Archive for February, 2010

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a Day 56 in the Life

February 28, 2010

We work through Kate S’s final draft letters of agreement for the workshop leaders.

Katie K has devised a simple survey for this week’s community cast workshops – for people to say how much they’d like to do and how much rehearsal time they can commit to.

Dom Search has boosted our community profile. He photographed the Wednesday workshop, and is creating a webpage to put up his and Nadja’s community cast photos.

I’m trying to see the wood for the trees.

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and on the 57th Day, blog rested

February 27, 2010

Shabbat.

Saj has just reminded me, I’m supposed to be resting, imitating the Almighty following his rather more comprehensive creative output, so… Schtum!!

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Day 58 dream believer

February 26, 2010

meeting at 10am with Claire at More London Estates who have given us the use of The Scoop as an ‘in-kind’ contribution to The Southwark Mysteries production.

The Scoop is an open-air stone amphitheatre close to the London Assembly building (shaped like a collapsing fungal growth) and Tower Bridge. This stretch of the south bankside, east of London Bridge, beyond where is now Hays Galleria and the HMS Belfast floating naval museum,  was previously an area of derelict wharves and warehouses, the ghost of its pre-World War II glory days as ‘London’s Larder’. Which was why, during the Blitz, it had been bombed so thoroughly.

More London developed it, the familiar corporate canyons – some interesting architecture, creating a long view up to Tower Bridge, pleasing water features – though if you don’t watch your step you could step right into the little channel! There’s a Hilton Hotel, some pricey restaurants and designer cafes, and lots of office space. Not really my kind of place, not the Southwark invoked in these mysteries, and yet…

It is now and for the foreseeable future a part of my Borough, my old medieval manor, and there are people working for More London to engender a sense of community into this recent urban entity.  And they’ve offered us the free use of The Scoop, which from our perspective is the jewel in their crown. So, thank you…

There were four of us representing The Southwark Mysteries at the meeting – myself, Sarah (director), Kate S (production manager) and Katie (company manager). That should’ve made us look pretty slick and corporate ourselves – at least, it would’ve, if Katie and I hadn’t shown up 10 minutes late, having got lost in the concrete canyon. Fortunately, Sarah and Kate had things well in hand, we added our tuppenceworth, and by the close Claire seemed very happy with our plans to bring our community street theatre to More London.

We’ll do shorter free performances in The Scoop:  noon – 2pm, April 14-17, the week before the three full shows in the Cathedral. There’ll be scenes from the play, performed by the actors working with the community cast. It offers an opportunity for us to present work related to The Southwark Mysteries – for individual cast members to do a particular speech from the play, to have their moment playing Jesus, or Satan, John Taylor, Moll Cutpurse, The Goose or John Crow.

When the play is performed those three times in Southwark Cathedral, I will (God willing) be able to just experience the performance and see what it does to me. Because the only time it was done before, exactly ten years before, I was in it, playing John Crow.

In this new production in the Cathedral, Charlie Folorunsho is playing the part of John Crow*.

* Those of you who’ve followed this obscure little moral tale will know that John Crow – the entity with which I was fully identified in the minds of many and at times, for purposes of psychic channelling, with mine own – is in process of undergoing another transformation, embarking on another journey to open the pathways for all that shall follow this way…

However, just to be clear, at least for the purposes of The Southwark Mysteries, John Crow is a character in a mystery play, not to be confused with John Constable, the author – let alone with that third, greater JC, our hero!

In The Scoop, I’ll perform some of the channelled poems recived from the Goose, the original Vision Books of The Southwark Mysteries. Others may wish to read their own poems or songs of Southwark – and especially from the growing body of work inspired by Crossbones Graveyard, the original “source” of The Southwark Mysteries.

Jiust in case you don’t already know, The Southwark Mysteries – the complete Vision Books, Mystery Plays and Glossolalia – are published by Oberon Books. I do commend this work to you. It’s unlike anything else I’ve written. It’s like I didn’t write it; as if it was written in me by The Goose and John Crow in their dance and journey. It is a magical work. I am still working to decode it, some fourteen years on from that first night of Vision, when The Goose came for John Crow…

The magic is still working. This afternoon walking down Walworth Road to buy charcaol from Baldwin the Herbalist I encountered Kelfin Oberon and Tara, two members of our community cast. Kelfin is himself a poet who similarly channelled a poem of “the Wee” people. He was very positive about the workshop: “People charge a lot for workshops like that and you’re offering it for free. And it was amazing to get to know so many strangers so quickly”

Ah, yes. The name game. So simple, yet by the time you’ve thrown around three balls (shamanistic exercise, frees the mind from dualistic thought!) calling out your own name and the name of the person you’ve thrown it to, after that you know everyone’s name, and once you’ve “walked the space” with them, let alone designated someone your “bomb” or your “shield”, as well as singing a song and reciting a poem about blessings for outcasts…

Yes, and wonderful to see people like them, and Rainbow Lizzie, the party people, the alternative eco-festie crew getting along famously with our octogenarian Grandes Dames of the Cathedral congregation, and Thursday choir,  Betty and Pamela.

The Southwark Mysteries celebrates the Divine Spark in all Humanity – in the outcast and outsider no less than in ‘the great and the good’. Equally, as The Goose reveals her secret teachings to John Crow, she teaches him that even people who work for – for example – big  corporations in anonymous generic cityscapes, have dreams.

here John Crow and i read

the sign at the pilgrim’s inn

don’t have to be
broken to be blessed
by Overie.

here John Crow and i found
larking in Thames
mud the broken
mask of god
SIVA SAKTI.

here John Crow and i pray
Goddess of Mercy
heal
these broken wings
within me.

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yester Day 59

February 26, 2010

and after the high of Wednesday night’s awesome introductory community cast workshop, back to the grind.

Note for non-south Londoners: a part of the old London Bridge station roof was ripped out during demolition work, leaving only the broken word to honour a goddess: LONDON BRID. Now even that’s gone, to make way for what was going to be the tallest building in the world (before someone somewhere else built a bigger one).  The central grey concrete column resembles a necropolis, a monolith out of 2001 a space odyssey, bearing the blunt title: SHARD.

‘ere long it will be encased in glass. Other buildings will spring up all around the area: the Strata, the tallest residential building in Europe, the World, this phallic architecture is so last millennium!

Sarah and I had a script meeting nearby, at our “office”, Cafe Nero at Mary Overie dock in the shadow of the Cathedral. So much to discuss, including how best to form groups  and eventually assign parts to community cast members: so one group, for instance, will work on being Devils, others will be Tunnellers or ‘Sisters of Redcross’.  We were both talking non-stop. Eventually Sarah had to catch her train – I ended up walking with her all the way to the London Bridge platform.  A very good meeting ended at the barrier.

Then Katie and I spent the entire evening reconciling our budgets and cash-flow projections and what we’re pledging to pay people in their contracts and schedules – just the thing to make a poet’s heart sing, but got to be done to make sure it all fits together, all adds up.

Finally catch up on my emails by which time it’s past 1am and I’m too bushed to blog.

Which is why 59 is yester Day.

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Day 60 strong community massive

February 24, 2010

second of our intro workshops to recruit the community cast who’ll perform The Southwark Mysteries in Southwark Cathedral, working together with a smaller core cast of professionals.

We followed the same basic shape as on the Monday workshop, but the feel was different. Today’s group was smaller – about 25 people – and more focused.  Hey, and Monday’s was pretty good too – and we now have a combined community cast of about sixty. Even if some drop out, that’s enough to rock with.

Ita did the warm-up and theatre games. She made everyone feel safe enough to open up and express themselves, throwing their names around the room with the ball.

On Monday, I’d sat out to take notes – big mistake, I’m still struggling with some of the names. Today, I joined in – and by the time three balls were whizzing round the room I knew everyone’s name.

Ita orchestrating the spontaneous groupings and dividings as everyone mills around exploring the space, takes it up through playful games. The riles of the pick your ‘bomb’ game are initially misunderstood as a couple of over-active ‘bombs’ begin stalking targets. The idea is that you pick your ‘bomb’ to stay away from, ideally so they don’t even know.

Lovely readings of By The Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie, and group singing of The Ballad.

By The Grace ofr Our Lady Mary Overie has been said on each of the last three days – Monday workshop, yesterday at the Crossbones vigil and today, when I introduced it as the poem at the heart of The Book of The Goose, the first Vision Book of The Southwark Mysteries received on the night of 23rd November 1996, AND at the heart of the mystery play, a recognition of Grace revealed in the unlikeliest places, the sacred in the profane, Eternity in time:

By the Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie

Let them see…

Them that sell their time to earn a daily crust to feed a family…
Them that trade the Future in stocks and bonds, or speculate in property…
Them that crunch the numbers on the number crunching north bank in the old City…
Then flood back ‘cross London Bridge to take their trains to Gravesend and the Estuary…

Let them see…

In the hungry eyes of debtors doing time with Dickens’ father in Marshalsea…
The denizens of Bedlam now entrusted to the Care of our Community…
The homeless in the subwayand the dead-end kids from Old Kent Road to Bermondsey…
In the skull-faced Queers and Junkies and the Tart who tested positive for HIV…

By the Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie
Let them see the shining eyes of Our Goddess of Mercy.

In the haggard face of John Crow who watches from his high tower in Trinity…
As in the single mother who lives across the road at Number 23…
The check-out girl in Superdrug whose name-tag says her name is Charity…
And in every human face that is pocked and scarred by what we call Reality…

By the Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie
Let them see the shining eyes of Our Goddess of Mercy.

from The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable (Oberon Books)

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Day 61 day at a time

February 24, 2010

Although
for the likes of me, self-
confessed Goose devotee
to day is a once and forever Day

23.

And so, as on every 23rd of every month for more than five years already – * excepting when we were out of the country, and even then others stood at The Gates and held the space * – we stood at The Gates and held lights and tied ribbons and said prayers not to God out there but within our own humanity and to honour The Goose, the Muse and “True author” of The Southwark Mysteries:

Here lay your hearts, your flowers,
Your Book of Hours,
Your fingers, your thumbs,
Your ‘Miss You Mums’.

Here hang your hopes, your dreams,
Your Might Have Beens,
Your locks, your keys,
Your Mysteries.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BopMQKK1mnw

There were three different groups filming – 2 student films and a TV documentary. They were respectful and friendly; their presence inhibited too much intense psychic activity.

No… Today, John Crow didn’t go into trance. Which was fine. I’m giving at least a part of my shamanic persona a rest, having an actor else play John Crow in the play, a deliberate decision to objectify the character John Crow.

So… John Constable gave a short account of the history of Crossbones, the burial ground for paupers and prostitutes, and the recent works there, and suggested that the rituals we perform here should be viewed perhaps as more akin to Art than Religion – more a talk than the usual poetic shamanigans and there you go, some things can only be filmed from the inside.

And even on that cold damp night, 30 and more of the living showed up to commune – not only with The Dead and what is past but also with The Unborn and what is yet to come – and most of all with the creative potential of the present, the playful honouring when we crowd in close to The Gates – the portal, the iron bars strung with ribbons and totems and beyond the empty space of the garden – and seal ourselves in with a half circle of gin poured on the street and cry:

Goose be you never be hungry!
Goose be you never be thirsty!
Goose may your Spirit fly free!

Later in the yard of The George Inn, Jonas, Holly and three other students from Central interviewed me about Crossbones means to me.

A place of transformation.

And yes, I did also put in a few hours today as the producer of The Southwark Mysteries – publicity and strategic thinking. The late afternoon and evening of this Day 61 aka 23, however, were dedicated to The Goose, which is mete and proper for, or so it seems to me, it is of The Goose and John Crow at Crossbones Graveyard that The Southwark Mysteries was born.

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a communal do on Day 62

February 23, 2010

Our first community workshop. 48 people – and as diverse and representative a community cast as we could have wished!

Well, almost! We could’ve maybe done with more younger people. Apart from that, there was a good  balance and mix in terms of  gender, ethnicity and age – ranging from a twenty years old to two ladies in their eighties. An older blind man joked that he’d be good for our monitoring!

Martin from LSBU made the Health and Safety announcements, then I thanked him and Bronwyn for providing our wonderful rehearsal space as in kind support for our community drama. The Edric Hall is near perfect fro what we’re doing – a big empty theatre or dance space with a rake of seating at one end, plenty of room for participants to mill around during the games and exercises or to work in several smaller groups. There’s no way we could’ve afforded a rehearsal space like this on our shoestring budget. Bronwyn had even arranged for us to have some free refreshments for the group members. What a star!

We began with a big circle in which everyone said their name and a word or phrase about themselves. I then gave a brief introduction, a crash-course in The Southwark Mysteries – from its origins as an enigmatic poem “received” fro The Goose, to the writing of a mystery play inspired by the medieval mysteries yet contemporary and rooted in the outlaw history of Southwark, through to a decade-long programme of gcommunity drama offering ground-breaking ways for people to connect with their inner-city environment. I explained that the play we’re about to do has been performed once only – in Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark cathedral on 23rd April 2000 – and that our new production takes place exactly 10 years on – with three performances in Southwark Cathedral and a week of smaller less-formal presentations in The Scoop amphitheatre up at More London near Tower Bridge.

Having explained that everyone would need to commit to at least one night a week for the next seven, as well as the dress rehearsal and performances, I introduced the idea of rules and guidelines for working together.

Everyone helped draft our ‘contract’ – written up in marker-pen on a big roll of paper in a single burst of creative synergy – could maybe do with a couple more clauses, but it’s pretty much there. This is what we collectively came up with:

CONTRACT

1 Take Direction
a) as a group
b) from Sarah the director and other workshop leaders

2. Be On Time
a) general respect
b) get going quickly and quietly
c) let workshop leaders know if you can’t come or if you’re going to be late

3. Listen
a) hands up to be heard
b) silence when called

4. Enjoy yourself
a) be open for change
b) look after yourself and others
c) be brave
d) be honest and truthful

Respect
a) be non-judgmental: don’t judge others
b) don’t be intimidated by the professionals

As a contract  for wider social interactions it has a lot going for it! I pointed out that clause 5a) embodies a central theme of The Southwark Mysteries, as expressed by Jesus:

‘Let him judge himself alone!’

Then modified this by urging everyone not to judge themselves too harshly.

The ‘contract’ was hung on the wall, approved it with a unanimous “Aye!” and signed by each individual during the course of the workshop.

Ollie the workshop leader then led the warmup and theatre games. He’s got a lovely lightness and youthful sprightliness – or should it be, sprite-liness – that compliments the old writer-producer’s  weighty utterances.  He began with the classic name game – throwing first one, then two and three, tennis balls around the group. This was followed by an exercise in which participants walk around, effectively taking ownership of  the space – alone, at various speeds, in pairs or small groups, following someone without them noticing.

Such techniques are often used in drama workshops as a way of grounding the performers’ psychological and emotional preparation in a physical warm-up – encouraging the interaction of individuals and the development of a collective group-mind without the self-consciousness which can inhibit our ability to ‘perform’ – or, perhaps more importantly, to play creative games with –  total strangers.

I often use such exercises in my workshops, though Ollie included an interesting variation: getting everyone to imagine the entire room balanced on a pin-point at its centre; in doing the walking exercises everyone also had to focus on keeping the room ‘balanced’ by ensuring an equal distribution of bodies around it.

Ollie’s session climaxed with everyone picking someone at random to be their ‘bomb’ and then attempting to stay as far away from them as possible, then picking a ‘shield’ and trying to move so as to keep the ‘shield’ betwen them and their ‘bomb’.

Everyone was given a copy of By The Grace of Our Lady Mary Overie, one of the key texts of The Southwark Mysteries celebrating how grace can manifest in even what are seemingly wretched lives. Sarah got them to read it as a group, purely for the sense, then several times in suv=ccession with everyone reading a line. This developed naturally into them enacting  the scene in which The Sisters of Redcross (a cross between nurses and nuns, with a touch of Goose) enter in a kind of medieval pilgrimage of the sick and inform, then tend the patients in St Thomas’ and Guys’ Hospitals.

Even from this little performed reading  it was encouraging to know that we’ve got a few naturals in the group, though they may not the ones who assume they’re going to be the stars of the show!

The whole group was given a copy of ‘John Crow’s Wark Book’ – an account of the history behind The Southwark Mysteries. Although written for schoolchildren, it provides a good simple introduction to our back-story and basic research materials, along with ‘John Crow’s Map of The Liberty’ for orientation, and the words and music to The Ballad of Mary Overie. I then played the song and the group joined in, singing it three times through. This is the song which relates the legend of Mary, the ferryman’s daughter who is said to have founded the convent that became successively a priory, a parish church, then Southwark Cathedral. The Ballad will be sung by the entire company to begin the performance in the Cathedral, so we’ll be rehearsing it at  most of the workshops.

The workshop ended with the announcement of details relating to the next workshop, the offer of tickets or copies of my books for sale. Everyone was then directed to give themselves a big pat on the back. The round of applause that followed was, however, entirely spontaneous.