Meeting a Windmill Girl

IMG_1416A few days ago I met a real life Windmill Girl.

I came across Jill Millard Shapiro first through her rather wonderful book Remembering Revudeville: A Souvenir of the Windmill Theatre, and then through social media. We got talking and she very kindly suggested I we have a face-to-face chat.
Jill was a performer at the Windmill theatre from 1959 to December of 1963 when she left to have her first child so she is a well-placed, as well as eloquent and engaging spokeswoman and expert-in-chief for the theatre that she called home for a short but clearly formative period of what turns out to have been a very eventful life.

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Sailing close to the wind, with the Lincoln WI

IMG_1448.JPGThe public engagement element of my job is one of my favourite bits of being an academic. So whenever I’m invited to talk I’ll always try and make it, work and life permitting. As a result last night I was very pleased to be guest speaker at the Lincoln WI.

I’ve visited and spoken to a number of Women’s Institute branches in the last few years and I’ve never had a bad experience, but Lincoln WI are certainly one of my favourites. I’d previously spoken at one of their meetings about two years ago, along with my friend and performer Storme Chaser. Our talk had been about the British burlesque community and its feminist roots. They were a really receptive, fun audience with lots of interesting questions and many of them wanted to have a go with the set of oversize, ostrich feather fans I’d taken with me. I’d even got some them to have a go at doing a glove removal routine to the David Rose Orchestra’s ‘The Stripper,’ much to the amusement of the other members.

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Windmill Girls, tableaux vivant and the Eagle Women’s Institute

Following the unveiling of the We Never Clothed exhibition at the Hebden Bridge Burlesque festival, the Windmill Girls exhibition is now available to go on the road.

My first post-Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival exhibition was on the  Wednesday after HBBF. I took a scaled down version of the exhibition, a talk about the media representation of women of the Windmill and a fan dance demo to Eagle W.I. in Lincolnshire.

I love giving talks to branches of the W.I. I have been doing it at various branches for a couple of years now and always find it extremely rewarding. Incidentally the Women’s Institute is so much more than just jam making. It’s a fascinating movement which celebrated its centenary in 2015. The Eagle branch is a small but friendly, enthusiastic and engaged group and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. They were extremely kind and welcoming. Continue reading

Could you cut it as a Windmill Girl?

“If It Moves, It’s Rude”: The Windmill Tableau Vivants

The Windmill was famous for its ‘tableau vivants’. Tableau vivants are ‘living pictures’, a person or collection of people posed statically to create a scene.

The Windmill’s tableau vivants were notable because at least one female within the scene would be nude.

However, these were not obviously titillating scenes. The Lord Chamberlain, the theatres censor, specified that posers must be absolutely motionless or be deemed obscene, prompting the saying ‘If it moves, it’s rude.’ Furthermore nude posers were also very carefully posed and lit to obscure almost as much as they revealed, and themes, costumes and poses were artistic, with posers invariably staring up and off, seemingly in a reverie, rather than provocatively gazing directly at the audience.

Further more posing in a tableau vivant was a feat of amazing stamina. Whilst it only takes seconds to pose with the exhibition standee, tableau vivant participants were required to pose totally still for 5-12 minutes. Exhausting work, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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Performers Lady Wildflower and Tawny Kay pose with the standee at the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival.

To see more of the #TheyNeverClothed exhibition catalogue and resources click here.

#TheyNeverClothed #DMUEngage Exhibition

Below is a small sample of some of the resources that feature in the #TheyNeverClothed exhibition about the media representation of the women who worked at the Windmill theatre which is due to be taken up to the Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival at the end of the month.

Simply click on the images below to learn about the resources photographed.

For those who are experiencing the whole exhibition first hand, it is possible to scan the QR codes located next to these particular resources with your phone & learn more about each individual resource that way.

If you are interested in seeing more & actually visiting the exhibition, it will be in the lobby area of Todmorden Hippodrome on the evening of Saturday 29th of April and in the Hebden Bridge Town Hall on Sunday 30th of April.

After this the exhibition will be taken on the road and available for bookings. Its first post-Hebden Bridge outing will be on May 3rd at Eagle (Lincolnshire) Women’s Institute.

If you would like me to bring my pop-up exhibition and a short accompanying talk to your club or venue, please email me at ellen.wright@dmu.ac.uk Continue reading

Here’s Looking at You Podcast #1 – An interview with Heidi Bang Tidy and Lady Wildflower

hebden_grande

image courtesy of James Lynch.

In this podcast, I talk to Heidi Bang Tidy and Lady Wildflower, co-producers of the award-winning Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. We discuss the politics of burlesque, the history of the festival and this year’s round table discussion I Am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar featuring Myself, Dr Claire Nally and Dr Jacki Willson (and others tbc) on the Sunday of this year’s festival.  I also discuss my broader research and engagement project in more detail.

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Windmill Girls Project

 

Me outside The Windmill circa 2010 and a selection of Windmill programmes

For those who aren’t familiar, The Windmill Theatre is a little variety theatre nestled in the heart of Soho, just off Shaftesbury Avenue. It is famous for its nude tableau and fan dancing, its careful negotiation of the respectable middlebrow and for giving first breaks to some of British variety’s most celebrated performers. However the theatre is probably best remembered for its steadfast determination to remain open through the compulsory closure of all London theatres and throughout the Blitz, to provide patriotic, upbeat entertainment for war weary troops and civilians. It was and still is, a British institution. Continue reading

In the money!

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Today was a good day. I spent the evening with my work colleagues and we headed on to Prof Ian Hunter’s book launch for his latest book Cult Film as a Guide to Life where the brave amongst us enjoyed a screening of John Waters’ notorious 1972 cult classic Pink Flamingos. But prior to this I’d had some rather exciting news.

I am thrilled to say that despite tight competition, I found out that I won just over £600 worth of #DMUlocal/#DMUengage funding to cover the cost the exciting Windmill Girls public engagement project I have now entitled #TheyNeverClothed: A Peep at the Women of the Windmill Theatre!

This money certainly will help in terms of covering the cost of putting the actual exhibition together and being able to pay for other aspects of the project and its dissemination.

I was relieved, excited and I must say, rather embarrassed when I discovered I had won, as I found out second-hand, as I had other commitments and couldn’t attend the ceremony! What a lovely surprise though!

I guess it is time to knuckle down and do some proper organising then!

A Jolly Jaunt to London’s West End!

mrshendersonwithlizzy.jpgYesterday I went on what seems to be coming an annual outing with my friend and burlesque promoter/producer Lady Wildflower to that thar London.

Having enjoyed our trip to see the magnificent Imelda Staunton playing Rose in Gypsy at the beautiful Savoy theatre last year, this year we took a trip to see the musical stage adaptation of Mrs Henderson Presents at the Noel Coward theatre.

We are both big fans of the film, starring Dame Judi Dench and the late, great Bob Hoskins as the ultimate showman, Vivian Van Damm and we were keen to see how it would translate as a musical. Reviews had been good.

As you can probably guess from our photo, we had a wonderful time.

 

In terms of setting, the theatre was lovely and the staff were extremely helpful. The performances were excellent, the music/songs were great and the sets were great too. I particularly liked the way in which the stage space and the auditorium were used. We, the audience we repeatedly pulled in to the action. This made the piece even more affecting, like you were part of theatre history and it was happening around you. I’m not going to lie, I cried at several points. As a historian I’d love nothing more than to be able to travel back in time and actually go to a Windmill show.

Of particular interest to me was the way the myth around the Windmill was developed and used in the piece. The notion that the theatre ‘never closed’, that in the best theatrical tradition ‘the show must go on’ and that notion of the British stiff upper lip were all invoked here. Continue reading