At the end of last term, Six Two student Sarah Bertram brought to life the story of Clara Bow, one of the biggest film stars of the first half of the 20th Century. In her own words she discusses writing and directing the play Clara Bow - The Original ‘It’ Girl, which was performed in the School Theatre on two nights:
Clara Bow was one of Hollywood’s biggest names - a star, a sensation - and yet when I told people I would be writing a play based on her life, the majority of people looked at me clueless.
I first stumbled across the name Clara Bow two years ago when, for our GCSE practical, my group toyed with the idea of devising our own piece. The idea of the Roaring 20s came into my head and, before I knew it, I was reading biography after biography of those who embody that era; however, none stuck out to me as significantly remarkable until I found Clara.
That’s why, two years down the line, I jumped at the opportunity to direct my own play and use this chance to share with the audiences a truly unforgettable story.
My original idea was to have a documentary onstage but I was worried people might begin to drift off. However, by this point I had four cast members playing documentary speakers and I couldn’t simply cast them aside.
Therefore, our new approach was to integrate them into the scenes and use them to bring the story to life. Clara underwent shock therapy in her later years and these four cast members can be seen throughout the play watching her and commenting on her life, as if she was a case study and they were examining the effects.
Another problem I encountered was that of restricted artistic licence. Having been in many plays throughout my Benenden life, I know that some of the best scenes are often those that are non-naturalistic, or have non-naturalistic aspects to it. Nevertheless, as this was, at least on my behalf, a historical enquiry, I had little room to manoeuvre.
This issue was very frustrating for me, with regards to discovering the extent of my directorial abilities for the first time; but also, I am aware, for my cast, who are themselves a very talented group of girls and who, I’m sure, would have loved to have taken scenes in a slightly different direction at times.
I had to come to the realisation that things will not always be straightforward, and that compromise between the image in your head and the reality is sometimes necessary. For instance, I had imagined a live band for one of the party scenes to provide a whole other dynamic to the show, and for a time this idea looked like a potential reality.
However, with three weeks to go, this idea slowly started to fade away, starting with the band having to be set off stage instead of on and finally with the acceptance that instead of a live band on the night, some willing members of the Music department would pre-record the song instead. Instead of letting this hinder the progress of the performance we pushed through to create the next best scenario we could.
Overall this has been an incredible opportunity, from the planning, through the stages of writing and directing to performance night. I have learned that creating anything from scratch, your own project, your child, comes with lots of hard work, determination and most importantly a much-needed support system to keep you sane.
There are so many people to say thank you to who helped me in different ways throughout this progress but most importantly I hope that those of you who came to watch it enjoyed it and took something away from such a unique life-story.
Who was Clara Bow?
Clara Bow was the first to be given the title of an ‘It Girl’ - adored by the masses and constantly in demand.
Born in 1905 to an unstable, poverty-stricken family, when Clara was 16 she sent her photo to a ‘fame and fortune’ magazine competition and won the top prize. Within a couple of years she was a Hollywood superstar and by 1928 she was the world’s highest paid movie star reportedly earning $35,000 a week and receiving over 30,000 fan letters a month.
In 1931 Bow married fellow actor Rex Bell and retired from acting to become a rancher in Nevada. In 1949 she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and start to receive shock treatment. She died of a heart attack in 1965 at the age of 60.