Thirty years of a unique Dartmoor community theatre

Tim Hall, journalist, Dartmoor resident and spokesperson for MED Theatre, shares an overview of this exceptional theatre company as it celebrates its 30th anniversary: For the past 30 years a unique multigenerational community and youth/educational theatre has flourished on Dartmoor, building audiences for an original body of drama and the related arts of music and dance.

MED Theatre, based in Moretonhampstead, draws its inspiration from the moor’s folklore, ecology, and history to make work that addresses many urgent contemporary issues, from climate emergency to rural poverty.

Award-winning poet and dramatist Mark Beeson, raised on a farm near Manaton, registered the Manaton & East Dartmoor Theatre, now MED Theatre, as a charity in 1989. Mark’s drive and vision underlies everything that MED has achieved since then.

Mark’s poem ‘The Walk’ won the Arvon Poetry Prize and was described by Ted Hughes as ‘powerful and ‘full of unique and wonderful things’. Four of his verse dramas have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Mark’s training in the human sciences has been equally important, feeding into his thinking about drama and the moor. It was in Malawi in 1981, where he worked as a primate ecologist studying blue monkeys, that the sight of a family group at play together planted the idea of the multigenerational MED in his mind.

Today, MED still tours an annual winter community play open to all ages, but an ambitious year-round programme of commissioned and site-specific plays, youth theatre and educational work now lies at the heart of its activities.

Mark as artistic director is supported by education manager Abby Stobart, education officer Helen Gilbert, company development officer Gillian Webster, artistic and administrative assistant Suvi Rehell, and Moor Voices co-ordinator Florrie Taylor.

MED provides a platform for new talent by running free weekly drama and film groups for young people aged between 5 and 19, including the Moor Film Club in Princetown, which is particularly affected by rural deprivation.

Their educational programme includes workshops in schools, local universities and museums, and with other partner organisations. Young people of all abilities are encouraged to research subjects, take part in workshops, write scripts, develop dances, and compose music for live performance, film and radio.

Local and international professionals are often called upon to mentor and guide the participants.

Funding the operation – overheads and salaries, as well as projects – is always a worry. “We have an ongoing funding effort, and the whole team is involved in applications”, says Gillian.

MED’s next big project, Moor Voices, breaks new ground by working across
Exmoor as well as Dartmoor, and deals with the possibility of matriarchal societies in the Bronze Age.

“I am proud of MED’s collective achievement over the past 30 years,’ says Mark. ‘I believe that we have built something that is special.”

A ceilidh is being held to celebrate MED’s 30th anniversary, in Moretonhampstead Parish Hall on Friday, 22nd November. Music will be provided by a local band led by David Faulkner.

There will be a licensed bar and a light supper will be available to purchase. All ages and families are welcome. The youngest of the family can join the ‘Kids’ Ceilidh’ from 6pm to 7pm, with the chance to learn some of the ceilidh moves.

The main ceilidh starts at 7pm. Tickets are £7 for adults and £4.50 for children of 16 and under. They are on sale in advance from MED Theatre by emailing info@medtheatre.co.uk or calling 01647 441356.

Visit www.medtheatre.co.uk and www.dartmoorresource.org.uk for further information.

Karen Chapman Newton

Author: Karen Chapman Newton

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