Interview: Angela Clerkin

Angela Clerkin is a actor / writer-theatre maker, and will be bringing The Secret Keeper to the Ovalhouse in October under the umbrella of her company, Clerkinworks. She’s previously toured her solo show the Bear, co-produced with Improbable Theatre and is also an associate artist with Chris Goode and Company. She lives in Greenwich with her girlfriend Fiona – they’ve been sweethearts for over 30 years. Having started off as an Irish dancer, here she takes us through her journey to becoming a theatre-maker; read on to find out what inspired her to write The Secret Keeper and what we can expect when we go to watch.

AT: Tell us a bit about you, how you came to work in the arts and where you are now:

AC: I started off as an Irish dancer, I took part in Irish dancing competitions from the age of three and by the time I gave up at 12 years old I’d won 99 medals. I did a Performing Arts degree at Middlesex University and afterwards my sister and I formed an Irish dance/comedy cabaret group called The Hairy Marys.  We performed at lots of Irish festivals, the comedy circuit, political rallies (this was in the 1980s!), and theatres. The highlight was probably performing at Brixton Academy with The Pogues.   My first acting job was with people I met at Uni, Phelim McDermott, (now co-artistic Director of Improbable), and Julia Bardsley, and was at The Almeida.  That was my first show and I felt like a total imposter, but I totally loved it.  So I started being an actor/performer in rep theatres and on TV, and meanwhile also writing and performing fringe shows with my sister. Later I began writing scripts for theatre and film.  One of my plays was translated into Portuguese and has been touring Brazil and Portugal on and off for the past 4 years.  It was so thrilling to go to São Paulo to see my show Bem-Vindo, Estranho starring the queen of Brazilian soaps, Regina Duarte.

I am an Associate Artist with Improbable and Chris Goode & Company. ClerkinWorks is my own company. ClerkinWorks first show was called The Dream Killers at Battersea Arts Centre and The Drill Hall. The show explored feelings around childhood dreams not coming true.  Luckily I didn’t get married to Michael Jackson, so I am grateful to some of my dream killers! My next show The Bear, co-produced with Improbable, was about the transformative power of anger and toured to 12 UK theatres. I am currently rehearsing The Secret Keeper – a political fairytale with songs, magpies and a murderous gothic heart. It was developed at the National Theatre Studio and Ovalhouse theatre. It’s about secrets, collusion and community responsibility. And asks questions like what do we do with our secrets? Who do we tell them to? And how much responsibility do we take for them?

AT: What inspired The Secret Keeper?

AC: It grew out of a few very different strands. A long time ago I saw someone interview Ronald Reagan’s daughter. She’d written a book about what it was like growing up with Ronald and Nancy Reagan as her parents. The interviewer was furious with her and went absolutely ballistic saying ‘you shouldn’t be telling the family secrets’. His reaction really stayed with me, his fear of someone spilling the family secrets.

When I was a child I went to confession at church, so I was telling the priest my secrets. Sometimes I confided in my cat. Occasionally I trusted my best friend. Then I started asking lots of people who they told their secrets to and I became totally fascinated.

I also found a website called PostSecret.com, you probably know it, it’s also a book. People anonymously send in their secrets on postcards.  A lot of them are very visual, one liners- you can make up the story behind them.  I use some of them as a starting point for workshops that I’m running alongside this show.

I also remember a meeting I had with a producer who was interested in making a short film I’d written. Our 40 minute meeting was in a cafe in Soho and in that time he confided in me all his very personal troubles. I kept thinking, I can’t tell him to stop because I’ve got to be nice to him because I want him to make my film. And surely he will stop any minute. But he didn’t. He went on and on. And at the end of the 40 minutes he smiled and said, ‘I’m sorry I’ve got to go now, let’s talk about your film the next time.’ And it was like he’d come in to the cafe, given me two big bags of depression and walked off again.  I was completely thrown.  I thought ‘that’s me, sometimes I take on too much.’  I think a lot of women do that.  We’re trained to hold things for other people.

I also read everything I could lay my hands on about the Jimmy Saville case. It was shocking how many people knew he was a child abuser, how long it continued and why he wasn’t stopped.  Sometimes even when people do know the secret nothing is done to stop it. And who do we think is responsible? Again when whistleblowers Edward Snowdon and Chelsea Manning spilled secrets about some of the terrible and unjust things that the government and businesses were doing in our name; the media concentrated much more on the individuals than the content of the secrets they exposed.

I wanted to tell a personal tale that also suggests global consequences. So I actually started by writing a short fairytale and that has become the basis of the show. It’s about a father who tells his daughter a secret, and how his small secret becomes a terrible burden.

AT: Is there anything you hope audiences will take away from watching?

AC: I want people to have a really good night out, be entertained and intrigued. And I’d love if they went away and chatted with friends about where they put their own secrets and when it’s right to break a silence or keep trust.

AT: And who is the company that you’re creating it with?

It’s a co-production with ClerkinWorks and Ovalhouse. And I’m collaborating with lots of brilliant talented people. Lucy J Skilbeck, from Milk Presents, is my co-director. We met when Lucy came to a workshop I was running alongside my previous show, The Bear. They are exciting, energetic and super, super smart. Because I’ve written it, am co-directing and I’m in it, (it’s all about me!!), I needed some other people to help me hold up the sky, so I asked Lucy, designer Simon Vincenzi, and brilliant performers Hazel Maycock, Anne Odeke and Niall Ashdown. The music has been written specially for us by Nick Powell, an amazing composer – he composed the music for The Ferryman which is currently on in the West End, and Harry Johnson is writing some additional music and sound design.  So we have some really fab people working with us! Come and see the show – and tell me your secrets!!

Follow @angelaclerkin on Twitter.
Book here for The Secret Keeper at Ovalhouse (London) 11th – 21st Oct 2017. Visit clerkinworks.com for info and updates as following London performances the show will head off on tour.

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