50 over 50 interviewees – Didi Hopkins – Actor, Director and Mentor

  1. Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long you’ve been working in this industry?

I work in theatre and business. I started with ‘Beryl and the Perils’, putting our own female stories on stage. We thought we would last 3 nights but managed to last many years.

I have worked at the National Theatre on ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’, at the RSC, Barbican, and a show I’ve co-directed with Selina Cadell – ‘The Life I Lead’, which is going to the West End in September 2019. 

Commedia dell’arte is the root and DNA of everything I do, especially in a theatre where as a performer I work with emotion, movement, tragedy, rhythm, music and breath. In business, I use commedia to work with women and men on their leadership skills. They don’t know it but the ability to play and improvise is the route to being themselves. 

There is so much in commedia that draws me to it. At the time of Shakespeare commedia had women on stage playing women. Their stories were as important as the male stories and everyone was paid the same. The companies operated as guilds/unions. So you got paid if you were ill, and extra if you got a round of applause at the end of a scene. Even the horse got a share. Democracy and equality in action! It was improvised so the plots and intrigues often incorporated the local news of the day – critical, political, contemporary. 

  1. Who did you want to be when you were a kid?

I heard the sound of the drums beating on an old record of French military tunes. When I picked up my own sticks at 11, I knew that was my path – my heart, my body and breath were all en route to be a tympanist. It’s all I knew. 

When I hit a gender-biased crossroad I took a huge step sideways and was taken into the Theatre Department at Dartington College. It took me years to bring my music into my theatre-making.

  1. What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?

It felt a real risk performing our own material with Beryl and the Perils, so when the audience response was so positive, it felt as though we had hit real currency. I realised then that the personal is political, and I had to speak up about it. The necessity to create hard-hitting, political theatre has never left me. Whether I’m teaching at Drama Schools, directing, or working in business – it all has to matter to our contemporary world. 

Brecht was a huge inspiration to me. And of course, commedia lit my flame.

  1. What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?

The first was being a woman in a very male-dominated world of classical music. I didn’t know how to go around this obstacle. So I quit, and it hurt. 

In theatre, at first, I was so busy co-creating that there were no obstacles I could see. We ploughed our own field. However, there have been times when my credibility and ‘feminine talent’ hasn’t been appreciated, taken seriously or seen. It’s hard to come out of the shadow.

  1. Where do you find inspiration?

In the people around me. My powerful, brave and courageous daughter. The students I work with. My friends. The acts of brave people.

  1. What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?

I’m fed up with the male/female ratio on stage. All-male productions in 2019. Really? The all-female ones are seen as a statement. When will the playing field be equal? 

We are getting there, we’ve seen the progress but…. There is an invisible and empty space that women’s stories still need to fill. It’s missing but people don’t see it. I think we can create exciting theatre that matters for audiences of all ages. I work with many women who are over 50 and 60. 

It’s hard to create and sustain a visible presence.

  1. What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?

Just do it. Talk to others, join in. Do it for free. Engage. Learn. Discover. Expand. Explore. Get involved.

  1. Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?

Oh. There are people who are important and many of them. I applaud anyone, particularly women who stand up and stick out, those who cut through the barriers, who battle. Obviously the ones we all know Greta, Naomi Klein, and Mary Robinson. Many you don’t, who are personal champions Josie, Rebecca, Liz, My mum, Alice, and Mary. The list could go on and on.

  1. What’s your life motto?  

Pause. I’m still trying to do it. I can be very impulsive.

Relax. I’m still trying to figure out how.

Act. I do that a lot. I’m always in action.

  1. You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?

Black and pink zebra stripes. Forever changing.

Find out more about Didi’s commedia work and women’s leadership. You can also catch her at ‘The life I lead’ tour or connect with her on LinkedIn