Jess Neill 28th Jul 16
This Thursday we’re throwing back to Mayfest and the wonderful world of women in theatre.
Amy Hydes is a theatre-maker, music-lover, actor, comedian, clown and writer. She’s got a lotta hats. We caught up with Amy to find out more about theatre, music and the benefits of collaboration.
You’ve studied drama, English and clowning in Bristol, London and Paris. Do you think you could have built your career with a less formal eduction?
I think it depends what theatre route you want to go down. Unfortunately, now, if you’re from a low income family it’s very difficult to be an actor in the traditional sense. Cuts in arts funding and the expense of training make it very hard.
There are some incredibly talented actors out there but if they can’t afford to go to drama school they’re not going to be put in front of the right people. That’s not to say you can’t be plucked from obscurity but there’s a lot of nepotism.
You used to live in London but now you’re back in Bristol. What called you back to the South West?
It’s hard to be an artist and sustain yourself. There are many brilliant actors out there but they don’t have time for castings because they’re doing six different day jobs. That’s where collaboration comes in.
Collaboration makes it much easier to build a career. And it’s so much easier to collaborate in Bristol because people go on their instincts more, they take more risks. You don’t need a piece of paper that says you’ve been to a particular place to get you in the door, you just need to be curious.
Tell us about one of your favourite collaborations.
I work with [fellow theatre-makers] Giulia Bianchini and Grace Swordy on an immersive theatre project called The House Party Collective.
Coming from my passion for music as well as theatre, I wanted to create something where the two went hand in hand. So I rang Giules and said I wanted to do something in a house where live music and musicians were a part of the piece.
Our first show was at my house in Easton. We had five different groups all attached to a character. Each group had to meet in a secret location bearing a gift for their hosts, who were throwing a celebration when their brother turned up to fight for ownership of the house.
It all ended in a showdown in the form of vegetable poker. There was a lot of tension but it was just ridiculous really, born of the idea that adults don’t play enough. Live techno and violin played throughout as the story unfolded.
We did our second show at the Stag and Hounds at Christmas and we’re now looking for a venue for our third.
So you set out to marry these two passions. What, if any, conclusions did you draw about the relationship between theatre and music?
I think they’re shared experiences. Good theatre often makes you question things. You come away feeling like something is buzzing inside you and you definitely get that with music too. Both theatre and music are about stories and journeys. That’s why they go so well together.
As well as a theatre-maker, you’re an actor, a writer, a stand-up comedian and clown. What are your experiences of being a feminist and a woman in many a man’s world?
I think women in comedy especially are massively unrepresented. But it is getting better. When I first started doing gigs I’d be the only female on the bill. I remember one performance where the audience had to vote for who was best and they chose me. The MC came on to announce the winner and said, “Who knew the winner could be a female? Very strange, but here she is…”
What a dick.
Yeah, it was horrible. Some of the men on that bill had really sexist, politically misinformed material but I never see female comedians off the mark like that and I think that’s because we have to work harder on our material.
That’s definitely the case in theatre too. Women feel they have to prove themselves more. If you’re entering a room full of men, even if it’s only subconscious, you’re automatically on the back foot.
What can be done about that?
With theatre the root definitely lies in more writing for women. We need to champion more female playwrights right from the grass roots. This is happening at places like Soho Theatre where they have a really good literary department and women are coming through, it’s just taking a little bit longer.
But it isn’t just gender inequality is it? The bias from boardroom to stage leans towards white, middle-class men. Having studied in Bristol, London and Paris, what’s your take on diversity in the theatre?
Theatre is a middle class game now but that’s just one strand of it. There’s a lot more diverse and interesting art to be found outside the four walls of a theatre. The silver lining in the cloud of scarce funding is that artists are pushed to find alternative spaces, which can lead to far more exciting, sensory work.
Diversity also means talking about difficult things, like the refugee crisis. My friends run a community called Now We Make Tomorrow, a collection of artist’s responses to the crisis. There are no rules about form, the work could be a painting or a poem, but they’re gathering art to create a diverse picture of what’s going on around us.
And it’s about the bits in life that aren’t pretty. The blood and the guts and the gore and the fear. The fear we all have bubbling up and down inside us all the time. Feeling the fear and seeing the fear and admitting that we all have it, we all feel it and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
What advice would you give to a young female performer at the start of her career?
Follow your instincts and be open. Everything’s more liberated now. You don’t need to be married or own a house or have a kid by this or that time, or ever. You don’t need to feel guilty for not achieving someone else’s version of success. You don’t have to pigeon-hole yourself socially or artistically. Just be adventurous. Do what makes you happy.
Delve deeper into the world of women in performing arts with our series of shows for Mayfest Radio:
Episode 1 – Clare Reddington and Kate Yedigarrof on the importance of diversity in the role as Creative Director (of Pervasive Media and MAYK respectively)
Episode 2 – Anna Barrett, Verity Standen and Ellie Showering on lighting design, and singing with tuning forks, one to one
Episode 3 – Tamsin Clarke and Jessica Macdonald on feminist Ecuadorian revolutionaries, writing, and menstruating in outer space
Episode 4 – Jazlyn Pickney and Katie Davis TWIL team member Jaz reports on a public forum discussion about diversity in theatre and Katie Davis tells us about technical work and tall ships
Episode 5 – Laura Dannequin and Roseanna Anderson on dancing, choreographing, and the human body.
Jess Neill is a freelance copywriter and founder of hummingbird copy.