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Profile: Peter Clerke

Co-artistic Director, benchtours

Peter's theatre background

Dundee-born Peter Clerke’s theatrical endeavours sparked off one Saturday afternoon in 1972, when he saw Steven Berkhoff’s East in Upper Regent Street. He studied Drama and English, and won a Fringe First with the National Student Theatre Company, before returning to Scotland, where his theatre experience included:

Peter Clerke in rehearsals for Mayhem; Photo: Marc Marnie

In 1990, Peter co-founded Theatre Bouffon, which became benchtours in 1991.

Peter assuredly states as his most significant single theatrical influence the year he spent studying in Paris with Philippe Gaulier. This provided him with a fantastic environment in which to live and a great teacher to work with.  He describes it as ‘all really very simple – lightness, pleasure, complicity, the joy of the ‘game’ – but simplicity is often the most difficult thing to realize; Gaulier has a genius for helping people towards it’.

Prior to that, Peter learnt an enormous amount from various stints at Theatre Workshop. The philosophy of that era – and the one which was maintained and developed under the subsequent directorships was of total inclusiveness and integration.  This philosophy has been instrumental in initiatives such as the formation of Lung Ha’s and of benchtours community/outreach programme.

Peter's experience at benchtours

15 years after benchtours’ creation, and after approximately 30 productions, benchtours still survives. Many moments over that time stand out for Peter, from the very specific: Salman Rushdie coming to see Haroun & The Sea of Stories at The Traverse, flanked by half a dozen very large bodyguards; and taking The Bear & The Proposal to Poland; to the more holistic: 'setting up and playing shows in village halls that really aren’t designed to play in village halls, and the venue is bursting at the seams, and a whole world is created that really shouldn’t be there at all'.

The outreach programme

For Peter, and for benchtours, the outreach programme is an essential part of the work they do and very much complements the more high-profile productions for which they are perhaps better known.

Rehearsals for The Invisible Man; Photo: benchtours The performance project Mayhem went underway in February 2005.  benchtours three separate Partners residencies have to date involved the creation of a multi-sensory installation by Iain Halket, specifically designed for learning disabled adults, and a video residency with George Brown, based at Tynepark Mental Health Unit.

Peter and the team at benchtours are currently involved in a collaboration with The Brunton, working with a mixed-ability group of some 35 people on a devised multi-media performance. (Very) loosely based on H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man (A Brief History of Invisibility in East Lothian) this will be produced at The Brunton and then tour to three other community venues. Rehearsals for The Invisible Man; Photo: benchtours

The group, for the production, was initially created from a series of workshops three years ago and comprises approximately half of the people with learning disabilities and half the people without. As Peter says, 'the generosity and support of all those involved, as well as the mutual learning from each other, is magnificent'.

Community play
* The community play
* Focus on Theatre Workshop's community play
Related links
* benchtours
* Lung Ha's
* Theatre Workshop
* partners: Scotland's artist residency programme
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