Because there are so many swings and roundabouts in a life filled with exploration and experiments, I sometimes find myself reflecting about experiences from many years ago that are now buried in the deepest recesses of my memory bank. There was a time when I was a performer in a mummer’s play, out in West Sussex.
For those who don’t know, Mummers plays are folk performances that are enacted in British community settings – sometimes outdoors and on other occasions indoors. They feature mythical figures such as St George, the patron saint of England. I was involved in several opera in the community projects that were staged in East and West Sussex and this led to me being invited to participate in a performance genre I was hitherto unaware of.
The communities I performed with were as indigenous to their localities as could possibly be imagined. There have been times in the worlds of opera and classical music that I have felt some resistance to the idea of someone who looks and sounds like me being included in projects. This was certainly not the case in the mummer’s play process.
My experiences in that production came in handy when I participated in an initiative that was set up to encourage leading British arts organisations to include more folks from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds as trustees on their boards. In an open forum meeting, I met a disgruntled trustee from one of the leading orchestras, who grumbled about the cultural disconnect between the ethnic majority and minority communities. He felt the mainstream arts organisations were having their arms twisted into accepting contrived and unrealistic group dynamics.
I was able to stop him dead in his tracks by simply telling him about my experiences as a mummer’s play performer in West Sussex. It was a truly satisfying moment.