We were trying to make something else, which is sometimes how it goes. With a group of folk singers, traditional musicians and contemporary dancers, we began to develop a show called Into The Cuckoo’s Nest focusing on May Day rituals.
At the end of a week of trying things out in a leaking dome tent in Suffolk we had two things that made sense. A memory of morris dancing from my childhood and a moment in the show that we referred to as The Portal.
The morris dancing memory about my dad taking me to dance in the dawn on Mayday in the late 80s. The bit we called The Portal was an experiential moment in the performance where we encouraged the audience into a trance like dancing state. We made this portal moment with post-techno hero James Holden who provided the dancefloor gold that went with it.
So in some ways the question was what connects the two? Work that comes out of collaborative development can have this interesting, feeling of having seemingly disparate strands that only feel connected to the people that were there when it was thought up.
But they are connected, if only by that, and by all the thinking and reading and talking and listening that goes into it.
And of course, these things, morris dancing and rave are connected by dancing; but having come out of thinking a lot about ritual about the social purpose of music, this was really where I wanted to examine.
And there are a load of connections, dancing outside, with other people, and in this very particular instance; time - when they happened. 1987/88 I’m dancing about on a hill with my dad and the fields of England are awash with a brand new ancient social phenomenon of getting slightly messy and going bonkers to repetitive music. Rave is born.
It was at this point I got in touch with Wils Wilson to ask her if she could “direct” this show, which at that point was a series of music based audiences experiences, with nothing that could be considered a plot, or had any characterisation. Shout to Wils here, who in the last eighteen months has fundamentally changed how I will consider the construction of any performance from here on in.
What Wils felt we needed was enough narrative thread to get emotional engagement, e.g. something not only for people to enjoy little bits of, but something to invest in, to care about. And her background in theatre suggested that story might help. Go and write a story is kinda what she said.
Perhaps because I am a geek, the first thought was to consider, what story could link these things, well someone investigating these things would work, and so Etteridge, an inquisitive academic was born. Etteridge had many different ages, birth dates etc before he settled, but he always studied morris dancing, and he always predicted the birth of rave one way or another.
I like Etteridge, but his job was always to be reasonably calm and calculated, and stories need a little fire and thus Angela sprung into existence, part person I would just love to meet, part an homage to the many utterly amazing people that I have met that make her up.
"I’m not a fatalist, I don’t believe it was meant to be, but I am really glad we made an audio version."
Photograph: Sandy Butler
I started with fake wiki pages for them both, and I found this dead handy, it just helped make them real for me, early on.
I am not a writer, and I would not have written this script if it hadn’t been for the remarkable encouragement (and refusal to let me just get someone else to write it) that came from Wils and dramaturge (and proper writer) David Greig.
For anyone thinking about doing this kind of thing
Do it, you may not right now be blessed as I was with people telling you to just get on with it, but just pretend you are, and get on with it
I had never heard “writing is re-writing” but I have now! I really have, and it turns out it really is. To be honest this was one of the hardest things was finishing a first draft and thinking I had finished, a long long way away it turned out. Be ready for that.
After we had a script, we were all ready. The first run of shows was booked at Southbank Centre, and Wils and I were ready to take the world in a shower of experimental folk morris rave theatre glory.
And the world changed shape very quickly.
So we made a podcast, and genuinely, I’m delighted. I’m not a fatalist, I don’t believe it was meant to be, but I am really glad we made an audio version.
You can hear The Portal on all good podcast platforms.