International Conference on Traditional Drama, Sheffield, 1-3 July 1994


Folk Play Home - Conferences Introduction - Author Index
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  • Presentation and Representation: Market Pitching as Traditional Dramaturgy
    John Ashton

    Abstract: That the art of the market pitcher may be variously designated a "folk discourse genre", "verbal art", or "occupational ritual", is indicative of the descriptive and definitional problems presented by this occupationally-based form of traditional expressive performance. Indeed, one is tempted to suspect that the historical neglect of this unquestionably folkloric phenomenon by British folklorists may be connected to the generic ambiguity of the form itself alongside the canonically restricted scope of British folklore scholarship.

    This paper will suggest that market pitching might be most profitably approached from a dramaturgical perspective. Indeed, it may be considered equatable with folk drama as recently defined by Roger Abrahams and Thomas A. Green among others. It takes place in an essentially theatrical context created by the pitcher's manipulation of merchandise and costume and the management of a spatially and visually bounded arena in which performance is staged. Like the mummers' play, pitching involves performing behaviour which is stylised, mimetic and presentational rather than realistic.

  • Tradition and Creativity in Guising Performances in the South of Scotland
    Audrey M.Bain *

    Abstract: The paper outlines recent research on guising performances in south Scotland with particular reference to a version of the "resurrection" folk drama, "Galoshins", found in Armadale, near Bathgate, West Lothian. The influence of the Scottish "Penny Geggie" tradition upon the costumes and performance style of the guisers is debated. The study also considers the relationship between "Galoshins" and improvised local dramas, and the instances of school songs and historical references as part of both traditions.

    [Paper available?]

  • An Approach to Sri Lankan Tamil Folk Drama
    E.Balasunderam

    Abstract: At the beginning of this paper I wish to stress that the folk drama is considered the 'national art form' of the Sri Lankan Tamils. Indepth studies of folk dramas bring a clear understanding of various aspects of the cultural tradition of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The printed and unprinted texts of the folk drama and the drama performances at rituals, as well as social festivals, are evidence of the richness and the current tradition of folk drama among the Sri Lankan Tamils. In this paper I will describe the characteristic features of the various folk drama forms, their function, audience, tradition and contemporary manifestations.

    Folk drama is primarily performed as a dance with a closely associated story. The texts as well as the techniques of folk drama were preserved in the oral tradition, especially in the memory of the well-versed actors which are later transmitted and preserved their knowledge in manuscripts from generation to generation. The collection and printing of folk drama texts began in the mid-twentieth century.

    Sri Lankan Tamil folk dramas are thematically based on the Indian heroic epics Mahaa Bhaaratha and Raamaayana and Hindu myths. Some of them are based on social and political heroes and stories from the Bible. Mahaa Bhaaratha stories are very popular. It is important to note that the cult of Mahaa Bhaaratha is very predominant in eastern Sri Lanka where folk drama plays a main role in this cultural context.

    Christian missionaries who arrived in Sri Lanka from the seventeenth century onwards observed that the folk dramas were a very powerful "mass medium" among the villagers, and they themselves used folk drama as a medium for their religious propaganda activities. In the last two decades, the Art Circle of the Bishop House of northern Sri Lanka has been involved in producing Catholic folk drama. The Christian influences on Tamil folk drama should be studied in greater detail.

    It is very hard to obtain any accurate records for the remote period of folk drama. During the period from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries, folk drama was widely used by the folk poets to spread and sustain Hindu philosophy and disciplines. It is an important fact that the folk dramas have served as an instrument of social change from the eighteenth century. Such folk drama exposed Hindu social evils, such as the caste struggle, dowry problems and other social misbehaviour like prostitution, gambling, etc. Folk dramas were also used as an instrument to expose the British colonial rulers and create a sense of national patriotism. The political activities and life struggles of the heroes who fought against the British colonial rulers were allegorically described in folk dramas. Such folk dramas served as the servant of nationalism in Sri Lanka as well as in south India. It is worth drawing attention to another development in the history of Sri Lankan Tamil folk dramas: since 1990, the drama group of the Liberational Tigers of Tamil Eelam, with the motive of political propaganda, has been using the folk dramatic forms and its literatures, which have been well received by the public.

    Since the independence of Sri Lanka in 1948, a new interest in "national" and "regional" cultural identification and expression has developed. These activities have led to the rediscovery and re-evaluation of indigenous forms of performing arts. Traditional folk theatres, such as Vata-mooti, Ten-mooti and Vilaacam (= Icai Naatakam) have gone through remarkable changes. Their status has been enhanced by an intellectual re-evaluation which identified them as the national art form of the Sri Lankan Tamils. The interest of the cultural revivalists in folk dramas began in the 1960s. As a result of this trend, a move is being made towards better documentation of traditions in terms of examining them as total behavioural events and large scale empirical studies have demonstrated the existence of variant forms of dramas. Furthermore, theoretical structures have been developed through the in-depth research at the University of Jaffna from 1980.

    Systematic collection was begun in the 1960s, the Arts Council of Sri Lanka having been formed by the Sri Lankan government in 1960. Since the 1960s, scholarly work has been published in the form of editions of folk drama texts, papers on folk drama, and criticism of performances of folk drama. In this category, the names of a few of the scholars who have worked in this field can be pointed out (in chronological order): V.S.Kandiah, S.Vithiananthan, K.Sivathamby, E.Balasundaram, S.Mounaguru and S.Sundarampillai.

    Arts circles of schools, colleges and universities, as well as community centres, are showing a keen interest in producing folk dramas during calendar festivals and ceremonies. The Ministry of Education is also conducting an annual folk drama competition in the schools. The Folklore Society of Jaffna is very keen to produce a folk drama every year.

  • Beckett and The Puppets: Understanding and Staging Beckett's Longer Plays as Traditional Street Puppet Theatre
    James Bloom

    Abstract: In this short paper, I challenge the consensus that Beckett's work is consummately post-modern by comparing the comedy of his longer plays (Waiting for Godot, Endgame, All that Fall, and Happy Days) with that of traditional street puppet theatre (Punch and Judy and Guignol and Gnaffron), and by pointing up the decidedly pre-modern comic fatalism which permeates both.

    I begin with Kleist's essay "On the Marionette Theatre", stressing Beckett's fundamental agreement with Kleist's position-a position rooted in neo-Platonism-that what we admire in bird or beast or puppet is unselfconscious "grace"; that the self-awareness which defines us as "human" is also what makes us "fallen".

    Next, the respective attributes of marionette (string puppet) and glove puppet are considered. Lucky in Waiting for Godot and Clov in Endgame are equated with string puppets and their respective opposite numbers, Pozzo and Hamm, with glove puppets. This leads into the practical consideration of fit-up (glove puppet) staging for the four plays mentioned above with reference to my own experience in this regard.

    There follows an examination of the formal structure, and particularly the shared obsessive symmetry of the Punch and Judy or Guignol and Gnaffron play and Beckett's plays. This includes some bizarrely humorous extracts from a couple nineteenth-century Punch and Judy plays. Finally, the paper concludes with a quick consideration of the archetypal qualities which Beckett's play seem to share with traditional street puppet theatre that can allow both to cross from one culture or period to another whilst retaining their dramatic potency.

  • W.H.Auden and Traditional Drama: A Consideration of Literary Uses of the Mummer's Play
    Georgina Boyes

    Abstract: Whether deriving from field collection or imaginatively assembled from eclectic sources, traditional plays are generally treated naturalistically in fiction. From Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native to Ngaio Marsh's Off with His Head-even in Elsie J. Oxenham's The Abbey Girls Go Back to School-performances by "the mummers" are contextualised as part of the English rural calendar, and appear mainly as indexes of traditionality in the "old, prior culture". Folkloristic considerations of these manifestations have been limited to uneasy discussion of the documentary status of the performances-where is the text from? Is it "genuine"? how far do the activities described reflect the actuality of performances of traditional plays in the "real" geographical area indicated in the fictional work? This paper attempts to extend the content of discussion of traditional drama in literature by examining the non-naturalistic use of elements drawn from mummers' plays in early works by W.H.Auden (1907-1973).

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds audio tape recording, with transcript.]

  • Children's Acting Games as Traditional Drama
    Mavis Curtis

    Abstract: Children of primary school age spend a considerable part of their free time in role-playing games. These fall into three categories:

    1. Make-believe games, such as "School" or "Martians" or "Families", where characters, plot and dialogue are improvised;
    2. Games modelled on TV or video stories, such as "Neighbours" or "Farthingwood Friends", where characters and plot are set by the current episode but where the dialogue is improvised;
    3. Acting games, which have unlikely and sometimes horrific story lines, set dialogue which is passed from one generation of children to the next, and characters which are allotted at the beginning of the game. These form a small but interesting group of games and are the aspect of children's play which is relevant to this conference.

    In my research into children's games played by eight-year-olds in the Keighley area, I found two acting games among Punjabi-speaking children. One, called 'Aami, aami' ('Grandma, grandma'), resembles 'Grandmother, Grandmother Grey', a game which was popular in nineteenth-century Britain, but is no longer played by English-speaking children in Keighley. The other, 'Bhatsha, M'Rani', is about a king and a wicked queen who take people into their house and make them work at various menial tasks.

    An interesting English example, 'Bobbins of cotton', was recorded in 1976 but has disappeared from the schools I visited. A video recording was made then and is available. The plot concerns children, who are bobbins of cotton. Each bobbin is stolen from the shop by an unscrupulous thief who comes in a variety of guises and outwits the shopkeeper.

    Although considered by the children to be games, and although to an adult eye they may appear to be nothing but running about and screaming, playlets such as 'Bobbins of cotton' are undoubtedly old. The Opies, in Children's Games in Street and Playground (1969), record a similar acting game from a German source in 1836 and are of the opinion that, given the conservative traditions of children's play, most of these acting games, "may be some of the most genuine folk-plays in Britain".

  • The Fool in the 18th-19th Century Hero-Combat Mummers' Plays and in the 13th-16th Century Illuminated Manuscripts
    Jon Drake

    Abstract: The presentation consists of:

    1. Brief description of a typical revived hero-combat play of today. Despite the play being usually performed by the morris dancers, their Fool rarely appears in the play. Some structural elements, however, of his one-time part in the play and something of his character that may still be found in the morris dance will be referred to.
    2. Various reasons for the shortening of the play during the nineteenth century, the reducing of the Fool's part and its editing out of chapbooks will be considered.
    3. Presentation of the result of a comparative structural analysis of 170 complete hero-combat texts of the nineteenth century show changes in the play in terms of structure, theme, ritual to secular drama, conclusion and suggested ritual objective.
    4. Consideration of the differences between the role and character of the Doctor and that of the Fool.
    5. Examination of the few complete eighteenth-century composite texts and proposal that most of them show that the Fool is not only the main character in the hero-combat play, but also in the wooing and sword dance plays.
    6. Comparison of the difference between St. George the Dragon slaying hero and Fool as Dragon taming hero.
    7. Concluding presentation: the showing of some fifteen coloured slides of 13th-16th century illuminated MSS in the Bodleian Library illustrating the folk Fool's evolving costume and emblems of his office, and providing some background to the mummer's play.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds audio tape recording, with transcript.]

  • Traditional Drama as Displayed in Shipboard "Line-Crossing" Ceremonies
    Morgiana P.Halley

    Abstract: The ceremonies attendant upon "Crossing the Line" are thought of by many as almost as inescapable an item of seafaring custom as those undertaken upon the launching and naming of a newly-built vessel. Line-crossing initiation ceremonies are widely known and recognised as traditional drama afloat. The "Line" alluded to is ordinarily the Equator; however, other initiations of a similar type occur and those will also be touched upon in this presentation. A good deal of background work and collection of documented reports on this subject has been undertaken by Lydenberg (Crossing the Line: Tales of the Ceremony during Four Centuries, 1957) and Henningsen, (Crossing the Equator: Sailors' Baptism and Other Initiation Rites, 1961), but the major source of data will be the researcher's private collection of tape-recorded interview material, the Halley Maritime Collection, and her own personal experience.

    The earliest ceremonies to mark the crossing of the equator appear to have been primarily religious in character and there is no way to fix their date of origin with accuracy, although the early Portugese explorations in Africa probably mark their initial occurrence and they rapidly became established custom. Since that period, seafarers have carried on such ceremonies in a virtually unbroken line of tradition (Lydenberg, pp. 8-9). This paper will deal chiefly with the phenomenon in its twentieth-century observance.

    Line-crossing rituals follow a typical pattern of reversal of authority, as do certain other rites in quasi-dramatic form, such as those of the mock king or boy bishop, where the lowliest are raised to temporary supremacy and the exalted are correspondingly reduced in rank. The ratings, rather than the officers aboard a vessel, are temporary and superficially at least, in full charge during these rites. Such transitory role-reversal frequently features in mock rites of passage, while the authority assumed in actual rites of passage is real and sustained beyond the temporal limits of the ceremonies themselves.

    Among the more interesting aspects of the ceremony covered by this paper will be the variations in the cast of characters between North American and British flag vessels and the wide range of "punishments" inflicted upon the initiates. These and the varying degrees of enthusiasm with which the participants, both members of Neptune's retinue and would-be initiates, greet these ceremonies appear to have particular relevance to the main theme of this conference. Certificates of passage will also be compared and their diversity of character discussed.

    Not all of the ritual involved in the line-crossing ceremonies is something which could easily be characterised as "fun". Instead, as is true of many initiatory rites, it is often a matter of "getting level" and settling of scores, an actual attack under the guise of tradition in cases where lowly ratings can harass and distress persons of the standing of officers and wealthy passengers without fear of reprisal. In wartime, it also served as a relief for tension whereby, through inventive wit and humour, the crew (and passengers, if there were any) found a means to cope with the constant stress and threat of danger.

  • "The Image Behind the Cloth": Visual Representations of Newfoundland Mummers in the Work of David Blackwood
    Lizanne Henderson

    Abstract: The annual visitation of the Newfoundland mummers has captured the imagination of a number of writers and artists from the province, and this paper focuses on the works of one such Newfoundland artist-the printmaker, David Blackwood.

    Visual representation is a powerful form of expression which, in this case, provides important clues into the individual and collective sense of the mummering tradition in Newfoundland. It will be argued that artistic interpretations of the mummers are reflective of issues pertaining not only to personal identity but are also closely connected to regional identity.

    David Blackwood has been a dominant and charismatic force, not only within Canada but also in the international art scene. The broad appeal of Blackwood's art has come to many, including the artist, as a great surprise. His work translates the sagas of Newfoundland's seafaring days and commemorates a way of life quite foreign to the majority of Canada, let alone the rest of the world. Images of maritime tragedies, death at sea, and lost parties of sealers predominate. The closeness of community and familial bonds in outport life are also recurring themes in his work. He draws his viewers into his world and invites them to meet his people.

    David Blackwood grew up in a time and place where it was considered unusual for children to make art. People were too busy surviving in Newfoundland to pursue art as a profession, however, as Blackwood is quick to point out, there was a strong aesthetic sense present in the material culture. The boats, architecture, furniture, storytelling and songwriting were all highly developed artistic skills. He remembers the incredible visual evocations that were produced in his mind while listening to the stories. Despite the difficulty of pursuing art, young Blackwood found his own ways of venting his artistic talents. His father recollects that at the age of three, David, "with scissors and cardboard... cut great spiralling shapes, made snow-flakes, birds, animals." A tin of water-colour paints, a Christmas present from Mrs. Gertie Hann, opened up a world of colour and new possibilities for the budding artist. He would steal his mother's sheets off the line, desperate to know what paint would look like on fabric, while the neighbour's goat was falsely accused of eating the sheets!

    Blackwood clears his mind of the cobwebs that accumulate over time and brings back to life the mummers of his childhood. For him, "they represent the ultimate mummer." Moreover, he has also created for his viewers a kind of archetypal mummer, moulded and shaped from generations of family and community tradition. As we shall see, the concept of tradition is paramount to David Blackwood. Notions of tradition permeate his mummer sequence, if not the bulk of his work in general.

    Blackwood's mummers convey an almost ethereal quality. Figures appear in an isolated landscape that is cold and threatening. Their expressions, if faces are disclosed, are dour and serious or, if hidden from view, are mysterious and almost frightening. Many descriptions of mummering reveal a time filled with merriment and laughter. Crowds of mummers tour from house to house singing and dancing, telling stories and eating too much Christmas cake. Lights burn well into the night, announcing hospitality to family and friends in the community. It seems strange then that Blackwood's images seem almost, at times, ominous. Perhaps this is to be expected since these are images conjured from his childhood. As early as age three or four years old, Blackwood remembers the costumed figures approaching the house, banging on the door with a stick or 'split', and coming into his kitchen:

    And often mummers would be threatening, would be used to threaten bad children, like if you're not good we're gonna give you to the first mummer that comes through the door. We're gonna give you away. So for children it was a very sinister, threatening thing. These really strange people. These veils and these cloaks and big boots and so on, you know. And you never saw them during the daytime; it was nocturnal. Very mysterious and sinister... the scary aspect of mummers seemed to be the predominant thing.

    Tradition then is central in Blackwood's work. He believes that the only true mythology that exists in Canada, aside from native cultures, exists in the Newfoundland sealing history. Blackwood considers himself a visual balladeer of the lore of Newfoundland. However, he sees himself as an angry recorder of this mythos because he feels "something has been destroyed." Newfoundland in the past was, according to Blackwood, superior in many ways. He believes that the quality of life was better, the people were self-reliant, and they had self confidence. When Newfoundland lost its independence, it also lost its spirit.

    The images hold a deep significance for the artist, recording as they do, fragments from his life. They are also reflective of his deep commitment to this province's heritage and culture. In his own way he is contributing to the preservation and propagation of aspects of Newfoundland life. His work mirrors his strong sense of regional identity. Rex Clark, in writing about the impact that David Blackwood has had on Newfoundland culture, finds Blackwood's work to be a powerful expression of social and political criticism (Contrary Winds: Essays on Newfoundland Society in Crisis, 1986). As mummers, people are at their most assertive. They stand in protest against the established social order.

    Blackwood's mummers stand out against the landscape in reverence to Newfoundland's past and are symbolic of individual and collective cultural nativism. He allows us to look beneath the surface of an old Newfoundland tradition and see it for all that it is worth; an iconic augmentation of a culture's pride. Blackwood introduces us to his mummers, permits us to look upon their faces despite the pretence of disguise, and takes us back to meet the "image behind the cloth".

  • 'Slawpase fro the Myln-Whele': Seeing Between the Lines in the Wakefield First Shepherds' Play
    Malcolm Jones

    Abstract: A close reading of the text of the First Shepherds' Play seems to support the hypothesis that the Third Shepherd, nicknamed Slowpace, is an example of the venerable "Gothamite" motif of the "humane rider". The literary and artistic antecedents of this motif are surveyed, and further possible allusions to motifs from the Cockaigne topos in the play are examined.

  • "Galoshins" as Monologue
    Emily Lyle

    Abstract: "Galoshins", the Scottish form of the hero-combat play, had a traditional life as a monologue in addition to its more typical life as a multivocal dramatic performance. I shall discuss the piece as monologue with reference to a number of the sources published by Brian Hayward in Galoshins: The Scottish Folk Play (1992) and shall introduce a new version recorded in 1990 from Ian Hunter who had heard it in his boyhood in Dunfermline in the 1930s, performed as a monologue by his grandfather, James Hunter, who had acted in the play in the 1870s.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds audio tape recording, with transcript.]

  • Textual Origins of the St Kitts Mummies' Play: A Study in Textual Variation
    Peter Millington

    Abstract: This paper looks at the St. Kitts Mummies' plays as published in Folklore by R.Abrahams (1968). It demonstrates that the texts were originally taken from a book published in the 1890s by a missionary society, although latterly modified by oral transmission. The missionary text was itself compiled from northern English chapbook texts and a version from Devon.

    The main types of variation that occur between the texts are examined, and possible explanations for each type of change are put forward, together with an assessment of their relative importance. Supplementary examples are also drawn from other grouped texts - e.g. texts collected from the same person at different times, or from different members of the same team. The implications for research based on textual evidence are discussed.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds handout.]

  • [Published (without the general discussion of textual variation) as:

    Peter Millington (1996) Mrs Ewing and the Textual Origin of the St Kitts Mummies' Play
    Folklore, 1996, Vol.107, pp.77-89]

  • Dramaturgy in the Recontextualisation of Mende Kasilo Domeisia
    Patrick Kagbeni Muana

    Abstract: This paper will examine the dramaturgical aspects of a corpus of Mende folktales about the spider trickstar figure, Kasilo. Folklorists and anthropologists have noted the portrayal of this figure in other African and African American communities. Its humorous but almost criminal obsession with contriving often outrageous plans for personal gratification has been widely noted and commented on in published collections and scholarly treatises. There has equally been no dearth of comments on the dramaturgical aspect of the performances of these folktales. The mimicry and role playing, the vocal modulation, especially the assumption of the strident nasalised voice a physiological condition that is culturally associated with scheming individuals the prominent gestures and body movements and the whole range of expressive motions have been noted. These dramaturgical features not only render breadth to the delineation of character and enhance the rhetorical effect of the performances, they also provide important intertextual links with social and cultural perspectives engendered in preceding re-enactments of stories and other generic forms which depict this well-known figure. In performances, the audience and the performer visibly engage in role playing and negotiations on the delineation of the character as well as the social and cultural significance of the spider trickster figure.

    The argument for greater attention to the dramaturgical features of these performances also critiques the reification of controversial scholarly practices in Folklore Studies whilst suggesting that this approach can constitute a complimentary way of perceiving the nature of verbal art. As pointed out above, dramaturgy can foreground not only the interaction between performer and audience but can also index the spatio-temporal dimensions of the performance. Current research in Folklore has indicated interrelationship of form, function and meaning and that the text as we know it is not a self-contained sequential stream of speech but marked and open-ended discourse which can both refer to itself and be an object of discussion. The notion of "every telling is a new telling" indicates that indexical features are unique to different performances. In essence, every retelling is a recontextualisation of discourse. The dramaturgical features with its variation in the formal and functional sense are central to this recontextualisation process.

    As examination of the dramaturgical features of the performance of these trickster folktales has implications for current scholarly practices. Proponents of the ethnopoetic approach have fervently argued for a dialogical as opposed to an analogical trend in research methodology in Folklore and Anthropology. The argument has not been justified in the practice. I would argue though that the issue of authenticity usually conflicts with the persistent scholarly authority which emerges no matter how much effort is made to blur it out buy disclaimers. Recent works by leading folklorists have insisted that fieldwork and analysis is and has been a projection of social power since the Grimm brothers undertook their seminal collection of folktales. The tape recorder and the tape recording, it is further argued, is often reified as an "authentic" record of the performance and this is also reflected in transcriptions. Pertinent questions of who can perform what, how and when, and the relationship between the performer, the audience and the researcher can be blurred out with just a consideration of the auditory features of performance. The dramaturgical features of these performances foreground both auditory and gestural features as well as the interaction of the performer with the audience and his performance. I will therefore contend that a recognition of the dramaturgical features of performance may have positive implications for a resolution of this controversy as it constitutes a justification for reviewing and fluxing out the remit of current scholarly practices.

  • Customary Encounters: The Sociology and Dramaturgy of Traditional Drama
    Thomas Pettitt

    Abstract: Dramatic activities which persist relatively unchanged over time, that is, in which continuity predominates over innovation in matter and performance, quality as "traditional", and range (to judge by the material included in Roomer) from seaside puppet theatre, through party pieces such as shadow plays, to adolescent "skits". Within this field there are traditions of dramatic activity which are closely linked to, and in content and/or performance significantly shaped by, the customs marking seasonal festivals, life-cycle celebrations, and the like. These context-specific activities may usefully be distinguished as "customary drama", as performance is, or is part of, a custom.

    Since the demise of Frazerian survivalism has undermined the distinction between folk and other traditions in terms of (ritual) origins, this customary drama will also, for the relevant periods, encompass activities previously treated separately under the heading of theatre or pageantry: mystery cycles, masques, lord mayors' shows, royal entries. For the same reason, customs (notably the various forms of charivari) lacking the motifs essential for survivalist studies (death-and-revival, wooing) and therefore neglected in studies of folk drama, should also be included.

    While "traditional drama", like party games, can occur within a fairly homogenous social gathering, in which the distinction between performers and audience is temporary, changing from item to item, and for the purpose of the performance only, "customary drama" invariably involves a structured encounter between two (occasionally more) distinct social groups who maintain their distinction throughout the observance, as well as the dramatic performance that it encompasses.

    Within this redefined field of dramatic encounter customs, demarcations and analysis are feasible in terms of what can be termed respectively the sociology and the dramaturgy of the activities concerned. The social perspective encompasses the incidence of the observance, the identity of the parties to the encounter, and the motivation of the initiating ("active") group. Incidence can be calendrical, seasonal, biographical or sporadic, reflecting the desire or need to mark an important religious or secular festival, the completion of a pastoral or agricultural activity, the achievement of a new phase in the life cycle, the occurrence of an event or a situation meriting celebration or condemnation. The parties involved can be members or representatives of households (domestic or institutional), communities or associations (formal or informal), and the purpose of the active group in relation to the reactive group can be exaction (to achieve the redistribution of resources), interaction (convivial or mischievous), demonstration (benevolent or malevolent) or intervention (beneficent or maleficient).

    The dramaturgical aspect is largely determined by the patterns of movement of the participatory groups, in relation to each other, and to relevant topography or architecture. When both groups are mobile, the encounter has the character of a collision, but these are more often the context for sporting contests than dramatic performances. When one group is mobile and the other stationary, the dramaturgy is determined by the distribution of these roles between the groups defined as active or reactive in the initiation of the custom (initiation not necessarily associated with movement). In the parade, the active group is mobile, and encounters the reactive by processing through its territory; in the interception, the active group is stationary, awaiting the arrival of the reactive group whose movement has purposes other than initiating the encounter. Both parades and interceptions occur outdoors and are largely independent of topography and architecture, except insofar as movement is determined by street plans and interceptions may make use of walls, monuments, bridges and the like. When one of the groups is inside, or significantly associated with, a particular building, the encounter can take the form of a visit, when the active group intrudes upon the reactive, or a reception, when the active group is in or at the building concerned, and initiates an encounter with an incoming group whose movement is for purposes other than customary observance.

    Such distinctions may have their greatest value in sorting out the relationships between similar but distinct traditions. For example, while the mumming (of Newfoundland or Elizabethan England) and the mummers' plays share a seasonal incidence and house-visit context, they are from other perspectives quite distinct. The mumming involves convivial interaction between the parties concerned, the mummers' plays a dramatic performance, for the purposes of prompting largesse (exaction). This undermines the otherwise attractive thesis that a mummers' play is a mumming with a play inserted into it, and consequently that early references to mummers document the early history of the mummers' plays, or at least the customs out of which they grew, for which (this typology suggests) it would be better to seek amidst the gatherings of late medieval and early modern Christmas lords.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds handouts.]

  • [Published as:

    Thomas Pettitt (1995) Customary Drama: Social and Spatial Patterning in Traditional Encounters
    Folk Music Journal, 1995, Vol.7 No.1, pp.27-42]

  • Inventing a Printing History for the Peace Egg Chapbooks
    Michael J.Preston

    Abstract: I hate to admit defeat, and so this paper is not so much about defeat as it is about the complexity of the intellectual problem posed by the known printings of the various chapbooks entitled Peace Egg.

    At present, I am making my third attempt at understanding the relationships among the various Peace Egg chapbooks. My first attempt, based on a very limited number of examples, was carried out in the early 1970s; my second attempt was in the late 1970s. What prompts the present attempt is the near certitude that most of the surviving evidence has been collected.

    My earlier attempts at interrelating these chapbooks resulted in documenting two distinctly similar but yet separate "clusters" of texts. Somewhere, we hoped - Paul Smith, Georgina Boyes, and I - that a missing link existed which would allow us to demonstrate the relationship between the two, and so we set about locating as many Peace Egg chapbooks as possible. It is my intention, by the time of the Traditional Drama conference, to explain our current understanding of this textual problem, or to have resolved it.

    As background, let me point to the Alexander and the King of Egypt monograph, published in 1976, an effort which grew out of my 1972 M.A. thesis on traditional drama, as well as to the yet-unpublished study of Irish chapbooks which contain traditional dramatic texts and our soon-to-be-published study of Quack Doctor broadsides and their relationship to both popularly printed and oral traditional dramatic texts. The working out of these popular printing traditions, in my mind at least, validates the methodology employed and suggests that it should be applicable to the Peace Egg chapbooks.

    The question of why one might expend a considerable effort in resolving such a problem has numerous answers. The most obvious has to do with the history of the study of traditional drama. Traditional drama studies have suffered, first of all, from various theories of ritual origin, because they resulted in a distancing of the researcher from any particular representation of that tradition. As a result, the study of the printed texts was considered to be several removes away from the primary consideration of the explication of the ancient ritual from which everything assumedly derived.

    For those of us interested in a theory of oral literature and its transmission, such printed texts likewise represented a late (and hence degenerate) representation of a privileged older, purely oral culture.

    For those of us who come from traditional literary disciplines, chapbooks and broadsides have been hardly worth noticing when we have the more important issue of, for example, Shakespeare's text of King Lear to recover. King Lear, we assume, is worth any number of Peace Egg chapbooks.

    But for those concerned with traditional drama - how it is what it is, what it means to those who perform it, what its history might have been - a study of the Peace Egg chapbooks is every bit as important as a study of the quartos and folios which contain King Lear. In addition, those concerned with a humbler printing tradition - not to say a humbler class of people - might valorize a study of the printing history of the Peace Egg chapbooks. For me, it is also an intellectual problem not yet resolved, a piece in the larger puzzle of the interrelationships between oral and printed traditions, between working-class and privileged behaviour.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds audio tape recording, with transcript - although former may be incomplete.]

  • Christmas Mummers in Dorsetshire - Before 1870
    Peter Robson

    Abstract: In about 1870, J.S.Udal first noted the Symondsbury mummers' play and he subsequently published details of this and other West Dorset plays in a number of articles including, most notably, "Christmas Mummers in Dorsetshire," in The Folk-Lore Record.

    Although there had been no publications on the subject before Udal's work, there is evidence, from a variety of sources, to show that mummers' plays were widely performed in Dorset in the decades before 1870. In some cases these plays were not of the usual hero-combat type. In others, the hero-combat play was rewritten to reflect topical events.

    The information available for the pre-1870 plays does not, for the most part, relate to texts but to costume, mode of performance, audience attitude and the status of the performers. It is just these aspects which now attract the attention of researchers, so it is hoped that the nineteenth-century evidence reported here will be of value for comparison with material collected from twentieth-century recollection in recent years.

    The sources on which I have drawn are numerous but most information comes from William Holloway, Thomas Hardy, Gertrude Bugler, and H. Nobbs.

    Holloway, a Dorset poet of the early nineteenth century, wrote a poem, "Scenes of Youth", which includes a description of a play performed near Blandford in about 1790. This is the earliest known description of a Dorset play and it shows similarities to the plays noted by Udal some eighty years later.

    Hardy was familiar with the Puddletown play in the 1850s and featured it in his novel, The Return of the Native. The novel, its subsequent dramatisation, Hardy's correspondence and his published recollections give details both of the play's text and background.

    Gertrude Bugler played Eustacia/The Turkish Knight in the 1921 dramatisation of The Return of the Native. She recalled that Hardy took a particular interest in the mummers' play within the play and that he supervised the making of costumes and coached the mummers in their delivery and gestures. These features were reproduced in her own production of the mummers' play at Beaminster in 1961. Photographs and a recording of this performance provide a reflection of the 1850s play as seen by Hardy.

    H. Nobbs, whose History of Cattistock was published in 1886, described the background to local performances and indicated how the "Napoleonic" and "Crimean" plays, to be recorded by the BBC fifty years later, came into being.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds typescript.]

  • Storming the Proscenium: Jarry's Ubu Roi and Folk Dramatic Tradition
    Auriel Roe

    Abstract: In this playful paper I examine the ways in which Ubu Roi, that inaugural modernist assault upon the pomposity and rigidity of high dramatic tradition, finds most of its roots in age old folk dramatic forms and rituals.

    Drawing upon Bakhtin's Rabelais and his World, I make an extended comparison between the character of Ubu and the behaviour demanded of medieval and renaissance Lords of Misrule or Player Kings. I then proceed to an analogy between Jarry's intention in creating the Ubu plays, and the cathartic satirical function of Twelfth Night and Carnival festivities.

    Some mention is also made of the glove puppet guignol origins of the Ubu plays, and of the qualities of timelessness and placelessness which their characters share with the archetypes of traditional street glove puppet shows.

    Lastly, I suggest that Ubu is a daring attempt on Jarry's part to break down the classico-romantic equation of wickedness with seriousness. In this vein, some explanation of how the demonic may come to swallow up the devilish, and of the need, in an enfeebled society, to transform any and all mockery from constructive comic mischievousness into varieties of inadmissible evil.

  • Computerised Mummers' Play Index and Bibliography
    Steve Roud

    Abstract: For research into British mumming plays, our main bibliographical and locational tool is still Cawte, Helm and Peacock's English Ritual Drama, which is now twenty-seven years old.

    This conference session will introduce and, I hope, demonstrate, two linked projects aimed at providing efficient access to existing and future material on the subject.

    The Bibliography is a straightforward bibliographic database covering published material and giving details of author, periodical and article titles, publisher, date, and so on. Annotations are not yet included, but will be added at a later stage. The database is fully searchable and sortable by any field. At present there are 1434 entries.

    The Index takes a different approach. Its primary organisation is by geographical location, and it indexes the plays themselves - giving details of source (whether published or not), content (text, description, etc.), character names, informants, and so on. Again, all these elements are searchable and sortable. The Index stands at 1484 entries so far.

    Both the Index and Bibliography are designed to be simple enough to be used by researchers on their home computers and will be available commercially from Hisarlik Press. One key advantage of a computer-held system is that it can, and will, be updated as further material comes to light.

  • Rewriting History: James Madison Carpenter
    Paul Smith

    Abstract: Missing from most accounts of the history of British traditional drama scholarship, until quite recently at least, has been any reference to the Carpenter Collection British folk plays which is housed in the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. In 1927 the American, James Madison Carpenter, began collecting Anglo-American folk songs for his Harvard doctoral dissertation. While visiting Britain to conduct research, Carpenter became interested in traditional drama and eventually went on to collect information on some three hundred plays from over one hundred and fifty locations. This can only be described as a monumental and unique achievement, for no other comparable collection from the early part of this century exists.

    In 1972, the Library of Congress purchased the entire collection from Dr. Carpenter - including dictaphone cylinders, acetate discs, typescripts, drawings, photographs, and music manuscripts. Though primarily British in focus, the collection does contain some American materials collected by Carpenter and his students at Duke University. In addition to ritual drama, the collection is rich in ballads, carols, sea shanties, children's songs and games, and examples of ritual dance.

    Because the existence, extent and quality of Carpenter's research was not known about in Britain until almost fifty years after the collection was made, the potential impact of his research has only just begun to be assessed. To redress the imbalance and recognise his achievements, I shall be exploring Carpenter's motivations, looking at a selection of the materials he collected, examining his working methods and considering his perceptions of the materials with which he worked.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds audio tape recording, with transcript - under inderdict from Paul Smith.]

  • Teenage Storytelling as Traditional Performance
    Michael Wilson

    Abstract: This paper is based on my own research into oral storytelling amongst teenagers and adolescents in Britain and Ireland. This research has been carried out (and continues to be carried out) both in my role as a professional storyteller working in secondary schools and youth clubs and, more recently, as a postgraduate research student at the Department of Drama at the University of Exeter.

    In the course of the paper, I intend to do two things: firstly to look at teenage oral storytelling as a performance art, and secondly to establish such storytelling activity within a wide oral narrative tradition.

    For the first part I shall make use of Richard Bauman's theory of storytelling as performance, as outlined in Verbal Art as Performance (1977), and produce models appropriate to my own research. Along with texts from my own archive of material collected from teenagers over the past three years, I will show how teenage storytelling operates within the range of "low-intensity" performance, and yet storytellers will still respond to variations of space, time, audience and event, and let these shape their variants of any particular story. To illustrate performance-oriented interpretation of narrative folklore, I will specifically use examples of contemporary legend variants collected by myself from teenage tellers.

    For the second part, I will again use examples from my own archive to show how teenagers, contrary to popular belief, are in fact very active storytellers and their repertoires have a very broad base. However, it would be wrong to assume that teenage storytelling somehow exists in isolation, and I will show how many of the more popular teenage stories and their motifs draw their inspiration from a variety of media and sources, and key into a long tradition of oral narrative folklore which can be traced back to the work of the Victorian collectors and beyond.


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