David Pollock talks to Euan Martin about the latest Right Lines project
THE LOCAL community centre, in popular imagery, is a traditional space which is under threat, a hub for people to congregate around and form a social group in the face of funding cuts and the decrease in activity which runs alongside those cuts.
YET that doesn’t tell the whole story of people’s determination to keep their communities alive across the country, and the network of village halls in the Highlands and Islands is representative of that.
Based in Alves in Moray, theatre production company Right Lines have created a new, cross-generational performance event which celebrates both this fact and the role the village hall continues to play in people’s lives. Across six local halls, Hall Tales has been an ongoing community engagement project which saw filmmaker Tim Flood run basic film production courses for young people in each village, with the students then going out to film the village hall recollections of elder members of their communities for one Hall Tales film to be shown at each final performance.
This month’s tour of six shows spread over a fortnight will also feature exhibitions of artefacts related to the village halls they’re staged in and a central performance of a past Right Lines production, the one-man, site-specific play Watching Bluebottles, in which actor Ron Emslie plays a hallkeeper preparing for his own retirement.
“The local hall has a very special place in our hearts,” says Euan Martin, who runs Right Lines alongside Dave Smith. “Both Dave and I were brought up in church and village halls and see them as fantastic, adaptable venues. Since we set up Right Lines ten years ago we’ve principally toured our shows there, and it’s only recently we’ve started creating them for more traditional theatre spaces.”
When he points out that these places are adaptable and versatile, he’s suggesting that the imagination really is the limit for those who want to use them for new and interesting purposes. “One of our first shows was called Accidental Death of An Accordionist,” Martin points out by way of illustration, “and it was set at a ceilidh in a village hall. So we took the show out to these small venues and the people arrived at the hall as if they were coming to a ceilidh, getting involved in dancing and listening to music before the actual show broke out around them.”
A lot of the allure of such places, he suggests, is the individual character they’ve built up over time, the fact that each one is different. “Although over the last few years, a remarkable number of halls have managed to get grants to do them up,” he points out. “One of the funny things about Watching Bluebottles is that we very much wrote the story about the old hall and the old hallkeeper, and in the show he talks about the new hall being built down the road and how he’s not going to transfer. So what we wanted was the old, crumbly, draughty halls to perform it in, because they had the greatest character. But when we booked it the committees were so excited they decided to stage it as the first show in their brand new, centrally-heated and wonderfully decorated hall instead.”
For their next project Martin and Smith are debuting a version of Roger Hunt’s book Be Silent Or Be Killed, a true account of the Scots banker’s days caught amidst the Mumbai massacre. Opening at the beginning of May and touring throughout the month, the piece was made possible by a little seed funding from the National Theatre of Scotland and full funding for the tour from Creative Scotland. Yet Smith believes that the future climate for such projects will become more difficult given the controversial news about Moray slashing its entire arts budget.
“It’s a very short-sighted move,” says Smith. “I think it’s much less likely that larger organisations will want to bring shows into Moray, and it also hits your personal enthusiasm for doing this. Everyone knows you just have to go out there and make things happen, but that’ll be even harder now in terms of the level of administration involved.” The loss of a dedicated arts officer, the feeling is, will be the biggest blow, with nobody on hand to discuss arts projects with the council on a daily basis.
“Yet there are two wonderful organisations in the Highlands and the north-east,” points out Martin. “There’s NEAT (North East Arts Touring) and the Touring Network (formerly PAN, the Promoters’ Arts Network), with both of their specific aims being to support touring theatre companies in the area, so they’re helping keep village halls and village hall theatre alive. And if this is under threat, that’s why people should put all the more effort into making things happen.”
Hall Tales opens tonight (15 March) at Kinloss Church Hall, and runs until 30 March at Dyke Village Hall. Full details at Right Lines website below.
© David Pollock, 2013