We started the project with my interactive performance piece, Plan, which encourages the audience-participants to imagine themselves part of a jury who must design a new town for 40,000 refugees in an imaginary, post-war 2017. We did Plan with some of the pupils at Beath High, who we are going to be working with over the following weeks and months.
It was pandemonium.
The budgeting was, unexpectedly perhaps, the most engaged part of the exercise for the young people, with debates about the quality of housing people should be allowed, whether a town really needed a sports ground, a football pitch, a leisure centre, and a theatre, instead of houses (turns out it sort of did). When it came to arranging the town, though, there was a sense that it didn’t matter, that putting things down was enough. It was really difficult for the pupils to imaginatively start from scratch. There was a lot of chat about whether the new town looked like Kelty. Even when we came to name the place, there wasn’t a sense of ownership that there has been every other time I’ve done the show. I eventually suggested we call it New Town. A gap. A creation that is just a place to exist – a town that’s not anywhere and belongs to no-one.
I was strongly reminded of Greater Belfast by the theatre maker, Matt Regan, a show about Regan’s complicated relationship with the place he is from. A line that came back to me when the kids had no sense that the place they were building could be, should be, would be worth anything: ‘Things that come from where I’m from are shite, d’ye know?’
As our discussions moved from the imaginary in the first week, to the real in the second, we made place maps of the areas where the young people live. I was working with a group of girls on a map of Kelty. Fife, where Kelty is, and Kinross-shire, where I’m from, are neighbouring East Central Scotland regions divided by a common M90. In Kelty secondary age children can either go to Beath High or Kinross High, where I went to school, but the difference between the places and the people is striking. The Scots language use is much higher at Beath High, the language variety in general is much more distinctive, with differences in vocabulary, intonation, pronunciation etc. After our session me and the other project leaders travelled around the areas where we will be working with the community. The memorials that we saw in each area were dominated by mining, everything from statues of individual miners to honour those who died in accidents, to murals of fossils that made the coal that made the town.