We're really looking forward to the main meetings this year at the Festival! We've got a great line up of speakers, and this year have morning Bible readings from David Devenish!
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We're really looking forward to the main meetings this year at the Festival! We've got a great line up of speakers, and this year have morning Bible readings from David Devenish!
Following on from Phil Mardlin's post about Bedford's 2016 Passion Play, we thought it would be good to get to know him a little better and also find out more about an exciting project for script writers and actors at this year's festival.
So, Phil, introduce yourself.
Hi. My name is Phil Mardlin. I started LifeBox Theatre Company with my lovely wife, Harriet. So many theatre companies just don’t make it in today’s competitive market place so we wanted to make sure we ran a company that made us money and allowed us to work artistically. So, we have two strands to our company; we specialize in forum theatre, delivering training around communication issues in healthcare, education and business and we also provide actors for other training companies that deliver communication based training to businesses across the region. Artistically, we run an annual new writing festival in Bedford called StageWrite, which has just run for the 4th year. We take unsolicited scripts for much of the year (this year we had a record 67 scripts submitted) and then we select 8 and put them on, script-in-hand over 4 nights in front of an audience. After each performance we have a question and answer with the writer, director, actors and the audience to help them develop the piece further. We tend to select one of the strongest pieces and, working with the writer, help them take the piece to full production with a short tour.
How did you get into acting and who are your main inspirations?
Well, after a career as a children’s cancer nurse, followed by 8 years as a lecturer in children’s nursing, I had a very early mid-life crisis and gave it all up to become an actor! Madness, I hear you cry… and you’re probably right but, it’s the best decision I ever made. I was too old and with too many responsibilities to be able to go to drama school so I did a degree in English and Theatre and managed to bag a first class honours! Since then, largely through our company, I’ve discovered directing and writing and love being able to switch between the two of them, plus being a performer, depending on the project.
As for inspirations… gosh, that’s hard because I have so many! I remember going to see Waiting for Godot with Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellan and Simon Callow and just watching it thinking, if I can’t be that good, is it worth bothering? Of course it is, and whilst I will never be in that league, I know I’ve always got something to aim for. As a writer, I am heavily influenced by Alan Bennett. He’s so incredibly observant about life and, having performed in The History Boys, I find that he writes in such a way that every word seems to logically follow on from the next. I know that sounds strange but it meant that it was just one of the most joyous and easy scripts I’ve ever learned.
How do you see your faith and your creativity coming together?
I don’t really see creativity as an extension of faith because the two things are inextricably linked and, for me, one can’t exist without the other. For me, being a child of God is at the very core of who I am. When I live out of that place, anything I do, creative or not, should come from a place of desiring to please Him and serve Him. I would also add that doesn’t mean everything I do creatively is ‘about’ God but it is ‘for’ Him. Much of what I do either as an actor, director or writer, I do because I believe in the message of the story or the impact and questions it might raise in those who engage with it. Sometimes, that means engaging in a world that might, on the face of it, seem quite dark. I believe that sometimes, to reach the people in those dark places, you have to reflect back their world to them, and theatre and film can do that very well; what you then do with what you are shown is the responsibility of the observer.
How will you be involved at the Catalyst festival this year?
I am so excited to be involved with Catalyst this year and, along with a few others, we are going to be creating a space for emerging writers to see their work up on its feet with the help of professional actors. We will be working with selected scripts over the Sunday and Monday afternoons of the festival and this will culminate in a performance of the scripts on the Monday evening.
How can people get involved with this project?
If you are a writer, then we would love to read your script. We are looking for scripts of around 20 minutes in length, so it could be the opener to a bigger idea you have or it could stand alone as a short piece of theatre. It needs to require no more than 4 actors to put on. Depending on volume of scripts we can’t guarantee that we will be able to put them all on but we will give you some brief feedback if you would like it.
If you are an actor working professionally or with some relevant experience, then we would love you to get involved with us to work on the scripts and perform them on the Monday evening. If you are interested in either of these, please contact Jonny at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Better be quick though as the deadline for scripts is 15th May!) For more information click here.
How do you think churches can support actors more effectively?
Good question. I could probably write for hours on this but ultimately it’s about communicating. I think the biggest thing you can do as a church to support actors is to simply engage with them. Invite them for lunch (we’re generally poor so free food is always a bonus) and talk to them. Too often, actors and creatives generally are seen as mavericks and people don’t often have a box to put them in. So talk to them, listen to them, hear them and seek to understand them.
Bedford’s last Passion Play was over 30 years ago but that changed this year. Back in June of 2015, I was approached by Cally Lawrence, a director and friend of mine who had been asked if she would direct a Passion play for the town by a committee of local churches. She readily agreed thinking this would be a great community event for the town. So with an agreement in principle, she came to me to see if I would be happy to write it.
The committee wanted to access funding from the Passion Trust. It sounds easy enough but one of the requirements for funding is that it needs to be a brand new script. Now, I’ve been a Christian for the best part of 25 years and, in my arrogance, I figured that as I knew the story pretty well, this would be an easy task; I couldn’t have been more wrong. When I finally got down to writing it, it’s amazing how many differences you find in the Gospel accounts. One writer describes the two Marys arriving at the tomb, experiencing an earthquake, seeing the stone being rolled back and the guards becoming like ‘dead men’ as an angel appears. Another account suggests that the two Marys were with Salome and when they arrived at the tomb, the stone was already rolled away and the angel was inside the tomb, another describes more than one angel appearing. You get the picture. Suddenly making a coherent narrative that includes all these perspectives becomes a little more taxing. But we got there and by the end of the summer we had a working script and rehearsals were under way.
Now to make this work we needed a cast which included a chorus of 50 - 60 minimum. By January, however, we had a loyal following of about 6 who were turning up to rehearsals regularly. Therefore we put out some bulletins and pleas for help, letting people know that if they wanted this to happen then we needed them to step up to the plate and to come along to a rehearsal on a Saturday towards the end of January. Well God certainly motivated people at that stage and about 40 turned up. It looked like this was going to happen after all. Now, the only caveat that the committee were given was that Jesus had to be a professional actor. This seemed a perfectly reasonable request since it’s a huge role and undertaking even for a good amateur actor. With that in mind, Cally began auditioning prospective Jesus-es. Now, ironically, some might say, Judas never turned up for rehearsals so the mantle of betrayer fell to me… which I was secretly quite glad about since I hadn’t initially thought that I would want to perform in it. With time drawing nearer some of the practical difficulties started to become evident such as the need for crosses, and stage combat experts, among other things. Then we met Alyssa, an incredibly talented woman whose job is choreographing stage combat and specialising in Roman times and crucifixions! This amazingly talented woman built us 3 crosses, choreographed all our fight scenes and then took the part of one of the criminals. We also had donkey-crises, followed by dove-crises that all had to be resolved and time was ticking on.
As the day drew nearer I’d be fibbing somewhat if I told you there weren’t some nervous and anxious conversations with regards to working with a large number of complete non-actors on a performance that’s in the open air and that you can’t really have a proper dress rehearsal for; in this situation you’re never entirely sure what might happen on the day. But the day came, the weather was on our side, and we duly kicked off Bedford’s first Passion play in over 30 years. And what a time we had. We had no idea how many would come out for it – I think if we were honest we hoped we might get a couple of hundred out to see it – but by the time we had arrived at Castle Mound for the crucifixion, the tentative guesses of numbers sat somewhere between 1500 and 2000 people following the procession through the town. It was incredible. To both be involved in it and to see elements of such hard work come together. A motley crew of rag tag church goers had come together, with mostly no acting experience and pulled off the seemingly impossible. I know that both Cally and I couldn’t have been more proud of this group of people who had worked so hard to pull this off. Feedback on the day was so positive with comments around how immersive the experience had been and how the chorus had brought such a degree of reality to it as they spread rumours through the crowd and informed them of what was happening and what Jesus had done. So… if you’re thinking of putting on a Passion Play in your local town next year I’ve got two pieces of advice:
Over the past several years, Martyn & Gaynor Dunsford (KCC Southampton) as part of Catalyst, have been connecting more and more with Myanmar, and building relationship with leaders from churches based there. Martyn has visited several times now to a conference hosted by a local Pastor there and on 28th Feb they lead another trip back to Myanmar with a team of people from different churches. Here’s an update from their trip.
‘Gaynor and I recently visited Myanmar and Laos, along with a team of others: Jeff and Lori from Taunton, Richard and Jan from Poole, Josh from Bedford, Crispin and Sue from Caversham and Simon from Chesterfield Newfrontiers churches.
We flew to Myanmar (Southeast Asia) for a conference which is lead by our friend Pastor Va and financed by Catalyst. Pastor Va is a leader of a group of churches there, and has planted some 60 churches in at least 7 of the 14 states of Myanmar and reaching about 20 different people groups! (Their aim by 2020 is to plant 100 churches.) The conference started early morning on the day after we arrived, and in total there were about 100 leaders who attended from all across the country, which was fantastic to see. This last year has been hard for them – 6 of their pastors had died, some of preventable diseases like malaria, others with sudden heart attacks and one a road accident. Some of their churches are in extremely poor and remote areas like jungles, mountain villages etc. where they cannot access medical treatments, and for some it takes them three days travel by bus, boat and on foot to get to Yangon for this conference. So this year their total number of churches had slightly decreased overall, but they remain cheerful and determined and they accept these tragedies much more easily than we might in the west.
The conference was outstanding – Crispin shared a few times from Psalms, Jeff shared practical pastoral advice and Josh (who came because he had a dream about Myanmar, a great young guy) preached the father heart of God – his first preach! A great team effort. I did a series from Acts, giving them examples of church life and the extension of the gospel through the Roman world that they could apply to themselves in Myanmar. This is our 5th such conference. Each time you can see the growth in maturity and the strength of their fellowship together, led apostolically by Va who is recognised as such now in our Newfrontiers world. The meetings are free and we were able to pray for healing, deliverance and breakthrough, and the response to the word is greater than ever. Many of them received individual prayer and prophesy in a great atmosphere where the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully. On one occasion where I was preaching there was such an outbreak of joy and laughter that went on for several minutes with Va who was translating at the time, quite helpless – another Holy Spirit moment.
Other leaders we are connecting with are Pyn from Oman and David Bi Cho. Pyn is the Newfrontiers pastor in this Gulf state, but was born in North India not far from the Myanmar border. David leads about 20 churches in Myanmar who also came to the conference with some of his leaders. The work of God is growing in Myanmar, and we had such a great time building friendship together.
On Wednesday night we went into the centre of Yangon, to the biggest Buddhist temple in the world, with 72 tonnes of gold leaf covering it! A place of darkness, but very revealing of how millions of people live and practice religion. Praise God that more and more people now are coming to believe in Jesus in Myanmar and with the country becoming democratic recently, Christianity should flourish more and more without fear of persecution.
Whilst we were there we visited the Hosanna children’s home which was built by Crispin’s charity Hope Asia which the CRY charity supports with the running costs, as well as other donations to help particular children or more specific needs they might have. There is now a really nice home for about 40 children, and an education centre where they will be able to supplement their (rather poor) education through the state schools. This in itself is a major work which we are delighted to be able to help them with, and the home has been described out there as ‘the best’ in Myanmar, but also the children are looked after by extended families, or foster families (usually of the pastors) during holiday times. The plan is for children not to be institutionalised, but given family life, but sometimes there has to be an intermediate situation for them, where they just need a place to live for a while.
Overall, we had an excellent time in Myanmar and really enjoyed seeing how well things are going.
Laos - A Quick Update
On the Saturday morning we flew, for a short trip, to Loung Prabang in the north of Laos to see some of the amazing work that CRY has been doing based in Fish Farming over the past couple years in some of the poorer areas. Loung Prabang however, is an incredibly beautiful place, declared a world heritage site, because it was an old capital city of a previous kingdom with palaces, temples and other buildings of real beauty.
We ate good food, chatted for hours with people we met, enjoyed the local culture as well as travelling around seeing the work of the Village Fish Farm lead by a guy called Andrew and his team. Andrew has been instrumental in building and growing many Fish Farms here and as a result of them being set-up, the level of nutrition has increased generally for the local area, adding fish protein to their diet of almost exclusively carbohydrate rice and the health of the community has improved. We ended our time together with a fish lunch, all sitting on a mat sharing laughs, stories and conversation. Even I tried some of the Tilapia fish eaten with rice using fingers.
Then we set off for a very remote Mhong village called Lang Lan, right up in the mountains, through jungles on a dirt track and amazing scenery. Eventually we emerged onto a kind of plateau where the village was located, surrounded by mountains all around. Before us was a school where some 100 children attend, where CRY supports some of the poor families here. There are 75 families total in this poor village, but so peaceful and beautiful. We walked around the village, sat with and talked to some of them and eventually left this idyllic place to begin our journey home.
Overall, it was an incredible time seeing how we are supporting, financing and building God’s Kingdom across Asia.’
We each have amazing opportunities to influence the lives of others for their good. In this session, Karen Kircher, a professional leadership coach, will help us grasp how the truth of the gospel informs our leadership choices at work. Just as the disciples looked to Jesus for leadership in a wide variety of scenarios so also staff and colleagues in the organisations we work in will look to us for direction.
You do not need to have a formal position of management or supervision to attend this session, by virtue of the fact that you carry the keys of kingdom to your workplace every day means you are leading, you are showing the way. You influence the culture and atmosphere of the place you work in as the Holy Spirit equips and enables you to carry out your work with supernatural passion and comittment.
For those who do have recognised leadership positions, this will be a great opportunity to be reminded of the context that you operate in – being the hands, feet and heart of Jesus to those who look to you for support and development or that you handle in confrontation and dispute.
Become A Kingdom-style Leader will run between 2pm and 3.30pm on Sunday 29th May at Catalyst Festival 2016.