In Praise of Community

Without wanting to sound like an advocate for the Big society, the combination of seeing the BBC Imagine film on the backstage story of the 2012 Opening ceremony, the end of the run of Midsummer Night’s Dream; a play for the nation and the ongoing Poppies tour has made me question the way we perceive and value major art projects. All these events shared a willingness for collaboration and sharing between the Professional world of theatre makers and an amateur community. In the case of the Tower Poppies the ‘Poppy Planters’ started off as individuals or local organisations applying to help out of curiosity or in the case of military charities with a direct relationship to those who might benefit for the sales proceeds, but they gradually morphed into a more  coherent group, with an identity , Facebook page and distinctive camaraderie. They brought their stories of relatives’ and shared them in the commemorative act of planting the poppies. They became the performers in a space that became increasingly charged as more and more onlookers came to watch and even applaud those working below. I imagine they had no thought that they would become ‘actors’ and that the world would be watching them and be inspired and moved by the piece they were helping to create. In a sense we were following in the slipstream of the Goodwill Games ambassadors and all the amateur performers in the opening ceremony, who thought they were only there to watch others, but in the end took centre stage and as Danny Boyle  said it was the amateurs who inspired the Professionals with their commitment and raw passion.

So to Dream, subtitled play for the Nation by the RSC. It was a bold claim but one the show and the organisation kept their promise on, not only by working with 14 amateur groups up and down the country but with hundreds of schools through their Learning Performance Network, who either made their own versions or were additional fairies in ours. The reach into the country was extraordinary and i believe genuinely life changing for some of the amateur actors and who knows what the benefit will be to all the children turned on to Shakespeare in a thrilling and imaginative way through performance. I was lucky enough to be ‘studied ‘ by a year 3 class from St Michaels’ in Newcastle. A truly diverse school , the whole class sent me imploring letters to come and visit. So, on the day of the Referendum result i sat in a classroom surrounded by children of all faiths and none, several for whom English was not their first language, performing their puppet show versions of the Dream. All made with classic Blue Peteresque improvisation from cereal boxes and sticky tape. I promised i wouldn’t ‘magpie’ their ideas, but came away inspired by their openness, curiosity and willingness to share with all. A high note on a depressing day when it seemed that the nation was prepared to forget what it means to come together to create,  understand and benefit from our differences and diverse influences. In all these projects the whole has been so much greater than the sum of all the thousands of contributions, only really possible when there is true generosity and openness at the heart of the piece .

A Midsummer Night's Dream 2016 RSC Directed by Erica Whyman, Designed By Tom Piper. Bergamas dance

A Midsummer Night’s Dream 2016 RSC Directed by Erica Whyman, Designed By Tom Piper. Bergamas dance

Weeping window Tower of London By artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper.

Weeping window Tower of London By artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper.

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