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Take Five with Clare-Louise English

Clare-Louise English is the Co-Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Hot Coals Theatre. Founded in 2012, the company is a collective composed of three core members and their vision encompasses the methods of Grotowski’s via negativa, Brecht’s Epic Theatre, Chekhov’s psychological gestures, Meyerhold’s Biomechanics, and Copeau’s mask work. Through research and devising they make theatre from scratch, from a seed of an idea, and their manifesto is to create compelling projects, through devising and collaboration, always using the body and its impulses and awareness as the starting point and inspiration, through the commanding mastery of skills and inner control as well as humour, curiosity and pleasure.

The shows they create are wonderful; funny, inspired, moving, innovative, poignant and beautifully performed. The shows are performed with little or no dialogue, so are deaf accessible/accessible to non-English language speakers. They are also both family friendly shows.

In your professional life, what is the single best thing about what you do?

Total creative and professional freedom and satisfaction. Working with Hot Coals Theatre means I am always making the work I want to make, I'm never waiting for the phone to ring, I don't spend my professional life trying to impress others or chasing auditions, I can just get on and do it.

At Hot Coals we are passionate about making inclusive work that raises important issues through humour and play. We aim to make work for everyone not just for other people who work in the theatre or those who are academic, we don't like to make our audiences feel silly, we do that on stage! And as our work is highly visual with little or no spoken word, it is also accessible to deaf audiences as well as hearing, this is particularly important to me as I lost most of my hearing when I was a child so making work that deaf and hearing audience can share is close to my heart.

It also means I get to work with some amazing people and don't have to compromise or work with difficult egos. During our last show, which we developed as part of the RADA Festival, we were just two performers in a team of eleven which included lighting and sound designers, DSM, ASM, and set builders. Each person having creative input and working towards one whole, it was a great feeling to be part of a wider ensemble, not just performers, all pulling together.

The down side to having a theatre company and creating your own work, is of course, the money! We invest a lot in for very little out. Raising money to make work through funding bodies like the Arts Council is becoming harder and harder and this takes it's toll. But I'm hopeful Hot Coals will stick it out, we've had so much support over the years from friends, family and amazing supporters through crowd funding so I'm confident we can keep going.

Do you have a creative hero / heroine and if so, why?

There are many people who inspire me for different reasons. I suppose one of the biggest influences on my career has been my dad, who was a pretty successful actor in his day, I guess I looked at him as a child and thought 'well if he can do it, so can I.' Unfortunately he's not around to see the fruits of Hot Coals, as he died when I was still very young, but I think he would certainly approve of the comedy and clowning aspect of the work we make, he loved clowns.

What piece of advice do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

Slow down! If you rush things they will take longer. Take your 20's to gather as much training and experience as you need. Also dance to your own drum and don't be a slave to 'the rules' of the industry. Actually my mum did say that to me a lot, but I only recently realised how right she was!

If you hit a creative block, what is your top tip for getting through it?

Move your body! Play a game, run about, have a dance, put on a mask or some costume and do a physical improvisation. Do not sit down and think and talk! For me it's best to do my thinking when my imagination is alive and excited and that tends to come after my body has taken me on a journey not before.

With Hot Coals we find that it's best not to spend too much time up in our heads but to create out of play and movement. We work from the body up not the brain down.

Another great tool we've discovered, is to have a rehearsal song. A fun upbeat track that you can sing along to and have a dance. We tend to put this on first thing after our warm up and when we come back after a break and just dance like no ones watching for a few minutes. Great!

And finally, for fun, if you were a shoe, what type of shoe would you be and why?

I'd love to say a pair of Manolo's: perfectly designed, elegant, and expensive. But I think I'm actually more like a pair of old walking boots: dependable, hard-wearing, enduring, and determined to reach the goal.


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