At ITAC3, the International Teaching Artists Conference in Edinburgh, we gathered in a small room for a session with Simon Sharkey of the National Theater of Scotland, and we were not disappointed. Simon’s Scottish brogue was thick, melodious, and inviting. He began talking about his company (which was founded in 2006), and he catalogued the staggering number of productions they have created in their short history. Most famous is surely Blackwatch, an international hit based on a Scottish regiment’s witnessing of the war in Iraq. I saw Blackwatch in New York in 2007, and though I had not seen any of its work since then, I was impressed enough by that experience to take its claims seriously.
Simon began to describe his theater’s central artistic approach to collaboration. He said it had to do with a certain Hirab Johnny. I was sitting next to a fellow American, Tricia Tunstall, and she and I both turned to one another quizzically, as if to say, “what did he say?” After one or two more references to the stages of Hirab Johnny, Tricia asked me, “who is he? Is he someone we are supposed to know about?” It still took a few more paragraphs of that smoky Scottish brogue before we realized that Hirab Johnny was at the center of Joseph Campbell’s take on mythology, and therefore was not a specific person at all. All along Simon had been saying “a hero’s journey,” not “Hirab Johnny.”
In fact, a hero’s journey is central to the way Simon and his colleagues work when devising a play with far-flung collaborators. They begin with five steps of the journey (a distilled version of Joseph Campbell’s more elaborate breakdowns):
Working through a variety of exercises that introduce the hero’s journey, they then embark on the creation of theater pieces that tell a heroic tale. Since the National Theater of Scotland seeks collaborations with communities from all over the world, they naturally learn about stories from other cultures that inspire and stimulate exchange among nations. Rather than thinking of a national theater that enshrines its own heritage, Scotland’s national theater reaches out to create relationships with other countries and communities.
The company’s newest venture is entitled “Home Away,” and it answers the company’s initiative from its first year, “Home.” They are collaborating with communities in Chicago, New Delhi, Jamaica, Brisbane, Rio De Janeiro, and in Scotland: (Glasgow, South Uist, Dundee, Tomintoul & Glenlivet), and internationally through the World Wide Web. The new pieces will be premiered this Fall in Scotland, along with a five day participatory arts conference. More info at www.homeaway2016.com
You are invited to attend, and if you go, please say hello to Hirab Johnny for me.(And oh, Simon, too, pictured below)