Rupert Creed: Made in Hull

Hull alumnus Rupert Creed (Drama, 1978) has worked for over 30 years as a professional playwright, story facilitator and theatre director through various roles and commissions with Hull Truck Theatre, Remould Theatre, the BBC and others. Rupert’s work is firmly rooted in communities and reflects a commitment to support individuals and groups to tell their stories and project their voices.

Working closely with filmaker Sean McAllister, Rupert recently wrote ‘Made in Hull’ – a series of installations in the city centre that reflected the last 70 years of Hull’s history and provided a seven-day opening event for Hull City of Culture which attracted approximately 340,000 people

We caught up with Rupert in the immediate aftermath of ‘Made in Hull’ to talk about student life, the creative influence of the city and his contribution to an event that made Hull the most visited attraction in the UK last week:

Why did you choose to study at the University of Hull and what were your initial impressions of the campus and the city?

I chose Hull University because it offered a joint degree in Drama and German, and because the Drama course gave a lot of practical opportunities to learn all aspects of theatre practice. The Gulbenkian Theatre was an amazing resource and we were encouraged to use it as often as possible. I did a lot of acting, learnt stage management and lighting design, as well as script writing & directing. It was the most comprehensive grounding and training in theatre that you could wish for. The joint degree also allowed me to maximise studies on German theatre and practitioners such as Brecht and Piscator. Having lived in Brighton beforehand I liked being in a northern industrial city and it really did smell of fish in those days. My life was totally centred on the campus and the Gulbenkian Theatre in particular- we spent all our working hours reading, writing about or producing plays.

Were there any staff or fellow students who had a particular influence on you during your time at the University or beyond?

When I came to Hull in 1974 there were a number of mature students in the Drama Department and I couldn’t work out who were students and who were staff- it all felt very cool. I was fortunate enough to learn script writing from Anthony Minghella, but all the staff were distinctive creative personalities, each with special skills and knowledge to impart. I learnt a lot from Harry Thompson, Mike Walton, Tony Meech, not to mention Robert Cheesmond and Jim Lambert. I’ve also kept in touch with many students from that period, and we all feel a special bond to Hull

Alumni of the University of Hull often refer to the city as a creative influence in itself. Could you explain how and why Hull helped you to develop your creative voice?

On graduating in 1978 I was fortunate to get a job straight away with Hull Truck Theatre Company under Mike Bradwell. Hull Truck in those days was a pretty wild outfit, and it gave me a great anarchic apprenticeship in theatre, where you made the rules up as you went along.  I then started Remould Theatre Company in 1981 with Averil Coult, and like Mike Bradwell had done before, it made sense to base ourselves in the city so we could entice Hull drama graduates into a world of  making theatre with little or no funding. Hull in the 80s was largely dismissed or ignored by the rest of the country, which made it the ideal place to start any creative endeavour. You didn’t need permission, or acceptance- you simply got on and did it. In 1983 the whole company had dawn doorstep raids from the Department of Health and Social Security, and from that point on we got a bit more serious about securing funding and financing the company’s work more effectively. But overall it’s the ‘blank canvas’ aspect of Hull that I think has inspired artists to stay and work in the city. From the mid-80s onward I got interested in making theatre with local communities, so Remould started on a series of ‘oral history’ documentary plays beginning with ‘The Northern Trawl’ that portrayed Hull and Grimsby’s deep sea trawling industry, based on recorded interviews with local fishermen and their families. Hull’s character, culture and working history is a rich source of stories and human drama, and we went on to produce plays about the region’s nurses, the police, social workers, and Scunthorpe’s steelworkers. We then developed community theatre practice in the form of large cast community plays, in Howden, Bridlington and 2 in Hull, where we’d create a promenade theatre production with up to 200 local performers, with each play exploring or celebrating aspects of that community’s history and character. In 2002 I worked as a BBC Producer in Hull on the innovative digital storytelling project ‘Telling Lives’, where we’d help local people create short films based on a story or incident from their lives. More recently I wrote a play about Hull’s 2007 floods ‘Every Time it Rains’ produced by Hull Truck, wrote the book and multi-media show ‘Turning the Tide’ about Hull’s 1968 trawler tragedy, and with Hull Truck’s Act 3 group, we research and devise shows that are often focused on Hull’s history. So really for the past 40 years Hull and East Yorkshire have provided a rich source of material and inspiration for much of the creative work I’ve made.

Much of your work as a playwright and theatre director has focussed on portraying the stories of particular groups and communities, was it a challenge to write a piece (Made in Hull) that seeks to reflect a broad collective identity to a mass audience?

Finding and writing a story, or set of stories that reflect any community is always a challenge, as there is never really any one narrative that defines a place and its people. But what I try and do is gather local people’s perspectives and incorporate them in the piece, and focus on stories that impact upon the whole community. With ‘Made in Hull’ I could draw on my own knowledge of living and working here for over 40 years, plus I was working closely with Sean McAllister, the Hull born documentary film-maker, and we shared a lot of common ground in our thinking and approach. We wanted the piece to portray what the people of Hull have lived through over the past 70 years- through the good times and the tough times. It needed to show Hull as working port city, its paradoxical isolation geographically from the rest of the country yet its connectivity through maritime trade & migration to other countries and cultures. We wanted it to express Hull’s humour, independent spirit and resilience, and for audiences to feel a sense of pride in their city. Key events were the Hull Blitz, its boom time in fishing and port trade, and the city’s industrial decline from the 1970s with the loss of the fishing industry and the reduction of the docks labour force through containerisation. A dominant theme we wanted to express was how this history (largely untold to the wider world) has shaped and informed our collective identity, giving us the strength and confidence to move forward positively at this significant point in time at the start of Hull City of Culture 2017. One way to show this was in the visual sequence of Hull ‘game-changers’ – in the arts, sport & politics- whose faces you see towards the end of the panoramic film ‘We Are Hull’ in Queen Victoria Square.

What did you hope that visitors would feel when experiencing the installation and have you had any early feedback? If so, were there any unanticipated or surprising reactions to it?

What has been extremely rewarding about the week-long event is the sheer numbers of Hull people that have come into the city centre to experience it. Over a third of a million people saw ‘Made in Hull’ – many of them local people who came back for more. The response on social media, on the radio and in the press has been overwhelming positive. It’s also put Hull on the map nationally and been a great start to the whole City of Culture year. We tried as far as possible to ensure the pieces had a strong emotional connect with Hull people- it was very much their story interpreted and played back by the team of artists

Do you have any upcoming plays, performances or collaborations in 2017 that you are able to share with us at this stage?

I’m working on a new theatre piece called ‘Defiance’ with around 20 members of Hull Truck Youth Theatre and about 15 from Act 3 (Hull Truck’s group for the over 55s). It’s rare that you get to devise something with these 2 age groups of 16+yrs and people in their 60s. 70s and 80s. The sharing of these 2 generations views on the theme of ‘defiance’ has been really interesting, and the result will be performed in Hull Guildhall Council Chamber- itself a fascinating space in which to do a theatre show. It’s on from March 22-25th. I’m also writing and directing a multi-media show with Garry Burnett called ‘Turn and Face the Strange’ about the life and work of Hull born guitarist and composer Mick Ronson. The show will have a rock band and a string quartet so it’s going to be quite a live event! It’s on at Freedom Centre in Hull August 16-19th. I’ve also got funding to write a new large cast community play for Hull provisionally titled ‘A Hull Odyssey’. This is scheduled for performance in 2018 as a legacy project for Hull City of Culture, and is in partnership with Hull Truck. It’s going to be a busy year or two!

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