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'I am a theatre': 40 years of Clean Break Theatre Company

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Swiss Cottage Library

88 Avenue Road

London

NW3 3HA

United Kingdom

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Clean Break celebrates four decades of creating groundbreaking theatre on women’s experience of the criminal justice system with exhibition

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Clean Break celebrates four decades of creating ground-breaking theatre on women’s experience of the criminal justice system with its retrospective exhibition ‘I am a theatre’: 40 years of Clean Break Theatre Company.

The live exhibition takes place at Swiss Cottage Gallery from 24 June - 31 July 2021, with Covid-secure measures in line with the latest government guidelines. It features:

  • previously unseen archival material, tracing the origins of the company from two women meeting in HMP Durham’s High Security Wing in 1977, to creating plays in prison and setting up Clean Break after release in 1979 as a 'women prisoners theatre';
  • original scripts, photography and artwork from 40 years of ground-breaking plays;
  • hand-written letters and correspondence from the founders;
  • original tv and documentary film featuring and produced by Clean Break from the 1980s to today;
  • footage from the 40th anniversary video interviews with 42 women from across its 40-year history;
  • an installation by artist Miriam Nabarro inspired by the 2019 production Sweatbox – set inside a decommissioned prison van – reimagined for the gallery space.

Jacqueline Holborough and Jennifer Hicks, Co-Founders of Clean Break: “We were dreaming big in 1979, but in our wildest dreams and furthest travels we could not have envisaged the brilliant organisation that Clean Break has become thanks to the talent, love and sheer determination of so many magnificent women.”

The exhibition has been curated by Claire Stone, Heritage Project Manager at Clean Break, and is co-designed by Miriam Nabarro and Liz Whitbread. Miriam Nabarro is a visual artist and scenographer with 25 years’ experience in socially engaged and participatory settings, both locally and internationally. Liz Whitbread is a Member of Clean Break who joined in 2012 and graduated in 2019 from Wimbledon UAL in Theatre Design. Their previous collaboration on a mobile exhibition inspired by the archive toured the UK alongside 2019’s Sweatbox, set inside a prison van, and has been re-imagined as an installation for this exhibition.

This exhibition is made possible by support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts and Humanities Research Council. This funding was received to celebrate Clean Break's 40th anniversary year, to document our heritage by: establishing a publicly accessible archive of our work at the Bishopsgate Institute; conducting oral history interviews; creating a digital timeline and exhibitions to share its story.

Alongside the exhibition, Clean Break launches a digital timeline on its website to provide unlimited access to archival material and the history of Clean Break to online audiences. Further opportunities to engage with the exhibition through its digital events programme include an online screening of the 1984 Channel 4 production of founder Jacqueline Holborough’s play, Killers; events led by multimedia performance artist Paula Varjack and award-winning playwright and Clean Break trustee, Winsome Pinnock; and a final performance inspired by Clean Break’s 1987 production, Voices from Prison, reimagined with Clean Break partners and women in prison today.

Covid-Secure Measures: The exhibition has been designed in line with the latest government guidelines and Camden Libraries Covid risk assessment to protect the safety of staff and audiences. This includes reducing audience capacity to enable social distancing, by booking audiences in for 1-hour slots via Eventbrite to ensure a maximum of 5 people in the gallery at any one time. Audiences will be asked to wear masks at all times, and spare masks will be provided for audience use. Our Clean Break Exhibition Guides will monitor audience numbers in the gallery, and support with the disinfecting of surfaces between audience visits. Audiences will also be provided with personal PPE for interacting with the exhibits, including disposable headphone covers for listening to audio and disposable gloves for audience use. Our exhibition events have moved online to enable audiences to participate from home, and further content on Clean Break’s history will be available through the digital timeline on our website.

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Swiss Cottage Library

88 Avenue Road

London

NW3 3HA

United Kingdom

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