday Book draft pages   People working on creating pages for the Birthday BookAudience member working on creating a page

                            Rough design for page Sample page for Birthday book Sample page for the birthday Book 2

Above Judy Bates reviewing pages, audience members work on the designs and samples of the pages.

My Room.  A sculptural interpretation of the Virginia Woolf's writings embodying two ideas,  firstly the need for an equality of creative opportunity for all, and secondly the need for people (and from her point of view particularly women) to have their own space. The My Room work consisted of a box 10ft long, 5ft high and approx 6 inches deep divided into separate compartments which varied in shape and size but which fitted symmetrical around the centre to form the shape of the overall box. People were invited to pick a compartment and put within it an object which they would like to have in a room of their own or which they felt would tell everyone else it truly was their room.

It was worked on during Sister to Shakespeare and finished in the months following the event. It was then exhibited in the entrance of the Walker Art Gallery and Alder Hey Children's Hospital before returning to the Blackie.

The Box was designed by Wendy Harpe and made by Tony Mercer.  The workshop during Sister to Shakespeare was run by David Harding, Peter hatton, Tristan Hall, Celie Kibblewhite, Mel Young with Karen agatha.   This was the first of several 'box' works and followed the idea that one of the functions of artists was to make frames for others to fill. A complete overview of My Room can be found under participation.

                      People working on My roomi   working with dental wax for My Room 

                                         Young people workingh on my room

   Wendy and colleague reviewing progress on My Room  picture of my room partially filled
 Shots of people working on My Room during Sister to Shakespeare  

Workshops by Visiting Artists.

Shirley Cameron ran a workshop based round psychological profiling, in which people - depending on whether they were deemed an extrovert or introvert - added flags with their names on to the inner or outer parts of a drawing of a large eye. The workshop was game based and included throwing dice, moving small figures and wearing a hat to match that worn by Shirley.

                                  Shirley camerons game ready to be played  

                 Shirley Cameron with participationShirley Cameron and player

Shirley Cameron leading her work shop

Maud Sulter a visual artist working at that time in natural fibres both produced a knitwear garment in memory of Virginia Woolf and ran a workshop. To quote from her letter asking to take part in the event "Women's craftwork is important to me and the fact that it is developed in our society for instance in clothing sweatshops is symbolic of the devaluation of our creativity and productivity"

                                      Maud Sulter in her work area

                   Maudsulter with workshoppers Maud Sulter knitting

                    Maud Sulter and workshop participants

In addition there was a weaving created by artists at the Blackie which people could add to or change

 Putting up the framework for the weaving Working on the weaving One of the weaving with ribbons produced  during the show

The weaving frame being put up - work on weaving - and a  weaving. created during the show.

And a 'Tribute Tree' conceived by the Blackie and led by Paula Ziane and Mark Bridger, to which people could add 'leaves' on which they could write appropriate 'tributes' to the Show and to Virginia Woolf


                             The message tree which peole added to duringthe show  Deatail of Message Tree  Leaves with message

  The Tribute Tree showing the tree, a detail of it and leaves with messages


Sister to Shakespeare was conceived by Bill Harpe who, as a fan of Virginia Woolf, felt that her centenary was somewhat overshadowed by that of Stravinsky whose centenary fell in the same year.  It was created by the team at the Blackie: Judy Bates (now Gough),  Julia Hallam, Bill Harpe, Wendy Harpe, and Sally Morris, with help from Baujke Asma,  Else Plauborg, Lucienne Groot, , Mary Lou Keller, Angelique Koomen, Deepak Popli, Chris Rodis, Mel Young  and staffed by the above with Karen Agatha, Maria Agatha, Caroline Berson, Karen Bowden, Martin Brems,  Will Craig, Daphne Davies, Ivor Davies, Donna Ignacio, Jim Kenwright, Billy Lunt, Kevin Nicholson, Susan Smith, Paul Stamper, Ingrid Thomas, Christine Trenery, Paula Ziane, and David Harding with students (Bernard  Berthon, Mark Bridger, Charlotte Christensen, Tristan Hill,  Celia Kibblewhite & Amelia Philip) from Dartington College of Art.


To the following who provided gifts in kind, concessionary prices, advice . accommodation and support:-

Crown Paints Ltd., Dalroy McCowean, Dylon International Ltd., R.Fletcher & Sons, Goodless & Wall, L.F.Hughes, Hunt International Ltd., Leamorains, Lewis's, Littlewoods, Liverpool Central Library, Merseyside Play Action Council, Modern Kitchen Equipment, Tiily tippers, and June Berry, Mandy Bridge, Rosie Christmas, John Higgins, Susan Smith, Billy Walsh.

Thanks also to the Hogarth Press and the Literary Estate of Virginia Woolf.