April 2nd 2019 our devising workshop focused on a form for developing a plot line. This is somewhat in advance of the 'Composition workshops when we select and shape devised moments into a play. Right now we are still in the devising frame of mind but it's useful for people to know the process of composition because I think it will help them identify what might be most useful to remember from our devising sessions. I'm asking people now to make drawings or some other forms of aide memoir of 'moments' in the devising workshops that most captured their attention. A drawing with a title is the most useful and immediate. These then might help compose a storyboard later on.
"The Hero's Journey' is a helpful guide to finding characters and developing a plot. Joseph Campbell presented the original concept in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Christopher Vogler has since both simplified and provided new insights in his book “The Writer’s Journey’. A memo he wrote about the form when he was working for Disney studios spread throughout Hollywood and has been hugely influential with such as George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg. It’s really a description of the elements that exist in every story ever told. It not intended as a formula and we shouldn’t use it as such but it does name elements of a story and archetypes that will be of use to us.
Want More on The Hero's Journey?
Watch the short above or try this other You Tube Link below to a little film with some interesting viewpoints, illustrated throughout by a group of Children.
LEGENDS OF THE ROCKS & WHAT WE KNOW
The Hero's Journey is one that takes us from the Known World, our everyday life into the Unknown world, in our case the world of the Stone People. In this narrative model this is what we know about the The Ordinary World (1) and what is beyond in the Unknown World when we Cross the Threshold (5) :
The Ordinary World- What we Know (1)
Time and Location of our story: Today 2019 Toad Rock, Denny Bottom, Rusthall; possibly also Bulls Hollow or Apsley Street.
The area was once the bottom of a freshwater Lake.
Nigel Stapple believes the area around Toad Rock is a prehistoric ritual site. There has been a cluster of Mesolithic finds. Mesolithic people lived 6000 to 8000 years ago. Springs and water were venerated at that time and Nigel believes the site was so venerated. He believes there is a stone circle directly behind Toad Rock; In 1900 the stone circle existed on maps. The stone circle may well have been a barrow not necessarily for people but possibly for buildings. There is also a passageway behind Toad Rock where there are 2 levels of erosion one possibly caused by bare feet and sandals and the other by modern day harder shoes form the 1800’s onwards. There may also be a semi stone circle below Toad Rock; it’s so large it can only be seen from above. Nigel thinks man may well have helped formed The Toad as it is so different from any other natural rock formations. Rusthall was originally called Hungershall. Medieval quarrying involved splitting stones for stone circles etc. There is no evidence of modern quarrying. Demand for stone started in 1650’s. Qualified archaeologists have overlooked the site. Wellington rocks were heavily quarried in the 1800s so the hotels on Mount Ephraim would have a better view.
The New World -What we know (6)
Stone people are born as stone and over time they become flesh. The stone people have to go to ‘birthing places’ (areas of exposed rock) to find their children. Stone people can be born in rivers and oceans when they will reawaken as water creatures. Sometimes they will be dug out trees that grow out of the rocks. Toad Rock is a sacred ‘birth place’ that was once covered by a fresh water Lake and many years ago the stone people were born as water creatures, fish, newts and frogs, until the lake dried up. The Toad is an ancient God of the stone people and a symbol of their past lives.
Women are obliged to dig for babies, “they’re waiting for us”. Their mothers are destined to find them; they know and recognise their own baby. Families might consult ‘Finders’ who sense where the mother should dig for her child in dousing and birthing ceremonies when the ‘Finders encircle the mother holding long dousing rods they beat ground and do ritual passing of the rods. Children and parents are destined to find each other. When they Stone people die they become stone and return to the earth retaining their knowledge and memory of past lives.
When the woman digs for a child she might accidentally split it so she then has to give it back to the earth where it reforms over several years. Stone people have a time when they must return to the ground, they are reluctant to go back as they remember what they call “the long wait”. They return to earth to absorb the collective knowledge of all the rocks. The earth is therefor imbued with intelligence, knowledge and wisdom far greater than our own
When rocks return or reawaken after the long wait they will have changed form, and come back as sparrows, animals, men or women. Stone people always return older and wiser than in their previous lives, they only age underground. In their final return, as toads, they are the eldest they will ever be. Toads are the highest order because they are returned heroes prepared to sacrifice themselves for the Tribe. They are therefor sacred - a life to be diligently protected. The death of a toad is a warning that life on earth is under threat, that the world is poisoned.
The Stone People live in a different dimension to us, they inhabit the same ground but beneath us. When we bury our dead we place them closer to the dimension the stone people live in. They lie there sleeping and the Stone Women tend them. We are oblivious to the stone people but to them we are dark shadows and our actions are impinging on their world.
When the Quarrymen of our world started removing stone they removed many of the Stone People’s ancestors. The stones the quarrymen took were used for building Tunbridge Wells so many stone ancestors lay trapped in the building.
And then the Toad Stone* was taken. Since which time the no stone person has been reborn and they are fast diminishing in numbers.
Among the recorded Victorian names of rocks is The Bloodstain, known to other sources as the Bleeding Rock. It is generally understood as a spot where dripping water left an iron stain, but no site fitting this description can be pointed out today. It needs to be found. It could mark the place where the stone people’s spiritual leader was split.
Another fact: From ancient times people associated the fossils with jewels that were set inside the heads of toads. The toad has poison glands in its skin, so it was naturally assumed that they carried their own antidote and that this took the form of a magical stone. They were first recorded by Pliny the Elder in the first century.
Could it be one and the same stone?
Many of the leaders followers wear a mallet round their necks in memory of he who took the stone. The Stone Tribe pays annual homage to the Toad Rock on the middle day of they year. He is their greatest hero about whom many stories of bravery are told of his previous lives.
If the bloodstone was returned, perhaps it may reawaken the stone people and if the fleshlings were to revive their long lost ritual of dressing the Toad and talking to the rocks perhaps the stones may share their wisdom, and by listening to the earth we might save it.
We have started learning how the stone people talk to each other
WHO IS OUR HERO?
One of many questions we may want to ask is who are contenders to seek adventure and travel to the world of the Stone people? And for why or for what do they seek? Please discuss. Better still come to our next Devising Session
Workshop with David Brett and Jon Oram
This full day workshop devising with music and sounds, inspired movement and improvised scenes.
A group of eighteen explored what images and sounds they could make with 10 feet poles. They first stood in a circle with the poles angled down to the centre and slowly raised them till they created the same shape reversed, poles ends meeting at the highest point in the centre of the circle, reminding us of ancient round huts. We played with the sounds of poles clicking together. The circle led to devising part of the “ceremony of dousing and the birthing of the stone children” One could imagine a mother in the centre of the circle digging for her child. The group then passed poles round in a circle hand- to- hand in a rhythm finding a synchronised moment to beat the sticks on the ground; and another moment to change direction from clockwise to anti clockwise. In the next exercise we found choreographed rhythms
The group then progressed further an idea from last Tuesday's devising workshop, finding out how the stones speak to each other. We found different pitched voices using combinations of large, medium and small stones and discovered stones can chatter, laugh, argue, get angry, flirt. It became natural for people to take the feelings the stones gave down into their bodies. Jon then led pairs in discovering scenes using the idea that the dialogue of the stones could either impelled you towards your partner, repel you away, or compel you stand still. They created funny and moving scenes, arguments and status exchanges. One exercise involved four people communicating with stone tapping and instructed to make friends with two other people, It was touching and moving to see and hear them jostle for positions as they realised that one person would be ousted from the group. We were encouraged that we could tell stories an show complex relationships in a language the audience could understand.
We took Sonia Lawrence's poem Digging is Obligatory (See comments 5th May Blog) and read it as a group one word at a time, then in pairs with the same exercise tried making it sound like natural speech. It proved impossible but gave each word equal weight. We read as a group again, two lines at a time. In smaller groups of five we composed a performance of 5 lines each exploring rhythms, expanded gestures, seeing what could heightened what sung, whether lines we spoken in unison or repeated, Each groups five lines contributed to a performance of the whole poem.
We sang African, Inuit and Sioux songs and created a musical soundscape to accompany some potential movement states of tension - molding (moving like clay); floating, flying (a state of fear or flight) and radiating energy ( strength, spirituality, reflecting the oracle
Thanks to Michael Lawrence for this picture of some of the group creating a soundscape. We want to encourage all of you to draw and send pictures of moments in workshops, or from stories in the blogs along with a title so that we can create a storyboard. The pictures will be an aide memoir of the highlights of the devising - it will guide is in deciding scenes and their order when we come to composition workshops.
Send your drawings, pictures or photo's by E.Mail to
DEVISING WITH MUSIC
These notes on are based on those I sent David Brett our Music Director. They are some early thoughts on how music might benefit the devising process and be employed in performance
I'd like the music to be an essential influence not just in creating songs and a *soundtrack for the show, but using it to devise the play. We need to brainstorm ideas together but here are a few ideas and thoughts to start us of. I see the music it as a tool for setting up the right rehearsal environment, inspiring theatrical scenarios, offering inspiration through lyrics and compositional content, providing structure for improvisation sessions.
*I'm using the term "soundtrack" because I think for some scenes we will be aligning the music with the action and in some cases direct choreography.
I think the music could influence the structure of the show especially running time scenes. I estimate most scene will last approximately 3 1/2 minutes, about the same as an average pop song. This seems a very watchable rate. It's pretty much what we've done with promenade community plays in the past and in a TV centric world that's about the average attention span. Maybe that is why pop songs are pretty much the same length. Anyway it's no bad objective when devising material to think in terms of 3 1/2 minute scenes. Of course we can always break the rule and have a splendid Bohemian Rhapsody, midway through the play.
I’ve had a thought that the stone children learn move by manipulation, I saw a mother the other day holding her child's hands to support it's walking it looked puppetry. Perhaps the stone elders play manipulation games with their children. We are already discovering the way stones communicate in sound by tapping pebbles.. I feel this will inevitably lead to percussive music., choruses translating stone language with with words either spoken or sung in the same rhythmic pattern of the pebbles. Now we need to the equivalent in movement and gesture; music can inspire that.
We should pull out some film sound tracks - not to use in performance necessarily- but if we listened to music together we might get ideas, not least we will find a vocabulary. It's not a bad idea to start with recorded music to inspires a scene or accompany something we are already doing. We can create a live alternative later. We can use Improvised music too of course, even in the show.
I think I mentioned the idea of an overture, something that happens in the space before the play begins. Sound coming from the cave or above or behind or among the rocks but unseen. Maybe something physical happens momentarily - like a trailer of things to come. We could pick out characters involved in moments from the play - dramatic highlights.
At the moment I'm mostly seeing the scope for instrumental music; but we need songs too. For me the song has to be integral to the story - we don’t stop for a song - The song should add to the narrative, or the argument. Work songs are a good example. I like what you said, David about singing comes when there are no more words to be said, It is a an outpouring though, bringing something felt to the surface; the lyrics have to be specific. When dialogue starts emerging from the devising workshops some might become lyrics.. I like the idea of using songs from popular culture and the suggestion of Tom Waites 'Underground' If we can replicate that gravel sound it could be wonderful. The words too are spot on, it brings a menace we've not thought about. Rocks can feel threatening.
Words will start to emerging in the coming stages of devising, including potential lyrics; people are already sending poems. I'll start recording improvisations and reusing the dialogue, and in some instances we could try singing it like opera - then we will discover rhythms that might allow the spoken words to be turned into a song. We should go back and forth with music, words and movement with people who are happy to do that so any one medium can inspire something in the others.
There’s potential for music and sound in the spaces in dialogue (textual space) and the space between players. The Textual space is more than the gaps in speech it's those moments where there is a sense of absence, something being unsaid that might best be filled with another language. (this is where you might put in a song)
But It’s also about the moment when the audience might lean forward to engage in what is really going on. Song is great for bringing inner feelings and thoughts to the surface, Dance and Physical theatre works best illustrating the subtext rather than the content. usually a very intimate moment but we have a big outdoor space to fill; we can only create the subtleties of relationships by expanding on the moment; songs do that, but so does dance and physical theatre. I would like to try elements of song, dialogue, soundtrack, dance, physical theatre, heightened and natural gesture in different combinations., It's a great devising ploy in any event and forces discovery.
There's a video link below that might explain a part of what I mean, It's from Can we Talk About This? by the physical theatre company DV8. They use a combination of dance, expanded and natural gestures that flows together. I think is remarkable. It displays extraordinary physical skill, strength and dexterity we wouldn't be able to emulate but the underlying theory is applicable. There is an essential language between gesture and dance that I’m interested in that might become the language of the Stone People.. Groups, families and cultures share the same language and pick up common accents, and they also have shared gestures. This might take us theatrically into chorus work and Corp du Mime but also its also says something about finding commonality which I think is becoming an important theme in the play. This to me is all about listening to each other. Look how these two performers are engaged in listening to each other physically whilst communicating something else out to the audience. In devising and rehearsing the movement we find will come directly from the performer, so by definition will be in the physical range of whoever produces, it may need to be less dance more expanded gestures, with rhythms and repetitions, but who knows what we will discover. However big or small the movements it is all connected to music.
19th March 2019 Devising with Movement Workshop
We had some great discoveries in our devising workshops. It does feels very much like a discovery exercise, almost like the play is already there, we simply have to unearth it. Everyone who has attended has made interesting contributions and there has been nothing but positive feedback. If you've not been along yet, do give it a go, it's one of the most rewarding parts of the process.
There were twenty people at the March 19th workshop. We first invited Nigel Stapple to talk about the Rocks. Nigel described himself as a ‘Landscape Investigator’. He is a member of a group called Wicked Archaeology. He said that he believes the area around Toad Rock is a prehistoric ritual site. There has been a cluster of Mesolithic finds. Mesolithic people lived 6000 to 8000 years ago. Springs and water were venerated at that time and he believes the site was venerated. He believes there is a stone circle directly behind Toad Rock. In 1900 the stone circle existed on maps. Nigel thinks the stone circle may have been a barrow not necessarily for people but possibly for buildings. There is also a passageway behind Toad Rock where there are 2 levels of erosion one possibly caused by bare feet and sandals and the other by modern day harder shoes form the 1800’s onwards. There may also be a semi stone circle below Toad Rock; because it’s so large it can only be seen from above. Nigel thinks man may well have formed The Toad as it is so different from any other natural rock formations. Ancient people liked steep banks as they saw them as the world turned upside down (Happy Valley). Rusthall was originally called Hungershall. Medieval quarrying involved splitting stones for stone circles etc. There is no evidence of modern quarrying. Demand for stone started in 1650’s. Qualified archaeologists have overlooked the site. Wellington rocks were heavily quarried in the 1800s so the hotels on Mount Ephraim would have a better view.
The Language of the Rocks
The group began imagining and exploring how the Stone people communicated, and played with communication by tapping stones together, finding rhythms and speech patterns. A Victorian guidebook refers to a blood stone, a rock that bled. It’s location is now unclear but we surmised it was the soul or spirit of the rocks that had been stolen by a fossil hunter. Under David Brett’s direction the group developed a soundscape telling the story of the rocks waking and chirping like a dawn chorus, interrupted by a new and threatening sound; the fossil hunter hammering at the blood stone, followed by the screams and sounds of anguish as it’s ripped from the rocks. We developed the idea that it might have been a quarryman that the rocks refer to as the Memory Hunter. The loss of the blood stone has silenced the stones, they can no longer share their knowledge with us, and we have lost touch with the earth. This was all a good 'warm-up' to the upcoming full day "Devising with Music Workshop.'.
We Need you pictures to create a Storyboard
We need pictures, drawings or photo's so we can create a storyboard at the end of the devising process. We are not looking for great art, or brilliant drawings, just an image with a title of ideas or moments from the workshop or stories and comments on these blogs. If we have a good collection of images by for the weekend composition workshops on May 18th - 19th we can make a storyboard and find an order for the scenes, see where the gaps are and get an overview of the whole play.
Roddy Maude Roxby sent these pictures of pebbles with faces, a Stone figure with a child and a carved head.
WHAT WE DID
When people arrived they were given notes of what we know so far about the world of the play. The intention was to go deeper into what we know rather than progress into any narrative. This led to a discussion. The evening was billed as movement, mime though I also brought some masks I’ve recently made to look like stone, which is where we began, looking at masks emerging from the rocks. The responses to the stone masks were emotionally compelling, as they pulled themselves out of the rock. They held the attention, even though I asked them to do very little. They moved slowly, I asked them to move with the tension of clay. They became aware of each other and formed into groups or families. One became isolated. They then became aware of the audience. The experience for the audience and the masks as they confronted each other was one of curiosity, and empathy. The masks were cautious but not over concerned. We explored how children might react.
We also looked at stone children wearing masks on the knee. The audience was more charmed and felt no threat from the stone children.
We then had groups creating what I call Problem Pictures. We molded the people in the groups into a living picture. The first resembled a Mother pulling her baby from the ground. We asked them questions while they were frozen in these shapes and then had a conversation with them in role. The group was a mother, husband and sister. It was their first child. The husband had several wives. This was his first child with this wife. The wife was happy, the sister was happy for her.
The second picture was a woman digging for her child and a group pushing goading her on. One who I assumed was the husband ordered her to dig. The wife was desperate, frantic in her digging. She split the child and abandoned it. She was pushed to dig deeper, She got more distressed she couldn’t find a child. This was followed again by the group who had been in the sculpture in conversation with the workshop audience.
When rocks return or reawaken after the long wait they will have changed form, sparrows, toad, handsome men. They may even be reawakened at different ages. The earth then is imbued with intelligence, knowledge and wisdom far greater than our own.
Stone People - Parents Men’s role is to collect insects, earth, and snakes to feed their families; they look after the insides of their children, while women look after their outsides. Conversely women look after the insides of homes while men look after the outsides.
Stone People’s Warning. The stones have come back to warn us about climate change/fracking. We don’t know what we take from the earth. Other cultures show gratitude and kindness towards nature/environment.
NB: Reference was made to the film Princess Mononoke from the Japanese Ghibli Studios about respecting the environment
The Causes of the Eternal Wait -Some disaster in the past has caused the Rocks to be frozen for thousands of years, some in the process of being born. We don’t as yet know what event caused it. Potential suspects are
The Fossil Hunter - One of the Stone people’s spiritual leaders was cracked open by a geologist or fossil hunter. Many of the leaders followers wear a mallet round their necks in memory of him. Among the recorded Victorian names of rocks is The Bloodstain, known to other sources as the Bleeding Rock. It is generally understood as a spot where dripping water left an iron stain, but no site fitting this description can be pointed out today. It needs to be found. It could mark the place where the stone people\s spiritual leader was split.
The Toad - The lost Ritual The Toad was present at the time of creation shaped by the ice man but that story has not yet been fully discovered never mind told. The Toad is an important symbol to the Stone People. We think there was a long lost ritual when they paid honour to the toad, in a manner similar to the present day well dressers of Derbyshire. The ritual would have marked their gratitude for water and the natural world.
If we were to revive the ritual it may be a way to reawaken the stone people to tell us their stories
Viv said there was a well in Eales Terrace under her house and her neighbors. Discussed significance of frogs in relation to the health of the planet, ecological issues, conservation and Acid rain eroding stone.
The Sounds of the Stones: David Brett, wooden poles knocked against rock.
Karen Gardner suggested this short film as a stimulus for future workshop. Take a look
We have unlocked one story about the Stone People told us collectively by a group of half mask:
Long ago women got their children by digging around in the earth, they would pull their children loose from the ground. They would not have dig so far down to find girls, because they were closer to the surface, but boys were harder to find, often they would have to dig very deep to find a boy. The men of the community, who never did any of the digging themselves, would say that strong women had many children, and lazy women had few or no children at all. It was also thought women who had boys had made a greater effort than those who had girls because they had to dig deeper to find them. Of course there were barren women as well. One woman who as yet has no name but who will be the protagonist in this story was one of these barren women. She spent all her time digging holes, she dug up hundreds of holes, but no child was to be found. At last she went to the Oracle who told her to dig in a certain place, and dig only there, and she would find her child. And she dug where she was told and dug deeper and deeper, she dug till she came to the other side of the earth. On the other side everything was in reverse. Babies were bigger than adults. Here two babies, a baby girl and a baby boy, adopted her. They carried her round in a sack, took great care of her and never let her go hungry. They all grew very fond of each other. One day her baby mother said to her “Is there anything you want, dear little one?” and she said she would like a baby of her own. “In that case” said the baby mother you should go to a place in the mountains and there you should start digging, and they took her to the place and left her to dig. She dug deeper and deeper until she discovered a tunnel, which joined with, may other tunnels, but none appeared to have an exit anywhere, neither did she find any babies on her travels through them. But she walked on and on until she grew so weary she just had to sleep. While she slept Claw Trolls found her and tore at her flesh, she managed to break away but finally grew so weak she lay down to die. But shortly a fox found her and said. “I will save you, mother. Just follow me”. With the last of her strength she followed the fox, which led her by the hand along many tunnels and through a hole into the daylight. Our heroine slept and when she woke she could not remember a thing, not a single thing. But found she way lying in her own house and there was a little boy child asleep in her arms.
We are approaching the devising of Legends of the Rocks as if the story already exists and all we have to do is discover what it is. Thinking of the play as something to be discovered, rather than invented means we feel less precious about our own ideas, that we accommodate our ideas to what else is happening; eventually ideas merge with others and then, when they are facts, they become the property of everyone.
The first thing we are seeking to discover is what we call “The World of the Play”. What sort of culture exists in this world, what are the people or creatures like, what do they believe, how do they live and move and breath, what are their concerns?
As director it’s my role to interpret what we find and lay out what I think we know, However devising isn’t always about agreeing. When we devise we need to go through a process of discovery, followed by interpretation of what we have found. We will next need discuss or test the interpretation. We encourage ‘disagreement with respect” by asking ourselves "What does the play want" rather that "What do I want". This is not a fight for individual ideas, we try and listen to the group mind. So this diary is me putting forward a proposition based on the exercises and scenes done at a devising workshops. Everything here remains open to discussion, disagreement, and development. Disagreement is tempered by the principle of accommodating and adding rather than blocking or cancelling ideas; we call it “Yes and…” It is the most productive way of moving a story forward.
People are already sending us great material and we invite everyone to keep sending us feedback, propose ideas, do some local research, find or write stories and pictures; give us something however small, or peripheral it may seem to you it may spark fresh ideas and become a relevant key to the play. Add comments to the blog. Please also come to the devising workshop, you won't be pressured into performing, be an audience, give feedback, have an input into the discussions propose ideas. It's a rewarding process. Someone asked me what I hoped people would get out of I said I hoped they had a good time., I've reflected on that a little more since:
I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you've never felt before, experience things for the first time. I hope you meet people with a different point of view, I hope you have opportunities to both defend the things you believe in, and be challenged to change your mind. I hope that you discover that you are braver than you feel, stronger than you believe, and smarter than you think. And of course I hope you have a good time.
Our inspiration starts with the Rocks around Rusthall, from the site at Toad Rock where we will perform the play to Happy Valley, Bulls Hollow, High Rocks and those across Tunbridge Wells Common. Walk among the them and you will see creatures and stone faces. Some of the faces are complete; elsewhere you might see only an eye and a nose, or lips, a forehead, cheeks or an ear. Full and half formed bodies too can be seen in the rocks and the tree roots growing out of the rocks, a torso, a foot, a shoulder and arm, or an arched back. In some places you see marks that look like someone or something has been trying to claw out or the rock, or are they trying to save themselves from being pulled in?
Legend of the Rocks first workshop was an introduction to composition. The day took the form of a typical composition workshop and I simply talked more about the reasons and thinking about the process than I would normally. I’ll leave explanations of the process out of my report here because you can read about the principles of composition in more detail here on line. Basically the composition workshops will help you to work in harmony as a group, give you material to inspire ideas to create theatre and prompts you use different viewpoints.
The workshop to the same basic form of a composition session:
The preparation prior to the workshop I gathered a range on material about rocks, toads, rituals, creation myths in the form of stories, poems, maps, essays, pictures and artifacts,
Compositions are dependent on people working as a group, accepting and building on each other’s offers so we start with introducing or reviewing the basic principles of improvisation, and encouraging people to work collaboratively.
Group Ball Throwing Warm up.
Everyone gets in a circle. Start by having one ball thrown round the circle each person marking who throws to them and whom they throw too. Start with everyone holding one hand in the air and when they get passed the ball they take their arm down. They throw the ball a few times to become familiar with the pattern. If they drop the ball they should be told “don’t think of it as a failure, don’t echo it, simply go pick the ball up and carry on. Don’t say sorry, either as a catcher or a thrower”.
/ Once they have improved catching and throwing add another ball, each time they improve significantly add another ball. We got three going.
The group is then asked to walk about the space receiving a ball from and throwing to the same people as before. They can throw or pass according to the distance they are from each other at the time. / Sometimes they are close enough to just pass the ball hand to hand. Add more balls/ Add another ball when they they are experienced enough.
Blocking - Peer Pressure Persuasion.
This exercise introduces accepting and blocking. Two players enthusiastically try and persuade a third to do something - Go out for a meal, to the theatre, a holiday- and they say “No’ and justify why.
Two people. A makes an offer. B says “Yes and…”
This is the most fundamental rule of improvisation ad devising. Look at this very simple exchange:
A ”Do you fancy a night out?” This is what we call an offer. It’s an invitation to do something.
B “Yes that would be great” Is accepting the offer. “And we could go bowling” This is making a further offer building on the first. Creating a scene like this means it’s always moving forward.
Discussion on Accepting and Blocking
We had a discussion about the difference between the “Yes and…” the accepting game and the “No…” blocking game. We concluded that we use just as much imagination saying no and justifying it as saying “Yes and.” The difference was “Yes and…” felt more positive, people became more energized; it takes you on a journey. So making a story happens when you stay positive. Stay out of conflict with each other for as long as possible. Just give some time before you add conflict. Conflict is when the something unusual happens in your everyday world. Stories usually start by showing us the everyday world of the character before something unusual happens. The everyday world we call ‘The platform’ the first unusual thing we call a tilt.
Start positive - establish the platform before you tilt. I suggested they think of your partner as a genius and his or her offer as a gift.
Giving Presents (AN OFFER IS A GIFT)
To encourage them to be positive they gave mimed presents to each other. I wanted them to be delighted with them and to say things like: “this is perfect, just what I wanted” Wow how did you know?” They moved around the room exchanging presents. Giving things they genuinely thought their partner would want. Then I asked them to give them mimed wrapped presents and this time the recipient was to define what it was not the giver. The joy you find in the present should be positive to make the giver feel good about what they’ve given you. They have given you the perfect present. Both these present giving games are about making your partner feel good. This is the second golden rule of improvisation.
We then played a game about the imagination.
This is Not a Chair
Everyone sat ion chairs in a circle and an empty chair was in the middl. I told them “This is not a chair…” and invited them to come into the centre if or when they had an idea to use it as if was something other than a chair. It’s perfectly fine to sit where they are if they don’t think of anything but I guessed that the group together was likely to think of more than fifty things between them. There was a pause and then someone stepped forward and used it as a zimmer frame. It started slowly, when it got to ten it sped up, they reached fifty in about eight minutes. It became a lawn mower, a pram, a supermarket trolley; then someone picked it became a hat, followed by a guitar, guitar, a backpack, then someone crawled under it, it became a POW escape tunnel, a MRI scanner. We talked about the collective imagination within the group; it exceeds that of any one individual and prompted individuals to think of ideas they wouldn’t have come up with on their own. It’s essential to trust that the collective imaginative power will support you.
In pairs they were given a single piece of paper and coloured pens. They were to illustrate a story I told them. They were to both work on the same picture, but were not to talk or communicate with each other, other that through the drawing. A started and on a signal B took over. Back and forth with drawing time of five, ten very occasionally fifteen seconds between. They were then to title the picture alternating between the two of them adding one letter at a time.
The Silent Tableaux
We came together as full group (15 people). Stood in a circle. I said we were now going to create a sculpture without talking. One person was to go into the centre and make a shape. It doesn’t matter if the shape represents something of not, but I did ask that it has a human quality of standing or walking or some gesture or activity. Once we had the first person in a frozen shape, another was to enter and create a shape that they think relates to or belongs to the first one. Then a third person enters, an them maybe a fourth. The group standing in the circle was to then move round the sculpture and see it from different viewpoints. They were to them think of a title but not to share the thought. We returned to the circle nd people spoke their titles out loud.
Notes on the Game: We talked about the statue through it’s different stages, what everyone felt it represented. “Someone standing in front of mirror” “An arrogant bully” “trying on a new outfit” etc. Then the second sculpture with two people, very few people changed there minds and simply justified the first idea with the second there was more consensus “ the shop assistant showing approval” “The Kings dresser.” One or two people changed their point of view changing from bully to “a high class tailors” By the third sculpture everyone was in total agreement it was trying on clothes in a shop with an assistant and friend”
Discussion reviewing what we have done so far and “the other identity in the room”
All the exercises and discussions up to this point were about accepting, building on those ideas, making adjustments to accommodate what your partner offers. There were also things about work as group, searching for census; that an idea can emerge out of the group that no one individual initiated. We talked about the group as “another identity in the room” another personality we can listen to and follow.
What we have done so far is about how we need to work together. That every session should begin with similar exercises that confirms and develops skills to work creatively as a group and with each other. Now we will look at some performance techniques that might inform the composition
Once we begin to know how to work together the facilitator of the composition workshop should give the participants a theatre language and techniques pertinent to the task they will set to devise a presentation.
As the composition task is to be directly about the rocks I thought it would be useful to do some mime work about resistance, leading to The clay man
In pairs, facing each other one foot in front of the other, reach both arms out in front so the palms of you and your partner’s hands are flat against each other, fingers pointing upward. When I ask you to start to add a gentle pressure so you are pushing against your partners hands. Slowly increase the pressure until you reach a point where one of you can’t offer any more force. Find the point of the maximum strength of the weakest person, and hold tht pressure - this is not a competition. Push. Relax. Try again and this time the strongest of you allows the other to win at the point you feel you are at the weakest members full potential. Let them win.
Same exercise but this time your hands are a bricks width apart 3”inces in old money. Push but keep the gap consistently the same. Try and win, allow yourself to be beaten, find the strength to win again. Show your partner your conviction to beat them and the struggle to defeat tem as you agree to loose. Give your partner what you feel they want. When they appear to want to win let them or lose, let them. If you are really exerting honest strength you will feel more exhausted by this exercise thn the previous.
Take a one-minute rest or shake out.
Sit quietly on your own and molding take some imagined clay in your hands: Imagine it sitting in you hands, feel its weight. Shave some sense memory of pushing and start molding it into something. Try and see the clay between your hands. Try and feel the resistance of the clay, it has a certain tension. The thicker the piece of clay the harder it is to manipulate or bend it, you need to exert more effort, greater pressure, just as you did with the pushing, Keep manipulating the clay, watch the clay take shape. Once I start to see a believable tension in their hands I asked them to keep modeling but look at your hands, they have taken on the tension of clay. It is now in your fingers. Watch the effect on your hands. Take the tension into your wrists, which are thicker than your finger so needs greater tension. Then move the elbow, then the shoulder. Moving just the arms make sure the- finger, wrists, elbows, and shoulders all have their different states of tension. Remember these are all relatively light to bending at the waist.
Molding partners – Everyone got into pairs. One then molded the other, starting with the hands and wrists, moving up to the elbow, shoulder, head and neck; finally the torso and legs. The sculptor moved the joint whilst the model resisted. Between them, with the sculptor asking for more or less resistance, they found a convincing quality of clay for each joint. The sculptors then walked round the ‘gallery’ of models. There was consensus that they looked amazingly like sculpted figures. ”They are alive but still” “They are all caught in a movement or gesture” “These could be works of art”
We now come to the composition
The main group broke into three smaller groups of five.. I explained that the key to composition work is to do a lot in a little time. When time limits are imposed and we not given time to think or talk too much wonderful work often emerges; what surfaces does not come out analysing ideas, but from your impulses, your dreams, your emotions. We call this “Exquisite Pressure” and it’s achieved by creating an environment where forces lean on the participants in a way that enables more, not less, creativity. Exquisite pressure comes from an attitude of necessity and respect for the people with whom you are working, for the amount of time you have, for the room you work in, for what you’re doing with all of these,
Choosing from the material
I described very briefly the material I had gathered to be the stimulus for there composition. I didn’t allow them to read any of material; they should just collectively come to an agreement about which one to work on. I told them they will have no more than a minute to choose.
Group 1 Chose: The Iroquois Creation myth
Group 2 chose: Climate Change
Group 3chose: Sophia - the wisdom given to women.
We create exquisite pressure by giving just the right amount of ingredients for the assignment (not too few, not too many) and determining the complexity of the assignment. There should be levels of difficulty with which you begin and to which you graduate. But in all cases, the challenge needs to be great enough, the stakes high enough for the group to enter into a state of spontaneous play.
So todays Task
Before I handed out the material I remind the group not to spend their time sitting and discussing and planning. From the start they should be on their feet. You can tell when a group is stuck- they are invariably sitting in a circle. Looking at their pieces of paper, all talking at once or not at all as they try to “come up with ideas”; but when a group is engaged they look like kids in a playground. I suggested they pick out phrases, or images or a short section, or story they find in the material and go with something short, simple, clear. They don’t have tor read the whole thing, it doesn’t need to be accurate or illustrate verbatim. Take a single idea and get on your feet, and see what happens with everyone listening to the group. Let your ideas go or incorporate them - don’t fight over choices. If a leader emerges at one point, let them, then you may take a lead, sometimes it should feel that no-one is leading it’s just happening. This will only happen in the doing, most unlikely will it happen in the talking. Get into improvisation mode as soon as possible. Create something. Repeat it maybe making adjustments, introducing something ne. Do it again.
They have three minutes reading talking
Now on your feet - you have ten minutes.
Every group had something to slow in ten minutes, One group finished early, I told them to use the entire time to repeat, polish, adjust, and improve. There was a playful atmosphere, the pressure wasn’t stressful it was fun, relaxed.
Presentations are disposable, they are akin to a painter’s sketchbook, they are ideas, half formulated plans, prompts. They can be developed or incorporated with other sketches at another time. They can be disposed of. But we will always record them because they may be useful later on, we can’t know, we don’t judge. Out of one two hour composition workshop we may end up with two minutes theatre or ten, or half -ideas we want to explore later. You cannot judge the success of a composition session by what you think is useful and what is not. What is not can so often be the germ of a fundamental idea that becomes the key to the play. We won’t know till its happening.
When I was asked to be the keynote speaker at the National Community Play Conference in Dorset I sat down and wrote these extensive notes around which I spoke. The talk was meant to be an hour , so I may not have covered all I’ve written here, but I thought it useful to put it here in full.
THE RISING GENERATION
The work of Ann Jellicoe and beyond
In my research for a play in East Grinstead I listened to the stories of 40 people who remembered the 9th July 1943 in astonishing detail. They remembered the weather / the film that on at the cinema I married a Witch staring Frederick March / they had precise memories of where they were, and what they were doing every minute of that day. Two teenage sisters Dolly and Molly Stiller had bowls of Cherrioats for breakfast / It was Molly’s last meal / she was killed at 5.17 with 102 others / A German Dornier dropped a bomb on the cinema. The two sisters were usherettes. Dolly worked the stalls, and Molly the circle. On some impulse they swap places/ that day / Molly took the full force of the bomb, Dolly survived. Everyone recalled the many tine decisions they made that day that put them out of harms way at precisely 5.17. Millions of apparently minor decisions that day felt to them in hindsight like matters of life or death. Some called it Matters of Chance.
Another matter of Chance emerged - it concerned two men: Edward Blacksell and Neville Blond. Neville was a wealthy businessman was not only funding the burns unit at the Q.V Hospital where Archibald McIndoe was doing pioneering surgery on aircrew burnt in air combat but volunteering his time with a multitude of administrative tasks. Edward Blacksell, was the rehabilitation officer helping men readjust to life with their disabilities. After the war Edward returned to Barnstable. In 1953, he helped launch the Taw and Torridge arts festival and set up a touring theatre Company. To fund the enterprise he approached his old friend Neville Blond, who agreed on condition he leased a London based theatre for them. / The company was the English Stage Company, the theatre was the Royal Court the home of the most influential writers in post war Britain. Including John Osborne, Arnold Wesker, John Arden, and Ann Jellicoe. Twenty years later Ann originated the community play and established Colway Theatre Trust Edward Blacksell was a founder board member. If Neville or Edward had not worked together at the QV Hospital: No Royal Court / No community plays. I wouldn’t be standing here /you wouldn’t be sitting here.
Every decision our parents made, or grandparents stretching back led to you being born. If my father had not agreed to be best man at his friends wedding where he met my mother - Poof I’m not here. Every decision you have made in your life, from the first to the last puts us all here, in that seat or that. A million choices throughout history have brought about this moment. What does this tell us?
We all carry influences and experiences and knowledge about with us that define us and affect the choices we make. So I am to talk about Ann Jellicoe and her influence. So I’ve had to think about how did she get to be such a significant figure in the room? And I’ve thought about my route and my influences and experiences
By a series of thousand of choices out of her control Ann was Born on 15th July 1927 it wasn’t her choice but thankfully she was. She wanted to go into the theatre from the age of four having played the Sleeping Beauty in Kindergarten. It prompted her to join a dance class. She remembered being cast as a raindrop in a dance class. Miffed at not getting star role, she sulked, stopped trying / in a light bulb moment it occurred to her, if she wanted something‘ she’d better work for it. Hard work and determination were ethics she never lost. Neither did she loose the desire to have the staring role.
Her Parents separated, when she was very young and her eyes began to cross. I think the effects of her father leaving were profound. At school she did as much theatre as she could. If theatre wasn’t immediately to hand it was charades. Significantly her father came to a school performance and sent a box of chocolates round to the stage door. She felt it gave her ‘permission’ to be an actor. She had a lot to prove to her father but turned it on herself. She was always ambitious to be a success. She now had the right set experiences, influences, acumen and skills to make the natural step into the central school of speech & drama. Now she was directing and performing to her hearts content. She was inspired by the writing classes she took with Christopher Fry, and the improvisation workshops with Oliver Reynolds. She one several of the schools prizes Despite that when she left she didn’t get work straight away. She put it down to not being pretty. Eventually she got into repertory; some ghastly commercial theatre in Aberystwyth, but at least it was experience, but what followed were a few years of struggle.
In 1949, Ann was commissioned to undertake an investigative study into the relationship between acting and theatre architecture; the finding of this study led her to the Open stage and she established The Cockpit Theatre Club borrowed working actors in-between their shows in London to rehearse and perform on Sundays exploring the possibilities of Open stage. Open stage is thrust stage or audiences on three sides.
1956 The Observer announced it was holding a playwriting competition. Ann writes The Sport Of My Mad Mother. The theatre in the 1950’s was very conventional Two new theatres, one in Stratford East and other in Sloane Square, were causing excitement The Sport of My Mad Mother, bore the marks of the influences of these two theatres, together with the verse rhythms of Christopher Fry, and Oliver Reynolds improvisation at Central School and her love of jazz. 5 scripts were chosen from over 2,000 entrants Ann shared third prizes with NF Simpson’s A Resounding Tinkle. Within 24 hours of receiving the news Ann was having lunch with George Devine, the director of the Royal Court, to discuss producing her play. Sport of My Mad Mother challenged convention. It was ahead of its time. It was described as: wild, rhythmic, confusing, dynamic, strange, intriguing, and unlike anything seen before; Critics either loathed it or raved about. There seemed to be no middle ground. Ann was Marmite. I would say if you are in theatre and haven’t been marmite at some point you’re probably doing it wrong.
But the Royal Court was brave and willing to fail they looked beyond the audience’s expectation, and the critics in search of the next ‘thing’ Ann was instantly adopted at the Court to such a degree that George Devine allowed her to direct her own play, George stood by. Ann said of him. He cherished writers. It was as simple as that.” George Devine gave writers free passes to the all the court's production. And he established The Writer’s Group - it included Ann, John Arden, Arnold Wesker, Edward Bond, Many others passed through. They tested ideas on each other - They played with masks, did improvisations and mime It allowed young promising writers to come to know other writers and the Court directors: Bill Gaskill, Keith Johnstone, Tony Richardson, Michel St Denis. Keith Johnstone was the most influential, and challenging for Ann. Their friendship lasted the whole of Ann’s lifetime. He was very anti-literary, he didn’t like things analysed. A strong personality, he encouraged the group to experiment, to get up on their feet and do things rather than talk. They seldom talked about their own plays but help individuals through blocks by ‘doing’. Ann reciprocated the support she got: Arnold Wesker described Ann as: "… a riot of high spirits, good nature, and frank sexiness I'd not encountered before, she smothered me with encouragement …she had the gift of making one feel interesting.”
Keith’s improvisation work with writer’s group was mostly comedic because of its spontaneity. Ann’s early writing was often improvisational she began with no idea of where it was going next. Her play The Knack certainly began that way, and one scene actually came out of improvisation work in the writer’s group. It had a Royal Court run in 1962, and ran in New York for 18 months; it was made into a film, with screenplay by Charles Wood. It been done all over the world, it’s still done. The Knack is a comedy with four characters, Colin, Tom, Tolen and Nancy; It was a fairly accurate picture of the way Ann’s life at that time. She was living with Roger Mayne who had a house like Colin’s, and he had a lodger like Tom, that was Keith Johnstone. And there was another actor, just like Tolen who had the knack - a way with the women; she kept his identity a secret.
Ann is now writing The Rising Generation for a cast of 900 girls in the Empire Pool Wembley. The Girl Guides had commissioned it. They had never read any of her plays; they thought she wrote interesting plays about teenagers. But they soon found out their mistake. With lines like “William Shakespeare was a Woman, Milton was a woman Robin Hood was a Woman,” and “Men will tear you, eat you, When you’re older you will know.” There were warning signs, she told them ‘teenagers are only interested in sex and jazz’’. They turned it down. But it was successfully done at the Court as truncated version with a cast of 150 teenagers.
Back at the Court following the huge success of the Knack, Ann wrote Shelly. On the opening night Harold Pinter said to her ‘Ann, you’ve got to follow up The Knack.” Ann later regretted she didn’t. Shelley was a different kind of play. Ann has always been interested in history, which is part of the reason for her writing it. She had a very revealing dream when it was in rehearsal of trying to fill a suitcase and she couldn’t get the lid closed. She had such veneration for Shelley but felt she never got free of the facts; which are a dilemma of some community plays. History plays can also be ineffectual if they don’t access, reflect our contemporary life and to some degree I would say challenge it. A play can be educational, ok in it’s way but I want to come out of a play different to how I went in.
1965 Ann is married to Roger and they had Katkin and Tom and were living in Richmond in a house brought from the proceeds of the Knack. Family is taking a priority, though she did write three children’s plays for the ages of Tom and Katkin. Ann’s achievement’s had been astonishing: The first woman to have a play produced in the main bill at the Royal Court, the first woman to direct a play at the court, the first woman literary manager of the English Stage Company. The influences at the Court were boundless. Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot blew her away; she has said she didn’t think she could love anyone who didn’t love Godot. But she was now feeling it was time to move on… she was getting fed up with London. She saw the same audience were trotting from theatre to theatre and the Court was essentially only speaking to the converted. She felt theatre wasn’t important in most people’s lives.
They had an idyllic holiday cottage in Dorset, with roses round the door. They loved it and went down at every opportunity. They moved, sold the London House and eventually brought Colway Manor in Lyme Regis. Ann always assumed she would just go on writing plays. But got the idea of writing a play for the local comprehensive. The headmaster was enthusiastic, it was agreed she would write a play for them. She wrote a lot of adult parts - she didn’t like the idea of children playing adults, so she’d involve the parents that prompted her to write a play on a huge scale.
The Reckoning was based it on the town’s history - The Monmouth rebellion. She got local help with the search. She drew on her contacts. Baz Kershaw and Medium Fair Theatre Company were keen to get involved, so were the Lyme Regis Drama society. The University of Exeter Drama department provided a stage management team; and she’d got little bits of funding. So that’s how it started improvisationally, ideas leading to ideas, responding to new opportunities saying “yes and” to the offers of help, working around setbacks or turning them round. Eventually it involved hundreds of people. Baz Kershaw realised what was happening really before Ann did - and said to her ‘You’ve got to have an interval, because then you will sell coffee and you will involve more people’. I know this was another light bulb moment for Ann, she suddenly realised she was in the business of making jobs because if people help they become involved. After The Reckoning someone approached Ann and asked if she would do a Community Play in Axminster. Now the term Community play was being bestowed on what was now clearly being seen as a “Thing”
So what is this “Thing”?
The Reckoning was a community play, made on the hoof, emerging one decision at a time. It was improvised, created on the spot. Responding to events as they occurred. Every play is like that to an extent. The key point, the thing that gives it you best chance of success is having someone at the helm that has integrity and experience appropriate to the task.
When Ann left Colway she wrote the book. Community Plays and How to Put Them On. She said of it "It has got everything in it I know about community theatre" That’s not true. There are instinctive things she knew that are not in the book. I don't think the book has been kind to her. She has accused of being formulaic. Is it formulaic? It certainly lays down some rules. “The plays should have up beat endings.” “If you have a villain make sure he comes from out of town”. She does say politics is divisive
“If we set out to challenge the basic political feelings of the community we serve, we alienate large sections of them and lose their support” Is that true? Does it matter? These are the common things she’s attacked on. It’s certainly easy to tear it apart but much of it is management manual and its major flaw now is it’s 31 years old, so any advice about such things as funding is now irrelevant.
You will not find and specific answer to what a community play is because I don’t believe there is one. To copy Ann is impossible not only would you be out of step, you would be a pale imitation. Ann was working in a particular place in a particular time over 30 years ago and she responded to events as she saw them, and more to the point, Ann’s is unique. Her work is defined by characteristics, beliefs, influences, situation of the time and the place in which she worked. There is no permanent model; there is no fixed system. Every theatre form once born is mortal. Every form must be reconceived, and its new conception will bear the marks of the influences that surround it.
Ann wrote and directed The Tide for Axminster. Then an invitation came from Bridport. The Poor Man’s Friend by Howard Barker was my first first encounter with a community play. So what was my route to Bridport? What were my influences - what do I bring to the party?
We were an RAF family a result of which I went to 13 different schools. I had a shit education. As a result my spelling isn’t great, I can’t do maths in my head, I can’t speak another language, or play a musical instrument. It was drilled into me by a variety of teachers that I was hopeless so why should I have bothered. Well actually I didn’t, I dreamed. My father died when I was 14 and I was instantly sent to boarding school courtesy of The RAF Benelovent Fund. Cholderton College was a small independent school based on military discipline. I’ll spare you the details - suffice to say there wasn’t a single term in the three years that I wasn’t caned. The head was eventually imprisoned following a national high profile court case where he was found guilty of physical and sexual abuse against dozens of boys. Nevertheless I came away with five O Levels and two A Levels. Cleaver me? No, I was aided and abetted by a corrupt headmaster - For my 2 hour English exam I was given free reign of the library, unsupervised for six hours. For Geography all the boys were told the questions the night before and then had a three-hour evening prep.
I recognise my experience of education is extreme but I have an issue with our education system, generally, I believe, now more than ever it’s not fit for purpose. It’s not the teacher’s, it may be some, it’s the likes of Gove who are making it worse. My granddaughter and niece started school this week bursting with enthusiasm and potential, with a natural instinct to learn, excited about discoveries. I fear adults will kill all that with their standards and tests, and high expectations and ambitions. It’s a thing with me. I tell you this because it has a bearing on my response to community plays. We take on a huge responsibility with community plays. I want to be part of the solution and not the problem. The very least we should do is non-harm. This is why inclusiveness is so important, turn up and you get a part. No rejections. Anyway this is probably perverse - I loathed schools but I decided to be a teacher.
I got a place at FroebeI and took Drama as mains, for one simple and singular reason, the Drama tutor Sybil Levy, was inspirational and the first teacher to see something in me. I realised in Sybil the difference between good teachers and a bad teacher, that they are not doing the same thing to greater or lesser degrees - good teachers give you confidence and expand your horizons, bad teachers break you and limit your potential. It applies to directors. I don’t think it would have mattered what Sybil taught, if it were maths I would have followed her. Thankfully it was Drama. Sybil taught us improvisation; a central tenet of which is “everything you need is in the other person.” A few years later in a workshop with Keith Johnstone said to us “your job is to go on stage to make everyone else look wonderful.” That’s fantastically freeing; because you’re taking the focus off yourself and putting it on your partner. Hard to do, but when you are in that place ‘fear’ evaporates.
In 1964 Dorothy Heathcote started teaching a full-time Advanced Diploma course at Newcastle University and by the time I was at Froebel in 1967 her contentious work was filtering through the colleges; it was instantly attractive to us because it was deeply unpopular idea in traditional schools. We thought it transformative and Sybil encouraged us to use it. Dorothy was developing revolutionary dramatic-inquiry approaches to teaching and learning. That is, using improvisational role-play, as a teaching tool. Basically giving children simulated life experiences to stimulate enquiry.
I had children running a newspaper for half a term; another time we planned and executed an escape from a German prison of war camp, it engaged us all day; the children were inspired rather than forced to learn the skills necessary to accomplish the tasks. What they were learning was also in context so they knew why it was important. Running a paper or organising a prison escape involves maths, social skills, geography, writing, and crafts, research. When we were running the newspaper I took in an old typewriter in: The articles they wrote went up on the wall for collective selection. What amazed me was how the pressure to get things right came from them. They gave and took criticism were prepared to learn from each other. Sometimes the best was no involvement. Children can be incredibly self disciplined and exhibit more creative when they're engaged in an activity and not thinking of themselves as being ‘educated’. Dorothy called it giving them the ‘mantle of the expert’ the responsibility to do the job at hand. It’s sheer brilliance, it’s an answer to our outmoded industrial aged education system, believe me. It’s why children in community plays, in my experience are more self controlled and focussed in that situation.
Sybil Levy also introduced me to Joan Littlewood’s Theatre and The Royal Court I saw plays by Brecht and Samuel Becket, and people I was later to work with: Ann Jellicoe, Peter Terson, Arnold Wesker, David Cregan,- suddenly the world was brighter, richer, sharper. Sybil took me to see the second night of Peter Brook’s legendary Midsummer Nights Dream.
My life at school had been so subject orientated it was suddenly making sense. Life can’t be divided into subject it’s all connected. Everything was now all coming together and melding into some kind of whole, each part of my life informing the other. The things I acquired in my 20’s have informed and been guiding principles of everything I’ve done since. Do you remember being twenty? Wasn’t it great? Didn’t you feel inspired, weren’t you wide open to learning, didn’t you have the best ideas? WOW we want them here in the room. They should be our batteries. How do we make that happen? Talk to them, engage with the, I’d love my twenty year self here - he was probably the best of me. Go and see David Edgar’s one man show. He’s talking to his twenty year old self. It’s a wonderful evening. He was a lovely twenty year old.
I’ll fly through the next 22 years because everything hereafter was simply confirming, practicing and developing the principles of things I’d already embraced: Team teaching in a Victorian School in Battersea / Meeting and training with Marcel Marceau / A nine month world tour performing mime / Back to teaching, this time a post in Newcastle so I could work and rub shoulders with Dorothy Heathcote. I taught for eight years, fighting against the shackles of conformity but could bear the staff room no longer…
So I became a Drama Advisor in Norfolk, teaching teachers to use drama as a teaching tool. What I learned there was just how widespread the pernicious attitude was to teaching children as individuals rather than cloning them. About six of the hundred or so teacher’s I worked with adopted the idea of teaching in-role and it transformed and reinvigorated their teaching, and it seemed to us the children thrived. However within four years five of the six teacher’s left education disenchanted because the schools discouraged and eventually disallowed their teaching methods. The one surviving teacher joined the staff of one of the few ‘Mantle’ Schools that are fully committed to Dorothy’s teaching methods. During this period I met Roddy Maude Roxby who was living near Cromer. I attended his workshops, got him to do workshops in schools; and thrillingly performed with Theatre Machine, Keith Johnstone’s original improvisation company from the Royal Court. It was Roddy who told me about Ann Jellicoe who was doing a ‘community play in Bridport’. I drove down.
The first thing to say about Howard Barker’s Play is it’s a stunning piece of writing. Being in a promenade play surrounded by the community is of itself an extraordinary experience. It was full of so many was startling revelations, but one scene changed everything. The scene was a courtroom. Magistrates behind high desks addressed us as members of the courtroom. The cast pressed round us, muttering dissent at us as if we were court attendees. A judge called for silence. He delivered his sentence of death on a young boy for burning down a flax field. A girl in costume about 8 years old was standing next to me grabbed my hand. We looked at each other. “Why? She asked, and I knew she demanded a response. Her Mother standing close by looked at pressing me to answer her. Here was an eight-year-old girl identifying with an ancestor of her community 200 years ago and pulling me in, implicating me in her world, bringing the past into the present. I can’t remember what I murmured, something like ‘sorry’ I expect. The point is I felt the hurt, anger and impotency to do anything that this community must have felt when this boy was sentenced to death. But I wasn’t just observing events, events were happening to me. It was and remains the most profound moment I experienced in theatre. It changed the direction of my life; I knew this was the theatre I wanted to be working with.
For me everything I value about theatre, what it can do and what it means is stripped down and compressed in that moment. I think of Peter Brook’s Empty space. Reduce theatre down to it’s bare essentials, strip away the lights, the curtains, the costumes, the writer, the director, none of that’s essential for theatre to happen and we are left with the actor and someone watching. That was the part of the magical quality it was personal between the girl in the Bridport play and me. She is the social actor
I recognised the community play then as art in terms of a community that can touch people to an extent that it adjusts their long-term attitudes and changes their lives because it happened to me. I now know its universally true because I’m constantly receiving letters and meeting people years after their plays that tell me this is so. I believe this is because actors who live and work in the community to whom they perform are uniquely placed to offer something professional actors aren’t generally placed to do.. That young girl, will be 45 now and has no idea the effect of her decision led to me perusing that experience for others through 38 further community plays.
The community play seemed to me to be a vehicle to do all the things I valued. This was pure education on a community scale, presupposing our education never stops and it’s never too late to undo the damage of our education system. If I had my wish a school would abandon their usual curriculum and engage full time in such a projects like this, researching, making costumes, marketing - the whole thing. Then they would get an education grounded in real life, understanding the purpose of maths, history, writing to achieve a collective enterprise. Does that idea give you a buzz. It’s so practical. It’s so obvious. The closest I got to that was in Tunbridge Wells where the play was done in the school and the children and the community did full days of role-plays.
So I call Ann and say I’d like a job. She was as it happened holding interviews for the post of development officer. I applied, she agreed to meet me. The interview clearly didn’t go well, I didn’t get the job. I phoned Ann to ask why and was there some other opportunity? She said she thought I had “no pizzazz” I know Ann is working on a play in Sherborne, so I offer do a workshop there for free. “Free” is Ann’s favourite word and it’s an instant ‘Yes, she wants a mime workshop.
My mistake with the workshop is I try to impress Ann rather than focussing on teaching the people who show up. I rarely prepare if I don’t know who is going to be in the room. I over prepared this one. Afterwards we all go for a drink in the pub. I’m sitting at a table with a group; Ann sits at another table. I’m told that Charles Wood has wrote a first draft of the play but has walked away from the project - Ann is clearly furious with him and he’s wisely disappears and cut his phone off. Ann has admitted she has to dress the play up to disguise a weak script. Someone mentions a ship scene. I describe an image that a Corps de mime could make. Corps de Mime is a group of performers dedicated to the task of creating images. I get ten people up on the pub floor and we create a ship. Ann is overjoyed and invites me to be a movement coach five weeks- £250 plus accommodation. £50 a week but I’m in.
We didn’t get on instantly. I struggled getting visual ideas across to her verbally - she was frustrated by me. Sometimes in rehearsal she’d get stuck and ask me to step in. I would, and when she saw an idea emerging she pushed me aside and took off with it, often taking it off somewhere else. That frustrated me. Then I remembered how, when she ‘saw’ the ship in the pub she got it, so I changed tack. Charles Wood had written an odd scene that included Goebbels with a duel personality talking like two people. I had the idea of him being played by two people, one as a puppet, the other as a puppeteer; the mechanism holding the strings would be a swastika. I took two actors off for an hour and we rehearsed it and then showed it to Ann. It worked. I took a leaf out of Keith’s book and the Writer’s group days - don’t ‘talk’ ‘do’. After that we got on. My time was extended and she credited me assistant director.
Sherborne finished I went off and took a job as South West Arts as Theatre Animator For Cornwall
What is a Theatre Animator - The people who interviewed me knew as much about that as I did, nothing much at all. Those were the days. We decided what it was to be collectively there and then, and I got the job I helped outline. It was all pretty loose but essentially to work with existing theatre companies, offer training, and select one that was worthy of more substantial funding. The problem was there were dozens of them getting little pots of money that wasn’t adequate to anything much. It needed sorting. And somehow a community play snuck in there.
When I got to Cornwall I ran workshops and directed some companies in new plays; I got Bill Gaskill to run weeklong courses with actors. Keith who’d done a workshop in Sherborne came and did one for me. The company I selected to get funding and support was a young vibrant, intelligent Theatre Company run by the son of the County Drama Advisor. They were taking theatre in education into schools and producing regular family shows round village halls. They were called Knee High. We ran devising workshops out of which I wrote Treageagle and a tour was extended beyond Cornwall in theatres across the South East. It was eventually revised and went everywhere. My office was in St Austell Arts Centre where Nick Darke was a patron, I commissioned Nick to write a play for St Austell. The Earth turned Inside Out my first independent community play. Knee High were the production team. Knee High are now, of course a major company, touring world wide with several shows on the road at any one time.
Meanwhile Ann was monitoring two plays with other director under the Colway banner while directing Western Women her second play for Lyme Regis. She commissioned Faye Weldon to write it and got John Fowles to help with the research - he was curating the town’s Museum at the time. There were issues between Ann and Faye. As a director working with another writer Ann would go over their scripts almost like they were first drafts. She was a relentless detective in spotting discrepancies and writers are easily upset. Like Charles Wood, Fay Weldon walked out.
Ann rewrote the play but kept the story. I realise now that this is the only time I was around to witness Ann writing. In the early days of writing she sat down and started and saw where it would take her. Ann has said this in an interview
“I created like a blind man creates sculpture. What I mean is that I was sensing all the time that I was getting true to what I wanted to say, but I was never quite sure until I finished. And then I revised the whole thing and I finally knew what it was about. I didn't have a pre-laid plan, not at all.’ Ideas create ideas.”
Because her community plays are by choice historical she starts with a great mass of material. She describes herself sitting in front of a blank pad of paper, trying to find a way in, knowing that at the end of it she had to produce something that could be done. Following the Western Women, Joan Mills directed a play in Ottery St Mary for Colway; The Ballad of Tilly Hake by Shelia Yeger. While it’s in production news came through that South West Arts was cutting her annual grant from £16,000 to £8,000. Ann was enraged but despite a powerful campaign and written support from people like Peggy Ashcroft and Lawrence Oliver. It failed to move the arts council. I had been given £8,000 for a play in Mevagissey from SWA, equivalent to the amount Ann’s grant had been cut; I sent it back with a rather esoteric metaphor “ you can’t take away from the roots in order to feed the branches.” Ann announces that her next play for Dorchester would be her last. She stood on stage every night of The Ballad of Tilly Hake and berated southwest arts and asked the audience’s to sign the petition.
I was in Gainsborough writing and directing Waves Against the Flame when Ann called and told me about resigning. She asked if I would take over Colway. I’m reluctant. I didn’t think her resignation was a great decision. She’d actually only done five plays herself at this point and I knew there was more she wanted to do with them. It was a terrible heart-breaking conversation. She was very hurt, mostly by the lack of esteem and recognition of people in the regional arts council. I think she felt diminished by it. It became clear she was done. Funding these things is the most time consuming, dispiriting activity. I eventually said yes and agreed to work with her in Dorchester, he last play. 32 years on I’m close to the place Ann was then, I’m done, and for the same reasons.
The lost campaign had taken its toll on Ann and there was a period in the rehearsal period when she was quite ill. However the script and the wonderful people of Dorchester kept her buoyant. She told me she “was breathless with excitement. It was a powerhouse of a script, epic in proportion, and the most ambitious I would say. Dorchester was amazing, I know she felt her relationships with the town, and the profound affect the plays have had there was her greatest achievement. The Dorchester Community Play Association has broken all records when it comes the to sustainability. On 31st December 1985 Ann ceased to be Director of Colway. She settled down to write her Book on Community Plays and went onto to do three more plays independently, Dorchester, Denmark and Woking.
I took over on 1st January 1986. In the 32 years since I’ve written and or directed 38 plays. I only want to pinpoint a few prominent memories:
Beaminster 1987 Crackling Angels by David Cregan, another member of the writers group from the Royal Court. David is a seasoned and experienced writer but writing for a community terrified him. David phoned me up in the middle of the night 3am just to say “I feel so responsible” and then hung up. He found it difficult to get started, to commit, because he felt his subject was his audience and his cast. He felt cautious and vulnerable. David’s made me more aware of our responsibility to the community sensibilities.
Thornbury 1988 A Place Called Mars by Nick Darke. The venue was two side-by-side ten-lane bowling alleys. with a 200 seat gallery. We had to work on a huge scale. I instructed Nick to write it as if it was money no object film script. He delivered, with stage directions like “Mum is in the Kitchen, Grandma in the sitting room next door, Dad is shaving in the bathroom upstairs, Amelia is in the attic rooting through trunks.” We built a three-story house with the front wall missing.
“Amelia is on the prow of a ship, she jumps into the sea and is swallowed by a whale, she is blown through the blow hole.” I kid you not. We had an eighty-four foot whale floated through the audience, manipulated inside by 42 cast members (82 feet). It was insane. It has to be the most epic. The budget was no bigger than any other. In theatre anything is possible.
Basildon 1989 Beorththel’s Hill by Arnold Wesker: Arnold is reluctant to write the play, he’s under pressure by his agent and his wife to do it; they think it will do him good. He’s only enamoured by the fact it will be the opening of the Towngate Theatre. He’s read somewhere that Colway refuses to be political and they insist on being celebratory. I try to say it’s not the case, he doesn’t hear. “There’s nothing here in this dreary place to celebrate” he says. “Where does one even start” I say again- “forget celebration, Arnold, but find a ray of optimism, there’s always a chink in the wall.” I ’m showed him around the town that is new to me too, and it is depressing. We end up in the bus station that feels unhelpful. We encounter a drunk carrying bin liners, he stopped and with eyes fixed on us he approaches Arnold, the smaller man. His face is inches from Arnold’. I see Arnold can smell the man’s breath. He shouts, “The trouble is, when you wake up from the dream, Maggie Thatcher’s still alive.” The man passes on. Arnold sighs, “I’ll write the damn thing” he says “I have the opening scene” He also had his optimistic chink in the wall and a rebel without a home.
1990 Eramosa Township, Ontario, Canada. The Spirit of Shivaree by Dale Hamilton.
There was a political issue there concerning a developer who were offering huge amounts of money to the town council who felt they could ill afford the opportunity turn it down so were selling of chunks of the township. Monster estates were being built on prime agricultural land and parks.
The community needed a form of protest, they asked if I would go and talk to them about a play. A local playwright Dale Hamilton had already written the script. I went to see them and agreed to do it if we started again with a process of consolation with the community. We developed ‘Community Soundings’ and workshops in which farmers, community residents old and new developers, township councillors and conservators all came together in one room. They had a number of public meetings like this. Dale wrote the play incorporating more the views of the community at large. I can’t say I loved the script, but we dressed it up and a point was being made. We put it on in the ruins of an old mill by a river. A few days before we were to open the developer threatened to close us down, he’d read the script and though he wasn’t mentioned by name he was clearly recognisable. I went to his house to appeal to him. He wasn’t there but his mother was. I had coffee with her. I explained the extraordinary thing that was happening in the community, what an enriching and bonding experience it was, how it was uniting the community. She got on board. We heard no more.
After the play members of the cast got together and continued the campaign. The stood in the following election and overthrew the council and adopted a more sensible and sensitive development policy. They demanded an Ontario Board Hearing to challenge the present agreement with the developer. A court was set up in the Township Hall with a high court judge and they had three weeks of hearings I was called a character witness for the township and miraculously the judge allowed an hour session when the community in costume spoke as characters from the play about their history. The agreements were overturned and the Developer left town
West Somerset 1997 The Sailors Horse by Peter Terson
After I moved to Kent Ann didn’t see many of my plays but she did come to see the Sailors Horse because it was near enough. This is the story of the greatest compliment Ann ever paid me. There was a scene in the play, the one before the interval, always a high point, that told the story of the Lynmouth lifeboat 1899. A three-masted ship was in difficulty off Porlock in one of the severest storms ever. It was quickly ascertained the lifeboat couldn’t be launched so men and horses dragged it over Porlock Hill to launch it at Porlock.
We had built a concertinaed ship the front of which blended into the wall so wasn’t too apparent. Men wearing heeled boots and wearing horses masked were harnessed to it and as the walked forward the ship opened out. It was life sized with high sides. Barrels joined by planks with ramps either end were laid out in two lines. The Horses walked up the ramps an along the planks while the lifeboat slide between. The cast were singing full throttle. I was in the best viewing spot and Ann, as a seasoned promenader had spotted it too and was standing behind me. The image went off the music faded and in the dramatic pause before the lights came up Ann said in a rather loud voice. “You fucking bastard”.
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 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 came directly out of those workshops, and the idea of "don't tell but show" became a big part of her directing as well as writing style. Alongside the writer's group Keith started developing improvisation with actors and formed 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 " are now the fundamental basis of impro. Keith told us " we laughed so much in the writers group I wanted to perform improvisation to audiences to check that it wasn't just us 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 a big influence on their style, especially with his love of masks. Keith' work and his book Impro has had a dramatic influence worldwide on theatre performance. There was also 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 my house, Rose Cottage, just a short walk away and we'd talk about they day. I learnt more about teaching in those few days than I did in three years of teacher training. We talked about teaching again but mostly about Ann. Keith was genuinely heartbroken, they have been close friends for sixty years, he was unable to attend the funeral because he has a flight back to Canada booked, and he struggles now with walking. 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 did.
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