RACHELLE ELLIS (d.2006)
Rachelle Ellis (née Wolff) (1925-2006)
Rachelle died peacefully at home on the 17 November  at the age of 81. She had Parkinson’s Disease for some years; recently her condition deteriorated and she was only able to visit The Questors in her wheelchair.
The Questors did play a very big part in her life. She passed an audition for acting membership in 1949 and almost immediately got the leading role in Chekhov’s The Bear, followed by another plum role in The Gentle People.
She was appointed General Manager of The Questors in 1950, when Rena Rice left , but she gave that up when we got married in 1951. (Yes, “we met in Mattock Lane!”)
There was then a break of several years while our boys were very young, but she came back in 1960 to play Lina Szczepanowska in Shaw’s Misalliance, and a lesser role in A Month in The Country by Turgenev in 1962.
She strayed briefly into directing with the English premiere of a new play Quoat-Quoat by Jacques Audiberti in 1965, and that was the end of her mainstream involvement with The Questors, except that I vividly remember a little ‘cameo’ performance where she played Hecuba, cradling her murdered child, which brought the entire audience to tears.
But Rachelle had not finished with The Questors; the PlayBack team were just setting up their ‘mobile’ group with Soapsud Island a highly successful musical play about the Acton Laundries. It toured round many different venues and Rachelle was very involved with the management and organisational side of things. They took the production up to Edinburgh and it was a great success.
Rachelle’s professional career in social work had gone along with her work at The Questors. When she eventually retired (from a very senior position) she still found time and the energy to help out at The Questors Box Office, as well as coming to productions.
The last play Rachelle saw at The Questors was Ibsen’s An Enemy of The People, which she enjoyed from her wheelchair. We were delighted that so many of her old friends were there to talk to her.
RACHELLE ELLIS AND PLAYBACK
Rachelle Ellis was one of the group of Questors members who, back in 1989, started PlayBack except at the time, it wasn’t called PlayBack. It was just a group of members who got together to talk about developing some form of reminiscence theatre initiative. At that time, the idea of using people’s memories to create drama was a new and unfamiliar concept, and there was no obvious way of going about it. Developing PlayBack and its own particular approach to creating reminiscence plays took lots of discussion, some training, and then we made it up as we went along!
Rachelle’s contribution was very distinctive, and a clear reflection of her personality and experience. Her social work background meant that she not only had good interviewing skills, but, more importantly, she understood that asking people to look back on their lives could prompt negative as well as positive memories. She made us aware of the need for sensitivity, and drafted the first set of guidelines we followed when interviewing older people. Rachelle was also the first to remind us of the need to consider our contributors when putting on our plays, both at The Questors and out in the community. The need to create a shared experience, involving older audience members, is something that still informs our work with the Reminiscence Roadshow today.
Rachelle made another very valuable, and more practical, contribution to PlayBack she was superb when it came to organising food and drink for the team! For example, when we took our first play, Soapsud Island, to Blackheath to perform for another group doing reminiscence work, Rachelle and husband Peter turned up in their camper van with lunch for the rest of us. She was also part of the PlayBack team that took Soapsud Island to Edinburgh, first to the Questors venue on the Fringe and then on tour to community audiences. Again, Rachelle provided practical help; she drove up to Edinburgh so that we had the use of her car to ferry people around.
Throughout her involvement with PlayBack, Rachelle was a quiet voice in an often busy and noisy team, gently suggesting and reminding, and always making sure no one was left out. She has left all those of us who worked with her with very fond memories.