About Us

One of the UK’s most versatile and inventive outdoor arts companies, Desperate Men’s mischievous, warm hearted work invites audiences to ask serious questions about the world.

“People tend to forget that play is serious” DAVID HOCKNEY

Desperate Men have been inviting people to play for over 42 years, creating, performing and producing ground-breaking outdoor theatre in the UK and internationally.

We’re always looking for new partners and projects so if you want to test the limits of our imagination (and we’re pretty sure it’s limitless), give us a call. As creative producers, we work on large-scale outdoor art projects and collaborate with other partners and arts organizations. We also create bespoke performances, street animations and education projects on commission.

Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, from working with local authorities to engage communities to setting up partnerships with other artists. We’re particularly skilled at encouraging participation from audiences and communities – even hard-to-reach ones – as you can see from the extensive local involvement in projects like the Wye Valley River Festival and Battle for the Winds.

We are also adept at creating shows that respond to landscape and the environment, and at finding enterprising ways to bring subjects like science and history to life. Whether we’re persuading people to root for an eight-foot long latex sturgeon, working with an internationally renowned poet to fill the streets with words or taking 2012 torches out to sea, we always take play very seriously.

Water Balloon Toss

“… the work you did [for the Wye Valley River Festival] surpassed anything we even dreamed of right at the beginning … It got a message out to thousands that we would never have been able to do.”

Nikki Moore, Information Officer, Wye Valley AONB


Desperate Men has been at the forefront of outdoor arts in the UK since it was founded in 1980 in Berlin by Richie Smith and Jon Beedell. Our original manifesto laid out our intention to ‘Make mincemeat of flimsy reality’, and we leapt at the task with enthusiasm, creating innovative, anarchic, thoughtful shows in collaboration with an ever evolving pool of extraordinary performers and artists.

Our repertoire has grown to include large-scale outdoor arts commissions as well as smaller shows, but we’ve stayed true to our mission to throw the fantastic, surreal, hilarious and moving into everyday life and make people think while we’re at it; creating miniature riots, scientific comedies, riverbank festivals and even our own language (Desperanto).

Desperate Men history

We like working with people too – we’ve collaborated with Cirque Bijou, Pa-Boom, Avanti Display, Circomedia, Circus Space and Bristol Old Vic Circus School, Pervasive Media Studio, Igfest, Gloucestershire Dance, The Roses Theatre Tewkesbury, Pickled Image, The Cube Cinema, Soundbeam, Blackout Arts, Leo Bassi, Mummerandada, Kneehigh, Footsbarn, Ra Ra Zoo, Circus Burlesque, No Fit State Circus, Green Ginger, Disco Sister, Angela de Castro, Sean Gandini, Dark Horse, The World Famous Firework Company, to name but a few!

This article by Richie Smith written for the Festival of Desperation tells you a bit more about our ethos and raison d’etre.

We’ve built up a not inconsiderable list of gigs and achievements in 42 years of being Desperate Men, some of which are listed here.



JON BEEDELL – Artistic Director

Started the company in 1980 with Richie Smith in Berlin … never thinking it would still exist now.

Performer, Writer, Director, Musician and Co-Artistic director with Richard Headon of DM projects, he produced, managed, wrote, devised and performed in all the company’s productions and events.

Hated working at laptops, emails, mobile phones, and screens of any kind and was happiest in a field full of actors and artists grappling with the impossible.

He believed street theatre can change the world – re-connecting people with each other, reclaiming public spaces, inviting participation and direct involvement in making things happen – the imperative democratic performative – with provocative thinking, smiles, laughter, happy tears and new ideas.


A message from Richie

Jon B sadly and unexpectedly left his body on December 11th 2022. He was 70.

As a co-founder of Desperate Men, I just wanted to say that what we created back in 1980 lasted far, far longer than he could ever have dreamed of and went to places that he could never have imagined. It was a hell of a trip. There have been hundreds of collaborators and fellow ‘disruptionistas’ along the way. Some have stayed in the Desperate Men family for many years, some fleetingly for weeks, days or even hours. And where would we be without the thousands of people who have watched our mad antics over the years? We thank you all – from the heart of our bottoms

Jon leaves behind a massive hole and a huge trail of mayhem, beauty, creativity and love. He will be sorely missed. Happy Trails brother.

Richie Smith, January 2023

Jon Beedell


RICHARD HEADON – Artistic Director

Richard joined Desperate Men in 1996. Current projects include Co-Artistic Director for The Wye Valley River Festival (WVRF) 2016 and the Bristol 2015 Green Capital project Bristol Loves Tides. Previously he has provided creative direction for The Nativity Cycle, The WVRF 2014, Battle for the Winds (Cultural Olympiad 2012), The Severn Project (2006-09).

Performance work includes Slapstick and Slaughter, Darwin and the Dodo, Rick, Dick and Vic, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Lighthouse, in Cirque Bijou’s Sequins and Sawdust and An Oak Tree with Tim Crouch. His installations and outdoor animations include Dancing Bear Cheese, The Eco Pirates, The Piss Pot Pirates, Kippered In

He has provided dramaturgy for Circus Space production of Happy Families, coordinated ‘What If’ a circus and street performance training week and is also a Tutor / Role Player for Bristol University Primary Health Care Dept in Communication Skills.

After gaining a B.A. (Theatre and Politics) at Rolle College, Exmouth, Richard toured cabaret round Devon with ‘The Fat Cat Floorshow’. From there he worked in community touring, at The Wyvern Theatre, Swindon, pantomime at The Wilde Theatre, Bracknell and devised shows for The Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood. As a drama worker with Newham Health Authority he created cross art projects while with ‘The Crew’ in Bristol he created outdoor spectaculars.



Co – founder of the Company. Actor, Director, Musician, Ecologist.

After gaining a degree in Education, and simultaneously getting involved with Jonathan Kay’s Attic Theatre, he set off around the world, but only got as far as Amsterdam. It was here that he continued his performing career with Friends Roadshow and met Jon Beedell.

As well as full on Desperation he has also worked with many other companies including Mummerandada, Kneehigh, Fortunati, Dot Comedy, Fairplay, Stickleback Plasticus and the late, great Vivian Stanshall.

He combined playing in the band with directing Circus Burlesque in their ground breaking show ‘Alice’ – which travelled to the USA for the World Theatre Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1990.

Richie’s directing talents have benefited Parachute Puppets, Le La Les, No Fit State Circus and Swamp Circus among others. He directed Green Ginger in their award winning production – ‘Bambi – The Wilderness Years’, and The World Famous and Peepolykus in the outdoor spectacular ‘Blast’. He directed ‘The Nativity Cycle’ in 2014 for Desperate Men.

Richie has lectured at Hereford College of Art and Design, Bath Spa University College and Bristol University.

He switched career in 2003 after re-training in Countryside Management and worked for Wildlife Trusts in Dorset, Somerset and then for 5 years with Avon Wildlife Trust. Can occasionally be seen working with festival favourites Bramble FM. He plays drums with Here Come The Nightjars (available for all your functions, parties etc …) and makes top quality cider.


Desperate Men’s composer, musician and workshop leader since 1992, including music and soundscapes for The Fountain, In The Arms of an Angel, Miracle Show, Rick, Dick and Vic – Extreme! the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Severn Project, Slapstick and Slaughter, Nativity Cycle and two Wildstreet events (street music spectaculars) as Artistic Director.

Shirley originally attended Dartington College of Arts and Exeter University, (Cert Ed). At Oxford Brookes University she achieved a distinction in her Masters in Interdisciplinary Arts and Sonic Art and Composition and in 2014 completed an AHRC research funded PhD.

She has also produced, played and composed music for many other theatre and dance companies including Circus Burlesque, Travelling Light, Pickled Image, Ra Ra Zoo, the Gandinni Juggling Project, Doo Cot Theatre, Lindsey Butcher, Angela de Castro, Disco Sisters, New English Dance, Acta Community Theatre. Working across disciplines Shirley has been making work for Modern Art Oxford, Audiograft (Oxford Brookes University), BEAM Festival (Brunel University), the Festival of Desperation – Bristol, and Bath Fringe.


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