Theatre Gu Leòr in collaboration with WHɎTE present
How did the work with the activists on Uist come about, and how does it feed into your dramaturgical process for MAIM?
A symposium on this subject was held in Uist last year :
and after reading the findings and various other research papers and attending talks on the subject of climate change and its affects on Gaelic speaking communities like in dire situation in Uist, we started to work with Ceòlas. We are also working with the Gaelic speaking artists Fiona McIsaac who is based in Taigh Chearsabhadh in North Uist. She also deals with Climate change in her work and in the educational work she does in the schools in Uist and is also heavily involved in the radical language rights group ‘Misneachd’. We are also collaborating with her on workshops that we will run in the areas that are affected and that MAIM will tour to.
The ongoing research and indeed work that groups such @GaidheilXR and others like Misneachd have informed and influenced everything from the stories we shared, to the themes we explored in the movement and music we been developing for MAIM, current crisis facing both the Gàidhlig language and culture as well as the Climate Crisis is at the heart of all aspects of the text, music and choreography.
It is now now also influencing the AV content and design and the set and costume design. We are designing the tour so that we try and use recycled sets/materials and also we are looking at transport and trying to use electric/hybrid vehicles and public transport where possible.
Does Gaelic have a theatrical tradition, or how does the company’s work relate to the various forms of Gaelic performance?
Do you mean does a theatrical tradition exist in Gàidhlig speaking areas/communities? In which case I would say yes.
I assume by forms of Gàidhlig performance you might be referring to, live music, singing, dance, story telling, poetry? Theatre Gu Leòr is a contemporary theatre company which makes work in the Gàidhlig language and uses all of these art forms.
We also use digital technology to include visual design elements as well Video/AV which also provides access to non-Gàidhlig speakers by providing sub-titles. One of our cast will also be using BSL integrated throughout MAIM, access and multi art form work is something that has always been important in Theatre Gu Leòr’s work.
How do you feel that theatre with a clear intention, like MAIM, aim to impact audiences? What do you hope that the audience will take away from the production, and is theatre a medium that operates effectively in exploring environmental concerns?
I hope, just as with any theatre, that the audience are moved or changed in some way, we definitely do not want the audience to feel like they are being lectured. To that end, MAIM is very conceptual, it is our response to a crisis and we hope people will come away having been provoked, inspired and moved.
The crisis facing us all in relation to the Enviroment and the loss of minoritised languages and cultures such as Gàidhlig is something that affects us all whether we are aware or not and even whether we care or not. Artists have always explored subjects that they care passionately, Gàidhlig artists are no different, and artists who make work which will tour, have a particular opportunity to look at subjects like these which are directly affecting those communities.
Can I ask about your research: what inspired you to study place-names, and how does this feed into broader discussions about the relationship of Gaelic to contemporary Scotland, particularly in terms of Scottish identity?
As soon as you start looking at Scotland’s place-names, you realise how multilingual and multicultural Scotland has always been. There are languages like North Brittonic and Pictish – which can be described as linguistic cousins of Gaelic – that were once spoken here but fell out of use in the medieval period. And then there’s Gaelic. Place-names tell us – and they leave no doubt about this – that Gaelic was spoken in almost every part of what is now Scotland.
A huge number of the place-names that people know and use across this country today, from Caithness to Lothian and from the Outer Hebrides to Dumfries and Galloway, were first used to describe places by local people speaking Gaelic in all these areas. I think it’s hugely important for us all to recognise that a language which is still spoken by thousands of people today in Scotland has this breadth and depth of history across our country. Gaelic doesn’t just belong to the Hebrides or the Highlands; it’s Scotland’s language.
Nowadays, Scotland, of course, has other languages too but it shouldn’t be a case of having to choose one language over another. I think the most important thing to say in relation to identity is that, as Scots, our identity was not and should not be monolingual. Historically speaking, monolingualism was probably pretty rare in Scotland; previous generations were much more sophisticated than we are now in that way and many cultures in Europe and across the world are far more sophisticated than we are today in this regard.
Monolingualism was quite literally belted into people on my native island of Mull – and in many other Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland – within living memory. We should be ashamed of that part of our past. We can do something positive about that, though. There are still thousands of native speakers of Gaelic and we can hear the voices of many thousands more in songs and stories in written and audio form. Personally, I have no interest in existing in a monolingual, mono-cultural society, especially if that language and that culture is not native to the place I call home. I want to live in a sophisticated, vibrant Scotland in which people create new things in Gaelic.
Place-names tell us so much more than simply about our linguistic history. They tell us how our ancestors saw and engaged with the landscape they lived in. They tell us that there was once a symbiotic relationship between us and the land and that’s a major theme of MAIM.
For Fairich: Live, we worked closely with visual artist Dan Shay to produce dynamic images and experimented with my movement on stage and my delivery of the original and traditional songs as a singer. For example, our performance of the song Cumha Ni Mhic Raghnaill (‘the daughter of MacDonald of Keppoch’s lament’, also known as ‘the sister’s lament’) – composed from the perspective of the sister of two brothers murdered by their own relatives in 1663 – explored a more theatrical style of delivery than is traditionally performed; for example, I was framed by dynamic images Dan had produced of windows in the local church and Tobar nan Ceann (‘the well of the seven heads’), a monument to the seven men beheaded for the murders.
We’ve since collaborated with Dan again on our second album, Tairm, and live performances of the music from it; so when this opportunity came up with Theatre Gu Leòr, we were really excited to take the plunge into the deeper waters of theatre based on some of the themes we explore in our music.
In terms of the creative process for MAIM, the starting point was two songs from our second album: ‘Mùthadh’ (‘mutation’) and ‘Clìodhna’ (a personal name). At a basic level, Mùthadh explores the relationship between land and language which is illustrated – and explored lyrically – in the frequent use in place-names of words relating to body parts. As an example of our creative process for MAIM, during our development of movement for the piece with Jessica Kennedy of Junk Ensemble, we explored themes of landscape change, mutation and abandonment with different body parts leading movement.
That’s one example of the themes of our music feeding theatrical development and we’re looking forward to developing this further in the next stage of rehearsals and ultimately the performance.
In MAIM, a major theme is our historical relationships with land, language and culture but also our ongoing relationships with these things and, importantly, in my view, how these relationships have broken down and will ultimately end if we don’t play an active role individually and collectively in repairing them. There is local and global relevance.