Thursday, 31 December 2009

Chasing Becks through Milan.

I'm ending the year in Italy - catching up with friends. Firstly Venice to see Feda, Bruna and Gianni and now onto Milan to spend some time with Paola, Paolo and their four month year old son Mario.

It's been quite a year for Paolo not only fatherhood, but he also happened to be in the right place at the right time a couple of weeks ago when Berlusconi had a statuette of the Duomo thrown in his face. Paolo's photo whizzed round the world in seconds and for a vital few minutes it was the hottest digital image on the planet, grabbing the attention of Reuters, who ever since have been offering him regular paid assignments.
... And so it was that we set off on a vesper through the frozen cobbled streets to try and catch David Beckham's arrival at his first press conference since his return to the city.

It struck me standing in the cold outside an exclusive hotel in the fashion district, waiting for him that few others have had quite the global impact on the decade that Becks has had. Blair? Obama? One went, one arrived - but Becks seems to have spanned the whole period.

He began the noughties still in disgrace for being sent off against Argentina in Lyon in 1998 - but quickly redeemed himself by marrying a Spice Girl, scoring a last minute free kick against Greece to take us to Japan in 2002 and a life changing penalty against the Argentinians to complete his prodigal return. Then came disappointments against Portugal, a move to Real Madrid and celebrity super stardom and now here he is in the fag end of his football career, trying to find form and enough competitive games to sneak a place on the plane to his fourth World Cup finals in South Africa next year. Is there one more chapter to write, one more iconic miracle?
Suddenly he was with us, dapper in waistcoat and tie, sweeping past without stopping in his black people carrier. The paps - including Paolo panicked and realising he was heading through the backdoor sprinted round the block to try and catch him there.

I didn't run. The decade was drawing to a close and if we're honest we've all lost a little pace; the future is probably Aaron Lennon's.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Oxfordshire Nativity.

Christmas has been really relaxing. I've spent the last few days back in rural Oxfordshire putting my thoughts about the trip to Cantabria in some kind of order. Appleford has many things in common with Bielva - it's about the same size and demographic and coming back here straight after Spain makes me realise how attached to my own sense Eden I am.

When I was growing up the village came together once a year for the fete, which I remember as always taking place on a hot and sunny Saturday in June. It was always a mixture of things - part car boot sale, part Aunt Sally competition and part cakes and traction engines... but it was always magic and everybody seemed to join in with contributions to the tombola, by swapping junk or baking something. One year Dad won half a pig in the nine pin bowling, which we couldn't fit into the fridge so it had to be donated to our trunk freezer owning neighbours. These kind of events quickly gather mythical status.

This year Helen, our fun filled vicar, who amongst other radical initiatives hands out Rolos during her sermons, organised the Appleford nativity - which I missed - but seems to have been another successfully organised community gathering. Chocolate the donkey was hired from a sanctuary for the day and the village elders gathered on the green in dressing gowns and tea towels to walk up Church Street knocking on three doors where pre rehearsed exchanges took place with unfriendly inn keepers. One was too busy watching Strictly Come Dancing, another had lots of relatives over and a third was worried about Chocolate defecating on the rhododendrons. Eventually everybody arrived at the church where not only was a warm nativity crib found, but also a pile of mince pies and mulled wine for every one.


Monday, 21 December 2009

The Habit of Art

London is full of slush. I had lunch with Patrick and Claire from Tfac, over here for Christmas, and we talked through a couple of ideas for bringing further performance skills into some of the facilitator training back in Malawi, particularly as a way of collating evidence for baseline assessments through improvisation. Monitoring attitudes towards safe sex is one of the key tools used to prove the work is ultimately effective in HIV/AIDS reduction and helps funders decide whether to support the work or not.

Boal's notion of 'The Joker' - a figure able to mitigate the relationship between the audience and actors seems a way forward. In effect we'd monitor behaviour and attitude amongst participants, through forum work - taking them through three or four increasingly complicated provocations with the facilitators trained as jokers to regulate the level of antagonism offered. In this way we'd build in the flexibility to complicate the improvisations and hope to overcome the problem of participants revealing what they think we'd like to see, rather than there own behaviour. I argue that this would produce a more authentic set of results. It's a fusion of sociological research and play.

In the evening I went to the National to see The Habit of Art. It's a complex, layered and deeply melancholic play. Early in the season the theatre premiered The Power of Yes, a play essentially about the inability to write a play about the credit crunch. Now Alan Bennett has given us a play that also comes at it's subject sideways.

The conceit is that a National Theatre Company are rehearsing a new work about an imagined meeting between the poet W.H Auden and composer Benjamin Britten. As the director has been called away to a conference on the future of regional theatre in Leeds - the rehearsal is left in the capable hands of the stage manager, brilliantly played by Frances De La Tour. This Pirandello type set up gives volume for any number of knowing jokes and debates about rehearsals, the role and relationships between key creative figures in the process, theatre itself, as well as providing a tiny window into both artists' desire to create and the personal cost of doing so. Ironically the clever triple frame of watching an NT play about a rehearsal of a NT play allows Bennett to defend the very act of crafting a tuned, nuanced script rather than indulging for the sake of it in the visual or experimental.

It's heavy weight work, peppered with excellent performances Richard Griffiths nobly inheriting Auden, a part clearly written for Michael Gambon, Alex Jennings wonderful as Britten. Elliot Levey and Adrian Scarborough offer super support as the over protective playwrite and the under developed character. Ultimately I felt I'd been taken on a meandering journey exploring a topic with no particular thesis before being landed smoothly back to earth. In a final moment the stage manager checks the empty room and turns out the lights, knowing we'll all be back tomorrow. Perhaps, after all, that is all that can be truthfully said about theatre.

Time to Go

Sunday 20th December 2009.

It's time to go and let Bielva return to it's own sense of normality. After a late breakfast we made our way to Mass, responding to an invitiation made earlier in the week. Our cast were all there. Nucu and Yolanda singing in the choir, Chello passing round the collection, Lola, Carmen, Cesare and many of our other friends in the congregation. Afterwards we're joined by Luis, who prefers to take his dog for a walk on Sunday mornings - his own time for communion in beautiful fields surrounding the village. Soon the first flowers of a new year will push up through the soil.

It was a gentle landing as one by one the villagers left church kissing each of us as they went. The choir high on the balcony above the nave sang their own farewell and waved. Carmen was the last to go. She wished us health and we told her how honoured we'd been to spend a week in the company of the grandest actress in Cantabria. She thwacked at this and left.

Cars loaded we headed of for a short hour on the sea front at Santander. It felt glorious, but we're all perhaps too tired, emotional and caught between two worlds to really appreicate it...

... and also the goodbyes to Spiral, which are less easy to bare each time and only possible in the knowledge that it won't be long until we see each other again!

And so we flew home.


Saturday 19th December 2009

The village was in a state of excitement all day. We've had to ticket the two shows - which is pretty unheard of, but the performance space is relatively small and although we've cleared all available exits it's not the easiest place to evacuate should the need arise. The decision has caused some rumbling amongst the cast and there are worries that some of the audience won't accept the limit on numbers (especially those who don't get in.)

The cast stoically went through their lines. There are still some struggles, but we managed to stagger through a couple of times in the morning and that made things settle. The centrepiece of the show is a big meal organised by the village for the returning Fausto, with genuine Cantabrian delicacies. It takes six minutes to set up, underscored by traditional music and full company involvement.

The ever chatty Chello led the cooking and we were invited into her kitchen to see the bean stews, fish pastries and chicken and onion pizzas being knocked out. The students meanwhile knocked out a big sign saying Teatro - which they rigged up over the front door with minutes to spare.

The shows went brilliantly and were totally packed out. Early on in the first Carmen broke her glasses and tried to leave the stage to nip home and get her spare pair. Stage Managers and fellow actors tried to disuade her, but as she rightly said to the audience,

' This is ridiculous. You all know where I live, I'll only be a moment!'

'What shall I do?' asked Maria, left on stage alone.

'Tell them another story,' said Carmen 'we'll pick this one up when I'm back.'

The relief and joy at the end was incredible and the audience hadn't even cleared before the party started. Our well laid 'get out' plans had to be put on hold as the village celebrated. The students sang their song and Arthur, a twelve year old bag pipe player, turned up to provide some jigs. It was gone four in the morning when the final bottle of cava was cracked open and we all wobbled home to bed with Anglo-Cantabrian relations at an all time high.

Lessons from Bielva.

Friday 18th December 2009

Time in the Bielva is flying by now. It's hard to conceive we'll be heading for home in two days, harder still to believe Christmas is a week away. With the show only twenty four hours away the pace is picked up a bit. Chris and Carol run round the village grabbing members of the cast whenever they stop work and rehearsing in their front rooms.

Meanwhile Luis invites the students, Marta and me up to the village primary school. There are only eleven children on the roll, spread across six years. It's clear Luis loves his job and cares for each child with the attention of a gardener nurturing precious seeds. We're all given home made Christmas cards and Zoe leads most of the class in a series of games and songs. Jennie brilliantly mops up a small group of boys who don't want to join in; she gets some pens and paper and everybody draws pictures until, in their own time, one by one, the boys rejoin the main group. It's wonderful to see the St Mary's students working so intelligently and in harmony, not just with each other but these unfamiliar surroundings.

Luis talks about his family who, in the early years of the twentieth century, set up the first newspaper in the valley, which was published and sent to Cantabrians in exile in Cuba, Mexico and other American countries. It was a vital source of information and a plea to those who'd moved away in search of prosperity to remember those left behind. It's yet another strand to the Fausto play.

The dress tonight is a bit all over the place, the cast using hundreds of subtle tactics to hide their nerves. It's also the first time we've had full company and many of the actors seem confused as to the running order and in particular when and where to come on. Carmen thwacks out in all directions. The students, begin to anticpate these problems and working as a brilliant team of stage managers take responsibility for props, exits, entrances and backstage discipline. Things begin to come together.

From rehearsals we return home for an incredible Christmas dinner to thank Spiral for the week. Piles of peas, potatoes, corn fed chicken, gravy, yet more red wine and even Yorkshire puddings are passed round. It's been a mega effort involving the ovens in both houses and some speedy dashes through the slush filled streets to keep the food warm, but it's a wonderful and joyful celebration. Afterwards we sit by the fire and with Danny on guitar the students sing two songs that they've written: one as a thank you to Chris, Marta and Carol and the second for the village which they'll perform after the show tomorrow.

It's very moving. Love spreads around!

Zurdo de Bielva.

Thursday 17th December 2009

This morning Nucu took us on a tour of the village starting at the Bolera court established in the name of the town's local hero Rogelio Gonzales, the demon left handed bowler El Zurdo de Bielva. He was simply inimitable and not only won every competition but performed exhibition shots, such as taking a peseta off the top of a skittle from twenty metres away or back spinning to take out a row of pegs of your choice. His image is everywhere - a small bust overlooking the court, a badly painted picture staring down form us in Maria's bar and he even appears on the key ring which our house keys are on. Nucu became misty eyed as he recalled his childhood memories of El Zurdo.

On we went to the exquisite Romanesque church complete with a beautiful Belen (Spanish nativity scene) that is built up by the village over the weeks leading up to Christmas. The church is amazing with a gorgeous thirteenth century carved alter piece, intricate carvings and an eleventh century font. On we went to a second church at the edge of the village, but with incredible views down into the Nansa valley. The Cantabrian's have a long and proud history of resistance. The raging bandit Caracota stopped the Roman invasion in it's tracks, the Moors took one look at the mountain people and decided not to spread their Arabic culture further and at the end of the nineteenth century the French only got as far as the church door before the Bielvans turned them back. Nucu proudly shows us the scorch marks on the stone floor that mark the end of attempted occupation. We ended the tour at the cemetery where Nucu pointed out his parent's graves and the plot reserved for him.

'I've no intention of using it for a good while yet,' he says with a giggle 'we try and fight off most things that interrupt our way of life.'


Wednesday 16th December 2009

In the morning the students split along year lines and, in consultation with Chris and Marta, had some time to work on project design for next semester's work. Of course without the consent of the rest of their group this can only go so far, but it was a tremendous exercise in exposing some of the problems that both Level 2 and Level 3 will face as they try to construct their own community pieces in January.

Zoe, Jennie, Charlotte and Hannah began to turn their thoughts to the 400th Birthday party at Ham next May. One of the big logisitcal problems so far has been that to get the 3,000 attendees that the house are after into the space will take close to an hour. Somehow we need to create something that will make this process part of the event and help to snowball the participation. The idea of a procession emerged, perhaps gathering on Ham common and then marching down the great Avenues that lead to the house itself. It's an enticing prospect and providing we co-ordinate carefully could be spectacular.

The second years meanwhile were looking at Southsea castle, one of several they're researching into over the Christmas break. They want to tell ghost stories, but today they focused on how, if this location were chosen, they'd go about looking for find partners and groups to work with in and around Portsmouth.

In the afternoon we set to work properly cable tying white sheets around the walls of the bar and removing most of the furniture to create a theatre space, complete with backstage area and props table. Marta and me drove up the valley to pick up 100 chairs from a primary school and on return we all helped design the auditorium.

The actors were delighted when they turned up for rehearsal and the new feel to the space gave all of their work a lift. They're getting there. Slowly, now that I've fully understood the broad story, I'm beginning to understand the nuances of the language - it's highly evocative and poetic. The sensual nature of living in and by the countryside peppers the script with references to the weather, the changes of season, and the rhythms of the natural world. The metaphors are drawn from the ripening of the fruit, the lunar cycle, the arrival of the blossom and the smell of winter. There's no artifice here after all the cast are drawing wholly on the vernacular of the village and it is very, very rich.


Tuesday 15th December 2009.

An excellent session on Brecht's Lehrstuck this morning with Chris using The Decision to demonstrate that participation in active debate was the main purpose of work rather than polished performance. Again we're exploring some of the forerunners of the ideas and techniques that underpinned Freire and Boal's poetics of the oppressed, as well the Drama in Education and TIE movements in Britain that developed in the sixties and seventies. Already the links between these particpatory and democratic ideas and the work on the Fasuto play are becoming apparent to us all.

This afternoon an unexpected treat - a group trip to see the incredible Stalagtites in the Cueva El Sopalo across the valley from Bielva. Miners accidently discovered the cavern in 1905 and since then over twenty kilometres of tunnels have been openned up, all breathtaking in their ancient beauty.

We journeyed half a kilometre underground to find a gorgeous and ornate cathedral cave. Our consdierate guide gave us lots of geological detail, but I was happy just to look at the incredible formations of rossettes, plumes and columns. We spent an hour underground moving through the grandly named chambers, including The Opera House - so called it appeared because of a taped backing track of arias attempting the bizarre illusion of singing calcite. Sometimes the theatrical is in the thing itself!

Back in the village, rehearsals moved into the performance space, a little bar shaped like a diamond, complete with mirror ball and luminous paint on the walls. Charmer Nucu, who plays Fausto, joined us along with Carmen, the eighty six year old, silver backed, matriarch of the village who affectionately uses her script to thwack the person nearest to her around the head whenever she drops a line. We quickly learn to give prompts with caution.


Missions Pedagogicas

Monday 14th December 2009

The full breathtaking beauty of the village revealed itself at first light. It feels like a perfect place to hunker up for Winter. After breakfast we gather in the small open access community hall for our first session. The space is a wonderful resource for the village and serves as a meeting place/ internet cafe/ rehearsal or practice room/ education centre and somewhere to grab a coffee and biscuit whilst you escape the cold. Villagers gain entry through a swipe card and operate a booking system - it belongs to them.

We spent the morning looking at the legacy of the Mission Pedagogicas (see video on this link) which were sponsored by the government of the second republic in the pre- civil war Spain of the early thirties to spread culture, art and liberal education to the most remote and rural villages in Spain. The concept was simple, generous and humane to facilitate an appreciation and understanding of art, music, theatre and literature in the poorest and least literate. The modernity of the work was incredible - out went the sedantry, submissive and static idea of repeating the words and thoughts of the priest or teacher and in came a democratic, particpatory and active method of learning that used the surroundings of the village and the intuitive communication of the educators. Under the directorship of Manuel Cossio the mission brought mobile libraries, staged performances, gramophone players, full scale reproductions of the classic canvass paintings in the Prado and even film projectors into areas untouched by industrial advances elsewhere in Europe. The war and subsequent Franco dictatorship abruptly halted these moments of utopia but progressive educationalists the world over owe these pioneers a huge debt. Implicitly their commitment influences all of the work the Applied Theatre course at St Mary's is engaged in, be it through the local TIE work, our relationship with Tfac in Malawi, The National Trust in Ham or back here with Spiral in Spain. Their's is an inspiring story of stimulating aspiration.

In the evening we met many of the cast of the show (as yet unnamed) for a stagger through of some of the scenes. We're still getting our heads around the storyline, but it was clear that the work, imagined and scripted by the actors, under the shaping and crafty gaze of Chris is poetic, complex and multi layered. Although fictional the situations, language and conflicts in the play reflect a composite profile of the tension between modern progress and comforting tradition faced by many rural communities in Spain today.
The twinkly eyed Fausto, who left the village, and his love Piedra, as a teenager returns forty years later with wealth and attempts to win back favour by proposing the building of a ski station. This basic structure provides the company with a forum to, amongst many other things, explore notions of change, the importance of democratic decision making, our emotional engagement with place, the meaning of prosperity and the value of modernisation. As with much of this work the play itself is of secondary importance to the questions faced by the actors in creating it.

The cast were excited to see us and incredibly welcoming, Luis, the local primary school teacher was concerned that we wouldn't understand and he was particularly eager to incorperate us into the rehearsal whilst Lola, his eighty six year old mother, and Yolanda a local farmer sat close, pointing to relevant lines in the script looking for signs that we understood. It's going to be fascinating to see how the work develops between now and next weekend.

Bielva Bound

Sunday 13th December 2009

Following another successful day at Ham House on Saturday, nine 2nd and 3rd year students Zoe, Hannah, Jennie, Charlotte, Danny, Jess, Hayley, Sem, Sophie have flown with me down to Spain for a week working with Spiral in the small village of Bielva, high in the Cantabrian mountains. We're joining the company for the last week of rehearsal, the culmination of a project that Carol, in particular, has been developing since October. A play written and performed by the villagers themselves. Time seems to have flown since August, when Carol was fleshing out the idea and it's hard to believe just a few short weeks later here we are to see, and to support if we can, the final work.

After a trouble free flight, we're met at the airport in Santander and ferried back to the Nansa valley by the team: Chris, Marta and Carol. Unusually so close to the coast, snow has fallen and the streets are icy, but as we climb in darkness slowly up the mountain road you can sense the beauty of the place. A Casa rural has been found for the students and a huge pot of spaghetti bolognese is rustled up, wine is poured and a fire stoked to welcome them. Spiral have never knowing underfed anybody!

Over dinner we all quickly make friends and Chris briefs us a little on the week ahead. In the mornings we'll carry out our own workshops, contextualising both this project and the purposes using theatre for community engagement in Spain. After siesta we'll head for rehearsals to watch the different threads of the play pull together, ready for the final performance on Saturday. Hopefully the week will also help us to think ahead and generate some ideas for the production work both year groups will take on next semester. The work in Bielva so far has been confined to weekends, but now with us all present and correct it's time to move up a gear. Finally we can eat no more and so stuffed, tired and expectant we fall into bed.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Babies and Bathwater.

We're coming to the end of the semester and it's been quite a tough week. On Monday we had a full on staff meeting which looked a little ahead and tried to anticipate the future. Whoever wins the election next year it's clear that the Higher Education sector will face some big and potentially sacrificial decisions. All we can really do is keep watch to make sure that the programmes we're proposing are as relevant, valuable and effective as we can make them. Hard times always offer opportunity for the inventive, and it'll be our vision, or lack of it, for the next few years that will ultimately determine whether exciting students join us or not. If they do we'll flourish regardless of the cuts.

My sense is that we could do more to link the modules together and perhaps look to run each year as a series of projects rather than courses. We'd still meet the learning objectives, but also begin to see ourselves as a varied and fascinating centre of innovation and production. The model that I think we should strive towards is one where the 300 or so students effectively become the Drama St Mary's theatre company, producing shows and outreach work whilst also training and sharpening their skills. It'd enable us to be lighter on our toes, more able to respond rapidly to change. In this regard we should look for coherence through diversity rather than orthodoxy or methodology. We shouldn't teach anything just for the sake of it or because it's always been taught, but instead take every chance to be vital and connected.

I also hope we'll also start to move further towards gradients in development with third years taking major decisions over the scope, content and delivery of the work, aided by problem solving second years and hard working, supportive first years. It's so important that by the end of the degree students know what to do next and know which direction they want to turn. It's the move from a dependence on authority to taking responsibility as a creative independent and resourceful artist.

... And brave artists are what we'll all need to see the way forward, to provide the playful metaphors through which we'll explore the alternative futures, to provide resistance and possibilities. It may be the time to tighten our belts, but it's certainly not the time to go on the backfoot.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Cup Cakes and Hats.

We learnt a lot from yesterday and today the storytelling really flew. Over 500 people came through the house and I think nearly all of them had a great time. Jess, Emily and Jayne are working with the youngest children who come into the house and have developed a hat story game where the audience see how many hats can be balanced on an elf's head. It causes lots of laughter when they eventually topple off and many stay to play again and again.

We risked being overrun at one point which meant in desperation I was signed up for face painting duty. The first little girl who came wanted an angel.

'On your cheek?' I asked
'Noooooo... I want to be an angel.'

I wasn't sure what angels look like to a six year old child, but I guessed pinks, blues and whites might be involved. Two minutes later I'd created something that looked more like the French flag than a celestial being. The girl was very brave though and refused to cry, even when I showed her what she looked like in the mirror. I sent her next door to the balloon modeller to get some wings. The next little boy wanted a Ben 10 drawn on his cheek. Unfortunately lack of cultural understanding meant I had to be withdrawn from the front line at this point, much to the relief of students, children and parents alike.

Property Manager Gary seemed delighted with the day and treated us all to a box load of sugar sweet cup cakes which we shared out in the kitchen after hours.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Interviewing Mrs Claus about the National Elf Service.

The first day of storytelling at Ham with Drama in the Community students. We've kind of thrown the work together and I was intrigued as to whether we'd done enough to play with confidence to our young audiences. The day started slowly but picked up around lunchtime and by packing up time at 4pm over 200 people had come through.

There's a neat mixture of stories and poems, some very short, told as intimate whispers in corners or corridors. Some longer tales where the audience sit on rugs and cushions and a couple of fun filled sketches - where lazy elves try and motivate themselves for Christmas and Mrs Claus texts her husband to let him know that she's picked up a sleigh Sat Nav on eBay.

Jennie's doing a top job as Mrs Claus, ably assisted by Hannah's Red Bull guzzling elf - Poppy. After the sketch they hold a Q & A session for the children, who ask some seriously taxing questions about how reindeers fly?... whether Santa eats all the mince pies or saves some for boxing day? ... and whether the shift in popularity from wooden toys and board games to Wiis and X-boxes in the digital age has made elves with carpentry and painting skills unemployable?... Only in Richmond!
Fortunately Jennie was able to reassure everybody that even in a time of recession time was set aside during the spring to up skill the elf work force in line with projected consumer trends. Relief all round!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Next Semester.

We're into the last leg before Christmas now and are beginning to turn our thoughts to 2010. I've been to a couple of meetings with Ham House to begin to put in plans for their 400th birthday party on May 15th. It looks as if we're going for a large scale participatory event - perhaps involving up to 3,000 people. At the centre of the event would be a communal singing of anthems, backed by local choirs. Our job will be to organise and host the event. Provide the pre and post-show entertainment and ensure everything is done safely. In my head it's just going to be about having fun and really enjoying what is a very, very special place.

I've also managed to catch up with Stef O'Driscoll and start putting in place some early plans for a research trip to Bosnia in February as preparation for a production of Miljenko Jerkovic's Sarajevo Marlbro short stories, which we want to create probably next Summer. We've made contact with some theatre directors in the capital and hopefully can look to shape up work for one of the city's annual theatre festivals.

Matt, Trevor and I also had a meeting with Laura who works at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She's been given some money by the Bill Gates foundation to develop a Theatre in Education project around Malaria in the Cameroon. The money is substantial, but the focus seems - as perhaps is inevitable from a medical perspective - to be on cure rather than prevention. The missing link for us is to consider the issue from the position of the victims or potential victims. What are the obstacles, including the emotional obstacles, that stop effective immunisation? Doctors, chemists and researchers are fantastic at developing the drugs and calculating how to eliminate the disease. What storytellers and play makers are equally wonderful at is revealing, through narrative, the psychological and socio-economic contradictions that mark the experience of living in the wake and fear of the disease. Laura's going to come back to us in the new year with a proposal.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Going Postal.

Went to see the Drama Society's show of Terry Pratchett's Going Postal this evening in Studio 3. It's the second production they've put up, after a version of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter and it brings to an end a successful first semester for them.

It's very good to see an independent student company made up of actors and technicians from across the pathways and incorporating students from beyond the department wrestle something so ambitious on. The society isn't yet affiliated to the Union (a dispute over the level of support they could expect for the sign up fee has kept them a bit on a limb) but hopefully as Drama Soc continues to establish itself into the cultural life of the University, negotiations will open again. It's a shame that sports clubs dominate the culture and It'd be great to see an influential Drama Soc making waves to redress the balance.

There were some promising work as well. Bianca Barrett and Jack Fisher grow in ease and confidence every time I see them perform and Mikey O'Neill lifted the work with a neatly drawn cameo as a doddery old postal worker.

Inevitably the work overreached itself and it was hard to keep focus as it shifted into its third hour. I don't think you can do anything to curb the enthusiasm of this, students love the epic and love performing (I certainly did in my undergraduate days); but I do think there's a eureka moment for developing practitioners when they stop making choices based on what they and their mates want and genuinely focus on providing a quality experience for the audience. It's a de schooling process but the brave have faith in their own emerging craft skills and ability to reach out beyond their peer group rather than try to replicate a derivative amateur dramatic model.
This may be for the future, however, for now the society deserves a huge round of applause for making itself work.