Peace Child 2020 - 30th Anniversary!
25 February 2020
The history of Peace Child and its importance to TMAC.
Peace Child 2020 – Introduction by Julian Breeze
What is Peace Child?
Peace Child is a musical written in 1987 by David Woollcombe with music by David Gordon, first performed in schools and colleges in the USA. The aim of the musical was to promote greater understanding between the young people of the two 'super-powers' at a time of great tension between the USSR and the USA which resulted in the development of a large amount of nuclear armaments.
How did Heathfield School become involved?
In 1989 Heathfield School produced the first British performance of our own version of Peace Child. The performances at school and at the Brewhouse Theatre attracted international attention and following consultation with the original writers a decision was made to go ahead with a full international production in July 1990 hosted by the school. This show had an adapted script reflecting the international cast and themes written by Steve Elliott, who directed the show and led the project with his wife, Helen. As the show’s Musical Director I re-wrote many of the songs and added new material that reflected the nature of the international cast.
The idea behind the musical was two-fold, namely to spread the message of 'Peace and Understanding' through the public performances of the young people involved but also to establish long-lasting personal relationships between the performers from different countries and cultures. Previous productions had mainly featured American and some Russian children but the 1990 production in Taunton was the most ambitious yet with twenty four different nations represented including Russia, Hungary, Cayman Islands, Australia, Spain, East and West Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and Eire, France, South Africa, Israel, Norway, Holland, America and Kenya
What happened in July 1990?
The young people met in Taunton in July to join the Heathfield cast, choir and band for four weeks of intensive rehearsal. Assembling and accommodating the international cast was a mammoth task in itself and they were accompanied by an entourage of teachers and interpreters. Many Heathfield students and staff not directly involved in the actual performance were involved as hosts and the whole school was taken over by the project, all under the watchful eye of the producer, John Fletcher.
Joining together to make music and explore global issues through improvisation during the introductory 'One World' week soon united the cast behind the project and rehearsals on the show started in earnest in record temperatures which resolutely remained in the nineties!
Although the basic outline of the show was in place the international cast were encouraged to contribute their own scenes and ideas. Among these were the moving song and dance from Kenya led by Raphael Lokwang and a song including all the languages of the cast.
What is the plot of the show?
The outline plot is very simple. Young people gather in the future to celebrate 'Peace Day', the anniversary of a day in which the voices of children were able to make a difference in the world. They tell the story of how an American boy and Russian girl became friends and were unhappy with the way that their respective leaders were refusing to work together. We see them they gate crash a 'reality' TV show and cause a media stir. As a result they and their friends from many different countries are able to take their case to their leaders. The children present a 'charter', a list of demands to improve people’s lives across the planet. After considerable resistance they are successful in getting their wish. By re-telling this story every year the world has become a safer and better place.
Fantasy or reality?
The show is a fantasy set in the future. Perhaps the most interesting observation, looking back from 2020 was that the concerns and issues raised by the young cast were almost exactly the same as those now concerning the children across the world who have been protesting about the inaction of world leaders regarding the impact of climate change!
At the climax of the musical Peace Child children from all over the world realise that the only way to be taken seriously is to walk out of their schools and homes, take to the streets and make their politicians listen. In the show this 'Great Children’s March for Peace' is an impressive sequence and is instrumental in bringing about the “sea change” in attitudes which lead to 'Peace Day'. A thirty year old fantasy is, of course, now becoming a reality as young people across the planet are now doing precisely this, believing that “no one is too small to make a difference”!
How did this lead to the building of the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre at Heathfield?
The 1990 performances at the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton and the Shaw Theatre on London’s West End (attended by Prince Edward) attracted huge media interest and gave the school a high profile with a BBC documentary and news coverage on all channels. The show also attracted the attention of Kathleen Tacchi-Morris.
Tacchi was a celebrated dancer and advocate of education through the arts. She was also a peace activist, forming her own organisation 'Women for World Disarmament' which had a flourishing worldwide membership.
One of her ambitions was to build an arts centre to, “Promote, maintain and advance education by encouraging the use of exchange and understanding of artistic skills and talents in a spirit of peace and mutual understanding amongst all peoples”. To this aim she set up the Tacchi-Morris trust who, inspired by the tireless work and vision of Steve Elliott, were eventually able to realise her dream at Heathfield in collaboration with the school, the National Lottery and Taunton Deane Borough Council.
The centre eventually opened in the year 2000 with a series of concerts and events. The song Something to Give was written for the opening ceremony and sung by the Heathfield choirs.
The anniversaries of 2000 and 2010
In 1990 the performers of Peace Child buried a time capsule at the school and made a promise to try to return in 10 years’ time to meet and dig it up. This did happen, with many of the international cast also making the journey. They also participated in a week of concerts with all the Heathfield choirs and instrumental groups. We were also joined by a string orchestra from The Mathieson Music School in Calcutta, India for these events.
In May 2010 we again celebrated the anniversary of Peace Child in song and recollections, and also the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre.
A feature of both these concerts was the important involvement of local primary schools.
The Big Blue and Green Machine
As Peace Child grew up it gave birth to a 'child' of its own! The Big Blue and Green Machine was an offshoot from Peace Child focussing on global environmental issues. It was born in September 2004 when West Monkton Primary School asked us to help with their school show under the leadership of Nigel Baker. Jason Bidmead (Heathfield Musician in Residence) and I wrote several songs for this show to add to a generous selection of numbers from Peace Child.
The Big Blue and Green Machine 2006 followed with 13 new original songs and a linking script performed by members of the Heathfield Year 8 singers. This show was further expanded in 2009 when it was revived with the original cast (by now in Year 11) recreating and expanding their roles with new songs, characters and extra instrumental parts to accommodate their musical skills.
Three years later, in 2012, a further revised show was performed again as part of Heathfield’s 'How big is your foot?' Comenius project led by Sarah Hall. This involved young people from Estonia, Turkey, Portugal, Ireland, Norway and Croatia working alongside the Heathfield students. This EU-funded project encouraged the students to think about the environmental issues of the modern world, our carbon footprints and about how we can take action to secure our future.
By 2012, The Big Blue and Green Machine was nothing less than a full 2-act musical. There are now over twenty songs, some of which have been performed every year in Heathfield concerts but also have found great popularity in many local primary schools. The most recent performance, in 2017, featured new musical arrangements for a local professional orchestra which accompanied a large number of choirs from many schools.
What is happening in February 2020?
In 2020 we celebrate the 30th anniversary of Peace Child and also the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre. There will be two concerts, on February 25 and 26. The concerts will feature the Heathfield choirs and a Performing Arts Group, with four primary school groups and singers from the wider community. We also hope that members of the 1990 cast will make the 'journey' one more. Everything will be supported by a large orchestra which will include some of the original band members from 1990! The songs will be from Peace Child together with other items from the previous re-union concerts and “The Big Blue and Green Machine”. There will be some readings, video footage and reminiscences to put the music in context.
Dates and details
All the Heathfield singing groups and the choirs in Creech St. Michael, Ruishton, Stoke St. Gregory and North Curry primary schools have already started rehearsing for the concerts which are on Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th February at 6:30pm in the Tacchi Morris Arts Centre.
There is a rehearsal on Monday February 24th from 11.30-15.00pm for all the young singers and a rehearsal on Tuesday 25th for the orchestra at 2.00pm and for all performers from 3.30pm before the evening show!
For those who wish to sing in the community/staff/Peace Child friends etc choir then there will be an after-school rehearsal and an evening rehearsal in February. Please contact the music department on 01823 428879 to get more details – and even collect music!
No Deal is not on the table!
A new song, No deal!, I’ve written especially for the event was inspired by the 2019 marches of children against climate change and concerns the 'deal' between the young people of 2020 and the older generations that 'run' the world. The issues of 1990 have not changed in thirty years!
(Musical Director – Peace Child 2020)