It’s just after seven in the evening and I’m sitting in the corner of the rehearsal room. The musical director is leading the band and one of the community choirs in song. The composer is playing cajon in the band. The director is singing in the choir to fill in a harmony part that’s being sung by one of the other choirs. There are a few idiosyncratic decorative sashes dotted about the place, which the designer and I made this afternoon along with a different community group. There’s some literal rose-tinted spectacles and a box full of seaweed which plays a folk song when you open it. One of the community choir has brought a dog.
This is my favourite bit of being the writer. My work’s mostly done and everyone else gets to do theirs. More so when I’ve written some words and they’re not just spoken but sung back at me. Even more so when the people singing them are the people the material originally came from.
This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve collaborated with composer Boff Whalley to create a huge site-specific participatory community performance featuring original songs and community choirs. It’s probably ten per cent of my working life but equally probably my favourite ten per cent. And this is the biggest one we’ve done yet.
I spent a couple of months meeting members of their community to find out about the history and memory of Crimdon Dene. I wrote some lyrical sketches. A few days or a week later, Boff would send the sketch back in song. We’d pass it back and forth for a bit until it was time to move on to the next one. And now here we are in a room in Blackhall Colliery in our final community company rehearsal before the show on Saturday. The community shared itself with me. Me and Boff turned what they shared into songs. And now here they are singing those songs back. It’s a bit magic.
This Saturday, this one small group is going to come together with several more to fill Crimdon Dene with the songs and stories of itself. There’ll be somewhere between fifty and sixty community performers. It’s called EVERYTHING THERE EVER WAS. It's about a family who don't believe where you come from makes a difference to who you are - until (SPOILER ALERT) they do. And it's about how the history of everything there ever was in this place has led to us being here, singing together, about the history of everything there ever was in this place. Not an unambitious project. The scale of it can be measured in a few incidental details. My favourite is that it’s the first show I’ve ever made that’s had its own AA brown signs.
It’s on Saturday afternoon in Crimdon Dene on the beautiful east Durham coast. 4.30pm, because this is also the first time I’ve done a show the start time of which has been determined by high tide. It is going to be unutterably special. There's a community choir, a live band and a picnic. There may even be a dog. Please come. If you can’t find it, follow the brown signs.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will