National Theatre of Scotland

This case study is from our Sharing the stage initiative, which was part of the Foundation's Participatory Performing Arts strand (2014-18)

Home Away

“(Home Away) has given me the confidence to commit to engaging more with hard to reach communities that deserve to have their stories told.” Group Leader

This case study looks at Home Away, a five-day festival and conference of participatory arts – 10 new pieces of theatre and choral work, bringing together communities from Scotland and the rest of the world, launching the National Theatre of Scotland’s 10th Anniversary season. Find out more about Home Away by watching the film and reading the project summary below.

The UK Branch of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Sharing the Stage initiative ran from 2014-2018. It supported arts projects in which vulnerable and under-served groups of people ‘share the stage’ with professional performers, and projects that are based on partnerships between arts organisations and social partners.

Phase One supported the research and development (R&D) stage of 14 consortia projects. Phase Two ran from 2016-18, supporting 10 consortia projects to full production of the work created through the participatory process. Read the Sharing the Stage evaluation report here.

Established in 2006, the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) is Scotland’s national Theatre Without Walls, creating, co-creating and touring work to theatres, village halls, schools and site-specific locations, both at home and internationally. 

The second phase of Sharing the Stage focused on the production of Home Away, as part of NTS’s 10th Anniversary year, and formed an integral part of its strategy to develop and enhance participatory arts as part of the mainstream offer from NTS.  

The project title and theme Home Away gave the opportunity for five communities in Scotland and five communities from across the world - groups from diverse, multi-cultural, multi-nationality, cross-generational and cross-gender backgrounds - to explore the idea of being at home and being away, being in your comfort zone and out of it.

Within the Sharing the Stage programme, NTS’s main goals were to:

  1. Develop collaborative arts projects with five communities in Scotland and five communities across the world – Home Away
  2. Showcase all the shows internationally and as part of NTS’s 10th anniversary festival and symposium in October 2016

NTS undertook an ambitious programme of creation and curation of 10 productions led by professional artists working in participatory settings, culminating in a world festival of theatre from 8-12 October 2016 at the renowned Tramway venue in Glasgow.

“High quality performances; fantastic experience and great atmosphere.” Audience member 

Alongside the performance and workshop programme, a symposium on participatory arts was created and included partnership and contributions from British Council, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Scottish Refugee Council and Creative Scotland.

“This project has been immensely empowering for me as an artist and leader. The opportunity to honour the stories of my community, connect with new people, and bring a project to fruition has filled me with a strong sense of pride, accomplishment, and inspiration.” Group Director

NTS developed collaborative art projects with five communities in Scotland and five communities across the world. 

All 10 shows were showcased internationally, and as part of NTS’s 10th anniversary festival and symposium.  Over 8,000 people attended or participated in the festival, programme or symposium over the course of five days.  The productions, workshops and symposium program focused around “marginalised” communities having a platform to create world-class theatre and share their stories in a “mainstream” context, challenging perceptions of the communities. The groups that took part were identified as follows:

 

·       Transgender

·       Gaelic

·       BAME

·       Rurally isolated elderly

·       Youth from areas of multiple deprivation

·       Slum dwellers from India

·       Favela communities from Rio

·       Immigrant settlers from Chicago

·       At risk young men from ghettos in Jamaica

·       Aboriginal artists from the Gold Coast, Australia

 

 ‘Home Away proved what you can do with partnerships’, Simon Sharkey, NTS

Key to the overall success of the development and production of Home Away was partnership working: the British Council, Scottish Association for Mental Health, Scottish Refugee Council, Creative Scotland, LGBT Scotland, Glasgow Life and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation committed resources, support and money. The quality of the partnerships allowed the group to be ambitious in their creative scope and the level of investment, having sufficient time to create and curate 10 new works with 10 communities.  The project set a standard of excellence in national and international collaboration and production through participatory arts, and the NTS now has an international network and a robust model of practice that can be built on in order to achieve its goals in the future.

“At the end of it all, I think the biggest impact has been on our children. This will give them so much confidence about who they are in their place in this country and their relation with the greater world!” Group Directors, Memori

Great art through participatory practice

“The process was strongly affirming that participatory arts can successfully create meaningful change.  I’m eager to collaborate with international artists and communities to make theatre that is impactful on those in the audience and those participating.” Group Leader

“It was a wonderful show, important and thought-provoking, and excellent acting.”  Audience member, Bargad Ki Chhaon Mein

The productions played across the world to critical and audience acclaim with standing ovations and social media reaction as testimony to the standard and impact of the shows and their content. The common themes and threads that ran through a number of the performances showed the links between heritage, tradition and language and how important it is to keep it alive, now, and in the future.  Audience responses can be seen here: https://www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/production/home-away/ and on NTS’s online channel: https://www.youtube.com/ntsonline In addition to social media, video and observation, audience feedback (80 individual responses across the Festival) was almost unanimously positive (scoring nine or 10) for the quality of the production, the content, ideas, relevance and whether they would recommend this to others.  There were many thoughtful comments which demonstrate that these 10 works told powerful stories and opened up windows into others’ lives:

“It’s a fascinating topic that really brings the idea of ‘home’ into greater clarity – it brings a universal feeling to the heart.” Participant, workshop and Fuaigh Fosgail

“Theatre itself brings the change, wherever it is, bringing different cultures together.” Audience member commenting on entire programme.

Raising profile, expectations and aspirations

“It’s a great idea to bring all the people from all around the world, and share everything: sadness, happiness.  I felt very lucky to meet these amazing people! I just loved it. Believe.” Audience member, multiple events

“What made a cancer specialist, several busy executives, doctors, civil servants, students, homemakers, teachers to be rehearsing every night sometimes even up to 2 AM in the morning for the last few months?! I could come up with only one answer: deep down, we are still attached to our “home” and the stories are about a part or time of our life which is integral to our being, in our genes, our identity, our very existence, which just inadvertently guided us to become committed like this. We wanted to tell, and boy, we wanted to tell!” Group Director, Memori

Home Away featured on several radio stations, television reports, media outlets and digital forums. Scotland’s main TV News programmes featured the festival as did BBC Radio Scotland. Several features were run in the national broadsheets and tabloids. A microsite for the project was created and had a very active hit rate.

“The power of theatre to reach across countries and cultures for the common good is evident from the NTS’s Home Away festival.” Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman (magazine)

“This work has placed a real value on people telling their stories and holding the work to a professional standard.  I hope this has helped to change some of the stigma that’s existed.” Group Leader

Home Away extended its reach beyond the arts and cultural sectors, with the British Council, Scottish Refugee Council, Scottish Mental Health Week and several other agencies promoting the festival and participating in the symposium. There was praise and expression of the will to raise expectations and continue with the standards of practice that the festival and programme achieved, and this increased profile and aspirations cross-sectorally has continued subsequently.  Scotland’s Minister for Culture visited and supported the programme, as did the Vice-Consul for India, whilst the US Embassy supported the Chicago group.  This support undoubtedly optimised the profile for Home Away and participatory art, whilst demonstrating to supporters, partners, collaborators, artists and participants that expectations were as high as “mainstream” productions.

Having this high profile resulted in an increased awareness of participatory art, and through the 10 pieces, the lives, stories and creative work of the groups involved.

“To say that I got to be a lead artist on a project with the National Theatre of Scotland is honestly a dream come true! I have admired NTS for years and the Chicago theatre community is well aware of the company’s great work too. There was so much pride from the North-Western Settlement, Adventure Stay Chicago, Old Town School of Folk, and the city of Chicago getting to align their name with NTS and the country of Scotland for this festival.” Group Leader

 

Developing audiences and investment

Home Away is important… because Scotland is a country with a wide range of communities of people of different cultures representing themselves and their stories together.” Audience member, workshops and performances

Participatory art often creates audiences, from the communities with whom the directors and creators are working: people want to see the result and outcomes of their collaboration and sharing of ideas and experiences.  Therefore, Home Away brought new audiences to the Tramway, as well as sharing these new works with audiences in and around Glasgow.  Audience statistics show that over 8,000 people attended the performances across the world and at the Festival.  Completed surveys indicate that many people saw several of the productions as well as taking part in workshops and events, offering many new cultural experiences and offerings, and that audiences were keen to take part in this Festival of World Theatre.

Alongside the Sharing the Stage funding, NTS, Creative Scotland, British Council, Scottish Mental Health Week and Glasgow Life all invested money in Home Away, in addition to other resources – such as staff time, marketing and promotion – investing in delivery to the highest standards – artistically, creatively, organisationally and meeting the needs of participants and communities.

Initial funding often levers further income, as an initial grant or sponsorship expresses confidence in a project’s viability. Home Away was no exception, as NTS was able to attract two significant private sector sponsors, in turn accessing Arts and Business Scotland funding and support.

Highlight issues affecting communities

Home Away brought the issues affecting the communities who took part in the Festival to several audiences or groups:

  • Policy-makers and government. As well as the Minister for Culture, other decision-makers attended the performances, with Hamsa Yousef MSP and Frank MacAveety, Leader of Glasgow City Council speaking at events during the Festival. Transgender rights and needs have since been put on Glasgow City Council’s city venue policies, and NTS have been working with Maslaha, looking to influence policy and practice around Muslim women.
  • Artists, directors and creatives have been able to collaborate with diverse, wide-ranging communities, to find powerful and new ways to highlight the issues affecting those communities:

“It has brought a wonderful clarity to my aims for artistic practice. It was an inspiring and powerful project that has made me feel more optimistic and hopeful about how work about queer people can be made accessible to a non-queer audience. It has given me the confidence to commit to engaging more with hard to reach communities that deserve to have their stories told.” Group Leader

These issues were communicated in turn to audiences and workshop participants.  As shown from some of the feedback gathered, the issues hit hard, and many people commented on the importance of learning about each other:

“You can tell that the whole group really care about the work they do.  The joy and enthusiasm: it was great to get an image of what life in Dundee might be like.” Participant, Scottish Dance Theatre workshop

“It’s important that cultures and experiences are shared, to give this diverse population information about the history of each other.” Audience member, Memori

“I chose all the tens [highest score] because I was heavily impacted by the performance and it brought me information I never knew.” Audience member, Memori

“This work would be important anywhere; a bit too close for comfort, very strong.” Audience member, Reprise, The Hidden House, Antes Que Todo Acabe

 Developing opportunities for participants

“Big experiences that are full of adventure often bring people together and that is certainly true for the Chicago group. Two of the community cast members in Reprise had never been out of the country and one had never been on a plane before… this experience has changed their lives and the rest of the team in our own ways. The exposure to other cultures and the warm welcome we all received from Glasgow has left a lasting impression on all of us.” Group Leader

Home Away provided any number of opportunities for the participants, including:

  • International travel and employment opportunities
  • Training for recently emerged artists
  • Active membership of a worldwide network
  • Training in theatre practice with international artists

“Taking part brought me close to the young people I worked with, a new group formed specially for the project and it was great to have been able to bond with them through making the show together. It was amazing to see them radiate with joy and excitement at talking and dancing with the people they met through the festival. To hear them talk with great warmth about people they met from Chicago and India, in addition to their peers from Jamaica, was very heart-warming.” Group Leader

Directors and participants identified the opportunity to extend their reach to audiences and other communities, particularly the chance to physically meet and work with others from across the world:

Home Away has allowed us to develop a project that we feel fulfils our aim to make Gaelic theatre accessible and to connect with other marginalised communities. We hope we can now tour the show to a wider audience.” Fuaigh Arts Collective

Other identified opportunities, which will continue to drive the awareness and aspirations for participatory art included access to:

  • policy and decision-makers who distribute grants and finance
  • models of best practice from across Scotland and the rest of the world
  • collaboration on future projects such as Brazil and India, Gaelic and Aborigine double bill featuring as a world tour

“This has been a key that has opened more doors for me from simple things, like powerful people responding to my emails who may have ignored me before, to being considered for new work opportunities.” Group Leader

“Most of the artists involved in the project had not worked with the NTS before; by working with them we are hearing from a new and exciting diverse group of creatives” Group Leader

The skills and expertise shared with the project included many examples of good practice from across the world.

“The learning gained from the learning community was invaluable. The wider UK context of the practice was highlighted and allowed us to see our strategies in an international context.” Simon Sharkey, NTS

The NTS learned that maintaining key relationships between itself and each group was important in order to maintain creative conversations, push the boundaries, be a sounding board mental to encourage great art. It learned that keeping groups informed that the context is vital and that it had to support the artists and participants in understanding how their performance would fit with the festival programme and how each group would be paired and marketed as a double bill.

The delegate programme was a new area for NTS, and it learned a lot in terms of programming fitted within the festival. A significant learning is that there is a great demand for the sharing of practice and cooperation in advocacy for participatory arts.

Home Away has enabled NTS to build on a continuing narrative with a number of legacy outcomes.

The programme, festival and symposium were a success and have a legacy in multiple connections between marginalised communities across the world exercising their voice for the good of society. Proof of the legacy lies in the co-productions that have been planned, the request to have the model replicated or repeated on a biennial basis, and the adoption of each other’s techniques, models and approaches to creating art to lobbying for participatory arts practice to be recognised.

Home Away has raised awareness of participatory performing arts among non-participants and across different sectors, for example, the partnership with the Association of Mental Mental Health Scotland is ongoing, and it is supporting a programme with the NTS.

Local authorities and international institutions such as CESC in Rio, The Settlement House in Chicago and Manifesto Jamaica all expressed a desire to stay connected and have changed their approaches to working with artists and communities as a result of involvement in this project.

The individual participating groups have also taken the experience forward:

  • There is an appetite from Fuaigh Collective to continue the pairing with Fred Leone and the Australia group
  • Wildbird received funding from Tomintoul and Glenlivet Landscape Trust to take its show on a rural tour to develop its piece of work further with a view to it having a continued life.
  • NTS had discussions with CIRCA in Australia with a view to replicating the programme and festival as part of Australia 2018 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme.
  • The British Council has continued to support NTS’s work with Manifesto Jamaica that came out of a project. It has extended an invitation to roll it out in Trinidad and the Caribbean with disengaged young boys who were on the verge of dropping out of full-time education.
  • NTS has connected with Maslaha and is in discussion about a programme for young Muslim women as a result of this festival.

 

Read the other case studies Read the evaluation report