Just one o’ those 18 Days

April 7, 2010

The ‘harder to take’ end of last night was still around first thing this  morning and had to be faced – via a couple of very stressed meetings followed by constructive phone-calls and drafting of emails.

Briefly: The Perils of Virals – a cautionary cybertale.

See here’s our little community arts group straining the shoestring budget to put on a quality once-in-a-decade community drama. Our funds raised for the main production only provided for a  small core cast (9) plus director Sarah, designer Annie, production manager Kate S, stage manager Kate D, administrator Katie and writer-producer John, making 15 in all. We all get paid the same basic fees. There’s a deliberate transparency regarding such matters in our company. Many other key members of our grass-roots community group  – like Annie’s design assistant Sarah A W – are working on an entirely voluntary basis – we won’t forget our true friends 🙂

So, cut to the chase, we agreed at a production meeting to put out the word for an Assistant Stage Manager (ASM) who’d like to work on the project for expenses only and for the experience of working on an unusual community drama.  The word was put out, including on an online arts board.

The unwelcome news of last night was this…

That a thread had been rumbling on for some time on an theatre chat board with people grumbling, with some justification, about Theatre Companies who underpay theatre professionals, and it seemed someone had seized on our posted ad for the ASM and maybe jumped to the conclusion that we are some Big Commercial Enterprise operating some sort of theatre sweatshop rather than a plucky little community group seeking to give everyone involved a real sense of involvement!

And last night, I hear – I haven’t looked as I don’t really want to read knowing how vitriolic some of these anonymous posters with made-up names can be, but I heard enough…

So someone has posted up the names of our sponsors, encouraging people to write to them and register their objections! Just what we need, 15 days before opening night. So, just to be clear, we are posting this reply to the thread in question – and to whomsoever it may concern:

SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES is a community organisation with the charitable aims of delivering community arts and drama projects; raising awareness of local history and  culture; and offering ways for local people to connect with their inner-city environment. The organisation receives no core-funding; it engages community volunteers and professional practitioners and facilitators on a project-by-project basis to deliver walks, events and workshops for the local community in South London.

The Southwark Mysteries is the title of a book by John Constable, published by Oberon Books. It is also the title of a play produced once only, ten years ago in Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral. The current 10th anniversay production in Southwark Cathedral will take place on April 22nd, 23rd and 24th. This is by far the largest project attempted by SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES and took two years to raise the funds – a significant amount of which has been given in kind, by local businesses and organisations which know the benefits to the local communty of the projects delivered by SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES.

The Southwark Mysteries project involves many volunteers working in a number of capacities. More than 50 adults, and children from three local schools, are directly involved in the performance. Over 30 workshops are being delivered – entirely free of charge to the participants, in keeping with the spirit of this drama and the organisation. The workshops have already benefitted many people, as well as offering an insight into how a large-scale grass-roots drama production is delivered.

The Southwark Mysteries is being put on by a small core cast and crew – ALL of whom are engaged for the same modest weekly fee, for a period of 4 or 5 weeks only. The budget did not allow for an assistant stage manager, although it was decided that should anyone come forward wanting to be part of The Southwark Mysteries out of personal interest in the project or for experience in community drama, at least their travel costs would be covered. The advertisement was placed in good faith and, as far as we were aware, in line with similiar advertisements.

SOUTHWARK MYSTERIES accepts that more information about the nature of our organisation and this particular production may have been useful; we hope that this is now clear. We’d be happy to hear from anyone wanting to learn more about the project.

More info:


Drafting this took up a good part of the afternoon. The whole incident left me feeling pretty gutted. We’ve worked so hard to deliver this project with real integrity – even refusing money from sources which could compromise the ethos of our group. So to be presented as evil bosses… suffice to say, I felt the need to set the record straight.

If you really want to know what The Southwark Mysteries is about, consider our community workshops. Like, tonight…

London South Bank University, London Road – a change of venue from our usual Edric Hall, though LSBU is as welcoming and helpful as one could ask from a community partner, not only providing the space in kind, but also laying on refreshments for the community cast, free of charge.

And even though some were late and some still haven’t learned their lines 🙂 even so they showed, straight after easter – more than 50 members of our brilliant community cast make the journey to a new location on a grey April eve.

And we work them! From Pat’s aerobics, through Ita’s movements and ritual gestures, to Sarah directing the entire cast from the Pilgrimage of Healing  with the Sisters of Redcross and the Sick and Infirm, with Jesus (Merryn) meeting Florence (Pamela) and Mary Seacole (Daisy) and healing Old Ted (Leslie). The play is played through, with Jennifer and the other Doctors despairing, through to the Crucificixion and Pieta.

Michelle (Goose), Dan (Satan) and Thomas (Abaddon) were also present, as was Ollie (Cromwell). We also got to see some of the work individual community cast actors have done with the core cast – as when Judas (an impressive performance from Rowan) is confronted by Jesus.

Finally, Sarah worked the entire Harrowing of Hell, doing wonders to orchestrate more than 50 people through the stations of being dragged in for judgement and  freed by Christ.

We finished only 15 minutes late.


The inclusion of our community cast is funded by The National Lottery through Big Lottery Fund.

This includes workshop leaders’ fees for individual sessions.

The main production is supported by NEO Bankside, Forster, IPC Media, London South Bank University and Southwark Council. Our cast and crew, including stage management, are paid from this main production budget. All our supporters are aware that we are attempting an epic drama production on relatively modest means. They have also supported us ‘in kind’ and have encouraged their own workers to participate directly in the project.


  1. Perception is not reality.
    I think people will be blown away, when they come to the play and would be amazed at what has been achieved on limited resources.
    Personally I would pay to have this type of experience again, not that you would charge people to be in a cast, but the experience for me has been and still is one of the most inspirational things I have ever done.
    I have some amazing things occuring in my life at the moment, so much so that I feel I’m approaching the crest of a wave (which may be considered literal, when I skipper a Yacht in Greece next month.)
    Being able to work with the Production team, the community cast and the professional actors is a huge reason for this, I am so loving the experience. ( Please excuse the American grammer ;-))

    Where else can I spend an evening being Blind, Drunk, tied in hell and still be home by 10.

  2. Can’t say clearly enough how much I support what John, Katey and all the others have achieved over the last couple of years, working so hard to get the funding for and putting on, this amazing play. I agree with Shaun, minds will be blown on seeing it.

    I am having such fun, being in the community cast. Was deeply moved by what we rehearsed yesterday, this experience will stay with me for a very long time.

    All love and Blessed Be this fantastic community work.

    Jen x

    • Thanks, Shaun and Jennifer, and all of you, for your strong support. It really does help keep us going.

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