“…Hope it becomes a tradition for years…”
“…I think it’s become a classic of its time…”
Raymund Wells (Actor, 80+)
How The Poole Community Passion Play(PCPP) began.
The original Poole Community Passion Play (PCPP)1 in 20092 Through the Eyes of A Child was greeted by a very positive response. The audience was enthusiastic for the play to be performed again. It was also clear from the group of people who participated that they really had a desire to continue as a group.
Sustainability is an important factor with a community play – it’s to do with whether it can be performed again, and whether there is the energy and drive for it to come to pass.
Encouraged by the group to continue, the key facilitators/organizers, however, although keen for the continuance of the project wanted to ensure that there would be more dissemination of responsibility to avoid the few getting quite so exhausted. To be honest, in the midst of the creation of the first play, some of us had thought “never again!” The alchemy of theatre however, is such that somehow all is forgotten when the actual performance comes; a bit like childbirth after the baby has arrived.
The process of continuing with the project was really worth it, and although it came with many challenges; it was the right thing to do. I believe that if we had not kept going we would have lost the momentum to cement PCPP into a community project. We had a wealth of positive achievements that had grown from the pilot project. The most important being we had a wonderful ‘Core Group’ of performers with a real desire to keep working together. The challenge was then on!
With these thoughts in mind we performed Through the Eyes of A Child again in 2010, adding an extra night. We gained more members, we “upped our game” artistically, developing and pushing the work further. We made a lot of mistakes, we grew as a group we learnt a lot and we engaged and moved our audience. Inevitably, at the end of the project, all of us were exhausted! The only difference this time we were convinced this project should go on into the future, but with a two year gap between performances! So it has been decided: that PCPP will perform Through The Eyes of a Child biennially; that a different actor will take the role of Jesus each time.
The Play Through The Eyes of a Child 3
When writing for a community play the actual group you are writing for inspires the writer either consciously or subconsciously. So the parts almost become tailor made. The play was written organically as the group began to emerge in our first production which began in 2008 with the actual production being staged in 2009. For a while what arose was a fairly traditional re telling of the final part of Jesus’ life. I was not happy with it as I felt the play lacked a dynamic. Then it came to me one rehearsal that was needed was another perspective, to work in the frame of seeing the story through the eyes of a child. In a way it was to help myself and the audience look at the life of Jesus from another view point. Children have an honesty that is precious. They ask questions. They see the world more truthfully than adults.
So I decided on the character of the boy, who is the same age as Jesus when he was found in the temple, debating knowledgeably with teachers.
The other influence when writing the play was that during the January of 2009 my Mother became seriously ill.
There was the best part of a month when I could not run rehearsals. What was wonderful was how other members of the group kept the play going. Roger4 was such a support to my Mother. When my Mother finally died, I was back home, heart broken. It was then I was able to use my experiences with Mum to write the final part of the play.
Through the Eyes of a Child is a play, an interpretation, an attempt to tell the story of the Passion. It is not an attempt to be literal: it is like other forms of art; an expression; an interpretation.
A Brief Overview of the History of the Passion Play
PCPP follows an old tradition of the enactments of Christ’s death dating back to mediaeval times. Our project, however, was very much in the genre of community theatre, which also included site-specific work. It is worth giving a simple description here of these different aspects of theatre.
The tradition of Passion Plays in Britain goes back to mediaeval times. Simple religious plays were acted out in churches. The relationship with these plays and the established Church always proved to be uncomfortable, as “wicked” characters such as Herod could put the actor at risk of “damnation”. In Oberammergau5 to this day “actors receive a special pardon, the Ablass, before the performance”. There were also concerns that the “bad” characters such as the Devil would become too popular. As ever the audience, in this case the congregation, are always more interested in the villain.
Eventually the plays moved outside the church into the graveyard and later developed into larger spectacles. These plays began to travel market places and towns. The guilds would take on the acting out of various stages in the cycles. For example, the bakers would take on the Last Supper and the carpenters the crucifixion. These plays were called Mystery and Miracle Plays.
Tableaux on floats appeared, carrying participants who performed dumb-show presenting Adam and Eve. (Harwood, R., (1984) All The World’s A Stage: Methuen p84)
Harwood goes on to describe the inclusive aspect of these Mediaeval Mystery plays:
Bells would have rung all over England. The presentation of plays involved men and women from all walks of life, all major cities and centres of influence. In York, for example, out of a population of five thousand, two thousand took part. There is much evidence to support the view that participation and enjoyment were classless: the drama became part of the mantle world of the performers and spectators alike.(ibid p86)
For me one of the most interesting aspects of Mediaeval theatre is that it was important in two respects;
Firstly, it was not confined to a single country;
Secondly, it was in no way exclusive… … it was the most truly popular theatre in history, speaking directly to the people of all classes, for it confirmed faithfully to the rhythm and motor of the age.(ibid p87).
Today the Mysteries are still performed in places like York, Wakefield, and Chesterfield.
Re-enactments of Christ’s death and resurrection still happen all over the world, in particular Latin American countries and of course the famous Oberammergau in Germany.
It should be seen as a traditional event at Easter like other religious festivals such as the Hindu festival of Diwali in October time.
One very important aspect of the Poole Community Passion play is that although the content of the play follows the last stages of Christ’s life it was an event open to any one who wanted to participate. It was, and is, an inclusive project and open to those of faith or non-faith, with no discrimination on the grounds of age, ability, race or gender.
Brief Description of Community Theatre
As a community play PCPP, falls into a long-standing genre. I am including here a quote from van Eugene, E, who describes very clearly what community theatre is:
“Community theatre is a worldwide phenomenon that manifests itself in many different guises, yielding a broad range of performance styles. It is united by its emphasis on local and/or personal stories (rather than pre-written scripts) that are first processed through improvisation and then collectively shaped into theatre under the guidance either of outside professional artists (who may or may not be active in other kinds of professional theatre) or of local amateur artists residing among groups of people who, for lack of a better term, could perhaps best be called “peripheral”. Community theatre yields grass roots performances in which the participating community residents themselves perform and during the creative process of which they have substantial input.” ( Van Eugene, E, and (2001)Community Theatre Global Perspectives: Routledge. p2)
Brief description of Site-specific theatre
As our play embraced two main sites it can be described as site–specific piece too:
Site-specific theatre – sometimes called environmental theatre – is a performance, which can only be successful in a particular place or site. The physical constraints and characteristics of the site are used as part of the performance. One of the greatest dramatic opportunities of site-specific theatre is that, by staging its action in appropriate real-world settings rather than in emulations of those settings within traditional theatre spaces, it may invest its performances with greater authenticity and audience engagement.(From Wikipedia)
Our aim with the PCPP is to embrace some of the elements of the traditional Passion Plays, in particular its ability to draw people together. Today theatre can be a vehicle for creating a sense of community in a time when many aspects of community life have been broken down. Our aims & objectives reflect this sentiment.
1 Poole Community Passion Play: I will refer to the project frequently as PCPP.
2 The original idea for the Poole Community Passion Play came out of a conversation I had with Father Nigel LLoyd (Rector, St. Peter’s Church Parkstone) after seeing an exhibition in London called The Passions by an artist, Bill Viola, who had used film images and actors “moving” slowly in tableaux. Nigel was very enthusiastic and supportive of the idea and introduced me to Rev’d Jonathan Martin from Parkstone United Reform Church (PURC) who doubled as Chaplain to Poole Borough Council. He said that Poole had wanted a passion play for sometime. After a lot of negotiation it was decided that the 2009 play would be a pilot production. All the professional artists in the play waived their fees in an endeavour to see if the play would work and if indeed there was a need for such a community project.
3 Through the Eyes of a Child written by Sharon Muiruri and edited by Bob Garratt
4 Rev Roger Bayldon producer of PCPP.
5 Oberammergau: Passion Play.
The Oberammergau Passion Play was first performed in 1634 and is the result of a vow made by the inhabitants of the village that if God spared them from the effects of the bubonic plague, then sweeping the region, they would perform a passion play every ten years. The play is now performed in years ending with a zero, except 1984 which was the 350th anniversary, and involves over 2000 actors, singers, instrumentalists andtechnicians, all residents of the village. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oberammergau