Originally published in The Stage, June 2016
If you have ever worked at East 15, or with an East 15 actor, you will have probably heard the words ‘living history’ mentioned in hushed tones. Students and graduates of the drama school will know that the Living History Project is one of the cornerstones of training at East 15 and a key part of its BA (hons) acting course.
The project goes back to the beginnings of the school in 1961, and is facilitated by Gerry McAlpine. She was a student at East 15 in the early 1970s and worked with the founder Margaret Bury.
“The reason she founded the school,” she explains, “was that she was determined to continue the work of Theatre Workshop [Joan Littlewood’s theatre company]. She set out to solve how to marry inspired improvisational brilliance, which was what Theatre Workshop was famous for, with text and technique.”
Joan Littlewood’s company members were known for being masterful improvisers, as well as for creating powerful political pieces of theatre. It is that combination of improvisation and political theatre that inspires Living History.