Oh Heroine! Article in Howlround Theatre Commons

Check out this article written last year by Artistic Director Callie Nestleroth for Howlround Theatre Commons


And stay tuned for some exciting updates involving Oh Heroine! and new libraries coming soon…

Callie Nestleroth
New Project Announcement!

We here at The Heroine Chronicles are excited to announce that we are developing a new show with playwright Nicole Acquah (https://nicoleacquah.com/)!

We have been awarded the GLYPT Progression Residency to develop this show at The Tramshed in Woolwich, and alongside the students from Sedgehill School this July.

Stay tuned for more updates as we work over the summer :)

Callie Nestleroth
Tickets Now Available for Spring 2018 Performances

Tickets are now live for spring performances in Camden Libraries! You can get your tickets through these links for; 

Holborn Library on April 13th


Swiss Cottage Library on May 25th


Kentish Town Library on June 1st


Hope to see you there!

Callie Nestleroth
The Kate Bush Effect

From the very beginning Kate Bush was the key to unlocking this project. To be honest, I was not familiar with her or her work prior to the “Wuthering Heights” music video moment early on in the developmental process. However, once she appeared, she would remain. My own relationship to her work very quickly extended well beyond just “Wuthering Heights”, and because of the complexity of her music and person, that is a journey I don’t see a nearby conclusion to.

There are many aspects of Kate Bush similar to Emily Bronte, including that they have the same birthday, that they became famous through Wuthering Heights, Kate Bush was called Cathy as a child, they are both highly poetic, both are English with Irish ancestry, both private people reserved in their approach to press and the public. I see these two artists as connected, and one of the ways I think about Kate in relation to Emily is in how Emily could have been if she lived a century later, how she could have been if she hadn’t died at thirty. Obviously they are very different as well, but when Graeme Thomson wrote “the truly tantalizing thing about Kate Bush is that the whole has always been somehow greater, more dazzling, more mysterious, than the sum of her many parts” in his biography Under the Ivy: The Life and Music of Kate Bush, I immediately thought you could describe Emily Bronte in the same way.

My research for Oh Heroine! has included working my way through Kate Bush’s music, music videos, books written on her, and the kinds of tributes the fan network offers. On The Kate Bush Fan Podcast Paul Thomas in an interview said “the thing about Kate is that she brings people together, a lot of my best friends are Kate fans, that I met through liking Kate”. It’s true that Kate Bush brings people together, and my initial introduction with ‘The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever’ epitomized that, but as one could argue her work is too complex to make superficial sharing common, and in some ways can take singular perseverance to understand, it seems counter-intuitive that it would create such a joining. Yet Wuthering Heights is the same; it is not easily digestible (though that only makes it the more rewarding when you do), and it is not exclusionary either. Both are instances where art is true to itself first.

I had my largest dose of the Kate Bush fandom when I attended the Homeground Party in Vauxhall Taverns, an event described as “all Kate, all night”. Kate isn’t as widely known and listened too in the USA as it is in England, so I didn’t accurately anticipate how many people know her work in such an intimate way. How Kate Bush is on the go-too mid-night party classic, and a significant portion of the room will have the ability to perform a version of the “Wuthering Heights” dance even in a state of intoxication, the cultural knowledge goes deep.

Ultimately Kate Bush is only a very small part of the actual performance however, like so many others before me, the introduction to her and her work has inspired my own, and made it richer as a result.

Callie Nestleroth
On Emily Bronte's 2018 Bicentennary

Growing up in the USA, as a student we were taught Wuthering Heights in English class, and British Literature in general has significantly affected my life growing up. I was often nostalgic for a history that wasn’t technically mine, one that I had only read about in books. This nostalgia and perceived connection meant that I spent years desiring to live in England. Now living in London, I’ve been reflecting on these connections, and as a theatre maker and director these explorations have manifested in a new show called Oh Heroine How I Love You!, where the fictional heroine of my imagined England is interrogated, and that heroine is Cathy.

The deeper the development on the project the more I’ve come to realize that Cathy is special to many people. Yes she can be categorized along with other popular 19th century heroines, but there is something particularly special about Cathy, and also about Emily Brontë.

I began a series of interviews to better understand what is the power that Cathy and Emily hold. Talking with experts at The Brontë Society I was encouraged to think about how we never really get to know Cathy, everything about Cathy is narrated through someone else, as she is not alive during the time the story is being told. This fact is reminiscent of Emily, and how she also left little of her life story in her own words for us today. In both persons there is a mystery, a magnetism, an independence; the tantalizing fact that our interest and approval isn’t why they create. And Emily is one of the authors who when you read her work you are compelled to know her better regardless.

When I asked in interviews what kinds of action have Cathy an Emily inspired in people, I was overwhelmed with the response. Some answers included naming a child Cathy, Heathcliff, and Brontë, making a pilgrimage to the Brontë home, moving to England, becoming a teacher, writer, woman’s rights activist, taking on further academic study, striving to connect with nature, leaving an abusive relationship, and becoming more independent, more honest. These responses came from a survey asking about the impact from all the Brontës, but Emily was the name that got referenced the most, particularly in regards to taking a lifestyle risk.

Emily has proven to be an inspiration for many of the people I’ve come across in my research. Because relatively little is known about her, she, along with Wuthering Heights has become mythic. She exists in the landscape surrounding Haworth, she is there when one feels something so passionately it’s explosive, she’s there when there’s no easy answer, she’s there when the only way forward is to be brave and independent. I value all the Brontë’s and their work, but Emily is the one who haunts me, and gives me as well as many others, the resilience to persevere.

Callie Nestleroth
The Discovery of a Process
Costume Experimentation day with Sara and Carly

Costume Experimentation day with Sara and Carly

After the first performances in the Swiss Cottage Library, a complicated journey began in which I didn’t have time to work on the project, but also was working on the project, because to not do it didn’t feel like an option. The literary ghost of Cathy had infected me, which I’d come to realize is something that Cathy does to many people, and I couldn’t let her go. I had to figure out where she would take me. I’ll talk about this in more detail in a separate blog entry, but in coming to develop a working method specific to my process, I began reading and researching extensively about Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte, Kate Bush, and tried to determine what the right structure for the show would be. This was occurring simultaneously to working on visual and sensorial elements that would be incorporated into the production: music, costume, materials etc.

It was in watching the 2014 BBC documentary “The Kate Bush Story”, that the breakthrough in structure emerged. This came from Kate continually being described in ways that I’d come to understand as a common style used to describe Emily Bronte. Notes I took down from this watching include “everything about Kate Bush is not straightforward but ambiguous…beautiful but also chilling…Her music is so intensely private, and you come off listening to her album blushing because that’s really unique; she’s revealed a little bit of her soul to you”. I had at this point already very much felt a connection existing between Emily Bronte and Kate Bush, but these types of specifics seemed too much of a coincidence. It was from this research into Kate Bush that the show structure initially emerged, modeled off of the career of Kate Bush. A three part structure that begins with the ghost of Cathy coming back to haunt (as Kate does in her breakout single), evolving into what happens when a creative young woman is not a one-hit wonder (Kate’s next few albums) and then bringing in Emily, the strong voice of the creator, structured on Kate’s embrace of her own creative energy and voice through The Dreaming, which she also self-produced.

Preparing for a Rehersal Audience

Preparing for a Rehersal Audience

Now that it was clear the story existed as a complete unit, what remained was to connect and fill it in. This was done in many different ways, and one was to run one-off workshops on a particular theme or question, for example what kind of movement responds to the music that Sara’s written for the show…what do you get if you isolate and repeat striking moves and facial expressions out of a range of Kate Bush music videos…how would we do storytelling through costume? Perhaps most importantly, this entire process of infused with the quest to discovery, why Cathy? First I interrogated what my personal relationship to the character Cathy was, which then led to hearing the perspective of many others on the same relationshiop. There was a pilgrimage trip to Haworth and The Bronte Parsonage Museum; there was a massive post-it note wall. In performing elements that we were experimenting with in front of volunteer audiences we began to truly build the show.

Callie Nestleroth
A Ghost in the Library
photo credit @ Marie Klimis

photo credit @ Marie Klimis

Oh Heroine How I Love You! began its life during a visit to the Swiss Cottage Library on October 11th, 2016. Being in that rich scenographic space, famous for it’s architectural design by Sir Basil Spence, I was particularly drawn to the fiction section with its many skylights, striking spiral staircases and large red carpet. Standing on the balcony looking down, I was overcome with the feeling that the stories within the walls could manifest in the library in an apparition-like way. On the day I wrote, “I pictured a woman waiting, waiting is a big part of it. It could represent the way women are presented in classic literature or folktales, being the one who could not take action on her own, the one who lacks agency”. I didn’t know who this woman was at the time, only that she was there.

Then I started researching, who earns the title of literary heroine? Whose source book is pervasive to the point of being considered a classic? The idea of sound had come in early for me as well. I wrote on October 13th 2016 “there is something to following the sound. It’s always out of reach and mysterious as to how she can attain it, and with us the audience with her we can’t attain it either”. This idea of following something unattainable connects to the idea that women of this era always had to sit around and wait for things to happen to them, they rarely achieved on their own. They themselves are often also considered desired but unattainable beings. I started listening to soundtracks from film adaptations of the heroines on my list; it didn’t take long until I started to look at Cathy.

The choice of Catherine Earnshaw from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for my heroine was an obvious one, made immediate upon the watching of Kate Bush’s music videos for her single with the same name. I remember sitting watching that video over and over, it must have been dozens of times, completely transfixed. On November 1st 2016 I wrote, “The video is ridiculous and funny and dated, but also really sad in the way that she is emoting so much alone. In that she is dead, she is a ghost in the song”. It wasn’t until watching a recording of a Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever event that I knew how this discovery could be useful, I would use the song not in the way it showed a young women ghostlike and alone, but in the sense of community that has been created through the reclamation of the song into something that brings people together.

For the presentation, which occurred on November 30th 2016, I used this group dance for the climax of the fifteen-minute performance. This followed the audience being led around the library by the graceful and silent performer (Sara Page who has continued in the development of the project), who after setting the audience positions to view her from different perspectives performed choreography inspired by the Cathy’s Themes of three different Wuthering Heights film adaptations: 1939, 1970, and 2009. All the music was played live through speakers set up in the library. As this was during opening hours, it disrupted the day of many in the space, yet no one seemed to mind. For fifteen minutes we were no longer in a normal library, we were in an activated space of fiction.

I called this performance The Act of Reading, and wrote after the performances “it feels like the beginning of something big…I got the idea for this like a wave crashing over me while I was in the library. I was standing on the balcony looking and was filled with an overwhelming sense of loneliness, of waiting, and had an image of a young woman walking through the space, serenely, ghostlike. Everything that followed came from that…I loved that lots of people in the library felt invited to experience the piece, I’ve heard a lot about the sense of inclusion and joy people felt in the dance section at the end…This has to be a prototype somehow for something more complex and larger scale”. I couldn’t know then how much that instinct has proved true in the year since.