Elgin and Forres, Edinburgh, Polmont, Paisley, Dundee, Glenrothes, Inverness, Aberdeen, Ayr, and the island of Unst in Shetland; try to guess what all these communities have in common, and you may struggle to come up with much, except that they are all in Scotland.
Over the next month, though, they are all set to be linked together in the National Theatre of Scotland’s huge Futureproof project, a celebration of Scotland’s Year of Young People – funded via Event Scotland – that echoes the NTS’s 2006 opening production Home in its geographical range and artistic ambition. The project is designed to present, loud and clear, the voices of young people in Scotland aged between 14 and 26; and it’s because of the radical scale of the challenges facing today’s young people that the NTS has decided, in curating Futureproof, to invite some of the most renowned and forward-looking experimental theatre artists in Scotland and across the world to come and work in the ten communities involved. The Festival has been co-curated by NTS artistic director Jackie Wylie and award-winning Glasgow-based dancer and theatre-maker Lucy Gaizely; and since both Wylie and Gaizely emerged from the Arches crucible of radical theatre, they have been able to use their huge international network of fellow artists to create a ground-breaking programme.
“I think we love the work of all the companies we have invited because they have an approach to social participation, or to interactive work, that challenges the traditional relationship between artists and audience, and offers an invitation to young people to get involved,” says Gaizely. “Five of the shows in Futureproof already have a history in performance, so that we’ve been able to see them, and to match them up with areas in Scotland. That goes for A Mile In My Shoes, which opens Futureproof in Forres and Elgin this weekend. It’s an installation piece by the UK company Empathy Museum that invites people to walk a mile in the shoes of a stranger in their local community, and has been seen in many cities across the UK; but this is the first time it has ever focused on young people.”
The other Futureproof shows based on tried-and-tested concepts are Do’s And Don’ts by Rimini Protokoll of Germany, which will involve viewing various aspects of Paisley from a remodelled truck with huge glass windows, while a young person from the town acts as tour guide; Radial by Back-To-Back Theatre of Australia, a specially-made film about video art, dance, music and fashion in Dundee; Hacks For The Future by UK company Touretteshero, in which young people with disabilities take over a major public building – in this case Eden Court Theatre, Inverness – to create a free-flowing bazaar of ideas and creativity; and Campo of Belgium’s Wilde Life FM, in which young people from Ayr will create a radio station, on which to reflect on their lives through the music they’ve loved, hated or performed.
And then there are five brand-new shows, including the dance-based Edinburgh project Chronicles, which will reflect on the history of slavery through objects in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Scottish-based musician and theatre-maker Greg Sinclair’s Lots & Not Lots at Glenrothes, which will literally explore the voices and vocal power of young people, and Motion, in which the acclaimed Glasgow company Glas(s) Performance are working with young offenders at HMP Polmont. Akhe Theatre of Russia are working on Rewind Perspective, to be performed on Aberdeen beach; and in Shetland, the Toronto-and-Berlin-based group Mammalian Diving Reflex will co-create a show called The World Is A Wedding: The Presentation Of Unst In Everyday Life, based on the 1940s work and words of Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman.
“We were delighted to find this sociologist, born just a few miles from where I was born in Canada, who had travelled to Unst and written about it,” says Darren O’Donnell of Mammalian Diving Reflex, whose company name reflects a sense that humanity is about to plunge into difficult times. “Our work is often about new ways of being together across differences, particularly in 21st century urban contexts.
“When we arrived on Unst this year, though, it was in the middle of Unstfest, the annual celebration of music and culture; and we noticed that Unst was a community that just didn’t have many of those barriers – there were young people on the Festival committee, no-one was excluded by age or generation, and we also noticed that the traditional distinctions between roles around a performance are very blurred there. Anyone can perform if necessary. That doesn’t mean there are no problems, though, from dwindling school rolls to difficult decisions about whether to leave or stay; and we will reflect on those in the show.”
And for 21-year-old Michael Johnson, taking part in the Glenrothes project, Futureproof is an opportunity to push forward his own dream of making a career in theatre. “It’s just so interesting to work on the idea of exploring our voices with someone like Greg Sinclair, who’s got such a unique, inventive approach,” says Johnson. “I’m also really looking forward to going to the launch at NTS headquarters in Glasgow this weekend, and meeting people from all the other projects, and seeing some of the other shows – we’ve all been given Futureproof passes, so that we can see them all, if possible.
“And yes, I guess our show really is about taking the idea of young people’s voices literally. It’s about the performers – 11 of us, aged between 16 and 22 – learning to feel our own voices and to be comfortable with them, to take ownership of our voices and our skills, and then just let rip; and that’s a great feeling.”
Futureproof runs at venues across Scotland until 28 October. Details at www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/production/futureproof/