Harriet Powell (HP), Katina Noble (KN) and Clair Chapwell (CC):  (Singing) In-, in-, Invisible, in-, in-, invisible, sometimes I feel as though I’m not really there, sometimes I feel as though nobody cares what I’m saying, in-, in-, invisible

CC: One night I was lying in bed thinking “why doesn’t somebody do a play about ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ which has changed my life”. And I thought “I could write that play”

Roy Williams (RW): Because of um Spare Tyre and the work they did at the time, very sort of feminist theatre, they wanted to do a play about sexism.

Arti Prashar (AP): I think its its value has been, even across the 40 years, of doing a fair amount of um pioneering and risk taking actually. So from from the moment of kind of like doing anti-homophobic work (Dominic Campbell DC: Yeah) in schools, to having a gay youth theatre (DC: Yeah) to doing uhh feminist theatre (DC: Yeah) you know, its origins, (DC: Yeah) to now doing non-verbal theatre (DC: Yeah) for people living with dementia. I think that’s, if it has a legacy, if it has an impact in the industry it is really about, kind of, taking some of those risks

DC: And what you hope it (Spare Tyre) keeps doing then?

AP: The same.

DC: Stay risky!

AP: Stay risky!

DC and AP: Laughs

KN: You know, well for me, ideas around you know socialism and feminism and I was listening and I was meeting feminists, it was all so exciting and it was of course you know important that we didn’t, you know, we were thinking of alternatives to you know bourgeois theatre and the elite who go to The National and actually there were possibilities of reaching different kinds of audiences with different messages (HP: involving them) and involving them. Being being participatory was hugely important

Jo Paul (JP): Um I think I was exploring it as a political label and that was really important to me. And it was always that question about: disabled artist, artist who’s disabled, disabled woman, woman first, artist first, disabled first, which one comes first?

Vicky Lee (VL): In “Angina Monologues” I hit something in myself… was the uhh the transsexual part of myself. So in that I was uhh a woman hiding in a sort of male self.

HP: I mean I learned my feminism with Spare Tyre. I didn’t find interaction a very feminist experience, I don’t know if you did?

KN: I think I just met one or two women who were talking in a very exciting way and I just started to really take it in

HP: But there were men who were behaving a really atrocious way!

VL:  I don’t feel that femininity has to do with necessarily a look. Um it has to do with an expression

CC: So when we were researching “Fat is a Feminist Issue” play “Baring the Weight”, we our aim was to destroy Weight Watchers. That was the plan. But um so I went along to Weight Watchers and um so they told me I had to lose (AP: Undercover?) a certain amount of weight.

HP, KN: laughs

AP: Sort of undercover

CC: Strangely they took me but anyway um but no we you know, we would leaflet them and all of this kind of stuff. You know most women feel very crazy about their shape. But we had you know we had we did play at Weight Watchers meetings we did and always we had people

VL: Well I didn’t really know anything about Spare Tyre when I originally came along. I had heard umm of, it it was a word in the background in the feminist uh 1970s uh particularly “Fat is a Feminist Issue” and so um it is a very interesting umm exploration for me now uhh to find out a little bit more about what feminism actually is because I’m not really very sure um you know how to be a feminist.

AP: In the late 70s there were lots of lots of community arts groups popping up. So I was busy working with a little known company called Tara Arts, an Asian theatre company and uhh across the river there was another company called Spare Tyre, a feminist theatre company. And I vowed not to have anything to do with (DC: laughs) Spare Tyre. At the age of 17

DC: And what, why didn’t you want anything to do with them? (AP: Laughs) what was it about those people?

AP: So interestingly its its around the question of “what is feminism?” and and Spare Tyre’s philosophies at that time were just not aligning with my views about what feminism is and I guess that’s cultural where it was coming from and so it just was not connecting with me at all. So I do regularly laugh at myself that here I am now how many years later running the organisation.

CC: We had discussions followed by umm people, we said to people if you would like to sign up to join a compulsive eating group umm please do

KN: Alongside this actually I joined the Women’s Therapy Centre, which Susie Orbach started… took over from her running and setting up compulsive eating groups. So there was a kind of a link between Spare Tyre and Women’s Therapy Centre… and so yeah out of out of the performances actually you know came some of these groups which was a really you know if, if anybody was criticising us for kind of “oh well you know nothing comes comes of any of this” actually there was a lot that came out of this. Groups that sometimes, as you said, lasted 4 years.

CC: I went so a singing thing the other night and this this woman said to me “Spare Tyre” and I went laughs “Yes”. I said well umm “we did this first show and we ran compulsive eating groups” and this woman said “I was in one and it lasted 4 years" and um she said “I still have friends from that group”.

RW: A professional theatre company three women, Clair Chapman, Harriet Powell and Katina Noble who were who were just great and full of life and very funny and full of beans and we just kind of thought “yeah we like these girls we wanna work with them”. So we umm we all had to kinda bring stories our own sorta personal, things that may have happened to us but you know, things that happened to people we know as well.

David Munns (DM): I’d always wanted to do drag, but I’d always wanted to do drag. It was something I’d wanted to do since I was uhh well for a long time actually. My creative side was calling me.

AP: And and in a way so that’s where that how that that surfaced with the character of Evena as well

DM: Yes

AP: It’s it’s not so much that you know the rest of the piece might have had a lot of umm sex and sexuality in it. And is that something you would like to carry on doing? (DM: Hmm) Is exploring that side of you?

DM: I, I, I think so. I have to see how I feel about it.

RW: I remember one scene I did with my friend Michael, it was these two young boys at school but really really close. It was assumed by all the other, everyone else at school that they were gay. So it was just about these two boys trying to sort of define themselves as something; “we’re not gay but we’re close, why can’t we do that?”

JP: I think the younger artists that are coming up are a little different in how they approach it. That’s what I’ve been observing. They are a bit more “this is my right, just get on with it”. They think in an equal way, which is great.

RW: There’s one song in particular where all the females of the group got together and sang this really powerful song about umm you know, about them these women trying to empower themselves. It came off the back of one of the characters and the boy, I played I played that guy in in in, and he was teased because “oh you got beaten by a girl in a race” and afterwards oh she comes up to shake my hand, the character I was playing, and I hit her because you know I just the character just couldn’t handle being beaten by a girl. That inspires her and the other to get up and sing this really powerful song about you know young women empowering themselves. That’s it yeah, “We’ve taken all the blame, we’ve taken all the flak, it’s time to show our anger, it’s time to fight back, we can we will and we must”. I mean it was a real showstopper and it got a rousing applause standing ovation every time when we did it. But during rehearsals I remember it really divided the company. And the division was fairly obvious, it was the boys versus the girls because we saw… in rehearsals we sat down we heard that song and it was so powerful and so vivid we felt we were being attacked as boys. “What what we’re trying to say in terms of sex and male identity, why are you picking on us?” and they said “we’re not picking on you” “but that’s how we feel”. And it got so bad in rehearsals umm Spare Tyre had to stop rehearsals for the day.

AP: Wow

RW: And everybody had to get round in a little circle and everybody had to just really be honest and just say exactly what they were feeling. Because they said “look we cant go any further until this is resolved” and uhh

AP: That’s really powerful

RW: I know, yeah

AP: That’s very powerful theatre

RW: Yeah, yeah. That’s why, that’s why I’ve never forgotten it. That’s why I’ve never forgotten that play, that experience and it’s its certainly its its its stayed with me over the over you know over the years. It really it really really has.

AP: But I don’t stop being an artist (DC: mmm) and an artist is about being curious (DC: mm) and asking “but what if?”

DC: Yeah

AP: Or “how did that happen?”

DC: Yeah

AP: Or “if we went and looked into that area, what would happen?” and so that’s, its about what, what you as artists get excited about really. And I guess that’s how it happens. That’s that’s the discovery that happens and you know being alert and open to that. I love chaos! I do!

DC: Yeah, why? Why?

AP: Because, because I think it is it is the essence of creativity. (DC: laughs) It is the Big Bang Theory laughs

DC: Ah okay, you gotta get a bit messy before something grows out of it

AP: Yes, absolutely

HP, KN and CC: (Singing) I’m gonna be 8 stone by my birthday, in hot pants by July, I’ll start my fast tomorrow, but today I’ll bake a pie, I’m gonna be 8 stone by my birthday, in hot pants by July, I’ll start my fast tomorrow but today I’ll bake a pie

KN: Or something

AP: That’s brilliant

KN: I’m sure you didn’t do that before!

CC: I loved your voice

KN: I loved that

HP: Spontaneity!

This film is a compilation of interviews about Women & Gender; a consistent theme within our work throughout our 40-year history.

You can watch films about our other key themes here: DisabilityAge & Dementia