With the aim of recruiting more members into the Royal Arch, Deputy Metropolitan Grand Superintendent Chris Clark explains how a piece of theatre is successfully demonstrating its principles and history
Why is the Royal Arch a separate Order and what is the Master Mason of the 21st century missing by not being a member? Performed in masonic lodges throughout the country, Talking Heads – The Next Step: Into The Royal Arch is a short playlet that seeks to answer these questions. It depicts an encounter between an experienced Past Master, who is also a Royal Arch Companion, and a relatively new Master Mason eager to learn more.
The opening scene of Talking Heads begins with two masons chatting in the anteroom as they don their regalia, after which they start engaging with the brethren present. The playlet covers the history of the Order and explains a little about the regalia – especially the jewel that is also worn in lodges – as well as discussing some of the links with the Craft.
Talking Heads goes on to describe the way the journey of personal discovery continues beyond the Craft experience, as well as the likely time and financial commitments needed to reach completion of pure Antient Freemasonry. The performance is delivered with a great deal of good humour between the players, and occasional off-script asides make the event highly enjoyable as well as educational.
The idea of creating the playlet came after we published the Metropolitan Exaltee’s Guide in 2010. The booklet was given to each new exaltee in London as they began their journey into the Royal Arch. Our thoughts then turned to how we might aid recruitment into Chapter. After looking at several lectures in circulation in the Craft, we decided they were either too long or not very inspirational. So we set about drafting our own text for London. The remit was that it should be presented in a theatrical way, be about half an hour long and be interesting for those masons already part of the Royal Arch, as well as to Master Masons who might consider joining.
Early drafts were assessed by a panel of readers from the Royal Arch leaders in London and a few trial presentations were given before the final text was agreed, and a team of some 20 regular presenters assembled.
The first performances were given in February 2011, and now more than 120 have been delivered by the Metropolitan team, travelling to Provinces across the county, including Cumberland and Westmorland, West Lancashire, and Yorkshire, North and East Ridings in the north; Essex and East and West Kent in the south; and Shropshire and Wiltshire in the west. We always present the Province with a CD of the text of the playlet, too, and offer to assist when they assemble their own groups of players.
An excellent performance
Some of these Provinces have developed their own acting teams; Essex and Buckinghamshire are leading the way, with several performances given in the past year. By the end of 2016, the Metropolitan team will have visited well over half the Provinces in England and Wales, spreading the Royal Arch message. The text has also been exported to Hong Kong, our first overseas territory, although the team’s bold request for travel expenses was rejected, so there have been no performances abroad (yet).
Talking Heads provides great support to the Royal Arch representatives in lodges, because it makes the Order’s case for them and answers many of the questions they are likely to be asked. Sometimes Master Masons will sign an exaltation form after a performance, sometimes they will bring forward an application they were planning to delay, and sometimes it just goes on their agenda for when they feel they are ready to enter the Order.
We always make the point that there is no pressure to recruit and that everyone should consider the Royal Arch in their own time and at their own pace. We know that exaltation numbers in London have been rising by over two per cent per annum since the introduction of the Royal Arch representative scheme and the Talking Heads playlet. Added to this, overall membership figures in London suggest that retention levels have also been helped – and we have some dramatic examples of how Talking Heads has been effective in this respect.
For example, one London chapter had a member who’d been dormant for 14 years, who started attending again after seeing a performance at his lodge. ‘I hadn’t realised there was so much in the Royal Arch ceremony,’ he said, ‘and I now understand much of what I found confusing before.’ And after our first Provincial performance in Essex, one companion who had not attended a chapter since his exaltation 42 years ago immediately signed to rejoin. Encore, indeed.
‘Talking Heads provides great support to the Royal Arch representatives in lodges, because it makes the Order’s case for them and answers many of the questions they are likely to be asked.’
Letters to the Editor - No. 32 Winter 2015
I read with interest the article in the autumn 2015 edition of Freemasonry Today entitled ‘Dramatic Aside’. A similar initiative was introduced several years ago in Hampshire and Isle of Wight.
A presentation written by well-known local Royal Arch Freemasons called ‘Why the Royal Arch?’ was frequently delivered in both lodges and chapters throughout the Province. It consists usually of four Craft Freemasons sitting around a table chatting informally with each other, looking into the next step in their masonic journey.
It has proved to be very successful and is now included as part of a new Royal Arch recruiting initiative recently introduced, entitled ‘Dine a Master Mason’. We hold this at the end of our regular Royal Arch Convocation, when Craft Freemasons who are not yet Royal Arch members are invited to attend.
Both recruitment and retention are very important to the future success of Royal Arch, but without proper and workable recruitment initiatives in place, we may not be left with so many companions to retain.
Philip Berman, Grand Superintendent, Hampshire and Isle of Wight