“…it wasn’t long before I noticed a growth in my confidence to take my art practice seriously.”
My journey with Scottish Youth Theatre began in early 2022 when I had recently moved back to Glasgow after living abroad. The severity of the pandemic was only beginning to lift and I had just turned down a place on an Art in Public Space Masters course in France due to Covid restrictions and, admittedly, a lack of confidence. Therefore, feeling pretty disappointed in myself for this ‘failing’ (as I saw it at the time), I was pushing myself to establish an independent arts practice, but felt at an impasse. I felt that to establish my own practice I would need time to reflect, experiment, understand my motivations and build confidence, without the pressures of a pre-determined brief or needing the outcome to be profitable. Scottish Youth Theatre’s 10-week development programme Trajectories came just at the right time and provided just that; offering a generous bursary that lifted the worry of losing any income. With two full days dedicated to the programme per week – involving workshops from visiting creatives and collaborative devising exercises with the other residents – it wasn’t long before I noticed a growth in my confidence to take my art practice seriously. Wellbeing was also an integral part of the programme, so while we were working in an intense environment, it never felt overwhelming.
As we began to conceptualise our own individual pieces, SYT encouraged us to be ambitious and to think big. It was refreshing to feel encouraged to depart from our own desires and intuitions, rather than working backwards from restriction, which allowed me to let go of the arduously learnt process of scaling ideas down purely to fit into the constraints of a brief or budget. Before Trajectories, I had been working a lot with the re-appropriated format of the museum, juxtaposing this institutionalised and often exclusive framing with the intangible, temporal or evasive elements I injected them with. For example, Huelva is the Shape of a Teardrop was an urban sprawling museum inviting the city’s inhabitants to reflect on the things they missed during the pandemic. The Museum of Missing Myths was an outdoor guided tour of dioramas representing the local myths and legends of Inverclyde that never made it into the local museum. And It Felt Like That was an ever-growing archive of personal heartbreaks, re-enacted on tomato specimens by audience members and then stored in an anatomical museum. This manipulation of supposedly high-brow spaces to house the popular, the personal and the collective memory was something I wanted to continue exploring. However, the contents of these museums were all generously donated to me by members of the public through collection boxes, workshops or interactive performance. I had framed their donations in said museums with the belief that all stories deserved to be revered, mourned or celebrated just as much as anything stored in a national museum. Yet, I had never tested this out using my own stories. And while I felt apprehensive to do so – in the fear that it would become something self-indulgent – I felt an urgency to try. During Trajectories, I therefore decided to donate my entire life to the museum. The dilemma, however, was to not create something that purely started and ended with myself. The goal was more so to use my life and memories as a transmitter to reflect on the world I was born into. More specifically, the east end of Glasgow at the dawning of a new millennium.
The Museum of Missing Myths
Huelva is the Shape of a Teardrop
It Felt Like That
Initially, I had no idea if my personal memories really had the power to do such a thing. My own creative process to find out was at times chaotic, often stressful and always confusing. Yet Trajectories provided the perfect atmosphere to take this creative risk. Supportive, but never determinant, the SYT team were there to offer feedback, gently question creative decisions and suggest possible solutions. But there was no ‘handholding’ – the process was, ultimately, completely my own. This demonstration of trust on their part thereafter reflected a renewed trust in myself and my work.
The culmination of my experience on Trajectories was an interactive outdoor exhibition displaying times and spaces through which I had passed in the first 25 years of my life, represented by sculptures built from old junk, found objects and toys. Such spaces spanned from my mother’s womb all the way to a crystal cave in Spain 24 years later where I accidentally stopped time itself. All 16 ‘spaces’ were paired with memories, pre-recorded as audio segments on MP3 players, many of which contained emotions of loss, neglect, decay and displacement. Alongside the installation, I created an interactive performance that detailed my first most lucid memory: a visit to newly elected Tony Blair’s Millennium Dome project at the dawning in 2000 – a narrative that my 3-year-old self had somehow merged with Barbie’s quest to build a music venue in outer space in the 1997 film Out of This World.
Putting the final touches to my exhibits on the day of the Trajectories End Event, I was proud that I had fulfilled a few long-term ambitions, such as creating an intermedia project for and about public space(s) involving written text, installation, live performance, audience participation and sound design all in one. I was also proud that I had made the piece almost entirely from ‘junk’; repurposing and recycling as I went. Admittedly, there was also a feeling of catharsis, having externalised a 25-year archive of memory into something tangible. However, it wasn’t until I shared the work with audiences that my hope for fragments of my own embodied memories to suggest something about time and space more universally was affirmed – as was the power of personal memories to reawaken collective memory in others.
Redeveloping the piece 6 months later for Scottish Youth Theatre’s Encounters tour was a challenging process and required some rethinking. The commission was to tour the piece across North and North Eastern Scottish locations, performing it to young people studying acting and performance at college. This meant, firstly, that the original format of a giant installation would not be suitable. Secondly, as audiences would be younger (and therefore the majority likely not even born when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and the dome being built), I would not be able to rely on the collective memory of my audience to relate to the piece. The constraint of needing a transportable piece of work was a blessing in disguise as, during Trajectories, the performance element of my piece didn’t feel like it had developed into its full potential. While the content of the performance stayed somewhat the same, I framed it differently and accentuated the interactivity of the piece, with the young people becoming integral to the building of the Millenium Dome and my transformation into Barbie. While it was challenging to re-adapt for an audience who didn’t have the same cultural reference points, it only served to further confirm that memories, even of one individual, are testimony to the way politics from the top trickle down into the movements of everybody’s everyday life, leaving their deposits in our world long after the source appears to have gone.
“the artistic vision I developed within the supportive framework that Scottish youth theatre provided through these commissions has been instrumental.”
At the time of Encounters in March, I was simultaneously preparing an audition performance as part of the re-application process to the Art in Public Space Masters course I had turned down 2 years previous. The performance persona of a construction worker I had developed in Encounters became integral to this piece, and the narrative similarly interwove stories of the public spaces in which I grew up, cross-referencing their problematic imperial origins with the everyday realities that occupy them. This audition was successful, and I am now one of 15 students selected to begin the 2-year course at LA FAI-AR in Marseille in September 2023. I will be attending the course with a lot more clarity towards the intentions behind my work than I would have had I taken the place 2 years ago. It therefore feels like this process has come full circle, and the artistic vision I developed within the supportive framework that SYT provided through these commissions has been instrumental. Since Trajectories, I have been working full time as a creative freelancer, receiving my own commissions as well as performing with various other theatre companies – something I don’t think I would have had the confidence to do without my time with SYT. I really recommend applying for a development project with Scottish Youth Theatre if you are serious about making your own work, but feel you need a bit of… well… time and space to get started!!
Lily Carmen Smith