Recently I met up with Andy Edwards who is collecting conversations with writers and theatre-makers on the dramaturgical elements of their work. Andy recorded the conversation, transcribed it and presented it pretty much as it was said (including being interrupted by a chance meeting with my cousin-in-law). I thought I'd post it here as it sheds a light on my work and my approach to text and working with people.
The original blog post and Andy's other work can be found here.
See how we go, see how we go. Thank you. I guess I wanted to start off by asking you a bit about your practice, about your background. I had started off by doing a bit of research, just looking at your website, and saw you had been involved in a lot of projects that engage with verbatim, the recording of other people’s things…oh thank you.
Yeah those processes of putting different bits of material together. I’d love to hear more about that work.
Yeah I don’t really know how that started, but it is certainly what I’m kind of pushing at the moment, when I’m making my own work, looking for work. I’ve always worked with people, always worked with young people. I suppose for me it was a way to bring together lots of different strands of my output from performance and playwriting and all of that. I suppose what happened is that I started to get more interested in dialects and more natural forms of speaking. So then I got more interested in how you can write those in the first place, how that is textually represented, how you can then work with an actor to recreate that
And perform again
these kind of conversations. So I was really interested in that in terms of recreation and the restaging of things. What happened was that I started to do spoken word and playwriting in this Glasgow dialect, and I suppose that led me in to, when I was working with children and young people, into thinking about how do I capture this as it is, I don’t need to make it up.
We were talking about my experience of the Writer’s Room, I joined about two years ago and I sat down to write a play and I just couldn’t do it, I felt like a fraud.
And these two things were happening at the same time. I can see myself at Garage Band watching these two files in a crossfade, but it did seem that it was natural that I started to become less interested in the writer’s voice. I really had started to remove any trace of the writer’s voice, and to work with characters whose language, where they didn’t have the means to express themselves. So I was starting to pair it right down. Trying to go for a natural performance style in writing. But at the same time that voice was coming up because I was speaking to more people, and then I actually joined those two things together, because I think, either way, if I am trying to write like that I do feel a bit like a fraud, and if I’m just mining other people for their way of speaking, that also feels fraudulent. So I was trying to bring those practices in the same place, together, to try and go right I’m interested in language, I’m interested in, you know, all sorts of performance with a real authentic participation, working in socially engaged settings with people, with their stories, and then how to represent their voice.
That’s a really complicated way of saying it, but those two things seem to come together quite nicely. Now, I suppose, I’m stuck on these ways of working, and seeking work, looking for work.
…and I know there’s no such thing as authenticity and there are books about how authenticity is not real in theatre, but it is kind of a personal quest for me to always find the, to find authentic voices and people, and then the real challenge is to find out how to represent that in the right way
Maybe preserve that
How to transcribe it, how to write, but also how to preserve that link absolutely, how to keep it connected to where it came from, its roots, how to represent it in the right way
Because there is that link between language and identity, which I think is really interesting
I’ve got an interest in identity too. I’ve got a bit of a bug-bear about Scottish voices on stage which are either comedy, the fool, the drunk, the junkie, they are silly or whatever, and I think I like to try and challenge that quite a lot. To find real Scottish voices I suppose
And to show that they are unique, that each voice is unique to each person
I definitely get that with northern accents, the northern fool, it is a trope
I’m used to seeing quite a lot
So do you, in your work in participatory settings, do you consider it a dramaturgical work, in the sense of pulling together all this information, and sort of having to assemble it into a dramatic structure?
Absolutely. Yeah, again I don’t know that started, and where the first piece I did was. Right now I’m doing a project with Janice Parker, she’s working with older dancers, some of whom have dementia. She’s in a collecting phase at the moment, it is on my mind because we were talking about it the other day. So we’re still in a collecting point in this project, so we haven’t really thought about how it comes together. So it is for now about enjoying that collecting process, a couple of months of just being recording recording recording, and I haven’t even begun to transcribe a lot of that stuff yet. Again, we are still looking for more to collect.
And then the assembling I suppose comes from, well I’ve collaborated with other artists before, and then we’ve assembled it together, normally I would pick out certain texts that I like. I always transcribe as well, because I can’t listen and edit from sound, I have to transcribe. To see the words on the page.
Is that because you identify as a writer? Because that’s your skillset?
I know, so pretentious isn’t it?
No, not at all
I think it is because I need to see it all in the one place. To see what comes next, an order and stuff like that. When it just sound, I have no idea what comes next, I just get lost
You can’t place it
Uh-huh. So I always, even when working with the same person, will collect and then assemble
I suppose that’s the two parts of the craft. You’ve got the practicals of collecting and assembling, but then when you are assembling, you are re-ordering, you are representing it, with massive ethical baggage that comes with it
People talk a lot about verbatim and ethics. Without wanting to go too much into it, some people have some very adverse reactions to it, but I wonder, how difficult do you find it, when you are editing it, what ethical things are going through your mind?
For me, I’ve managed to avoid any ethical fallouts by staying with the people. You know, I would never, go in, interview you, say thank you very much, and send you an invite to the opening night. I will always try and build in the crafting part throughout the project. I wouldn’t want participants to fall out at any point when I then “take over”.
So yeah, I think I’m really really preoccupied with the ethics of it
So I’m working with the Children’s Hospice Association just now, and I’m writer in residence for a year there, and I’m making a sound piece for them. This is my first time working on a sound piece and I’m amazed at how you can manipulate people’s voices, not just in writing when you can copy and paste, but when you can stop mid-sentence, chop it off, and put on the end of another sentence. You can actually change the words that came out of people’s mouths. That feels like a huge responsibility and I don’t know how I feel about that.
I suppose they are co-writers as well in a sense?
Yeah. But then. I do find it a hard balancing act, to try to redeem control, to say that I’ve written it as well. That’s a really hard thing. Because they haven’t just written, it is written with me, the crafting bit is the writing bit, and it is so important – I had some feedback on something recently that was ‘Oh yeah, that’s what kids say, that’s what they are like, you know?’ and I thought, yeah but, I did that though, it isn’t just them.
So as much as I say this is this is your piece this is your piece it is co-written, they go through the whole project, they are credited, they’re there, they are giving feedback, that it is theirs as much as mine, I still find it difficult to say ‘Oh, it is my work.’ And I want to say that, you know? I find it very difficult to claim it.
I suppose it is difficult to define the boundaries of what you are claiming?
Well it’s all mine!
Well especially when it is your idea. You’ve caught me at the time when I’m in the middle of a couple of projects in which this feels really pertinent.
It sounds like, just that experience of collecting, is a really pleasurable form of research. Do you view it in the same way as you might when doing research for a play, that burrowing down, keeping on going, seeing where you end up or is it more structured, you’ve lined up who you are going to interview, and it is more mapped out in advance?
Sometimes I have approached groups, I have done that, but sometimes that project is offered to me as well, where other people want me to do it. I suppose that’s then their project, so maybe that’s different. When we did the piece with recovering alcoholics recently, that was really intense, we did it with six groups for nine weeks. We went back week after week after week. It is very hard when you work with people who are in a different situation. You know they are there to do something else, we jump in and say “Hiya, have you got five minutes to talk to us?” We could only get through a couple of people a day, but we kept ploughing at it. That was really beneficial because they could see that we were really serious. They got to know us, we became faces, regular faces. So, I do prefer that idea – and something I’ve just proposed, I’ve proposed a short collecting period as well – because I think it about having really focused work. Having said that there are pieces I’ve made where I’ve collected pieces here and there over a period time. But I think for participants it is really important that they see there is a bit of a focus, and that they know you are a regular person, who is there until you’ve got something. You don’t just fly in and fly out.
Trust feels important. A lot of the conversations I’ve been having here have stressed that when working with a dramaturg, or working with someone in a dramaturgical manner, possibly because things like editing and assembling are quite murky to understand from the outside, they are quite introverted practices I suppose, but that trust seems to very important. Do you find you need that trust when working not just with participants with collaborators?
There is a trust thing collaborators?
Yeah. I suppose do you find you work with people who trust you from the outset?
Yeah I think it is all built in. I don’t think there’s ever a case where I have really just approached someone I’ve never met, or an organisation I’ve never worked with before, and just said “Hiya.” You know, it never feels like it happens like that, it is a much slower process over a period of time. Maybe when I started out, I did meet a group and say “I want to write your stories” and everyone was a bit suspicious. And I’ve learnt that that all has to come first, and I haven’t learnt the hard way, but from experience I know that actually the big question is “What are you going to do with my words? How am I going to be presented? Can I trust you?” I know that, and so you always have to start with that. I always take a sort of softly-softly approach.
Working with the recovering alcoholics we were there a long time so we could take it very slowly, we could see people again as well, which was also a benefit to that project, people could come back and tell us more if they then felt they could trust us a bit more. So I know, I pre-empt people’s suspicion.
I also have to pre-empt people’s expectations as well. With every person who has suspicion there is someone with expectation, someone who thinks “Ah we’re going to be in a film” That’s pretty hard as well.
You’ve got manage that, so that disappointment doesn’t come in the line. It sounds like a lot of the work you are making isn’t for stages, so its installations
Yeah I guess this is another thing with the stage I’m at. Participatory work exists in a completely different place. One verbatim piece I did, about six years ago, was for the Glasgay Festival, and that ended up on a stage. People could come to see it. It was very much crafted into a play.
There have been performances, but I guess they haven’t sat on main stages in that way. Because participatory work seems to sit outside that, and that’s a massive question, about how venues and organisations rate this sort of work.
I wonder if, because you were talking about the time it takes to build up these relationships, whether currently that doesn’t fit into that model
You have to have something written in order to approach a venue, or a company. I think that’s a massive issue because I think companies would be very happy to take a play that’s been researched from real people’s stories, that’s a very very different thing, when you turn it into a play, and you write about your research, that’s a very different thing from using people’s words.
There’s a question of fidelity there
I suppose it is a spectrum though isn’t it? Let’s say I’m going to interview you, and there’s that recording at the bottom, which can be heard, then you can move on from that to where it can be transcribed and read, then it can be transcribed, written down and used in a different way, or it is going to be really edited down, or it will form part of a play.
Then at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got research. Where I interview you for your experience, and then I go and write a play based around your experience.
So I think that’s a massive spectrum there. I think I have done something on all of those levels.
I noticed from having a look at your website, that you have worked as a dramaturg with the Scottish Opera?
They did employ me as a dramaturg, yeah
Can you tell me a little bit more about the project, it was for the commonwealth games?
Yeah, that’s right. That was a really long process. I had been working with Scottish Opera for a while and they approached me to, through the education department they were doing a massive program for the commonwealth games and this was well up the line, about 2 years before it. It was a massive community opera and they were working with different communities, and as part of that some of the countries wanted Scottish Opera to come to them and share the work that they were doing. We wanted to do a two-way thing, we’ll deliver, we’ll share more about our practice and all that, and we’d like to know more about your culture, about your music, your language and all of that, which was then going to feed into the final opera, which was all being composed and stuff.
So I went with the composer and a film-maker, and worked, collecting – it was just the collecting thing again – and so I worked quite closely with the composer and we did loads of work, loads of music workshops and lyric workshops, and storytelling workshops, and we collected loads of stuff. That all ended up in the final composition, it was amazing, but I suppose a lot of my work, formally not much happened with it. We did talk about a collection of things, about this sound thing available for download, but it never really came to much because I ended up co-directing the work
So that was a really strange relationship I was having with myself, because after I did all that, I then co-directed the work, on a stage.
Wow, a total shift
You mentioned before the start of this about a job you had interviewed for with the title of dramaturg, but I was wondering if you did feel there was a politics around the word, or if that word is off-putting, or an academic or intellectual barrier that is erected by that word sometimes
I don’t know if this is what you’re talking about but I think when we started talking we discussed working in a dramaturgical way, and I think I might say that to people, because a lot of people do understand what the word is. I think in the past I maybe did mention the word dramaturg, maybe in a bio or something, because I knew I was working in that way. I very quickly changed because there are people who do that [off-put by it]. Also in my understanding they have to be quite objective, they have to come in ask questions, they’ll come in, they’ll observe, they’ll ask questions and they don’t really get too involved. Obviously they are still part of the creative process.
But there’s still a writer, a writer works with a dramaturg, or a dramaturg can be in a devising process, but not necessarily as a writer.
I’ve had people, in fact, I did have a job where someone came to me and said “We don’t want you to write it, we’ve collected all this stuff, we want you to write it”
I basically ended up writing it, and I wasn’t credited as a writer. More recently I dramaturged something and I didn’t want to be credited as a writer and they have credited me as a writer. So I know that dramaturgs exist, and I know that I don’t do that, because I am much more creatively involved in the writing, it is not just about being objective or asking questions. There’s a mad murky overlap between writer and dramaturg, and I think sometimes people will approach, well, I think they approached me and asked me to dramaturg it rather than write it because they didn’t have any money to pay a writer.
Are the fees different?
I don’t know how significantly, but I know there’s a writers fee, which should be set in stone but isn’t ever.
But I suppose a commission is definitely more than paying for someone to be in a room three or four times
So this other company couldn’t pay me to be a writer, but they had all this stuff and asked me for help. So we found two days where I sat with them and I worked, I suppose, as a dramaturg. But not really. I worked as a writer giving script advice, or something like that. Actually in that situation I sat with them and I didn’t touch the keyboard, you know? I said you might want to take that out, you might want to put this here. I was very clear I didn’t want to write a play for £600.
Which is very important
Of course it is
I find it interesting, and am slightly wary of those contexts
The word can be bandied about quite a lot
In a trendy, but semantically shallow kind of way
So I wouldn’t use dramaturg. In those situations, I’d just say I can give you script or text advice, or writing advice. You just have to be careful about what your name is being attached to. Like I said, I’ve been in these two opposite situations, where I did write it and I wasn’t credited, and where I was credited when I didn’t write it
It seems mad that you don’t get the credit you want
The one that I asked for? Yeah
You’ve worked a lot, teaching in a further education context, and also with Tron Young Company as well. I was chatting to a drama teacher, near a…loch. I’ve forgotten the name of it. A school next to a loch. Loch leven!
(Interview forthcoming – Andy 26.10.16)
They were talking about how they felt, when they were working in the classroom, they felt they were teaching the students about dramaturgical practice and things like that. I was wondering if in your work as a director at the Tron, you saw it in the same pedagogical way, or if the relationship was different?
I think a lot of it comes from research. I did do a masters, and I was doing research, all kinds of different research. I do bring that into it. Yeah, ideas of collecting, and categorising. In fact at Pokey Hat, which was our showcase
Was that the one in an ice-cream van?
Pokey Hat. Photo Credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
Yeah. A family friendly show. Bubble-gum feeling. But actually, that took a lot of academic style when creating that script, because we did lots of research with people. I transcribed it all, categorised it all into what people were talking about, and actually those categories then became the four scenes we created. So it was an analytical process that it turned into, which is really odd because it became this family musical. But I definitely took that approach, in the way I collected the material, that I would do in research.
For the Tron Young Company. So Tron, and Firefly sort of happened at the same time. I was really determined when working with them, well I think anyone is in that work, to try and capture the young people’s voices and all that, but I was really interested how do we capture them in a verbatim way? Like, what are we doing when we do that in a verbatim way? So that was about some new processes for me, investigating new processes when working in verbatim with young people. So what I did there was collect collect collect for months, record record record, improvisations, recording it all, and all that. And then, but still giving them a script. Giving them a point where the devising stops, and then I give myself a writing period, work the magic, and then present it back to them as a script where they can also experience a read-through, learning lines, working with the text.
I think this is really important. When you get into devising, especially with young people, it gets into this state where it is always shifting, and people will love that, it’s great, and it can even shift right up until it’s on stage, great, I know plenty of practitioners that work like that. But for me, I felt that working with participants, there had to be a definitive thing. I feel that in devising work, language and text are so far down the priorities, it doesn’t matter how you say that thing, you’ve said it over and over again, you know what you’re doing. Sometimes I feel that no one has that eye on the text.
So when I was at Firefly I would work with directors to help finalise the script, and then work with the performers to, and again it is about how do you make it representative. If originally it is a woolly-text, how do you formalise it, in a woolly-way?
To preserves that woolly-ness
Woolly-ness, exactly, that’s really important. So in the new show I’m doing at the Tron, there is lots of overlapping dialogue and people speaking at the same time and people miss-hearing what they are saying, or tripping over their words, because I wanted to recreate what came up in impro, to recreate what came up in discussion. So that’s built into the text. So when I’m working with the young people they will start to add-lib, they will start to swear more. So that’s built into the script, the ad-libs are built into, the overlapping stuff is built into it, we don’t need to add it. So that’s where I’m at just now with them just now actually, is to have a really sophisticated textual piece that comes from a real conversation, informal, and recreates that style.
With Firefly and with Tron that has been a process of trying to discover that. And of trying to give them these two experiences, of devising – their input, their verbatim, all of that – and then presenting it back to them, in a scripted form.
And I suppose questions of ‘How much do you fictionalise the work?’ So, for the last show we did, which we’re doing again in November with the Tron Young Company, my main input as a writer was the structure and the timeline. I came up with that idea and then fitted everything else around it.
And actually I would then, in the process of writing it, go “oh it would be good if we had a scene here where these two characters met” and I would go back to them, and see if we could improvise, or discuss with them what might happen then.
So you always repeat the methodology, rather than cutting corners. It sounds like in the work you are making you are trying to be very precise with language, even if that precision is to preserve an imprecise-ness if that makes, but it interesting.
I’m a Nazi. Is that alright to say on this?
We’ll try to put it in context, maybe.
It has to matter, someone has to preserve that, because that’s really really important. If I was to write that, that would be a judgement the writer would make, and we can’t forget that when it is being devised. We can’t just say that’s the way it comes out, there’s a way it comes out. So I’m very precise, quite military when it comes to how the text should be, gaps, pacing
It is interesting, because more ‘traditional’ approaches
It is, it totally is, and I know I’ve got feet in all sorts of camps just now, because as much as I’m working in socially-engaged practice just now – that’s the amazing title we’ve given ourselves, and it is quite trendy – and I’m working with contemporary theatre makers, like Janice Parker Projects, who are all working in lots of different ways. But yes, still very traditional as part of that. Yeah and it is tradition, because tradition is words isn’t it, we see words on a page, in a play form, as traditional.
But it is almost as if in what you’re doing, there’s a higher value on the words, whilst fidelity to the text is considered important in a stage play context, the way you are working with language, means that language has more meaning, because it is tied to a source that actually exists
It is tied to a source that exists but also tied to an idea, what it is trying to do with that source that exits. What am I trying to say? Tied, to, an intention, to an ambition, or it is tied to yeah, trying to do something with it. And that comes through in the process, whatever process it has gone through, because I’m so, because I’m so tied to the text, that is has to come through in the text too
That’s really interesting. I was. I don’t want to keep you too long
Listen I could talk about this all day
It is helping me as well
One thing I was reading about very briefly, is that you’ve been doing a lot of research into dialects, Scots dialects, in the isles and stuff like that. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that project.
Yeah I suppose it is like what I was saying before, when I started to factiously write in dialect, I wouldn’t know what it was actually, I’d call it Glaswegian, I’d call it vernacular. It has only been in the past couple of years that I have really learned a lot about Scots language, not dialects. So the idea that I thought I was always writing in dialects, or vernacular, but I was actually writing in Glaswegian Scots, which is a language, but a lot of people don’t believe it is a language.
So we have English and Gaelic, but obviously some people don’t like Gaelic either. I don’t know if you’ve been following any of the chat about Gaelic
So, well I did my undergraduate degree in English Language/Linguistics through in Edinburgh, yeah I did a lot of modules on Gaelic, and it is an incredibly contested area, in a way that seemed profoundly unhelpful
The guy who made the map, did you hear about this one, on social media? This guy writes for The National so he’s very pro-independence, he’s a “nat”, and he has produced – and he’s been working on this for a very long time – he’s produced maps in Gaelic, Gaelic names for places. And there’s been a massive, massive stooshie. A massive outcry about this because people are so offended he would make a map with their place having a Gaelic name because their argument is that Gaelic never existed in that part of Scotland, therefore how can you give that a Gaelic name?
(See this article for more information about the maps produced by Paul Kavanagh)
That’s just a perfect example of people who are really offended when it is not about them. The idea is that he was making a map for himself, and for Gaelic speakers, it’s no-
I’m being interviewed!
You don’t work
I am, I’m being interview. How you doing?
Alright, how are you?
This is my cousin-in-law
This is Andy
Hello Andy, how you doing?
He’s doing some research, and I’m the perfect person to ask
What is it, insanity in the suburbs?
No like. Theatre and language and stuff. We’re talking about linguistics right now.
Well I’ll let you get on with it
What are you doing?
I just popped in to see what was on. There’s this gig I was looking to see this month, no next month, October, see if there’s still tickets for it. I’ll see you later
See you later
Enjoy your interview
See you soon
Erm. That’s really weird. Sorry what was I saying. But this idea that we have English maps and we say I dunno, what, Germany. I bet Germans don’t say Germany. It’s an English word for us to understand these place names, we anglicise those place names. Why can’t he do that, I don’t know what the phrase is, Gaelic-ify these places names?
I just find it incredible. That people are so threatened by this language, the same people that’ll say this is a dead language and it is in decline and what’s the point, and yet they get so affected by it.
I just find this whole thing completely fascinating, and the same thing happens with Scots. Again in The National people have started to write columns in Scots, and everyone has got a problem with it, because they think it is a made-up language, because they think it is parochial, they think it is backwards looking. What I’m interested in, is the process in which I discovered that I’m speaking Scots, maybe not the kind of Scots I normally would right now because I’m being recorded
Well you’re more than welcome to
But if I’m speaking in my home I’ll speak in a normal Glaswegian way, with words that are Scots. The Scots language is a language made of all the different dialects and versions in Scotland. And also I do believe there’s a Scottish English as well that I speak
Anyway, you’ve done Linguistics, maybe you can tell me the rights or wrongs of that, but when it comes to Scots, English and Gaelic, I’m making a project about that just now, and that was borne out of a desire to really but Scots and Gaelic centre-stage – I’m learning Gaelic as I go, I’m not a native speaker – but that was about, I had started to do that, Theology was a piece I did about the catholic mass and that was in Scots.
Theology. Image Credit : eoin carey photography
That was about elevating Scots into a place where it has got more worth, and I’m really interested in the poetry of Scots, not Scots Poetry, but the poetry, the idea of the poetry in our everyday language. That’s what I’m really interested in, and this project I’m doing just now, about Scots and Gaelic and English, as part of the research for that I travelled to Stornoway, and all the Western Isles, North Uist, South Uist, Shetland and Orkney, and started to record people talking about their own voice, in their own voice.
So the relationship they have to their own voice, and it is about absolutely, was black and white. What happened in Shetland and Orkney were that people were embarrassed about the way they spoke in, they spoke that way at home, in their own way, but they went to school and they were told to speak English. They were embarrassed. One girl was in remedial because she, you know, was told she couldn’t speak properly. Even though that was the language she spoke at home.
And that is, not my direct personal experience, but definitely something I can relate to, and definitely something I can relate to when talking to other people from Glasgow. That’s how they feel when they hear their voice, they are embarrassed by it, ashamed by it, they have been told that it is not the right way to speak.
However, when I went to the Western Isles, it was much more different. They were proud of the way they speak, they were preserving it, it was very much alive, it was very distinct from English, they know that. And so, they had less embarrassment. And when I said to them “Oh but do you know people in Glasgow are getting upset because train signs are being printed in Gaelic?” they had no idea that that would even be a problem, because why would that be a problem, you can speak as many languages as you want, languages can exist in the world, what’s the problem.
So I felt it was really important to do a research project that was looking historically at what our languages have been, how we speak every day, and the relationship people have to that today, and the problems that causes.
There you go, in a nutshell
I find it really fascinating
I just wish people would get over it, you know? You see these things: Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.
Some People Speak Gaelic
Get Over ItThe word progress really frustrates me at time, because I think people think progress is synonymous with just subsuming difference into something that’s already there, and surely the more progressive thing is just to have all these different languages bopping around, and also people that are able to slip into them, talk in different ways, communicate in different ways
If you went around Glasgow telling everyone they were bilingual and didn’t know it, they wouldn’t say they were, they wouldn’t think it was a different language.
Och, you know. It’s the Scottish-cringe thing. When we’re just embarrassed by anything that’s just remotely our own culture. And that’s really depressing.
And it’s because Scottish and English are obviously sister-languages, they share a lot of the same things you know, but it has been subsumed, that’s the right word isn’t it
English, as a language, is such a colonising language.
And only spreading further and faster really. Wow.
That’s all a work in progress right now though, so I’m not sure what it’s gonna be, it’s all in the pipework.
I suppose I find it interesting because. Because part of the reason I’m doing this research is that I’m interested in having more discussions about the research and ideas that go into work, and seeing it as being as valuable as the final output, so it is all the work, I suppose
I suppose with that project, at the moment I’ve done the collecting, and now I need to sit down with it and go into the next phase.
So…the pleasurable bit is over now, here comes the hard work
Yeah I find it really interesting. I suppose my interest in dramaturgy comes from a desire to talk more about the whole practise of being a writer, or a director, or an artist of any kind, rather than continually judging things on their outputs, on performances and things like that.
And I feel like that is. The process has to start, or that whole process is about, like we were talking when working with other people there has to be that understanding right at the beginning. Those beginning stages are mega mega important. I know that the project I’m doing with Janice right now, she doesn’t know what’s going to happen at the end of it – which is fine – but it feels like, I would be worried if something comes out of it that could have been addressed right now. Yeah.
Does that make sense?
Yeah. I suppose. Do you view. I suppose. With the project
Did you get tickets?
Aye, still got tickets, I’ll have to check if my companion is coming along
Who is it? Who is it you’re going to see?
Robin Hitchcock. Robin Hitchcock?
Right I’ll see you soon
Yeah sorry, do you view the. In a process which is quite research heavy. I’m interested in how the performance sits in the importance you attach to it, or when a project finishes in that sense? Has a project finished before the performance? Or possibly, yeah. I guess I’m just interested
Yeah I think it’s really hard isn’t it? Because not one of those projects has had the same output. And they’ve all manifested themselves in different ways. I don’t have a formula for that part. I think that’s really interesting. I have lots of formulas for the collecting part, lots of tricks, not tricks
Techniques that I employ.
But I think at that point, from the collecting finishing, it can just branch off and I’ll start to edit in different ways, I’ll use material in completely different ways. That’s just when the unknown happens, and looking back, so many of the projects, that I can tell you about the collecting phase, but how it got to performance is sometimes a bit vague, isn’t it? Especially if you’re collaborating with someone, they might bring their own process to it and you just sort of it fit into that. So it is hard to know, at what point these decisions were made. Unless it is like the Glasgay piece and you know it is a stage show, on these dates, and this guy is performing it.
So that does happen. You do have a date for the performance and you are working towards that.
But a lot of the time I’m still in control of what the performance is, and actually in a lot of these cases I was still in control of when and how and all these as well you know. So I suppose it is different if you are working on your own project and you take that to final performance, or if someone is employing you to do this kind of work for a performance, or an event, or something. So. Yeah. I think it is hard to have a blueprint.
Lastly, just out of curiosity
Lastly, lastly? Why do we have to finish?
We don’t have to. Well I’m paranoid about keeping you too long really
I know, you need to transcribe this as well
I was interested in asking you about two things. There’s the turntable project, which I had a wee look at before this, that seemed really interesting, and I was wondering about that relationship to music.
Well the turntable project just goes against everything we’ve just spoken about. For Turntable, I was asked to come on board with MJ, the musician. But no apart from the music, it was actually the same as everything else. It’s anecdotal, it’s experience, it’s personal, and I suppose the music is just a stimulus for that. Actually turntable was not recorded, these conversations were not captured in anyway, not transcribed, not being used to. They exist.
Turntable was amazing. We are working on a new version where we do work with some of the stories but they are not scripted, it is not documented in that way. The Turntable that we’ll do next is almost based on our experiences of doing Turntable already, and the stories that come out are going to come out of our own memories of doing it.
You come to the turntable, and you tell us the story, and it is just a dialogue between two people about music, and it’s just about the moment of doing that. A lot of the work I do I say that that in itself, the conversation that we’re having, is the artwork. You have a conversation with me, you’re engaging with a process, and however you are involved it doesn’t matter, because this relationship we are having is an artistic relationship. That’s it.
Turntable. Image Credit: Brian Hartley
So in turntable that’s it, that’s all it is. Turntable exists in that conversation, over that turntable when the music is on and then that’s it. And it’s not gone, we carry it on
And it informs
Informs everything. And hopefully a participant will feel something about going back into the past and sharing a memory, and hopefully they’ll go home and listen to that album or whatever. Hopefully it’ll unearth something for them. And so, that’s a very unique project.
There’s a lovely economy to it. Deceptively simple. And as you say, this genuine exchange
And hugely popular, people really appreciate being able to talk to you about a musical memory that you have. So if that ever makes it to Turntable 3, yeah it’ll be interesting to see what process that goes through. A lot of that will be just from our memories of the project, so there won’t be anything too specific. We might rewrite them from memory. Or based stories on very non-specific, general feelings and experiences we’ve heard.
So that’ll be a whole new dramaturgical experience
Amazing. And what was the other thing I wanted to ask you about? Oh yeah, just your poetry practice as well. I’m performing a poem of sorts in a week, and was thinking a lot about, how dramaturgically I am approaching this poem. I was wondering if these similar things about collecting, assembling and structure really inform your approach to poetry
My – I find it hard to call it poetry as well, labels and what have you – I do use the term spoken word. I know it is a pure naff term for some, but I know sometimes I just can’t call it poetry. Because it is. What they are, are little monologues or linguistic things. They are, this is, I can’t really explain what they are.
But they are definitely not poems?
Well no. I try to exist in a poetry context. I perform at poetry nights. I’ve done stuff at the Scottish Poetry Library but I never feel at home. Because I’ve got this performance. But when I’m in performance I’ll say I’m a poet.
Yeah the spoken word, again. It came through at the same time that I was thinking about dialect and vernacular, and started to really think about Scots language, and the value that we place on it, and the poetry that exists within our everyday language. So, I started to write these pieces that all became Theology, and that was this big spoken word piece.
A lot of time I do lists.
Yeah. So repetition is a big part of it as well. There’s one called My Liver, which is about drink and alcohol. And it’s about ‘my feet are killing me’, ‘my face is killing me’, ‘my heid is killing me’, ‘this walks killing me’ ‘my job’s killing me’ and so, repetition and these things.
And. I can’t think anything off the top of my head.
But definitely working with structures, working with repetition, working with recurrent themes and recurrent words
It’s really great.
I have done a bit of chopping up with scissors.
Which I had always avoided because I’d thought it was too wanky
I suppose if you don’t tell anyone, you know they just get the poem at the end
I dunno. I was working with someone and we did document it on Instagram. Got a lot of likes though, people liked it, and we did cut it up.
Actually for this Hospice piece I did cut it up, it was too massive. I had to print it, and cut it up.
So I suppose it is cutting it up, that’s Dadaism isn’t it. But I do it now with copy and paste
Which is kind of a faster way to do it
You don’t have to and find your scissors!
It sounds really interesting work
And I hope, that when you hear it in performance, it doesn’t come across as being this analytical cut and paste job, because you’re working with a performance style. I try to make it natural. I try to make it natural and elevate it.
I suppose that’s two different things.
But that’s my thing, trying to make it natural, and then elevating it into poetic form, into something where people can watch it and go that has some linguistic worth, even though it is Scots, or even though it is the stories of a young person, or even though it is the stories of someone who is recovering from alcohol, or an older woman with dementia.
…Sorry I’m just chatting now
No not at all
You’ve got to transcribe all of this
(I did have to transcribe all of this – Andy 26.10.16)
I’ll stop recording now, and we can keep on chatting
I’ve been in Lerwick for a week, researching Scots language dialects for a new performance provisionally entitled Building a Nation which aims to look at the growth of a city (Glasgow) against the backdrop of inter-country migration from various parts of the country, and the impact that has had on our language(s) and ability to communicate, as well as exploring ideas of class, judgement and the infamous Cringe.
Last week, in Orkney, my eyes were opened at the vast difference and complexity of the insular Scots tongue (as it is categorised here) – of how it differs from island to island and how, from generation to generation, there is a sense of erosion and loss.
However as soon as I arrived in Lerwick I felt that there was a linguistic charge in the air. The Shetland dialect is alive and well and it is brilliantly inescapable. Much of this pride and intuition exists in no small part to individuals and groups who actively promote and encourage the use of Shetland dialect in everyday use – one such group being Shetland ForWirds.
The group, in their wirds, aim to ‘foster and promote the use of written and spoken Shetland dialect as a valued and essential element of Shetland’s distinctive heritage and culture.’ I witnessed first hand this incredible devotion in person at a regular meeting conducted entirely in dialect, and was overwhelmed at the interest in my own project. Many members of the group volunteered to have a recorded conversation with me about the story of their voice, and I was welcomed into their homes where I listened to their experiences of growing up speaking a mixture dialect and English, and the impact that has had on them and their understanding of the self.
There were common themes: not being allowed to speak dialect to elders or at school; realisations that one way of speaking was not as acceptable as the other; learning to code switch; influences from the rest of the UK and abroad on the islands; and the future of the dialect. I was amazed at the breadth of experience and insight coming from these participants, and value the importance that these stories have on our understanding of our identities today.
Mary Blance, broadcaster with the BBC, was one of the first professionals to speak dialect on radio, and it was not welcomed with open arms. However, over the years, her efforts have had a positive impact on the representation of Scots language in the mainstream, and this has contributed to the sense of pride that people on Shetland have regarding their midder tongue. Now you’ll hear other broadcasters in Shetland (and Orkney) speaking in dialect and very often councilors, local politicians, business people and commentators will regularly – and confidently – speak on air in their dialect.
I was interested in how this pride in dialect could be fostered for future generations and so I started hanging out with Bruce Eunson, who is Scots language coordinator for Education Scotland and uses his Shetland knowledge to create learning techniques and to promote Scots in schools. One very real issue for teachers around the country is the nebulous state of the language, and how to manage this in the classroom. Bruce advises that ‘Each pupil can choose to codify Scots any way they like as long as they consider it and remain consistent. And then the question of it’s consistency is no different to the lessons of how to spell in English - it reinforces literacy.’
When I asked if this can provide a gateway to enhancing learning, Bruce told me of a recent experience he had in a Sandwick school. Liz Lochhead – outgoing Makar – was visiting Shetland and some pupils had written poetry to show her. Liz instantly picked out a poem written in Shetland dialect and asked if the pupil could read it out. The boy was absent that day, and so Bruce did the honours. He noticed how well written it was: the spelling, the layout, the alliteration, imagery, and narrative. However it transpired that this particular pupil was what Bruce might call (in education terms) a reluctant learner, but one – they realised – who has a real talent for poetry which has manifested from his use of dialect. Or to be more specific: a talent that has transpired because of the opportunity to be allowed to write in dialect.
This pupil came from farming family, and used this to full effect in his poem perhaps because many Shetland dialect words are connected to land, animals, the sea, nature etc (which could also be reason for the decline in these words) but Bruce insists that there is ‘something about the language that resonates with voice: pupils can be more expressive and that’s what I’ve learned from travelling across Scotland. Boys in particular perform better and show increased levels of attainment. Their literacy is re-engaged and so many of them never have the chance to find that because so many teachers don't investigate it. An untapped element of Scottish education is self expression and creative writing and Scots lends itself to that.’
Another connection to Shetland ForWirds, arts worker and playwright Jacqui Clark is also testament to this type of linguistic intervention. Jacqui grew up in a Shetland household and was exposed only to the language of her family. But her early school life in the eighties coincided with the surge of new oil workers from every part of the UK who settled in Shetland and had children, resulting in the growth of non-Shetland teachers. On entering primary school, Jacqui was instantly different from her peers and teacher, and attended extra lessons three days a week to learn to speak proper.
‘I always mind it making me feel like an outcast and it had a big impact on me. Oil workers would come and go and the children were constantly changing. I would have Shetland spoken to me at home but at school I would be hearing anything fae the north of England, Wales, Scotland. So I geographically decided to pitch my voice somewhere in the middle: so I picked Glasgow. And at twelve my dialect was watered doon fae when I was peerie. That changed what my midder tongue would be. Whereas noo I put my hands up in horror at the very thought that that was what I did.’
Bruce has also seen this first hand: ‘There is enough anecdotal evidence to show the language used at home should be utilised more in school as it would be the best one for pupils to express themselves confidently and creatively. There is a wealth of vocabulary that is not currently explored in the classroom to its full potential.’
I wondered about this self-editing, and if this has an effect on confidence and social interaction. Jacqui notes that this experience still leaves her tongue tied when it comes to speaking certain words, especially the choice between the English th and Shetland d.
However, she also notes there is a confidence that comes with bilingualism and the ability of switiching tongues for different situations. Jacqui also talks of her writing:
‘Secondary school English teachers encouraged me to write in the dialect, and I’m Glad they did. It’s the midder tongue that comes to you at the moment of inspiration when writing – it’s more natural but it’s also easier to be creative. Work and study was always English. It’s a different voice – it’s a work voice.’
Bruce and I spoke at length about the question of standardising Scots for the classroom, which again brings up the question which Scots? ‘I’m happy with the idea that someone could take a careful in-depth approach as to how we can standardise Scots but I am not in favour of accepting central belt Scots that mostly gets published getting called Scots language - to me that would be a death nail between relations between regions. Why do we need to have one way to say something?’
Listening to Bruce and Jacqui and Mary; and Tom from Orkney; and Michael from the Scots Language Centre; and all the people I have visited lately – Colin, Christian, Anne, Laureen, Douglas, Jean, Margaret, Billy…one thing they have all presented is a quiet resolve that is entirely unaffected by any political or national(ist) motivations. While hopping from house to house I would regularly check Twitter and see the mock outrage that was unfolding because one newspaper dared to publish a column in Scots. The resulting fallout, the name-calling, the bigotry, the ignorance all pales into insignificance when you hear first hand accounts of the effects of enforced monolingualism on individuals and communities. But here it seems most people are quietly and happily unaware of central belt stooshies on how people should speak. I have not met one person who is banging a drum, who is demanding equality or who is erecting walls. But they are still enforcing change: by continuing to talk in their own way.
I’ll leave it at that. Actually, I’ll leave it to Bruce: ‘Scotland’s pupils now are the generation who can grow up in a world where their local dialect of their home or their Scots is something they can use to their advantage. They can use it in the classroom if they’re a teacher, in a business environment, or an arts environment. The opportunity for them to fully reach their potential is there.'
For the past year, I have been investigating my practice within the realm of the Scots language, and it’s place in contemporary performance and poetry. When I first began writing my own material for performance, including spoken word, I admit that I started with the intention of making people laugh. The Scots I was employing was mainly focused around perceived working class scenarios, fighting, drinking and football. So far, so predictable. However, over the course of my developing practice, I have begun to see the positive use of writing and performing in – not slang, not dialect – but Scots, and my own version of west coast or Glasgow or Urban Scots. Call it what you will. In fact, you’ll find this post littered with examples of various ways to describe one thing – such is the nebulous nature of the Scots language.
During the time of my pervious one man show Theology, I was determined to be more responsible in my presentation of my Scottish voice. No longer interested in comedy for comedy’s sake, and much more aware of my responsibility in representing authentic people and place, my work aimed to elevate our everyday language to a place where it can be respected, celebrated and appreciated. The performance aimed to show that our own way of speaking (whatever that may be) is just as beautiful as any scripture.
Fast forward to 2016 and I’m sitting here in my BnB in Kirkwall, Orkney. Funded by National Theatre of Scotland, I’m visiting various sites of linguistic interest and engaging in recorded conversations with folk around the question of the story of their voice, and what influences the way we speak in Scotland today. I’ll then be visiting Lerwick and later I’ll travel to the Western Isles to capture some Gaelic. These findings will be showcased and staged at a Glasgow Arts Gaelic work in progress later in the year.
My first realisation when carrying out these conversations was that I had no idea the Orkney voice would be so distinct. The firm held idea of Scots as a simple third language of Scotland was already starting to disappear. I recorded conversations at Orkney Library, at a Family History drop in evening, at Radio Orkney and a music night in a local pub. I started to get a picture of the Orkney dialect from the people who live here, and their own relationship with their voice. And I began to question how useful it is to categorise all of these voices as Scots given that even amongst it’s own islands, the Orkney dialect varies wildly from place to place.
I had a chat with Dr Tom Rendall (local historian, dialect lover and collector of voice, educator, and much, much more), and we began by talking about his own investigations into language. Tom was given the opportunity to carry out a PhD in the Orkney dialect, but he was less interested in the linguistic nature of words. Instead, his questions centred around social and cultural aspects of the use of Orkney dialect and so he travelled the islands recording people in their own voice.
Tom is very passionate about all things dialect and during our conversation he compared our ways speaking with great excitement (I must admit I geeked out a bit too). He is also very optimistic about the future of the dialect, as he says, “Some of the people that I have spoken to about this says – “oh folk’s just no speaking dialect much any more. The young one’s’ll no be speaking dialect and it’s dying. It’s dying out”. I don’t really say it’s dying out – it’s changing.”
There is no doubt that the dialect is changing in Orkney because of influences from people who have moved in, but also influences from the media, television and social networking. As an educator in reading intervention, Tom is particularly encouraged by the promotion of Scots by Education Scotland and has the view that it can remain in a “healthy state, provided as people don’t stop speaking it because of their attitudes. Because it will make them appear less educated.”
This was of interest to me. It seems my own speaking and performing of Glasgow Scots is undermined by attitudes of class rather geography; and intelligence rather than culture. Tom did speak of being careful when attempting to “speak seriously,” and if you attempt to talk about a serious matter in Scots, you might be accused of being derogatory or flippant.
I also came across some of these issues. My own research took me to the Orkney Library Sound Archive, where I could potentially listen to weeks of recorded material. But I very quickly realised that this would not allow me to hear the full extent of the dialect, given that most of the recordings were created for broadcast, and therefore most interviewees spoke in standard Scots or Scottish English in order to be understood (or because they felt the pressure of the microphone – a feeling replicated by participants in this research).
I asked if that meant there was no such thing as a higher register for writing or speaking in Scots. Perhaps the fact that I’m writing this in English is a good example of this (and why should that be? Because I don’t have the same words in Scots? Because I want to be understood by a larger audience? Or because an academic or official writing style simply does not exist in Scots? Additionally, I am not even going to attempt to recreate Tom’s dialect here. I would have no idea where to start). But thankfully Tom believes “There is no right or wrong way to speak in Orcadian or any branch of the Scots language.”
But I was keen to know: is there a Standardised Scots speech? How do you regulate it, particularly in schools? Orkney dialect is completely different to Glasgow and completely different again to the Doric. How can schools manage that diversity, especially if there are a variety of teachers who may not be confident in speaking Scots to begin with?
“Some Orcadian teachers will code switch a lot. And there isn’t a regulation that you must speak in that way or teach in that way. It depends on the individual child: you would code switch depending on who you were talking to. I think schools are moving away from regulating – in the 1950s we had directives in how to speak in school. Now you can encourage local variations as much as possible and I’m all for that. It’s giving people the chance for people to express themselves the way they want to and the way they’re brought up.”
In our conversation, and with conversations with other people over this week, I have been speaking about vernacular, and branch, and dialect, and variation... Is Scots a language? From Glasgow to Orkney, and from me to Tom there is such a wide range. Can the two even be compared?
“Scots is a language – some people dispute that. Orcadian is a branch of Scots. All these dialects from Shetland to the Borders have variants of Scots. Though in Orkney we have words based on Orkney Norse – so we use these words to intersperse with Scots terms so our dialect is a mixture of Scots mixed with these lexical items form Orkney Norn. You speak a west side Scots – I have my Orcadian way of speaking – they’re not dissimilar but there are variants all the way through.”
With thanks to Tom Rendall and all of the people who contributed to this project in Kirkwall. You can keep up to date with the project at this website, and please visit Tom’s SoundCloud and listen to his podcasts here.
A few recent experiences have prompted me to write down some thoughts about Scots and the place of Scots in my work. Most of these experiences have come about because of rejections – of proposals, jobs, funding etc – but some have come about by attending Scots events, and generally being attuned to the spoken word in today’s performance.
I’ve been developing my work with a strong focus on language – specifically the language of the everyday – and this work takes lots of different forms – theatre, writing, poetry and performance. But with all of this I’m interested in real experiences through biography and verbatim and conversations with people. I’m excited about honest and authentic voices in my work. And I always try to allow the space and opportunity for these voices to be collected and then presented in a way that enables audiences to engage and recognise themselves.
And it is important to write this with people – because so much of the language we inherit for writing is not reflective of Scottish people, and this non-representation can often disengage us from participating in society, it can make us feel stupid, and exclude us from taking part in arts activities or attending arts events. I also feel that if people see their way of speaking as routinely mocked, then will never identify themselves with that tongue, that history or tradition. Instead my work aims to elevate our language and our own ways of speaking to a place where it has worth, where it has can inspire and where it can be celebrated.
For many years I described my work as Glaswegian: I always reckoned it was separate from Scots. But reflecting on these pieces I learned that what I was creating was an idiolect – where I mixed high and low, Scots and English, poetic and prosaic. It’s individual but multi-voiced; traditional and contemporary and is more reflective of modern Scots speakers, and more representational of our own ways of speaking.
I was heartened to hear the poet Liz Niven talk about a ‘spectrum of Scots’ at the most recent Cross Party Culture Group meeting. She admitted that she doesn’t necessarily speak as broad as others on the panel, but nevertheless her language (and more so her work) is pure Scots. Another interesting subject that was raised was the idea of a ‘formal Scots’ and how that seems to be a bit of a paradox; and the anecdote of a Scots speaker interviewing other Scots speakers on the Radio for a Scots programme who just couldn’t bring himself to speak in his own language and reverted to English.
If the Eskimos have a hundred words for ice, we seemed to have a hundred words to describe drunkenness and aggression. I started to realize that my work might be suggesting that Scots and Scottish dialects are good for nothing but obscenities and promoting an ugly voice.
Joyce McMillan write recently that these stereotypes are human qualities normally connected with languages that have lost political power, and have so have slowly lost their ability to deal with the higher things of life.
This was central to my most recent performance, Theology. This was a one-man show (with a male community choir) that fused the language of Scottish streets with the language of religion and challenged the idea that one was correct and one was coarse. It was my intention to show that our everyday speech patterns and sounds can be just as poetic as any Gregorian chant and our stories are just as valid as anything in the Bible.
Some of the rejections I mentioned earlier are often explained by saying my work is ‘not international enough.’ And that is problematic for me as I see many other productions forging ahead with Scots, or a version of Scots, spoken. However, in many of these cases it is simply there for comic effect or is there to portray a character who is stupid, drunk, violent etc etc. For me, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, although brilliant in terms of energy and staging female lives, fell way short in terms of it’s spoken text. There were many phrases that would not have been uttered by a young female from Oban, and too many examples of a pretend Scottish voice that had been ironed out for the sake of the audience. I was also disappointed that there was a massive change between spoken and sung text. There must be a way for people to embrace their peripheral nature and set themselves at the centre of their own world, describing it the way they see it in their own voice.
David Greig talks of different kinds of audiences, with different values and expectations. We both disagree that the more universal it is, the better it is, and the idea that ‘the audience’ for theatre is made up of white, British, middle class, intellectual people, and any audience that is different to that is inferior.
I know that there is a lot of confusion around the term Scots. Some people try to correct me when I bring it up: “You mean Gaelic?” I also know that most Scottish people still believe that Scots is just a lazy form of English, that we should leave behind so we can advance ourselves, even though our everyday speech patterns and word choice are part of a rich, complex tradition, and, in my view, just as poetic as anything written in any other language.
John McGrath writes that in the past, Scottish working-class drama (as he called it) was always a representation of something in the process of dying, and a past way of life. But I think that by engaging with the way people are speaking today in Scotland we can create work that evolves at the same rate as the language itself, allowing it to form it’s own path, just like every other language has done.
Work of mutual interest: Galleries and artists engaging with audiences through off-site projects
Wednesday 23rd April 2014, Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
The work strand of the project was based in Clydebank and was co produced with National Galleries and Visible Fictions Theatre Company. There had been a bit of groundwork, which started before I got on board. Therefore some ideas were already in place that I inherited – from the basis of the project – which was looking at National identity through these artworks and portraits to some other small fragments of initial ideas such as a travelling table or ideas of self-portraits. What was clear early on was that the companies knew what they required and the difficulty for an artist in this situation is how to get on board something that hasn’t been your idea but you know it’s something you want to get involved in I suppose this is a tricky situation and one that I’ve been in since where you are employed to make the artwork and it doesn’t come form you. But if it is something that is similar to your practice and your outlook and you’re excited about it, then you begin the project, you do your thing and then that’s where the real ideas start emerging.
Throughout the process of the project, responses were created with the community, with the people, and investigations were formed with the initial idea, and we were constantly redefining what the project should be at every stage – we weren’t bound by the confines of the brief and we weren’t shoehorning anything in to it. And I know that because it very quickly it becomes something else, and it became something that we couldn’t have predicted.
Working with a theatre company and a visual art company also meant that our ideas were sometimes a bit complex, but I worked side-by-side Richie and I think it was a genuine partnership. And because of that we always has one foot in each discipline and were very mindful throughout of each others focus.
The issue was that both companies wanted something at the end – a finished product. But both knew that this could be open and even something quite abstract. One thing I knew I didn’t want to do was a finished outdoor theatre performance. For lots of reasons – lack of rehearsal time and space, commitment from the participants, sound and staging issues the Glasgow weather, etc etc. So what we did we did was finished outdoor performance which was severely lacking in rehearsal, has issues of commitment form participants, had a few sound and staging issues and it pished down on the night. However, this is a really important lesson – it became clear that this outdoor performance had to be made in that place at that time in that way. It had to be on the site of the former shipyard and be performed by these people and it was important that an audience were present. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t predetermined – the project grew and became something that we couldn’t ignore, so we had to go for it.
In terms of theatre projects and engagement projects there is always something of a disappointment when you go through a rehearsal or a series of sessions and then finished works aren’t staged, and although we can say it’s a rehearsed reading or a work in progress there is always something final about performance and audience in attendance. It is also more complex when community are involved – people feel like you can get away with it more – or you can make excuses because they are not actors, they can’t learn lines, they’ve never done this before. But I disagree with all of that. If you take a group of non-performers through a process and you expect them to do their thing in front of an audience and if you expect that audience to attend, to listen and engage with the ideas then you are looking at a final performance in that sense. Our final performance was faced with a lot of problems, and it was disappointing in a few ways. However, because this was part of a bigger project and because the piece was on-going it meant there other final products along the way. The group created a sound version of the performance which can be heard in the exhibition, the group attended an interim exhibition in Dalmuir where we discussed some of the findings of the project and we also got together for a mini performance at the launch of the exhibition. Now this should be the normal way of things – especially when working with people in a participation context. It’s right that we took them through all parts of the process and this is when we can see that it is a process. That each time we got together they were a bit wiser about the project as a whole and they could see it for what it was because they’d been through a few incarnations of a final product. They were more articulate about their work, they were more confident. So the process doesn’t end: I don’t want you to think that product and process are an either/or. That we get to last day of rehearsal and we go shit Charlie doesn’t know his lines – let’s just say it’s a process. It’s all a process and lets not forget the process of the product itself.
This is all about people and it’s all about community and it’s all about me in that community with those people. That to me is a very simple concept. And it seems strange that I’m asked the question why do you work with people. As a writer I’m interested in language, in linguistic structures, in text-based work, in spoken word and poetry, in direct address, in verbatim and personal narratives. These things are all people centric. It was maybe luck that I was employed to this project, and I happened to be a good fit, it was maybe I was sounded out – I don’t know. However even if I wasn’t interested in those things there is no way you can go to a community in Clydebank and not work with people. Clydebank is people. And I don’t want anybody to be cynical abbot this – this wasn’t a case of me landing in Clydebank and thinking oh I better work with some of theses people, or my idea isn’t working so I better get some of these people involved – it was the starting point. Conversations. I didn’t know very much about Clydebank and to my shame I didn’t know too much about Jimmy Reid. So I had to genuinely find out. I had to talk to people. And that’s why the project became what it was: a reconstruction – the text was made up of reconstructed text from the engagement with people as well as historical transcripts. Again all focused on the experiences of real people. Then we took those words and gave them to other people and it gave the words new meaning when they were spoken by a young person facing leaving school or an older person who used to work in Singers. It became a real reconstruction – I had to ask questions and I had to find information and I had to join the dots and I had to create something that was in the spirit of that history. And it was genuine – and the participants felt it – especially the younger ones – they were constantly confused at our interest in their area and their history – because as far as they can see it’s not worth investigating. Why would anyone be interested in a patch of waste ground where some old yard used to be? Why were we always asking them about employment? And I hope that by us taking an interest in that story they maybe realised that they story was worth telling. There is no way I would want to write that story as a writer or preconceive any of it. Or pretend to know what they wanted, or give them a wee play to watch. So why do I want to work with people? Because people are better storytellers and theatre makers than we are. And when it comes to the question of defining non-art people or the ethics of working with non-art people I totally can’t be bothered even having that discussion – because there is no discussion. Instead ask what are your ethics of being a human being and engaging with another human being? Because all people have the capacity to be an artist and if you’re not interested in people then you’re not an artist.
Now we reach the part of the Mass where the Priest delivers his sermon. And the role of the Sermon is to interpret the teachings of Christ and the stories of the Bible for modern congregations so that can continue to act in a Christian way.
Every night I deliver a different sermon based on what is in the news that day – anything to do with Catholicism in Scotland, or religion and politics. Other topics have included what would Catholics vote in the Independence Referendum; David Cameron’s recent speech where he compared himself to Jesus, claiming he is following Jesus’ moral code; I looked at the idea of Christian charity and modern day foodbanks; and last night was all about the rise of the Biblical themed Hollywood blockbuster.
Tonight, seeing as it’s the final performance I’d like to sum up a few pieces of news that I’ve come across today against the backdrop of the Easter celebrations. As well as all the topics I’ve just mentioned, this week I’ve also found out that Catholics now outnumber Protestants in Northern Ireland, while a Republican dissident was shot dead in Belfast; I’ve listened to Pope Francis’ Easter service in Rome, whilst a few politicians are calling for Easter peace in the Ukraine and also seeing a few articles about the origins of Easter, it’s Pagan history and it’s Christian message.
So what’s the big deal? Why is the news so special against the backdrop of this holiday? For Christians, Easter is probably the second main celebration in the Christian calendar but maybe it’s the most important. It signifies not only the death of Christ for us and for our sins, but it describes his resurrection, his ascension into heaven and the fulfilling of his prophecy.
But today, Easter is a bit of a complicated time. For Christians it’s about Christ, but for everyone else it’s about eggs. As with other Christian celebrations Easter was created to replace the pagan rituals, in this case of fertility and the love of sex. I always thought that we ate eggs because Jesus rolled a stone away when he came back from the dead. I imagined that the stone rolled down the hill and that’s why we continue to roll round shaped objects down a hill. It’s also replaced the Passover, which continues to be an important Jewish celebration. But Cadbury’s couldn’t find a chocolate equivalent of the death of the first born son and sheeps blood being smeared on your front door, so Easter eggs is was!
In all of the speeches from leaders and from Christian organisations they all have one thing in common – a call for peace. But it’s really hard to celebrate a Christian holiday when violence is still happening in Northern Ireland and when leaders use Christian messages in political situations. It’s been said a million times before that religion causes conflict, but we all know that’s not true: we know that it’s people who cause conflict and they’ll do it in any name. But the situation in Northern Ireland is so complicated, and it sounds hollow when David Cameron call for something just because it’s Easter, and not admitting to and trying to fix the problems that English governments have caused in Ireland. The situation in Northern Ireland is so complicated and the situation in the Ukraine is so complicated, and no amount of quoting from the Bible is going to help.
So what I’m going to do now is quote from the Bible. What does Jesus say about Easter? The following is from Matthew, and it describes the moment Jesus was raised from the dead and visited his disciples:
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
You’ll notice he didn’t mention who should walk down what street in Belfast. He didn’t say anything about the Ukraine, and he didn’t mention a bunny. But with those words he started a chain of events that have lead us to where we are now.
And I’d like to finish on another quote. From another God: Woody Allen. Who said, "If Jesus came back and saw what was going on his name, he'd never stop throwing up"
Now we reach the part of the Mass where the Priest delivers his sermon. And the role of the Sermon is to interpret the teachings of Christ and the stories of the Bible for modern congregations so that can continue to act in a Christian way.
Every night I deliver a different sermon based on what is in the news that day – anything to do with Catholicism in Scotland, or religion and politics. Other topics have included what would Catholics vote in the Independence Referendum, and David Cameron’s recent speech where he compared himself to Jesus, claiming he is following Jesus’ moral code. And last night’s topic, which looked at the idea of Christian charity and modern day foodbanks.
So it’s almost Easter. And because Easter is synonymous with epic films like the Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, tonight I’d like to talk about Christian films. It’s been in the news today that the new Hollywood blockbuster Noah has opened at the top of the holiday box office. And following that, the news is full of articles looking at the Christian movie boom. Other recent Christian films like God’s Not Dead and Son of God have also been successful and there are more to come – Exodus: God and Kings, and a film about Mother Teresa. Reports show that 2014 is likely to be the Christian film boom year.
So what is it about these stories that can be adapted so easily into blockbuster films? Well in the case of Noah it’s maybe the same ingredients for any other Hollywood blockbuster – catastrophe averted by an everyman, struggles of power, natural disasters, feel good endings, a spiritual element…and any of these elements could be the description of any other Hollywood epic film like Titanic. So maybe the Bible is great for Hollywood, but is Hollywood great for the Bible?
Sometimes it’s maybe not cool to admit to watching a Christian themed film, and with something like The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, and I suspect with Noah, audiences might say yeah I know it’s Christian, but – as if they have to apologise because anything Christian is so not cool, or justify it by saying it’s got like excellent CGI or something.
With Noah and with Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ, there comes a fair amount of disagreement from Christian organisations – upset at the devaluing of the story for entertainment purposes, and the diluting, and changing of the story . Hollywood has hit back saying that it adapts Biblical stories like it would adapt any other book like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games, but I suppose the trouble comes when you treat these stories and stories form a book just like any other.
One problem is that the stories in themselves are generally too short to be totally faithful to, and so directors and screenwriters have to use a bit of artistic license to flesh the story out. But mostly any deviation from the original always seems to provoke a “war on Christians” or a ”war on the Bible.”
If we take the story of Noah and expect film makers to be faithful to the original story viewers would have to watch him preach for 120 years then sit through 40 days of rain scenes followed by months of just kind of floating along. Today there was a story that the cast of Noah wasn’t racially diverse enough, to which the writer responded – “the story is a myth so it doesn’t matter what they look like. And then “I didn’t want it to look like a Benetton advert or the crew of the Starship Enterprise.” Which isn’t a very Christian thing to say really.
So maybe it’s okay that Hollywood is making Bible stories mainstream, maybe that’s the only way for audiences to be introduced these stories, but is it even important that they are introduced the Bible stories? I suppose it comes down to how much value you place on it. I saw an article today that said that these films are cultural bridges to the Gospel. And like any artistic representation of religion, maybe it’s better to try and to miss the mark a little rather than fail to attempt at all. After all, we are told that the words of the Gospel can travel better over a bridge than over a chasm.
But having said all of that, I’ve read the reviews for the film and I’ve watched Mel Gibson in the Passion of the Christ and it reminds me of this passage from Psalms:
I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of this evil.
Now we reach the part of the Mass where the Priest delivers his sermon. And the role of the Sermon is to interpret the teachings of Christ and the stories of the Bible for modern congregations so that can continue to act in a Christian way.
Every night I deliver a different sermon based on what is in the news that day – anything to do with Catholicism in Scotland, or religion and politics. Other topics have included what would Catholics vote in the Independence Referendum, and David Cameron’s recent speech where he compared himself to Jesus, claiming he is following Jesus’ moral code.
I want to continue on that theme for, as it’s been in the news again today. And one thing I mentioned in the last sermon was Cameron’s celebration of Christians, of Christianity and Christian charity. He singled out Christian run food banks, and thanked them for their hard work. So tonight I’d like to talk about Foodbanks and the nature of Christian charity.
I asked what are we really to make of that? Rather than celebrating shouldn’t we arguing against the rise of food banks on this country which has plenty to go around and in Scotland where we have untapped resources and the potential to do so much more than we are doing at the moment in a downward spiral of rising energy costs, property costs, speculation in banking and blaming immigrants and the poor for all the trouble they have wreaked on us.
And as it turns out, David’s celebration of Christian foodbanks did not impress the Christians who are running them. Yesterday, an open letter was published from 45 Church of England representatives and over 600 Catholic organisations that slammed his comments. And lets not forget the many Muslim–run foodbanks like the Sufra Foodbank in London that are keeping people in food, rather than the BNP foodbank that is feeding white’s only. If he really wanted to talk about foodbanks, then maybe he should have addresses the complex nature of what they are and why they exist in a developed, western country that is supposedly one of the greatest of nations.
Charity is a common theme in religion. In Islam it is one of the central forces that reminds Muslims they are humble before Allah, and in Christian thought, charity is highest form of love, signifying the reciprocal love between God and man that is made manifest in unselfish love of one’s fellow men. Before Cameron argues about how great a Christian he is, he might want to remember St. Paul’s classical description of charity in the New Testament
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
And because he’s such a great Christian he probably knows what Matthew has to say about charity too.
"So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."
Jesus looked after the poor and helped them. He put them first. Cameron’s welfare reforms aren’t really in the Christian spirit that he promotes. Ian Duncan Smith claimed that we are winning the war on welfare. I don’t remember Jesus saying that, but if anyone knows where I can find that quote I’d be happy to see it.
Charity is found in all religions and it’s one thing that proves that all paths lead to God. Jewish people are required to give one-tenth of their income to charity, and with that in mind I’d like to quote another deity of mine, Woody Allen, who said in Hannah and Her Sisters:
"If Jesus came back and saw what was going on his name, he'd never stop throwing up"
Tonight’s topic is on the recent declaration from David Cameron that his Big Society project was “invented by Jesus”.
Cameron’s “Big Society” initiative was a flagship policy from 2010 and aims to empower local people and communities, and asks citizens of England to take responsibility in their own civic duties.
What I’d like to do is read some of the transcript of his speech for you tonight, and then we’ll reflect on it afterwards. It begins like this:
Look, a huge – a warm welcome to everybody. The Bible tells us, actually, to bear one another’s burden and you will fulfil the law of Christ; after the day I’ve had, I’m definitely looking for a few volunteers for that. But I – just a few things I wanted to say tonight.
I’m proud to hold a reception for Christians here in Downing Street and proud to be a Christian myself and to have my children at a church school, which – I often get my moment of greatest peace – not every week, I’m ashamed to say, but perhaps every other week I pop in to the Thursday morning sung Eucharist beautiful service in St Mary Abbots, and I find a little bit of peace and hopefully a little bit of guidance.
Now, look, there were 3 things that I wanted to say tonight about what I hope we can do more of in our country when it comes to Christianity. we should be proud of the fact that we are a Christian country, and I am proud of the fact we’re a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed to say so. But I think the 3 things I want to focus on – and I hope we can all work on this – the first is to expand the role of faith and faith organisations in our country.
Second thing is I hope we can do more to raise the profile of the persecution of Christians around the world. It is the case today that our religion is now the most persecuted religion around the world. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other religious groups wherever and whenever we can, and should be unashamed in doing so.
This third thing I wanted to say, which I suppose is a little bit more controversial, but I was reflecting on this meeting tonight and what to share with you and I have a thought – which is not a new thought, but I think it is a true thought –which is when I think of the challenges which our churches face in our country and when I think about the challenges political institutions face in our countries – in our country, I see a lot of similarities.
Whereas actually, what we both need more of is evangelism. More belief that we can get out there and actually change people’s lives and make a difference and improve both the spiritual, physical and moral state of our country, and we should be unashamed and clear about wanting to do that.
There are some really big things that this government is doing which are about that improving state of the world and evangelism.
And when I look at churches I see that the – you’re trying to do exactly the same thing, to fire up your congregations with a sense that actually, if we pull together, we can change the world, we can make it a better place.
Whether its providing services for children at risk of exclusion, whether it’s teaching prisoners to read, whether it’s dealing with breakdown, whether it’s provision of food banks, there are some extraordinary organisations run by faith groups and Christians in our country and I want to see the possibilities for that to expand . . .Thank you.
Now, I just want to talk about a few things that he has mentioned in this speech:
First of all he starts with the word Look. Which kind of makes you think he’s starting really defensively. Sometimes when he’s being questioned in interviews he answers with ‘Look’ and it seems a bit telling he starts this speech in the same way. He also talks about how often he goes to Mass every other week, mentioning his parish in the same way a racist always says ‘I have lots of black friends, but…’
He openly claims his religion, which is always a dodgy thing for politicians to do – apparently Tony Blair was told to keep his Christianity a secret in the beginning, and Nick Clegg recently admitted he doesn’t believe in God.
What are we to think about this? What are we to think about politics and religion mixing? Do we think that the Prime Minister should be free to declare their faith? Or are we allowed to be a little cynical? Maybe he’s just trying to appeal to a large section of voters in the same way he recently appealed to the Jewish and Muslim communities. What are we to say to the fact that his education minister has just declared an all out war on Birmingham schools which he fears are spreading Islamic takeovers?
And what are we to say to the last section of Cameron’s speech – where he celebrates church run food banks? Shouldn’t we be lamenting the fact that food banks even exist in England? And he mentions teaching prisoners to read even though they are rolling out a book ban in prisons in England and Wales.
Let’s finish with a quote from Matthew and you can decide for yourself if this is what Cameron believes he is doing:
Jesus proclaims that how you treat the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and other "least of these," is how you treat Jesus himself. And if you fail to help the "least of these," Jesus promises, he will send you to Hell.
Tonight’s topic is inspired by a recent article in the Herald which claimed that Catholics are most pro-Yes of religious groups when it comes to Scottish Independence.
Professor Tom Devine, who is one of Scotland's leading historians, used recent data from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey, that suggested that Catholics were both most supportive of independence and least fearful at the prospect of a Yes vote.
Why would that be? Well he talks about a "silent revolution within the Irish Catholic population since the 1970s, the main reasons being the death of structural sectarianism and labour market discrimination, which means that Catholics are now much more confident in their Scottish skins." Now for my generation I suppose I was never really aware that Catholics might be discriminated against, or that, a few years ago it was claimed that Scotland is still an anti-Catholic country. I suppose this relates to some stories I’ve heard of my parents generations being discriminated against in their jobs because of their religion – with certain councils only employing protestants and certain trades only employing Catholics and so on. It seemed like you only got a job based on your surname, but now all of that seems like totally ridiculous, but actually it was only about 30 odd years ago. And when I’ve worked in certain communities, people hear my surname is O’Connor and they still react to it.
In this article John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde, said that Tom Devine's point illustrated how voting habits among Scottish Catholics had changed. "It was certainly true in the 1970s that Catholics in Scotland were less inclined to vote for the SNP and therefore by implication less likely to vote for independence. At that point the concern among Catholics was that an independent Scotland might become a replication of Ulster," he said.
In 2012, 30% of Catholics supported independence, compared to 26% among those of no religion, and 17% among Church of Scotland identifiers.
Contrary to this – Gorgeous George Galloway waded in, mentioning a "historic crossover between Scottish nationalism and anti-Irish-Roman Catholicism" and warned Catholic schools would be threatened by independence. But this seems to be a real concern to people – one of the questions put to Nicola Sturgeon during a BBC Q and A was “Will Catholic schools still exist in an Independent Scotland?” And to be honest, I never even thought that would cross people’s minds – I don’t really know why that would be. But it seems in the small amount of research that I’ve done – there is a worry about the continuation of Catholicism in and Independent Scotland.
So on the one hand we have Catholics in fear for the continued presence of their religion in an independent Scotland, yet on the other, I would have thought that there was a huge ‘Protestant’ basis for Unionism, and so Catholics would think the opposite.
But this makes me ask the question: if Scotland’s Protestants oppose constitutional change because of deep-rooted Unionism, and Scotland’s Catholics say ‘no’ because they are afraid of the Protestants, then how did we get to the point of devolution, never mind getting to the point of seriously considering independence? Do these religious groups really have the power to influence politics? It seems not actually.
Other things I’ve been reading recently shows that voters living in poorer areas are more likely to vote for something radical. And, actually, a high number of those will be Catholics, descendants of Irish immigrants, and a lot of them living in the East End. Historically, Catholics clung to the Labour Party for protection, and shunned any alternative, in case it might ruin what little they had.
So it would seem now that given Tom Devine’s findings and looking at the historical standpoint of Catholics – they might be the key swing group.
The rise of the independence movement has coincided with the rise of university education, and it seems its has grown with a decline in the social significance of religion. And attitudes towards independence are maybe better explained by thinking about secularism rather than through religion or sectarianism.
In some online research I’ve been doing, which always leads you to a forum and user comments, which you know you shouldn’t read, but you end up doing it anyway, made me realize that there are Catholics out there worried at the prospect of independence. And this comes about because they confuse the current leading party in the Scottish Government with everything there is to know about independence (which we all know is wrong, right?). It seems there are Catholics out there who are opposed to Independence based on the Scottish Government’s achievement in bringing forward same-sex marriage in this country, and they believe that this will lead to increased secularism and that there will be no place for religion in the future of the country.
But this is the problem when political groups try to legislate matters for the Church. It can’t be denied that there is a movement towards a progressive, modern Scotland much like the rest of small countries in Europe which doesn’t have religion at it’s core.
But the point of sermons is to link all of this modern chat with what Jesus would have done. What would Jesus say about Scottish Independence? Well if you Google ‘What would Jesus say about Scottish Independence you don’t really get much back. Instead, if we look at the Bible, we find that when it comes to politics, when it comes to voting, for standing up for what you believe in, when it comes to nationality, we are urged to stand up for the teachings of God rather than nationalism and fight a spiritual cause rather than a political one:
There is a story in Jeremiah of a potter working at his wheel, which goes: Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it” Here God is saying that he alone can destroy nations and that any attempt to do this ourselves is futile. The only fight we should be fighting is in his name, and we should shun politics in favour of spreading his word.
Here, we are asked to wrestle against powers, against rulers of the darkness. And for me, that’s not the darkness of same-sex marriage, that’s about people who assume power for themselves. The spiritual wickedness in high places isn’t about the constitutional change that might happen in this country, but about the abuse of power that we see daily from politicians, from law makers, from policy makers, from councils and from those in positions of responsibility. And I’m sure Jesus would have a few things to say about them, because he was totally rad, destroying the temple when he saw the desecration that was happening in a holy place, where money and profit comes before humanity and prioritizing your fellow man.
For me principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, spiritual wickedness in high places. Refers not to same sex marriage or secularism but instead conglomerates of influence that assume power for themselves and abuse that power. Jesus destroyed a temple. Maybe Jesus might want to destroy this temple and start again.