Perhaps the most difficult part of this article is finding words to describe just who is, and what is Adrian Howells (1962-2014) about? It is rare to find a theatrical performer that understood theatre is not just an act to be watched and assessed. But a shared experience for performers and audiences alike. Howells built a reputation as a leading figure in the art of one to one performance.
His work was built upon the private intimate act with an audience member, such as washing their underwear, hair or feet. An environment was created where a bond existed between performer and audience, where acts of silence, conversation or confession could take place. In the words of Howells’s female alter ego Adrienne, “It’s all allowed”.
For the past few months I have been both excited and intrigued with cataloguing Howells’s personal papers. The University of Glasgow, Professor of Contemporary Performance, Deirdre Heddon and Dominic Johnson will be continuing to launch their book “It’s All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells”, with an event “LADA screens” (18th July). This seems an appropriate time to provide an update on the cataloguing project and give an idea as to what is within the collection.
Born on the 9th April (1962), Sittingbourne, Kent, from an early age Howells had shown a passion for the theatre. He made his directorial debut aged 16, directing the Sittingbourne Youth Theatre in the performance of “The Life of The Insects” (1979). He became involved in the Manchester performing arts scene. He received national press praise for his performance of the Wicked Witch in “Snow white and the seven dwarfs” (1987-1989), on tour with Sante Fe Productions. This led him to become an assistant director to Philip Prowse, (and performed) through-out the early 1990s for the Glasgow based Citizens Company.
From 1996, Howells received training under and performed for Nigel Charnock, a founder member of the DV8 physical theatre company. It was his involvement in ‘The Room’ (1998-1999) that started to shape Howells later explorations of “performative installations” and an audience role in creating a performance. Nigel Charnock lived in an installation where Howells’s was invited in as a guest. Improvising a performance, an audience watched via live TV footage or through peek holes in the walls.
Including press articles, programmes, photographs and posters, this collection reflects Howells’s methodical and serious professional attitude. No matter how small, he ensured any evidence of his work was held in his portfolio. His diaries have hundreds of “to do” lists, notes from meetings, ideas for development. As part of a CCA residency program, director Stewart Laing worked with Howells’s to create ‘Brainy’ (Jun 1995). An exploration of Michael Foucault’s works using text and film.
For 20 years, Howells had involved and learnt from a variety of theatre companies, projects and practitioners. At the turn of the new millennium he started to branch into solo work supported by The Arches in Glasgow and Battersea Arts Centre to name a few. He created his female persona Adrienne – using her to explore autobiographical work, and build one to one performances in shows including ; Adrienne’s Dirty Laundry Experience (2003), Adrienne: The Great Depression (2005), and Salon Adrienne (2006). (A film is available on youtube)
Again Howells retained all theatre / festival / tour programmes, any evidence of a happening with Adrienne. But it is rare to find specific documentation of a happening. Howells was incredibly protective of the audience. The intimacy and confessional environment relied on the performer / audience confidentiality. Each show somehow referenced Adrian’s own self, watching Adrienne @ home films (March 2006) can provide an insight into Adrienne’s context.
Howells was an Arts and Humanities Research Council fellow at the University of Glasgow between 2006 and 2009 where he further explored themes of confession and intimacy in ‘Held’ (2007), Foot Washing for the Sole (2008), finally resulting in a performative installation The Garden of Adrian, performed at Gilmorehill, Glasgow (2009). These works are incredibly sophisticated and laden with many levels of high academic investigation.]
Working with The Arches, he continued to build on his work with autobiographical works and intimate one to one performances: and The Pleasure of Being: Washing/ Feeding/Holding (2011) and May I Have the Pleasure? (2011). The Arches, National Theatre of Scotland and Govanhill Baths came together to fund his last significant work before his death, The Lifeguard (2012-2013).
The collection documents the practical realities of an artist living and working in contemporary society and the layers of complicated concepts and contexts behind his work.The Adrian Howells catalogue is available via http://special.lib.gla.ac.uk/STA/search/detaila.cfm?AID=830 , over the summer additional content will be continued to be uploaded. Any enquires regarding accessing the Adrian Howells collection, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Adrian Howells Award for Intimate Performance has been produced and developed by Jackie Wylie, supported by the National Theatre of Scotland, Battersea Arts Centre, the University of Glasgow and the Live Art Development Agency. Proposals are currently invited (deadline midday 5 August 2016) ( http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/opportunities/call-for-proposals-the-adrian-howells-award-for-intimate-performance/ )
Categories: Special Collections