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The History of Kneehigh – an introduction by Mike Shepherd

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Read more on The History of Kneehigh – an introduction by Mike Shepherd from the Kneehigh Cookbook archive.

How did it all begin?

Trying to remember memory is such a subjective thing. So, I declare upfront, that what I say here is not necessarily the truth! There will be inaccuracies, there will be glaring omissions, and fictions masquerading as facts.

I would like to apologise to anyone who is upset by the above.

How did it all start?

Possibly in 1958 when I first went to school. I tried to rescue Edward Levertons confiscated teddy bear from the top of the Christmas tree, which came crashing to the ground in a splintering of glass balls and phizzing of fairy lights. This terrible accident resulted in a slippering and being stood in the waste paper basket and pointed to as rubbish!

This kind of event continued throughout my education and into my attempts to be accepted into the theatre business. An over-heightened sensitivity, coupled with innate naughtiness, led me to start Kneehigh.

Frequently in trouble and never good enough resulted in a belligerent which soon became a celebratory independence. Barred form participating in St Austell Grammar Schools school plays (directed by Frederick Farnham Flower) I was hungry to perform and direct and to leave the years in the waste paper bin behind.

Upon arrival at the inauspicious Teacher Training College of Balls Park in Hertford at the age of eighteen (not having been allowed to apply to drama school or university), I immediately directed Steven Sondheims version of Sweeney Todd followed by all kinds of Becket, Pinter, Arabal and self-conceived pieces of strangeness. Eventually I was banned from the drama studio in the hope that I might concentrate on Psychology, Philosophy and Sociology.

An over-heightened sensitivity, coupled with innate naughtiness, led me to start Kneehigh.

Following a first teaching job in Archway Comprehensive, North London, I returned to take a specialist teaching job at Mevagissey Primary School. I was in charge of drama, games, cookery, gardening, and history projects. At this time and through those blissfully hot summers of 75 and 76, I directed numerous shows for the Mevagissey Players, culminating in a sparky version of The FireRaisers by Max Firsch.

Summer was over and I left.

After travelling on a motorbike around Europe for over a year and working in theatre in Toulouse (on a version of Calderons Life is a Dream) I returned to London and, inadvertently, got a job with a feminist theatre company, Permanent Wave, playing Punch.

I had an agent with a beehive who was based near Leicester Square. They sent me for various auditions where, once again, it was reaffirmed that I was not good enough. Once more I returned to Cornwall I taught, worked on a building site, did almost anything.

Footsbarn had just left, the county drama department had collapsed: there was a need for theatre for children and their families. After a year of workshops with various itinerants (including Dave Mynne), I started Kneehigh.

The rest, inaccurate as it probably is, is history

Mike Shepherd, 2008.