My friend Jan Dungey, who has died aged 68, was a founder of Cunning Stunts, an all-female theatre company that performed at festivals, village halls and clubs around the UK – as well as in women’s prisons and psychiatric units – between 1977 and 1982.
Jan was also a performer with the company as it created a spontaneous form of theatre that was socially aware and non-elitist, highlighting “the absurdity of male behaviour” and flouting the prevailing glamorous image of women as entertainers.
A force to be reckoned with and standing at 6ft 2in, she was a memorable presence wherever she went, a beautiful and fearless woman who carried a bright flame of inspiration that was fanned by her determination, intelligence and infectious humour.
Jan had a powerful singing voice, and also performed blues and country songs at some of the countercultural Albion Fairs that took place around East Anglia in the early 1980s.
After the demise of Cunning Stunts she decamped to Bungay in Suffolk, which became home for the rest of her life. There she conceived and set up the Company of Imagination (1986-91), a multidisciplinary group that created site-specific outdoor promenade performances, known as “animated trails”, in rural and urban settings. Many of the company’s projects were created with schoolchildren, enabling them to explore, understand and respond to their local environment. Jan was instrumental in making sure that most of the projects were funded by an unusual mix of environmental, built-heritage and arts bodies.
She was born in Maidstone in Kent, to Grace (nee Murdoch), a secretary, and her husband, James Dungey, an architect and surveyor. After attending Maidstone girls’ grammar school, she took a degree in English literature at Bristol University from 1971 to 1974 and then did performance studies for a year at Bretton Hall College of Education in West Yorkshire.
When the Company of Imagination folded in the early 90s, Jan had stints as a council arts officer in Maidstone and then Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. Local authorities were not her natural home, and although she managed to be of great help to the creative sectors in both towns, including through setting up SeaChange Arts (now Out There Arts), an independent arts development charity in Great Yarmouth, she frequently ran up against the system that employed her.
In 2000 she returned to freelance and self-directed projects. Despite having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 90s she continued to initiate many creative projects, and in 2010 was a co-founder of Waveney & Blyth Arts on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.
After 20 years of the creeping paralysis of MS, Jan was undone by Covid-19.
She is survived by her long-term partner, Steve Cooke, whom she met when he was an electrician helping to set up the Albion Fairs.