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Spotlight on Claire Hodgson

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We are fortunate, here at Diverse City, to have not one, but two Artistic Directors: Claire Hodgson, and Jamie Beddard. On paper, their role is to lead the company’s artistic work. But what does that actually look like? What does an Artistic Director actually do? We’re zooming in on a few months in the life of each of ours to give you a window into their experience.

This time we’ll be looking at Claire’s work between May and July of 2022, but stay tuned for a zoom into Jamie’s schedule too!

May

This month proved to be exceptionally busy, even by Claire’s standards! May saw Extraordinary Bodies on tour with Human and as the show’s Co-Director, that meant Claire spent a lot of time on the road with the show. Black background. A photo of a woman and a man swinging in the air like a pendulum, looking powerful and graceful. They share a wheelchair which is held up in the air by black circus straps. She has frizzy brown hair, muscular arms and wears a grey tank top She is kneeling on his thighs and one of her arms holds the straps above her head while the other points down towards the floor. He has a neatly trimmed brown beard, muscular arms and wears a black tank top. He holds the straps to the sides of his chest with both hands. The image captures them at the highest point of the swing, to our right, bringing the man to an upside- down position with the woman above him. Their bodies are doing something hard, but their strength makes it look effortless. One word written in white, thick, brush-style letters above the photo: 'Human'.

A touring show needs to be re-looked at in every venue, and there’s always the possibility that some element will need to be reworked due to a quirk of the stage it’s being performed on that night. Claire also often takes on the responsibility of briefing the Front of House team. Many venues haven’t worked with a company like ours before, so while everybody is keen to learn, there can be a lot to explain. Human is a show that travels with hundreds of sets of headphones for the audience, all of which need to be correctly set up to ensure everyone can enjoy the sound design and audio description that are integral parts of the show. It’s a lot to explain, we need to be sure that Front of House feels confident answering any questions that might arise from the audience.

In May this process was taking place in Brighton as the team travelled down to take part in the Brighton festival at the end of the month. As an almost entirely remote company, it isn’t often we find ourselves all in the same physical place. Being at the festival is a chance to enjoy being together, but it also means the Communications team descend and use up every free moment Claire has with interviews, film and photoshoots for use in talking about all our other projects.

It’s also a huge administrative month for the company – we’re in applications season, and Claire has a vast amount of paperwork to read, and to write. She manages to fit it all in around the many other draws on her time.

Claire can’t just focus on Human and the paperwork either – there are other projects in the pipeline. She needs to get busy thinking about what’s next.

June

Human still has two dates left of this leg of the tour in June, but Claire has to shift gears. There are two big draws on her attention this month. The first is SW!M. We’ve been awarded some funding as part of the Jubilee celebrations to co-create a piece of performance in collaboration with The Mowlem in Swanage. That’s Claire’s hometown, and the team have decided to focus on the stories shared among a group of women who gather to do wild swimming in Swanage Bay. Claire is working closely with Deborah Paige to create twin pieces of work – Deborah’s indoor on the Mowlem stage, and Claire’s outdoor on the beach and in the water. Claire’s delighted to be taking part – she’s a keen wild swimmer herself, and directs and choreographs a piece of movement that takes place both in and out of the water.

A group of women in bathing suits hug and leap at the water's edge. They are on a Swanage beach on a bright sunny day.

It’s terrific fun, and a big success, but she’s simultaneously deep in the casting process for a new show [yet to be formally announced, so we’re keeping schtum] and it’s a lot of work! Casting this show requires scouring profiles for very particular circus skills, or capacity and willingness to learn new ones. The play has been written with a very diverse cast in mind, and finding the right performers is a lot of work. She’s part of a fantastic and hard working team, and they find some extraordinary people. If all the pieces of the production jigsaw come together, we’re going to be in for a treat come the winter.

July

Another month, another performance to prepare for! Last weekend, Claire led the crowd in a record-breaking Disco Dance at Camp Bestival, smashing the previous record for Largest Ever Disco Dance with almost 600 dancers doing the routine she choreographed with her brother Tom. She also co-choreographed Disco Inferno – a spectacular finale to the festival – with Nandi Bhebhe. Both of them performed in the show as dancers as well, alongside a cast of dancers and aerial performers. It was a fabulous weekend!

We’re also remounting another of Claire’s shows – Mid Life – next autumn. The show has already had amazing life beyond its original run, and the play is now part of a triptych of work – a short film Mid Life: The Skin We Are In and a forthcoming radio project Mid Life: What We Tell Our Daughters. It’s been a wild ride already – the project has been on the go since 2018, and remounting the original show means that Claire will be back on stage again for another tour. We’re still at the planning stage as we put together the right team to lead the tour – it might seem like it’s a long way away, but the work is very much in progressm and there is a lot to do.

Five women stand one behind another with their arms raised up. In the foreground, a woman with short bleached blonde hair and a golden sequin skirt look over her shoulder with a cheeky smile.

The end of  the summer will also mean the 10 year anniversary of the partnership Diverse City has with Cirque Bijou: Extraordinary Bodies. It’s a moment of celebration, reflection and planning for us as a company, and there’s lots to prepare for: Claire will have a lot on.

We’re lucky to have a pair of Artistic Directors who don’t shrink from a challenge, and thrive on being busy – this article drew out some of the highlights of what Claire has been working on. It’s a lot, and remember: Claire is one half of a pair: there is twice as much going on! To find out about what Jamie’s up to – stay tuned. We’ll be looking at him next month.

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