In Praise of Large Scale Community Arts Projects

Opening Ceremony London Olympics 2012

Make it Big

I recently saw a call out for people to get involved and perform in the opening and closing ceremonies of The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer – or as they call them Ceremonies Volunteer Cast Performer’.  I’m hoping they won’t be referred to as VCP’s or any other acronym, but my fear is they might be.

Anyway that is just a minor detail. In principle I am in favour of creating spectacular opening and closing ceremonies for major events that bring people together and present a performance of vision that comes from the heart. I still remember the opening ceremony in London 2012 (I saw it on television – I wanted to be there) and it was wonderful, moving and engaging and brilliantly executed. The celebration of The National Health Service performed by people that work for the NHS was truly stunning and I admire what Danny Boyle and the team created. The cast included professional performers and 7,500 volunteers. Boyle considered the volunteers to be “the most valuable commodity of all”.

Community engagement in spectacular arts projects has a long history. People from all walks of life creating large memorable theatrical events together has been, in my life-time, going on for decades. It is fantastic that it is still going strong.

I first became aware of the practise when the writer Ann Jellicoe  created a community play in Lyme Regis, Dorset in 1978 and set up the Colway Theatre Trust to explore the concept of Community Plays: pioneering work which she continued to develop over the next ten years.

Colway Theatre Trust were the founders of the Community Play genre. A community play as practiced by Colway is the result of no less than 18 months work. They are original plays written for and about a specific community. The writer generally works with a community research team. Plays are traditionally performed in a promenade style where the audience and cast share the same space with action happening on stages around the edge of that space and in the body of the standing audience. In 2000, Colway Theatre relocated to Kent in the South East of England and changed its name to Claque.

Ann Jellicoe’s work inspired me a lot. Her’s were the founding principles that led me to develop the projects in Dundee, where I had became an Associate Director of Dundee Rep in 1984 and worked on “Witch’s Blood”.

In every large scale event, I admire, are the thousands of small scale moments created by individuals. It is important that everybody’s contribution is recognised.

There have been some extraordinary large scale pieces since Ann Jellico – Here are a couple, off the top of my head, that I know:

The Passion in Port Talbot   –   Blood and Chocolate

What are the ones that have inspired you?


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