Over the past 35 years, we have worked with many brilliant participants, taking part in and devising shows, as well as volunteering at events. In this article, we celebrate two landmark achievements from Betty, and Liz & Tony.
Betty Morris | 10 February 2021
A well-known and well-loved acta participant, Betty, turned 90 during lockdown this year. We gave her a call to ask her all about her life in Bristol and experiences with acta …
Betty was born and raised in Redcliffe, Bristol. Aged 10, she made her pledge to the girl guides, in an air raid shelter. Since, she has become a guide leader, which has included being a rowing instructor and even taking a narrowboat up to Bath! Betty has also worked as a florist, and often turns her skills to creating wonderful arts and craft for acta’s Making Time sessions, or most recently in lockdown, through our creative care packages.
What was your first experience of acta?
“I was going to CLASS (Continued Learning at South Street School). We used to decide on a theme – anything from Romans to famous people – pick one thing from that theme, go away, and write about it, and read to the others. Then one week, they said “someone from acta’s coming”, and it was Neil. He was so enthusiastic and wanted people to do a play; he said they had funding to include people from Redcliffe. Everyone else turned their noses up. But I said, I’m quite interested. He said, come along, you can join! If you don’t like it, you don’t have to come again.
Of course, once I came, I was in, wasn’t I?
Then a few months later, some of Neil’s drama group suggested I join the choir. Katie (acta Production Manager) then told me she was going to start a new project, Making Time. Me and my husband were the first two to come to Making Time. When my husband passed away, I had the most support I thought anyone could ever have. Katie would ring to check on me, then someone else, then Neil. They really went above and beyond. I had so much support.
My daughter said, ‘are you going back to acta, but Dad isn’t even cremated yet.’
I said: ‘What difference does that make? If I go there, I’ll be amongst friends.’”
What do you enjoy most about acta and theatre in general?
“Oh I love it. I really do.
They always find me a chair to sit on. I’ve said, I think I’ll stop doing shows, I don’t want to be a nuisance for people. I’ll come to sessions and stand in for parts, but I won’t take up space. Neil said, if you’re coming, you’re in it… we can always make you a narrator.
The friendship that’s there. No one thinks they’re better than the other.”
Tell us about a special show memory?
“We did one play, can’t remember the name, Neil wrote it. All about Bristol (Redcliffe Stories – see photo below), right back from when the first Matthew sailed. Russ wrote a song and put it to music with guitar. Neil interviewed me about my 10th birthday story; where we lost our home because of the bombings. We were living with lots of other people. My uncle bought a Christmas cake (as Betty’s birthday is around Christmas). On no account do we ask for a slice of cake. On boxing afternoon, two dads took us for a walk. When we got back, the cake was stripped and put a birthday message on.
This show brought together all people from choir, young kids, all sorts. We did stories of bombing, and the little kids played out my Christmas cake scene. It was performed for 5 days in St Mary Redcliffe School.
It all started from a picture of Redcliffe Church, and the bells ringing. Sarah from choir wrote a song that went along with the bells. I’d love to do it again. All people from my church wanted to see it – they’d love it to come back. It was published on the tele.”
(Betty also reminisced about appearances as inanimate objects, from a washing machine in Plastic Fantastic, to a plank of wood that had to be replaced in a bridge before people could cross). “Of course, last time I was a magic washing machine. I’d grant their wishes when they said please or thank you. I popped out the lid and frightened everyone to death!”
What are your words of wisdom to anyone thinking of engaging with the arts for the first time?
“Come and just have a go. There’s never a charge; which means a lot these days. There’s always friendship, over a coffee before all this happening, and have a natter. Just, give it a chance. If it’s not for them, you can help behind scenes if you want.” (Or, come and see a show!)
Finally, Betty… what did you do for your 90th in lockdown?
“Last year, we were going to have a party, to celebrate my late husband and my Golden wedding anniversary. I said no, no party. So, we just had flowers and a lovely meal. I said, for my 90th birthday, we’re going to have a party. They had 110 people ready to come along!” (As lockdown continued into the last months of 2020, Betty had a small family party instead, and told us about this…)
“They set up the house with balloons, banners, streamers and lots of presents. My grandson made me the most beautiful bird house, all covered in gold, like unveiling a statue. I thought, this can’t get any better. Because he made it himself and paid for the materials himself. I also got given a stained glass window with an owl design (from my time in the guides) and when it shines, it makes a rainbow across the floor.
I actually preferred that, than a big do, absolutely loved it.”
Liz and Tony | 8 January 2021
Liz and Tony Hillitt have been involved in acta for the last decade, taking part in a wide range of different theatre shows and projects since acta moved to the actacentre, on their doorstep in Bedminster. This week, they celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary, and we send them our congratulations and love from everyone at acta.
When acta secured lottery support to develop a local arts programme in 2011, Get Together, starting with a Winter lantern parade and community choir, Liz and Tony were amongst the first local people to volunteer to be part of it.
Through the community choir, they have performed in a whole host of community shows and events including 1963, the Stories Redcliffe community play and Blood on the Coal. Liz also volunteered to support the productions with costumes for many of the shows. Tony is a longstanding member of the Thursdays theatre group, and has helped to create and perform a long line of original shows for schools and local audiences.
In recent years, they have supported the lunchtime team to make and serve hot meals to those attending acta for the Making Time project for lonely local people, including supporting the group to deliver their own performances for local school children.
From all of us at acta, we’d like to say thank you for all your support Liz and Tony, you are stars!