Anyone aged 7-13 is welcome to attend. Parents / carers, please accompany your chil(ren) into the venue and provide basic contact details. Accompanying adults can stay, or return to collect at 4.30. For further information or to ask a question, please email email@example.com.
The latest drama and music project from BFMT takes as its subject Jeanne d’Arc, known in English as Joan of Arc, and her Christmas (Noël) in 1422 when she was 10.
The Taster that starts every Music Theatre project welcomes anyone aged 7-13. The story is explained, the script is read through, songs tried out and drama / music activities sampled. Knowing what it involves, anyone can decide to join the cast without audition and free of charge. Parents and any audience are asked to donate on the day of the performance in order to cover the costs and any surplus is contributed to the Arts Centre which kindly supports the group.
After the Taster, Sunday afternoon rehearsals will be at the same times every week until a performance at the same time on Sunday 19 November. This may be public, or private for families, depending on numbers, confidence and progress. But in any case, the cast will experience being on stage with costumes, action, lighting, blackout, sound tech and live musical accompaniment. Solo speaking or singing parts are allocated as part of the rehearsal process rather than by formal audition. The production style aims to keep the whole cast engaged in the action as much as possible.
So who was Jeanne? Historians argue about her true story, but many think – and legend certainly insists – that she was born just over 600 years ago in a tiny French village called Domrémy, which would have been very much like Bollington was in those days. A few houses in a river valley among hills, fields, woods and sheep. As a child, Jeanne spent a lot of time in the countryside with her family’s sheep, and no time at all at school – except on Sundays when she went to church and heard stories from the Bible and about the Saints.
Jeanne was maybe 10 and tending her flock when some of those Saints and Angels first came to talk to her. The English King, Henry V, who had defeated the French at Agincourt in 1415 and seized the throne of France, had died. The weaker Henry VI was France’s chance for freedom – if only they had the right leader. The Heavenly voices told Jeanne she would be that leader. She must become a soldier, put on armour, lead the army, defeat the English, expel the invaders and put Charles the Dauphin (the French prince who was heir to the throne) on the throne.
Imagine how Jeanne felt about this alarming but inspiring news! Then imagine how her family and friends – and the priest – reacted. They were used to her boastful tales of saving sheep from wolves and bandits, but saving France from the English? How could a child, especially a girl, do that? And she certainly couldn’t go swanning off to tell a prince to put her in charge of an army of men. Not until after Christmas, anyway.
And yet while still a teenager, Jeanne miraculously achieved all that her Heavenly voices had predicted. She never pretended she was a man, and yet men obeyed her. The English were driven back until they only had Calais left under their control, and the Dauphin was crowned Charles VII. Sadly, Jeanne suffered a horrible death when she was captured by the Burgundian allies of the English and burned as a witch aged just 19. But she had liberated France, and in 1920, the Catholic Church made her a Saint in her own right.
This new play with songs and music focusses on Jeanne’s mostly carefree childhood and especially the Christmas in 1422 when she was 10. As well as aiming to entertain, it will tackle various issues and relationships in a child-friendly way. The songs and live music that accompany the script, improvised scenes and movement will be based on French folk music and carols, some of which participants may already know. Some songs will be sung in French, an excellent way to get a feel for the language and enhance any learning that may have been done in school. If any cast members play musical instruments it may be possible
to incorporate them, as well as providing parts for classroom percussion.
The images show the area where Jeanne grew up and artists’ depictions of her. Her birthplace, the church, the countryside where she would have tended her flock, even some sheep that may be their descendants! The most impressive statue at the Basilica built in her honour shows Jeanne with Saints and the Archangel Michael. Apart from the public domain picture of Jeanne created as a magazine cover by Albert Lynch in 1903, they are all photos taken by BFMT director Donald Judge when he visited Domrémy in April 2015.
Since 1986, Bollington Festival Music Theatre has staged some unusual and original drama at its home in the Arts Centre and at every Bollington Festival. In its now 37-year history, you won’t find versions of commercial shows, books or films, but folk tales from the UK, Europe and further afield; “human interest” stories of unusual – and true – childhoods; and imaginary happenings often set in Bollington, several involving the exploits of the remarkable “Nancy White.” She will even make an appearance in the Spring 2024 project about the childhood of James Chadwick, the Nobel prize winning physicist born in a weavers’ cottage on Clarke Lane, who is commemorated by a blue plaque on Bollington Cross Primary School. Those who take part in the Autumn project will have a head start in the skills needed for that.