INTERVIEW WITH A MEMBER OF THE 'GODSPELL' CAST
Introduction to the interview
The Roade School's production of the musical 'Godspell' began its career in September 1988. Five performances were given at the school in December and that, normally, would have been the end of it. However, the show was selected for the National Student Drama Festival at Cambridge and there, in March to April 1989, it won a top award. The school gave a final production to the general public in Northampton's spacious Derngate Centre in the following October.
This final production was attended by Peter Woods. Shortly afterwards he contacted the producer, who made a large number of documents, reviews, scripts, tapes and videos available. She also arranged for Woods to interview members of the cast, as well as herself and the musical director.
As a researcher Woods' aim was to try to understand the event as an educational experience, how the participants saw their involvement, what they had gained from it and what were the factors behind the success of the production. It was one of a series of exceptional educational events that Woods was studying at the time.
The interview with Martyn, chief clown in the production, took place in the head of creative arts' office at school and was tape recorded. It was held during part of one of Martyn's free periods and was one of a series of interviews fitted into the day and one for which only a limited amount of time was available (about 15-20 minutes).
There was still an air of excitement about the production among the participants. It had been a traumatic, emotional experience, which some were still trying to come to terms with. it had also been, in part, an aesthetic experience, which they do not find easy to express in words. Also, in wanting to know how this event might have contributed to personal development, Woods was touching on areas that people might not have reflected upon. He was wanting details of all these things, but also needed to capture the spirit of the enterprise, the nature and ethos of the culture of the group.
The following is the transcript of the interview. It is presented as recorded, without revision.
M: Yes, some people said type-casting again.
P: Type-casting again - member of staff, yes, and the only member of staff actually in the production.
M: Yes, it was very interesting.
P: Well, I think yes, that's what I'd like to ask you about. I mean what was it like being a member of staff amongst all these young people?
M: Well, I think really that one of the amazing things of the whole thing was that there weren't any barriers of any sort. I think there must have been originally, right at the very beginning, although its very difficult to remember exactly what it was like then because things have moved on so much from there. But I can remember right at the very beginning, before - when the chief toys were selected, after all the auditions - we had about two sessions together in a distant room which were sort of breaking down barriers sessions, and it was some of the techniques that Sally's learnt at, you know, college and so on. But they were sort of, I suppose, like games, in a way, where you had to react to each other and report back to everyone else. For example, one of the techniques was -'Think of something which is important to you that's happened in the recent past, or something in your life and tell it to someone else'- and, you know, I could either have opted out totally or joined in totally, which - I chose the latter course as it happens. And then we had things like -'Choose one of the people here, in the groups, and pick out a quality that you admire and a quality that you dislike about that person and tell everyone else about it'- little things like that. And before we actually started, amongst the chief toys there was already working a sort of a group identity, a sense of togetherness, and virtually from the beginning I think - specifically with the chief toys but even later on gradually with all the other toys - there were no us and them barriers at all. It wasn't me, a member of staff, plus the pupils - we were just other different actors, that was it, and really they referred to me by my Christian name and so on and there were no barriers.
P: So, you noticed a change in their attitude towards you, as the thing went on?
M: Yes, particularly those who were in, I suppose, the group I was working with - all the other clowns. Part of the technique that Sally used in producing the play was getting the groups to work on their own identities and therefore she would say, 'Right, now, at this point I want you to get from here on the stage over there. Now, you're going to be singing the following lines. Now you have got to work out how you're going to get there, what you're going to be doing en route. And we would have to get together and think, well, as clowns, you know, how are we going to react to this? What's the likely way that we can get from A to B? And this was all teamwork really, and it's amazing how creative people were in those situations. I was constantly amazed by the ideas that they came up with. But there, you know, you were putting yourself - I was putting myself - into the role, and they were putting themselves into the same sort of role and we were just, you know, on the same level. That was more gradual, especially with the younger ones obviously - although having said 'younger ones', the youngest we went down to was third years, so they were the older pupils anyway. But, if you like, those who I had less contact with initially in the play, it took them longer for the barriers to break down, I suppose you could say.
P: Longer for their perception of you as a teacher to be surpassed by their perception of you as a player?
M: That's right - as just another member of the cast. Absolutely, yes. But I think by the time we'd done the show at Christmas and then we went on to the next stage of producing it for Cambridge. By that time we had a session together with Nick Phillips from Cambridge and that was another weekend where there were activities where everyone made fools of themselves basically - you know in front of everyone else, and we were all sort of becoming part of a team this way - and I think by then all members of the cast had got the same conception, I think, bar one or two who were slightly more cynical, I think.
P: Interesting. Do you think this has a carry-over into your teacher role - into your ordinary life at school.
M: Oh, yes, absolutely. I suppose I've never been involved in something which has been ~ I mean I've been involved in lots of productions in the past, not just here but sort of outside of school as well - I've never been involved in something where the same techniques have been used, of getting everyone to contribute in that way, to participate in the choreography of the thing. And I've never really been in something where a real sense of identity has been produced in the way it was for this. And when I see some of the kids now walking around the school or even in my lessons, you know, I don't think of them - I look at them and I think of them as a clown or ballet dancer or a raggy doll or something like that. I find it very difficult to sort of forget. It was a very big - very strange - experience really. I don't think I've ever gone through anything like it before.
P: I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing - when you say you look at them and you still see them within their roles.
M: Well, no. Well, I suppose. I do to a certain extent, but I think it is more a question of our relationship, the case of relationship. Talking to one another is different. I don't really think I see them, you know, prancing around the stage like a - I can't disassociate some of them with what they looked like in the play.
P: I find it difficult, having just seen one performance, and I actually see them - I naturally associate them - with who they were. But teachers and pupils, perhaps not so much in this school though I should imagine it's hard to avoid the traditional role altogether, usually have some kind of boundary between them, don't they? They're fairly clearly demarcated. This sort of enterprise dissolves that and -
M: Not totally, I don't think, because I think that the pupils still see the drama that we were participating in as being something, if you like, with boundaries - round their life, which is to do with the drama. When they come back into the classroom, they find it very difficult to sort of think of it as being a continuation of a situation. So I think for them it's a strange position to be in. They come into my classroom and they remember the relaxed atmosphere that we had on the Godspell set and that sort of thing, but - and they know that they can talk to me like that, at the end of a lesson, for example, or even when I'm walking around the class helping in particular situations - but they know that they can't just suddenly, in the middle of a lesson, speak to me in that way. They have a concept of, you know, there are lines over which they must not tread in the demarcation between teacher/pupil.
P: Different rules apply in that situation?
M: Yes, that's right - quite different rules. But having said that, it does facilitate relationships, because I think you can have - if I think of just one pupil, one particular pupil who I actually played together with in the previous production - that was a sticky relationship. I felt that that person wasn't happy with the relationship, having to play it opposite a member of staff, and they found it very difficult to cope with and couldn't cope with it. That actually had repercussions in the classroom as well; and then after a period of time, I found that person in my group again. The situation was defused earlier by the fact that, because I had a middle group and this person was actually quite good, I was actually able justifiably to move her up into a different group - a better group - and so I lost her for the half year. Then I found her again in my group this year, and working on Godspell actually did improve that situation because it was a totally different show. The atmosphere was different, and that really improved our working relationship in class, which was a definite bonus.
P: You've mentioned one factor which will have contributed towards the success of Godspell, the enormous work - preparatory work - that went into building up the team spirit, as it were. What other factors, do you think, contributed?
M: To the success of it?
P: To making it - yes - I mean you know, it received considerable acclaim -
M: I think school productions by and large, thinking back even to my own school days, tend to rest upon the small nucleus of really outstanding actors/actresses who perpetuate the school drama. They take all the leading roles every time and they are obviously very talented. But you've then got the others who have to make up the numbers and I think that most school dramas tend to fall into that category: and I think to a certain extent that it's true to say that in this particular one there were some people who started off being so totally wooden that it was going to be the same thing, and yet somehow got so involved with what they were doing - and I think 100% that this was post-December - this was after the time we'd done it really at school and when Nick Phillips had been up and worked with us - it was when we were working towards the Cambridge production - that - what I'm trying to say is, by the first set of productions it hadn't really gelled to that extent. But I think what made it so special was that absolutely everyone got caught up in the show, whether it's the show itself and the content of it. I think it is partly, because it was such a good piece to be in. It was partly the way it was handled, partly the preparation beforehand and partly the piece itself, that brought absolutely everyone into it. And I think I must have - I said somewhere, when I was giving a talk on the show at some point - that every single person was actually acting 100% and some of these really wooden characters were no longer - somehow got transformed into actors. And I think that's what took it out of the ordinary, and I think that's one of the points that the critics at Cambridge picked up too, the fact that there weren't any weak links in the sense that there wasn't someone sitting on the edge of the stage who lost interest after five minutes, sat around twiddling their thumbs, you know, whatever. Everyone was in it I00% of the time and I think that was what made it. I think it must be something in the show because reading David Essexs letter - because David Essex wrote to us before we put the show on at the Derngate - and he had, he said that - I'm just reading it across behind your shoulder there - that there was something magical about the show itself which somehow had an effect on everyone and he talked in terms of the same, the group of people who were in the first original show still being very close friends as a result of having taken part in it. So I think there must be some element in the show itself, which is interesting because a lot of critics said, you know, 'Oh Godspell, what a dated sort of show to do!' And many of them had a very poor opinion of the show itself. But I think that having worked in it, I think there's something about it which somehow gets people involved.
P: Can you put your finger on that Martyn? I mean, if you want to look at the critics - the devil's advocates - I mean, the Times Ed. - I mean I've seen these because Sally's shown them to me - 'dated script, flat' you know 'bit syrupy, sugary in places' you know - I've seen these comments about people who just don't like the American schmaltz - another term.
M: Well, I don't actually think that's true. The script itself, apart from one or two adaptations, is straight from the New Testament. I mean it's verbatim, and in that sense it's what you make it. The script is there, the message is there if you like, although it's not specifically trying to change the text, if you like, to get a message. It's just straight text with songs interposed. I think it's got to be something to do with the way it's put on as well, and I know our interpretation of it is totally different from any way it had been performed before, but, I don't know, I think there's something fairly gripping in the message that it puts across, whether you think its syrupy or what. I think it's just a straightforward message which comes across.
P: Well, 'magical' is, sort of, conjures up connotations of the mysterious, something that is difficult to explain, which is probably why it is to difficult to explain what exactly is magical about it. It's a term that is often used in a fairly loose sense in that - yes, this is a great performance - and I don't know whether that's the sense that David Essex is using it, I wouldn't know - but I think there is a combination of factors here that produced something special. Now, taking the David Essex letter again, presumably there are other ways of doing it that you could say another combination of factors could produce the same effect. You could end up in a very common or garden production. Presumably there have been a number of productions of Godspell- lots of them have been very ordinary, I should imagine, but I suppose the message which is a powerful one - the music must have something to do with it?
M: I think the songs are very memorable and moving. I think they express certain ideas and thoughts which come in at that particular time in the play and fit in with the characters that are performing the songs, so that you've got - well take my song for example, it's an old hymn that's given a re-vamp musically - and it fits in with, well in our terms, our production - it fits in with the character of the clown, someone who on the exterior -
P: What was your song again? Just remind me.
M: 'We plough the fields and scatter'- it's sort of, as I understood the character of the clown, it was someone who outwardly is very extrovert and bubbly and larks around and tells jokes and that sort of thing, but inside has got a very serious side, as many clowns have - you know, real life clowns have - someone who thinks about life and can come out with some very profound statements. And it was the clown at his most serious at that point, when he's singing that. And, to me, each character in the play - each doll - represented a sort of type of human being, that you've got the soldiers, for example, who are very self- opinionated, rather stiff and starchy in their character and find it very difficult to be emotional, to show their emotions. And you've got the very naive, baby dolls who are bubbly and sort of kind and never see double meanings in anything. It's all very straightforward, and when Jo sings her song as the chief baby doll, that again fits into the character. Her relationship with Jesus is being explored in the song. So, for me, I mean, we had to make sense of the play as individuals. My interpretation - the way I saw it unfolding before my eyes - was enhanced by Sally's production, because I saw a lot more in it by virtue of the different characters who formed the toys than perhaps I would have done in the original production, I think. And I think that, to me, that's what made the play really mean something. I could see all humanity represented by the toys and their characteristics, and that's what we were trying to portray, and the fact that when the Jesus figure came into our midst, he had an effect on all types of human beings. He had a magnetic, mystical, magical attraction, and I think that's what we, what happened to us during the play, we became suddenly transformed into the characters that we represented and Jesus had this attraction to us and on us. And we came out of ourselves, and we were able to form a relationship with him and have hope for the future which was leading us into the garden.
P: That is the basic main message of the piece and that was how the toys were equipped to actually go out of the nursery attic into the outside world?
M: Yes, it was through his death that the way out was opened up, and all the toys were able to then go out into the garden through his death for them. And obviously they thought it was going to be a sad end, but, and were absolutely cut down when, you know, they realized he was dying ~ going to die - and of course you get that dreadful scene of anguish when the toys are trying to get out of the garden, and they go to their pictures on the wall and they're absolutely desperately shattered by the whole thing. And then, of course, Jesus rises from the dead and unlocks the door. They take his dead body out and he rises from the dead, and they realize they're out, and the prison of the attic is no longer there.
P: And they're equipped with the moral message that has been conveyed in the various parables.
M: That's right. And they're now prepared to actually go out into this new world and give them out. The message has got in.
P: Yes, yes, I mean there are various sort of epicentres of the magic, aren't there?
P: Going on, yes. This - it presumably developed over the time, you said that [hello, have we had our ration?]
M: Very nearly.
P: Well can I ask you, Martyn, what you feel you personally got out of being a member of this production?
P: You've been in a lot of others, presumably?
M: Yes. I suppose a sense of great satisfaction in doing something well as a team, realizing that something that was bare words in a book actually as we did it, actually came to life and that not only did we think it came to life, it seemed to come to life for other people - I suppose that in itself was a great sense of satisfaction - personal satisfaction, so that's one thing - doing a job well. Secondly, I suppose the sort of relationships that built up during the play with other people. You know once you've gone through that sort of experience, it's something which you can't change, relationships you've established with people just generally - I mean, forget about the fact that pupils - they're pupils - they're just human beings basically (some of them anyway) - those sort of relationships which have been established during that time won't change. Well, they will change with time but, you know, you've deepened relationships with people, and that's all come out of working together, so there's that angle. I think it's just - the whole thing was just a fantastic experience ~ it's an experience with its highs and its lows and it was such fun, apart from anything else - really such fun.
P: Within your experience of performing in these things, it rates fairly high?
M: I would say it's the best thing that I've been involved in. I mean, I've had other, I've taken part in other things where I suppose you could say I perhaps had a larger part to play in the sense of more words to say or more songs to sing on my own or whatever. There are other things that I've done which I've totally enjoyed but I think this stands out as the most enjoyable by a long way. It's taken longer, for a start. It's taken a bigger chunk of time than anything else I've ever done because it kept on being resurrected.
P: A larger part of yourself, as well - because of what you put into it.
M: Because you had to give more I think. It's quite shattering actually participating in it, it's amazing how drained you were after a performance. I mean obviously you are drained after a public performance of anything, but I think one gave more in this, I think I gave more, than perhaps anything else I had done.
P: Smashing. Thanks very much.
Return to Qualitative Research home page