Monday, 21 December 2009

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.

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