Leading theatre director honoured for cultural and creative impact
Press release issued: 15 February 2012
A figurehead in Britain’s cultural and creative economies is returning to the University of Bristol today [15 February] to collect an honorary degree in recognition of her contribution to the arts. Jules Wright, the brains behind The Wapping Project art venue in London, studied theatre in the city before embarking on an acclaimed career which saw her become one of the leading theatre directors of her generation.
After growing up in Adelaide, Australia, and studying Educational Psychology, Jules came to Bristol to pursue her ambitions. She studied theatre and was then invited to become a PhD student and explore the links between psychology, performance and place.
On New Year’s Eve 1978, Clare Venables, who was Britain’s first woman to run a major theatre, offered Jules the break of a lifetime and asked her to start as Assistant Director at the Theatre Royal in Stratford East straightaway.
Jules directed her first main stage production in May 1979, starring the then unknown Tom Wilkinson. Her direction of Nick Darke’s A Tickle on the River's Back was hugely successful and Jules never looked back.
The Royal Court made her Resident Director in 1981, all the while she was a full-time PhD student. Her parallel lives were further complicated when she was offered an Arts Council grant on a trainee director scheme.
On completing her studies, Jules returned to London to become Artistic Director of the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court. She was subsequently the Artistic Director at the Women’s Playhouse Trust and her work through the late 1980s and 90s was instrumental in bringing the work of female playwrights and artists to the stage and in pioneering site-specific and multi-media performance.
From 1984 to 1987, Jules was Artistic Director of the Liverpool Playhouse, before deciding to split her time between Sydney and London, with stints as Deputy Artistic Director at the Royal Court, where she remained until 1992.
In 1991, she found Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, a crumbling nineteenth-century building, which was Grade II listed and had closed in 1977. She described it as ‘completely covered in moss - just like walking into fairyland’ and first transformed it into a performance space in 1993.
Jules secured the freehold in March 1998 and spent £4million restoring it before opening The Wapping Project in 2000 – now one of London’s key contemporary art and culture institutions alongside Battersea Arts Centre and Tate Modern.
Dr Angela Piccini, Senior Lecturer in Screen Media is delivering the oration and said: “A visionary commissioner and curator of contemporary artists, radical theatre director, innovative performance maker and inspiring feminist practitioner, Jules Wright epitomises the leading-edge, mixed-mode practices that have come to mark out as distinct Britain’s cultural and creative economies.
“Jules’s theatre career confirmed her as one of the leading directors of her generation, enabling artists to produce excellent work. Since the 1990s, Jules has taken those skills freelance to work with writers and composers, visual artists, filmmakers and fashion designers.”