Mark Beeson’s groundbreaking work, dedicated to exploring life on Dartmoor through performance, continues with Moretonhampstead-based MED Theatre, the theatre company he founded.
When the sad news of the playwright’s death, aged 67, in February reached people, many expressed their sorrow for the loss of Mark’s life but also concern for the future of MED Theatre, a Dartmoor organisation whose identity was closely tied to that of its founder. But Mark’s vision had grown into something that would outlive him.
For over 30 years Mark Beeson, who lived at Manaton, wrote and directed community plays and created artistic opportunities for local young people, in the hope of showing all generations that Dartmoor was a place of opportunity and interest, of development and potential, and importantly, of industry – including the arts. To sustainably employ a team of artists, provide free-of-charge training for people of all ages, and to offer young emerging artists their first paid roles in the creative industries, is a feat of tireless, decades-long labour. But no mountain was climbed alone. Mark had a knack for reading people and relationships and had built around him a team of professional theatre makers who shared his passion for Dartmoor and rural life.
And so, in the wake of Mark’s death the MED Theatre team, instead of stopping, sped onwards.
Since then, MED Theatre has toured a sold-out community play production, taken a new dance drama piece from Totnes to Castle Drogo, facilitated workshops in schools and continued to expand their weekly programme of drama and creative activities for young people, which now includes sessions not only in MED Theatre’s studio in Moretonhampstead but also in neighbouring Chagford, in Princetown, and in Braunton, North Devon. Mark did not build an organisation inextricably linked to himself, but a foundation and a legacy – a movement almost – for creating original work inspired by a local history full of productivity and human experience.
It is this that makes the organisation’s latest project, The Stark Reality of Rural Living, one with Mark’s distinctive stamp all over it.
The project, funded by Historic England, paints a picture of Dartmoor as a place of work and industry against the backdrop of wilderness and natural beauty. Mark spent his life exploring the stories of people coexisting on Dartmoor with its wildlife. Although humans rarely feature in the postcard images of idyllic landscapes, the work of their hands does, from stone walls, to leats, farmed animals, forestry plantations, and sites used for quarries and mines.
For Stark Reality, MED Theatre, with a group of volunteers, are gathering stories of working life on Dartmoor through research and oral history interviews. They will bring together local people from all generations andthe research will inspire MED Theatre’s 2023 touring community play and offer varied opportunities for Dartmoor residents to get involved.
Please contact MED Theatre for more details at www.medtheatre.co.uk