Welcome to my website, the ‘shop window’ to the full range of my work – past, present and future. Like any good store, it’s divided up into specialist ‘departments’, to make it easier to have a browse in your area of interest, whether you’re an audience member, reader, participant, funder, venue or producer.
I am a nationally and internationally critically acclaimed performer, author, playwright, singer, musician, historian, producer, workshop leader and journalist – and, most recently, an award-winning film-maker.
Originally from South London, I’ve lived and thrived in various parts of Sussex since 1997.
My work spans five decades and now includes full-length and short biographies, stage plays, documentary films, social and cultural histories, journalism, short fiction, online content, exhibitions, lectures, apps, workshops, literary talks and educational tours.
‘She has a love for her craft and is able to communicate that to anyone wanting to listen or read.’
Photo: Jan Pimblett
I’ve worked in a diverse range of disciplines involving partnerships with arts organisations and venues, libraries, community groups, museums and publishers.
My artistic intention is to combine my performing and writing skills to produce for myself and other performers a range of engaging and entertaining ‘literary’ stage work and audio-visual work which introduces audiences to, and explores, the lives of overlooked historical figures and events, with a positive emphasis on women’s history and lives.
Since 2012, I have garnered a national and international reputation as a stage artist who writes, performs and produces high quality work.
This has been achieved without the support of any mainstream theatre venues or producers, and without any regular income or guaranteed funding, or any commercial sponsorship.
My theatre work also benefits from my distinctive ability to create and deliver bespoke, entertaining and informative public engagement events which can be undertaken in parallel with stage work or independently.
They include illustrated presentations, podcasts, workshops and films.
As part of my ongoing ACE-funded Forty Years Out (And Counting): Performing The Archive multi-media project, The Boy and The Bear was written, performed, recorded, edited, arranged and produced by me during the 2020-21 lockdown. It was inspired by, and draws on, sections of the research and script development of the solo stage show (now postponed until 2022).
It is a creative, scripted and performed audio-visual account of the rich personal and political journey taken by me and my then closest gay male friend, who both came out in 1978.
The personal stories unwind against a social and political backdrop and context of early Gay Pride marches; police harassment; anti-fascist/anti-racist activism; ‘agit-prop’ gay and feminist theatre; the London lesbian and gay scene and media of the late 70s and early 80s; and the first decade of the AIDS crisis, as viewed through the lens of a lesbian woman who participated, witnessed and chronicled these events.
Funny, provocative and moving, the film includes personal testimony, letters, photographs, diaries, ephemera, news cuttings and others materials from my extensive archive curated over five decades, plus some of my original music.
Since its non-theatrical release on YouTube in late February 2021, the film has received enormous audience acclaim and subsequently been an official selection in 18 international independent film festivals: Toronto Women Films Festival 2021 and 2022, Impact Docs Festival (Los Angeles), LGBTQ Unbordered International Film Festival Summer 2021, Docs Without Borders Film Festival 2021, Accolade Global Film Competition, Hastings Rocks International Film Festival, The Kings Cross Film Festival, IndieFest Film Awards, Brighton Rocks International Film Festival, London Lift-Off 2021, Depth of Field International Festival, London Rocks International Film Festival, FlickFair 2021, LFest 2022, Hollywood’s First-Time Film-maker Showcase, WRPN Women’s International Film Festival and SafFlicks 2023.
It won twelve awards, including three for ‘Best Documentary Feature’.
The Boy and The Bear was voted Best Feature Documentary 2021 by the Brighton Rocks International Film Festival jury, and joint Best Feature Documentary 2021 by the London Rocks International Film jury. Both festivals receive thousands of submissions from film-makers around the world.
The film has also been given an Exceptional Merit award by the LGBTQ Unbordered International Film Festival jury, and won two Awards of Recognition in the IndieFEST Film Awards 2020, for LGBTQ+ and Narration/Voice Over.
The Boy and The Bear was voted Best Documentary Feature in its August 2021 competition by the Kings Cross Film Festival.
The film was also chosen to be part of the digital programmes for the international Outing The Past Festival 2021 at Higgins Bedford Museum, with live Q&A, and Shropshire LGBT History Month Festival.
Photo: Maggie Jones
I have written, edited and contributed to 17 books, including:
Death and the City (Hanover Press 2013)
The New Encyclopaedia of Brighton (2010)
‘This Effing Lady’: Coral Browne (Oberon Books 2007)
Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment: A Tale of Female Husbandry (Virago 2000)
A Trouser-Wearing Character: The Life and Times of Nancy Spain (Cassell 1997)
Portraits To The Wall (Cassell 1994)
My diverse public talks and lectures have included sell-out events at the V&A, Royal National Theatre, Equity, National Film Theatre, National Portrait Gallery, University of London, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Gladstone’s Library, Brighton Museum, Brighton Festival, New Writing South, Polari (South Bank), Bishopsgate Institute, West Dean College, Charleston Trust, Wigtown Book Festival, London Metropolitan Archives and public libraries in London and in East and West Sussex.
‘That indeed is the Collis way: loads of info delivered with charming informality and with plenty of anecdotal chuckles along the way.’
Andrew Kay, The Latest
In August 2015, I was appointed the first Writer-in-Residence at Coleridge Cottage by the National Trust and Literature Works for the Writing Places project.
In 2015, I was shortlisted for the Gladstone Library Writers-in-Residence 2016 programme and awarded an honorary scholarship and featured in the literary festival, Hearth.
I have been a four-time recipient of Society of Authors’ awards for biographical research, and a six-time recipient of Arts Council England National Lottery funding grants.
“As part of this project, 50 plaques were installed across the borough. Each plaque is a ‘pin’ on a digital heritage map. With over 150 pins on the map, the plaques represent a cross section of the rich LGBTQ+ heritage of Islington. One of these plaques is dedicated to Rose Collis.”
In May 2012, with a only a few hundred pounds’ worth of crowd-funding, I created Trouser-Wearing Characters, the first solo musical cabaret show written and performed by a female author. Launched at the Brighton Fringe 2012, it was an immediate public and critical success.
Since then, the show has appeared at festivals and venues throughout the UK.
In spring 2013, it completed a triumphant five-week tour of four major arts festivals (co-produced by Tomboi) in New Zealand and Australia: Auckland Fringe, WellingtonNZ Fringe, Sydney Mardi Gras and Adelaide Fringe — the second biggest arts festival in the world.
‘Collis has excelled in creating something that has moved beyond any general label. Trouser-Wearing Characters is a highly-entertaining and personal piece of cabaret theatre that will be appreciated by a broad audience.’
Theatre Review New Zealand
‘It’s a pleasure to spend an hour with Rose Collis and her tales of masculine women and feminine men, a look at the gay British sub culture of the last century.’
In February 2016, Arts Council England funded the show’s first-ever regional tour of performances in public libraries. It continues to tour.
LISTEN TO TWO SONGS FROM THE SHOW ON YOUTUBE:
Masculine Women, Feminine Men : Opening song of ‘Trouser-Wearing Characters’, one-woman musical cabaret show by Rose Collis. Lyrics/music Edgar Leslie/James V Monaco (1926), additional new lyrics by Rose Collis (2012), arrangement Rose Collis (2012) Recorded by Tod Higginson, July 2018. Vocals/banjolele: Rose Collis
It’s The Best I Can Do For The Money: Song about entertainment legend Douglas Byng, featured in the one-woman musical cabaret show, ‘Trouser-Wearing Characters’, written and performed by Rose Collis. Lyrics and music, Rose Collis (c) 2012. Vocals/banjolele: Rose Collis
In November 2014, I received my first ACE funding to write and produce Not Wanted On Voyage, a new two-hander about gay 50s media personalities, Nancy Spain and Gilbert Harding. It was given two hugely successful professional semi-staged readings at the Marlborough Theatre, Brighton, and Bread & Roses Theatre, London.
My ACE-funded solo play, Wanting The Moon, about Clemence Dane the ‘invisible woman’ of 20th century British culture, was successfully previewed in early 2016 at the Marlborough Theatre and Arundel Jailhouse.
It enjoyed a successful London run at Bread and Roses Theatre in September 2016.
The Trials of Colonel Barker was my first two-act stage play, based on my critically acclaimed book Colonel Barker’s Monstrous Regiment. It was developed with Arts Council England National Lottery project funding.
It made its world premiere with a very successful one-off rehearsed reading as part of the second (Brighton and) Hove Grown Festival in March 2017 and has now been submitted to a number of producers and competitions.
In August 2017, I joined the cast which co-devised and acted in the third edition of Motherlogues by Forked Theatre. The show received five and four-star reviews at the Camden Fringe Festival.
I am a member of BECTU and Sussex Playwrights. From 2017-2019, I served as an elected member of the Equity LGBT+ Equalities Committee and the Equity Women’s Committee, 2019-2021.
PRAISE FOR ROSE COLLIS AND HER WORK:
‘If Brighton is representative of a particular attitude, a particular atmosphere, then Rose gets close to evoking exactly what this is. She could easily be snapped up by television, I feel, as there has been a recent trend towards shows imparting serious subjects in an entertaining and accessible way. Collis certainly fits this bill.’
Lucy Nordberg, Fringe Review
‘Rose Collis’s show Trouser Wearing Characters went down a storm at the Wigtown Book Festival 2012. That’s quite a coup for an English artiste in a Scottish environment. Cheers and laughter and tears — all of them inspired by Rose’s performance. People loved it — the history, the entertainment, the presentation — which was professional, focused and sensitive.’
Gerrie Douglas-Scott, ReadingLasses, Wigtown Booktown Fringe Festival
‘She has a charming voice and a delightful delivery…the show has just about all anyone can ask: interesting content, great energy and music that makes you beg for more.’
Lynn Ruth Miller
‘Wotever World have had the pleasure to collaborate and work with Rose Collis twice now and, at both events, she and her unique style have gone down a storm. Trouser Wearing Characters is a piece of much needed LGBT history, and with her wit and charm Rose makes us sip up every word and tune. We are specially in awe of the Music Hall numbers on banjolele! Perfect and so funny! We are looking forward to many more events where we have Rose with us on stage.’
Ingo Cando, Creative Producer, Wotever World
‘Pink Fringe and Marlborough Theatre supported the development and presented the initial run of Trouser-Wearing Characters. We were delighted with the response to the show and Rose’s ability to illuminate minority histories in an engaging way that appeals to a broad range of audiences. She has a distinctive artistic voice.’
David Sheppeard, Pink Fringe/Marlborough Theatre
‘West Sussex Libraries had the great pleasure of working with Rose Collis during LGBT History Month 2012. It was an excellent event, with each section very well chosen for the evening and for the audience in mind. Rose had a great rapport with her audience and was very relaxed about talking informally to people afterwards, which added to the atmosphere. It was a really enjoyable event to be involved with.’
Mike Morten, Community Librarian, West Sussex Libraries
‘Delightfully readable, with an unusually vivid sense of the recent past and its personalities, she is a biographer to watch.’
Jonathan Cecil, The Spectator
‘Collis treads a careful line between sensation and sentiment. She finds strength, humour and glamour in her subjects.’
Kathryn Hughes, Daily Telegraph
‘Can an historian ever be entertaining? When the historian is Rose Collis and the subject is delightfully decadent and debauched, the answer is a big ‘over the top’ YES!’
Adelaide Theatre Guide
Photo: Ann Nicholls