International Community Arts – Edinburgh’s “The Grassmarkets Project”

From the followi9ng blog –

“It was 1990 and I was in Glasgow as they were celebrating their year as European City of Culture. I was lucky enough to be working there for TAG Theatre Company and we were working away on a large scale community production called ‘City’ by the late, great Tom McGrath. 1990 was a seminal year for me in that it introduced me to the work of Peter Brook, Lev Dodin, Robert Lepage and many others and gave me the direction I was to follow for the next 25 years.

But surprisingly the one piece that was to make the most impact on me was in a homeless hostel in Edinburgh. One night I ventured out to The Edinburgh Festival Fringe to see a new theatre project by an organisation called The Grassmarket Project, named after the local Mission Hall.

Written by Jeremy Weller in collaboration with the cast and directed by Jeremy Weller, ‘Glad’ was the very first Grassmarket Project production. In the company’s own words ‘Glad’ presented “an uncompromising description of homelessness”. Based on the experiences of selective members of Edinburgh’s homeless community, the production involved twelve homeless men from the Grassmarket area of the city, who alongside two support actors confronted their audience with personal experiences of boredom, violence, alcoholism, drug addiction and social exclusion.

With a real homeless hostel as the venue, ‘Glad’ did not require much of a set. Separated by a wide central isle, two rows of five beds were placed as close to the front row of the audience as possible. The production itself consisted of a combination of two plots: one told the story of a theatre director entering the world of the homeless with the intention of developing a piece of theatre based upon the experiences of and involving these people. Interwoven with this self-reflective aspect of the production was a collage of scenes set outside workshop hours focussing on the relationship between one of the homeless men and his girlfriend, discussions between the director and the hostel warden and everyday scenes inside the dormitory walls.

The audience was seated as close to the stage area as possible and on one level with it

I remember the production most because of a speech from Shakespeare’s ‘Richard the Second’ that one of the alcoholic residents, Terry, recited. It was the most beautiful, touching and powerful rendition of Shakespeare I had ever heard and still is in my memory bank to this day.

‘Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings ….’

Every time I see a production of ‘Richard the Second’ I am transported back to that moment of seeing the man in the picture above speaking those lines. Terence Francis Rigby was a philosopher.

The piece was so successful it went on to play in Islington Union Chapel Hall, London; December 1990, Volksbühne; Berlin; January 1991, The Arches, Glasgow Mayfest; May 1991, Grassmarket Mission Hall, returning to Edinburgh Festival Fringe; August 1991, Schauspiel, Bonn; Bienale Festival of European Theatre; September 1992, City Centre Theatre, Dublin; Theatre Festival; October 1991, Centre Pompidou, Paris; January 1992.

Jeremy Weller went on to make many theatre pieces for The Grassmarket Project. I came across him again when we were both working for The Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen. Always controversial he was making a piece about young people, now living in Denmark, from Palestine and Israel. The young cast acted out the conflict in their country in a very personal way – the anger, frustration and prejudice was so tangible in the auditorium from the stage.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.