So here I am, about to embark on the 10th Anniversary Tour of Class of '76. Ten years later, still telling this story.
In those ten years the idea of the show has almost become an anachronism. The show started as a 15 minute sketch, in which the things we said about the children in the photograph, including some of their names, were completely made up. And although we had the idea for a second version in 1999, it was in January 2000 that I set about trying to find the other 34 children in my infant school photo, before performing ‘Version 2’ of the show in Chuckery Infant School Hall in May of that year. That's the anniversary that this, final, tour of the show marks.
In January 2000 I had an email address, and connection to the internet at work, but, despite our later publicity tag of 'fresh and funny live art for the friendsreunited generation', there was no Friends Reunited yet, let alone Facebook, Myspace, Bebo or Twitter. I had a mobile phone, but had only had it since I was 28 – so no immediate connection to my old schoolmates. The process of tracking people down, therefore, involved phone calls, mainly to land lines, and a lot of 'going back home' to Walsall. Of course this massively affected the nature of the piece. Had I been able to do all the detective work remotely, I think the work would have felt quite different. It would probably have been more about the lives that the people are living now, as I would be able to visit, or at least observe, a lot of those lives online.
Which is why the idea of the show feels like an anachronism - kids at school now, and anyone who left school within the last - what, 10 years? - wouldn't need to track down most of their classmates; they'll already have contact with them.
‘Version 3’ of Class of '76 - the version that talks about the process of making Version 2 - has been in repertoire since 2001, although it was temporarily retired for a couple of years in 2006. Reviving the work in 2008, I suddenly felt this historical aspect of the show much more keenly. And this feeling has informed the decision (or is ‘realisation’ more accurate?), that the performances this year will be the last ones of 'Version 3'.
At post-show discussions over the last 10 years one of the most frequently asked questions has been: Why that photograph? What that year, why that collection of children? The answer is pretty simple: it is my last school group photo. I've got two infant school class photos – the second year one from 1975 and this one from May 1976. The following autumn we moved up to junior school, where we always had individual, or sibling group, school photographs taken.
So although most of the children in the photograph moved up to the same junior school, this later photo is the one that marks the end of an era – the end of infants school. Our last class photograph. That was the one I had to use.