Community plays have always been an important part of acta’s programme, and central to our thinking. In fact, it was getting involved in a community play in 1981 which got me involved with the whole community theatre movement, and was instrumental in the formation of acta in 1985. So it wasn’t surprising that soon after acta began, we were working on our first community play project, working in the Somerset towns of Midsomer Norton and Radstock, and the many villages around the area, on a vast epic of a play called Our Batch.
The project saw us working in partnership with a local body, The South Wansdyke Arts Council. acta developed a 3 year programme, with a series of small outreach projects in the first year, the community play in year 2, and a third year which was to consolidate and create sustainable groups to continue beyond.
It was an extraordinary and massively ambitious project, with 250 performers, including a community orchestra, primary schools, people of all ages and abilities. We took over an old engine shed in the centre of Radstock for the year of the show, which was big enough for the show, but too big to heat, which was a bit problematical as the performances were in a particularly cold November. (You can see from the rare show photos that the audience are wrapped in blankets!)
The show was a phenomenal success, selling out all but the first performance, attracting critical acclaim and is still talked about in the area 25 years on.
The community company involved went on to create more plays with acta, one of which – ‘Remember Me’ – is one of my personal favourites of all the theatre I’ve made with acta.
The work continued in the area for many years after, and Caroline Green left acta in 1989 to work for the Wansdyke Arts Council, which eventually became ‘Creativity Works’ which still operates in B&NES.