RepositoryFalmouth University (GB 3241)
Ref NoFCP7
Date1976-2017
LevelCollection
Extent10 Linear Metres / 53 boxes and 12 O/S items
TitleBill Mitchell Archive - CATALOGUING IN PROGRESS - please email archives@fxplus.ac.uk
DescriptionThis Collection contains records relating to Bill Mitchell's design work for Theatre Foundry, Key Perspectives Theatre Company, Theatre Centre London, Roundabout Young Peoples Theatre Nottingham, The Young Vic Theatre, London, Kneehigh Theatre and Wildworks Theatre along with freelance commissions for organisations such as The Eden Project. Records include research and development materials such as scripts, storyboards, collages, loose sketches, fabric samples and stage, character & costume designs.

The Archive also includes a series of design books, sketchbooks and notebooks relating to the following productions:

Design & Sketchbooks
- The Beautiful Journey
- Tregeagle (96)
- Soutterain
- Nights at the Circus (includes Emma Rice sketches)
- Ashmaid
- Wolf
- Souterrain
- Strange Cargo
- Wooden Frock
- Crouching Chef, Hidden Waiter
- Wild Jam
- Red Shoes
- Bacchae
- Don Quixote
- The Riot
- Tristan & Yseult
- The Last Voyage of Long John Silver
- Hell's Mouth
- Arabian Nights
- The Passion
- Wild Bride
- A Matter of Life and Death

Notebooks
- The Beautiful Journey - (includes technical specifications)
- The Beautiful Journey - (preparatory notebook)
- The Riot
- The Women who Threw Day Away
- Babel
- The Enchanted Palace
- The Passion
- A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings
- 100: The Day world changed
- Gasbeek
- Soutterain

The Collection also includes records relating to the technical and financial aspects of productions, such as project plans, budgets, schedules, technical drawings, lighting plans and cues and props and kit lists. Alongside these are press and promotional materials such as reviews, flyers, posters and programmes. Also included are some records relating to the management of WildWorks Theatre Company including minutes and evaluation reports.

Admin HistoryBill Mitchell (1951- 2017) was born in Erith, Kent on 2 December 1951 to John Mitchell, an engineer, and his wife Ethel (nee Kemp) a cleaner. From an early age, Mitchell was aware that his great passion was Art. He loved drawing and painting and was a keen maker of model boxes. This passion was demonstrated throughout his education when after attending Dartford Grammar School he went on to take a Foundation Course at Medway School of Art before undertaking a Theatre Design course at Wimbledon School of Art. Mitchell later reflected that he had always loved building new worlds, and the transient nature of Theatre meant that there was always plenty of opportunities to do so. Mitchell immersed himself in this process and felt that he could fully express himself through the medium of such visual narratives.

Much of Mitchell's early career was spent in Theatre in Education (TIE), initially with Key Perspectives Theatre Company (now New Perspectives), a collective in Peterborough. This Midlands-based Theatre Company specialised in working with young people, touring non-theatre venues with work specifically tailored for local audiences. From 1975, Mitchell worked on a variety of productions for the Company including a Christmas show which involved visiting schools and listening and collecting stories told and painted by children. 'Bumpers' was the first of the shows created through this process, Oddbod was the second, the children's drawings based on the theme of the Stranger. (about the character of 'Oddbod' a 'stranger in a strange land'). The narrative looked at ideas of displacement, arrival and feeling alone and Mitchell utilised the Children's drawings as visual starting points to create characters and improvise situations. Mitchell also designed the set for Tony Coult's play 'Mr Minchip's Utopia: or Why we are making corsets?'. Coult, who joined Key Perspectives around the same time as Mitchell, described him as a 'great learner and an even greater teacher' who taught by doing. Mitchell always had a strong visual aesthetic and strove to achieve specific effects, which often seemed impossible within the constraints of venue or budget. One such innovation involved a show written by Coult set in a village hall near an American airbase where the stage split when a plane crashed. This show titled 'If You Want to Know What Heaven's Like You'lle Be There Soon' was later adapted to open the New Albany Empire, Deptford in 1982. His time with Key Perspectives would prove to be a formative period for Mitchell's work and was also where he met his partner Sue Hill in 1976.

In the 1980's Mitchell would also work as a director & designer with Theatre Centre in London. Founded in 1953 the Theatre Centre had a vision of bringing touring theatre to schools. Among the productions with Mitchell as designer were 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' by David Holman, 'The Zulu Hut Club' (1985) by Bryony Lavery and 'Whispers in the Dark' (1987) by Noel Greig. The 1980s also saw Mitchell work with Roundabout Young People's Theatre in Nottingham and the Young Vic Theatre in London.

In 1982 Mitchell and Hill joined a tour of the Soviet Union with the 7:84 Glasgow theatre company with a play called 'Men Should Weep' by Ena Lamont Stewart which was set in the Glasgow tenements. Originally written in 1947 the play was reimagined for the 1980s, including staging the whole production in grey until the presentation of a red gift in a key scene. This production had a great impact on Mitchell and he would go on to use this colour as emotional punctuation in later productions. During this period Mitchell also freelanced for Theatre Foundry working with Hill on productions such as 'The Snow Queen' (1988) and 'Beauty & The Beast'. The latter incorporated elements of set design such as a chequered floor with bigger squares in the foreground giving a false perspective, something which became part of Mitchell's design vocabulary and was used successfully in later productions such as 'The Ashmaid'.

In 1988, Mitchell and Hill moved to Cornwall (where Hill was born & raised) marking what would be the start of an enduring relationship for the pair with the region, and also with Kneehigh Theatre. Mitchell's first encounter with the Company came in this year, when Kneehigh were touring a joint production of 'Sun & Shadow' (designed by Hill) and 'Stig' in a tent in various outdoor locations in Cornwall. Arriving on site with a bad back after a long car journey from London, Mitchell witnessed Kneehigh actor Dave Mynne being stretchered off to hospital and was handed a paintbrush and asked to paint a tree white. Mitchell was immediately drawn to Kneehigh's enthusiasm and freedom and he and Hill joined the Company soon after. Mitchells training to this point was largely in the design of indoor theatre shows - his first outdoor show with Kneehigh came in 1989. The Company's return to Jon Oram's Tregeagle story - the 'Cornish Faust' - was also their first show designed specifically for an outdoor location. Kneehigh had recieved an invitation from Minack to take on the schools fortnight which traditionally opened their summer season, playing schools by day and adult audiences at night. Incorporating fire and a live band of actor-musicians this highly physical performance was the beginning of the 'Landscape Theatre' approach that Mitchell would later make his own. As a designer, Mitchell would adapt changing his processes to suit outdoor locations. Props for instance had to be more robust, not only to cope with the elements whilst working outside, but also to endure the physical nature of Kneehigh's performances. Mitchell liked to use strong, clear, readable shapes when designing for outdoors with shows including Tregeagle often incorporating a central stage in the form of a circle, triangle or square. Set designs were often based around physical activity, giving the performers opportunities to jump, swing and play and move in new ways, often becoming pivotal in the development of the production itself. The use of colour was also paramount with red or white imagery often featuring in these outdoor productions. 'Red in the landscape is always good' became a company motto.

During his time at Kneehigh, Mitchell directed and designed a huge variety of productions including many of the Company's most ground-breaking, best-known and much loved shows. Mitchell described 'Ship of Fools' (1992) which he directed as having 'wonderful story telling and imagery'. Adapted from fables from around the World the production was about death and valuing it as part of life. The collaborative nature of Kneehigh allowed the Company to draw on the talents of an ensemble of people, with the challenges presented by devising a show from scratch and on a small budget met by creativity and teamwork. 'Ghost Nets' (1996) was another significant production for Kneehigh and Mitchell. Although used to working at outdoor sites and venues by this time, this production moved the Company and the audience right into the landscape itself. Working alongside his close friend, visual artist David Kemp Ghost Nets was devised and produced in partnership with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, The National Trust, Tate St Ives, Tehidy Countryside Services and a team of volunteers and the unemployed, this production centred around one site, Godrevy Beach at Gwithian near Hayle. Mitchell increasingly used the landscape as a focal point for performances, reading the land and capturing its resonance, atmosphere and narratives. Using the landscape in this way also allowed the relationship between the audience and performers to take on a new dimension, with the audience no longer just static observers but increasingly active participants. Within this performance the audience participation was not intentional to begin with, but became pivotal. Part of the production involved the actors pulling nets from the sea and when the tide was further out than usual one night, the crew found the audience running into the sea with them. This moment of the audience feeling the agency to join the action was an epiphany, which informed the company's subsequent work.


Mitchell's role at the Kneehigh also evolved over time and in 1995 he became Artistic Director, a role he would later share with Emma Rice. Rice joined Kneehigh as an actor in 1994, before later working on adaptations of books, films and television programmes as well as directing with the Company. Mitchell loved working in collaboration with Rice. He felt their partnership on 'The Red Shoes' (2000) freed him up as a designer, engaging him with a whole new aesthetic through the process of determining and refining their joint artistic vision, which can also be seen in productions such as 'The Wild Bride' (2002) and 'Tristan & Yseult' (2003).

In 2005, keen to explore and develop the idea of landscape theatre further, Mitchell left his role with Kneehigh to form WildWorks Theatre. Despite the move, Mitchell's relationship with Kneehigh remained strong and he continued to work with them as a designer in later years. WildWorks's first performance 'A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings' (2005) was produced in partnership with Kneehigh. Performed in a temporary village built on the South Quay at Hayle the performances featured a 500 strong promenading audience involved in a 3 hour production. This piece was an evolution of earlier work with Kneehigh where Mitchell adapted the Gabriel Garcia Marquez story of a winged man in 'Windfall' (1993) and also the completion of the earlier stages of the Three Islands Project (2003-2005) in Cyprus and Malta.

The use of unconventional spaces in landscape theatre was initially born out of the lack of purpose-built theatres in Cornwall but had over time been developed by Mitchell and colleagues into an innovative multi-discipline storytelling technique. WildWorks fully embraced the notion of the genius loci, letting it inspire and shape a performance, with the environment, atmosphere and history of a place revealing stories and becoming central to their telling. This can be seen throughout WildWorks' productions, performances and events created and embedded in communities. 'Count Your Blessings' (2006), commissioned by the Atlantic Coast and Valleys Project, was a collaboration between the Company and community in Morewenstow. The process of sharing memories and photographs, collecting stories and creating journals contributed to series of short films made in the landscape, the installation of memory boxes around the Parish and a Community celebration evening. This approach would underpin much of WildWorks' activity and can be seen in projects such as 'Clay' (2008) a community project in St Dennis and the surrounding area and 'Memory Projector' (2009) a performance inspired by the city of Glasgow created as centrepiece of The Merchant City Festival.

'Souterrain' (2006) a partnership between the WildWorks, Zap Art Virtual Creation Centre, PECA (Le Polycentre Europeen de Creation Artistique) and the Mercury Theatre, Colchester was a major site -specific project performed in Britain and France. Based on the ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice this production told the story of the return from war and explored themes of love, loss and regeneration. The story echoed Mitchell's interests in myths and legends, human motivations, and our relaionship with animals. At each venue on the tour the production was refreshed and imbued with the spirit of that place, subtly changing the narrative and meaning to resonate with the local community. Over time Mitchell and WildWorks would explore an increasingly diverse range of locations and their stories. 'The Beautiful Journey' (2009) explored the dockyards of Devonport and the River Tyne whilst 'The Enchanted Palace' (2010-2012) exposed the hidden tales of Royal Life at Kensington Palace. The Palace was the Company's stage for two years, presenting the perfect backdrop for interactive theatre, rich with storytelling, soundscapes and ethereal projections. Throughout the 2010's Mitchell and the Company continued to produce innovative work on a variety of scales. These included smaller events and workshops such as those in Tehidy Woods (2013-2014) Cornwall, and the Museum of Us (2013) at the Royal Cornwall Museum, through to 'Babel' (2012) which involved 21 London Boroughs and 800 makers and 'The Passion' (2011), created in partnership with National Theatre Wales starring Michael Sheen and over 1200 community members from Port Talbot.

At the centre of all these productions was Mitchell's strong visual narrative, inspired by the treasures in his Attic - a private creative space at his home in Redruth. Mitchell saw the space as an artistic sanctuary, a different place away from the everyday work involved with running a theatre company, where he could focus and be at one with his artistic practice. The Attic contained Mitchell's lifelong collection of artefacts and ephemera. Vintage toys, beach finds, snow globes, frames, old illustrations, packaging, jars, birdcages, scrapbooks, photographs and decorations were collaged, curated and arranged by Mitchell and brought together in evocative and imaginative miniature worlds which often translated to ideas for large scale theatre productions. One such production was '100:The Day our World Changed (2014)'. A unique collaboration between WildWorks and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, the production told the stories of the lives of Cornish men from the parishes of Mevagissey, Gorran and St Ewe who went to war, through a remarkable and touching day of remembrance supported by a 6000 strong audience and a living stage of sweeping fields.

Although diagnosed with Cancer in 2015 Mitchell's passion for his art never diminished, and he continued to work, keeping his illness largely private. Mitchell remained involved with Company's ongoing projects and was excited by their plans for the future. Mitchell died on the 14th of April 2017 surrounded by Sue Hill and his WildWorks friends and family. At a production meeting before his death, Mitchell said 'This is life, this is what happens but the work will continue, it will develop and it will be brillant'. Mitchell had three particular projects in mind: a new adaptation of 'Wolf's Child' (originally created at Felbrigg in Norfolk, commissioned by the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in 2015) created with communities in Cornwall, was performed at Trelowarren in July 2017 to a sell-out audience. The companion piece to the '100:The Day Our World Changed' , '100:UNEARTH' echoing the themes of the underworld previously explored in Souterain with the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice, returned to the Lost Gardens of Heligan to great acclaim in 2018. 'Stalker', a site specific production examining themes of displacement and separation remains in development.

Mitchell's presence and creative legacy continues to resonate and shape the work of WildWorks and the wider Theatre world. In 2020 Bill's Attic was relocated to Redruth's Krowjii as an accessible physical and digital creative resource for the use of artists, thinkers and makers.


Carole Green, 2021

Sources:
- Guardian Obituary https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/apr/18/bill-mitchell-obituary
- Bill Mitchell Interview 2017, The Kneehigh Cookbook
- Inside Outside Interview with Bill Mitchell, Kneehigh Cookbook 2017
- https://www.unfinishedhistories.com/history/individuals-2/bill-mitchell/
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEic2Vl0TYg
- https://stumblingwithconfidence.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/remembering-bill-mitchell/
LanguageEnglish
Access StatusOpen
Related MaterialThis Collection is not exhaustive and should be considered alongside other Collections which document Bill Mitchell's work:

FCP8 - Records of Kneehigh Theatre collected by Fred & Phyllis Shepherd
FCP11 - Wildworks Theatre Archive
FCP12 - Kneehigh Theatre Archive
CPA1 - Nick Darke Archive.

Bill Mitchell's Attic is currently being hosted as a physical and digital space and creative resource. Further details can be found at https://feastcornwall.org/bills-attic/
Access ConditionsThese records are open and available for access.
ArrangementThis Collection is arranged in chronological order by production.
Finding_AidsBox lists available.
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