Eilidh Whiteford of Heb Events interviewed Andrew about sruth-mara – and Move ~ Gluasad in particular – for the magazine’s June 2018 issue – our first media coverage! Here is a full transcript of the interview.
What was the inspiration behind establishing sruth-mara?
Sruth-mara came about because of a few different things. I’ve been developing new theatre projects for a while now as part of my work as arts lead for the Mental Health Foundation and as a programmer for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival and I’m keen to do more of this as an independent producer. I’m especially keen to do projects on Lewis because my wife and I moved from Edinburgh to Timsgarry recently with our children and we love it here. And Uig has a fantastic community centre with a main hall that is already used for performances but has the capacity to be used more. When I found out that Uig Community Centre were keen to have more events going on in the hall I thought there might be an opportunity for me to make myself useful, so I started to put a proposal together. The idea, in a nutshell, is to develop new theatre projects from Uig, with the involvement of my community, which can premiere on Lewis but also have potential to tour more widely – to festivals like Celtic Connections or the Edinburgh Fringe as well as across the UK or even internationally. Sruth-mara is Gaelic for sea current, and the idea is that the organisation itself will be a kind of sea current, carrying ideas and people back and forth from Lewis to the mainland in a spirit of equal exchange.
How do you feel the work by Julia, Mairi and Anna reflects/complements the ethos of Sruth-mara? Are you pleased with Move-Gluasad as the performance to launch the new arts organisation?
Move – Gluasad feels like a perfect first project for sruth-mara. Julia is an award-winning theatre maker whose work is well known across the UK, and her mother is from Lewis so she has strong family connections here (she has also done TV work here as an actor – you may have spotted her in an episode of Katie Morag!). Mairi is also from Lewis and is well known here, whereas Anna will probably be a new face to a lot of people on Lewis, so the team we’ve put together feels like a good mix of the familiar and the new. The idea behind Move – Gluasad is to explore songs and stories of migration and loss across different cultures, to look at the common points, for example, between Scots emigrating across the world because of the Clearances, and today’s refugees from places like the Middle East. Both Julia and I were keen to develop the project here, partly for personal reasons, and partly because migration has had such a huge impact on Lewis in particular over the centuries – I’ve seen it described as a kind of death, because sometimes you’d never see or hear from the people who left the island again, or not hear anything for years. The story of St Kilda is obviously very resonant too, and we’ll be working on the show just a few miles from the site for the proposed St Kilda Centre.
What do you believe the work will bring to audiences? What do you hope the project brings to Uig and its residents?
I hope lots of people from Uig will come and that they’ll feel entertained and inspired! If you want to go to the theatre on Lewis, you generally have to go to An Lanntair – although Rural Nations have been doing a great job of programming events at other venues on Lewis, including a theatre show earlier this year. So this is a relatively rare opportunity to see an artistically ambitious show by a really experienced team of professional performers, in a community hall in Uig – with the added opportunity to help shape that show before it goes into final production. The show will also be performed partly in English and partly in Gaelic, which will hopefully add to its appeal. If it gets a good response, I hope to do more events like this next year.
During the open rehearsals in June – what can those interested expect when they attend? What/who are you hoping to attract to the open rehearsals? What would you say to encourage anyone who is interested in joining in?
The open rehearsals are literally that – rehearsals you can come and watch and see the show coming together. Everyone and anyone who is interested is welcome, and Julia is very open to talking about the show before and afterwards and hearing comments, suggestions and any stories and songs that people would like to share with her. It’s a bit of an experiment, to be honest – my hope for sruth-mara is that we can create shows that my local community feels invested in, shows that grow organically out of this place, nurtured by the people who live here. Julia, Mairi and Anna will be here throughout the week and I hope to introduce them to as many people as possible – it might be that new ideas for the show come out of conversations we have during the week, not just at the open rehearsals but before and after the performance, or in places like the community shop. Julia is very friendly, approachable and collaborative, so what I would say to people is, come and say hello and don’t be afraid to express an opinion, whether you’re an Uig resident or a visitor passing through.
Is there anything I may have omitted to ask that you feel is important to mention?
Just a couple of things! While the development week and first work-in-progress performance is in Uig, and it would be amazing to get lots of people along to that, there’s also a performance at An Lanntair on Saturday 30 June, which will hopefully make it easier for people from Stornoway or other parts of the island to see it.
Also…. There is another sruth-mara project in development this summer, a theatre adaptation of Alastair McIntosh’s fantastic book Soil & Soul. The playwright and performer Alan Bissett has already had a long conversation with Alastair at his home in Glasgow and will be doing research for a script while he’s on Lewis in July performing a Moira Monologues double bill at An Lanntair. Like Julia, he’ll be living in Uig for a few days and while there won’t be a Soil & Soul performance – we’re too early on in the process for that – we’ll be visiting some of the places described in the book and hopefully talking to lots of people about it. Alan will also be doing a ‘meet the author’ event at Ann Lanntair where he’ll be talking about the project, so please come along and say hello!