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Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 6 months ago

FAQ For the Paper Bag Mummers



What are mummers anyway?


Mummers are actors in a folk play, usually (but not always) performed as street theatre or at a dance, pub, party, or other social event. For all you ever wanted to know about mumming, see www.folkplay.info.


What's special about the Paper Bag Mummers?


We got our name because all you need is a paper bag, which contains your script, kit (costume), and props. It then followed that our kits themselves are made from paper bags. We're a no-rehearsal troupe on principle; our motto is "We never rehearse, we only perform!" This keeps us fresh, promotes new blood, and allows us to work with a larger body of texts using our PBM Chapbook Editions.


PBM is also one of a very few dedicated mumming troupes in the North American morris community. Most mummers plays are performed by morris and/or sword dancers, so that PBM offers a creative haven for the halt, the lame, the aged, and the infirm (being founded by a retired dancer who'd run out of knees).


Where do you get your material?


PBM is an unabashedly purist revival troupe, made from 100% recycled materials. We work directly from primary source texts collected by the Traditional Ritual Drama Group of the University of Sheffield at www.folkplay.info. We reprint these online texts as PBM Chapbook Editions and work with the scripts directly as transcribed from their source collectors.


I thought you said you were an improvisational troupe. What's improv about written scripts?


The improvisation comes from "performing" the play directly on book for an audience, without rehearsal. On the fly, in real time, we add all the stuff that's not in the text: costumes and props, stage business, blocking, physical comedy, dynamic repetition, singing, and of course, delivery! During a street tour, we also trade parts as we go, so that during the course of an evening, most players will have done at least 3 different roles. And of course, it's dark at midwinter, so on a street tour, there's plenty of improv when you drop your flashlight.


But is it traditional?


We like to think so. PBM has roots that go back to Renaissance-era theatrical traditions. We draw inspiration from the First Folio Technique approach to Shakespeare, commedia dell'arte as practiced by our friends I Sebastiani, and the folk traditions of chapbooks and broadside ballads. As distinct from most North American mumming, we work from collected texts rather than composing our own plays. Here in Boston, composed plays for weddings are themselves traditional, as a longstanding custom in The Cambridge-Somerville tradition of Wedding Mummers Plays. However, for street tours, we stick to the collected texts, and generally choose the oldest version available. Also, unlike most local-community mummers, we don't stick to a single playtext, so in our comp-lit way we're more literary than folkloric.


And of course, we're Yanks, so we're revivalists by nature. It doesn't take us long to adopt a tradition and make it part of our lives. In our fourth year of the Oxford Street Souling Tour, the houses we visit expected us, invited their friends, and brought chairs out into the street to watch the play with their neighbors. So, yeah, we think we're pretty traditional.


How long have you been doing this?


PBM got its name in 2003, after several decades of handing out paper bags of mummers' kit at Xmas parties. Squire and Fool Lynn Noel has been involved with mummers' plays and ritual drama since the early 1980s as a founding member of the Mad Oak Mummers with Oak Apple Morris; a house-visitor with the Minnesota Ritual Drama Team; as a sword dancer and Fool with That Long Tall Sword; and, with those teams, a regular at the NYC Half Moon Sword Ale and the Minnesota Midwinter Sword and Mumming Ale.


We do have a core of a half-dozen or so experienced mummers, but we make sure that at every gig, we have at least one person who's in their very first mummer's play. That way we're our own farm team while continuing to act as an umbrella for any experienced players who care to join us "a la carte" for a given gig.


Where can we see you?


Check out our Performances page.


How do I join?


Contact Squire and Fool Lynn Noel at info@lynnoel.com. We welcome visiting players, and have had mummers from the Left Coast and Across the Pond at several gigs.


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