Interview: Drama and Life
The TenTen theatre group offers challenging, thought-provoking productions, with the accent strongly on contemporary issues. This is drama that draws the audience in and creates an environment in which it is impossible to remain indifferent – no small achievement when the target audience is adolescents in a school hall or gym.
Schools across Britain are now becoming familiar with Ten Ten. FAITH magazine met cofounder Martin O’Brien in London to learn more.
Himself an actor – West End musical, National Theatre – he is also a writer producing material for TV and radio. He established TenTen with a specific message: it’s St John’s Gospel, 10:10 “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”. The first play was Babies, tackling the theme of abortion and unwanted pregnancy. It was followed by plays tackling gang warfare, human trafficking, family relationships and more. TenTen employs professional actors and, in addition to presenting plays in theatres, it takes the drama to schools, using whatever facilities are on offer there. The team works hard: there is a three-week rehearsal period and then a stint of travelling, doing one play a week. A success story this year has been This is my Body, a drama centred on love and relationships. There is also The Gift, for primary schools. TenTen offers follow-up material for use in discussion groups and project work.
“The work is expanding all the time. We created a sketch on the Prodigal Son to link with the Year of Mercy, and presented it for a whole-school assembly, after which the day was spent meeting with one year group after another for follow-up work. That has gone really well.”
The core team is a family one – Martin, plus his sister Clare and mother Anna “Definitely a family thing – that has its challenges, of course, but it’s also the strength of it.”
“Next year there will be a tour for This is my Body. A lot of our actors are people who have been with us for some while – they enjoy the work and keep coming back. We keep commissioning new work, and we also have projects that have gone well and are worth repeating.”
“We work hard – it doesn’t all come easily. There’s also a lot of organising to do. When we are mapping out the plans, we contact schools to say we are in their area and ask if they are interested. Year on year we fit in all that we can: we max out on the dates.”
St John Paul
The work began with plays in local theatres and for community groups. An adaption of The Jeweler’s Shop by Karol Wojtyla (Pope St John Paul) has been repeatedly popular. It played a major part in the creation of TenTen.
“John Paul has been a big influence. When I read The Jeweler’s Shop in my twenties I was really taken by it – still am. That was definitely a big part of creating TenTen.”
Another play that has stirred audiences is Kolbe’s Gift, telling the story of St Maximillian Kolbe’s sacrifice to save another man’s life in Auschwitz: it proved a success at London’s Leicester Square theatre.
A new development has been their teaming up with Catholic charities, including Missio, the Apostleship of the Sea and London’s Cardinal Hume Centre to present a message. “We become, in effect, an educational arm of the charity, working with teachers, often at a school assembly, and then following up in the classroom.” TenTen has also started producing on-line resources for schools, as part of the follow-up work after a drama performance.
TenTen has been involved with a number of Catholic organisations and events over recent years, including diocesan gatherings and the big Celebrate gathering for families, run by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement.
Schools pay for performances, and the group also has a mailing-list of supporters. Because the plays work well, there has been a continuing and steady development, with new avenues opening up. Looking ahead, there is a film being planned, and the expansion of a project for primary schools based on the Sunday Mass readings. From a small beginning – “to be honest, the whole thing sort of evolved from that first play” – TenTen is now a major part of the Catholic and the theatre scene in Britain. There are many ways to convey the life-giving message of the Gospel. TenTen harnesses the extraordinary power of human creativity and modern culture, and lays them at the service of Jesus Christ. It is powerful indeed to witness. More information: [email protected]