In the mid-1980s I was teaching the Irene Mawer method of mime in small classes around the Leeds area of West Yorkshire.
One class was held in a church hall, another in a Victorian community centre building. I also taught private classes at my home: a shared student house in the Hyde Park area of Leeds.
The piece of writing which is attached below this introduction has been written by one of my then-pupils, a little girl called Daisy – now a grown woman, of course, with a family of her own.
Daisy knew me as ‘Jan’ in those days and instead of asking for payments in cash, I used a skill-swap system with her mother. One or two of my other pupils mothers exchanged skills in the same way and I do recommend this practice.
Daisy’s memories have been invaluable in my research into my own history and how it relates to Irene Mawer. Thank you Daisy. Here are Daisy’s memories:
“Daisy Bellis My story, drama and me”
When I was a little girl I got my mother’s then boyfriend to make me some business cards. They read Daisy Bellis, Actress, Gymnast, Detective and teacher. I was about 7 and these were the jobs I wanted, in order of preference, teacher was added as a ‘realistic’ add on by a cynical adult….
Like many children I created skits and adverts to perform to our parents and they were usually silly and funny.
In primary school aged 9 I co-wrote my first play with my classmate. Here some cracks began as she mocked me for my poor spelling, and rehearsals for the play (left to us 9 yr olds to organise) fell apart at break time as we spent most of the rehearsal getting into costume….
When I left primary school aged 9, with a then diagnosis of dyslexia, I was dumped into the bottom set of English, when I then got the top mark in an English test the teachers were baffled, it was 1985, dyslexia was not understood and I didn’t receive the help I needed.
This is relevant as I believe now it is one of the contributing factors of my confidence being knocked and I have underachieved ever since. However, I flourished in writing stories and any drama we did, sadly my stories were always marked down and littered with red pen, which was at times disheartening.
My mother did her best to reassure me. But I gained main parts in all the school plays and excelled in sports.
Around this time my mother met a woman called Jan, I don’t know where or how but she taught drama and mime classes and as it was clear I was creative and had a flare for drama and accents and making silly shows, she enrolled me in the ‘Drama and Mime’ classes with Jan.
We didn’t have much money and I believe there were what is called ‘creative exchanges’ a piano lesson for Jan and drama class for me. According to my mother Jan once rescued a raven from the house….
My mother was – and still is – all about supporting local business and the arts and anyone or thing that isn’t mainstream.
I enjoyed these classes immensely and the techniques I was taught went on to inform my stage performance ever since.
I can’t remember it all in much detail but I remember bits very clearly.
At first we used a rundown disused library in Hyde Park Leeds, it’s now a pub! But then it was an unloved, barely used council building which I presume they hired out.
We did our lessons amongst dust and old piled up furniture, filing cabinets with empty files were the backdrop to our workshops. Cluttered shelves with books that looked like they belonged in another era donned the walls.
Sadly this sort of space for the arts has not really moved on and my recent rehearsals have taken place in similar joints, old mills with vast rooms housing a solitary office style chair…
Daisy Bellis is co-founder of a Leeds-based theatre company called Magpies Three http://magpiesthree.com/
“Daisy Bellis. My story, drama and me”
Part two of two sections.
I taught Daisy mime when she was a little girl. Please see my previous post for part one. Here is part two:
“Back to the mime classes, I can remember very clearly learning a piece for a competition. I was an artist painting a picture outside in my garden, I can still picture the garden in my head, it’s long with a windy stone path with flowers and a weeping willow tree creating a dappled effect across the garden. It all seems quintessentially English and it’s a sunny day. Whilst I am painting my cat distracts me and I abandon my painting and play with my cat. I dangle a ribbon for her to chase and eventually I pick her up and stroke her.
That was the story, but what is imprinted in my mind and still informs my stage acting is how to present on stage, how to walk so as not to block, always starting with a certain leg depending on whether you are coming from Stage left or Stage Right. Always being really precise with every detail of movement and facial expression to express what is going on and every emotion.
As I write this I remember more bits as now I remember being annoyed with my cat at first for getting in the way of my painting and then giving in and being happy to play with the cat and show her love.
During the competition I remember feeling really nervous and like an outsider, I have mentioned we were poor, all the other girls seemed to know each other, have nice clothes and lots of confidence and I felt scruffy and lonely…. That sounds sad but that is the truth.
After I didn’t win, I got some marks, I can’t remember what, I remember Jan was annoyed as I had done my mime to the letter in terms of technique but failed to win. The winning girl did an amusing chewing of chewing- gum routine which had everyone in stiches.
I still enjoyed performing and despite being terrified I got up and did it and that feeling before going on stage of utter fear remains today, as I am sure it does with many actors.
I eventually left the drama and mime classes, I think I grew out of it and I think the rehearsal space changed to Jan’s front room!
I have an amusing memory of turning up in a mini skirt and not my correct drama clothes and having to do a scene where I was a merchant in the 1800s (or something) celebrating in a tavern. I had to order ‘five pints! For all of my men!’ I had to sit with my legs wide apart and swing my arm in a big arch and imagine I was this man with his workers….
This is a clear memory even now, 34 years later! It was funny but I think at that point I had outgrown it and wanted to go roller booting and chase boys instead….
So my drama and mime classes ended but that what was not the end of my drama journey and those lessons back in the mid 80s when I was 9/10 had a huge impact and stayed with me.
I can’t remember exactly Jan’s teaching style but it was my first formal introduction to drama and all the exercises and techniques have been recognised by myself throughout my journey through theatre and drama.
I imagine it was quite disciplined as it has stayed with me.
In addition I know I enjoyed it as I remember it fondly. I do not remember my piano, ballet or gymnastics lessons fondly at all, and gave them all up! (all organised and paid for by my grandmother..)
I imagine part of my enjoyment was the less formal surroundings and that I knew some of the others in my group. As I said I have always felt an outsider and less worthy.
In addition my love has always been drama and performing and the other classes were a part of my grandmother’s grand scheme to make me a proper little girl…
I left school at 16 with my only decent GCSE an A in drama, B in English literature and a smattering of Cs and Ds elsewhere.
I was completely disaffected educationally and I thought I was destined for an office job and partying! I love partying and still do. But really deep down I knew drama was my passion and I would one day return to it.
In my adult life drama remains and I have done many things linked with drama, I did a BTEC in performing Arts aged 20, I successfully taught GCSE and BTEC drama (with no formal training, just observations, My BTEC and my drama and mime classes from Jan) to running workshops, performing comedy sketches, going to university in my 30s and getting a 1st class honours in Theatre and Performance from Leeds University, to creating my own theatre company Magpies Three.
It’s a passion and dream to write, create and perform. It’s always been there and will never leave.
Many things have lead me to not always achieve what I want but I have not given up and my little business cards remain printed in my head, although I have crossed off gymnast, there is really no chance of that dream now….”
Please follow/comment/like/share as this will help the search engines to find Miss Mawer when people look on the Web for information about mime.