Mary’s Hand: Curating historical fact as creative fiction

Parallel Session

Practical expertise is a pre-requisite for a successful dramatic performance. However, in making each new work, a creative team has to acquire expertise in a whole new area – the subject of the work itself. How do we find what facts we need? How do we re-express them to serve our dramatic intentions? If it’s a story we think we already know, how far can we pull against it? What is our relationship with “truth” in this context?

The last question presents a particular challenge for a creative team dealing with the documented ‘reality’ of a famous life. The Tudors occupy an established corner of the popular mind, so where does this leave the artist trying to serve the historical facts, the real-life character and the creative imagination? We are free to integrate or discard information as we go, but a certain responsibility comes with the conjuring of new work from established facts and events. For us, the gaps between the known facts are the spaces where our creative truths can flourish.

McCaldin Arts has a particular interest in the stories of women who have been misrepresented. We are currently developing Mary’s Hand, a dramatic piece for one classical singer, examining the life and reign of Queen Mary I. Eclipsed in the modern public’s perception by her flamboyant father Henry VIII and half-sister Elizabeth I, many people ‘know’ Mary only as a dour, vindictive woman and ineffective monarch who wore black.

Her reputation has more recently been revised, revealing the extent to which she was posthumously rubbished by the Elizabethan regime, with fake news and PR spin. While Mary’s public story can be constructed from known facts, her private narrative as a wife, would-be mother and England’s first Queen Regnant is more nuanced and available for interpretation.

An additional layer of resource and challenge comes in a musical project with the search for an appropriate musical language. We have historical evidence to work with here too: records of performance practice, content and style, and works that we know were written at the time of Mary’s reign.

The finished work will not be a refutation of established facts, but it will question the audience’s knowledge and ask them to think again about both the character and context of Mary I, and her achievements in laying the ground for her successor’s triumphs.

This session is being delivered by Knowledge Quarter partner McCaldin Arts.

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