We scratched the surface with the first project and while it was successful in many ways, there is much still that could be done.
Any project needs to deal with a certain set of criteria:
1) The demands of the Site – what suits the site best and what aspect of its history is being highlighted by the curating team?
2) Authenticity – Can we ever be authentic? Is it appropriate?
3) Context – Are we reconstructing an original performance? Can we ever recreate it’s original setting?
4) Audience expectation – What does the audience think it is coming to see? Will the be able to access and understand it?
5) Funding – How and who will fund the project?
All of these effect re-staging Loves Welcome at Bolsover. Ironically, the final issue on the list – funding – is perhaps the least problematical! Through a combination of University research grants, AHRC and possibly Arts Council, a substantial fund may be raised to pay for the event.
The initial grant was for £15,000 and the actual cost was around £16,500. A full re-staging with a working mechanical set, a proper rehearsal period and wages, it likely to be in the region of £80,000. While the project would be run on a grant, if it needed to recoup costs, it would need to sell 200 tickets at £20 for 20 nights – ambitious for even West End shows.
However, it will always be tricky to make live theatre commercially viable.
Looking at the top of the list, it can sometimes be tricky to convince a historic site to stage an event not because of the possible impact on the site but because of the cost. Even if the project, like Bolsover, is fully funded from other agencies, an already stretched site may have to take into account staffing costs, impacts on other visitors and post productions costs. This can make it very difficult to convince a site to take a project on even if they receive all of the gate!
When focusing on Bolsover, I shall merge the remaining three problems into two main issues are Audience Expectation and context and authenticity. Context and authenticity are so intertwined particularly in this case, it is beneficial to examine them together.
Audience expectation is tricky. There has long been a history of the summer open air show. Usually Shakespeare or some other classic. Middle class folk pack their picnic baskets and fold away chairs for an annual outing to “A Midsummer Nights Dream” or some such other romp to watch in the summer twilight whilst sipping their Prosecco. This has become a comfortable outing. They know what they are going to get. It will last a few hours and they can sit back and observe. A Masque does not follow the same path as a typical Shakespearean play. As explored in the section on the history of the Masque, it is a very different kind of performance. One that a 21st Century audience may find difficult to access.
While the feedback from phase one of the Bolsover project was overwhelmingly positive there were a significant minority of comments criticising the promenade start to the show. They were expecting to come in, find their picnic spot and be entertained. The actual piece ran at 30 mins – far shorter than a play. We also included an interval lecture. Again, while many enjoyed and appreciated the information a significant minority complained about the not being able to hear. A common complaint for those only used to listening to performances aided by a mic.
Interestingly, although the director had planned a staggered entry for the audience, we had to abandon the idea as nearly half the audience turned up before the site had even closed for the evening to ready itself for the performance. This lead to a logistical issue of having to convince those who were already ensconced to leave their seat, exit and come back in another entrance. Not everyone was happy….
While a majority were interested and excited by the slightly unusual theatrical experience they witnessed, the expectations of all had not been well enough addressed or prepared for what they had paid for.
But could the audience ever be truly prepared or understand what they were to see? Context and authenticity in this case, may be too far a stretch.
Since the advent of live and costumed interpretation a battle has raged over who can be more ‘authentic’ than the rest. What grew from a very real need to professionalise and bring a level of academic rigour and respect, has morphed into an obsession with the unobtainable. We can never be truly ‘authentic’. We can never recreate the past and live or show people living as they have before us. Tales of arguments over belt buckles draw the focus away from what can be gained.
Give up on being authentic – focus on what we can do – Educate and Entertain. Some may entertain more than educate and other events may educate more than entertain. But neither is more worthy than the other. Both have there place in a rich and varied culture. There is a place for proper research of course but not at the expense of accessibility. If we forget who our audience is we will ultimately loose them.
But why can we never be truly authentic? Because the context of the past has been lost. We live in an ever changing world which in turn change our perceptions. Michael Baxandall’s theory of the Period Eye is incredibly relevant in this field. Our 21st Century perceptions are totally different to 17th Century peoples.
However, while we may never be able to view a Masque performance with the same eyes as a person from the past, we can shift the context. Parallels can be drawn. By finding modern day examples that hold the same value and substance, we can create pieces that have the same resonance. Therefore a modern audience will be able to begin to understand and have the same sort of feelings the audience would have had in the past.
The project I will propose will attempt to find solutions to each of these problems and create a new kinds of performance of one part of our heritage.