22 October 2020 | by Neil Beddow
It shouldn’t be surprising that out of all the hundreds of stories that acta participants have told or created over the years, that some of them deal with the uncanny, the supernatural and the downright spooky!
There was a very memorable project devised by disabled young people at Claremont School, back in the 1990’s. Entitled ‘Creepy Spooky’, it involved the young people at the school in having outrageous fun with characters and costume, and getting particularly engaged with darkness and stage lighting effects. A one-off performance to schoolmates, staff and parents was a gleeful and anarchic event, which I still remember with some delight.
Ghosts have featured in several acta community plays, each one representing some untold story of the past. Working together with people in Little Stoke – and the other ‘Stokes’ – in North Bristol in 1996/7, we created ‘Out of the Shadows’, a pretty spectacular show, with a plot built around a mysterious ghost haunting a building site, and the gradual un-picking of the ghost’s past. The story took in teenage pregnancy in the 1900’s, conditions in the mental institution at Stoke Park, a near life-size Brabazon plane (the appearance of which is one of my all time favourite acta ‘Wow’ reveals) and ending with a guest slot for our oldest ever performer (aged 97) who popped up to solve the whole heart-breaking mystery.
Another ghost crept into the telling of ‘Stepping Stones’, the Lawrence Weston Community Play in 2003; this time a heart-broken mother who was attended by a creepy group of child spirits who danced on with her when she appeared. The idea was that she would be announced by the smell of lavender, and we had great fun working on our first ‘smellorama’, using scented oil and a diffuser. This time the ghost was suggested by a local tradition – and one of those great occasions where a whole story built from a small tale and a creative group of people.
We had a ghost in Goblin Silver, one of acta’s original family shows for Christmas, constantly nagging her wicked daughter, who was recklessly using a magic pen which made anything she wrote come true. And I suppose we used the ideas of ghosts, or revanants, at the end of Gas Girls, where the characters came forward to tell the stories of their deaths.
One of my very favourite spooky shows was also (arguably) the very first acta show in summer 1985. It was created with the Kids Theatre group that I was co-leading with a group of Bristol Uni drama Department students at the time. The show was called Phantomania, and over the summer we took the group of 20 young people, and 8 adults on a residency at the Beaford Arts Centre in Devon, and then toured the show around village halls in Devon – to great acclaim! It was a brilliant show – with songs by myself and my old collaborator Robin Grant, incredible design and lighting by Jane Roberts and Nick. It was just one of those shows where everything worked together, with a script full of wacky wittiness from the young devisers, and a thrilling plot which needed everyone to work together to seal the Cosmic Plughole and save the world. Of course.
This terrifying tradition has stood the test of time, and on 27th October 2020, acta workers Rosalie Pordes and Jody Cook are presenting ‘Spooky Tales’ by Lockleaze Youth theatre in the woods at Lockleaze; torches, wellies and strong nerves all advised.