Monday, 23 July 2012

People Who Need People

Last night we started the technical rehearsals for The York Mystery Plays 2012. This is a massive project, with 2 casts of 250 community members each and the custom built 1400 seater auditorium. There are also innumerable community volunteers involved with costume making, prop making, front of house, stage managing, crew, photography - you name, people are there and willing to make it happen.

Today I quickly caught Jethro to give him a key to a shed to get some props out as he is in a van heading up to Edinburgh to start our Belt Up Theatre build. This will be out 5th year at the fringe making bespoke environments for people to come and enjoy our stories in.

Also today, Luke and my Dad are in Edinburgh, also in a van, preparing the space for LittleFest, a festival which will bring together some of the most exciting artists at the fringe to play together under one roof and without the usual competition that is so rife at the fringe.

Today I got an email about dates for If The River Was Whiskey, a gig and a show by the brilliant Holy Moly & The Crackers which we will rural tour across Autumn & Spring.

Last month we did two Little Festivals Of Everything, one in Coxwold and in Berkshire, which gathered a whole bunch of incredible people from near and far to come and try out some work and spend some time with artists and with audience.

Also today I will do some more work on our little Beulah tour after the fringe in Autumn. We'll head to pubs and village halls. 

We all use the phrase, 'Oh I'd love to...' followed by a list of things we'd dream of doing. Mine includes running a pub; running some sort of arts farm in the countryside with performance, development and workshop space as well as a cafe; run an arts centre; write stories for people.

It's perhaps a little slow of me to realise, but last night stood on our custom built stage with a backdrop of the ruined wall of St Mary's Abbey, I realised exactly what the York Mystery Plays is about: it is purely, simply and wonderfully about people. It's about bringing people together to create something spectacular which we could never create without each other. All too often in theatre we get wrapped up in ourselves, in making things precise and correct, and we fill in all the holes so that noone can access it anymore. But the Mystery Plays is the opposite of that, it is made from the very bricks and mortar of the city. The city is inside the plays. And it will never be a soullessly precise piece of theatre, because it has to much soul, too much love and care and, frankly, too many people to to be able to quash the soul out of it. 

Stood looking at the stage, when the angels first come on and when the garden of eden comes on and when the whole company first arrive, it is incredible. It is incredible because it is truly and utterly alive - not in the same way that a tightly knit and well drilled Chekhov is made to feel alive - it is alive because it is full of the life of real and superb people. It is such a wonderful difference. 

And then, after realising this, I realised what links all the above together - it's about people. People are fantastic and fascinating and surprising and breathtaking. 

Belt Up's shows can be electric. They are never the same twice. This is because we let people bodily in to the story - they can sit in it, play in it and become a part of that world. Our bar nights are about people being together. Simple but very good fun.

The Flanagan Collective is a pleasure to run because it is about talking with people, taking shows to people or letting people bring shows to us. It's not a machine, it's a real conversation.

The Little Festival Of Everything is magical because it brings people together, it levels the playing field and it lets people relax, chat, laugh and experiment; all with people they wouldn't otherwise have spent that time with.

I would like to run a pub because that's where a lot of people go. A pub is a place made purely for people, you can't fill in all the holes yourself, the people are the final and most important part of the piece.

A whole arts farm could let people in at every possible door. To stay, to visit, to make, to play, to drink, to eat, to help, to enjoy. 

All these things work because we let people in, and we actually let them in. This is why, for me, a fourth walled piece of theatre behind a proscenium arch is difficult, because there is nowhere for people to get in to it - they just stand outside and watch - you can't touch, talk, move around in that place, you are separate in every way. The piece is finished without you, they've done it on their own.

What I have learnt so far through The Mystery Plays is how phenomenal people are, in their glory and simplicity of being just that: people. The York Mystery Plays are filled with, built by and loved by people. There is a passion that sits inside all of it that is worthy of more than just reviews and theatrical praise, it is what the society should be made of: people working together to make something very special, something which they own, their own piece of magic which takes it's rightful place in history - theatrical, cultural and, most importantly, personal history. 

I hope that in our own ways, Belt Up, FlanCol & LittleFest will at least let people in to something special which they give to and can take from. I hope over the last 5 years people have enjoyed getting inside Belt Up shows and creating some spectacular moments - our favourite moments and memories. I hope the shows we carrying taking to people with FlanCol keep being an open conversation and we keep talking to people for as long afterwards as we do at the minute, because we like talking to people. I hope LittleFest keeps allowing such diverse people to come together and to spend time, as well as test ideas, but more importantly to eat and drink and talk and meet new people.

If ever I get a pub or a farm, I'll let you know. 

There are hundreds of things I could say in praise of Belt Up, FlanCol, LittleFest and The Mystery Plays - and all things that I could take no credit for. But it all comes down to people, to things that we could never do on our own, about people giving a little bit of themselves to something. People giving a little bit of themselves to some art, imagination, a story; and idea which because of them, becomes something remarkably beautiful and full of soul. That is very special indeed.

When I grow up, oh, I'd love to do that. And I'm very proud to be a part of it now.

[The Mystery Plays run from 2-17 August. / @YorkMystery2012]

[Belt Up Theatre runs from 2-17 August. / @BeltUpTheatre]

[#LittleFest runs from 2-27 August. / @FlanCol]