In Which David Explains More About The Manifesto

So I was intending to blog today about Fiona’s secret boyfriend, but I’ve now gathered so much information that it really requires an entire posting (or even ‘site!) of its own.  Then I thought I’d talk about the adventures Alex & I had on the way home from last night’s rehearsal and our endeavours to return a lost cell-phone to its owner, but it’s not really that interesting.

So instead, inspired by Jonny’s post, I thought I’d make some comments about the origins of the Manifesto.  I’m slightly suspicious of ‘manifestos’ since there shouldn’t be rules about how one works in theatre.  But I always liked Peter Brook’s ‘Manifesto For The ’Sixties’ [note to Jonny, I don’t think Brook uses the correct contractive apostrophe – but how can I not??] as it appears in The Shifting Point, and The Shifting Point was one of the few books I had with me when I wrote The Bacchanals’ Manifesto TEN YEARS OF MY LIFE ago.

Ten years ago I was living in a bedsit on Fordwych Road, West Hampstead, London, and working at the London Dungeon.  This involved spending all day dressed as a Victorian zombie, terrorising tourists, dispensing safety instructions on rides and working out new ways of making children wet their pants.

While we’d been gone, all our friends’ careers here were taking off while I was doing nothing.  I knew I wanted to be a director, not an actor or technician anymore, but I was only being offered tech jobs in the UK and I knew no actors besides the ones we worked with at the Dungeon – and their way of working was very different to what I’d been used to at home.  We’d talked often about forming a company, and what sort of work that company would do.  My then-partner loved the stylish, slick work of Trouble whereas I knew I was into much less polished, much more ramshackle, crazy work of the kind I’d been involved in with So, You’re A Man (the comedy show Taika, Bret, Carey, Jemaine and I had performed all over NZ and in Australia) or The Humourbeasts, and the sort of suitcase-theatre Phil Mann had championed while we were students at Victoria.  Fundamentally, I knew I wanted to work with established texts rather than ‘devise’.

Basically, the Manifesto (when my computer skills improve I’ll work out how to take a photo of it and upload it to this ‘blog) [note I’ve contracted ’blog here but not in my first sentence, because in the first sentence it’s used as a verb] is one sheet of A4 refill paper, folded in the middle and with a slight tear along the fold.  Nowhere on the sheet of paper does it say ‘Manifesto’.  It’s essentially a list, with the heading “the AIMS of the kind of company I seek to form:” and 18 items on the list.  I think the list blogged on this ’blog [see? verb versus noun?] only has 15 items – for some reason when I rediscovered the Manifesto and committed it to computer-type, I left out a few of them.  In the margin of the paper, I list 12 possible shows: The Frogs, Timon of Athens, Henry V, Tartuffe, The Physicists, The Seagull, Dr Faustus, Marat/Sade, Othello, The Tempest, Oedipus Rex, Waiting For Godot.

Those knowledgeable of Bacchanals history will spot that the first play on the list was indeed the first Bacchanals show six months later, but that only one of the others has made it (I’ll explain about why some of the others never happened in a later blog!).  The other side of the sheet of paper is a rather amusing list of all my hypothetical plans to earn money upon returning to NZ; fascinating looking at it now ten years on to see which ones I managed and which ones I didn’t.

As 1999 continued we travelled around Europe (and in Berlin caught up with Taika, who was the first proper recruit for the still un-named company), ending up back in Wellington in December and hastily registering to do The Frogs in the next Fringe Festival.  The ‘Manifesto’ (as history will call it!) remained folded away inside my New Penguin edition of Timon of Athens (bought from Oxfam on Kilburn High Road for 99p) until January 2005 when by chance I came across it just before The Bacchanals’ 12th production, a North Island tour of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opened at BATS.  I’m still amazed by how many of its ideals are still dear to me …

Next time: on the dubious and exciting origins of The Bacchanals’ name!

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