A History of Total Theatre

For almost a quarter of a century, from 1989 to 2012, Total Theatre Magazine celebrated and documented physical, visual, and experimental theatre and performance practice in a quarterly print publication. Here, editor Dorothy Max Prior offers a not-so-brief history of the magazine and the organisation that published it.

Gestation and Birth

The first Total Theatre Magazine was published in January 1989 – but that isn’t the start of our story. We need to go back another five years for that…

In March 1984, a young producer called Helen Lannaghan brought together a number of artists who felt that their practice – which could, in each case, in one way or another, be classified as mime – was misunderstood and under-appreciated by press, public and promoters alike. Meeting in Helen’s East London flat, they decided to form a group to take action on behalf of mime and called it – well, it’s obvious really – the Mime Action Group (MAG).

A prototype newsletter for the newly formed MAG, wittily titled MAGAZINE, hit the news-stands – or at least, landed on organisation members’ doormats – in the autumn of 1984. It is an un-presupposing twelve pages of A5, photocopied rather than printed, the typewritten text so broken as to be almost illegible in parts. ’Welcome to the first official newsletter of the Mime Action Group!’ writes coordinator Helen Lannaghan on the front page, adding further down that MAG aimed ‘to promote the Art of Mime and related disciplines’ – love those capitals! – through increasing public awareness, improving the financial status of artists, acting as a resource and information pool, and providing a forum for the discussion and solving of common problems. Oh, and also campaigning for more and better training, and improving the image and understanding of mime. Quite a hefty agenda, that. There follows listings on arts funds and awards, news of the London International Mime Festival (which Helen would go on to co-direct, with Joseph Seelig); tour dates for David Glass, Mick Wall, Nola Rae and some new kids on the block called Theatre de Complicite; articles by or about Trickster Theatre, Marcel Marceau, and Andrew Dawson and Gavin Robertson’s Thunderbirds project; and a long and stern draft letter from Nigel Jamieson (on behalf of MAG) to the Arts Council Great Britain (ACGB). Don’t you just love the idea that you could write a draft letter, inviting comment and suggested improvements, in a magazine, with the absolute certainty that the intended recipient would not see it!

The second half of the 1980s sees the new organisation and its MAGAZINE continuing the good fight, with some success. The Winter 1987 edition features the headline: ‘The Fight for Funding: A Battle Won, a War to Wage’ in which Jamieson flags up a 44% increase in ACGB funding to mime projects, but then goes on to say that in real terms, this is still next to nothing. Regional reports, noticeboards, touring news, a mime directory – and a few short feature articles and appreciations: Desmond Jones on Lindsay Kemp at Sadler’s Wells; Celia Gore Booth on Compagnie Philippe Gaulier; Bim Mason on his second year with Lecoq in Paris; the Moving Picture Mime Show, directed by Ken Campbell; a piece called ‘Marcel Marceau Speaks’. Oh yes, he speaks.

A few things strike me straightaway. First, that this is very much a man’s world. There are women – Nola Rae, Peta Lily, Pat Keysell, Sally Cook of Trestle, and Helen herself – but the vast majority of articles are by men, and about men – solo male mimes, clowns, duets or ensembles. And yes, we can’t avoid saying that it is also a very white world. There’s Black Mime Theatre, and its women’s group offshoot, and it is great to note that legendary physical performers Denise Wong and Benji Reid emerged from this collective. But that’s about your lot for now, nationally or internationally.

The next one is that even in the early years, the question of what is meant by mime, and what and who MAG represent, is present. Circus (sometimes called ‘new circus’) gets into the picture at an early stage – and there are mentions of Bim Mason’s Fool Time school in Bristol (which later morphed into Circomedia). John Wright’s mask work and Philippe Gaulier’s clowning are there. Commedia is accepted as part of the equation. In an interesting article in the Summer 1986 MAGAZINE, David Glass writes about ‘Mime as Poor Theatre’, and draws lines between and across the influences of Grotowski, Odin, Brook, Merce Cunningham and Lumiere and Son, with the more obvious and immediate mime ‘gods’ Lecoq, Decroux, and Marceau. Already we can sense the phrase ‘total theatre’ hovering in the wings. In the same issue, ‘New Mime in North America’ by Thomas Leabhart brings Jacques Copeau into the equation, and goes on to talk about post-modernism, and the rise of a new mime that ‘integrates the mind, voice and body.’ Aha yes – the voice. The question of whether mimes can or should speak is one that will be with us for a long time.

In MAGAZINE issue number 11, Autumn 1987 (which features Black Mime Theatre on its cover) we learn that there is a push to move mime from the dance department of funders to drama – with a flagging up of a tendency towards ensemble performance rather than solo mime which would fit better in drama, and an acknowledgement of the role that writers, directors and designers make in this process. By Winter 1988, we see increasing use of the terms ‘mime theatre’, ‘gestural theatre’ and ‘visual theatre’ – and a small article on a new company called Heads Together describes them as a ‘physical theatre’ company.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that in January 1989, the members’ newsletter will be ditched in favour of a new publication with the strapline ‘the magazine for mime, physical and visual theatre’ – Total Theatre is born.


Total Theatre no.1 is in A4 format, printed in legible print on proper paper. There’s an ad (the only ad!) for Kall-Kwik typesetters and printers, so they certainly had something to do with it…

On the inside cover, there is an editorial (of sorts) that explains that the new magazine is a response to a call for ‘a change in image and direction’ and whilst the organisation would retain the name Mime Action Group, its newsletter would re-emerge butterfly-like as Total Theatre ‘in an effort to activate people’s interest and to clearly indicate that Mime embraces many forms of theatrical expression’. There’s a naked man on the cover (Bob Berky) – the beginning of a noble tradition that would see all sorts, from Franko B to Forced Entertainment, follow suit (birthday suit, that is) in future years.

This first edition of Total Theatre carries a report of a ‘A Fine Time for Mime’, a ’media discussion’ organised by Mime Action Group and the Arts Council to debate the advantages and disadvantages of artists sticking with the word ‘mime’, when it had quite negative connotations and was prone to misunderstanding. Was it better to re-educate public and press, so that people learnt that contemporary mime was far broader than the work of Marcel Marceau – or was it easier to just accept that nothing much would change, so the word might as well be dropped in favour of (say) ‘physical theatre’ or ‘total theatre’? This was a conversation that would continue right through the 1990s and beyond. In the same edition, Bim Mason discusses ‘Street Theatre Survival Tactics’; and there’s news of a Fool Festival of Workshops, which would include sessions led by John Lee, Carlos Bosco, Ken Campbell, and Barry and Joan Grantham – with a sub-strata called The Oriental School which would deliver Zhang Chum Hua from the Peking Opera, Bali’s I Deudi Sueka teaching Topeng Mask, and Karunakaran Nair, a Kathikali dancer from India. Aha, good to see some cultural diversity! The second issue brings us Mummer & Dada circus theatre troupe; and Peta Lily on her new work The Wooden Boy, a devised mask and commedia inspired reworking of the Pinocchio story.

So it’s clear that the Mime Action Group, and its magazine Total Theatre, are already stepping out beyond the boundaries of ‘pure’ mime. Issue 3’s editorial by Simon Henderson features a call for articles for ‘a dynamic and revamped’ Total Theatre, and informs readers that the publication date of the next issue is unknown as the Mime Action Group is undergoing a major restructuring.

The next two years sees an odd mish-mash of publication dates and formats, as Total Theatre tries to find its feet. Naming and numbering is erratic, but an issue called Winter 1990 brings the magazine’s first female cover star – Nola Rae – and editor Dave Ryan sounds an optimistic note with a comment on the fact that there is now a juggler in 10 Downing Street (John Major, one of the few people to run away from the circus to enter politics), and that we are one year closer to the Single European Market of 1992, and more European arts cooperation. Hmmm. Let’s move on quickly from that one…

By 1991 the magazine has adopted the Volume/Issue Number format it then kept for the rest of its print life. But formats and mastheads shift erratically: a number of editions are large-format – glossy A2 pages that fold to A3, sometimes in coloured ink. Volume 3/2 (Summer 1991) dedicates its front cover, and a poignant article by Ann Dennis, to mime maestro Étienne Decroux, who had died in March of that year.

There’s a big change in the middle of 1992: Volume 4 gives us a combined numbers 2/3, back to A4 format, and with a logo/masthead that will stay with the magazine for many future editions. A ‘Letter from the Executive’ announces the appointment of MAG’s new Administrative Director, Mhora Samuels (who then, and for the duration of her time with Total Theatre, took a keen and direct interest in the magazine, contributing greatly to its growth), and there is immediate evidence of a stronger and more directed editorial content, with a number of linked articles on Festivals; a special focus on Scotland; and the first of a series of articles called ‘For the Record’ looking at companies that have toured for longer than two years, The Faceless Company being the subject of this first article. ‘Another Blot on Silence’, by Simon Henderson, continues the ‘words, no words’ conversation, reflecting on Beckett and Modern Mime; Ra-Ra Zoo introduce themselves; and the Listings sections at the back of the magazine form themselves into categories that would stay familiar for many years: Management News & Awards, Noticeboard, Performers & Company Update, Workshops & Training, Publications. Leafing through this issue of the magazine, we can sense the shift – Total Theatre feels like a far more solid proposition.

Growing Up in Public

In the early 1990s, under Mhora’s nurturing eye, Total Theatre retains a consistent format, and gives us an enticing mix of advocacy for the UK sector, regional focus specials, training reports, spotlights on different artforms or practices, together with a healthy dash of internationalism (such as Carran Waterfield on working with Odin Teatret, Mark Cunnington interviewing Mossoux-Bonté, Brendan Stapleton on The Inheritance of Jacques Copeau).

The magazine’s editorial team operates as a collective, with the Editorial signed off not with a name, but as ‘Editorial Group’ – the group’s members listed alphabetically: for example, in Volume 4/4 it is Kath Gorman, Desmond Jones, Mhora Samuel, Shani Solomons and Paul Yates. In later issues, other names appear too – Andrew Ayers, Faye Chang, Martin Cunningham, Sarah Dawson, Tim Eagle, Ray Newe, Brendan Stapleton…

Volume 6/3 – Autumn 1994 – warrants a special mention, as it celebrates the ten-year anniversary of the Mime Action Group with no less than ten special focus articles on the artform and the organisation, written by regular contributors such as Brendan Stapleton, Bim Mason, Kenneth Rea, Sarah Dawson et al. In ‘10 Years On and Still Something to Say’, Simon Murray (performer, writer and co-chair of MAG) gives us a rundown of the decade before, but then goes on to focus on two key questions for the artform/sector: mime and physical theatre’s influence on the broader theatre world; and the issue of form versus content – in which he muses on the notorious Les Smith quote: ‘Everyone climbs ladders with beautiful synchronicity, but when they get to the top of them they have nothing much to say.’ Simon’s reflection on the state of the art is well worth a read, full of interesting observations and provocations.

A special focus on one artform or strand of work becomes a particularly strong feature of the mid 90s mags. Volume 6/2 gives us a look at ‘in situ’ or site-specific work: a piece called ‘Site Responses’ is an interview with Tim Etchells of Forced Entertainment about the company’s new show Dreams’ Winter, staged in Manchester Library; Faye Chang talks with Julian Maynard Smith of Station House Opera about ‘Rats, Breeze-blocks and Puppets’; and we are taken to Halifax to meet IOU, and also to Cornwall to talk to Kneehigh Theatre about their large-scale spectacle The Story of Carmen – Ravenheart.

The last issue of 1995 introduces us to a new name, John Daniel, who is listed as Production Editor. Over the next year, he’ll make his mark on Total Theatre, and by the same time the following year he is credited as Editor.

The ante is upped, with stricter editorial processes, and an intention to make the magazine function not only as the newsletter for a membership organisation, but as a contemporary performance journal of interest and value to the broader artistic community, both in the UK and worldwide.

Total Theatre Steps Out

John Daniel’s reign as Editor, from the end of volume 7 (1995) through to the end of volume 12 (2000), sees Total Theatre stepping out into the world with a new-found confidence – a spring in its step, and a swish to its skirt.

Natasha Klugman and Juli Mahr are now on board the good ship TT – both assist in the commissioning and editing of feature articles and reviews, with design, layout and production by Melissa Alaverdy. Juli Mahr soon after moves into the role of Deputy Editor.

Volume 8 (1996) gives us a new masthead, with a logo that would stay in use for more than a decade, and full-colour covers featuring Vincent Dance Theatre, Rene Eyre, CandoCo, and Fish Interactive Art – this last name our lead into a seven-piece overview feature on Club Culture, compiled by Natasha Klugman and subtitled ‘Performance in the Twilight Zone’, which wonders whether such things as circus, physical performance and multimedia installation could rival ecstasy as attractions in the burgeoning UK club scene. (As an aside, this issue of the magazine is the first that your trusty editor read – immediately joining MAG to receive further copies!)

Diversity and inclusion become subjects on the Total Theatre agenda. In 8/4, a feature on physical ability and physical performance gives, as Total Theatre always likes to do, the space for artists themselves to voice their views. We hear from members of CandoCo Dance Company, which mixes performers with differently-abled bodies in their shows; Graeae Theatre Company, ‘Britain’s premier company of professional actors with disabilities’; and solo Deaf artist Aaron Williamson, who describes his ‘increasingly physical approach to performing texts in live settings.’

Looking through the reviews section in this volume, it is clear that ‘total theatre’ artists and companies were gaining ever more momentum, breaking out into wider-world recognition. Names that crop up regularly are familiar ones, presenting a broad spectrum of work that in one way or another sits under the umbrella of ‘mime, physical theatre & visual performance’ – Forced Entertainment, Peepolykus, Scarlet Theatre, Stephen Mottram, People Show, Clod Ensemble, Hoipolloi, Bouge de Là, Brouhaha, Stan’s Cafe, Forkbeard Fantasy, Blast Theory, Theatre de Complicite, Nigel Charnock, Wendy Houston, David Glass… a veritable roll-call of greats.

We should also mention the ever-popular Listings section of the magazine. The Internet did exist, but people working in theatre / the arts still predominantly relied on specialist print publications for information – very few arts organisations had websites. For many – artists, producers, students and bookers – Total Theatre was a vital resource. If you were a member of Mime Action Group, you not only got Total Theatre sent to you, you could also list your events/workshops etc for free. For example, in Volume 9/3 you could find out how to join Siou Hannam’s Theatre Beyond Words residency in Ronda (Spain), or the Gandinis’ Dance Juggling School in London. You could find out where Whalley Range All Stars, Kaos Theatre, and Scarabeus were touring; discover more about Triangle’s city-wide performance installations in Coventry; learn how to participate in the Adelaide Fringe Festival; or find out how to apply for the Arts Council’s new A4E fund.

Throughout the mid to late 1990s, we see the Mime Action Group and its magazine Total Theatre working hard to reach out to the world. The organisation launches a number of projects – seminars, workshops and residencies – including the groundbreaking Discovery peer exchange residency, hosted by MAG in collaboration with Sussex-based artists’ forum Bodily Functions; the Raising the Voice of Silence conference and festival; and the Critical Practice series of seminars.

Volume 9 Issue 1 (Spring 1997) has an important announcement: at the AGM, held during the London International Mime Festival in January, the organisation Mime Action Group ratifies the members’ vote decision to change its name to Total Theatre. Director Mhora Samuel says: ‘Bringing the organisation and its activities together under one name will give a stronger identity for our work and for the sector.’ It would seem that the word ‘mime’ had lost the battle for recognition as something more than climbing out of glass boxes…

1997 sees a second major landmark for the organisation, with the inauguration of the Total Theatre Awards, set up to celebrate the achievements of artists and companies deemed ineligible for The Scotsman’s Fringe Firsts. Somewhere in the files there exists a letter from that newspaper, explaining why some companies were considered ineligible, saying that the Fringe Firsts existed to honour new writing – well-written plays, that is. After a few years musing on it, Total Theatre eventually countered by setting up an award for physical theatre and visual performance, the process managed in this first year by renowned producers Chenine Bhathena and Leila Jancovich. Who won the first ever Total Theatre Awards? Volume 9/3 has the answer.

Total Theatre Magazine remains ‘free to members’ but is increasingly sold as a stand-alone publication (albeit in small quantities) in specialist theatre bookshops and arts centres.

Volume 9 sees the frequent appearance in print of artists-as-writers John Keefe, Emi Slater, Ray Newe, Ana Sanchez-Colberg and Steve Hill – with the names Anne-Louise Rentell, David Harradine, Rebecca Brown and Dorothy Max Prior making ever more regular appearances. Most of the above either were, or would soon be, members of the magazine’s Editorial Group.

Features reflect on the Carnival Caravan street theatre training project; the Corpus Delecti festival of Latin American performance; Boal-inspired Forum Theatre company Cardboard Citizens; aerial circus company Scarabeus’ Living in Trees, inspired by a reforestation project in the Scottish Highlands; Franko B, a performer who literally bleeds for his art; and Improbable Theatre’s forays into the seemingly endless possibilities of Sellotape as set.

How does this diverse bunch of artists and practices manage to be contained under one umbrella? Somehow, it makes sense, although it is often hard to explain how.

Fin de Siècle

Volume 10/1 (Spring 1998) had brought the news of the departure of Mhora Samuel, Administrative Director since 1992, who left the organisation in January. A full-page tribute (an ‘unauthored' piece that was written by editor John Daniel) highlights the very many new initiatives that she’d instigated for Total Theatre, pushing the organisation and its magazine into new territories. The appointment of her successor, Annabel Arndt, in June 1998 is announced in the following issue, along with an excited preview of the second Total Theatre Awards – which sadly had to be cancelled at the last minute due to a shortfall in funding.

The Winter issue of that year (10/4) brings us a particularly eclectic mix. A naked Forced Entertainment, the modesty of the two performers preserved with a handful of fairy lights strategically placed, are featured on the cover. There’s an interview with Brazilian trailblazer Augusto Boal; ‘Puppet Revolution’ explores the work of Green Ginger, on stage and screen; and ‘The Dance of Darkness’ focuses on Butoh.

Throughout its history, Total Theatre has carried features on Training and Professional Development – from Lecoq to Suzuki, and Zippos to Hope Street, via Théâtre du Mouvement’s Transversales and Grotowski’s Plastiques. In this issue, there’s an article by editorial group member Ray Newe on the Millennium Dome project, which will see Circus Space overseeing the training and employment of 100 circus performers for the Dome’s centrepiece Millennium Show, which we are told ‘will play in an area the size of Trafalgar Square and the height of Nelson’s Column’. Regardless of how the Dome itself would be viewed, this initiative would change the face of UK circus.

In the last year of the twentieth century, the world loses two giants of ‘total theatre’, Jacques Lecoq and Jerzy Grotowski. Both are honoured in Volume 11/1. Also in Volume 11, a regular column called My Theatre is the opportunity for established TT favourites like Rose English, Deborah Pope (No Ordinary Angels), and Philippe Gaulier to share their current influences and obsessions.

The circus-heavy first issue of 2000 (12/1 – Circus Oz on the cover, and the lead feature by editor John Daniel on Circus Theatre) announces the news that Total Theatre has received funding to set up the Circus Arts Forum, and in Volume 12/2, we see the first Circus News – later called Circus Arts News – a four-page supplement that runs for 12 issues within Total Theatre, and is also distributed independently.

Circus in general and the Circus Arts Forum in particular became a major focus for the organisation under Annabel Arndt’s tenure – although placing the Total Theatre Awards on a firm footing as an annual event, with a good roster of funders and supporters, was also a major thrust, as was the development of the User’s Guide series of symposia and publications, created in collaboration with the Central School of Speech and Drama (and later, University of Winchester), this initiative led by Professor Anthony Dean.

Annabel felt an increasing frustration with the shared name situation, finding herself constantly having to explain that Total Theatre was more than a magazine, so in the Autumn 2000 issue of the magazine it was announced that the organisation would henceforth be known as Total Theatre Network, and in the Winter 2000 issue there is the addition of the word ‘Magazine’ to the title ‘Total Theatre’. From now on, the publication’s name is Total Theatre Magazine.

John Daniel had by this time made the decision to move on, and having previously worked with John both as a member of the Editorial Group, and as coordinator of Circus Arts Forum and compiler of Circus Arts News, I’m appointed Total Theatre Magazine editor at the end of 2000, with Toby Mitchell offered the new post of production editor. Toby (a highly experienced copy-editor and proofreader, as well as a talented theatre maker) worked with us on the production of the last issue of 2000, and also agreed to guest edit 13/1, Spring 2001 (the first issue of each year was always published in the December of the previous year). By the time the very last performance of the Millennium Dome show finished as the clocks struck 12 on New Year’s Eve 2000 (the true millennium moment in some people’s opinion), Total Theatre Magazine had moved into its next phase.

Into the New Millennium

Volume 13/2, the first Total Theatre Magazine commissioned under its new editorship, has a street theatre company on the cover – Avanti Display performing at Xtrax in Manchester. There’s a lot more of the great outdoors on the inside pages: Edward Taylor writing about Royal de Luxe’s giant Giraffes; Phil Smith of Wrights and Sites on his Misguide to Exeter; and a report on Critical Practice 11 – titled Here, There and Everywhere – which brought together a panel of artists and producers to discuss street theatre and performance in public spaces. Elsewhere, Mim King reports on the EXIT festival in Helsinki, Alex Mermikides sits in on the devising and rehearsal process for David Glass Ensemble’s Unheimlich Spine, and we take the plunge and ask: ‘What is Total Theatre?’ No definitive answer given, but there are a number of pointers…

Toby Mitchell is now also designer as well as production editor – replacing Drop Design who’d been responsible for many year’s service under John’s editorship – although there are no radical changes to the look of the magazine through Volumes 13 to 16.

Volume 14 sees a new questionnaire column called InBox, with Tim Etchells of Forced Entertainment as the first subject. His manifesto for theatre? ‘No manifesto. Follow your nose.’ Other InBox subjects this year include puppeteer Mervyn Millar and Improbable’s Lee Simpson.

There are two features in 14/4 that address the question of cultural diversity: in ‘We Have to Represent…’ Akua Obeng-Frimpong looks at ways of profiling and developing the work of Black British artists – from her perspective as a young, Black woman artist, writer and producer. She highlights initiatives that aim to increase representation, such as the PUSH festival, created by Josette Bushell-Mingo and Ruth Nutter, and looks at the work of companies such as Apples and Snakes. In the same issue, Jonathan Grieve (of Para Active Theatre) brings us Active Service, which starts provocatively with ‘Have you heard the one about the Arab, the Indian and the Colombian?’ and goes on to reflect on performance and cultural diversity in London’s East End.

Total Theatre Magazine was always an odd and eclectic mix of artists and artforms, but Volume 15/2 is another one of those issues that seems to particularly revel in the glory of its juxtapositions, veering from reflections on music hall, magic and variety through to live art at the Tate Modern, La Fura del Baus’ De Sade inspired XXX, a street arts photo essay featuring The Strangelings, an interview with Ken Campbell, and a Butoh festival report. 15/2 also brings us the news of Annabel Arndt’s maternity leave, and the following one (15/3) announces the arrival of Felicity Hall – initially as Interim Development Director. The cover of this issue is the Total Theatre Award winning Russian company Akhe, who describe their work as ‘theatre of engineering’; and inside this issue we have ‘Bringing Up Baby’ by Karen Glossop of Wishbone, explaining how Camden People’s Theatre’s Sprint festival and TONIC programme has nurtured emerging theatre companies.

Even though her post is initially a temporary one, Felicity’s directorship soon makes its mark with her instigation of the Total Theatre Explores project, celebrating and documenting the role of women in physical and visual performance. Volume 16/1 has an article on the Total Theatre Talks session on female practitioners, featuring a wonderful line-up: Claire Heggen of Théâtre du Mouvement, Lesley Hill and Helen Paris of Curious, Lois Weaver of Split Britches, Marisa Carnesky, Lois Weaver, and Angela de Castro, who opens her presentation with the words: ‘I’m a foreigner, gay, a butch dyke, black, short, fat – and a clown. Being a woman is just one more thing!’ The Total Theatre Talks series is Felicity’s clever update of the Critical Practice series – the name giving the events a sassy new identity.

In Volume 16/3-4 comes the announcement that Annabel Arndt has chosen not to return at the end of her extended maternity leave, and after due process Felicity Hall is appointed as Total Theatre Network’s Director. Now that the uncertainty is over and Felicity is properly ensconced in her role, things can move forward. So there is no Winter issue of the magazine, and time is put aside in the last few months of 2004 for a full appraisal of all the organisation’s activities and projects – including its magazine.

Golden Years

The Editorial for Volume 17/1 welcomes readers to 2005 and says ‘if you’re a regular reader, you’ll see that it’s new boots and panties for both the magazine and for the organisation that publishes it’. There’s a brand new design for the magazine from multi-award-winning graphic design company Studio Tonne, and an announcement that director Felicity Hall will be ‘steering Total Theatre Network from membership organisation to national development agency’. So, as TTN no longer has ‘members’ the magazine now has subscribers, and is also sold in a number of outlets. During 2005, a new multi-access subscription, via academic electronic publishing company Ingenta, is offered – enabling large organisations, libraries and academic institutions the option of having five print copies plus unlimited access online for staff and students. Which was all pretty cutting-edge and new-fangled at the time!

The magazine’s new design turns out to be a controversial one. It’s a bit of a Marmite thing: some people love the unusual, specially-created fonts; the odd-bod layout, with boxouts, and text sometimes running sideways; and the off-white matt finish paper printed in shades of brown, olive green, or rusty red. Others hate it with a vengeance – complaining that it is difficult to read, impossible to photocopy for student handouts, and just far too arty for its own good.

But never mind the form, what of the content? In 16/1 there’s Metro Boulot Dodo, Tom Wilson on the role of the director in circus (referencing Company FZ, Tina Carter’s Expressive Feat, and Rose English, amongst others), Seth Kriebel’s Rules and Regs, and tributes to Engineer of the Imagination Greville White, by John Fox and Edward Taylor. In ‘What is This Thing Called, Love?’ we celebrate the organisation’s 21st birthday, and look at total theatre past, present and future. The article quotes Artaud (‘A theatre which furnishes the spectator with the truthful precipitates of dreams.’) and Joseph Seelig (‘Visual theatre is not just a powerful technique for gingering up literary theatre.’) and ends with a series of predictions, including the rise of radio as an experimental performance medium, immersive fairground rides and booths growing in popularity, hybrid circus, the growth of video gaming as theatre, gig theatre (although it isn’t called this), and the continued and extended blurring of real life and performance. Hmm, not too shabby a guess at what was going to occur in the next 15 years.

Other issues in this volume see Cassie Werber meeting Polish legends Song of the Goat Theatre, Phil Smith crab-walking along the South Devon coast, a celebration of Bristol legends the Desperate Men, and Mischa Twitchin Facing Up to Kantor. In the Reviews sections, we’ve got Legs on the Wall, shunt, Frantic Assembly, Laurie Anderson and Bob Karper. There’s Mathurin Bolze at the Mime Festival, Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells, and Petra’s Pulse at CPT. Oh, and Derevo in Italy, Chunky Move in New York, and Welfare State International in Cumbria. We get around, we really do!

There is also a four-page Total Theatre Awards insert produced for the first time – another proposal enthusiastically backed by Felicity. This is distributed in the summer issue of the magazine, Volume 17/3, but also independently throughout Edinburgh during the festival month of August, publicising the Total Theatre Awards, and providing a taster of Total Theatre Magazine, and thus hopefully attracting new subscribers.

There is plenty of activity in the Circus Space office throughout 2005. Working alongside Felicity is not only the editorial team, but also communications officer Tansy Lihou and projects office Becca Gill (they’ve actually been here for a while, but it feels that now everyone can settle in to some sense of permanence). There is a real buzz to Total Theatre Network in these halcyon days. The Total Theatre Explores project, supported with EU money through the Equal fund, is in full swing, with conferences in ‘parafeminism’ curated, and a brand new website, featuring interviews, articles and reflections by and on women artists, in development. There are the aforementioned Total Theatre Talks, and a new Total Theatre Lecture delivered at the London International Mime Festival. A Re:Visions Symposium called Drawn to Perform (part of the User’s Guide programme) is convened at University of Brighton.

The Total Theatre Awards are also overhauled, and brought closer to home. The assessment process is handed over to the magazine – the team of reviewers recommending shows to be carried forward, with the shortlist created by the editorial team. Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to all processes. This one more closely resembled that of the Fringe Firsts and Herald Angel – strongly linked to and managed by a publication’s editors and writers. In a few years time, it would be revoked, with a return to the Awards assessing and judging process being a big group effort by dozens of people with no year-round connections to the organisation or the magazine – more of a collective ‘industry insider’ award, rather than an award made by a publication.

In 2006, there’s a change to how the magazine works, with the advent of an Editorial Forum. Unlike the old London-centric Editorial Group, the Forum meets just a couple of times a year, but mostly operates through online communication – meaning that those regular contributors living further afield, such as Edward Taylor in Manchester, Franc Chamberlain in Ireland, and Robert Ayers in New York – can be drawn into the process a little more, and acknowledged not only for their written contributions but also for their editorial suggestions. The Forum also now includes regular contributors Beccy Smith (later to become Reviews Editor), Penny Francis and Tom Wilson; and Shakespearean scholar Nick de Somogyi moves from mere proofreading to copy-editing.

In 2006, Volume 18, The Best of British series – highlighting the achievements of long-standing companies that had not had the exposure that they deserved in the mainstream theatre press or publications – continues, in 18/1, with an appraisal of site-responsive and outdoor arts company IOU. This issue also boasts two features on very different manifestations of performance art: ‘Clock Works’ brings us a reflection on a Live Art in a Shop Window season in Brighton; and ‘Pigs and Popsicles’ is a report on performance art in China. Volume 18/2 sees Spymonkey’s Cooped on the cover, their second show, and such a success that it is still touring in 2019; and inside there’s an interview with John Fox, ‘The Fantastic Mr Fox’, in which he reflects on the demise of Welfare State International and the growth of the Dead Good Guides, making it very clear that he is certainly not retiring. Also this year, we run the debut piece by Total Theatre Magazine’s new editorial intern, John Ellingsworth – ‘I’m With the Girl’ (18/3) is a lovingly-crafted record of his time working as a volunteer with Royal de Luxe, who took over the streets of London with The Sultan’s Elephant in May 2006. John also enthusiastically takes on the job of compiling the magazine listings, and the next Edinburgh Fringe supplement.

There’s Life in the Old Dog Yet

2007 starts with gloomy news – in Volume 19/1 the magazine’s Editorial announces that hard times are a-coming: Battersea Arts Centre and Dartington College are threatened by cuts to their budgets, and the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden and the much-loved Gardner Arts Centre in Brighton (one of the few places in Britain that Peter Brook will tour to) are both closing their doors in 2007.

There are also internal problems in Total Theatre Network, with rumblings coming from Arts Council England about whether TTN can continue to be an RFO (regularly funded organisation). By the middle of the year, Felicity Hall has left, and Pippa Bailey is in place as Interim Director, and then Creative Director, with the task of steering TTN out of troubled water.

John Ellingsworth returns to the office as the organisation’s administrator and magazine’s subscriptions manager. Like many print publications, Total Theatre Magazine is suffering from falling subscriptions/sales due to the onslaughts of the technological revolution, with more and more information and editorial material making its way online from an increasing number of sources. We now have an online presence, with reviews going up on the Total Theatre website (which gets a substantial overhaul and redesign in August 2006). It is hard to say whether posting material online is helping or hindering the print magazine, but it is starting to become essential, in this shiny new fast-moving digital world, that reviews are published soon after a show is seen, not weeks or months later. Total Theatre Magazine in print, meanwhile, undergoes some design changes – there’s a larger font size and a plainer lay-out. ‘Developing Contemporary Theatre’ becomes the new strapline for the organisation and magazine.

As for content: we have a new column by Pippa Bailey called Out & About, a free space for her to muse on whatever takes her fancy, often circling around conferences attended; and Pippa also introduces the new TTN project Renegotiations. Plus, there’s a new regular feature called Voices, with Emma Rice as its first subject, followed by Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens.

2008 turns out to be a year of many changes for Total Theatre Magazine.

There’s a new features sub-editor on board, Laura Eades (aka Laura Lloyd), and we also see the start of a new bite-size series by Laura as her alter-ego, the Canny Granny. The series is called Absolute Beginners, although it later gets called Home Truths. The Granny casts a disrespectful eye on various theatrical sacred cows, such as creative producing, site-specific performance, and (notoriously) live art. This last required some peace-making between our Gran and various proponents of live art who didn’t find it funny. Luckily, we had the (probable) inventor of the term live art, our Man in America, Robert Ayers, on our team to act as mediator. Less controversially, the Granny cast her canny eye on curtains, spelling out some home truths about red velvet swishing versus the long freeze and blackout, and asking ‘Is it curtains for curtains?’

This volume also sees the start of a new form of review: Being There, which offers three or more perspectives on one show, seen on one day. The three ‘elements’ are the Total Theatre reviewer, one or two of the performers, and someone not performing who is involved with the show (such as the director, producer, or designer). The first subject is Punchdrunk’s Masque of the Red Death, staged across the whole of the BAC building in the former Battersea Town Hall.

Other experiments in reviewing and reportage see a multi-voiced response to Performa07 in New York; and themed reviews pages such as ‘Death in the Afternoon’, which looks at the representation of bereavement in shows seen at the Edinburgh Fringe 2008. Features this year include encounters with Mexican enfant terrible Guillermo Gomez Peña and his company La Pocha Nostra; an artist’s diary by Jorge Lopes Ramos on the creation of Zecora Ura’s spectacular site-responsive work, Hotel Medea; and a focus on queer theatre by Chris Goode, Claire Dowie and others.

Meanwhile, back in the office, there are massive upheavals. It is all change for Total Theatre (the organisation and the magazine), with the withdrawal of Arts Council funds, and staff redundancies all round. Of course, this coincides with the world financial crash, and the falling apart of the economies of many countries – so we’re not alone in having to downsize and readjust.

In Volume 20/2 comes the announcement in the Editorial that in the future the magazine will be published by University of Winchester, in collaboration with Total Theatre. The only other ongoing project of the organisation, the Total Theatre Awards, will continue as a separate enterprise, managed by Pippa Bailey, who will retain her title of Director. The office at Circus Space in Hoxton is dismantled, and everything in it dispatched to one of two destinations, Winchester or Brighton. The Total Theatre Magazine editorial department moves to The Basement Arts Centre in Brighton, who give support in-kind by providing free desk space, office and meeting-space facilities.

Having survived the crash of 2008, Total Theatre Magazine settles into its new editorial home. I continue as Editor, Beccy Smith moves up from Editorial Assistant to Reviews Editor, and John Ellingsworth stays on board as Listings Editor and Copy Editor/Proofreader. We are joined by two new interning editorial assistants, Marie Kenny (reviews) and Alexander Roberts (features).

Design-wise, Volume 21 sticks to a silk-sheen heavy-weight paper stock, with charcoal grey text printed on off-white for all four issues, and an easily readable but smaller font size, allowing the magazine to include a more reasonable amount of material in each issue than was the case in Volume 20.

Inside those pages, there are clowns and fools – Jonathan Kay, The Red Bastard, Chris Creswell, and a clown photo-feature by Jayne Morley. The spotlight falls on Dance for Camera, with Miriam King giving an insider account; the demise of Doegtroep is documented by Edward Taylor; and Luke Dixon (International Workshop Festival) ponders on theatre and politics. We visit Lakes Alive, Queer Up North, the Forest Fringe, and Manipulate Festival of Visual Theatre.

As always, artists stay at the centre of the editorial process: there are encounters with Russian polymath Dimitri Ayruypin of BlackSkyWhite, SPILL supremo Robert Pacitti, and the multi-talented Ursula Martinez. Looking to the next generation, a whole raft of young street theatre artists are given their say – including Matt Feerick of Wet Picnic and Milo Foster-Prior of Periplum, both of whom are very much still in the business ten years on.

Walking into Sunshine

2010: Total Theatre Magazine celebrates a new decade, and its thirtieth birthday, by commissioning a new design – still with Studio Tonne, but a cleaner and clearer new look. The Editorial is on the warpath, responding to attacks on theatre criticism (at Devoted and Disgruntled and elsewhere) by saying ‘we do not agree with or support the traditional divide between artist and critic. Total Theatre’s writers and reviewers are, for the most part, people who also create, produce or present work themselves. This, we believe, makes Total Theatre the unique publication that it is.’ Well yes, that still stands!

Content-wise, Volume 22 continues with regular slots Being There, Voices, Out & About, and Home Truths (formerly called Absolute Beginners). Being There subjects include Liz Aggiss, Karavan Ensemble, and You Me Bum Bum Train. Voices gives us Claire Raftery and Damian Wright of Periplum reflecting on their new reclaim the streets work, 1000 Revolutions; gadfly, trimtab, and quipnunc Richard DeDomenici; and the ultra-eloquent American clown and theatre-maker Geoff Sobelle.

By the end of this volume, they are joined by The Works, described in the Editorial as ‘a new regular feature and another take on the question of how to write about theatre. It’s a personal view of a body of work by one artist or company.’ The first one is Complicite, as seen by Richard Cuming, who is viewing their work from the perspective of someone also working with contemporary clown. As will continue to be the case for this feature, the piece circles around a show seen recently, so that the past practice of the artist or company are reflected on in the light of their contemporary work. In autumn 2007 Complicite (who have been part of the Total Theatre story since the very beginning) have no less than three shows running in major venues in London!

It has become a personal crusade of the editor (I’m now entering my second decade in the post) to find new ways of viewing and reviewing live performance, and aside from Being There and The Works, we have other experiments, often multi-voiced. In ‘Kontakthof – a Conversation’ (22/2), the Tanztheater Wuppertal / Pina Bausch show reworked for two different companies, one with older dancers, and one with a teen cast, is seen by old-hand Max and young blood Alexander Roberts, who then have (yes) a conversation about what they’ve witnessed.

In 2010, all single-show reviews are carried online at totaltheatre.org.uk and the Reviews pages of the magazine are used to run themed multi-show reviews (Charlotte Smith on Music and Mime as seen at LIMF, 21/2), extended pieces on one show (such as Beccy Smith’s thoughtful take on inStallation at IF at Milton Keynes, 22/3), and festival round-ups (Alexander Roberts at Inside Out in Dorset, 22/4). Also in 22/4, we learn of the PANek / Total Theatre Magazine Writing Performance project run by Beccy Smith: How to Review? Forkbeard Fantasy’s The Colour of Nonsense gives us seven responses to that show, by Beccy and her team. This sort of work – mentoring emerging writers – is something dear to our heart, and continues to the present day.

Site-responsive, immersive and interactive theatre (always reported on in TT, throughout the 1990s and noughties) continues to be well represented. As always, Total Theatre Magazine honours the artists it has always supported whilst looking to the emerging names in theatre and performance. In 22/2 Before I Sleep, by established site-responsive theatre makers dreamthinkspeak (set in an old department store building), is paired with newcomer Rachel Henson’s Flickers, which takes its audience for a walk in the woods. ‘Going Underground’ is a multi-voiced reflection, by both older and younger artists, on the soon-to-close Shunt Lounge, in the vaults of London Bridge station; ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ sees Charlotte Smith interviewing Ontroerend Goed about their latest intimate piece, A Game of You. Also on the subject of intimate performance, we feature a close encounter with the late, great Adrian Howells.

We weren’t to know it then, but Volume 23 turns out to be the last complete volume of Total Theatre Magazine in print. Volume 24 only makes it to the second issue, in Summer 2012.

It sees the addition of four full-colour pages (from 23/2 onwards), which in this issue gets allocated to Charlotte Smith’s The Works, on Kneehigh Theatre. There is also the start of a new – albeit shortlived – regular feature, Worldview, which takes us to Brazil in 23/4 to meet Lume Teatro and others, and to the USA with Robert Ayers in 24/1, for a piece circling around interviews with three Goliaths of performance art curation and documentation – Martha Wilson, RoseLee Goldberg, and Sabine Breitwieser.

The first issue of 2011 sees another interesting innovation: the co-directors of Theatre Ad Infinitum, George Mann and Nir Paldi, are given the task of interviewing each other – which they do absolutely brilliantly. In an Artist’s Diary piece, Rajni Shah reflects on the making of her show, Glorious, commissioned by SPILL Festival for presentation at the Barbican in April of that year. Another Artist’s Diary in this volume is by Total Theatre regular contributor Terry O’Donovan, here (23/2) writing about the making of Side Effects by his own company, Dante or Die. In 23/3, Adrian Berry bigs up his venue, Jacksons Lane, in a bit of ‘shameless PR’ which is, in fact, an amusing and heartwarming account of what a difference a really committed artistic director (who is an artist himself) can make to a venue.

Volume 23/4 gives us another new feature idea – a company documenting the making of a work in real(ish) time. So this issue has Living Structures writing on the starting points for Leviathan with 24/1 and 24/2 continuing the reflections on the development of the work over this six-month period. Gandini Juggling are the cover stars for 23/4, and inside, in The Works, Thomas Wilson reflects on his relationship with the company’s work. A piece so well received by the Gandinis that they employed him as their archivist, and commissioned Tom to write a major book about their work.

And so to Volume 24 – 2012. The Editorial for 24/1 rather cagily states: ‘Total Theatre is currently reflecting on the best way forward as the key UK publication for performer-centred, physical and visual forms of theatre. What is the best medium for our message? Does print have a special value that should be preserved?’

Finally, Volume 24/2, Summer 2012 is the very last issue in print as the magazine moves fully online. The new website is worked on, and after a lot of consultation, the look and functionality is agreed on by editor and publisher, and it is launched at totaltheatre.org.uk where it continues to live to this day.

Volume 24/2, summer 2012, sees a fair few familiar names. Hannah Sullivan sits in on Periplum’s The Art of Demonstration; Lisa Wolfe takes a lunge to Leeds for The Juncture, curated by Charlotte Vincent; and we get the legendary Penny Arcade, in her own words, for Voices. The Works focuses on dreamthinkspeak, and there are round-ups of Norfolk and Norwich Festival, CircusFest at the Roundhouse, Forest Fringe at The Gate, CPT’s Sprint, and Birmingham’s Fierce! The Out There preview section offers news of a plethora of UK summer festivals indoor and out – IF at Milton Keynes, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Hat Fair, BE, Hazard, Latitude, SURGE, SIRF, and more.

So, the very last issue of the print magazine: who to put on the cover? The answer is Bootworks, walking their way to Edinburgh in what was to be their show for that year’s Fringe, 30 Days to Edinburgh – the performative journey and its documentation being the show. The reasons? Bootworks are a company much admired by the TT family, previous winners of a Total Theatre Award; it was a site-responsive, out-of-the-box project, falling in with the growing Walking Artists movement; and last but not least, the image seemed supremely fitting for the last-ever print issue. In this image, we see a back view of three figures – a cowboy, a spaceman and a disco dancer – walking along a country road. The lumberjack-shirted cowboy at the back is looking down (the past), the silver-suited spaceman in the middle is looking straight ahead (the present), and the white-suited disco dance at the front is looking up and away (the future).

And there we have it. The End.


Except of course it isn’t the end of the story. There is an afterlife. Total Theatre Magazine in print has closed, but continues online at totaltheatre.org.uk

The Total Theatre Awards continue to be run (independently of the magazine) by www.totaltheatrenetwork.org

The magazine in print is digitised and preserved in its totality, for everyone to enjoy for free, here on this website.

And who knows – perhaps one day we’ll see a new print incarnation of Total Theatre Magazine, or other as yet to be determined new directions.

Dorothy Max Prior, Editor (2001–present)
March 2019