Tomorrow’s Great Pageant was a socially charged participatory project initiated by Post Workers Theatre and supported by Ray Filar, Emma Frankland and Claudia Jeffries. Together, over a period of three months they worked with members of the community to write and produce a new play that addresses issues around suffrage and gender for the 21st century. The project launched during LGBTQ+ month at The Place, Bedford and seeks to give voice to new and emerging ideas on positions of gender.
Post Workers Theatre was inspired by the suffrage play A Pageant of Great Women written, produced and directed by the dramatist and actor Ciceley Hamilton in 1909. It was a popular allegorical work of political agitation, which featured the embodiment of ‘Justice’, ‘Woman’ and ‘Prejudice’. The play served, in part, to recover knowledge of great women of the past, with a cast of forty five historic women, and to promote a feminist perspective on emancipation. The play became internationally renowned within the women’s movement and proved successful on wider populist stages, touring for three years between 1910-1913.
Over one hundred years later the struggle for gender equality continues and by revisiting the structure and values of A Pageant of Great Women, the project offers a new platform for collective understanding, awareness and celebration.
Using forum theatre practice as a starting point, the artists invited the local community to co-author the new play. The LGBTQ group Q:Youth Bedford, plus performers, community activists and members of the wider LGBTQ community came together over a period of four weeks to debate the original play’s premise and characters, then transformed their ideas into a new dialogue and updated script for a 21st century non-binary approach to gender and freedom.
The workshops focused on key areas concerned with the production of theatrical agitation; Script, Costume and Backdrop; and the activities bridged traditional forms of visual communication with modern techniques of interaction. Participants were able to get hands on with both the concepts and actions involved in making characters, concerns and statements about the promotion of socially and politically charged performance.
The project launched during The Place, Bedford’s LGBTQ+ season in February 2019. Guest writers, critics and community activists joined an audience to discuss collectively a new cast of iconic people who can represent the values and ideals of a diverse 21st century LGBTQ+ community. The workshops took place during February and March 2019 and the final performative event, presenting a first sharing of the script, took place on 6 April 2019. There were subsequent sharings at Goldsmith’s, University of London, and Eastside Projects, Birmingham.
The project was made possible through the immense energy, enthusiasm and commitment of everyone involved. The Tomorrow’s Great Pageant script was published in June 2019 and is now available online to share and enjoy.
A film by Andy Willsher of the project and final performative event
If you are interested in performing the play, please contact Post Workers Theatre at email@example.com.
Guest speakers for the launch event included Ray Filar – Performer & Writer; Claudia Jefferies – Theatre Maker, Performer & Writer; Rae Leaver – Director, Writer & Activist; Quilla Constance – Performer & Interdisciplinary Artist; Naomi Paxton – Performer, Researcher & Suffrage Historian, D.Mortimer – Writer & Journalist and Zia X – Writer and Dramaturge, alongside the Post Workers Theatre artists Dash MacDonald, Demitrios Kargotis and Nicholas Mortimer.
The first draft of the play was developed from an outline by Emma Frankland and was edited by Post Workers Theatre, Ray Filar, Claudia Jeffries and Emily Ross. It was co-written with participants Annie Bacon, Marguerite Bliard, Nate-Cole Birkett, Lauren Coutts, Zoë Frost, Elizabeth Howard, Jace, Claudia Jeffries, Erin Liu, Jack Lowerson, Lydia Magalios, Michelle O’Higgins, Sophie Paul, Emily Ross, Harry Whitaker, Rae Leaver. The play includes text from A Pageant of Great Women by Cicely Hamilton 1909.
The original play, A Pageant of Great Women, was a complicated and progressive form of designed engagement, utilising multiple creative relationships, both conceptually and practically. The methods involved all aspects of its production, from the practical staging and costuming, to the structures controlling the wider touring and re-staging of the play. At its heart, A Great Pageant was an energetic and multi-layered form of critique. It was a performative project that not only promoted on stage new and progressive gender attitudes, but also a creative relationship to managing politically motivated messages using entertainment media.
Illustration: Ilyanna Kerr
The project was supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England, and by Bedford Creative Arts and The Place Theatre, Bedford.