JOHN DUNCAN and Richard lngrams started the drama company 'Tomorrow's Audience' in August 1961. His article is shortened from his account of it in Axle Quarterly, by courtesy of the editors.
WE DECIDED THAT OUR FIRST BATTLEFIELD would be the schools, particularly the secondary schools, and we did a bit of research on who else was operating there. There were some good companies, like Brian Way's, and Caryl Fenner's, but they dealt mainly with younger children than we were going to aim for, and, to a large extent, seemed to regard theatre as a form of character therapy, which we didn't. Frankly, we like yobs, and we certainly don't want to try and turn them all into theatrically-minded cissies. We do believe though that they miss a lot of enjoyable and basically interesting contacts with other minds by their natural unwillingness to enter the set-up that has been created to surround matters of art. However, that's not their problem. It's our problem. That's how we looked at it. We had to find a new set-up.
One of the barriers to enjoying the classical authors particularly, is that they go on for too long for an uneducated mind to concentrate on them properly. This is undeniable. I, with my Oxford B.A., recently saw a performance of 'The Dream' which had no interval, and that was certainly too much for me. What am I entitled to expect from C streams in rural secondary schools then?
We decided to present an anthology. We chose as our theme 'Prison', mainly because it is a prolific source of writing, both as a setting, a subject, and — in the past — it was almost a condition of authorship. Imprisonment and capital punishment are both contemporary topics, too. We are working on a new anthology in 'The Ranker at War' now.
In doing the work we are doing, there are two essentials. One is a good understanding and liking for what your yobbies understand and like. Like Elvis, and Cliff, and Bobby Vee, for instance. If you want to set up an atmosphere of enjoyment, then for God's sake, give them what they enjoy. Don't mess about with phoney ballads and songs of work; they're things of the past. The other is not to be snotty about what you call culture. If a thing's worth doing its worth doing straight, and it will be able to stand up straight beside any kind of neighbour. 'The Prisoners' started off with Elvis singing 'Jailhouse Rock'. Frequently the kids were clapping in time to the music as the curtain went up. Almost invariably, the teachers became apprehensive — apprehensive of the kids' enjoyment! Three minutes later they are sitting quietly watching a staging of 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol' and 'The Quare Fellow'. Ten minutes later, they got five minutes of dramatised Plato.
We'd obviously gone a fair way to finding our formula. The kids enjoyed it everywhere we went, and so did the teachers when they saw what was happening. But, although they enjoyed it, we felt a slight disbelief in the value of our work when we saw a great slab of youth just sitting and watching. It was a great thing for school hours — it was time off lessons anyway — and it was all laid on, but I couldn't honestly visualise them making any personal and actual effort to repeat the experience, without it being laid on in a similar way. Kids shouldn't sit about for ninety minutes and truly enjoy it. They should want something more if they're real kids.
However the reports from teachers were so glowing — regarding the help we were giving them in proving to the kids that lit. and hist. might not be square — that we continued, for the time being with 'The Prisoners'. All through the winter and spring though, new ideas were beginning to form. We were naturally pleased with the success of our first show — it played at the Criterion Theatre, London, and the Royal Court before February was out — but we couldn't help feeling increasingly irritated with the continuous spectacle of kids, whom we'd just seen laughing and playing in yards and corridors, suddenly herding themselves together for an hour of 'let's pretend'.
But we couldn't yet think of a way to jolly them up without either wrecking the structure of the show, or of abandoning one of our first principles which is that we like culture. And there was always the problem of the apprehensive schoolmaster. We have got a way now, we think, but it took all our funds, and two more experiments to find it. For the meanwhile — just watch out for a new word, a word I think will be part of the common tongue within a year, even if it's not pretty to look at: 'Showloque'.