Underlying the theatrical developments of the 19th century, and in many cases inspiring them, were the social upheavals that followed the French Revolution. Throughout Europe the middle class took over the theatres and effected changes in repertoire , style, and decorum. In those countries that experienced revolutionary change or failure, national theatres were founded to give expression to the views and values of the middle class, whose aspirations in these cases coincided with a more general movement of national liberation.
In England , where the Industrial Revolution was more advanced than in the other European countries, the middle class had to struggle for its own theatres against the entrenched power of the two patent houses licensed by the Crown , Drury Lane and Covent Garden , which had enjoyed an almost total monopoly of dramatic theatre since As early as , attempts were made to evade the legal restrictions on building new theatres.
This is probably because there were already sufficient illegal theatres in operation when the act was passed. The boulevard theatres of Paris experienced less trouble in establishing themselves. As the new class came into the theatres, the theatres were cleaned up. They also dropped the melodrama and attracted a wide audience with the social comedies of Tom Robertson, making a considerable fortune in the process. Throughout the 19th century, cities throughout Europe and North America exploded in size, and industrial centres attracted labour to their factories and mills.
The working-class suburbs of cities and the industrial towns created their own demand for entertainment, which led to the construction of large theatres. Accelerating this change was the growth of the railways. The pattern of theatre was disrupted in England as productions were mounted in London and sent on tour. The old provincial stock companies folded and theatres became touring venues rather than producing houses. A breed of managers arose who made money from the possession of the bricks and mortar property rather than by presenting their own productions.
In the United States the Theatrical Syndicate established great fortunes from the New York theatres and the almost unlimited touring circuit that the railways opened up. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. David Rush takes beginning playwrights through the first draft of a play and deep into the revision process.
Drawing on examples from such classics as Othello and The Glass Menagerie , Rush provides detailed models for writers to evaluate their work for weaknesses and focus on the in-depth development of their plays. Rush encourages writers to make sure their pl David Rush takes beginning playwrights through the first draft of a play and deep into the revision process. Rush encourages writers to make sure their plays are clear and focused. He shows how to keep plays dramatically compelling and offers ways to avoid common mistakes that make them dull, confusing, or ineffective.
He then distills the essence of traditional revision into key questions and discusses frequently overlooked tools, terms, and strategies that go beyond established methods of evaluation. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. More Details Other Editions 1. Over a hundred people were involved in making it and it ran for ten nights to packed audiences.
All were historical plays based on archival research and all were very much about place; about both presenting a story that showed that somewhere in the past something of real interest had happened in this town that had a connection with wider national or international matters; and that in coming together to make this play the present community was asserting itself as a collective. They received national media attention and they were written by writers of real calibre. Both John Fowles and Fay Weldon were part of the writing team for the last community play I was involved in — a civil war story for Lyme Regis — before heading off to University.
In the summer of the Colway Trust ran a retreat for those from outside the region who were interested in learning how to produce their own community plays. And over a week they were led through a pretty rigorous programme, because by now the community play had developed a strict methodology. At its heart was that of creating research teams, who would ransack the archives to uncover local stories and manuscripts and diaries and letters until a suitable story was found. And by now there was an idea, or at least an aspiration, that where possible, every character in the play — or at least as many as possible — should be based on someone that lived.
That because these plays were attempting to evoke a panoramic social universe, to recreate an entire community during a period of time, this meant that alongside the pamphlets and diaries and writings of more well-known and established members of the community there was also a great deal of work done in public record offices to uncover names, addresses, places of birth and death, occupation and so on. And, interestingly, they did. The performers, all people from the town of Dorchester, did go and look themselves up, and visited their characters graves, and discussed their lives and background with members of the Research group.
An entire community, or at least a decent representative sample of that community, found itself being resurrected en masse and re-embodied by a decent representative sample of the present community of that same place. But what use were these resurrected members of the community being put to? How did their appearance from beyond the grave at a large scale cultural event play out? At the Colway retreat, where this community play manifesto was being drilled into the attendees, were two writers — Rupert Creed and Doc Watson — who went back to Hull and Boston to immediately start work.
But at some point the research team had to hand over the material to the playwright. Which is where things become interesting. But of course when writers of the left are asked to write plays with large casts during a time, as the eighties were, of real political conflict then narratives about collective action in response to social injustice are almost inevitably bound to come to the forefront. So now the dead whose life stories have been unearthed to create a communal theatrical activity are also being used to take part in a political argument about the present.
I have worked with many local historians who have wished that they could have as large an audience that a community play can draw; and who are very aware that the power of history being shown in this way, with dozens of performers dressed up in period costume talking in the first person, is often much more potent than the volume printed by the local history society. I am also aware of the number of responsibilities that I am trying to juggle. To the history that has been unearthed. To the dead whose names are being invoked, and whose DNA may literally still be present within the community.
To the present community of researchers without whom I may not be able to fulfil my function. And, perhaps most importantly, to the community that I am, in some ways, representing. If as Michel de Certeau suggests, history is mediated by technique, then can this technique, the community play, create a certain type of history? I think it can and that it does. In-jokes, place names, references to local legend, documented facts and figures, direct quotes from a range of sources often from different historical periods, colloquialisms, allusions to the here and now, all combine to create texts whose meaning ebbs and flows between a range of temporalities, whose time frames are constantly talking to each other.
The historical fabric that is created is baggy, chaotic, abundant, dynamic, anachronistic, parodic, sentimental, raucous and reflexive. It is aware that, in the process it is engaged with, it is as much about making a history as about uncovering a history. And that through creating these links between the then and the now they help to shape, to question, and sometimes to anchor community identity and action. The historical archive, the memoir, that initiated the writing of this community play, is unsure of any impact it may have.
But in the working through of the story, in the context of the community play, both a new archive and a new form, I think, of genuine historiographical interest have both been created. Ironically just as the form was developing real purchase — with plays happening all over the country — it fell totally out of favour with the cultural establishment and largely, I believe, because of a misunderstanding of the historical work that it was doing.
Those on the right saw the form as a fellow traveller of the oppositional community arts movement that they wanted nothing to do with. But the community play has not vanished. The many practitioners of the work continue to create often smaller versions of these shows. Rupert Creed has been making large scale work in his home city of Hull for their Year of Culture programme, based on research into local stories.
My company Excavate is currently working with the National Theatre on a community project based on interviews with and writings from a conscientious objectors community in Lincolnshire during World War Two. A national community play conference is taking place this September; and the seventh Dorchester community play, again with a large cast of characters all based on real people, will happen next year. It is a form of work, a form of theatre and a form of history, that could I believe, given its relatively short life span the first time around, re-emerge as a popular form once again.
And if, or when, it does, it should receive much more attention as a form of historiography, of biography, and of social and public history. The community play is a theatrical form that happens very rarely. For many towns or villages if it does happen at all it may only take place once in a lifetime.
The run of the show may only last one or two nights. One of the performers cut short their holiday in France to take part. A mistake by another performer meant that their entire section was missed out. The community play is often created as a model that will develop a wide range of additional activity around it; that additional activity being the point of its existence. The end of a community play — the final act — is also in some way the representation of the end of this process that contains the play.
Surely the writer cannot help but be aware of this; especially given that the play may only be performed a handful of times. Whilst this ephemerality could suggest that playwrights may turn away from writing for this form of theatre, there is something about this very fragility, of the rarity of the performance and of its fleeting nature, that brings an additional power to the event of sharing it.
The play projects doubly. In community theatre it may be possible to add another level of communication, another audience — and that is the audience that does not attend. Because the audience for this play is bounded; it is possible to draw up a list of every person who the play was intended for, because presumably it is intended for every member of that geographical community to witness.
I am talking here of a community of place. The writer is presumably aware of the need for the play to project to this entire audience; is aware that they are engaging with a conversation with the whole community, even those who do not attend but who will perhaps be caught up in it in some other way because of its physical manifestation in the life of that community.
Maybe the parking spaces for their Thursday night Zumba class will be taken by those who are rehearsing. Maybe their child will receive a letter from the school asking if they would like to be involved. Maybe a road will be closed, a clutch of fireworks will light the sky, a barely perceptible buzz of anticipation will hover in the air. All of this of course amplifies the notion of the play as event. It becomes — it has the potential to become — a seminal moment in the life of that community.
And this is a moment which is all the more precious for its brevity. The inner frame contains the dramatic production in a particular playing space. The outer frame in community theatre is one that is fraught with perils and possibilities and the writer cannot help but be aware of these. It is a huge and looming presence that carries a huge accumulation of expectations. How does the writer battle with these? How do they if they do at all acknowledge the weight of this challenge that they face within their texts, so that they can turn this outer reading to their advantage and bring it to play in their work?
In Excavate ran a series of workshops and masterclasses for their Associate Artist team.
One of these was with Stephanie Dale and David Edgar about the writing of the community play. It was also one of the few of these large scale plays to have a future life when it was rewritten and restaged in for the National Theatre. This was produced in and directed by Jon Oram who had taken over as Director of the Colway Theatre Trust following the production of the first Dorchester play.
In the company, which has remained under the direction of Jon Oram, changed its name to Claque. Whilst Claque still produce community plays across the UK and further afield, it is in the Dorchester Community Play that the theories and practice of the Ann Jellicoe model are perhaps most visible.
Stephanie has very kindly allowed me to track her progress as she researches and writes the play which will be performed in My first meeting with her was at her home in Birmingham in February of and the following is primarily based on that interview, with some additional material added at the beginning of this year. I write contemporary stage plays and stage adaptations. Part of my practice is about working in venues that are not traditional theatre spaces and working with large groups of social actors. I mean the people who are involved in the plays.
So how did that come about? Another few years passed, and then the energy to start thinking about the next community play emerged. In short, once that conversation began, the DCPA asked for expressions of interest and I said, yes, absolutely. Tim lives in Dorset is and is very much part of the fabric of the Dorchester Community Play; his music is utterly delightful. And so were interviewed by the DCPA, they offered us the commission and we were given the time period We then just had to sit down and work out how we were going to work together, at that point we had been living together for ten years, so we were fairly confident that we would work together well; we have a shared theatrical language and are both very level-headed, so that was a considerable bonus.
In collaboration with DCPA we discussed our key storyline and worked on creating key characters from real people taken from municipal records. We drank a lot of coffee. We worked out who was going to be in each scene and what happened; I supposed that process took a few months — including a wonderful tour of the secret underground tunnels of Dorchester.
During the first writing week we both picked scenes and went off and wrote them and read to them each other. And then we became curious to see if it were possible to write the middle scene together. David is so incredibly meticulous in his plotting and had really pushed us to create, in essence, the novel version of the script, all we had to do was improvise the actual dialogue, and actually the writing came easy and was a massive amount of fun.
We laughed our way through writing it; it was a really lovely and treasured experience for both of us. They choose a time period. All of the plays have big political elements to them.
International Centre for Women Playwrights - Newsletter
The writer s are always consulting with the DCPA and the core team all along. And so we set out to create something that was going to amuse people, even though the second half gets deviously darker. So can you tell me about the process for this play? When were you asked to do it; how long ago? By the end of that meeting each person went away to explore a specific area. We arranged to meet again in November.
When we went back down, we were amazed by the amount of work that the team had done. We had an incredibly useful feedback session and Peter Cann did a few exercises based on living in Dorchester then and now. Joanna the Mad and her fleet were run ashore in June Third, the wool trade, or the collapse of the manorial system, — and the clearance of land for sheep. Part of creating a community play is about trying to form dynamic groups that an audience will remember.
And we look for the overlaps.
Who is connecting those groups? Who is causing chaos through those groups? Where is the conflict of role and status? What is particularly brilliant about the wool trade is that the shepherds pass the wool on to the packers, who then pass the wool on to the women, who spin in the cottages, who then pass the wool on to the clothiers; that chain is really interesting. There are around 12 people, some of whom were on the research team for the first community play.
A lovely example would Billie Brown who is a key member of the group; she knows everything there is to know about Dorchester and is a specialist in period clothing. What is your next stage? How often do you meet the committee? Basically, at this stage, I have key places for scenes and who will be in them. So we know for example that we want to a ceremonial scene set at Abbotsbury monastery because we know that will be spectacular.
My plan at the minute is to just keep reading. A hobby of the time was flying hawks so we spent time talking about how we could do that. Yes; part of writing a community play is to explore cultural resonances with the past and present. I get frustrated when people say community plays are just about putting on a big piece of theatre; it is far more involved and significant than that.
Currently the world is experiencing a refugee crisis. Part of the landless plot will explore how it must feel to be forced to leave your home. That said, there were many villages around Dorchester that were abandoned and no longer exist because there was just no need for them. They were completely wiped out by people getting rid of their patches of land and letting the sheep cover it. What do you think are the expectations of the commissioners and the audience for this play?
Is that something you have at the back of your mind? The standard of the work in the past has been incredibly high, as has the standard of performance. In the past, all of the directors have been brilliant at working with a huge group of people who of course have varying levels of performance skill and capabilities. All of the plays have had a core team of professionals who have delivered to the highest standard and delivered excellent pieces of theatre. But people do come from far and wide to see the Dorchester Community Play and so the expectation, and pressure, of it being incredible it certainly there.
The DCPA always have a public reading of the play and then people then express an interest. Once the professional team have got a rough idea of numbers then the writer will rewrite the play according to how many people say they want to be involved. Everyone who wants to be in the play can be, the work will be adapted to suit numbers and key skills. Also they are always involving new people and so that keeps the talent fresh and vibrant. You were talking about bringing something new to the form. This is what we trying to break a little bit; and part of the reason why we got the commission.
In the past there have been those social groupings who have had their scenes and then we move on. The first Dorchester community play was produced in I was the first woman to adapt the Chester Mystery Plays in Deborah McAndrew is currently working on the version. In terms of language, no is the short answer, although in terms of energy we keep talking about Peaky Blinders.
Demographically, their community tends to be diverse and perhaps slightly younger, probably in their twenties, but they never stop. It was absolutely about that, of family groupings working together. Has this come from the experience of writing your previous community play for them? They want to try something new too. Something David Edgar and I discussed a lot was how to get the audience to remember characters that are key to the plot. Another character held vital information was placed in a wheelchair.
The wheelchair acted as a visual signifier. There has to contrasts. A director can create a really intimate moment, and have children pulling at you as a member of the audience asking a question, and then you can open that tiny moment out to the rest of the cast. That kind of really intimate, intense moment that may be so up close and personal but then suddenly you open that out as a something to share with hundreds of people.
The social actors asked the audience for help and food and drink was passed, chain-like, across the space, which at that point in the play was operating as Dorchester High Street. You have said that you want to connect the play in some way to what is happening now.
Are there specific things in Dorchester that you feel it would be interesting to refer to in some way in the play? We have talked to many people in Dorchester and have asked them what they think the current issues are.
Dorchester is by and large a very lucky, prosperous town but there issues in the environs, those issues will be considered and may well be introduced as a theme of the play. Issues such as lack of car parking, government cuts, affordable housing, and the price of food are often high up the list. The playwright can show the community back to itself. Also, as a writer you know you will always get the big laughs from things that do reference, however obliquely, the things that are going on and that people relate to.
I know the line in the new play about Dorchester needing a one-way system will get a big laugh; it will mean something, it is a moment of shared experience. Is that something that has happened or not in the history of the play? This sense of making connections with now?
All of the plays have had connections with now. And whilst we took all the names and dates from the municipal records and key family trees, we also had fun with the form. Both the audience and the social actors laughed at the idea of somebody turning up late for rehearsal because they recognised the format. People love to recognise themselves or situations. There is something beautiful about printing off your first draft of a complete play and knowing what is to come. What am I terrified about? Very Chekhovian! That still happens? I remember this from my time as a teenager in three community plays produced by Colway Theatre Trust.
That still happens. When you read all of the previous plays did you get a sense that there is a type of script that the Dorchester Community Play requires? We suggest a list of ten core things. And yes, there is a kind of Ann Jellicoe model that has worked very successfully. But, like life, things are constantly developing and moving forward. But community plays by and large are not to be published and so they do disappear. That we go back and we revisit these points in history and we let those people live again, but just for a short time.
Because we do, we bring these characters, who were based on real people, and we let them live again. In the past we have tried very hard that every character is based on a real person. At least find out their name, age, occupation and use that within the piece. I love standing outside a little shop and knowing that Elizabeth and Maria Meech used to live in that particular house; one lived downstairs, one lived upstairs and that one was a Conservative and one was as far left as it was possible to get. And they used to like wearing blue hats.
Recently I created a show based on an explosion at a munitions factory in Nottinghamshire and at the end we had record cards of all of those who were killed pegged out on a rope that stretched across the square in which we were performing. And a number of people came up to ask if they could have these cards because they had the name of their relative on. And we told them that they were just props but they still wanted them. And I wonder what will happen to them, if they will be passed down as family heirlooms.
It may be that something that has been created from an act of the imagination will enter into the historical archive as a documented reality. I am a keen geologist and the law of uniformitarianism — the present is the key to the past — is alive and well. Carol singing is a moment of genuine collective voice, and indeed the rise of popularity of choirs — both as an audience and a participant — is testament to the changing ways in which we are looking for our collective fix. Pantomimes are hugely interesting and complex forms of theatre, in which all sorts of theories about the way that an audience engages, responds to, and shapes the meaning of a performance can be brought into play.
But it is the nativity play that most interests me. For many of us the nativity is the moment that we sit squashed together on benches in a school hall and watch our children stagger through the story of the birth of Christ. And every single one of us sees something completely different, because we are generally focussing on those children we are related to, or know well; and they are, in return, looking for and at us. I offer this here because I think that the community play revels in the tension between these two readings. Not only does it create theatrical meaning from performers who may truly interrupt the writers envisaged enactment it often does this with a huge number of them, wandering around and bumping into each other.
It is messy. The readings for the audience are often — at least in the Colway Theatre model — enormously multiplied. Everywhere they look there is something else happening; there is a cacophony of messages flying around that are pieced together by the individual audience member. And this is something that can be utilised. But enough of that. Why is it that the nativity has become the preserve of child performers? This was a production in which a modern retelling of the nativity took place in locations right across the city using Liverpool actors and Liverpool music.
The Liverpool Nativity followed on from the success of The Manchester Passion , again broadcast by BBC 3, and again being a contemporary reworking of that story with Manchester music. The Manchester Passion meanwhile in the same year was recreated for a Dutch audience in Gouda, another example of the way that more community orientated theatre practices have found their way to the Netherlands where they are often developed in a way that many British community artists can only feel envious of.
And so — it appears — the Passion play has become a franchise. Both the Liverpool Nativity, the Manchester Passion, and to a lesser extent maybe The Port Talbot Passion are interesting examples of performances that are caught up in this dilemma. And yet at the same time they were also unashamedly advertisements for the cities that they were performed in, for a national and maybe even an international audience.
The tensions are even clearer when you look a little more closely at the Dutch version of the Passion, which has involvement from both Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. And these values are ultimately driving the potential for collective experience away from and out of the physical public sphere. Perhaps its time to get the nativity out onto the streets again, although in a smaller way, not worrying about TV deals and profile building.
Presumably one of the reasons that the Passion is a much easier model to roll out is not just because its a more public story rather than one that fundamentally takes place in a shed but also because at Christmas there is literally no public space left to create such an event, as every square inch is taken up with German Markets or other ways to ensure that we spend as much money as possible to keep things just about ticking along.