Anna Helena McLean is a physical theatre practitioner and teacher, singer, cellist, theatre director and the founder of Moonfool ( theatre company). She has devised her training philosophy, which she calls ‘Actor Chorus Text’. and She is based in London, UK & collaborates with Culture Monks, to run training programs and joint – productions in India.
Anna is a BA Hons Music & Drama from Royal Holloway Uni of London (2000). She has been the principal member of Gardzienice in Poland 2000-2007. Her notable performances at Gardzience included Metamorphoses & Electra.
She is a leader of international music & theatre exchange work worldwide since 2004. As composer & ensemble coach, productions include Yerma, with Kathryn Hunter; Arquiem, Periplum (RNT); Nothing Left To Lose, Company Collisions (LIMF); Glasgow Girls (NTS); It’s a Wonderful Life, Theatre Ad Infinitum (Bush); Bangarang (Dundee Rep). Founding principal of Awake Projects, Awake Love Orchestra and Awake Youth. Guest director at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland since 2004 as well as NSD, Delhi; DePaul Uni, Chicago; Volda College, Norway; Edinburgh College. Lecturer in extended voice and performance, Uni of Winchester. As a director, productions include The Lear; Richard III, Aegis Productions; Romeo and Juliet; STORM for Libraries and Mme Butterfly (IJ Productions). As actor-producer/musician-composer, productions include ill Met by Moonlight, Trestle; Titania – A Solo Cabaret; How To Be Immortal, Penny Dreadful Productions. As a musician productions include King Charles IIIby Mike Bartlett West End and Broadway (Sonia Friedman Productions).
Here she is in a dialogue with Sudipta Dawn of Culture Monks.
SD : Who were the people who influenced you most in shaping your career in theatre?
AH : I was brought up into theatre. My Mother ran a theatre company and we toured Europe in a van with an average of 7 people playing comedy, cabaret, street music, circus and later children’s shows, serious drama and puppetry. We travelled from festival to festival and I was completely immersed in a bohemian life, musicians improvising around me day and night and living inside a rehearsal room as well as playing all sorts of strange creatures as soon as I could crawl in my Mum’s performances i.e beetle, fish, worm, rabbit.
A bit about your theatre education and path as an artist?
Due to my background in theatre I always pursued theatre outside my curricular activities at school in the assumption it was ‘in my blood’. I did GCSE drama and LAMDA Gold Medal and joined National Youth Theatre for example as an extra to my core studies. I didn’t do Theatre as a subject until further education starting Music and Drama at Royal Holloway University of London as a joint undergraduate BA Hons Degree.
In my second year of Study I took part in a workshop with Piesn Kozla (Song of the Goat) who visited our Uni from their base in Poland. As a result of that work and meeting I was invited to Poland the following September to work on rehearsals for Chronicles A Lamentation at Brzezinka, Grotowski’s rural work base outside Wroclaw.
Throughout my last year of University I was resolved to work in Poland and thanks to a recommendation from my tutor Alison Hodge I was invited to audition at Gardzienice the Centre for Theatre Practices (a source inspiration for the work of Song of the Goat Theatre, which I had by now fallen in love with).
Within three days of graduating I was back in Poland and within three days of being in Gardzienice I was performing in their Kosmos Festival and playing cello and singing in their famous performance Metamorfozy or The Golden Donkey. I stayed for seven years to the day before setting up my own international exchange platform which became Moon Fool in 2010.
SD : Could you please share with us the essense of your experience at Gardzienice
AH : It is a long story…
Not one to tell in a few lines here. I would be happy to meet anyone in person and do a face to face interview.
The best way to comprehend my experience in Poland is to take part in my work as there I have evolved the best of everything I learnt in Gardzienice.
First of all it was a vital and extreme experience that pushed me into realms of life I might never have otherwise come to understand, at least not consciously. Initially I felt I was walking into a kind of human energetic ‘rainbow’ – as naive as it might sound – and within a short time I came to face the grueling realities of what it takes to forge such metaphysical templates of human imaginative exchange.
I’m deeply grateful for everything I learnt in Gardzienice and the incredible opportunity its director, Staniewski gave me to perform, teach, learn and grow, live, die and enable my self to be reborn again… and again.
SD : How has been your experience as a director and founder of Moon Fool ?
AH : I came to be a host for projects as an actor, musician and teacher practitioner. As such I have only very recently come to see myself as and to enjoy myself as a director. I set up Moon Fool as a platform for training exchange, to challenge what one already knows and also to identify similarities and differences between styles of physical theatre practice across Europe and later Asia and America too.
Gradually a training system crystallized and which I began to consider my own, informed deeply by my experience in Poland but also by all the experimentation covered through exchange and leading workshops and teaching worldwide.
Moon Fool was inaugurated as a name when Trestle Theatre offered to produce ‘ill met by moonlight’ in 2010, before that it was called ‘Theatre Exchange’.
Only last year, in 2015, did I finally register Moon Fool as a Limited Company in the UK and apply for funding from our Arts Council England solely as director for the company’s first ever full scale production implementing my ACT (Actor – Chorus -Text) training, STORM.
Due to the international nature of all my collaboration until now I still remain the sole constant in Moon Fool and consider myself rather a host for projects that utilise the ACT training under my direction. As such I draw on a pool of freelance ACT actors across the globe I have had the fortune to meet, connect with and gradually train by working repeatedly on various projects I host and raise funding for. I pull on artists for individual projects although my long term aim is to have a committed ensemble and share leadership of the company. Until now the work has supported itself on the basis of quality artistic exchange and only occasionally does the company have the means to offer professional engagement.
SD : What are the specific challenges you faced in sustaining and developing your work and practice ?
AH : The transition to Western Europe after 7 years working for art sake with an ensemble committed 24/7 365 days a year with constant access to free rehearsal space on your doorstep and an community devoted to the making of art has been the hardest challenge. Even after collaborating with artists in Moon Fool for up to 10 years I am still not in a position to rely on artists due to lack of funds.
I was determined to bring my work to London because I believed if I could crack it here I could crack anywhere. Moreover I wanted to develop a home following and hoped to generate a more stable lifestyle and work in one country to reduce the toll of constant travelling and high energy work.
SD: What is your vision of the future of Moon Fool
AH : Moon Fool LTD is a host for international theatre and music exchange projects. I am the director and founder and I invite collaborators from all over the world to work with me in creating utterly new, meaningful, multi disciplinary works for diverse audiences. These include projects under the headings:
Moon Fool LTD
ACT Ensemble Practice and Workshops
Day and Night Folk Music Collective
I work primarily between USA, India and UK and currently have key partners in foolsFURY San Francisco, DePaul School of Theatre Chicago and Culture Monks India. In London I operate closely with Emily Jane Grant and George Bellamy, trained ACT artists and core members of Moon Fool’s organisation.
I intend to continue working with University institutions and publishers in the UK to document the ‘ACT ensemble practice and workshops’ as a text for broad scale distribution and further exchange to support the company’s development and ongoing practice.
I aim to premiere my first full scale ACT driven production in London next summer subject to Arts Council England funding.
Moon Fool operates in partnership with a number of organisations branching Bangalore India, San Francisco USA, several regions of the UK as well as Portugal, Norway and Poland. Together we are working toward uniting shared aims and practice and formalizing a network of satellite bases to support our independent and shared practice.
Long term I aim to divide my year between USA, India and UK developing my practice and associated studies with a committed collective of international collaborators, sustaining projects through artistic exchange and generating enough funds through performances, teaching and writing.
SD : Thank you and we hope to continue with the dialogue in times to come.
You can get in touch with Anna by writing to her at email@example.com. More information about her work is available at www.moonfool.com.
Here are some videos of ACT (Actor Chorus Text). Until next time, enjoy.