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Old 01-08-13   #3
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Location: South Coast UK
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Default Re: Folk and Mummers' Plays

Originally Posted by Chronata View Post
Thanks for the post! Very informative and really fascinating stuff!

I am always interested in traditional theatrical forms...and have spent many years cross referencing and performing vaudeville, commedia, Pantomime, folk plays and stories.

Currently I am performing a couple of Punch and Judy shows (both traditional and "politically correct" versions!)

But as an American, it seems that we don't have too many resources for these types of things...or even cultural touchstones. I would hope that some of what i do is Universal entertainment, but increasingly, it seems like my audiences have to be well versed in historical or traditional theater to even "get it".

I found it very fascinating that you do the Mummers play in Blackface, as that was a an old vaudeville form in the states in the early 20th century before it was shunned for being racist. I have tons of documentation in the states about this, but it's interesting to get a UK perspective!
Not every modern side/troupe/group performs in blackface, and even in the early 1900s when these things were first collected 'live' (as opposed to researched in early text sources) not everyone did. If I plot the descriptions that are definitely blackface and those that are definitely not, there are 'clusters' - the more affluent areas of Oxfordshire and the 'Home Counties' (the area around London) have no extant blackface descriptions. Rural areas (smaller communities) tend to have many. But just to buck the trend, the 'Black Country' (fairly affluent urban West Midlands) has mostly blackface. Since this is the kind of thing I do, I guess I'll try to plot up a complete map.

On Boxing Day, before our own spots, we stopped off to watch Crookham, a side that's been going for fifty years since being re-formed; it literally died during the First World War. We got to their first spot in time to be right at the front - I've only ever seen them from the back of the crowd before - and it was frankly scary. They deliberately break the wooden swords in the fighting and there was nowhere to back off. I've got some very good shots, though.

I counted up and over the period 4 Dec to 1 Jan, I did thirty one performances of five different scripts. The problem with this is if you're doing the same part in different scripts - the look on the faces of the others when you deliver a completely out-of-context cue probably confuses the audience. But not as bad as poor 'Johnny Jack' on the Guildford tour, who had been co-opted to make up the numbers. Half-way through the wrap-up, inviting the audience to donate, he dried, yelled 'prompt', to which the response was 'you haven't used any of the words in the script, yet'. I gather they're going to keep that bit in for next year.

My favourite anecdote along those lines, though, is from the local side formed around the Uni. I used to organise the pub gigs for them, and the shake-down (no substitute for performing in public, you can practice in a hall 'til the cows come home, but even two or three punters in a pub is vastly different) was always the station pub, where I was a regular. You get to thinking that the audience is only marginally paying attention if you do the same gig every year. King John dried on a key speech. I was about to prompt when a man with a Dutch accent picked up from the audience and finished flawlessly to the next cue. It turned out that he'd seen the play every year for about ten years. He was crew on a ferry and made sure to be in town overnight when we were on at that pub. He knew every part perfectly, so we stuck him on as Bold Slasher at the second spot (the only costume he fitted). He was back in two weeks, so we kept in touch and he performed as King John at all three spots.

He's trying to form a group in Antwerp, but although they understand giants there, they don't seem to get the idea of a small-scale play. How do you get Punch and Judy over with yer standard audience? Any ideas appreciated.

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