Our dear friend Kate Crutchley died this weekend, after many years successfully and passionately living with recurrent cancers and attendant illnesses. She did so much to contribute to the woman I am today, and though I thanked her privately, in person, I also want to do so publicly, as I do not believe Kate’s work has ever been widely enough praised or recognised.

Kate was a very successful actor (with a fine Corale Brown story, among many others) before working more as a director, and that’s how I worked with her.

She was running OvalHouse Theatre programming when I wrote and performed my first solo show there. It led to all the other solo shows I have worked on, my own and others.

She gave me my first actual-acting-job-with-a-script (ie not impro/comedy) in the UK – at a stage in my work when it was very hard to persuade Brit people that my work in NZ did count, and that yes, I had been a ‘proper’ actor for a while, just not in the UK …

That job wasn’t with Kate though, it was with her friend (and then mine) the also-brilliant Tessa Schneideman. Kate gave me to Tessa (because she thought I looked like their mutual friend Roxanne who had written the play) and it was Tessa who gave me Boal, bouffon, and physical theatre in a big big way. (There’s a Derek Jarman/my naked breasts story there, for another time …)

They were both good, generous, welcoming directors, with very different styles, and what I gained from working with the two of them (three plays with Tessa and three with Kate) was a bravery in myself as an actor – a bravery in my own ideas, my own thoughts – and also a great deal that I have tried to transfer to my own directing … Not pretending I know more than actors. Not pretending I have all the answers. Not thinking I need to be ‘in charge’. No game-playing with people’s emotions. Just how it is, working together. A sense of theatre as a visual and aural place (Tessa) and of script as a start (a good start) but not an end in itself (Kate).

It was also at the Oval, with Kate in charge, that I directed my first large-scale play. She was only ever supportive.

Kate was older than me and also lesbian, also feminist. She was political and her politics were fully in her work. But unlike many I worked with at the time, she was gentle in her politics, kind in her passion. It was not (80s/90s) an easy time to be political and, of course, it is understandable that many were, and are, angry and forceful in their passionate work for a better world. But there was also a great deal of the I’m-a-better-feminist-than-you stuff, a lot of the ‘real’ lesbians versus ‘fake’. Kate wasn’t like that. She was warm and she was kind AND she was political.

I don’t believe Kate’s work for LGBT theatre, women’s theatre, lesbian theatre has ever been acknowledged strongly enough. Today we praise venues (like OvalHouse) where arts and queer and/or race politics often come together, we are rightly appreciative of the effort it takes to programme work that isn’t especially mainstream. But Kate was doing that then, in the 80s – in so many ways a much harder climate for diversity than now. I know she knew we all appreciated and loved her for it, I wish the wider theatre and political world had done so more obviously too.

I was working with Kate when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s. I admired her resilience and strength in having radiotherapy first thing in the morning, so she was able to rehearse with us all day. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 30s, I was grateful to her for that role model, when I too, had to work through illness and treatment.

When Kate and Claire had their relationship blessing last year, I admired them both for that same resilience and strength, the keeping-going, despite so many recurrences and such pain. Kate’s smile. Claire’s constant support and generosity in sharing Kate’s dwindling time with their many friends. Josh’s amazing speech about the woman who taught him to play football, and so much besides.

It was also from Kate that I learned the healing power of gardening, reinforcing a lesson that both my parents knew well – everything else might be going to hell, but the garden, the earth, will always be there, waiting for us to get stuck in. That we can make order from chaos, and then leave it to return to chaos again.

When we visited a month or so ago, Kate came downstairs to see us, very small, very frail, and not at all ready to give up. Dressed in her beautiful blue, we talked about Spain, where Kate had been going in summer for so long. Her desire to get there, in spite of it all. Kate said, lightly, not angrily, that she wasn’t at all jealous of the young people, she had had a great youth. But she was jealous of the old people, that she wasn’t going to have an old age. She said she didn’t want to leave (this life) and she didn’t want to leave Spain. She hasn’t left Spain. We would all have wished for her an old age. We need those elders.

There is a lovely interview with her here, on this great site, Unfinished Histories.

Our thoughts and love are with Claire and Josh.

Please feel free to add your own memories here, and we can share how important Kate was – and is – to us.