Young Shetlanders to study life on Britain's most northerly island for new stage show

Canadian sociology student Erving Goffman spent a year examining life on Unst in Shetland in the 1940s.
Canadian sociology student Erving Goffman spent a year examining life on Unst in Shetland in the 1940s.
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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 this year.

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.

10 projects involving young people are being staged across the country as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Futureproof festival.

10 projects involving young people are being staged across the country as part of the National Theatre of Scotland's Futureproof festival.

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 became increasingly 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.

As part of the project, the Shetland teenagers will apply some of Goffman’s theories and insights to the week-long Unstfest, Britain’s most northerly festival, when it is held this summer.

NTS says it is expected to “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, which changed the game for sociology.”

Other projects 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 behind bars in Polmont Young Offenders Institution in Stirlingshire will explore questions of identity and inheritance for the project Motion, which is being supported by the Scottish Prisons Service.

A group of 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.

Do’s and Dont’s will see German theatre company Rimini Protokoll tour take young audiences on a tour of Paisley on a mobile auditorium on the back of a track which will offer views of its streets as the performance unfolds.

Other shows will be staged at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, the Bonar Hall in Dundee and at several surprise locations around Moray.

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

“This international festival places radical participatory theatre practice at the forefront of theatre-making in Scotland whilst celebrating young people’s place in our society and at the heart of cultural life.

“We want to open up the possibility of what the future of theatre could look like whilst offering audiences a nationwide festival of unbridled exuberance and talent."