Born Peter Bourne in Hackney, east London, he made his stage debut at the age of four as one of the members of Madame Behenna and her Dancing Children. Encouraged to take part in amateur dramatics by his mother, he chose a career in the theatre at 16, working backstage at the Garrick Theatre, London.
He studied drama at Central School of Speech and Drama in London and went on to act on stage and on television throughout the 1960s. He appeared in TV series such as The Avengers and The Prisoner, and in 1969, he appeared alongside Sir Ian McKellen in a touring double bill of Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard II.
In the 1970s, he put his acting career on hold to become an activist with the Gay Liberation Front, becoming part of a gay commune in London. It was during this period that he started wearing drag and changed his name to “Bette”.
In 1976, he joined the New York-based gay cabaret group, the Hot Peaches, performing with them in Europe, culminating in a show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. When this group went back to New York, Bourne formed his own troupe, Bloolips. Featuring songs such as Let's Scream Our Tits Off, the shows were mostly written by playwright John Taylor with titles like Lust in Space and The Ugly Duckling. He toured the UK and the rest of Europe throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, winning an Obie Award (Off Broadway Theater Award) for the New York production of Lust in Space.
Robert Patrick and Bette Bourne at Phebe's, 1988, by Robert Giard
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digitallibrary/giard.html)
Bette Bourne, left, and Mark Ravenhill, who distilled hours of Bourne's reminiscences into A Life in Three Acts. - See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/bette-bourne-gay-life-through-the-eyes-of-a-show-off/story-e6frg8n6-1225976416164#sthash.6767bdvR.dpuf
In 1995, Bourne won a Manchester Evening News award for his performance as Lady Bracknell in the English Touring Theatre production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
In 1996, he appeared in Neil Bartlett and Nick Bloomfield’s production of Sarasine at the Lyric Hammersmith. He worked with Bartlett again at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2003, performing in a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
In 1999, Bourne played his friend, Quentin Crisp, in Tim Fountain’s play, Resident Alien, at the Bush Theatre in London. He also performed it on tour around the world, including New York and Sydney. Fountain wrote two more plays for Bourne: H-O-T-B-O-I, which was produced at Soho Theatre in 2004 (originally Deep Rimming in Poplar at its premiere at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow); and Rock in 2008.
Bourne was part of the Donmar Warehouse production of The Vortex in 2002, for which he won the Clarence Derwent Award. In 2005, he appeared in Read My Hips at The Drill Hall in London, playing the gay 20th-century Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy living in Alexandria.
For the Royal Shakespeare Company, he played Dogberry in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at London’s Novello Theatre in 2007, and at the Royal National Theatre he was in Improbable Theatre’s stage adaptation of the film, Theatre of Blood, in 2005.
In 2009, he talked about his life in A Life In Three Acts at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, a staged reading of transcripts of conversations with playwright Mark Ravenhill. Bourne worked with Ravenhill previously on a short play, Ripper, playing Queen Victoria at the Union Theatre in London in 2007.
A Life in Three Acts (Modern Plays) by Mark Ravenhill & Bette Bourne
Series: Modern Plays
Paperback: 64 pages
Publisher: Methuen Drama (August 18, 2009)
Amazon: A Life in Three Acts (Modern Plays)
With honesty, humour and occasional anger, performer Bette Bourne tells the playwright Mark Ravenhill about his brave and flamboyant life. Crafted from transcripts of a series of long, private conversations, actor Bette Bourne reminisces and replays scenes from his life from a postwar childhood,a stint as a classical actor in the late 60s, to living in a drag commune in Notting Hill and being an active member of the Gay Liberation Front. Bette then talks about his touring with the New York based Hot Peaches cabaret group and founding his own cabaret troop, Bloolips, which redefined the term gay theatre by creating their very own unique celebration of dramatic and colourful homosexuality. The piece, in three parts, marks a different series of events in Bette's life to reveal both a portrait of a pioneering, radical individual and a historical document of the struggles and achievements of gay liberation.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
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