The Wapping Project is the creation of the Women’s Playhouse Trust (WPT), which was set up in 1981. The WPT is a UK Charity (286384) and has 501 (C) (3) status in the USA.
Throughout the 80s and the early 90s WPT’s artistic policy was defined by the playwrights it commissioned, produced and published, predominantly at the Royal Court Theatre, London. In 1993 it began to mount work in one of London’s most beautiful, derelict buildings in the East End, the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station; it is at this point that it became known as The Wapping Project, and established a worldwide reputation. It was always described by its founder and director, Jules Wright, as an idea consistently in transition.
There is no such thing as prescription when it comes to the time in Wapping, there were no criteria to fill or boxes to tick but rather ideas were the currency and anything, trite as it sounds, was possible. The Wapping Project is less about categories and conventions and more about the spirit and verve that takes hold when one is in the throes of making work. Speculative stories and fuzzy memories all help comprise the myth that is Wapping, that magic that no-one can quite put their finger on. There is a superb archive of design work and photography which speaks for itself and which was made into a magnificent book in three beautiful volumes that Imogen Eveson wrote and designed to celebrate the The Wapping Project time at the Power Station, published on the 23 December 2013.
In 2015, we lost our founder and artistic director, Jules Wright, who was diagnosed with cancer in February 2015 and died on 21 June 2015. The death of the company’s driving creative force reminded us of and confronted us with our own state of Transition, Transformation and Transience.
Ungrounded from the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station that provided the backdrop for our artistic activities, we continue working with artists with unrestrained ambition, supporting those whose voices, ideas and stories need to be heard and seen, mostly women, often those whose paths have been winding and riddled with obstacles, and above all those who believe in synergy, in making something larger than one could on their own. The site of the Power Station defined our commissioning process for twenty years, without it we are free to find new ways of working. Nomadic we roam, held by our core principles of idiosyncrasy, ambition, experimentation and collaboration.
As one of London’s most daring and visionary commissioners of contemporary art and artists, Jules Wright took a characteristically innovative approach to showcasing new talent. Australian born, she came to the UK as a Commonwealth Scholar in 1975. She studied at Bristol University, going on to achieve a PhD (Psychology) in 1982. Her love of theatre was nurtured as a student in Bristol and Clare Venables, then Artistic Director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East, gave her a fortuitous break, inviting her to direct while still a student.
Jules directed her first main stage production at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in May 1979, starring the then unknown Tom Wilkinson. Just two years later, she was appointed as a Resident Director at the Royal Court Theatre, and soon after became Artistic Director of the Theatre Upstairs and Associate Director of the Royal Court. From 1984 to 1986, Jules was Artistic Director of the Liverpool Playhouse, alongside Associate Directors, Willy Russell and Alan Bleasedale, before returning to the Royal Court as Associate Director and then Deputy Artistic Director where she remained until 1992 when she went on to pursue a wide ranging international career as a freelance director. Most of the new work she has directed has been published. Since 1997 her work has revolved around commissioning, first writers and later composers, choreographers, visual artists, fashion designers, filmmakers, fine artists and photographers.
Recognised as one of the leading directors of her generation, Jules’s career in the UK has included productions at the Old Vic, Royal Exchange, Royal Festival Hall, West End transfers, theatre, opera and television (BBC) and international work in Europe, (Ibsen at the Royal National Theatre of Norway) Australia (Sydney Opera House and Sydney Theatre Company), Turkey (Mozart at the State Opera of Istanbul) and South America (Macbeth in Sao Paulo). Her reputation for work with contemporary playwrights has been acknowledged in a series of national awards, including Plays and Players (1983); Time Out, City Limits and Plays and Players (1984), Olivier/SWET Awards and Evening Standard (1985), John Whiting Award (1986), Samuel Beckett and George Devine Awards (1988), Evening Standard and Sydney Critics’ Circle (1990), BBC Opera (1992).
At The Wapping Project, Jules was committed to commissioning new work from young and established artists who share qualities of innovation and experimentation, many have gone on to become major players in the UK’s cultural landscape. In October 2009, Jules launched a new, independent photographic gallery adjacent to Tate Modern, The Wapping Project Bankside.