Here, complete with safety pin, fuzzy cream foolscap paper, and the lingering impression of a typewriter’s keys, is one of the documents now being collected by Unfinished Histories, the project securing the history of agit-prop theatre companies from 1968-88.
It’s a summary written for Theatre Quarterly, explaining General Will’s history. And it ends ‘Artists have always interpreted the world. The point is to change it.’
General Will was a Bradford-based company active in the early 1970s. As one of Unfinished Histories’ northern volunteers, I was involving in interviewing General Will last week, and looking at the artifacts we’d scan, like this one. They are to be displayed on the website and in future exhibitions, as well as stored.
What struck me was the astute insights the group had had, as they made radical interventions through drama, as well as the radicalism of the personal politics of the group, many of whom shared houses. At times there were just two women, Margaret Robson (who wrote this document) and Carol Moss, who last week had explained that such a lone position had really taught General Will women to speak up for themselves.
As Sheila Rowbotham showed in her autobiography, and as I know from my own experience of living in communes at the time, it was hard working out your feminist politics on your feet, in the teeth of a range of arguments with socialist men.
So it feel doubly impressive that General Will people were working out how to inspire, educate and entertain their audiences – through theatre – at the same time as hammering out new aesthetic values, and willingly and diligently revising their old views on sexual politics, at home.
Their openness in embracing change included listening with integrity to director Noel Grieg when he downed tools mid-show, and argued that the company should immediately become a ‘gay’ one. The moment was the famous Big Zap, in a collective that was constantly examining its personal politics at the same time as moving away from David Edgar’s scripts and into productions they themselves devised in response to current politics such as the housing crisis.
They were daily making personal as well as political and theatrical revolutions. And that was the taken-for-granted tenor of their lives then.