National Theatre of Scotland Presents: Just Start Here

Kate Steenhauer and Shane Strachan on ‘The Shelter’, a visual and verbatim piece of performance art


Alba Lopes Da Silva | Sat, 9 Mar 2019


courtesy of National Theatre of Scotland

This weekend, Aberdeen welcomes the Just Start Here Festival, a two-day event dedicated to the celebration of Scottish artists. As producer Ailie Crear explains, it is a festival designed ‘to provide a platform for emerging artists to showcase their work’ and ‘to foster a creative environment where new ideas and conversations can be sparked’.

The festival started in Glasgow in January 2018, and since then it has given itself the goal to move to another city every year, with Dumfries in mind for 2020. The outstanding character of Just Start Here lies exactly in its itinerant nature: the festival – and the National Theatre of Scotland itself – is not tied down to a specific city, thus giving the opportunity for various artists to share their works with a wider audience.

On the 8th of March, The Shelter, a live stage performance put together by artist Kate Steenhauer and writer Shane Strachan and supported by the National Theatre of Scotland and Aberdeen Performing Arts, was presented in the Anatomy Rooms in Marischal College. The Shelter reflects contemporary life in the streets of Aberdeen by combining and exploring the relationship between live drawing and verbatim performance. As the artists themselves explained, the engagement of both practices is ‘within each audience member and the path they choose between what they focus on most at different points in the show’; audiences might be enticed by Kate’s drawings or Shane’s texts, drifting between the two as they like. For the Just Start Here performance, they will be collaborating with musician and composer Ross Whyte who added sounds and street noises recorded on the streets of Aberdeen.

While Kate draws out scenes depicting different situations, Shane performs a text mimicking the way Kate draws, ultimately syncing the two art forms into a single theatrical experience. For Kate, ‘the ‘simple’ beauty and beckoning intimacy of drawings are not given enough place and justice in private and public galleries’ – ‘I have therefore been trying to find new ways for audiences to engage with drawings that will capture the imagination and attention of the viewer’, she told the Gaudie. Her aim is to cast visual art out of its ‘static’ traditional position, showing its dynamic capacity in an intimate and genuine way. Shane’s texts – performed in various local Aberdonian dialects such as Doric – explore the writer’s relationship with the language and his ‘individual sense of it being something that is potentially fading along with a way of life related to the fishing communities [he] was brought up in’. For him, this is more ‘about a personal and regional experience, rather than a national or political issue’. The use of Doric in The Shelter is however obvious, as it is a depiction of what the artists have heard on the streets of Aberdeen.

One can question why the artists chose Aberdeen and what was the seed that inspired the performance. As they explain, the idea originated through them listening to and observing people in bus shelters on Union Street. They found an interesting contrast between the visual aspect of these scenes and the language used by these people. The goal was thus to explore the relationship and the connections between both art forms. As for why Aberdeen, the artists have explained that it is in this city that they have first met and started their collaboration for an event called One Day to Play in 2017, an event created with Aberdeen in mind. The Shelter is a love letter to Aberdeen, depicting its wide array of dialects and accents and reflecting the ‘now’ of the city instead of focusing on the past as most north-east theatre tends to do.

The festival has chosen Aberdeen this year as its crew has been working in the city for a few years now. Producer Ailie Crear told the Gaudie that the festival felt a sense of bringing artists of different backgrounds together to perform in Aberdeen, a city she feels ‘has really strong spoken word, dance and music scenes, but not necessarily much theatre’. In association with Citymoves and Speakin’ Weird, the festival wants to create a space for a wider array of creative expression including dance, music, poetry etc. Besides The Shelter, other performances include The Afflicted (9th of March), a piece of dance theatre,  Now/Apathy/Action (9th of March) which explores climate change’s effect on the world, among many other live music events, workshops and conversations by various Scottish artists. For more info and tickets, visit the Just Start Here website.

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