The first few months were busy gathering information, researching old material, recruiting members and visiting other demonstration teams. They were all unselfish and forthcoming with their support. In fact, I interviewed members of ten teams and sent groups of our members to London, Devon and Norfolk to experience the presentations first hand. Four months after we started I was confident we had enough people and resources in place to begin.
I called a founder’s meeting. I had already spoken to each of them personally about my vision for the demonstration group and established how each wanted to be involved: in research, writing, acting, props and costumes, logistics or support. The founders were full of energy, ideas and suggestions and went away with clear responsibilities and time tables for the beginning of the first set of demonstrations.
At this early stage I became aware of the talent and experience we had in the group: dramatic directors, amateur dramatics actors, researchers, writers and others who were simply delighted to be involved. We agreed general principles on how we would proceed; how to ensure material had ‘integrity’, both masonic and historic; how we would structure and narrate our demonstrations; how we would be funded and how much we would charge host lodges.
The Importance of Provincial Support
We had been formed by the Province under the umbrella of the Education and Training Committee – chaired by Assistant Grand Master, Dr. Vivian Thomas. We needed to ensure we communicated successfully with his committee and gained the confidence of the Province as a whole. This patronage by the Province has been important to our growth and success. I had a hint of this when members of other demonstration teams expressed admiration - bordering on envy - that we were being officially set up and supported.
Members of the provincial team have been instrumental in allowing us to quickly gain access to the best talent in the Province. At the same time they recommended us to lodges and chapters allowing us to explain why they should include historic demonstrations in their annual programmes. One of our members secured a grant to get us started with props and costumes and we became self-sufficient financially within eighteen months.
What Has Been The Impact?
The real test for the demonstration group has been the response of our stakeholders since we premiered our first demonstration – Lodge Night 1759 – to our Provincial Stewards Lodge and Provincial Grand Master, Barrie Hall, 24 March 2009. Despite the casting, rehearsals and preparation it was still a nerve-racking event for us all.
The balance between entertainment and education was challenging to achieve. Move too far one way and the presentation would become frivolous and shallow; too far the other way and it would be dull and dry. Then there was the need to appeal to a wide audience, from the newest young mason to the oldest and most experienced.
Young mason Scott Norville saw the demonstration within days of becoming a Master Mason: ‘I gained an insight what it was like back in the early stages of Freemasonry which has given me a good understanding on why we do the things that we do today. Five minutes into it I actually felt like I was there – transported back 250 years.’
Experienced Past Master Gordon Walker, having seen the drama, booked us for his Bedfordshire lodge: ‘I found it intriguing. You see pictures of old lodge meetings but presented in this way it really brings history to life.’
Author of Lodge Night 1759 Peter Ayton says he really enjoyed the research side: ‘It gave me the impetus to learn more about Freemasonry and its origins. Now, as part of the team, I’m extending this understanding and education to other masons across the Province and beyond.’
In the demonstration, Past Master Trevor Cook is the ‘Worshipful’ – a part to which he brings his unique style and considerable amateur dramatics experience.
‘It was a great honour to be cast as Worshipful. I love ritual anyway. This role puts me very much at the centre of connecting our audience to the early history and ritual – and helping them put into context what we do now’.
The last word goes to our Provincial Grand Master Barrie Hall: ‘On all my lodge visits in recent weeks I have heard continued glowing compliments regarding the demonstration team's memorable performance. Everybody enjoyed a simply superb reenactment of that mid-eighteenth century initiation ceremony”.
We already have our second play – ‘The Working Tool: a New Perspective’ – a two man demonstration featuring a ‘real’ stonemason and his colleague. They enlighten us on how the tools of an operative mason were used in medieval times, and link this to their symbolic meaning. They take us on a journey to explore how and why we ‘moralise’ on the working tools of the three Craft degrees. Suitable for Craft or Chapter audiences, ‘How and Why the Royal Arch?’ is a bold demonstration that successfully deals with a complex subject. It is currently in casting and rehearsal and will be premiered in April 2010. Other demonstrations in progress concern the formation of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution, the union of the Grand Lodges of the Antients and the Moderns, ‘The First Making of a Mason’ and a series depicting the history of the Province. Our group membership is now sixty-five and growing. And that demonstrates success.