I've been away from St.Mary's for a few days working in Spain with Spiral Theatre. It's been a brilliant adventure and I've learnt a great deal.
The company are run by three remarkable practitioners Chris Baldwin, Carolina Marcos and Marta Miramon who devise and implement community based participatory theatre work wherever they find an interest.
The time was too busy and special for me to hunt out a computer so here are some of my retrospective notes...
Thursday 26th February
Travelled to the village of Riello a couple of hours drive south of Oviedo, high in the mountains, close to Leon. I arrived late, but just in time to see the dress rehearsal by the villagers who have, with the guiding steer of Spiral, formed their own company 'Los Trashumantes.' I was warmly welcomed by the various members of the group. Manuel, Theo, Lola, Nellie, Ruben, Olga all came over to shake my hand and make me feel immediately at home.
The forum play, which Carolina will joker, has been in development for a few months and focuses on exploring recent government proposals to incorporate the Babia valley, close to where Riello is situated, into a new national park in an attempt to economically regenerate the area.
Whilst some members of the valley see opportunity for economic growth and environmental protection through the increased tourism projected, others fear that the influx might threaten the traditions as well as the peace and charm of their valley. Some of the land will have restricted use and some of it will be closed off to the public. As well as allowing the group to dramatise their own positions in the debate it's hoped that the performance tomorrow - scheduled for the afternoon, after a public meeting and communal lunch - will provoke an active dialogue between the rural communities and the urban decision makers. It is in contrast to the placatory question and answer sessions that sometimes stand for consultation in the UK.
Chris explained how the work had a double edge as the Riello actors had provided their own audience in the creation and structuring of their work. Many of the debates which are represented in the show had been rehearsed as a matter of course in the creation of the company and script. The act of creating the show had proved to be a form of public democracy in its own right. I couldn't stop thinking of the Prologue from The Caucasian Chalk Circle.
One decision which aroused great debate was the use by one of the characters in the play of the Internet. As Riello has no connection and none of the inhabitants in the village currently own a computer, it opened a discussion about the authenticity of the scene.
Initially the computer was included as an image of what might be? Should be? Could be? It led to the participants debating long and hard in rehearsal the reasons why they were not yet part of the World Wide Web. The very act of including such an image (an image perhaps of a potential future - with all the threat and possibility that any concept of the future holds) in the play is a highly political metaphor for both participants and audience.
At nine o'clock things came to a halt and the company dispersed to try and get a night's sleep before tomorrow's show. I'd got a hotel room booked in Leon, but my new Spiral friends thought this most bizarre and so I returned to their Casa Rural for a bottle of red wine, a beautiful cooked meal, using produce from Marta's father's garden, and the most comfortable sofa bed north of Madrid.