An interview with Stephanie Dale

Stephanie Dale

In 2015 Excavate ran a series of workshops and masterclasses for their Associate Artist team. One of these was with Stephanie Dale and David Edgar about the writing of the community play.

David Edgar wrote the first Dorchester Community Play ‘Entertaining Strangers’ which was produced in 1985 by the Colway Theatre Trust and was directed by Ann Jellicoe. It was also one of the few of these large scale plays to have a future life when it was rewritten and restaged in 1987 for the National Theatre. David then co-wrote ‘A Time To Keep’, the fifth Dorchester Community Play, with Stephanie Dale. This was produced in 2007 and directed by Jon Oram who had taken over as Director of the Colway Theatre Trust following the production of the first Dorchester play. (In 2000 the company, which has remained under the direction of Jon Oram, changed its name to Claque). Stephanie is now beginning work on what will be the seventh Dorchester play, produced by the Dorchester Community Plays Association, which was formed following ‘Entertaining Strangers’.

Whilst Claque still produce community plays across the UK and further afield, it is in the Dorchester Community Play that the theories and practice of the Ann Jellicoe model are perhaps most visible.

Stephanie has very kindly allowed me to track her progress as she researches and writes the play which will be performed in 2019. My first meeting with her was at her home in Birmingham in February of 2016 and the following is primarily based on that interview, with some additional material added at the beginning of this year.

Can I first ask you to introduce yourself?

I’m Stephanie Dale; I’m a Midlands based playwright. I write contemporary stage plays and stage adaptations. Part of my practice is about working in venues that are not traditional theatre spaces and working with large groups of social actors.

What do you mean by social actors?

I mean the people who are involved in the plays. I don’t particularly like the term amateur, and so I’m interested in exploring other titles, if there must be one. Jon Oram calls the group ‘social actors’. It’s a much more appropriate term because it encompasses what we are trying to do. The community who get involved are operating as performers but they’re not just coming to the space because they want their moment in the spotlight, they’re coming to the space because they want to work as a group, as a community, to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

And you’re writing the seventh Dorchester Community Play. So how did that come about?

Ever since Ann Jellicoe asked David Edgar to write ‘Entertaining Strangers’ 30 years ago, Dorchester stages a community play every five years. After ‘A Time to Keep,’ the DCPA staged ‘Drummer Hodge’ by Rupert Creed, which was terrific. Another few years passed, and then the energy to start thinking about the next community play emerged. People shouldn’t underestimate the time, energy, commitment and funding plays like this need; the people who are driving these projects are, particularly given the current financial climate, nothing short of incredible. In short, once that conversation began, the DCPA asked for expressions of interest and I said, yes, absolutely.

The play will be directed by Peter Cann who is a Midlands based writer/ director, and the musical director will be Tim Laycock.  We’ve all worked together many times before, which is a real bonus on a project of this scale. Peter’s a very dynamic and daring director who has considerable experience in creating large and visually thrilling spectacles, and he works exceptionally well with lots of people which is a skill in its own right. Tim lives in Dorset is and is very much part of the fabric of the Dorchester Community Play; his music is utterly delightful.

Can you tell me a little bit about the process of writing ‘A Time To Keep’?

David wrote the first Dorchester community play ‘Entertaining Strangers’ and he had been approached to do the next one. We’d both been down to see ‘Fire From Heaven’ (the fourth play, written by Rupert Creed and produced in 2002) and as a form I was completely staggered by the intensity of the experience. It was incredible and I did have a clichéd ‘this is what I want to do with my life’ moment. Maggie Ansell (a key member of the DCPA) and I were talking to in the bar afterwards, and, at that time, I’d recently finished the MA in playwriting at Birmingham and said to her that I that I’d be really interested in being involved. They were then starting talking to David about writing the fifth play but David said he didn’t want to do another one and so it was suggested that we write it together. The advantage of that was I was working with somebody who had done it before and who knew the opportunities and threats, and he got to share his knowledge of the process and see the work through another writer’s lens/imagination. And so were interviewed by the DCPA, they offered us the commission and we were given the time period (1804). We then just had to sit down and work out how we were going to work together, at that point we had been living together for ten years, so we were fairly confident that we would work together well; we have a shared theatrical language and are both very level-headed, so that was a considerable bonus.

Initially, we were given masses of research from the DCPA research team, which was then led by Jill Pope. In collaboration with DCPA we discussed our key storyline and worked on creating key characters from real people taken from municipal records. We drank a lot of coffee. We worked out who was going to be in each scene and what happened; I supposed that process took a few months – including a wonderful tour of the secret underground tunnels of Dorchester. During the first writing week we both picked scenes and went off and wrote them and read to them each other. And then we became curious to see if it were possible to write the middle scene together. And so, we sat round this very table and we didn’t look back. David is so incredibly meticulous in his plotting and had really pushed us to create, in essence, the novel version of the script, all we had to do was improvise the actual dialogue, and actually the writing came easy and was a massive amount of fun. Also, there are so many characters in a community play it’s not very often you have to say no to an idea. We laughed our way through writing it; it was a really lovely and treasured experience for both of us.

So they allocate the time period do they? Is that always what happens?

Yes. They choose a time period. Interestingly, because they have done so many community plays, they are now starting to hit a point where they’re running out of central historical events which had a massive, and therefore dramatic, impact on the town. There are certain time periods they don’t to explore yet because they think it’s either too close to people who may still be alive or possibly too contentious.

Is that because they are explicitly political subjects, rather social ones?

All of the plays have big political elements to them. And the new play (‘Spinning the Moon’) certainly will. The most obvious thing to do in Dorchester would be Hardy, and he featured in the last play (‘Drummer Hodge’ by Rupert Creed, produced in 2014) but a community play should be about a community not a single person and so they’ve cleverly avoided doing that. This time they’ve settled on the wool trade and the collapse of the manorial system, during the late fourteen hundreds. So at the moment I’m learning a lot about monks and sheep!

‘A Time To Keep’ is fascinating because it’s about putting on a community play. It didn’t feel like an in joke but to a certain extent it felt like the play was partly celebrating those people that had done it for so long and that it was partly a reflection on their experience over all that time. Was that something that you came up with and then what back to them and said ‘look; this is what we’re thinking of doing?’

The writer(s) are always consulting with the DCPA and the core team all along. It’s their play. At the time, we thought that we wanted to celebrate the fact that they have kept the tradition going, and with four plays under their belt, there were/are certain behaviours that keep appearing – such as the person who is very shy, but who turns out to have an unexpected skill – that would be recognised, and that was met very positively.  Also, because it was the fifth community play we did feel ‘no more crusading vicars’. And so we set out to create something that was going to amuse people, even though the second half gets deviously darker.

So can you tell me about the process for this play? When were you asked to do it; how long ago?

In 2015, Peter Cann and I were appointed and within weeks we went down to work with the DCPA research team. They’d already settled on the time period for the play, and Alison Payton, who was running the research group, had already unearthed masses of documents. She presented what they’d discovered so far and then we had conversations with about twelve people, and discovered their key areas of historical research. By the end of that meeting each person went away to explore a specific area. We arranged to meet again in November. When we went back down, we were amazed by the amount of work that the team had done. We had an incredibly useful feedback session and Peter Cann did a few exercises based on living in Dorchester then and now.

In the interim I’ve had parcels through the post and emails and ‘have you seen this and have you thought of this?’, so I’ve now amassed three folders of research – everything from the wool trade and how you clip a sheep through to what was being grown on the land, through to the end of the Wars of the Roses and people returning, and the plague was still around and still impacting on rural communities. I’ve just received a document about witchcraft; I can’t wait to read that.

Now I’m starting to look into those worlds and at the moment there are three main areas. We don’t yet know how they connect: first, the monasteries, so we’re looking at Abbotsbury  – amazing stories of corruption to be found there! And second, we’ve got shipwrecks – one of the first images that has held in my imagination was a shipwreck off the coast of Weymouth. (Joanna the Mad and her fleet were run ashore in June 1535). Third, the wool trade, or the collapse of the manorial system, – and the clearance of land for sheep. Obviously that’s fantastic in terms of conflict. The lords of the manor didn’t want to/couldn’t afford to put any more money into looking after their land so they start selling it off to their sewers. So for the richer folk, who could afford it, it was a fabulous opportunity, and they bought the land, and covered it in sheep, but that meant pushing a lot of people, who had worked as labours, off the manor houses  to live in the woods, and they became landless. I’m particularly engaged with the disposed and how they managed. Part of creating a community play is about trying to form dynamic groups that an audience will remember. In reality, audiences aren’t going to remember one or two hundred characters but they will remember groupings: the rich, the poor, the smugglers; and the thrill as a playwright it is in creating those worlds and those teams of people. So at the moment I’m spinning those three areas and trying to work out what will be born from all of that.

And are they nearly always social groups?

Yes.

So inherently they rub up against each other?

Yes. And we look for the overlaps. Who is connecting those groups? Who is causing chaos through those groups? Where is the conflict of role and status? What is particularly brilliant about the wool trade is that the shepherds pass the wool on to the packers, who then pass the wool on to the women, who spin in the cottages, who then pass the wool on to the clothiers; that chain is really interesting. Currently I’m considering what if all the stories from the play come from one clip of a sheep, and where does that ball of wool go, and how does that open out and filter through into the town?

What DCPA have done brilliantly in the past is stage large-scale historically accurate stories and  what I’d like to do with this play is bring in an element of magical realism and do things that are slightly less traditional. Each time we create work like this it’s about considering what has gone before and figuring out an original way of engaging with the process and creating a fresh and vibrant way of performing the work and telling a new story.

How many people are in the research team?

There are around 12 people, some of whom were on the research team for the first community play. A lovely example would Billie Brown who is a key member of the group; she knows everything there is to know about Dorchester and is a specialist in period clothing.  As a writer it’s just such a joy and a treat to have that kind of assistance. Where else do you get that kind of support where you’re writing something and think ‘oh I’d quite like to know about the monastic daily ritual?’ I remember sending off an email about that very thing and by that evening I’d received four emails back, that kind of response is incredible; absolutely brilliant.

At the moment you’re knee deep in reading all the material and beginning to formulate things that you want to focus on. What is your next stage? How often do you meet the committee?

I’m due to meet with them again in April. And April is when we will say ‘here’s the outline of this play’, which is a little bit daunting because there is so much to read and process and time is going ridiculously quickly. I feel very secure that we have the worlds; what I don’t have yet is the plot. I’m writing in a different way this time – normally I would have the story and have a definite through line but this time I‘ve made many detailed lists: the groupings of people, and a list of what are the most amazing things that could happen within these worlds, a list of key events; lists of food, hobbies, religious ceremonies; new laws; requests for changes in the town – what made me smile was seeing a document that was calling for Dorchester to have a one-way system. Basically, at this stage, I have key places for scenes and who will be in them. So we know for example that we want to a ceremonial scene set at Abbotsbury monastery because we know that will be spectacular. Just imagine, one hundred monks lit by candlelight walking through the space singing in prayer, children with palm leaves…And then I have a list of the more unusual things that night happen within those spaces, but I’m not going to discuss that yet. My plan at the minute is to just keep reading.

Does writing help? Just trying to get something down on the page?

I’m not ready to do that yet. What I’m slowly doing is finding that story telling voice that I think will run throughout. The most important thing I’m having at the moment is meetings with Peter Cann where we sit down and talk about the ideas I’ve had within that week; we meet on a weekly basis. A hobby of the time was flying hawks so we spent time talking about how we could do that. We’re both very theatrical visual so that’s what we’re playing with at the moment; central dramatic images.

I’d like to come back to those who ended up living in the woods…

Yes; part of writing a community play is to explore cultural resonances with the past and present. I get frustrated when people say community plays are just about putting on a big piece of theatre; it is far more involved and significant than that. It’s about bring a group of people together to create a community, to explore the place where they spend their lives, to look at what was happening then and now and compare that to the past. It’s about creating life-long intergenerational links and it’s about giving a community the confidence and skills to see what they can achieve together. Currently the world is experiencing a refugee crisis. Part of the landless plot will explore how it must feel to be forced to leave your home. Peter and I are always keen to ask ‘how is the past connecting with now?’ And I think that is one very clear example. They are landless, they are moving, they’re dispossessed, they’re moving on; how does that feel?  It’s a really interesting period to explore because the wool trade is making people prosperous again post war – but equally that’s causing people to lose their land and leave the fields and be forced into being homeless.

And is Dorchester’s wealth originally built on the wool trade?

Yes. That said, there were many villages around Dorchester that were abandoned and no longer exist because there was just no need for them. They were completely wiped out by people getting rid of their patches of land and letting the sheep cover it. Also, Calais at that time was an incredibly rich and prosperous town because that’s where the key meetings for the price of wool were held. Again, it’s interesting to reflect on the opinion held of Calais then and now.

What do you think are the expectations of the commissioners and the audience for this play? Is that something you have at the back of your mind?

The standard of the work in the past has been incredibly high, as has the standard of performance. In the past, all of the directors have been brilliant at working with a huge group of people who of course have varying levels of performance skill and capabilities. All of the plays have had a core team of professionals who have delivered to the highest standard and delivered excellent pieces of theatre.

It’s no coincidence that the shows always sell out. A joy of working on a show with one hundred and twenty people is that there’s an audience already built in. But people do come from far and wide to see the Dorchester Community Play and so the expectation, and pressure, of it being incredible it certainly there.

I think from the social actor’s point of view they want to develop their skills, meet new people and be a part of something they will remember for the rest of their lives, and do something they haven’t done before – particularly if they have been involved in previous plays. The DCPA always have a public reading of the play and then people then express an interest. Once the professional team have got a rough idea of numbers then the writer will rewrite the play according to how many people say they want to be involved. Everyone who wants to be in the play can be, the work will be adapted to suit numbers and key skills.

So, yes, expectation is high, and that’s a little bit scary but we having an excellent core team of professionals and the DCPA, because it is so established, have an experienced body of social actors. Also they are always involving new people and so that keeps the talent fresh and vibrant.

You were talking about bringing something new to the form. Do you think that the commissioners have a sense that ‘these are the ingredients of the community play?’ Do you think they have a sense, maybe an unspoken sense, of this is how you write a community play?

This is what we trying to break a little bit; and part of the reason why we got the commission. Of course it helps that I’ve seen the last three shows and have a deep knowledge and an experience of that place. As part of the interview for the work we stated that this is how we’ve/you’ve done it so far let’s now try and switch it up a gear and there is a really positive attitude towards that feeling.  In the past there have been those social groupings who have had their scenes and then we move on. What we’re interested in is – let’s go back to the shipwreck -rather than people standing around the edges who are waiting for their moment how can everybody in this space be involved in this shipwreck? Is there a way of everybody making a noise or sound or movement so it’s even more of a collective experience? Obviously that’s not going to be possible for the entire two hours but I think there’s a different type of story-telling that hasn’t been tried yet.

Are you the first female writer of the Dorchester play?

The first Dorchester community play was produced in 1985. Ann Jellicoe, who was the founder of the Colway Theatre Trust had been working and producing large-scale plays in Lyme, wrote ‘Under the God’ for Dorchester in 1992 and has been a massive part of the organisation. (Ann’s book ‘Community Plays: How to put them on, is a practical and really useful resource for anyone contemplating creating work of this kind). I was the first woman to adapt the Chester Mystery Plays in 2012. Deborah McAndrew is currently working on the 2018 version.

Are there any other plays that you can think of, or films even, that on some level are parked at the back of your head in providing a possible language for this play that you’re groping towards?

In terms of language, no is the short answer, although in terms of energy we keep talking about Peaky Blinders. There’s an instinctive feeling of the world we’re going to create and it comes from working on the last two or three pieces. Of course, there is something about going to see other pieces of similar work that’s inspiring too – recently I saw Birmingham Opera’s latest piece; they create exceptional pieces of community work. You never ever see any of the company waiting to perform their moment, they’re always doing, always active, always productive. Demographically, their community tends to be diverse and perhaps slightly younger, probably in their twenties, but they never stop.

DCPA loved working with Nina (Hajiyianni, the Director of ‘Fire From Heaven’, the fourth play, produced in 2002) because Nina did a substantial amount of character work with the social actors and it set up the relationships within the family groupings. When they weren’t on stage they were living their family life, and they all understood who they were in relation to one another, and they carried on living that world for the whole two hours. It’s about keeping the energy. It’s keeping the world alive.

That brings back a memory of my first workshop for ‘The Tide’ (the second community play produced by the Colway Theatre Trust in Seaton, East Devon in 1980 which I performed in as a teenager). It was absolutely about that, of family groupings working together. So you’ve set yourself a challenge. Has this come from the experience of writing your previous community play for them?

It’s about developing as a writer and wanting to do something new; wanting to do something different. I had a conversation with Rupert (Creed) because Rupert wrote ‘Fire From Heaven’ and then he did ‘Drummer Hodge.’ He said: “If you’re asked back you sort of have to give them a different present, you can’t give them the same thing; and you have to find a way of working in a different way.” At one point, around the period we’re looking at, people started sending me research documents about smugglers. We’ve been there; done that, in ‘A Time to Keep’ we can’t head back to that territory again.

I’ve recently been in Dorchester and have met with some of the people who have been in previous shows. A lot of them were coming up to me and saying ‘I was rich last time or I was poor last time’ and I’ve had a couple of people come up to me and say ‘I’ve always played nice characters, I’d love to play a nasty character’. They want to try something new too.

Have you read all the texts for all of the other plays?

Yes.

What did you learn from writing the last one that you know you’re going to carry into this?

The social groupings; definitely.

Something David (Edgar) and I discussed a lot was how to get the audience to remember characters that are key to the plot. For example, one of the characters in ‘A Time To Keep’ needed to be kept in the audiences’ mind and so we gave him a stammer. Another character held vital information was placed in a wheelchair. The wheelchair acted as a visual signifier. The audience had over 100 characters to hold on to, so finding ways to help them was/is key.

It’s also vital to remember what one hundred and thirty people can do well together. If that many people are in a space and placed, staged on different levels of scaffolding, lit and costumed well, and they sing as a collective, well, that’s hugely impressive. If you get one hundred and thirty people all carrying candles it’s beautiful, or to create a morning at Dorchester market, it’s so much fun and a joy to watch. Also remember that the DCPA shows are promenade productions, so the audience is in and amongst all of the action, which makes them part of the world of the play and not separated by the seating/stage divide.

There has to contrasts. A director can create a really intimate moment, and have children pulling at you as a member of the audience asking a question, and then you can open that tiny moment out to the rest of the cast. I love that kind of whispering in the ear and then suddenly it’s way out there, around the space, it’s all around you. That kind of really intimate, intense moment that may be so up close and personal but then suddenly you open that out as a something to share with hundreds of people.

Also, in Jon Oram’s afterword for ‘A Time To Keep’ (published by Nick Hern Books) he says ‘The plays themselves should implicate the audience’. I’m passionate about in this; and when I write I think of the community audience as an implicit character(s) somehow and try and find ways of linking the community of the play to the community of the audience. In ‘A Time to Keep’ we had a sequence where goods were smuggled through the town. The social actors asked the audience for help and food and drink was passed, chain-like, across the space, which at that point in the play was operating as Dorchester High Street.

You have said that you want to connect the play in some way to what is happening now. Are there specific things in Dorchester that you feel it would be interesting to refer to in some way in the play? Are there things that you think ‘it would be a bit tricky to do this but it would be interesting’?

We have talked to many people in Dorchester and have asked them what they think the current issues are. Dorchester is by and large a very lucky, prosperous town but there issues in the environs, those issues will be considered and may well be introduced as a theme of the play. (Issues such as lack of car parking, government cuts, affordable housing, and the price of food are often high up the list). When I adapted the Chester Mystery Plays director Peter Leslie Wild and I spent two months in Chester asking the community ‘what’s going on here?’ And the responses that we gathered were fed back into the work in various ways. The playwright can show the community back to itself. Also, as a writer you know you will always get the big laughs from things that do reference, however obliquely, the things that are going on and that people relate to. That’s important; that’s part of the deal. I know the line in the new play about Dorchester needing a one-way system will get a big laugh; it will mean something, it is a moment of shared experience.

Is that something that has happened or not in the history of the play? This sense of making connections with now? In the first play (Entertaining Strangers) you get a sense of where David’s heart is but it comes across as very much a moral argument rather than something perhaps connected to a specific community. Did that sense of connecting the historical story to what is happening in the community now occur in ‘A Time To Keep?’

That is largely to do with ‘Entertaining Strangers’ being the first DCPA play, they didn’t know then that the tradition was going to keep going and that such a legacy would grow. All of the plays have had connections with now. In our play, ‘A Time to Keep’ we also wanted to celebrate the fact it was the fifth community play and looked to the past when a new theatre manager had moved to Dorchester and was struggling to fund his theatre and create new and dynamic work, so no change there! And whilst we took all the names and dates from the municipal records and key family trees, we also had fun with the form. Both the audience and the social actors laughed at the idea of somebody turning up late for rehearsal because they recognised the format. People love to recognise themselves or situations. It’s about recognising yourself and your place in the community and how you fit.

So what are you most excited and anxious about?

There is something beautiful about printing off your first draft of a complete play and knowing what is to come. There is something very magical and rather peculiar about writing; it’s a strange process whereby the writer somehow ends up with a block of white paper, which contains many black dots, and that will move out of the writer’s hands and become, through other peoples’ labours something extraordinary. What am I terrified about? It’s a terrific team. I’m anxious that the community love the play and love being part of it. I’m anxious about reading the play – DCPA invite the playwright to read the whole play to the community – to give the play as it were to them. Very Chekhovian!

That still happens? (I remember this from my time as a teenager in three community plays produced by Colway Theatre Trust).

That still happens. It was lovely when we shared ‘A Time To Keep’ because there were two of us and that was a wonderful experience; and Tim (Laycock, the Musical Director) came and played music and sang the songs. But I’m a writer, I prefer being in the back with my cup of coffee watching.

When you read all of the previous plays did you get a sense that there is a type of script that the Dorchester Community Play requires?

We (Stephanie and David Edgar) lecture on writing community plays, most recently at a conference on Medieval and Early Modern England, in Montpellier. We suggest a list of ten core things. The main question we pose is ‘what is the core event that affects everybody in that town?’ Writers should search for the core muscle at the centre of the play, the thing that impacts on everyone. In ‘Fire from Heaven’ it was the fire, in a ‘Time to Keep’ it was the threat of Napoleonic invasion and how to deal with the troops moving in on Dorchester.

And yes, there is a kind of Ann Jellicoe model that has worked very successfully. But, like life, things are constantly developing and moving forward.

Other than the Dorchester plays are there any other community plays that you’ve been able to read?

Yes, for example I’ve read a lot of Jon Oram’s work. I think he’s on play forty or not far off. But community plays by and large are not to be published and so they do disappear. We were very lucky that ‘A Time To Keep’ was published and we were asked by drama schools if we could do a version that had fifty characters for a company of about fourteen, which we did. So ‘A Time To Keep’ has had a life beyond Dorchester. That was interesting because it had a mixed response from the community because there were those who said ‘oh brilliant you’re going to take our story and it’s going to be told elsewhere’, and there were those who felt ‘well actually it’s a community play and we shouldn’t be doing that, that’s against the whole ethos of what we’re trying to create here’.

Jon’s has this beautiful notion that when you’re watching the last show of a community play it is like watching a firework and you’re watching the show go out in front of you. It’s true, but maybe that’s what has to happen. That we go back and we revisit these points in history and we let those people live again, but just for a short time.

Because we do, we bring these characters, who were based on real people, and we let them live again. My recent paper on community plays was called ‘Walking with Ghosts’; that’s what’s happening, we are creating a vital living history.

This time, because we’re looking at the fourteen hundreds we’ve been able to find lots of lists of men, but very few women are listed because they weren’t recorded on any of the documents. In the past we have tried very hard that every character is based on a real person. At least find out their name, age, occupation and use that within the piece. What’s lovely within the Dorchester community play is that people have got to play their Great Great Great Grandfathers, and their Great Great Great Grandmothers and that’s rather beautiful; people are often very moved by that.

There is something exquisite about walking down Dorchester High Street, and knowing where people from ‘A Time To Keep’ used to live. I love standing outside a little shop and knowing that Elizabeth and Maria Meech used to live in that particular house; one lived downstairs, one lived upstairs and that one was a Conservative and one was as far left as it was possible to get. And they used to like wearing blue hats.

Recently I created a show based on an explosion at a munitions factory in Nottinghamshire and at the end we had record cards of all of those who were killed pegged out on a rope that stretched across the square in which we were performing. And a number of people came up to ask if they could have these cards because they had the name of their relative on. And we told them that they were just props but they still wanted them. And I wonder what will happen to them, if they will be passed down as family heirlooms. It may be that something that has been created from an act of the imagination will enter into the historical archive as a documented reality.

Wonderful. It is about that connection isn’t it? It’s all about connections and hooking back into the past and simultaneously throwing that forward. I am a keen geologist and the law of uniformitarianism – the present is the key to the past – is alive and well.  We are simultaneously making connections with the past and asking ‘what does the future hold?’ and ‘what are we saying about then and now and tomorrow?’

This doesn’t seem to me to be a form of theatre that has much literature surrounding it.

I am a visiting lecturer on the Applied and Community course at Birmingham School of Acting and students ask ‘what’s our reading list’? and in reference to community plays I am still asking them to read  Ann Jellicoe’s book, (Community Plays, Methuen, 1987), which as brilliant but things have moved on. Jon Oram is working on a book, which I’ve been privileged to read some of; it is detailed, current, and tremendously insightful and needs to be published as soon as possible. Working on the Applied Course and continuing to work in this field, I’d be really interested to interview some of the students who have graduated and who are creating similar work within communities. I think there is a way of comparing the work then and what’s happening now, and engaging in a dialogue about what’s different, what’s changed, and considering where do we go from here.

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