Artist shines footlights on spiritual theatre scene in UK

By on December 1, 2007

Some people return from overseas trips with chocolates in their luggage; one Toronto dramatist brought back an entire musical about a chocolate magnate.

Sally Armour Wotton, director of drama at St. John’s York Mills in Toronto, traveled to the United Kingdom this year to explore the colourful places in the road where church and theatre meet.

Sponsored by grants from the Fellowship of the Maple Leaf in Great Britain and the Sacred Arts Trust in Canada, Ms. Wotton explored “religious and spiritual theatre in the U.K., to see what we had in common and what was different, and to share ideas.”

Ms. Wotton and her husband, Ernest, rented an apartment in the artsy London neighborhood of Bloomsbury from July to September. “I did a lot of day trips from London and, at the beginning and end of the trip, was in Scotland,” said Ms. Wotton.

Her research spanned medieval mystery plays, small fringe productions, marionette theatre and youth theatre.

Trained in theatre in New York, Ms. Wotton has been in her St. John’s post for 24 years and her first stop in England was as acting coach for a Quaker performing arts group called the Leaveners, which was holding a gathering at Stirling University in Stirling, Scotland.

“The show they did was called George and the Chocolate Factory and it was a full-length musical based on George Cadbury, of the chocolate family, who was a Quaker and social activist. It was an excellent script and quite doable over here (in Canada),” she said.

“I also went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and saw 13 shows. I saw a Canadian show called Victoria, which incorporated dance and drama and was about a woman going downhill with dementia, yet it was not depressing. I also saw the Tbilisi Marionette Theatre perform The Battle of Stalingrad, with narration in Russian and English,” she said.

Ms. Wotton visited cathedrals that regularly perform “mystery cycle plays,” scripts that were used by medieval traveling players to illustrate Bible stories for the mostly-illiterate citizens of Great Britain. “Chester does theirs every five years and they’ll be doing them in 2008. I met with the marketing person for the cathedral and read the director’s notes. I learned a lot more about mystery cycle plays,” said the artist.

In Oxford, she saw a passion play by the Creation Theatre Company called The Oxford Passion, which was done in modern dress in the open air. “It was a new script based on a high emotional level and energy,” she said.

Ms. Wotton, whose nativity production, A Walk Through the Christmas Story, takes place at St. John’s on Dec. 8, said the trip enriched her theatrical experience, gave her new ideas and confirmed her conviction that theatre has an important place in the world of Christian faith. Religious theatre’s original purpose, she notes, “was to tell the story to illiterate people. We read now, but some people today don’t know the story at all and the stories are in desperate need of being told,” she said.

Author

  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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