Gemma Bodinetz

Presented by Roger Phillips

Honourable Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting our second recipient today, Gemma Bodinetz for the award of an Honorary Fellowship from Liverpool John Moores University.

This is a truly civic university, firmly rooted in this extraordinary city, and its defining ethos comprises three deceptively simple yet very powerful words: Dream. Plan. Achieve.

We propose Gemma Bodinetz in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the dramatic arts and for her own ability to dream, plan and achieve through the worlds she creates and presents for her audiences.

Gemma was born in Barking and had a peripatetic childhood that involved moving house more than 40 times before she was 18. Her interest in theatre was ignited when she was 14 and read ‘The Empty Space’ by director and Royal Shakespeare Company co-founder, Peter Brook, which showed her that there was a way of making a living that combined plays, art, people and history.

She read Drama and Classics at Trinity College, Dublin and was Chair of the Trinity Players, although she was – and I quote – “never really an actress”. Her big break was also her first job on returning to the UK - at London’s Royal Court Theatre, where she was assistant director to some of the great names in late twentieth century theatre: Max-Stafford Clark, Harold Pinter and Lindsay Posner. While there, she won two awards – the Gerald Chapman Award and the John Fernald Scholarship – which allowed her to stay on. 

For three years in the early 1990s, she was staff director at the National Theatre, working with the likes of Trevor Nunn and Richard Eyre, before moving on as a freelance to direct productions at numerous theatres in London and nationwide. She particularly enjoyed directing works by new writers – she premiered Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Guiding Star’ in 1998 at the Liverpool Everyman, before it transferred to the National Theatre and well before the job of artistic director there was on the horizon. She believes new writers to be the lifeblood of theatre – and she has a great turn of phrase herself. Again I quote her: “You reap what you sow, and if you aren’t sowing the talent of tomorrow, you’ll have a poor harvest.”

Gemma and Deborah had had an opportunity to work together at The Bush Theatre, when Gemma had directed Liverpool playwright Helen Blakeman’s first play ‘Caravan’

At that time they shared much in common, including a liking for the same theatre. When the two positions at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse came up, Deborah sent Gemma an email asking if she was considering applying, and the rest is history. 

The fact is, they applied separately, but it was obvious to the Board that together, they were just what was needed to rescue the theatres from the doldrums – indeed, we nearly failed to be given Capital of Culture because of the lack of quality theatre.

That was soon to change. Over the last decade together, they have overseen a return to in-house productions of the highest quality; delivered an especially dazzling programme in support of the city’s year as European Capital of Culture; attracted back celebrated alumni including David Morrissey, Matthew Kelly and the late Pete Postlethwaite; cast Kim Cattrall as an acclaimed Cleopatra under the direction of Dame Janet Suzman; orchestrated a memorable farewell to the original Everyman and delivered a £28 million rebuild to widespread public approval; reopened the Playhouse Studio and celebrated the Playhouse Centenary in 2011; toured work to the US and Australia; and launched the careers of new playwrights. 

It is a remarkable story – one that has placed this city’s cultural offering at the highest possible level, while at the same time developing a thriving youth theatre, YEP, not just for actors, but for young writers, technicians, communicators, producers; in addition an absolute commitment to taking theatre out to the most deprived communities in our city.

Gemma’s dedication to encouraging new generations is an important part of the University’s partnership with the theatres - and students from all parts of the University, not just the creative arts, will enjoy unprecedented access to the knowledge and resources available in these remarkable spaces.

With Deborah, Gemma’s vision for what could be possible - their dream - has been driving force for their planning, to achieve an amazing theatrical renaissance.

Thus, it is with great personal pleasure that I present Gemma Bodinetz, this most distinguished adopted daughter of our city, for admission to our highest honour, as Honorary Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.