Young Shetland residents to study island life for stage show

A study of Unst in Shetland has inspired a new stage show. Picture: Colin Smith/Geograph
A study of Unst in Shetland has inspired a new stage show. Picture: Colin Smith/Geograph
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A Canadian sociologist’s renowned 70-year-old study of Britain’s most northerly inhabited island - Unst in Shetland - is to inspire a new exploration of life there which will be brought to the stage.

A group of young Shetlanders are joining forces with the National Theatre of Scotland production and a Canadian theatre company to try to emulate the work of Erving Goffman.
The then student, who became one of the leading sociologists of the 20th century, arrived on the treeless island as a mysterious stranger after the Second World War and spent a year living on Unst, where he was fascinated by the shyness of the islanders.

It will be one of 10 major projects staged across the country in Futureproof, which will culminate a month-long festival instigated for Scotland’s Year of Young People.

The group of 14-26 year-olds, drawn from around the Shetland Islands, will be part of an “investigation team,” which will also include NTS and Canadian outfit Mammalian Diving Reflex, which will research, create and then perform The Presentation of Unst In Everyday Life in October.

The Shetland teenagers will apply some of Goffman’s theories and insights at Unstfest, the UK’s most northerly festival, this summer.

NTS says the project will “deconstruct Goffman’s conclusions about their grandparents’ generation and explore the theatricality of social interaction, both real and digital, in the 21st century.”

A spokeswoman said: “In 1948, sociologist Erving Goffman came to Unst, told everyone he was there to study the economy but, instead, studied everyone there. His research ended up in his massive bestseller The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. It changed the game for sociology.”

Other projects in the Futureproof line-up will see a Russian company work with a team of young people from Aberdeen to create a piece of “site-specific” theatre inspired by the inventions of Alexanger Graham Bell for its beach.

A group of young men in Polmont Young Offenders Institution in Stirlingshire will explore questions of identity and inheritance for the project Motion.

Young people from South Ayrshire will be working on a staged live radio show based on the music that defines landmark moments in their lives.

Jackie Wylie, artistic director of NTS, said: “Futureproof will unleash young Scottish creative energy across the nation.”