An account of a theatrical workshop attended by Alanna, during Oxford’s ‘Marmalade Festival’ (a festival for social justice). The workshop was run by Jamie Walker and Mary Woodward of Mostly Moss Productions, who work on exploring the arts for Land Justice. 
bright multicoloured pencil sketching of flowers and shapes, with the words ‘Hedges are the lines we draw across the landscape. Draw yours here.’

It’s a drizzly Friday morning in Oxford. I woke up in the kitchen of my friends’ house, which was alive and buzzing with crafting materials and cut up pieces of fabric from the night before - an exciting reminder that I had to leave the house promptly to attend the first session of the day. I leave and make my way, slowly, to a closed-off shopfront opposite an outdoor food market. 

I spent the next 6 hours becoming a hedge. 

Hedges can be dividers. They stand, historically, defining the boundaries of The Enclosures. But they are simultaneously crucial habitats. Hedges are ‘edges’ in the landscape that provide a highly biodiverse habitat because of their niches between two (or more) different worlds. 

Through mixed media and theatrical explorations, we explored our somatic perceptions about how a boundary can also be a habitat, what our own boundaries are, what our own habitats are, and how we work socially as an ecosystem.

Enough nonsense! What actually happened?

The arrival into the ‘shopfront-come-hedge room’ began by entering through a small archway, tasselled with prompts (which I'll come back to later) that gently stroked our heads as we crouched through. Once through the gap, we found other people to mingle with: people who had travelled from near and far, with the intrigue of the hedge. 

After a bit of light socialising, we were invited to lay down with our heads parallel to each other, in two lines. A soundscape of a local new hedge started playing, whilst Jamie started to read out loud to us. In a meditative way, we were introduced to hedge history, travelling back into local dialects across the UK, hearing many different words and sounds for ‘hedges’ such as ‘assart’, ‘frith’ and ‘bullfinch’.  We were then invited to repeat those words and explore how those words feel physically and emotionally. 

Mostly Moss’ research into old English dialect for hedges - revealed the connection between the loss of habitat and the loss of language, bringing life back to them in a way that felt like an interesting lesson in cultural history.

a book with lots of definitions of 'edges, hedges and boundaries' from local dialects in England
A list of dialectal terms used for hedges and edges, from the book Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane.

Once we felt more confident using our chosen word, we were asked to imagine how a hedge would like that word to be spoken. The cacophony (or symphony) built up. We became one big ruckus, one living, breathing, squabbling being. The hedge started to move around the room, disbanded from its tightly knitted self - and moved. Interacting with each other, as our hedge-selves, we were habitats, both ageing and birthing and trapping and passing. We became creatures that depended on each other. Using green cloth to tie and join and stretch the boundaries of ourselves, and form new ones. 

Having the time to be in a workshop to engage in deep character development without any breaks to return to our regular selves, created a bond of being with other creatures, a sense of community kinship that was forced to develop without the security of being able to return to default. 

The importance of being silly in groups opens up your space to think laterally between different aspects of your life - active play helps to connect unconnected things - allowing broader and embodied ideas. Having such spaces to create and connect within spaces is such a welcome thing, as it feels like the ratio of being silly:serious in my life isn't that I feel like it's a chore to be silly and expressive yet. And I'm certain that sharing experiences and vulnerabilities together to create common feelings, builds bonds for future relationships that can be serious. 

people sitting with animal masks on, on rows of plastic seats in a warehouse type room, facing a projector screen. One of the people in a hare mask is facing the camera.
One of the hedge creatures, watching the screening of the play

With the end of our daylight fast approaching, we moved screenwards to watch the screening of the play Enclosures. Enclosures, by Mostly Moss production, filmed last year, incorporates caricatures of rewilding and conservation groups to cleverly explore the differences between the contrasting cosmologies and approaches to the rewilding agenda.

Centred around a common, the conflicts of interests were between a capitalist land grab, with ecologists building a fence around the area to reintroduce wild boar into the landscape, with the view to eventually turn the space into a wildlife safari. This same land was previously used by a local conservation community group where people worked the land as a traditional common, both lovingly and freely. One member of this conservation group in particular takes the new enclosures of the land as an attack on the community, making the case that the people can do the same job as the boar (uprooting vegetation, creating bare ground, pruning back shrubs, fertilising the ground), whilst enjoying the land reciprocally (where the land was tended and looked after, and the ecosystem flourished from human work). His ideal takes away other animals, however, from the landscape.

Without giving too much away, the arguments and conflict between these two figureheads is problematic on both sides, which creates an opportunity for the audience to create an alternative conclusion where these groups could work together. This way of writing cleverly engages conflict as a way of illustrating the spiralling circles of thought that can be detrimental to the ecology of all life if we aren’t careful to work together and find solutions that incorporate all whims of nature (including ourselves!).

To tie up the workshop and the screening, those of us that had been a part of the hedge were instructed to devise a performance of our own to extend the end of the play and bring to life that was constantly hinted at in the play. We transformed the audience into a hedge along with us by dancing and tangling and howling. 

As we left, we added our written reflections to the small archway opening in the hedge that we had entered the room with all those many hours ago. The prompt on my tag was “A hedge means…” and I finished it with “family”. 

If you’d like to find out more about Mostly Moss you can follow them on Instagram here. And if you’d like to attend the free social justice festival next year, the link to Marmalade is here.

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