Jon Oram second left, Keith Johnstone sitting centre, Roddy Maude Roxby seated far right on the Royal Court Stage
Theresa Dudeck, writer of 'Keith Johnstone a critical biography' is making a documentary film about Keith Johnstone and organised an on stage interview with the him and some to the original members of Theatre Machine. The Royal Court Theatre was Keith's early theatrical home. He had been appointed Literary Manager of the Court, reading and selecting scripts, when Bill Gaskill invited him to run the writer's workshop. This was exactly 50years ago. The philosophy was not to talk if you could show or do - action over words. So when Edward Bond was struck with the idea that a chair could be a character on stage, the writers had to stand up to demonstrate it. John Arden, David Cregan, Edward Bond, and Ann Jellicoe were among the writer's in the group. It was an extraordinary reunion in the week that Ann died; Keith especially found it a poignant occasion. The writer's group had a huge influence on Ann, the writing of the Knack cam directly out of those workshops, and the idea of don't tell but show if you can was a big part of her directing as well as writing . Alongside the writers group Keith started developing improvisation with actors and they became Theatre Machine. Here they discovered the significance of status to make performance more natural, and many of the games and rules such as yes..and that are still a fundamental part of impro came out of that time. Keith told us how much they laughed, and so they performed it to audiences to check that it wasn't just them that found it so amusing. The audiences laughed even more and louder. When Keith left England for Canada in the mid seventies, Theatre Machine continued performing and developing their own style. Roddy Maude Roxby has an big influence on their style, especially with his love of masks. Keith' work and his book Impro has changed theatre in perforce and training dramatically. There was no improvisation in drama schools then, now its an essential part of the actors training.
In in 1985 when I first took over Colway Theatre from Ann, I ran ten day a course with Keith at Monkton Wilde in Dorset for a select group of twenty actors, directors, writers and drama/theatre teachers. Among the group were Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott, who were to go on to found Improbable Theatre. Phelim McDermott. Keith introduced 'The Life Game' for the first time on this course. When I ran to Phelim again at this event he told me he "vowed to put on "The Life Game' himself" Twenty years later he made a serious theatre show of it and toured it world wide . Improbable regularly return to it. A collaborator of "Life Game" and Improbable is Lee Simpson who was also at the event. Co-incidently Lee told me he remembers me in Norfolk when I was a drama Advisor and he was still at school. His Drama teacher insisted that we meet me and Lee did an audition for me. Extraordinary he remembered after so many years. I was apparently helpful.
Lee Simpson, Jon Oram and Keith Johnstone
It was amazing to spend a brief moment with Keith again. I do remember the ten days he taught at Monkton Wilde and how in the evenings he would come back to Rose Cottage, my house just a short walk away and we's talk about they day. I learnt more about teaching in those few days than I did in three years at Froebel. As We talked about teaching again but mostly about Ann. Keith was genuinely heartbroken, they have been close friends for sixty years, he is unable to attend the funeral because he has a flight back to Canada booked, and he can't walk now unaided. As left I told Keith I would be the celebrant at Ann's funeral in a few days and whether he had anything he wanted to say about her. He didn't hesitate - "Yes" he said "Ann always wanted to be truthful, and she always was. Tell them that." I will.
Ann Jellicoe obituary
Michael Coveney and David Edgar
Friday 1 September 2017 16.46 BST
Last modified on Wednesday 13 September 2017 17.22 BST
Playwright and director who scored an international hit with The Knack and pushed the boundaries of community theatre
There were two distinct, equally significant, phases to the career of the playwright and director Ann Jellicoe, who has died aged 90. Both were rooted in her dedication to making good theatre of text, and good text of theatre. This led to a slightly conflicted attitude towards her profession that was only fully resolved when she broke clear of the Royal Court – where, in George Devine’s game-changing English Stage Company of the late 1950s, she was a much favoured and respected linchpin, writing two plays that are part of a legendary canon in Sloane Square, The Sport of My Mad Mother (1958) and The Knack (1962). The second of these made an unusual, quirky star of Rita Tushingham on stage and in Richard Lester’s “swinging London” 1965 screen version, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
It was only after leaving London for Lyme Regis, Dorset, in 1975 with her husband, the photographer Roger Mayne, and starting what was to become a highly influential career in community theatre that, for the first time, Jellicoe said: “I didn’t feel a divided person.” She wrote a play about the Monmouth rebellion, The Reckoning (1978), for the local comprehensive school, which was staged, with a cast of 80 amateurs and a few professionals, by the University of Exeter, with financial support from local trusts and charities, as well as the local council, which supplied a large banner and plenty of chairs.
In 1979 she set up the Colway Theatre Trust to further explore doing plays in the community, producing more than 40 large-scale pieces, including those of major playwrights – David Edgar, Howard Barker, Fay Weldon, Nick Darke – with a south-west of England historical connotation. Subjects included a female brewer’s confrontation with a crusading Dorchester vicar during the cholera epidemic of the 1850s (Edgar’s Entertaining Strangers) and social unrest in the post-Napoleonic industrial slump (Barker’s The Poor Man’s Friend). In 1985 she passed the baton to Jon Oram whose renamed Claque Theatre continues to evolve spectacular “living history” community epics, not only in Devon and Dorset but all over Britain.
Rita Tushingham in the Royal Court stage version of The Knack, by Ann Jellicoe, 1962. Photograph: Roger Mayne Archive
Jellicoe was born in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, and grew up there and in Saltburn on the north-east coast, attending Polam Hall school in Darlington and then Queen Margaret’s, Escrick Park, near York, before going to London and the Central School of Speech and Drama as the second world war ended. She was an unhappy child, her father, John Jellicoe, an officer in the armed forces, and mother, Frances (nee Henderson), having separated before she was two. The idea of being an actor was her solace from the age of four.
She took dancing lessons and supervised plays and charades throughout her school days. Between 1947 and 1951, after Central, she worked in London and the regions as an actor, stage manager and director. She made a study of the relationship between acting and theatre architecture before founding and directing the Cockpit theatre club to produce experiments on an open, Elizabethan-style stage, the first in London for 400 years.
Portrait of Ann Jellicoe by her husband, the photographer Roger Mayne
She was invited back to Central in 1953 as a teacher of acting. She stayed for three years while submitting plays, one of them, The Sport of My Mad Mother, to the Observer playwrights’ competition organised by Kenneth Tynan. The play, awarded third prize jointly with NF Simpson’s A Resounding Tinkle, featured a bunch of wild boys given to casual violence, a couple of outsiders and a spiritual leader who gives birth to the creative future. It was, said Tynan, a tour de force that belonged to no known category of theatre, but it was booed off by critics and public alike, and reluctantly withdrawn by Devine after only 14 performances.
Devine, who co-directed the play with Jellicoe, recognised in her, said the critic Irving Wardle, a tough professional competence as well as an experimental writing talent. He regarded himself as her “mad uncle” and invited her to join his writers’ group (along with Arnold Wesker, John Arden, Keith Johnstone and Wole Soyinka). She continued writing and also translating, first Ibsen’s Rosmersholm for Devine, starring Peggy Ashcroft and Eric Porter in 1959, and then, in the West End in 1961, Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea, starring Margaret Leighton, Vanessa Redgrave and John Neville. Her 1964 translation (with Ariadne Nicolaeff) of Chekhov’s The Seagull for the English Shakespeare Company at the Queen’s was an unforgettable occasion, starring Devine as Dorn, Ashcroft as Arkadina, Peter Finch as Trigorin, Redgrave as Nina, and Peter McEnery as Konstantin.
By then, she had scored a bull’s-eye with The Knack, which she co-directed with Keith Johnstone; James Bolam, Julian Glover and Philip Locke were the three men circling Tushingham as the girl who comes to the house they share. The play was an international hit and was directed in New York by Mike Nichols. When William Gaskill took over as the Court’s artistic director in 1965, following Devine’s death, he opened with Jellicoe’s production of her own Shelley, a documentary-style biography of the poet wrestling with notions of goodness, the rejection of creative artists and the place of women – Shelley was portrayed as a misogynist. Described by one critic as “a strange, almost wilfully unappealing play”, it was followed by Simpson’s The Cresta Run and two other equally snubbed but embryonic classics – Edward Bond’s Saved and John Arden’s Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance.
After her first play bombed, Jellicoe had nonetheless been approached by the Girl Guides Association to write a spectacle for a cast of hundreds. In The Rising Generation, girls were urged to reject men and claim Shakespeare, Milton and Isaac Newton as female. Unsurprisingly, the Girl Guides rejected the play, but it surfaced briefly as a Sunday night show “without decor” at the Court in 1967 – with three actors and a mere 200 children – in what Jellicoe described as “the most successful first night I ever had”, thus leading her to think more along the lines of plays in the community.
The Reckoning, Ann Jellicoe’s first community play, in Lyme Regis, Dorset, 1978. Photograph: Roger Mayne Archive
She briefly took a more commercial tack in a West End comedy, The Giveaway (1968) at the Garrick, in which another plot of sexual siege-laying was wrapped in an absurdist scenario of a family who had won a 10-year supply of breakfast cereal contained in eight huge on-stage crates. After a break to have two children, she was invited back to the Court as literary manager, and directed there Paul Bailey’s A Worthy Guest (1974) as well as a series of children’s plays (“Jelliplays”), before decamping for good to Dorset with her family. She wrote several community plays for her new company and a fine practical handbook, Community Plays: How to Put Them On (1987). Her productions always had a core of professionals – usually the writer, director, composer and designer – but everything else was done by and with the community.
After stepping down from running the Colway Theatre Trust, she still wrote for the organisation as it widened its geographical net beyond the south-west: Changing Places (1992) was a play about suffrage in Woking, Surrey, and its local heroine, the composer Dame Ethel Smyth.
Her first marriage ended in divorce. Mayne, whom she married in 1962, died in 2014. She is survived by their daughter, Katkin, and son, Tom.
David Edgar writes: In 1984, I was invited to Lyme Regis, Dorset, to see Ann Jellicoe’s fourth community play, The Western Women. I’d known of this work but was unprepared for its overwhelming impact in practice. I was asked to be the writer on the next-but-one play, and accepted immediately.
Ann was aware of the sensitivities of the communities she worked with, but also of the likely politics of the playwrights she would attract. She told me that, if I had to make the play about wicked capitalists, it would be best if they came from out of town. In fact, we came up with a story of a titanic struggle between a pioneering woman brewer and a fundamentalist parson. Entertaining Strangers: A Play for Dorchester was performed in St Mary’s, the church the vicar founded, with more than 100 community actors.
The play was remounted at the National Theatre in 1987, with Judi Dench and Tim Pigott-Smith in the leads. The revival fed a myth that Ann’s method was essentially colonial, airlifting in her fancy theatrical friends to impose their vision on the community and move on. In fact, Dorchester is the best possible example of the long-term impact of the form: my play has been followed by six more, with a seventh (by Stephanie Dale) coming up. The Ansell family – three generations, participating in every Dorchester play so far – is a prime example of how Ann’s community plays changed lives.
• Patricia Ann Jellicoe, playwright and director, born 15 July 1927; died 31 August 2017
In February of this year I was lucky enough to meet Jon Oram, one of the most important figures in the world of community theatre, at the house of Stephen Lowe as they met to talk about the project they are currently working on together. Jon agreed to let me interview him, for which I’m very grateful.
Q: Can I ask you first of all to tell me a little bit about who you are and what you do.
A: I’m Jon Oram; I’m Artistic Director of Claque Theatre which is basically me. I have associate people who I work with on projects, but it’s very small. And I’m a community play theatre director and a playwright. I also run improvisation workshops and do lots around improvisation.
I’m based in Tunbridge Wells and I came to community plays by working with Ann Jellicoe years ago on the Sherborne community play (The Garden by Charles Wood, 1982). I then went down to Cornwall as theatre animateur and did a community play there (The Earth Turned Inside Out by Nick Darke, 1983); and then one in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire (Waves Against The Flames by Jon Oram, 1984). Ann asked me if I would take over the Colway Theatre Trust and I co-directed ‘Entertaining Strangers’ (by David Edgar, 1985) for Dorchester with Ann at that point, and then took over the reins.
There was about two thousand pounds in the bank and a secretary for half a day a week and nothing set up for the future. I did about eight or ten plays in the West Country before moving up to Kent (we changed the name from Colway Theatre Trust to Claque), because Kent is very much the gateway to Europe or could be; and we started doing work across Europe and then taking community plays to Canada and America and kind of broadening it. And although people talk about the Colway model we’ve developed from that; the core of that is still there but we have a much more engaged process I think with the making of the play and the finding of the scripts.
Q: And what are you working on at the moment?
A: I’m now working on a community play in the City of London. I’m seventy this year and the thought of doing another play wasn’t in my mind. We had been turned down for funding for three previous projects so it was getting a little bit tiresome; getting money now for community plays is really difficult. But then I got a phone call from the City of London Director of Housing saying they would like to do a community play in the East side of the City of London, Portsokun; it’s an area that kind of runs parallel to the East End. And that just seemed really interesting. So I went and talked to them and looked around and just thought ‘well yes let’s go for it’.
And you’re not writing this one?
I’m not writing this one, no. I have been chasing Stephen Lowe for years because I knew him in the West Country. We were on the Arts Council board down there. Thankfully he slowed down enough for me to catch him up, and finally he’s said ‘yes’. I’m very pleased about that. So Stephen is writing the play. I didn’t want to do the two; I have often done the two things but I just felt I needed another pair of hands on this one.
Q: What does Claque mean?
A: It goes back to Greek times. The claque were a professional group of audience members, and writers and directors would hire the claque to come to their theatres to cheer things up a bit and to move the thing along. But also writers and directors would hire them to come and visit other shows to give them a bad time. There were various jobs in the claque; my favourite was a group which would invade the stage. And the idea of the audience invading the stage was the inspiration for me calling it Claque. It’s also a French word – slap! – which is like an awakening. So those two things together. When people say they don’t know what it means the description of it helps them to understand what it is we’re trying to do in our work.
Q: How many community plays have you written?
A: I think it’s thirty eight now. Given that each play takes about two years and I didn’t start until my mid thirties that makes me well over a hundred years old.
Q: How did you get into writing them?
A: Well the first one was in a hurry. I was asked to do a community play for Gainsborough for the opening of the Gainsborough Arts Centre and it had to be done quickly. So I just did it and I enjoyed the process. I continued asking other writers to write plays and then I went to Canada and did a play in Eramosa. A woman there called Dale Hamilton, a political figure in the community, was concerned that land was being bought up by businessmen in Toronto and development was happening on prime agricultural land and she wanted to do a play to protest it. We set up this thing called ‘soundings’; asking the community to come in and express their feelings about development and to get a sense of where the community was now. We did about twenty of these and the sounding process became a part and policy of the work; a contemporary exploration of where we are and then finding stories in the past that have reverberations with the present. The process of the community doing that play (The Spirit of Shivaree, 1990) led to the community standing against the local township council at the end of the play and taking over the township. So a cast, a community play cast, was now running the township; and over three years they were able to stop the developers. So the political, social implication of doing those soundings was huge. And when I came back here I started asking writers about that process and they got very anxious about it. Writers almost by dint have a voice; they have something that they want to say, so the idea of giving that all up … I just found it hard to find a writer who would go through that process. So I wrote the plays.
Q: Did you feel as you were writing the plays that you were learning more and more? Were they getting better? Was there a moment when you wrote something and you thought ‘this really works as a community play?’ And have there been plays that you think were particularly successful?
A: I think the successful ones are the ones that really seem to echo the contemporary voice, the contemporary concerns, and are quite visible in the piece. When I first came back from Canada I did a play up in Hull with Remould. I wrote it and co-directed it with Rupert Creed; but the subject was decided and they had a very good research team; they were going on the old model as it were and I didn’t want to disturb that. (When I say any of this I’m not against anybody’s way of working).
That was an interesting play because it was within living memory, and that’s rare. It was about the trawlers and safety on trawlers; the men were going out to sea and two vessels had sunk because they didn’t have proper radio communications and the safety conditions of the trawlers was appalling. The men were always at sea so the women started the campaign; and the women who campaigned were still alive and still about and they came and did the workshops with us and the rehearsals with us and some of them were in it. Yvonne Blenkinsop and Christine Smallbone, who lost her brother on one of the ships, helped us a lot in rehearsals and she came to see it. John Prescott was the head of the Dockers union and had assisted the women, and he came to rehearsals. And they were all being represented; so there was somebody playing John Prescott, there was somebody playing Yvonne. Yvonne was also in the play but she couldn’t play herself because she was too old. And that communication between living people and real people was so moving.
I’m just going to tell you one story about Christine Smallbone. We did a depiction of the drowning, a depiction of the trawler going over, and we had the trawlermen on people’s shoulders, on wooden beds that we made that were on people’s shoulders, and they stood on top of that. And we had the real sound effect, the real sound of the last messages coming back from the ship. And I saw Christine standing there watching, just standing underneath where the actor who was playing her brother stood; and I was very concerned. The next scene was her going to the offices of the trawlermen saying enough is enough. I put the word ‘fuck’ in the dialogue and the community said ‘no we can’t have that’. They didn’t want the word but this is what Christine said. And then, this was the first night, the actress who was playing it had obviously spoken to Christine and she got to the word and she went ‘f … f…fuck!’; she actually said it. Which was right. And I just felt a pair of hands come round my waist and it was Christine and she said ‘bless you’. And that was the most … I mean … you know, it’s that human, it’s that human connection. Whether it was a great play I can’t say. I think it was a good play but it was too long; there were too many aspects that were being forced in it.
Q: ‘Vital Spark’?
A: ‘Vital Spark’. It had a profound effect. I don’t know if anything concrete has come out of it but they’re now celebrating the twenty fifth anniversary. Twenty-five years on a community is celebrating a play. I mean that’s quite an achievement for them don’t you think?
Q: Does doing a play about a story within living memory make it more difficult to create because in a way it becomes an act of memorialisation as well?
A: Yes, yes. I think that communities are much more tender about the subjects, so you have to be very careful. And of course if you are writing about people who are living, or people’s parents or grandparents that they have memories of you, have to be really incredibly careful.
I wrote a play for Shillingstone in Dorset (The King’s Shilling, 1987) and we discovered that a woman connected to the story was still alive. I went to see her and and I told her the story and she was very touched by it, and she said ‘this is lovely; I wish I was still in the village’. ‘Well you could be for ten days’, I said, ‘you could be in it’. And she was. I wrote a little speech for her and she sat in the audience and at the end of the play she came forward and said ‘this was my story; I’m Elizabeth’. And the cast on the first night didn’t know that was going to happen. I’d taken one of the actors to work with her; he was going to walk up onto the stage after she’d come forward, say ‘would you have the last dance with me and walk me home’, and then take her down and dance with her on the floor, which is what happened. And the cast was just … it’s being able to touch history and think ‘my God it’s so close’. It’s like the relationship you have with your neighbour; it’s just that they live next door in the past as it were. And if plays can do that, that’s magical. But that’s not about the writing or the goodness of the play; it’s about the human spirit.
Q: There is a lot of emphasis it seems on researching real peoples stories. What’s so important about that? Because on some level you’re still inventing everything aren’t you?
A: Yes, you are. And you don’t know what these people felt or thought. But you’re linking it to the feelings and thoughts of people now. If you find a story that has reverberations to those you can carry those thoughts and feelings back. So instead of starting with a relationship to a character in the past, I’m starting with your feelings and thoughts and finding somebody that might share them; it’s the other way round.
In terms of having real people, or real names, what the community actor can bring to the stage that professionals can’t is their sense of place, their sense of their own history and I think writers need to be aware of this. It’s deeply personal and they feel a huge sense of responsibility to the ancestor that they’re playing. They can go and stand in front of ‘their’ house; they can knock on the door and say ‘hello I’m playing a character that used to live in your house’. A barber came up to me at the end of a play that I did in Tunbridge Wells and said ‘I walk around my house now and I think ‘Elsie touched that door knob’. She’s present. She’s present in my house. And she’s so welcome’.
Q: Presumably a lot of people that are in these shows may only have been there for five or six years; so they haven’t got a rooted sense of the community.
A: No. The people that have arrived, absolutely they don’t. But the people that do infect the people that are new. Everyone has an attitude to where they live, If they’ve chosen to live there or they’ve arrived by circumstance they have an invested interest. Some people come to the plays because they want to meet people; a lot of amateur drama people are not so keen because they’ve only got a small part, they don’t necessarily get the sense of ensemble; so they come and they count the lines that they’ve got and they leave. They don’t get it until they see it and then they think ‘shit I’ve missed a wonderful thing here’.
One story about the connection I was talking about. ‘Entertaining Strangers’, which was for Dorchester, then went to the National Theatre and Judi Dench was in it. It was written down (a reduced cast) and David Edgar had written in the programme that it was hard to meet the limited resources of the National Theatre after working with Colway. Maggie Ansell had played the part that Judi Dench was now going to play, and Judi came down to meet Maggie and came away from that meeting saying ‘that bloody woman’, (who she had enormous respect for but Judi’s a bit of a swearer), ‘I’ve been in the rehearsal room for eight weeks trying to get to the point where she started’. Now that’s recognition of what I’m talking about; a woman who is deeply rooted in the community.
Q: Is it important to have a writer who comes from outside the community?
A: I think so. Well I know so. That’s like saying that’s the only way to do it, which it isn’t, but I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. Dale Hamilton came from her community and she carried agendas. It was just too personal to her. And then you are in danger of going deaf.
Q: The outside writer hasn’t got the rootedness of community that you have been talking about. So what are the benefits of the writer as an outsider?
A: First of all it’s very rare to find a writer of real quality in the community that you are asked to do a play in. I think partly what they bring is ignorance, and I think they bring doubt. And they bring a bit of fear. I think they bring those things that I think are really important. They don’t bring a confidence of ‘I know this place’. It’s like a marriage of two minds. You have this person who is a qualified, a more than competent writer with an enormous amount of curiosity, subject to the people that they’re talking to. And then you’ve got these people who know their community, who know each other, who have sensibility, particularly about what is happening now which is why the soundings are so important. So you’ve got two experts meeting. If you have somebody who is both an expert on what they do and an expert on what they’re writing about I don’t think you’ve got a community play. And the other thing that the writer brings to it is openness and objectivity and new light, new ideas, new thoughts, new interpretations on what it is people are thinking and feeling.
Q: Is the writer trying to understand the codes of that community in some way?
A: The archetypal writer is someone who has something to say and that can cause problems; because they can come with their own agendas in terms of what really sparks them off. So you have to say to the writer ‘try and be open’. And you have to say to the community ‘try not to tell them things you don’t want the play to be about’; there’s a kind of censorship. I tend to work with the community and a research team about three months before they meet the writer, because the writer’s going to arrive thinking ‘oh shit what am I going to write this play about’. And invariably very early on they’ll grab stuff and cling on to it because it’s like a security blanket. (David Cregan who died recently did a few plays for me and the first one was in Beaminster (Crackling Angel, 1987). I got a phone call about three o clock in the morning and it was David, who was sitting up presumably burning the midnight oil, and he said ‘shit Jon I feel so responsible’ and hung up again.) He got me out of bed to tell me this! He just needed to tell somebody. You ask the community to hold things back and to enthuse and excite the writer, because at the end of the day you can’t tell the writer exactly what to write. If you’ve chosen that writer it’s because of what they bring to it; their passions. So you’ve got to find something that sparks them.
Q: And what are the things that you most often end up saying to a writer who may be working on their first community play?
A: It’s writing for the form. The canvas is huge. You can have up to 130 – 150 people in the cast and there are tricks that have been developed over the years. Ann Jellicoe came up with an early trick that she called ‘baskets’. How do you write a play for say eighty people? Well you have eight protagonists; you have eight central people, which is about as much as an audience can carry. And each of those characters have a family around them: a mother, father, brother, sister, wife, children, neighbour and that’s ten people. Those eight people with ten people around them make up your eighty people. And you can see ‘that’s the Fell family, that’s the Smith family, that’s the council, those are the Suffragettes’, whatever the grouping is you understand the uniform. In terms of design we try and make it so that you can identify the groups in some way so that you try and make it simple for the audience to follow. So this discussion around what I’ve learnt about promenade theatre is quite an important one to have. And when the script starts evolving I’m saying ‘don’t forget that for every scene you’ve got 120 people who could be contributing in some way. Let’s keep them busy. Let’s use this wonderful facility’. So the numbers; the numbers game is huge.
And then there’s staging itself. You have scenes that are quite short, and you can move from a stage up in the north and the audience turns round to a stage in the south. I don’t know why we’ve done this but we name our stages geographically. We have the north, south, east and west stages. We have stages that break up so that they can then move around. So you might have an 8 foot by 8 foot stage but actually it’s made up of four smaller stages which can then truck through the audience. We say ‘keep the audience moving; keep them turning’. We’re learning about that the whole time and those things are really important for the writer; the fact that the space is so flexible; and that the audience needs to be present in what is happening.
Q: Is the audience more of an implicit character in community theatre?
A: Yes. In Stephen’s play that he’s currently writing, which has the working title of ‘Sanctuary’, there’s going to be a march of the unemployed, and there’s going to be a recruiting of people to join the skeleton army, and there’s going to be Salvationists; so there are moments when people are making street speeches, and instead of having one speaker you can have ten; people on step ladders, or sitting on people’s shoulders, or standing on a chair. And they can be planted throughout the audience and gather people around them. First of all this gives ten people a speech, and to a certain extent you have to think about the experience of the performers; for example if there is somebody who can’t project very well you can give them a speech like this. But also in the interval the audience can talk about the different speeches that they heard. You’ve been at a social event. You’ve got something to tell somebody that you’ve come with who you got split up from. That’s important. You can try and promenade together and stay together as much as you can but then a parade comes through the middle, or there’s a riot you’ll get split up; you loose each other for a while. I think that’s really healthy. Something for the writer to think about is ‘how can we split the audience up?’ How can we get them to share different experiences from one another? How can we implicate them in the drama? How can we get them to hold a banner and march with the unemployed? How can we set up situations where you can be standing next to a character that, while a scene is going on, turns to an individual in the audience and asks them a question?
The first community play I saw was Howard Barker’s ‘The Poor Man’s Friend’ in Bridport (1981). In it a boy has been accused of setting fire to a flax field and the Judge is going to condemn him to death as an example to the community. There’s a wonderful speech in which he says ‘On Monday England was very calm and on Friday very wild; and today I suggest is Friday, so we have to make an example of you in these wild times’. And a little girl is standing next to me in costume, and she pulls on my trouser leg and I look down, and her mum is standing next to her in costume, and this little girl says ‘I don’t understand. Why are they hanging Sylvester?’ And she’s looking at me, and I’m looking at the mother, and they’re waiting for an answer. There’s a six-year-old girl dragging me reluctantly into the past, identifying with this boy two hundred years ago who was murdered unjustly in her community. So the writer needs to be aware of those possibilities.
Q: And is there, with this notion that the play wants to make the audience implicit / complicit with the drama, something that says, at the end of the play, ‘we’ve all been together in this room?’ Does an awareness of the moment of the social event and the awareness of the play need to come together? Does that make sense?
A: It can. It does make sense. I mean I’ve been doing this now for thirty , closer to forty years and I know I’m just scratching the surface. And yet the notion of community plays, the actuality of community plays happening is vanishing. Yet it’s such an extraordinary concept. I’m going to be very sad to leave them.
Q: Is there an impetus and a trajectory – which is a dramatic one because you’ve got all these people – that leads to an awareness of collective power? Is that generally what happens in these plays?
A: You can’t really define how you end any play. I mean it’s theatre right so you can’t put those rules on to it. What I find galling is a play that ends in a celebration that hasn’t earned that celebration in its storyline; that has not been a journey of struggle and thought, or when the thing that we’re celebrating is so small and shallow or untrue. That we must end on a celebration. Howard Barker’s play ended on a celebration of the hanging of Sylvester, because it was ‘well done’; he had a hangman with a heart who wanted to break the young boys neck quickly and cleanly so he would leave this world with the least suffering. That’s a challenging celebration; that’s a very thoughtful celebration. The cast carried him round on their shoulders and the audience followed, and we were singing ‘it was well done, it was very well done, lucky old Sylvester’.
Q: Extraordinary. How many drafts does a community play go through generally? Is it a lot?
A: It can be. I asked August Wilson and Sam Shepherd, the America writer/actor, if they would write a play for Minneapolis and they both said ‘what a wonderful idea, what an extraordinary process, but no’. I was talking about the process of soundings and Sam Shepherd said “opinions in America are like arseholes, everybody’s got one. And they won’t tell you what to write about. And they won’t tell you what not to write about. And they will criticise your play”. So I ended up writing it (Flying Crooked, 1990). And Sam was right. Minneapolis is a theatre town; you can’t afford to go bums up there. So I was very careful. I ended up writing that play sitting on the pile of the drafts. It was chair high, and I sat on it and typed the last draft.
Q: And is there a general move that you can see – obviously you’re trying to get deeper into the story – in terms of the form?
A: There’s a draft of all the stories that you’ve got from the research material. Then you’ve got three or four synopses, which you’re presenting. You’ve then got the first draft of the first half, the first draft of the second half, the rewrites based on the following conversations with the research team and then we might look at some scenes that has been written and play around with it improvisationally. You then do a public play reading and get feedback from that before the next draft. Then we do the casting and you find you have a proportion of women and a proportion of men and a proportion of children that doesn’t match the numbers of characters in and so you have to rewrite the play to suit the collective of people that you’ve got. Then there’s people coming forward in casting and you think ‘Oh God I’ve got to write something specially for him or her’. So there’s that draft. Then you go into rehearsal and all of that is tweaked and you arrive at the production draft.
Q: So how long is that in total? Around eighteen months to a two year process?
A: Eighteen months minimum.
Q: And do you think some writers may not engage with the process because it’s a heck of a lot of work for what might only be a handful of performances?
A: Twelve performances, usually. Yes But they do write them. I asked Arnold Wesker to write a play for Basildon. I’d asked him to come along to Thornbury near Bristol to see a community play that I did there that Nick Darke had written (A Place Called Mars, 1988). I’d said to Nick ‘don’t think of it as a play, think of it as a film. Don’t ever question ‘is that possible?’ We’ll make it possible’. We were working in an empty ten-pin bowling alley; it had balconies where people could sit, it was huge. On one stage was a house, another was a big raked stage with a village square. And Nick wrote a stage direction like: ‘Amelia sails to America’. So we need a big sailing ship. And then it says ‘she is blown off the ship in a gale, and she’s swallowed by a whale and she’s blown through the blowhole’. Directions you could realise in film. . So we had a life-sized whale, because we could, and was blown into the sea, and the whale did swallow her. She crawled out of the blowhole and stood on its back while it swam through the audience. It was amazing. And at the end of act his huge tail comes up and about three hundred blue paper plates went flying across the audiences. And Arnold, who refused to promenade, was sitting almost alone in the gallery upstairs and afterwards he said ‘if I’m going to write this play it won’t be a promenade. No focus’.
He came to Basildon, very dubious about this awful thing that he’d seen, but he loved the Towngate theatre. The community play was going to be the opening, production. Theatres aren’t conducive to promenade anyway, but he was very clear: ‘right, nothing like promenade here’. Then he walked round the town and said ‘I can’t write this play. I can’t find one positive thing to say. You talk about celebration you must be kidding’. I don’t know what induced me but I took him to the local bus station for beans on toast and as we came out a guy came up to us carrying bin liners and stinking of meths, breathed all over Arnold and said ‘the trouble is, when you wake up from the dream, Margaret Thatcher’s still alive’. And he looked at me and said ‘right, I’ve got the first scene, I’ll write it’. (Beorthel’s Hill, 1989)
Q: It seems to me that the Basildon play is partly about the writer wondering what to write about. There is a constant refrain ‘I wish I knew who these people were’.
A: It’s interesting you should say that because I pointed that out to him. I worked with him for three days on the final draft. He sat and read it to me and then he read it again before I was allowed to say a word. I said nothing to him about what to write but at the end I had this thing burning away inside me that I wanted to say: ‘I think you’re wrong’. And I said ‘you express that you feel that you don’t know these people, but I think there is a line in this play that shows that you don’t. And it’s not for me to tell you what to write but you said there are no poets in Basildon. I think you’ll be proved wrong. Because I think you have a group of people who are going to do your play better than you ever expected; and you’ll be moved by it’. And he said ‘you’re right, you don’t have a right to tell me what to write’. On the first night I had Dusty Wesker on my left and Arnold on my right and the play started and the narrator comes to this line and he says ‘there are no poets in Basildon. Well one or two, there’s always one or two’. Arnold had spoken to him. Dusty said to me ‘I’ve never known Arnold make a concession’.
Q: I think there’s something interesting about those plays, plays about those types of places, plays where you’re not doing a history play because they’re new towns, and actually the play is partly about trying to find what the community is, about groups of individuals coming together.
A: Yes. Well Arnold was given somebody’s diary and that was the centre of his play.
Q: Was it well received? Because it is quite a knotty, tricky thing.
A: Well, you know the story. The town refused to take refugees who had fled the rule of Idi Amin, and the children went to the airport with flowers because they were so shocked by their parents and by the council that had turned away these people. We had all these flowers dropping and the kids running on the spot; beautiful, it was a lovely ending.
Q: What do you think a good community script needs to do? And do you give advice to writers or generally just let them get on with it?
A: Listen. I think the writer does need to bring their own voice, and in order to do that you need to listen and observe and ensure that the issues of the day are addressed in some way, and that they are clear. You also need to create something which the audience can enjoy because for lots of them this will be their first experience of theatre. So I think enjoyment is important. I think music is very important not just in the mood it creates but technically it gives the untrained actors a break and it’s a breathing exercise to remind them to keep the volumes up. And the audience should go away feeling that they’ve participated in something, that they feel implicated; that they feel that they could have done something. If they feel they could have done something in the drama then they might actually do something now about the issues in the real world they live in. I want them going away feeling slightly energised about the potential to change things.
Q: So you’ve given them a sense of agency through a kind of fictionalised agency in the past?
A: Yes, I think so. Is that too much? People come away and they’ve made the connection. If I was to write a play now in Tunbridge Wells, who voted to stay in (during the Brexit referendum) I think I’d try and emphasize the fact that they did that and that the battle is not over. We’d find a story in the past associated with being ungracious; when a group of people in Tunbridge Wells was ungracious about accepting people in the community, a past example of when a group of people in Tunbridge Wells fought that attitude and won. Or fought it and lost and then won. You find a story that has reverberations.
Q: Because it’s so difficult to get funding for community plays I would suggest that smaller versions of the community play are being done with heritage funding. The danger is perhaps that you are creating a chasm between the present and the past. It also keeps the past in the past, and we can’t affect the past but the past can affect us.
A: One of my favourite lines is ‘you may be done with the past but the past is not done with you’. So the past is great if you’re going to draw from it. And if you’ve got historians reading and doing the research they can get very twitchy about what’s false and what’s true. With plays I think you have to bend what is true to get to truth; you have to bend the facts sometimes a little bit in order to get to a deeper truth about now. But if the plays don’t relate to now you’re going to see a history lesson.
I did the first Dorchester community play with Ann, and then David Edgar and I talked about doing a second one and he brought Stephane Dale in to write it with him, ‘A Time to Keep’, the fifth one. And afterwards they asked me if I would write a play and I said ‘yes but I want to go through this process of soundings, and getting the voice of this community’ and they said ‘we want it set in this particular period of time because we haven’t done that period’. And I said ‘no thank you very much’. I love them, Dorchester, they do great things and they’re great to see but I don’t want to go back to what they now call the Colway model. I fundamentally believe I’ve had more success with communities in terms of their sense of the plays afterwards when the subject has come from where we are now and then searching back.
Q: Are there any community plays that you’ve not been involved with that you particularly admire?
A: Well the Howard Barker play was … I’ve never got anything close to that; a phenomenal piece of work. He won’t touch them now; I don’t think he’s interested in that kind of narrative anymore. And I think he really resented Ann trying to depoliticise the work. Ann was a pioneer, extraordinary, but there were certain things she believed in like ‘politics is divisive’, even though every single writer she asked was a rabid socialist. David Edgar put a Marxist speech in the mouth of a Victorian Minister in Entertaining Strangers. And ‘if there are any baddies make sure they come from out of town’. Politics is only divisive because we don’t talk freely about it. The sounding process is where you talk about that and you try to come to some understanding if not a consensus. Consensus isn’t everything but understanding is. And you then present a series of voices; I think it’s imperative actually. The only story a community has got to say is political because it’s about the collective.
Stephen Lowe presented his early ideas for the play to the community. It was is the result of a dialogue Stephen and I had recently. Before you read it I wanted to acknowledge Stephen’s openness in the process. Some writer’s, most in fact won’t say a word to anyone about work in progress. Stephen has opened himself up to open discussion and criticism to a community. Writing a play for a community is a tough call and you will never please all of the people all of the time. This is part of a process and it’s asking for your input. Right now we especially need local research to find real characters, true stories and actual events around the ideas in this generalised treatment so as to make the play specific to the streets you all live in. This is a generous offering and you can be sure Stephen wants to meet your expectations - another reason this is a tough commission is that the feeling of responsibility can be overwhelming.
Thank you Stephen. This in the spirit of creativity - everything may change.
A Community Play
For the East side of the City of London
Itai Shonin- Japanese saying translated as-
MANY IN BODY, ONE IN MIND (the perfect community)
BACKGROUND 1840- 1890
It appears there are three, possibly four communities living shoulder to shoulder, not living with but bumping up against
The height of the British Empire. The greatest empire ever known.
London-the manifestation of its success.
Community Two - The Financial City and the Industrialists
The city of London the financial heart of the world.
The home of the windowless Bank, the great cathedral of the St Paul’s.
The power of steam above ground-the giant Liverpool Street railway station-and, miraculously, underground with the creation of the new Tube network. One monumental building after another sprouting everywhere.
Community Three- The Workers, residents, traders of the East Side of the City of London and the East End
In order to continue with this seemingly endless hymn to finance, there was a constant need for new workers of diverse skills, drawing in not only the local East End natives but also immigrants from throughout the world, migrant traders from across Britain, and the dispossessed Irish working largely as navvies. The largest influx of eastern European Jewry caused by the diaspor, the Chinese with food, washing, and the world of opium, skilled crafts workers from India, artists from all over the world, anarchists plotting explosions of their own, women forced into prostitution or as cheap labour in the clothes factories, freed slaves from the West Indies and -
The teeming swirl of hawkers, pickpockets and pimps, hurdy-gurdy players, flower girls, match sellers, so brilliantly drawn by Henry Mayhew and there are some in top hats and silver watch chains who risk muddying their shoes as they survey their estate or their wives in fine bonnets dispensing food and a few coppers to the needy on every street corner.
We the audience enter a promenade space and will stand among the community cast throughout. And we are with them on the street .
For some, the elite, this was a time of heaven. For the vast majority it was a hell.
It was, to parody Dickens- the best of times and the worst of times- it was Blake’s dark, satanic world, reaping great rewards for a few and mere survival for the rest.
And some worked hard to save the lost souls-the Salvation Army offered soup and salvation. And the music halls offered gin and some kind of escapism with Champagne Charlie and Vesta Tilley masquerading as a man.
We can and must find genuine real entertainers who lived in the streets of Portsoken, Aldgate, Middlesex Street.
The biggest missing factor in this treatment is the lack of specific LOCAL stories, domestic events, geographically located experiences and real life actual characters. We (and by that I don’t mean you Stephen) need to find those local stories, events, and experiences and named characters that relate to the groups and circumstance that you are offering here. I think the greatest ‘objection’ is going to be around the lack of domestic personalised observation of this actual unique community. Local audience shiver in delight simply by hearing the name of a street they know, simple refrences that bind them to their community and will connect them to the play and encourage them to pay attention.
And politicians like Gladstone trying to solve the Irish question, Disraeli unable to unite what he called the two nations and families losing brothers, fathers, sons to wars in Afghanistan. And Darwinians preached the strongest of the fittest, the Marxists that revolution was coming, and the anarchists armed themselves with what weapons they could acquire.
There was no real community in any meaningful sense. Collectively one could say it was fragmented but each group felt deeply a real sense of community; and meaningful to them. As with the two Jewish communities below each group were communities and their enmity with the other group bonded them ever closer to their own community. Knowing who the enemy is can be very bonding
The starving Jew from the East found little support from the successful resident Jews- indeed, they did not even share a common language. And on the streets they were often the recipients of racist remarks and assaults- The first clubs they formed were boxing clubs.
The Irish bitterly resented the treatment they received from people they felt had practically starved them out of their homeland.
The native residents saw the immigrants –be they Chinese or freed slaves, Indian or Irish- as a threat to their employment.
And everyone was involved in the daily battle to find work, to bring home food, to escape the pernicious workhouse for another day. And everywhere a variety of languages could be heard.
It was hell. It was Babel.
And we, the audience join-
The Soup Queue.
And all the characters that Henry Mayhew* (see note below) depicts in his sketches of the London poor, including the monkey grinder, the French onion seller, and the Italian singing snatches of opera, the ballad seller, and a few of the top hat and middle-class women giving charity. All is here; the pickpocket, the overwhelmed sailor, the Chinese washerwoman, the flower girl. Little match girl, and inside the select 'opium den- the rich man on his prowl. There is tension in the air and it will turn into violence. Including domestic violence.
You have to pay for your supper and the singing is led by the Sally Anne lasses- they rehearse the poor in their favourite hymn- throw out a lifeline *1. Elsewhere through the crowd other singers - men's voices taking up the hymn but changing words into obscenity. Sally girls sing louder it is clear they are threatened. The men appear through the crowd, sticks to hand-
They sing-we are the skeleton army….
as they suddenly attack the young women, seizing on their banner. The poor run and hide wherever they can. They are defended by the small, desperately poor Russian immigrants who speak only Yiddish, - largely unread, country folk; but members of a boxing club- for their own protection.
And that of the girls…
The Irish were ready to join in-any excuse to fight the English
(cf. appendix a- song)
Most of the time the work was simply hard, unsatisfying, dangerous. It gave the worker no joy. And after work was spent as drunk as one could afford, their fist clenched ready for fighting, and the women struggled to survive as mother or whore-or both.
(Cf. appendix B-the Families)
UNTIL once upon a time…
For once and perhaps the only time - there was the offer of real work. Work one could be proud of.
JON NOTE: REAL WORK: you need information about more trades - independent trades that come together to make a collective thing. (More below)
One of the leading bankers of the City Corporation is planning the headquarters of an international bank and this time there will be Windows. He has employed the legendary Pre-Raphaelite Burne-Jones to design the secular equivalent of the great cathedral ‘s stained glass windows. The technique on how to do this had been lost for centuries. However, with the impact of the Gothic Medieval revival-largely inspired by William Morris-the old skills are being rediscovered from the casting of the wrought iron to the process of staining the glass and the intricate assembly process of the final image. Instead of portraying the key images of the Christian faith, the Saints are replaced by the serious Victorian partners of the bank, including he banker himself and Jesus is replaced by the mother of money Queen Victoria. The bottom level of representation is images of the lowly workers.
Gradually and initially without much enthusiasm the team is slowly drawn together by a common discovery of the freedom and joy to be found in the good work and the creation of real beauty-even though some are aware of the workers exploitation that lies at the heart of the image.
They have tasted that something different- something that gives them back their own self-respect- their PRIDE- and for a moment they see it with the light streaming through the glass; they are silenced by their own beauty.
But only for a moment before they are ushered away for the official opening.
But it’s long enough to give them the dream- to create their own vision of paradise amongst the dark satanic mills. Even as-
The Bombing of the Window
There is a coming together, a potlatch, a party, and a common pride.
But of course communities are not utopia- they are constantly challenged.
And the anarchist cell blow up the window.
It's coloured shards flying everywhere. The cell is hunted down ruthlessly.
And the new community, wounded, bruised, struggles to hold together.
The men and the women walk through the shattered glass, sometimes holding a fragment against the sunlight. It is a picture of desolation. Many have conflicting emotions- the first, that it is their work that has been stolen, twice once by the masters the second time by the fanatics. A sense of loss, and of betrayal.
Someone could be wounded, if not dead,
The aftermath is painful but finally brings all the families to come together in the struggle against the mammon o f money that seems to rule supreme and their common inspiration is fired by the creation of the new-
The Children's Window
They need hope and turn to the young of the future for the vision. And here the reality of the play fuses with the audience as we gradually see the new stained window come to life- and it is the vision of the future created by the children of the local schools ( a different school each performance and therefor a different image of paradise).
And the children join the actors.
past fuses with present as-
from the church next door we hear the choir singing in the language we have not heard before-German-
The final song-ode to joy.
and all slowly join in as Schiller’s lyrics are translated into the language of Babel - in English/ Hebrew/Yiddish/ Irish etcetera- a cacophony which finally harmonises into its climax as the stained glass is finally complete.
JON'S NOTE -THE IDEA OF THE WIDOW AS ALLEGORY
I love the idea behind the glass window it’s an allegorical tale that resonates with this this community past and present and I think it would be good to discuss how it resonates for people. Let’s ask them to accept the premises that it says a something pertinent about life here in 1880, and about life here now. I think it would strengthen the argument for it. But I get it… absolutely and I think it is very strong. Where I have a problem is that it is not a real local story. Let’s hang onto the idea of a stained glass window as a metaphor and maybe discuss ways of presenting it so it’s not confusing it with factual events but enlightening the facts. The widow shows us the spirit of the people and their oppression and all those things that really happened and we can find true examples of that happened here. Is there the possibility of the widow being a parallel story that weaves in and out of real related stories of 1880. May the window is set in another time /place/world/ maybe its clearly a fantasy/ Dickensian paper that comes out weekly/ when our real stories explode maybe they explode together so the fragments of glass then become part of the real world of 1880 helping to explain and comment on their predicament. So I’m finishing where I started and saying the biggest hole I think we have to fill is presenting historical events and people unique to here.
The Post Play Party
The transformation of the performance area into a modern-day coffee-house. The audience are offered an invitation to stay for the post-show party-for the past has questions for the future. Improvising in an informal fashion, the performers will ask how and if the world has improved- for example the Sally Army might ask if people no longer sleep on the streets, the Irish if they are now united, the urchins wondering if kids still have to sleep 6 to the bed, etc.
Gradually this will clear away into the straightforward chat and the singing and dancing and the multicultural performers’ and the remaining members of the audience. Party
JON'S NOTE ON POST PLAY PARTY The impro factor and having a social event as part of the evening is great. One of the great joys of promenade is how it can switch in an instance from theatre to carnival, to social event; how it can implicate the audience in the drama and put them into various roles so that in a sense 'perform. Promenade can involve the audience in work, protest, taking sides, making decisions, answering profound questions, and face to face interaction. But at the end? They will have been on their feet a while and the evening would fade away rather than be climatic. This would be great for the interval a twenty minute social event in the 1880's - it would help develop the audiences skills and give them permissions which we could exploit in act two
Song is a central part of the play revealing the cultural diversity of the community from Christian hymns, musical hits, ethnic songs, English folk-songs as well as a sound score inspired by them.
B:- THE “FAMILIES”.
1; The Irish. The builders, and the explosive experts, with all their families, forced out of Ireland through poverty, some sympathise with the Fenians and the act of blowing up the English mainland, others are more cautious backing Gladstone’s home rule. They are held together by the powerful matriarch,
2. The RUSSIAN (diaspora) JEW. the latest major wave of immigration from Poland and Russia. They have nothing except their lives, and expect the support from the Jews already long established in he city. They find no great welcome from their own who are worried they will be painted with the same brush as these simple country folk and indeed the eldest synagogue becomes a centre of heated debate. For the arrivals they are shocked that so many Jews have converted, including the Prime Minister, Disraeli.
3. The established AMSTERDAM JEWS - the two sides can hardly speak to each other as the Russians only speak Yiddish. Banking is their raison d’etre (the Rothschild history)
4. the English working class male and female, desperately trying to find work and increasingly anti-the immigrants taking their jobs (a loose and often drunk alliance with Scots and Welsh) This in turn has key sub-divisions including-
5. SOLDIERS from the Afghan wars.
6. THE UNDERWORLD. STREET GANGS. PROSTITUTION
7; THE SELF-TAUGHT RADICALS. Attending the new Mechanics education schemes, benefit from Mundella’s compulsive education act 1871- and connection with –
8. THE UTOPIANS -early socialism, Marx and the left wing (Morris, Carpenter) art movement; Darwinism. God is dead.
9: The Indian community? The Afro-Caribbean freed slaves? The Chinese?
10. THE EMERGING WOMEN’S MOVEMENT. The prototype SUFFRAGETTES, ANNIE BESANT’S campaign for the match-girls. The successful campaign to raise the age of consent to 12 led by-
11. THE SALVATION ARMY (and other fundamental post-Darwinian sects etc..) also` includes the rapid rise of spiritualism and magic (Madame blavatsky etc..)
None of these main groups get on well with each other. Each has their own particular area of expertise and crossing the line can be extremely dangerous.
Each group has both an internal conflict and an exterior conflict. After that comes the drama we will be exploring.
APPENDIX C THE CONFLICTS
Conflict within: –
The family falling apart, divided by the decisions on how to bring about a united Ireland for them all to go home to. The Fenian member willing to take dangerous and bloody action and the mother desperately believing in GLADSTONE AND PARNELL until the news of his INFIDELITY-creates a Catholic back lash.
the difficulty living in the country of their oppressor and the way they are prejudiced against by the rest of the English.
An additional factor is that they resent the new arrivals seeing like the English the threat to their jobs and their lifestyle.
the conflict between the established and often converted to Christianity successful Jewish middle-class and the large numbers of East European Jews not even speaking a common language and with no resources expecting the synagogue to immediately embraced them. Which became not the case-
the endemic prejudice. They set up boxing clubs learn to defend themselves-some turn to Marx and anarchism. Some have already attempted to kill the Tsar.
In short, the divide between those who want to take action against oppressive societies and those concerned to maintain the status quo, which they have created with such difficulty.
Half believe the immigrants stealing the jobs cause their poverty. Some believe things should be done about it even though others try to explain the necessity of having them , others are beginning to understand the socialist dream and even William Morris's idea of an aesthetic utopianism. And there are the revolutionaries.
The anarchist and the Fenian have a considerable amount in, common-that this the overthrow monarchies and capitalism and the same belief that a useful tool is the bomb.
1st April Wednesday
Yesterday had a good meeting with Finbar Wholly and Frazer Swift at the Museum of London. They are now new partners with our project and will help us wherever they can. We still need to talk specifics once the play is confirmed and we start to design a parallel heritage project. The basis of a heritage project is to run a series of events that serve both the needs of the play and our partner organisations. Finbar and Frazer were both very positive about our hopes for the play and the benefits it will have for them and their relationship with the local community.
2nd April Thursday
Meetings throughout the day with Jacquie Cambell, Fabio and Kirsty to plan our schedules after Easter and what will be the final two weeks of the feasibility period.
3rd- 7th April EASTER BREAK
8th April Wednesday
We have Public Sounding tomorrow at the Artizan Library. Kirsty has organized a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter coming for a deaf family who will be attending. We just need to be mindful of this in anything we are doing, and brings up the subject of signed performances and adding this service to our expenses and funding targets. We’ve had BSL interpreters at performances before and, being a promenade performance it requires some real planning as the action moves from stage to stage, so we will need a minimum of two and some real rehearsal time; and while that’s for much later it’s worth considering now. Fabio spent the day in the library promoting the soundings with posters and display material. He’s also pushing the public on the 28th
Toynbee Hall’s “Mapping the East End Project’. looks like an interesting project we may be able to connect with, and could and maybe should influence the heritage project we are planning. It’s a priority of ours to support what existing groups are doing rather than compete. I've been sent an interesting description of the project t.
In1898, a group of Toynbee Hall residents led by Charles James Booth set out to create a map of the social and economic conditions of the area from Hammersmith to Greenwich, and Hampstead to Clapham, believing the conditions described by social reformers to be exaggerated. What he and his team found were considerably worse conditions than had been described. These maps would become known as Booth’s ‘Maps Descriptive of London Poverty’ (1898-99). This pioneering study has had a significant and lasting influence on social research methods and social policy to this day.
The majority of the dire poverty they discovered over 110 years ago was centred around Toynbee Hall. Subsequent studies of the area in recent years have revealed poverty and ill health has clung to these geographical areas and housing arrangements, despite overall standard of living improving. The borough Tower Hamlets is one of the most disadvantaged areas of the UK. Child poverty is at 49%, the highest in the UK, whilst pensioner poverty, overcrowding, ill health and hig income poverty are some of the worst in the country. Alongside this the area is experiencing a rapid transformation with the development of new and iconic public and private spaces, and the rise of property prices.
In partnership with Middlesex University (Social Policy Research Centre), the Toynbee Hall Information Centre is proposing a heritage research project ‘Re-mapping London’s East End’. The project will map the socio-economic changes of the area using a combination of official statistics as well as original data collected through community based research and activities. In particular, we want to return the ‘qualitative heart’ to the research by interviewing people in the local community that made Booth’s research so ground breaking, and which subsequent mapping studies have not included. The inclusion of local people’s experiences will enrich our understanding of the specific challenges facing the area.
Through comparison with Booth’s original maps, this project is an exciting opportunity to explore the changes that have occurred over the last 100 years, investigate improvements as well as new challenges, and engage with the diverse local population. This research will strengthen Toynbee Hall’s heritage as a leader in social research and have a lasting impact on Toynbee Hall’s future service delivery.
9th April Thursday
We ran an open Sounding at the Artizan Library, I was pleased with the attendance, we saw some thirty people over the course of the afternoon, and were able to run a group sounding and speak to others individually. Even though the play wasn’t the focus of the day we had our first volunteers signing up. What we’d come together for was to get to get some sense of what people thought of their community, their hopes and fears about the future, the positives and negatives about the present. What emerged was an optimistic feeling about living in the city but also a real desire for change and community development. I’ve added their views to the web site sounding page. http://www.communityplays.com/what-people-are-saying.html. A date and time has been confirmed for the public meeting so we were able to announce that and several attendees of the sounding plan to support it.
10th April Friday
Letter of invitations to the public have gone out to service providers, those who attended the influencers presentation, community soundings, Portsoken pioneers and everyone on our database, which is everyone we have met so far. They in turn are sending out to their networks. We’ve also sent out letters to parents via the Sir John Cass Foundation School. On previous play projects Claque have made a lot of the public meeting and whilst I don’t want to underrate its value here, there has been such a strong outreach to existing groups that have garnered ‘sounding’ material, lively discussion about community issues, and positive reactions to the idea of the play. We’ve seen a wide representation of groups and individuals who have already expressed views and a commitment to the play that the public meeting maybe won’t be as representative as everything that has led up to it.
13th April Monday
A good number of responses to the invitation to the Public Meeting coming in.
14th April Tuesday
Fabio came to Tunbridge Wells for a daylong planning session where we started devising a draft timetable of parallel project. We have tried to design something that responds to the most prolific views from the soundings and the ‘common- ground’ goals of service providers and potential partners. We have also compiled and draft list of aims and objectives of the project as a whole. It all needs further work, and input. These will be presented to a new steering committee that we hope we will be assembling in early June. I want to present the new steering committee with recommendations and draft guidelines to help get them started; nothing is set in concrete but in my experience starting with a plan that open to change is better than starting with nothing.
16th April Thursday
A meeting has been arranged with the Jan Pimblett and Geoff Pick of London Metropolitan Archives. Jan came to the Influencers presentation and went back to her boss, Geoff Pick, saying that they must get involved. They have some ideas about a possible parallel project involving photography and audio recordings about the area, which sounds as if it would fit beautifully. I know no more than that, except that a photographer is already involved and that they are thinking about a Heritage Lottery bid. We also want them on board because of the wealth of research material and knowledge they have which will help enormously with the writing process.
21st April Tuesday
Meeting at Metropolitan Archives with Jan Pimblett and Neal Hounsell, Kirsty and Fabio. Geoff Pick who was to be there couldn’t finally make it, but what a good meeting. Jan is to help us with a bid to Heritage for a two year project that will help us research the play, input into the script development but also produce some heritage exhibitions. I have already started on a draft timetable and will make adjustments and develop ideas to incorporate the Metropolitan as partners.
22nd April Wednesday
Meeting at the Guildhall to discuss Community Engagement and the design of the Float for Lord Mayor’s show. It is to represent Portsoken. Neal Hounsell, Marcia Connell, Will Cooper, Helen Price, Kirsty, Fabio and Will Cooper were there. We need to secure some funding and have ideas presented in draft form by the first week of June. This is a pretty tight schedule, as I would like to see as much input from the community as possible. We discussed the pros and cons of an actual float; I said I’d like to see a walking element to have scope for good representative community participation. It needs to have some carnival feel… demonstrating Portsoken’s history and mixed culture is quite complex. We have until November 14th so there’s time. I hope that whatever plans we put forward initially don’t need to be absolutely fixed. It will, by definition of a community project, need to have flexibility and time to develop and agree a final image if it is to truly represent the whole community.
27th April Monday
We’ve finalized a running order for the public meeting at Sir John Cass Foundation School. Neal Hounsell will host and welcome, Victor will talk about the Aldgate development project and the new square. I will then talk about the community play along with Paul Fulton and Alison McKenzie who were both in the Camden Road Community play. They will be there in costume. Caroline Masundire (Assistant Director Rocket Science) will talk about the Portsoken Forum, as it’s a potential legacy project. We will finish with Q&A and the vote. It’s a lot to get through but everyone needs be brief to cover it in an hour. Fabio has prepared a display and we have Drumworks to play as people arrive. If we get a yes vote, which I’m confident we will, bearing in mind the support we already have, we will pass out volunteer forms and we’re off, as they say.
28th April Tuesday
The Public Meeting, has always been the final event in the diary for this first stage of the project. They way this feasibility study has panned out, there have been more direct meetings with groups, service providers and the like than I had anticipated; the assessment of support has spread over the course of four months rather than peaking in a final public meeting, so the vote, though unanimously a ‘yes’ wasn’t dramatically surprising. The Drumworks group was great and we will hopefully be able to work with them again, maybe the Lord Mayor’s Show. Everyone spoke well; it’s always inspiring to hear past play participants’ talk about their experience. The great majority volunteered across the range of activities: steering committee; research, performing, and more. Arianne Gastambide, a designer I’ve worked with on numerous shows came along to support and had a flurry of keen people asking her about design and signing up. Someone has since commented they thought the event was a little stage-managed. It’s true that everyone who spoke did so enthusiastically about the idea and experience of community plays. You could argue that the vote to go forward seemed inevitable, but when it’s so clear the that the four month study reveals a play is not only feasible but clearly supported, and wanted, optimism is hard to quell. I can only say, from my point of view, that I want the residence of the city to have the experience. There are so many benefits, socially, culturally and in terms of building and strengthening communities, it’s hard not to champion a play for you; and maybe not so wrong that I do.
29th April Wednesday
I guess we would have liked there to be more people, at the public meeting but as I said at the start of the feasibility study, numbers are not an indicator at this stage. More importantly I estimate, from my contact count that I have met and talked to somewhere between 250 and 300 people. I’ve not heard or received any negativity towards the play, only the occasional individual ambivalence about being in it, which is not unusual by any means - people generally undervalue their own talents and abilities. There is clearly a general consensus that the play is the right thing to be doing and it ticks so many boxes in regard the agendas and ambitions of all the service providers. Yesterdays meeting both confirms what we knew about the support and interest out there but also showed how much work needs to be done to draw people in and engage. Thankfully we start with a practical project getting a float and parade element together for the Lord Mayor’s Show. I will be interested to see how many and who have put names forward for the steering committee. An interesting factor about the people who were there is that they are widely representative. I must congratulated Fabio and Kirsty for getting out there among a very wide section of society. The contacts we have made in this process are, I feel, all open to being re-approached and invited to take part in whatever we set up next. It’s now time to start distributing the volunteer forms - which we haven’t really been too free to do before.
Step one is all but done, I’ll be meeting up with Kirsty and Fabio and possibly Jacquie tomorrow (Thursday) to share the information we’ve gathered and how we tackle the next immediate step of forming the steering committee - I then have the report to write up and deliver as part of a starter pack for members of the steering committee. I’ll set up a meeting with Jan Pimblett at the London Metroploitan Archives to start putting together plans for the heritage pilot project to start in January 2016.
For the moment Fabio leaves the team having fulfilled his contract to co-ordinate the feasibility study. His enthusiasm has been infectious and he is remarkably insightful that I’ve learned a lot from. I hope he might be able to join us again in some capacity in the future. He has been a real bonus; a great joy to work with I shall miss him.
30th April Thursday
Now that its confirmed we are going forward, my mind has turned to the writer. The study seems to point to a project that encourages and is open to the broadest and largest number of participants possible, so have been thinking of writers that might be open to that kind of process. I have been trying to entice Stephen Lowe for year to write a community play, the time and circumstances have never quite worked out but I’ll give it another go.
March 1st Sunday
I wrote to Peter Ackroyd’s agent Lucy Fawcett a few days ago and she called today to say that Peter has sent her a few ideas, but that I shouldn’t raise my hopes about him writing the play. “At least he’s nibbling’. Later in the day she forwarded his notes:
“Dear Jon: The nibbles...as per our conversation. Will await thoughts! All best Lucy”
and from Peter Ackroyd the following:
“I had an idea for the float, which might lead to a play.
· There are four centres of attention on the float.
· A monk with four small children chanting out a history lesson.
· A group of acrobats etcetera singing and dancing in the style of medieval pageants.
· John Stow sitting at his desk, writing in a large book with a lamp for illumination.
· Samuel Pepys reciting his diary for the Great Fire or similar.
· The chanting, singing, Stow's muttering and Pepys declaiming all have the key word of "London", accompanied by a drum beat that slowly grows louder.
That's my idea; If they don't like it that's fine. If they do like it, it might lead to a play. Best, Peter.”
Well it’s a sure sign of interest, but he’s over committed – he’s about to publish his biography of Hitchcock and is on his third volume of the History of England. He would be a great choice as a chronicler of London, but we shall wait and see. I have another strong choice in mind but I replied straight away:
Lucy, It’s perfect can you say to Peter: I don’t need to hesitate - I do like it - it makes total sense to me - I’m delighted the great chroniclers of London are included in the image, and that all the historical periods, separated by time are nevertheless connected. Peter, in my mind, I’d include yourself on the float as our contemporary chronicler, that’s not an addition to your theatrical idea - just a fact. I hope we can talk further. Thank you Lucy. You said time might be an issue for Peter. I can only add that whilst we might want to encourage communication between the writer and the community we do respect the writer’s work ethic, style and process. How Peter connects with the community, which is what could most affect the time element, is negotiable. I only know that Peter would be a great choice.
March 2nd Monday
Had an E.Mail from Tori, one half of a husband and wife team who run Bubble and Brit. They have over 15 years experience in arts, education, bespoke events, theatre, project management, team building, and film-making. If we can work with talented groups who have a proven record of work dedicated to the area so much the better for the project and the chances of sustainability. They seem very excited by the prospect of the play so it seems imminently sensibly to meet up with them. They are currently doing some documentary work with residents they’ve worked the children and young people with on Middlesex street and for the national play day events 2012 -13. Their experience in film, visual arts, forum theatre, play and devising with children and young people, reminiscence, intergenerational work and so forth would be of great benefit to the play and lead in projects.
Have been looking at Marquees; the majority of tent companies hire out for big social events and weddings; there’s academy marquees who’s tents serve as temporary short/long term stores, there’s circus tent hires. In terms of sustainability there’s the more practical possibility of buying a tent for the Aldgate Square, something that can be used for numerous and continued events beyond the life of the play. In planning we need to consider the long-term benefits. The Square has the real potential of becoming the centre of the resident community, a sort of village green for Aldgate, wouldn’t that be great.
Meanwhile Fabio is setting up local soundings, the Portsoken Pioneers and display stalls in the Barbican and Artizan Libraries.
March 3rd Tuesday
Soundings comments are starting to come through on the web site. It never ceases to amaze me how a common theme develops out of the soundings, no matter how varied the individuals are by politics, age or culture, by age there’s a common thread emerges. It happens every time. Here there seems to be a common wish for disparate groups and cliques to come together and for everyone to find a collective voice and shared sense of place and history. Take a look at the comments.
March 5th Thursday
We had two good meetings today, the first with Sean Gregory from the Barbican Centre, and the second with Rosie Farrer from Spice. Sean Gregory is Director of Creative Learning at the Barbican Centre, and an inspiring musician and teacher of music in his own right. He was very positive about collaborating with us on the community play. The talent available in the City is immense and it really is where we need start looking to put together the right professional team. There really is a lot more discussion to be had about brining together and sharing the aspirations of the Barbican Centre and the play. The play should be looking to meet the agendas of those who are already positively serving the City. The Barbican has and is doing a lot of great work in the East End. Sean is to contact a Drumworks project and ask them to come and play at our public meeting on April 28th. We’ll arrange another meeting in May, following the public vote, and will hopefully meet with others from the Barbican with a shared interest in collaborating.
March 6th Friday
I had a good meeting with Rosie Farrer from Spice yesterday. Rosie clearly felt the same she E Mailed me and others on the Spice team the following:
We had some fantastic discussions about the things going on locally and how we could link them all up to culminate in the most fantastic community play. I thought it would be useful to outline some of the things we discussed to you all and get your thoughts:
1. Time Credits - We had lots of ideas for how Time Credit earning and spending could be included in the play, both the development stages and the final performance. I'm going to draft this up into a proposal for the steering group to consider.
2. Pioneers - Jon is really open to working with the pioneers, he thought they might be a useful group to either feed into or be present on the steering committee. We also discussed the idea of them being involved in the public vote event. We thought it might be a good opportunity to start to involve others from the wider community with the pioneers, as well as starting to get people excited and recruited to the float. Caroline - how is the plan for the One Portsoken development coming along? Jon thought it would be useful for him to see this and for you to propose ideas for how the pioneers could be involved for the steering group to consider.
3. Providers - The next Portsoken Providers meeting will focus on the play and the float and planning their involvement and support for these. I'm going to schedule it in for after the public vote (May most likely) and ask Will and John to attend to help shape their involvement. This can then go back to the steering group for feedback. How does all of that sound as an approach? Rosie”
It all sounds good to me, but the more views the better. Rosie is a very dynamic, positive person. I’m looking forward to working with her and the Spice Team some more
March 9th Monday
There’s a growing idea of a photographic project, maybe in collaboration with the London Metropolitan Archives who are collecting photographs and oral history recordings. We are really looking at ways to bring the history of the City closer and in contrast to today’s world. Maybe photographs printed large and displayed on walls close by the original photographer or artists point of view, and tour maps of the outdoor exhibition. This is an example of what I call parallel projects. They serve a number of ends – meeting the objects of bringing communities together, involving people in the creative arts, evoking a sense of place and researching stories and themes for the play script, to name just a few.
March 10th Tuesday
Partnerships are key in the Cityplay and as such we can’t ignore Toynbee Hall who have been serving the East End and the East side of the city for decades. Fabio is setting up a meeting with them. I’m especially interested in Toynbee Hall on a personal level. When I was and educational Drama Student at Froebel in the late sixties, I ran youth drama workshops in what was then The Curtain Theatre, now part of Toynbee Studios. There was a strong Youth Theatre there at the time, and the work they were doing was really innovative. These were the early days of educational drama and role-plays influenced by Brian Way and the early work of Dorothy Heathcote. The first sign that the Citypay is becoming a member of the community play family today with an E Mail from someone who marched in the Tunbridge Wells Lantern Parade last month: “Hi Jon. Good to see you briefly at the Lantern Parade and hope you are well. Someone mentioned to me about Claque doing something in the City of London. Just to say I have a friend, Jonathan Evens, who has just become the vicar at St Stephen Walbrook church, by Bank station - he is very creative and is an artist and poet. Just thought I would mention this if you wanted to create a link.”
Claque (formerly Colway Theatre Trust) has been producing community plays since 1979, over fifty communities now. Many have developed links, I fully expect past community play participants to follow the progress of this play, we have some Tunbridge Wells cast coming to the public meeting on April 28th to encourage everyone to take part.
The Aldgate Partnership are organising an event on 25th-26th April, the weekend before the public meeting, to celebrate the diversity of fashion in the area. The Aldgate partnership is working towards long-term regeneration of Aldgate; the square is part of their ongoing initiative to make it a better, more economically viable and socially sustainable community. The festival is to draw attention to the area’s centuries-old fashion and textiles heritage – as found on streets such as Petticoat Lane and Fashion Street. It will use its rag trade roots as an impetus for people to think about where their clothes are made now, by whom and in what conditions. The idea is also to put Aldgate on the map as an upcoming hub of sustainable fashion, and provide opportunities for young enterprise and regeneration in the process. I think it would be great if the play could have a presence there.
There’s also the Portsoken Float in the Lord Mayors show. We have to submit plans for May 1st… So ideas are welcome. There’s a lot to do between now and the end of April
March 11th Wednesday
Not unexpectedly I have a final communication from Peter Ackroyd’s Agent Lucy:
“Apologies for the silence since you emailed and I'm also sorry as I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint. I've been trying to follow up with Peter since your email and the difficulty of doing so speaks to the reason why I'll have to disappoint. We just can't see how we can get around the issue of his timetable. As you know I was anxious that with a community play there'd be calls upon his time beyond the writing of it but even with your kind assurances that you can work around his needs and availability, there still remains the time for him to write the play. After much to-ing and fro-ing these last few days and discussing with his book agent Sonia Land, I'm really sorry but we don't think there is the time.
I hate to have given you false hope with his initial ideas but I do hope you'll find someone who'll equally excite you all. With best wishes, Lucy”
So much to do and so little time is the curse of the creative. Of course it’s disappointing, he was clearly interested but far better he’s honest about time; it would have served neither him nor us if he had attempted it with half measure. It is important that the community has the opportunity to work closely with a writer and have some contact and substantial input. It’s something Peter Ackroyd couldn’t have given us with his present workload.
March 17th Tuesday
Set up Committee Meeting Fabio, Kirsty reported progress and we got feedback from the committee members. Discussed the Public Meeting for the 28th in the John Cass School. The Drumworks project drummers are confirmed. Some of my Impro Group and community actors from the Kent Plays have agreed to come, hopefully in costume and help with meeting and greeting. I’m to prepare a storyboard of the community play process as part of the display. Keep the meeting short but explain the project in different but simple formats and prepare handouts. Similarly the volunteer forms should be gathering only basic information so we can follow up individuals post the meeting. I should like to see a Steering Committee form in May, even if it’s a smallish group. We can then do a talent survey and co-opt members so we have a good representation of skills.
19th March Thursday
Victor Callister (City of London’s Assistant Director, Environmental Enhancement) took Fabio and I on a tour of the City, what a treat. We started in the Guildhall’s Great Hall, the seat of power in the City since the 12th century. This was an age when the Lord Mayor of London rivaled the monarch for influence and prestige, and it was here that the ruling merchant class held court, and made the laws and trading regulations that helped create London’s wealth. The Queen, even if only symbolically, has to get permission to enter the city. This magnificent medieval banqueting hall is a spectacular backdrop for royal occasions and entertaining visiting Heads of State and other dignitaries. The tour took in the Guildhall Yard marked round with the outline of the Roman amphitheater, the ruins of which are now deep below ground and accessible through the Art Gallery. In the Arts Gallery I was fascinated by the Victorian paintings of which there are many, but especially those I would term ‘problem pictures’ where who the characters are and what’s happening is open to interpretation and the imagination of the viewer. The Amphitheatre is a visual reminder of the age of the London and how much of it is buried beneath successive generations of buildings. London is like a problem picture with so many stories hidden beneath the surface. We went on to Cheapside and the roof of the New One Change – the view of St Paul’s is staggering, another great power in the city. Passing through Mary le Bow, the bow bells rang, along Watling Street where you get a sense of the medieval streets and the overhanging buildings. We are then into Bank and the Royal Exchange, the old financial powerhouse. Then we are among the 21st century architectural giants of the financial city; but dip down Popes Head Ally the giants instantaneously disappear and you have stepped back into the days of Dickens. Through Leadenhall Market into Lime Street past Lloyds and the new Leadenhall building into Aldgate where Victor talked about the prospect of the new upcoming square. I love being shown round communities by different people, each takes you to different places, and even the places you revisit you see through the different perspectives and stories of your guide. Victor has worked for the redevelopment of the city for over 25 years and his contemporary take on the city is influenced and coloured by his sense of history. His perspective of London and his hopes for the square as an opportunity for the community to redefine and re-find itself feels like a template for what the play should be.
March 24th Tuesday
Much of the last few days has been rewriting the draft policy documents that are now all back from being reviewed, and consolidating all the information gathered to start making recommendations about the nature of the project, its potential aims and objectives, the timetable, budget and so forth. I want to get as much in place as possible not only for the public meeting on 28th but the first steering committee in May. The outreach and research doesn’t stop but the aim is to have a strong foundation of information and contacts and plan of direction for the steering committee to build on. Thinking too about the float for the Lord Mayors show celebrating and reflecting Portsoken with some references I hope to the play. I think we should use some of the upcoming soundings to get ideas in about that.
Fabio has sent me a Youtube link a short film about last years Lord’s Mayor’s show. I’m optimistic we can make a good showing this year.
March 26th Thursday
Our regular Thursday catch up and planning meeting at the Guildhall was followed up with a meeting with the Portsoken Pioneers, a group of Bangladeshi women, a very influential group in the Mansell Street Estate. We were there to talk about the play, but dealt more immediately with the Lord Mayor’s Float and got a positive response and some creative ideas. I was able to present some of the storyboard cards I’ve been working on for the public meeting display. I’ve basically taken photographs of past plays that illustrate the play process and turned them into a cartoon style through Photoshop and added speech bubbles and explanatory text. Fabio had met with the group last week and asked them why they had chosen to live in the City they said “nice place” “clean place” “market around the corner” “people similar to me, with similar clothes” “mosque around the corner”. Today I asked how they would celebrate and they talked about the DAWAT (their celebrations of birthdays, weddings) Their ideas about the float for the Lord Mayor Show includes the red and green colors (Bengali flag) mingling with the Union flag of red white and blue; and the Bengali tiger. They would like to see their teenage children engage in the project and were going going to speak with them about their ideas for the Float They are going to prepare pictures of their own place in Bangladesh. They thought the comparisons would be interesting. They talked about: Surma river and Dhaka mosque as their iconic landmarks.
I was pleased to get a comment on the website from the Imam, Muhannad Al-Hussaini. He is clearly in support of the project. His interest in music and understanding that the arts can bring communities together is more than encouraging.
March 30th Monday
I had an invitation from Shira Khatun, Health Co-ordinator for Portsoken based at Toynbee Hall to the showcasing event of the City’s Community First projects. The event took place in the Green Box on the Mansell Estate. I was pleased to find I am now coming across more and more people I’ve met before. I’m making friends. The Portsoken Pioneers were represented; there was a display of the gardening project and other grassroots projects that have received funding from the Community Development Fund (CDF). Community First is a national £80million government-funded initiative, running for four years until March 2015. The aim of the programme is to help communities come together to identify their strengths and local priorities in order to plan for their future and become more resilient. This funding has helped around a dozen community lead projects over the last 4 years to deliver for the community of Portsoken. These are grassroots projects lead by local residents from, gardening to improving physical health and wellbeing to many others. They had a’ big brother’ room where groups could talk about their projects and visitors about their responses to the event. I was able to speak a little about the play, but more importantly meet other community activists. It was a good networking occasion.
Sanaz Begum, also from Toynbee who I’d met last month has sent me the results of a door-to-door survey; It’s a really useful collective view of residents about what they think of living in the city. Of course people have their concerns but I was impressed about how generally positive and optimistic people feel about living here.
Feb 3rd Tuesday
Preparations for the ‘Influencers meeting’ are progressing. Rebecca Southin is pulling together names of who to ask and an invitation has been designed and printed. ‘An ‘Influencer’s Meeting has been Jacquie’s for this project, and a good one it is. These early days depend on established ‘drivers and shakers’ (such as those on the set up committee) To call together more leaders of local groups, and others with political influence gives us an opportunity to get them ‘on-side’. If they in turn spread the word among encourage their groups and encourage them to the public meeting in April we have a better chance of getting the wide representation we want. Meanwhile Fabio is seeking out groups who might hold Soundings for us
Feb 4th Wednesday
As a general rule Fabio, Kirsty and I are meeting on Thursdays in the Guildhall but everyone’s got a full ‘to do list’ of things so I’m as happy not meeting tomorrow if we’ve nothing specifically to discuss that e mails can’t do email. I’ve arranged a meeting at the Garrick Club - they have funded my work in the past and the Cityplay is perfect for them. Fabio is finding ‘interest groups’ to do soundings with but I’m thinking an open public sounding would be good – it might be something for Spice host? I could talk to volunteers at same time or it could be a volunteers night with sounding attached - whatever works. I’m looking at the Mayors High street fund and searching out other local funding streams. I’ve set up Management page on the web site – it has a password so we can work on the feasibility report before sharing it publically. I’ve started filling in the funding, income and expenditure sections to get sense of the budget. Fabio and Kirsty are now both editors of the website.
The Cityplay website is developing more opportunities for visitors to share there thoughts and input information.
Feb 6th Friday
We’re working on a Cityplay postcard so that we can hand them out as we meet people, it explains who we are and what we’re about. It helps.
Feb 7th Saturday
This evening was the 5th or 6th Camden Road Lantern Parade; it’s now an annual feature in Tunbridge Well’s calendar. The first was a parallel project for the Vanishing Elephant, the community play I wrote for Camden Road. The first parade project aimed to not only to attract community involvement but draw attention to the fact that Camden Road had no decent street lighting, certainly not for the town’s most populated street of independent traders; It succeeded by drawing in close to 500 participants and in getting the attention of the Borough Council. Four months after the parade they installed new streetlights. Tonight a good 1,000 people were involved. It grows substantially each year; an example of one of the plays legacies.
Feb 9th Monday
Got a report from Fabio about where he’s at and the progress he’s making.
On Friday he’s at the "Buyer meeting" in St. John Cass school. H’e been reading Rocket Science’s "Aldgate cafè and pavilion consultation" from Caroline Masundire; it seems the second thing people would like to see most in the new space, after healthy food option, is "Activities such a play and events that bring the whole community together.” That’s before the play was ever discussed. That bodes well. Fabio’s booked a sounding with "Portsoken Pioneers" (a Bangladeshi women’s group) for the 3rd of March at the GreenBox. As they are learning English Caroline Masundire, who runs it, has suggested a short very simple presentation with drawings and sketches more than words.
Feb 12th Thursday
Rebecca has started negotiations with Sir John Cass School about having the April public meeting there. This is a good call. It’s a neutral space in religious, political, cultural terms. The only school on the City, it’s a line into the residents who live here. The school is of significant historical interest, but also central in the Aldgate project’s new square, sitting on the west side opposite St Botolph’s on the Eastside. It’s essential to get the school involved if we are to call this a ‘community play’.
Feb 13th Friday
Kirsty is setting up a public sounding at the Artizan Library sometime in early April. From the first day Jacquie Cambell put the idea of a Cityplay to me the name of Peter Ackroyd came to mind. Peter is the contemporary chronicler of London. His brilliant ‘London, a Biography’ is a must read. Discovering that the eastside of the city had been been the home of other great chroniclers on strengthened my belief that Peter Ackroyd would be a great choice as writer of the play. Everyone I’ve mentioned the idea too have almost as much enthusiasm for the idea as I do. To say that Peter Ackroyd is busy is an understatement so it’s a real long shot he’ll find time, but he’s so perfect a choice it would be negligent not to try. So I telephoned his agent today.
Feb 14th Saturday
Following a telephone conversation with Peter Ackroyd’s Literary and then Theatre agent. I sent a brief description of the project and principles of a community play. Lucy Fawcett, Peters Theatre Agent had said my request wasn’t something she could automatically say ‘No’ to so had agreed to pass on a written request. We can now only wait and see. I read one of Peter Ackroyd’s essays, a manifesto for the city of London in which he expressed his hopes for developing community here, I paraphrase. I have fingers crossed he sees this as an opportunity to do just that.
Feb 16th Monday
We’ve been thinking about a venue for the play and the natural place is the new Aldgate Square itself. The square will have the prospect of being a ‘centre’ for the community, a place where residents can gather, meet, hold events, celebrate; as you would a village green. But building a square alone won’t do that, habits need to be broken, new traditions need to emerge. The play, in celebration of the square could promote the idea of the square as the new centre for the community activities and demonstrate a way to use it and during the process of finding and making the play, several ways of using it through parallel projects. It could be for all things; markets, fairs, sporting activities, concerts, meeting-place, a site for protest or celebration.
I’ve started looking at tents and Jacquie suggested a Spiegel Tent, something I’ve heard of but never seen. I contacted speiegetents for some sense of sizes, and cost. Crystal Palace 18mx21m total capacity of 300-350 isn’t big enough, that’s just double our potential cast. The Majestic 20m x 24m capacity 400 is extendable to 29m with a large foyer capacity 580, which is a more practical capacity. The Majestic has a diameter of 20m and a length of 24m. This spiegeltent has 16 alcoves of 6 persons each, the total capacity is 450 persons. The capacity for a dinner is 300 persons. The rental price for a period of 4 weekends with all its travel, set-up dismantling and insurance is about 37,000 euro. As well as being expensive it’s a too exotic, highly decorated venue of wood glass, seating cubicles and the like. We need to start with something more neutral and certainly cheaper. So I’m looking at alternatives. This is just a one-item glimpse of costing the play, which is just one part of the feasibility study.
Feb 17th Tuesday
Kirsty has had a fair few people that she’s talked to about the play suggesting us doing a documentary film around the play process, and that maybe we should film some of these early sessions; the meetings and soundings. She feels there is such a buzz around the play and that it would be a shame to miss these moments. She’s suggested doing a bit of filming at the influencers meeting on Thursday – not the whole thing but particularly interested in seeing the audiences reaction to what has happened in Tunbridge Wells; I’ve asked Paul Fulton who was in that play to come and talk about his experience.
Feb 19th Thursday
A really positive day started with our regular Thursday catch-up with Kirsty and Fabio, moved onto the monthly get together with the Set-Up Committee meeting and ended with a highly enthusiastic Influencers meeting. Come March we’ll be more focused on soundings and gathering local responses and ideas around the project, so we have to crash on with the feasibility questionnaire – gathering data and costing the play. We are discovering projects in the pipeline that could have a bearing on the choice of parallel project we plan including the Portsoken float for the Lord Mayors show, a photographic documentary project in Aldgate and a young people’s film making group working with Bubble an Brit. The Set up committee have returned all the draft policies with comments and edits, so I’ll get them updated. We discussed the public meeting, the potential aims and objectives of the project, sponsorship and prepared for the Influencers. Much was said about the potential of the square around which we ran a small sounding exercise. I’ll add the committee’s comments to the web sites ‘what people are saying’
There’s a possible strong sponsorship deal to be made with a City development group. I’m to prepare a draft sponsorship package.
The influencers meeting in St Botolphs church was well attended by representatives of groups across the city and beyond. Rebecca had laid on some drinks and nibbles, Fabio had put together a display of community play and past project material I’d given him. Jacquie gave a moving introduction about why she wanted a play for the city, I presented a powerpoint talk about the process and Paul Fulton, a participant of a number of previous plays talked about his experience, especially the ‘legacy’ of these plays. There was a really good Q&A through which it became apparent there is a lot of enthusiasm for the project, and a determination from a lot of groups to get involved.
Feb 20th Friday
Nice feedback from the team about the Influencers meeting
Dear all, it was a pleasure working with you yesterday. Ready for the next step! Fabio
Dear All thank you so much for helping to make yesterday evening such a successful meeting. Lots of good feedback and there are now around 20 new people buzzing with enthusiasm and telling others about the project. Hurray! Jon – your presentation was perfect and hit exactly the right note. As Kirsty said to me last night, every time I hear it I learn something new. Even better was your reaction to some of the questions, especially about this being your swansong. Everyone was visibly and, in some cases, audibly, moved by what you said and how genuine and passionate you were. Also, please pass on our thanks again to Paul, because he added real experience and authenticity. The distinguishing between a community play and amateur drama was very important and beautifully done, as were his personal insights. Spot on. Lydia, many thanks for dashing in and out of the rain at severe risk of hair frizz and helping to set things up. Kirsty and Fabio – great engagement and support as always. And Rebecca – a million thanks, as ever, just for making sure everything worked and went smoothly and making it all look seamless. What a team. Jxxx
Encouragement is a great part of good leadership
An E Mail from Peter Ackroyd’s Agent, enough to say I think the door is opened a crack. I’ve responded: “we wait with bated breath - it would mean so much to the city…”
4th January Sunday
In the research I did over Christmas I came across Police reports and surveys on the various wards. They divide the city into North South East and West. The Eastern side includes the wards of Portsoken, Aldgate, Tower and Lime Street; It’s an interesting division in contemporary and historical terms. Deciding the exact community focus has been a question from early on and it must be decided at the next Set up Committee – it determines the range of the feasibility study.
7th January Thursday
Met with Kirsty (Leitch) and Fabio (Negro) in the Guildhall to talk through the feasibility study questionnaire about what we need to know and delegating tasks. I had put together all the necessary draft documents over the Christmas break and Jacquie is going to send them out to relevant City Corporation staff members that have expertise in the various policy areas. I’ll make amendments later based on their advice. I’ll also set up web pages on the community play website. Kirsty is looking at the Volunteer Guidelines. Fabio will work his way through the Feasibility questionnaire and get answers. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel the first calls will be on previous studies including Rocket Science documents: Portsoken in Focus and Portsoken in Numbers
Kirsty is clearly going to be hands on with this project which I’m very pleased about. We’ve agreed to have regular weekly meetings on Thursday. I’m away for a week in the Lake District but Fabio has a lot to do in the meantime.
15th January Thursday
An E Mail from Kirsty – things are moving forward:
Hope you are having a good break? Just dropping you a line to let you know things have been ticking over nicely. Fabio now has access to buildings, the ability to print and a city email account! He has been doing a fair bit of research and we met with Fay* to get a head start on the wonderful world of businesses in the Aldgate area. Just checking in to see whether you can attend the providers meeting on Monday? I think you said you could. We have been given a 30-minute slot to let the providers know about the play and introduce yourself and Fabio. Your presentation was great for the set-up committee was wondering if you could do a similar thing? Fabio has produced a mini feasibility study questionnaire for providers to pick their brains
*Fay Canning (Aldgate Business partnership)
19th January Monday
Attended a Portsoken providers meeting in St Botolph Church with Fabio. It’s a really positive idea that service providers meet together to hear what each are doing and considering how they might join up and co-operate. Unusual too. Most district councils are to big to conceive a collective meeting. There were service heads and representatives of volunteer service organisations, Toynbee Hall, the Church, City Gateway (youth services); Aldgate Partnership, John Cass School; Adult Learning, City Service commissioning and so forth. I was so impressed by the range of services and the imaginative projects they were engaged in. So many opportunities for the play to support work already happening, and potential soundings with youth groups, Bangladeshi women group, Jewish groups, and in school. This was a really productive meeting for us.
22nd January Thursday
Have been doing a ton of reading: Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of London especially rewarding. Becoming aware of the strength of material. Spent much of the day in the Guidlhall Library. It’s almost overwhelming; in fact the the largest collection of books on the themes of a single city in the world. John Stow’s Survey of London is a classic and not possible to take out as it’s a reference library but I was thrilled to find a copy in a bookshop- still in print. Ackroyd and all previous chroniclers of London have depended on Stow’s work. Four great chroniclers of London all lived in the East of the city: Chaucer (Aldgate) John Stow, (Lime Street) Samuel Pepys (Tower) and John Strype (Portsoken); what an extraordinary heritage.
29th January Thursday
The morning with Kirsty and Fabio in the Guildhall catching up on where we are at and next moves. Setting up Soundings is a priority, something we can pick up on following the providers meeting. We distributed names of people to connect with through February. Also started creating a list of people to invite to an Influencers meeting, an idea proposed by Jacquie. It will help us get a wide representation from the community to the public meeting. Lunch with Jacquie to prepare the afternoon meeting with the Set Up Committee which took place in the Green Box, literally containers stacked together to make a community facility, and small library and meeting rooms. The thrust of the meeting was clarifying the process, ratifying policies that had been returned. I forwarded the idea of ‘East City Play’ that seemed to make sense to people. I’ll expand on the idea on the blog pages. They also looked at the new web pages and discussed the interactive element. People can now volunteer, participate in an on-line sounding and contribute information to the feasibility questionnaire; hopefully add comments, ask questions and so forth.
We also talked through the Influencers meeting set for February 19th – I’ll prepare a presentation, display and bring someone from the Camden Road Play to talk about their play and legacy of CREATE.
September 22nd Monday
I get an email from Jacquie Campbell the assistant director of housing and neighbourhoods for the City of London. Would I be interested in discussing the idea of a community play for the City? More specifically, Portsoken a residential ward on the east side of the square mile.
September 23rd Tuesday
I call. Jacquie Cambell. She saw the Minehead play, Peter Terson’s Sailors Horse.; that must be 17 years ago. She was clearly impressed by it and had kept a community play in mind since then and now thought it might be right and timely for Portsoken. There’s a regeneration programme underway part of which is a new square for Aldgate due to be complete sometime in the Summer of 2015. A play might be the right thing to mark the occasion. More significantly a play would help bring diverse residential communities together. Jacquie asked what the first step might be. I suggested a meeting with potential ‘drivers and shakers who I could talk about the process. Following a positive outcome would be a three month study into it’s feasibility and co-opting a set up committee to support the study and prepare for public meeting and a community vote. Before that it was decided Jacquie would submit an internal application to fund the first phase.
September 24th Thursday
I received a draft application for the Portsoken Community Play that Jacquie had put together to comment on or make amendments,i made a few suggestions but It’s a clear strong proposal . We will wait and see. She submitted it the same day. Jacquie is clearly determined and outstandingly efficient.
This could be more than an exciting project. This is where London started; offhand I can’t think of a mere square mile of land anywhere that, historically, has had such a significant influence on the world.
September 30th Tuesday
An email from Jacquie apologising for the delay, she didn’t want to get started till funding was secured. It now is. II’m somewhat amused by the apology ‘for the delay’ I’ve never known a four day turn around getting funding. Amazing. We decided a date for her to get a group of people together for me to meet. It’s all happened so fast I can’t make a date till later in October.
23rd October Friday
Jacquie has gathered a group together and with her PA Rebecca Southin has arranged a meeting with key people in Portsoken at the Artizan Street Library. First person I meet is Steve Berwick who seems to run things at Artizan, and knows everyone a great character, and a a good start. He’s setting up the room. Jacquie and Rebecca arrive, friendly, enthusiastic, genuine - Jacquie seems very familiar I feel I know her from sometime past, can’t think where. People gather among them Caroline Masundire Associate Director of Rocket Science Kirsty Lietch - Community Development Officer works with Jacquie but very involved in Spice a community volunteer agency. Victor Callister Assistant Director of Environment Enhancement for the City of London. He’s especially interested in developing and improving the quality of the spaces between building, he’s working on the Aldgate regeneration programme, a hugely ambition project, the Aldgate Square is part of it. I gave a rundown on the process, takes about previous work and Jacquie explained her reasoning for a play and her experience of Minehead. There was clearly a positive response. There were key representatives and a general feeling about how the play was relevant to their own programmes and that it should move forward.
Took a tour of Portsoken including the residential estates, St Botolph’s church. Met Laura, the vicar who is very positive and is open to the potential use of the crypt as design making space. If the play were to happen on the new square the crypt would make great dressing rooms as they lead straight out onto it. The square will join up the church with Sir John Cass School, so their involvement will be key. Walked through Petticoat Lane which is in the Aldgate Ward. Thinking perhaps the project should be Aldgate and Portsoken, joining up two very distinctive, quite separate communities.
6th November Friday
London - went up to the office in the Barbican to meet with Jacquie and her PA Rebecca Southin. Passed Rebecca in the Aldgate Station selling poppies - there’s a real commitment to being in the community, engaging directly. She joined us later. We decided on a play project co-ordinator to work on the ground as it were collecting data, meeting people and setting up meetings and soundings. I’m to put together a job description. A three month post for three months (January to March 2015). Rebecca will post the adverts in house and among the volunteer service organisations - I think it best we keep the appointment local. It’s a short project period and having someone who has starting points will be helpful. We agreed an approach to getting a set up committee together, they will be responsible for overseeing the survey, advising on developing policies, timetables, aims and objects and recommendations and setting up and organising the public meeting in April at which point they’ll stand down to let community members form a steering committee; assuming we get a ‘yes’ vote that is - though we mustn’t assume anything at this point. Jacquie is going to identify and invite people to join set up team and cll the first meeting to explain their role.
17th November Monday
An E Mail from Jacquie with a list of people she’s invited to be on the set-up committee:
“ .You, Me (OK, those two aren't exactly a triumph of my persuasive skills, but still...) Steve Berwick - the manager of both community centres, and the 'salt of the earth' chap you met at the first meeting. Laura Jorgensen, the vicar at St Botolphs, who you met when we went to the church, Kirsty Leitch, our Community Development Officer, Fay Canning, who co-ordinates a forum for the business community. She's super-keen, loves the idea of the play and thinks we could definitely get sponsorship to help pay for a bespoke marquee, Tim Wilson, the Headmaster of Sir John Cass School. He can't attend the first meeting but will send someone, Caroline Masundire, who has done a lot of consultation and development work in the community. Hopefully Victor Callister as well and someone from Community Gateway, the organisation that delivers all our youth work. That'll make 9, and when we get our outreach worker, it'll be 10, which seems about right".
21st November Friday
Good stuff re history of the area from Rebecca (Southin):
" I have a bit more knowledge of the Shoreditch/ Brick Lane and Spitalfields areas which come under the Authority of Hackney & Tower Hamlets. You may find Cripplegate quiet interesting, which is in the City of London, I believe Hogarth’s ‘Gin Alley’ was based on this area in 1751. Bevis Marks Synagogue in Aldgate is also a good place to visit with interesting history. There is a plaque commemorating the life and death of Sir William Wallace, at St Bart’s – this was the site of his execution, where he was hung, drawn & quartered (a bit macabre!!)
To View Secret London Spitalfields click Here and The City of London click Here
I’ve started a History Time Line which I hope will prompt others to add more when we get it on line. We should create a website in the New Year or pages on communityplays.com.
9th December Tuesday
Meeting with the set up committee. Gave them the feasibility questions and laid out the basic programme for the months up to April and the public meeting. Kirsty Leitch is administering the project co-ordinator applicants, interviews and appointment when its made. Very happy about that. Spice and Kirsty are experienced in volunteer management and have great networks across the community. The set up committee between them have wide experience and knowledge - the process couldn’t be in better shape. Interviews are set for December 19th. Ive put tougher a job brief and work schedule - I reckon its something like 29 days work spread over three months. i’m to prepare draft policies to distribute to city officers to amend and ratify. The policies on Equal opportunities, Child and vulnerable adult protection, Volunteer management Guidelines. Health and Safety, Constitution and Steering Committee and Volunteer Team Briefs are all necessary to ensure clarity and best practice and are essential parts of grant application packages.
19th December Friday
Interviews and two especially good candidates. We will be appointing Fabio Negro who has experience in research and was very insightful about the aims and needs of the project. I was especially impressed about the research he’d done into Claque, the history and principles of community plays. He’s enthusiastic and very personable. He’ll be great. He will start in January.
I’m feeling very optimistic about what next year will bring
I sense a huge dissatisfaction in a great many schools and some schools are in crisis. The problem is that the present education system doesn’t suit the contemporary world or the needs of children. This isn’t because teachers want it this way, it’s because it just is this way; it’s in the gene pool of education. Teachers are forced to teach within a system with inappropriate assumptions conceived during and for the industrial age. Public Education at the time was a revolutionary idea, never before had there been education paid for by taxation, compulsory for all and free at the point of delivery. However there were many cynics in positions of authority who thought it was a waste of time and money and doubted that working class children were capable of learning how to read and write. So the education system had built into it all kinds of assumptions about social capability. It was also designed for purpose, which is why, by the early 20th century, we ended up with a very broad base of elementary education, which everyone went to, followed by a secondary education which some people went to, and a university education that a very tiny minority went to. It was modelled on the industrial and economic needs of the age when we needed a broad base of people to do manual work, who would only need a rough basics of English and Maths; a smaller group of administrators, that’s what grammar schools were for; and an even smaller group to run the country and they were the ones who went to universities. That’s simplified but it’s basically what shaped the education system we still live with now.
By the time children reach the age of twelve their education is not only based on the interest of industrialisation their schools are based on factory lines: ringing bells, separated facilities, specialisation in separate subjects, educating children in batches. Why do we insist they go through the system by age category I can’t see that the most important thing we have in common is our age. Surely our most defining feature isn’t our date of manufacture. Some children are much better at certain things than others twice their age. Some individuals are also better at certain things at different times of the day, or more efficient in smaller groups, or function better at other activities alone. If we are interested in educating the individual, you can’t start with a production line mentality.
There remains the over-riding assumption that real intelligence is an aptitude for deductive reasoning, knowledge of the classics, in short academic ability. And so our education is driven by the perception that there are two types of people, academic and the non-academic, and if you’re academic you are by definition, smarter. The consequence of this is that many brilliant people think they are not because they are being judged against this particular view of intelligence. Whilst this educational model favours some people it has created distress in the lives of many more. I think it’s a massive problem.
If the industrial age, when our present education system was conceived, was a time of revolutionary change it is as nothing to what is happening now. The changes taking place globally now are without precedent in the history of the world. Technology is moving faster than any of us can imagine. In 1949 a headline article was published in an American magazine called popular mechanics made the astonishing prediction that future computers might weigh less than 1½ tons. Who then would have 30 years ago that we would have mobile phones with computing powers greater than that used to manage the Apollo space mission? Much of what the world will be like for our children in fifty years time is unimaginable but the impact on culture promises to be extraordinary.
We can take a stab at envisaging the world in thirty, fifty, sixty years by looking at some trends. Take work for instance. My Grandfather had a job for life, my father had two jobs in his lifetime, I’m one of the baby boomers and we will have had on average 3 or 4 jobs in our career by retirement age. When children who are starting school now reach retirement it’s predicted they will have worked in 18 – 25 different organisations. Soon companies will no longer be looking for committed people to train and manage for life, they will be looking to secure more and more people on short term contracts, working to expand key areas of their development planning then moving on as the company’s plans need change. It’s also worth flagging up that the number of graduates in 2009 still looking for jobs at the start of 2010 was just over 30% and that blue chip companies are increasingly saying that a first class degree is no longer a major criterion for employment selection. These changes alone means we can be certain of one thing, the world of our children will be even more uncertain than our own.
Whether this depresses you or not, whether you like it or not, or however desperately you may wish or hope for a reversal in these trends, the reality is it won’t happen. In many ways the reason the future feels so stark is that we are not prepared for it, it’s a world we would feel uncomfortable in. What’s crucial though is that it is a world in which our children need to feel comfortable and prepared for and whatever it holds there are certain skills they’ll need that aren’t being addressed fully right now. Above all the future is call to be flexible, adaptable to change. They will need to have huge amounts of confidence, and will need to hold onto and develop their natural creativity and inborn capacity for divergent thinking. Increasingly they will need to be emotionally self-aware have consummate social skills, be capable of building relationships quickly and effectively both face to face and ‘virtually’. The spirit of entrepreneurship will be vital, so they will need to be open to taking risks, embrace failure as a vital part of learning, know their strengths and weakness and how to utilize both
Government after government tinker and tweak the education system to respond to voter’s hopes for their children. One problem is they are trying to reform education to make it better version of what it was or is. In other words the challenge seems to be to do whatever it’s doing better to raise standards. And they say we have to raise standards as if it was some kind of break through. Yes really we should – because I haven’t come across an argument that persuades me we should lower them. But to transform education we have to think differently about human capacity. We have to get over this old concept of academic/non-academic and see it for what it is – a myth.
I am a huge advocate of working with groups. Collaboration is the stuff of groups and learning is a natural outcome of collaborating. The education system force schools to atomise people and separate them and judge them separately, and when we do that we form a disjunction between them and natural learning; it’s deeply embedded in the culture of our institutions. Why are we so hung up on a system that disconnects people when we are naturally and essentially social beings? There are a growing number of people who are pushing for an education built on different principles but it means a shift from an industrial metaphor of education to an organic one. Education shouldn’t be about uniformity but diversity. We should customise learning institutions for the individual not systematically for all, value utility but respect living vitality and its potential to be transformative. Whist there is a place for linear thinking we should give greater worth to creative multi optional thinking. Learning should be a fabulous adventure.