Argyll’s Walking Theatre Company and its offspring, the Canadian Walking Youth Theatre, are presenting the Scottish debut of an original work, Selkirk’s New Nation, at The Scottish Parliament in June.
The Walking Theatre Company, a Social Enterprise, produces a signature brand of interactive, largely outdoor, theatre, engaging audiences within the play and within the environment that surrounds them.
The Canadian Walking Youth Theatre is made up of a diverse group of pupils from Powerview School in Manitoba, descended from Canadian First Nations, of Cree, Ojibwe, Mètis and French, Irish and Scottish settlers.
The story of this cross-continental collaboration began when Nancy Kovachil, a teacher at Powerview, came to the Argyll Isle of Lismore in 2010 to participate in a Mairi Campbell fiddle workshop there – the Mairi Campbell who wrote the theme for Sex and the City.
Literally, as Nancy got off the boat she was whirled into a Walking Theatre Company show in which the company was working with their first youth team, the Lismore Walking Youth Theatre – doing what they do best – entertaining.
Nancy, who says she was ‘utterly swept away by the experience’, got hold of the company’s artistic director and playwright, Sadie Dixon-Spain and put the question: ‘Can you bring this to Canada?’
The answer was never in doubt and the result, sponsored by Highlands and Islands MSP, Mike Mackenzie, will be seen in the Scottish Parliament and on Lismore later this month. Argyll and Bute’s MSP, Michael Russell will be at the performance and has arranged for the presence of none other than today’s Lord Selkirk, who will be a reverberant presence at this partocjular event
Selkirk’s New Nation, written by Sadie Dixon-Spain and shaped by the youth team’s own heritage and cultural references, explores the impact of Lord Selkirk’s ‘Scots’ Settlers on Canadian history – and the legacy shared by the Canadians and the Scots today.
A Walking Theatre Company team worked in Manitoba for 3 weeks in May, forming the first Canadian Walking Youth Theatre and producing four public performances of the play around the province over a single manic and unforgettable weekend.
Politically, it was very much of the moment.
The Mètis people this year, 2013, were granted their own ‘land rights’ by the Canadian Government, after an unimplemented treaty of 1870 – so the story of Selkirk’s New Nation carried a particular resonance for many of the audience at the performances, which included members of the Scottish Diaspora.
For so long, the Mètis have been a ‘hidden people’, without land or identity, lost like the generations of cleared Highlanders – but, like Selkirk’s people, they have found their ‘own way’.
The adventure to Scotland has been done with no pubic funding. The community of Powerview raised over $100,000 to get their Youth Team to Scotland in June to perform the play at Holyrood and on the Isle of Lismore. They did this wiht fundraising initiatives and sponsorship from organisations like the Selkirk Foundation in Canada.
The visit will be a powerful experience for many of the youth group who feel they will be visiting their ‘home from home’ for the first and possibly once-in-a-lifetime touchdown.
The performance at the Scottish Parliament is an invitation only affair but the one on Lismore – on Sunday 30th June 2013 at 14.30hrs – is a public event, followed by tea in the Café at the award-winning Lismore Heritage Centre.
This sounds like a surfeit of pleasure in one sequence of experiences: driving to Port Appin, taking the passenger ferry over the short crossing to Point in the NE corner of Lismore, being part of a performance like few others and having tea on the high deck of the Lismore Heritage Centre, with a view you cannot imagine until you see it.