Scripting Location for Community Commemoration

Posted on 18.09.2021 - 08:22 by Helen Newall

These five playscripts explored how local stories and local histories might be foregrounded in a period of national commemoration of the centenary of WWI, and disseminated in various public (non-theatrical) spaces. Three of them were performed outdoors for passing and members of the public who might not have planned to stop and watch a performance at that particular time (Over By Christmas: Preston Remembers; Your Country Needs You!). One was presented in the evening on the plaza in front of the BBC building at Salford Quays (Honour). One was for invited audiences as a R&D exercise in a community arts centre (For The Fallen). All involved the creation of a playscript specific to a particular location and an invested community, and used historical details and figures specific to these locales.

Four of the playscripts were designed for performance in difficult outdoor public spaces; Over By Christmas was performed on railway station platforms across the North West, and at Piccadilly Station, Manchester, and St Pancras International, London. On smaller rural heritage stations its audience stood on the opposite platform watching the performance. Performers utilised architecture such as pedestrian bridges over the tracks. Preston Remembers and Your Country Needs You! were performed at various outdoor locations in the town centres through out the day of their performance. Honour was performed once by its three professional actors, each standing on a platform in the midst of the gathered audience, and in front of the imagery projected onto the side of the BBC building, Salford Quays.

The writing was informed by the fact that four of these plays were going to be delivered by non-professional, but highly skilled community performers; and by the architectures of the sites involving the difficulties of sight-lines, vocal projection in outdoor settings, and the commitment of an audience in less-than-ideal theatrical situations: Over By Christmas, for example, had to accommodate the train schedule, and was performed in between train departures and arrivals on working stations. The outdoor productions therefore required narratives that would carry and be 'read' over distance; that wouldn't entail an audience standing for long in inclement weather (although we were lucky in all performances in this respect); that were highly portable street performances, but with enough props and costume for visual interest. The Over By Christmas cast travelled by train between performance venues: they would arrive by train, step off and perform, and then wait for the next train to get to their next performance destination. They were also designed as ‘radio plays’ so that audience members in less than ideal standing positions and difficulties seeing would still be able to follow the narrative drive.

For The Fallen was performed in, around and behind its audience in an arts centre - a converted church - and used the architecture of the building as its setting (the wooden screens and pillars and alter steps). It dramatised verbatim excerpts of privately owned WW1 diaries and letters shown to the Grosvenor Museum World War 1 Roadshow in 2014.

Because its actors were separated, Honour required a writing technique of interwoven monologues to convey its themes of youthful aspiration in working class and industrial Salford; military and


Newall, Helen (2021): Scripting Location for Community Commemoration. Edge Hill University. Collection.
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