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:


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

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.

One comment

  1. I was inpsired to blog about my experience at the 1st workshop – http://shaunph.blogspot.com/2010/02/spontaneously-unravelling-southwark.html

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