‘You ought to go along to Shadow of the Tor’s next rehearsal!’ my friend told me, some time in late February. ‘Francis and Brad, the guys who run it, are lovely!’
I must confess, I felt very uncertain when I walked into the back room of the King Arthur pub back in early March. Looking round the room and seeing the colourful, mainly young, people, I feared I’d be deemed too old, too conventional, too plump. Not helped by the fact that, frazzled and wilting from a day’s teaching, I was – most unusually for me – dressed formally and, in my own mind, resembled a stern Headmistress rather than the ageing rebel I feel myself to be!
Scarred also by blatant ageism and looks-related casting decisions made in groups I’d joined in the past, I was extremely wary about pushing myself forward in any way lest I be laughed to scorn or rejected out of hand. For I have few illusions about myself: I know I am good on stage, but I also am well aware that I am neither youthful nor pretty!
Two months have passed since then – and I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumptions and fears. Shadow of the Tor is an amazing inclusive opportunity for anyone who wants to join in and act or sing or help backstage or write or direct. You do not have to be conventionally anything! Being at the wrong end of my fifties was no bar. Nor was being recently-divorced, anxious, new to the area and prone to mournful moments held against me.
There is a level of tolerance, of acceptance, of cohesion in the group which I have not met in previous drama clubs. The unspoken rule is that respect and kindness should be extended to all – which is part of my philosophy anyway – and that prejudice based on gender, race, creed or colour is unacceptable. Respect for other people’s differences is something I always emphasised as a teacher, and is part of who I am as a person. As I said in a recent Facebook status (the details of which I shall not divulge as the ensuing comments were intensely private and, in some cases, extremely brave) people are people and I either warm to them or I don’t.
But this whole lovely experience has made me realise anew the extent to which we, as human beings, judge others on the basis of their physical appearance, life decisions, body issues and so-called deviation from the illusory norm. It appals me in the world of Glastonbury as much as it did when I taught full time and does in the world as a whole. I say this because what is prejudice if not large-group-sanctioned bullying of often-vulnerable minorities? Prejudice is disrespect – and worse, far worse – practised by those who think that, because of who and what they are, they can get away with unacceptable behaviour and, even more worryingly, be lauded by others for their egregious actions. I have seen the effects of this on the lives of some of my new friends (and old), acquaintances and fellow actors – and I find it deeply sad, and rage-making, that our ‘civilisation’ still perpetrates this kind of crass and destructive insensitivity on a daily basis; that acceptance of the divine spark in all of us still has to be tempered by the ridiculous conditions laid, by societal decree, upon our differences; that acceptance of our basic humanity and connection one to another is not automatic.
My eyes have been opened, my own little concerns very much put into perspective shall we say!
But also I have been given roles! Wow! This has been so exciting and rewarding. As the play was well underway when I joined, I was not expecting a part and would happily have volunteered to get involved in some other capacity. So, to be given Human 4 and a Bencher was wonderful beyond my wildest dreams, the subsequent offer of High Priestess in the Beltane ritual drama a real boost to my shattered confidence.
I was nervous. I did worry that I would be the Weakest Link, that my age would tell against me, that I would disgrace myself by tripping over the Abbey or cannoning into the Tor (and knocking Brad, who was narrating behind it, into the middle of next week!); I will confess now that I did buy, and consume half of, a strengthening bottle of beer prior to the opening!
One of my closest friends from Wrington drove up to see me in action. God, that was so reassuring, so lovely. I have a huge bond with this person and his presence (for I spotted him as soon as he arrived!) was comforting. He and I have been in many a production together. He knows what I am like, on stage and off it! His support was incredibly welcome.
I was, I think, adequate but pretty unmemorable as Human 4, funny in a loud and vulgar way as the Bencher – and, overall, didn’t let the side down too drastically! I haven’t yet seen any film footage of my High Priestess moment (though there are photos aplenty) and, because I was in a kind of trance during the event, I have no idea how I came across to the assembled masses. But, in a sense, that really doesn’t matter: I was part of a team and, as far as I could see, we worked cooperatively one with another. There was no main role; we were all equally important – and that, to me, seems like a very good definition of Shadow of the Tor’s central ethos.
But the light behind the clouds of time and nerve-related constraints has been the sheer fun and levels of bonding. Like minstrels and theatres of old, we have roamed far and wide, rehearsing in car parks, gardens, pub rooms, people’s living rooms. We have laughed until we ached! We have shared chocolate and camaraderie, biscuits and banter, wine and, when needed, whining, tears and tenderness.
It has been, in every sense, a life-affirming time. I have come out of my shell, made friends, started the process of integration in Glastonian life. I have felt included and positively wanted. I have had enormous fun and laughed raucously, such a relief after so many months of sadness, fear and tension.
Although I have only been in town for just over four months, I can already see that Brad and Francis have breathed new life and vitality into the Avalonian creative scene; that they are catalysts for revival and freshness and a more truly cohesive approach to amateur drama.
I await Shadow of the Tor‘s next initiative with great enthusiasm and excitement! Go, Lads!
Photos show most of the cast, plus writer and director, of ‘In the Shadow of the Tor’ rehearsing in my back garden!