Anna Hodgart is sitting in her office at Rockvilla, the National Theatre of Scotland’s now year-old state-of-art canal-side Glasgow home. The former industrial space is set beside Speirs Wharf, not too far from Cowcaddens underground just outside the city centre. As the NTS’ playfully named Engine Room Producer, however, Hodgart’s mind is focused squarely on events taking place this weekend at Civic House, the former offices of the self-styled ‘theatre without walls’ just down the road.
The event in question is Just Start Here, a two-day ‘playground for Scottish artists’ that brings together a compendium of rough and ready works in progress. Taking advantage of Civic House’s confines, this will be delivered in a speak-easy environment where performance, live music, provocation and discussion come together in a great big mash-up of cross-artform collaboration and explorations of marginalised identities.
“We wanted to bring different kinds of bespoke artists working in different areas into the same space,” says Hodgart. “Theatre exists in different ways in all art-forms, so we want Just Start Here to be as open as possible. There are some communities as well, like the LGBTQ community, who might feel isolated in various ways, but who are still making really interesting work that they want to develop.
“Looking at the landscape of opportunities that are around, especially since the Arches closed, I think there’s a gap we can fill, and it’s really exciting seeing artists developing relationships and watching these different worlds collide so all these different art-forms bump into each other.”
Over the course of its two days, Just Start Here will feature work by theatre artists such as director Debbie Hannan and writer/performer Adura Onashile. The programme also includes poet Hannah Lavery and veteran of events at the Arches and the Buzzcut festival, Laurie Brown.
Hannan, whose previous work includes an audacious adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground and a studio production of Howard Barker’s Lot and his God at the Citizens Theatre, will stage a version of Ali Smith’s love story, Girl Meets Boy.
Onashile has previously written and performed in HeLa, about American woman of colour Henrietta Lacks, whose stolen stem cells helped foster major scientific breakthroughs. Onashile also wrote Expensive S***, about a Nigerian toilet attendant exiled in Glasgow away from her privileged position in Lagos in the court of radical musician Fela Kuti. For Just Start Here, Onashile will present Ignorance is a Sweet Cup of Tea, a series of ten-minute one-to-one encounters about intimacy, identity and the art of drinking tea.
Brown will continue in a similar vein with Dinner, in which the audience take part in a performative meal that looks at the role food plays in our lives, observing certain rituals as they go. The Drift is Lavery’s auto-biographical spoken-word show, in which she explores her own sense of belonging in Scotland. One Day to Play is a project curated by Ashanti Harris of Project X, the Glasgow-based dance company that looks at traditional and contemporary dance forms within Scotland’s African diaspora, and artist Camara Taylor. A committee member of Glasgow’s long-standing artist-led space, Transmission, Taylor’s work has previously looked at the experiences of people of colour and their poor representation in artistic institutions. Here, Harris and Taylor will oversee a paid opportunity for four artists from different disciplines to work together developing a new idea.
Music at Just Start Here will be provided by Kenyan-born Beldina Odenyo Onassis, aka Heir of the Cursed, and Glasgow-based duo Bossy Love. Further sounds will come from Glasgow Grassroots DJs, a set-up born from a training programme designed to increase representation in electronic music for women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ communities. There will also be a panel discussion and workshop under the banner, If I had a hammer... These will be led by Richard Gregory of Quarantine Theatre Company, and will feature an opening provocation from the NTS’ recently appointed Futurist in Residence, Mark Stevenson.
“I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen with any of this,” says Hodgart. “Some of the work has already had some development elsewhere, but other than that anything could happen.”
Hodgart has been working at the NTS for the past four years, and has been Engine Room Producer since the end of 2016. Prior to joining the company, Hodgart’s own background is in promoting gigs, club nights and other events at a DIY grassroots level. This focused in part on work with feminist collective TYCI.
“A lot of that work chimed with the sorts of things the NTS is wanting to explore,” she says. “It’s about looking at what can be achieved with these sorts of activities if they have the resources that the NTS can provide, and what value the NTS can bring to all that.”
This is crucial to the NTS Engine Room initiative, which focuses on developing artistic communities on a practical day to day level, be it through providing rehearsal space, sharing admin time or simply bringing artists together to exchange ideas. There is also the Starter programme, in which eight artists are funded for a residency to explore ideas for making new work.
The NTS may have been resident in Rockvilla for more than a year now, but both Civic House and Rockvilla are part of a wider cultural estate. As well as the NTS, other residents in the neighbourhood includes the Whisky Bond, which provides a home for numerous cultural tenants, and Glasgow Sculpture Studios. Close to Civic House and Rockvilla are the Glue Factory, Scottish Opera and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Wallace Studios.
Since the NTS left Civic House, the building has been taken over by the duo of Helen Teeling and Rob Morrison, who operate under the name of Agile City. This group looks to a holistic form of regeneration, which is based, not on money-driven developments, but as a response to social and economic change.
“One of the questions I think we’ll be asking at Just Start Here is what do we want our cities to look like, and what are artists’ roles within that space. Civic House is a good place to do that.”
Beyond this weekend, a second Just Start Here event is planned for Aberdeen in November. This will see Hodgart and the NTS team up with Aberdeen Performing Arts for a series of events that will include a day of ‘climate change creative action’. This will form part of Season for Change 2018, a seven-month long initiative which sees various tendons of the UK’s creative communities hosting assorted events highlighting their concerns for the future of the planet through artistic actions. This is led by environmental-based arts group Julie’s Bicycle, live art producers Artsadmin and Battersea Arts Centre. How the rest of the Aberdeen event turns out is anybody’s guess, but the plans for Just Start Here are long term.
“What would be amazing to come out of all this,” says Hodgart, “is that the art form of theatre is somehow expanded by artists working in other forms and disciplines, and that through that are able to show what theatre can be. That’s really empowering in itself, but there is the hope as well that by bringing all these artists together in this way we can somehow help them get to the next stage. Just Start Here is just a small thing, but we’re hoping to develop things in such a way that artists’ ambitions aren’t contained solely to small things due to a lack of resources. We want artists from all forms to take their ideas forward so they can continue to think big.”
Just Start Here, Civic House, Glasgow, January 26-27.
The Herald, January 26th 2018