A second life in theatre

September 25, 2019 | By | 2 Replies More

Susan Wales Hampson’s autobiographical notes

Today, we remember Susan Wales Hampson who died on Sunday 15 September 2019 at the age of 72. Susan was a strong and integral part of Edinburgh’s amateur and community theatre scene for almost 20 years.

Great tributes will no doubt be payed to Susan at her cremation in Livingston today, Wednesday 25 September. Since taking up community theatre in the late 1990s, she brought her ideals of shared responsibility to her support for individuals and her doughty organisational skills to its structures and institutions.

Before she died, Susan wrote some autobiographical notes which her husband Walter passed on to Æ to help prepare her obituary. Here, we publish a more detailed and lengthy note about her life, including her own memories of her involvement in Edinburgh’s theatre scene.

Susan (centre) as Mrs Gamp in Indicative Dickens at the Killin Komedy Festival 2019. Pic: Walter Hampson

Born in Manchester’s Withington Hospital on June 26, 1947, Susan was the youngest of her siblings by 16 years and was brought up in Ardwick and Ancoats, the oldest parts of Manchester.

As a child, Susan developed grand mal epilepsy which went undiagnosed until was ten. She became involved in local politics as a young teenager, although seizures associated with the condition, combined with her general poor health, curtailed her education and prevented employment.

Susan married a fellow activist in March 1969. She learned basic admin and clerical skills from working with her husband’s writing for trade union and political issues, and volunteering in a left wing bookshop. She learned to drive as soon as the law concerning epilepsy allowed it, and took further education courses to improve her English and writing skills.

After moving to Scotland in 1972, Susan continued to improve her education and a full time course in office practice led to employment with the old Lothian Region’s solicitors’ department where, she says: “I completely reorganised the law library and began my reputation as someone always willing to try something new.”

Her epilepsy continued to affect her. But while seizures caused her many problems, they remained nocturnal so were manageable thanks to cooperation from management at work.

Susan continued her involvement with left wing politics and trade unions, gaining more organisational and administration skills. She left her marriage around 1982 and moved to a flat in Edinburgh, fully aware of her vulnerability while having grand mal epilepsy but willing to face it to build her life.

first brush with theatre

Susan married Bob Wales on March 29 1986. She started hill walking, climbing and cycling, becoming convinced that she did not need anticonvulsant medication. Her doctor agreed and gradually reduced her medication over a number of years. Her last seizure was in 1990 and she stopped medication completely in 1998.

Susan’s first brush with theatre came when Alan Jeffries came to take over her clerical assistant work at Lothian Region. As a caver, he used similar equipment to climbers and became friends with Bob, demonstrating equipment to him. As an actor, Alan introduced Susan to the theatrical side of life.

Susan Wales in 2017. Picture and copyright: Walter Hampson.

When Bob died in 1998, Susan was aware that she needed to be involved in something totally different fromthe things he was connected with. “I don’t properly recall the series of events but I do know I went along to see one of Alan’s plays,” she says. “Su Jeffries, Alan’s daughter, put me in touch with Rik Kay of SCDA.”

Meanwhile, she had moved to West Lothian legal services in 1997, bringing with her the reputation of one willing to face challenges. Once again, she was given responsibility for reorganising the law library and took over many other clerical and paralegal duties, leading to paralegal status.

That willingness to tackle new challenges eventually led to her being part of a quality control team, working with Walter. They started going for lunchtime walks, then days out and things grew from there after her mother died in 2005.

Susan continues: “Around this time I responded to an advert for the Theatre Workshop and found myself cast as “Rose” and part of the costuming team for David’s Gift. This was wonderful experience and really kindled my interest in drama, especially the behind the scenes aspects. I attended an AGM at which the SCDA committee was in meltdown and found myself volunteering to be Minute Secretary.

“The world now changed forever. We gradually built the committee. I was involved both in a small part and as the costume team for a Leitheatre play when someone suggested I contact Edinburgh Grads. Again I cannot properly recall the exact order of events – just the general idea.

“I went along to a Grads meeting to find Christelle frantically trying to sellotape waistcoat fronts onto Ross. I was not backwards in coming forward, the result being I offered to make a new back for the waistcoat (needed in couple of days) and my relationship with EGTG was cemented, very soon becoming Secretary and second in command of the costume store. I seem to have been utterly confident in my own abilities without actually having proof.

Susan as Kate the bag lady in On The Outside. Pic credit: unknown.

“I took part in the first one-act festival I organised in a comedy with Grads – Caught On The Hop. We won everything apart from 2 and 3 at District then came third and won Best Comedy at Division. A great introduction for me. We ran the play again as part of a double bill so it was a great reward.

“This is where I started to build what has become my legacy to SCDA. Communication / promotion / cooperation.

“The Grads monthly newsletter was improved with cartoons and news of other shows involving members. This grew to news of other clubs’ shows and, as most now went out by email, that grew like Topsy into a Dramanews sent to an expanded audience. This then came under the auspices of SCDA Edinburgh rather than Grads.

“I developed a basic website for Grads then a basic one for Edinburgh District, all the time expanding the range of people reached. Facebook was brought into play here too.

“Gradually, oh so gradually, I convinced folk that we had to spread our online wings and promote ourselves far more. This included getting photos of our productions and festivals. We’ve more or less won that battle but it’s been a long slog.

“Part way along the route I was invited to join The Mercators and it has been with them that I have had my acting opportunities including progressing to the Division a few times and the Scottish Final. My favourite role of Kate the bag lady in On The Outside wasn’t successful at the festival but remains in my heart. I’ve also loved being Mrs Camp in Tributes to Dickens.

SCDA library

“I became interested in the SCDA script library and started developing an online list of contents using information started by Rik Kay. Alison McCallum came on board around 2008, then Walter found out what I was doing and created a database. From there the development of the online presence has grown massively.

Susan, right, with Alison McCallum and Senior Librarian Douglas Currie on 22/09/2013, the official opening day of the SCDA Script Library’s new premises at Summerhall. Pic Walter Hampson

“I lost my voice after pneumonia in 2010 so my acting career has been limited. I had hoped to switch to directing but as things have turned out that won’t come to pass.

“I became Eastern Division Secretary on a couple of occasions meaning that the first time round I served on the General Council and for a short time on the Executive Committee. When I returned to the post (can’t remember if it was after breast cancer in 2008 or pneumonia in 2010) I undertook it excepting the “higher up” aspects because by then I was recognising the need to pull back a little.

“As soon as I became District Secretary I started attending all my clubs’ shows and helping to promote them, and this developed into attempts to attend Divisional shows too, greatly appreciated by outlying clubs. This became acknowledged by clubs who could see SCDA directly supporting them and has meant a really satisfying relationship with many.

“The Dramanews included appeals for props etc. from the beginning and I believe has resulted in a more cooperative relationship between clubs.

“I’ve been involved with getting content for Scene magazine for a number of years and have been instrumental in getting more photos submitted, which has considerably improved it.

“One other thing I am proud of is the development of the full length festival and was proud to donate a runner up trophy last year. I do so hope it will continue.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all my involvement with community drama and am very proud to read messages from drama friends telling me that I have encouraged them over the years. Job done.”

ENDS

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  1. Susan Wales Hampson : All Edinburgh Theatre.com | September 25, 2019
  1. Walter Hampson says:

    Thom, words cannot express my gratitude to you, thank you for being faithful to her notes. I’ll forward the link to her family so the can read this tribute to Susan, a much-loved lady.

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