June and July were very busy and very stressful months in terms of work. Earlier in the year, I received funding from Culture 2014 in collaboration with Grinagaog Children’s Theatre Company to create a new work for the Commonwealth Games. We proposed to tie in with the Queen’s Baton Relay, which took place in the run up to the Games, but the idea proved so popular that the run was extended to the end of the Games themselves. My role was to write the show, which took place in an ice cream van, but due to the nature of the rehearsal process, the piece was devised, more naturally, between myself, the director, the composer, as well as the three performers. This loose definition of my role was quite difficult to deal with at first, as it wasn’t a way of working that I was used to.
The piece was a great success, however, and it’s safe to say I learnt a lot about roles and responsibility when creating work.
Roles and responsibilities also affected the creation of another Commonwealth project – Anamchara: Songs of Friendship, a community opera I co-directed with Scottish Opera. Given the size of the cast (120), the fact that the principal singers came form seven Commonwealth countries, and the huge technical and creative team on board, it would seem that it would be a walk in the park. Right? Well, sort of right. Not a walk in the park, but a kind of a staggering wobble that took longer than I thought it would. This was mostly due to the fact that I was working with another director, an associate director and a choreographer. For someone who is used to working on his own, in one-man shows, with tiny budets, this, at times, felt like an impossible task. Again, in the end, it was a huge success, and there were pats on the backs all round. I also loved learning more about main stage, full-scale opera projects and had a huge stage to play around on in the Theatre Royal. Amazing.
So what am I supposed to think about work that, on the surface is a great success, and to all intents and purposes was created in good spirit, but still has an underlying sense of difficulty or tension. Is this just the way it’s supposed to be? This is something I’ve been considering for a while (see The Power of Collaboration from last year).
The other conflict I have in making these works is that they were funded and programmed by the culture body connected to the Commonwealth. Being interested in Scotland becoming a Republic, and with abundant abhorrence of the British Empire and all that it represents, I felt that my politics were being compromised throughout. I found myself hanging about with High Commissioners and Duchesses, which was lovely, if a little confusing.
I’m sure plenty of my peers would agree with me, but they would also argue that it gives us the chance to make work, that, very often in the programming, reflected a distaste for, or a hesitance to celebrate, the Commonwealth. It also gave people a unique chance to explore their identity within the history of the Union, their connection to monarchy and Empire and with their own familial histories. This can only be a good thing, surely. Some folk did say that it wasn’t where the money came from, but what we did with it, that counted, and I’m glad that what I made in both projects centred on family, community and a sense of pride in being Scottish.
Whatever the outcome will be, or whatever I will learn from this, I am kind of glad that I got through the past two months in one piece.