Influential Women – Didi Hopkins

Didi Hopkins started skirting the boards as a direct response to the women on boards report from Lord Davies this year, and a desire to ensure women have the skills they need to be bold, brilliant and to be themselves.
No matter what rank, position, job or industry.
Outraged that the focus is at the top, aware of the ‘pipleline’ and ‘marzipan’ layers, and as a lifetime subscriber to gender equality, Didi is interested in re-dressing the imbalance and making sure that women are placed centre stage.

Firmly. Confidently, with all the right ingredients to be successful.

Didi’s roots in theatre start with a company she co-founded and ran for 6 years called Beryl and the Perils. Beryl, from the Topper and later the Dandy, challenged patriarchy. Her Father. Each week she would challenge a situation imposed by him and look for an alternative way of reading the rules. Inevitably, Patriarchy Ruled, and Beryl was punished for her challenging of the status quo, and was beaten with dad’s slipper. Must keep a girl in her place. But her inventive comic and political menacing tactics and inspirational behaviour often made her the true winner. And her beating was received with a mischevious smile.

These roots in theatre and performance as actor and director have been ever present in Didi’s work since, and she now uses the experiential work of the rehearsal room to work with women in business.
She is experienced not only in considering what an audience wants (think interview, meeting, presentation, anytime you have to deliver a message or information), but also in enabling the actor to make conscious choices about what to do and how to do it  (think body language, gesture, posture, voice volume, speed, energy, eye contact, body language, breathing,  … and more). Didi has been devising and delivering this work for 10 years for the National Theatre (TheatreWorks) and on the Women as Leaders course run by Sue Vinnicombe at Cranfield University as well as internationally for global consulting firms and financial services companies.

“I have been observing the impact of this work on both women and men, and it has huge currency for both sexes, to have the time and space to consider what elements of leadership and communication you do well and what areas are ripe for development, what to dial up. What fascinates me when I do a women only group is how the language changes. How differently women talk about experiences in the workplace and the impact of certain situations, or individuals on them.

i am interested in the moment when women start to be judgemental on themselves, or when they recognise that they are ‘losing ground’, feel ‘under attack’ or ‘in the firing line’ This is strong language. the language of war, and reinforces for me the need for women to have the space to step back and discover what else they could do in these situations. What is an alternative. Does the pattern have to repeat. Can it be changed. That’s what we work on. The ability to respond differently to something that no longer works. It is our repons-ability to change a situation that is not working.

An actor is very lucky. They are flexible enough to make conscious decisions about what to do and how to ‘act’ in certain situations , and are trained to be able to do this to the max, under pressure, and stay present even in crisis. That is it. Conscious choices. I want to work with women so in a moment of not knowing, under pressure, they have somewhere to go and can stand their ground, can trust themselves to respond how they need/want to and are resilient enough to stay there and push back.

In loads of situations outside work, we have no problem displaying the right behaviour in response to a situation. Returning faulty goods, planting an assertive No to a whining child, or a celebratory Yes when something good happens. It is all transferable and in theatre I have found a fantastic key to unlock the people’s potential so they can be themselves with more skill.”

Didi could not do this work if she wasn’t still working in theatre. ” I need both worlds, I need to practice what I preach, I need to learn, still, from both worlds. I need to teach theatre, to work with actors, to act, to direct, and to bring that to business. Theatre is my practice, and my praxis, and my vocabulary to make what I bring to business a joy, because there is so much cross over”.

She is still straddling the great divide. An experienced practitioner and expert in the performance of  Commedia dell’Arte,  Didi has been a huge influence on the National Theatre’s One Man Two Guvnors, working with the writer, Richard Bean, who took the original Italian popular play ‘Servant of Two Masters’ and updated it to the 1960’s so successfully that it has toured, moved to the west end, is going to broadway and opening with a second cast in London. Didi has run onstage masterclasses to link the play with its’ roots, and the National Theatre made five films about her practice that can be viewed on youtube or downloaded from itunes.

www.skirtingtheboards.com

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