Full set of abstracts prepared by Peter Harrop. 

(Only one paper was subsequently submitted for editing and inclusion: Jim Birch, The Wantage Mummers: Every year the same – but different and is included here.)

Conference date(s)
Friday, 5 December, 2014
Gloucester Folk Museum

Fourth Mummers Unconvention - Symposium 2014

  • The Wantage Mummers: Every year the same – but different

    Jim Birch


    For forty years the Wantage Mummers have been performing a Berkshire version of the mummers play. In that time there has been no alteration to the traditional words or to the traditional course of action. However, each year the performance is refreshed by changing bits of business, aspects of costume or properties and special effects, thereby introducing something new, usually of a topical nature. The presentation will illustrate this way of upholding a tradition whilst simultaneously providing something new each year. It will also discuss the effect that this approach, and the decision to only perform on one day, has on the performers and on the audience.

  • Stoneleigh Mummers Play 1975 to 2014: Revival or Creation of a Tradition?

    Tim Chatham


    This year will mark the 40th annual revival of the Stoneleigh Mummers Play which had been published in 1925 by local historian Mary Dormer Harris. First revived in 1975 at Christmas time it has become an annual performance on 26th December. The performances start in the neighbouring village of Ashow and continue in Stoneleigh. There is a final performance outside Stoneleigh Village Club at 1.15 where there is usually a crowd of 100 to 200. The performances in Ashow and Stoneleigh (up until the final performance) are effectively for and supported by the local residents. The play is an example of a Hero Combat play, with only 7 characters, one fight and one revival and brief appearances by supernumeraries at the end. The hero is King George and the adversary Bold Slasher.

  • Southampton Urban Mummers

    Matt Fletcher


    What happens when you mix traditional performance forms with contemporary practices? You get Southampton Urban Mummers, an oddly engaging hybrid with a modern flavour. The words may be familiar, the doctor may still save the day, but this is mumming constructed for a concrete jungle, with characters and costumes to match. Since 1999, a motley troupe of community artists and students have taken to the streets of Southampton once a year with their particular brand of festive spell-casting, informed by interests in ritual, participation and site. Performances are not advertised, but word of mouth ensures the presence of faithful and eager audiences. This is rough theatre, but built upon solid academic foundations, and dedicated to bringing a contemporary twist to a still meaningful folk tradition. This paper explores the methods and processes of Southampton Urban Mummers, as well as their theoretical underpinnings.

  • ​The Alberta Avenue Mummers Collective and the Albertavia Mumming Trilogy

    Randall Fraser


    The Alberta Avenue Mummers Collective grew out of the 2009 Deep Freeze Festival in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  The Deep Freeze Winter Festival is a free family event that brings together the Ukrainian, Franco-Albertan, Franco-African, First Nations, and Acadian/East Coast communities to revel in the magic and beauty of winter.  The Mummers Collective created and presented their first work “Knighty Knight” in 2009. In 2010, they followed it up with “Fool Tom Fool”. The third in their trilogy was “This Belle Troll’s for Thee” and all are published as the Albertavia Mumming Trilogy.

  • Bisociated Identities and Playful Joking Relationships: Some Observations Regarding Performer-Audience Interactions in Mumming, Murder Mysteries, and Lucha Libre

    Mark Gowers


    Based upon my experience both as a mummer and a performer in participatory murder mysteries, the paper will discuss how bisociation of identity (i.e. the ability of audience members to recognize the actor as a familiar person outside of his or her character role) increases audience participation in a folk context. Focusing on the context of reception, the paper will identify some of the basic variables that render events interactive, allowing audience members and performers to play and joke with one another. These include:  A. The presence of bisociated identities (i.e. actors wearing silly costumes that reveal their ‘true’ identities as local people). B.  The availability of open meta-communicative channels which facilitate interpersonal dialogue between actors and audience members. C. The folk context of reception itself into which performers are received and treated as recognizable local people and fellow folk members. D. The willingness of audience members to simply play along with the fictive situation, taking on the role of the “naive spectator” and casting themselves within the drama.

  • Introduction to the Symposium

    Peter Harrop


    The paper will identify emerging themes from the four International Mumming Unconvention symposia held in Bath (2011 and 2012) and Gloucester (2013 and 2014).  The conference series has encouraged contemporary mumming performers to describe their own ‘embodied ethnography’ and I draw on these to illustrate a wider co-existence of ideas, beliefs, intentions and performance practices than usually acknowledged.  Last year I described these trends and tensions as creative plagiarism and home spun mutations; traditions, revivals and polite evolutions; migrations; performative antecedents, blurring’s, printed histories and exemplar texts.   The paper will continue to examine the interplay of the ‘folklore’ dimension – from morris to mumming; the ‘theatre’ dimension – theatre history and reconstruction, street theatre technique and popular traditions and the current rediscovery of ‘located’ performance.

  • New Folk Old Lore: The Coventry Mummers and the Alberta Avenue Mummers Collective

    Mat Levitt


    This video, New Folk Old Lore, will present comparative ethnographic footage I have compiled while working with two groups of mummers separated by the Atlantic Ocean but connected through lines of discourse about “what makes a mummers’ play a mummers’ play.”   The Coventry Mummers have been mumming for decades in villages with plays that are, well… considered tradition. The Alberta Avenue Mummers Collective has been mumming in a Western Canadian city called Edmonton that, up until a few years ago, was an unlikely place to find a mummer at all. And yet both of these groups experience similar tensions between tradition and innovation, revival and loss, performer and audience. Likewise, both groups demonstrate an earnest love and passion for what they do. By comparing costumes, performance locales, performance styles, personal interpretations, stories and histories, this video will likely raise questions relating to authenticity, authority, and just what makes a mummers’ play a mummers’ play. Answers may not be forthcoming, nor do we necessarily want them?

  • John Barleycorn: A Suitable Case for Mumming

    David Lock


    Like the Green Man, the concept of the Corn God is deeply rooted in the human condition. However, although the universality of the Green Man can be recognised throughout hunter-gatherer societies, the Corn God is specifically agrarian in origin.  The song “John Barleycorn” was already in print in 1635, but evidence (and common sense) suggests that it is, in essence, a much older piece. The “authenticity” of the song has been the subject of much debate, because of its arrival in such a complete form, with no apparent antecedent fragments. Whatever these may (or may not) have been, the song remains a powerful and mystically resonant one.  There is a plethora of ritual and ceremony surrounding both the planting and harvesting of grain, but the over-arching death/resurrection motif of “John Barleycorn” prompted me to create a mumming play using the combat structure as a template. This has now been performed several times, and I offer it as a contribution to the “Folk Process”, in the hope that it gives a tangential view of the story.

  • Anonymity and Strangers: Three versions of the unknown in Newfoundland Christmas visiting

    Lynn Lunde


    Daily life in Newfoundland outport communities was often noted for the frequency and ease of visitation between households. The amount of visiting was heightened during the Christmas season with the arrival of mummers, janneys and night-singers. These three events each contained elements of disguise and anonymity by masking the identity of participants in distinctive ways: costuming of performers in the Mummers’ Play, disguising for the identity-guessing-game of janneys, and the late- night carolling of the night-singers. Participants in the events were known members of the community, they were not strangers to the households, yet the anonymity of participants was an important part of each event. Communities and individuals may have been creating liminal space in which to explore cultural elements expressed in the events which were concerned with the ‘known’ and the ‘unknown’, the ‘safe’ and the ‘dangerous’, the ‘familiar’ and the ‘stranger’. These created liminal spaces by their very nature were flexible arenas involving an increase in social licence, thereby providing venues for expanded social activity to be exercised by communities and individuals within a cloak of anonymity.

  • So you want to be a Mummer?

    Helen Marshall


    (An artist talk and visual presentation showing work in progress including photographs and video that will become an online and physical exhibition in the future.)

    Marshall has spent over a year visiting and photographing the Coventry Mummers to find out what a Mummer is, to get to the heart of what they do, and why it is an important part of their identity. “I want to create a legacy project for these Mummers and perhaps even extend it to other Mummers groups across the country. The Coventry Mummers have a natural visual inventiveness.  I believe that collaboration with a visual artist is different from that of an anthropologist, academic or theatre researcher.  I hope to bring a non-judgemental mirror to what they are doing, to who they are and to how their audience experiences them, not only with my camera, but also in the manner that my research is centred on the personal and open ended whilst honouring the tradition. I want the Mummers to benefit directly from this project, so that it has an ethos of co-authorship all the way through to ownership and copyright of material I produce. I want them to be able to use the material in their events, talks and future publicity.”

  • Manning and Mumming

    Peter Millington


    Percy Manning (1870-1917) was an Oxford antiquarian, and a collector of anything to do with Oxfordshire – archaeology, material vernacular culture, brass rubbings, folklore, morris dancing, and last but not least, mumming plays. He is probably most famous in the folk world for sponsoring the revival of Headington Quarry Morris in 1899 – the side encountered later that year by Cecil Sharp, and which influenced the English folk dance revival of 1905 onwards. Manning donated many items to the Pitt Rivers Museum during his lifetime. On his death, he bequeathed his collections to the University of Oxford, who split them between the Bodleian Libraries, and the Ashmolean Museum. Some material ended up in other locations, such as the Archaeology Department, and there is further Manning material in external collections, for instance the Cecil Sharp manuscripts and the Ordish Papers.

    Plans are afoot to celebrate the centenary of Manning’s death in 2017, with a number of academic and cultural activities, organised under the leadership of the renowned morris historian and retired Bodleian librarian Mike Heaney. A preliminary workshop was held in Oxford in October 2014 to identify the materials that are available in the various collections, and to discuss the activities that might be appropriate for the anniversary. While the size of the mumming component of Manning’s collections is quite modest, it makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Apart from the texts that Manning collected, it also includes original material from the folk play scholars E.H.Binney and T.F.Ordish, and has a number of early photographs of Oxfordshire mummers.  In this paper, I will summarise Manning’s career and describe the mumming content of his collection, along with some preliminary analyses. I will also outline some of the activities that are being considered for the anniversary and invite further suggestions.