“In comes I, Old Father Christmas. Am I welcome, or am I welcome not?”
So begins many a mummers' play as the erupt into the room in celebration of Twelfth Night! Twelfth Night, when children and fools are kings, and bosses and adults are fools and children, when the forces of Light and Dark meet in a climactic moment, the night of the Three Kings, and the event for which Shakespeare wrote a wonderful play.....and which, in many parts of North America and the British Isles, includes MUMMERS.
What the heck are Mummers?
Wikipedia says “Mummers Plays (also known as mumming) are seasonal folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as mummers or guisers (or by local names such as rhymers, pace-eggers, soulers, tipteerers, galoshins, guysers, and so on), originally from the British Isles (see wrenboys), but later in other parts of the world. They are sometimes performed in the street but more usually as house-to-house visits and in public houses.
"Although the term mummers has been used since medieval times, no play scripts or performance details survive from that era, and the term may have been used loosely to describe performers of several different kinds. Mumming may have precedents in German and French carnival customs, with rare but close parallels also in late medieval England.”
As a performer and performance historian, my perspective on mumming is a little different. Certainly, most 'scripts' have --as Wikipedia will tell you-- a Doctor, George (Prince, Sir, King, Knight, whatever), the Turkey/Turkish Knight, and often a clown and/or Father Christmas to work the crowd, drive the (limited) narrative, and provide local topical commentary and audience interaction. Someone is killed and brought back to life by the Doctor. BUT Wikipedia –and many others-- seem to think than a 'script' defines a Mummers' performance, rather than what it truly does, which is provide a frame of a flying machine, a set of characters and interaction within a rough outline that lift performers into a divine state of humorous and tender interaction with whomever is the 'audience'--members of a household, people on the street, storytellers and families gathered together or singing, dancing, and storytelling in celebration of the Twelfth Day of Christmas.
Mumming arises out of the same tradition as sword dances, and ethnohistorians believe they grew out of ancient agrarian societies, with a ritualized sacrifice to ensure the renewed fertility of the land and the people ….the battle between the old and new year, between winter and spring, between the darkness and the light.
And if anyone wants my adapted-integrated script that we used for many years, feel free to email me for a pdf at Shearwater Productions. Happy 2013!
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