Catrin Evans is the Artistic Director of A Moment’s Peace Theatre Company, whose daring, participatory arts projects across Scotland have gained widespread acclaim and critical adulation. Last year she wrote Endurance in conjunction with The Women’s Creative Company, which had its world premiere at The Arches as part of the Culture 2014 celebrations. Her recent directing credits include Dear Scotland for The National Theatre of Scotland, Some Other Mother by AJ Taudevin, The Sweet Silver Song of the Lark by Molly Taylor, and Fragile by David Greig as part of Theatre Uncut in New York.
This Saturday, in her #ArchesCommons session At The Heart, Evans will reflect on her last two projects – the sports-focused Endurance, and 2013′s I Could Eat A Horse, which explored the food supply chain and the human stories behind the complex world of food production. Always collaborative, reflective and deeply insightful, her work with A Moment’s Peace is at the heart of what Evans calls ‘socially-engaged arts practice.’ We sat down with her ahead of this weekend’s session to ask a few questions.
Your Arches Commons session will explore the notion of “socially-engaged arts practice.” Can you give us a definition of this, for the un-initiated?
Socially engaged arts practice, for me, is rooted in the links between art and its social resonance, whether that be thematically, stylistically and/or to do with the processes used to create the work. It is also about work that wants to engage in conversation, between the personal and the political, between the audience and the performer, between the art and the community. It is interested in people and humanity. It has deep connections with political activism and does often foreground social issues. I understand the practice to be inherently collaborative – although to what degree will depend upon the work. These are just my own thoughts – and just today – there is so much in the term ‘socially engaged arts practice’ that it requires constant interrogation.
What changed for you (if anything), in terms of your approach to your work after last year’s referendum?
I’m not sure anything has changed specifically. I guess I have been galvanised by the amount of work that is politicised and the fact that a wide section of the arts community (and beyond) have been talking much more openly about social justice and what role art has in demanding that for us all. But I feel that I have always been fairly open about being a political person – and a politicised artist, and so maybe I just feel more at home than ever. I think if anything its really forced me to ask questions about why I make work, whose is it for/with and what/who is it serving. I find myself more and more resistant to what I see to be the corporatisation of the arts, and the growing obsession with branding and at the far end arts projects/institutions operating as a branding exercise either for themselves or their sponsors. With that, it feels like the arts world has resigned itself to the fact that we are going to have to ‘adapt to survive’ under an austerity regime – and if that means getting in bed with the devil then so be it! That scares me and actually it makes me challenge myself to question whether making the work is more important that the political principles that I feel strongly. I don’t know, it’s hard. Everyone has to compromise but I guess I have been asking myself a lot lately about whose side I am on – and that’s not about yes or no… am I pro establishment or am I not? I reckon you can guess what my answer usually is. I do not want my work to ever become an arm of the austerity campaign – and so the last few years have helped recognise that and I guess it just forces me to be rigorous with my choices.
A Moment’s Peace has always sought to engage artists and audiences beyond the scope of regular theatre-makers and theatre-goers. How important is it for theatre as an art form to widen its base of participation, and why?
Very!!! And there are too many reasons to list. Ultimately I think my drive comes from a desire to see on stage and make work that foregrounds for a multiplicity of voices and stories. Why should theatre be the reserve of an elite – whether that be economic or otherwise? Storytelling and performance has such a rich history and it doesn’t belong to a certain type of person. Why are there some people that we need to hear from all the time (for example The Default Man) when there are so may other people/makers whose stories could inspire and challenge us. I think the key for me is not to think about participatory work as an artist or organisation gifting something upon people, but seeing instead participation has an exciting opportunity to learn from each other and to be inspired by each other. I’m certainly not saying that all theatre makers and venues at all time should be participatory – that’s when you end up with tokenistic work – but I do think that organisations particularly need to be constantly assessing whether their work is reaching as widely as it could, and if it’s not, why not?
Your last two projects took on themes relating to sport (Endurance) and food/diet (I Could Eat A Horse). Is part of a socially-engaged arts practice picking subjects to discuss to which everyone can relate? What subject or subjects do you hope to explore in the future?
I always feel inspired by themes and issues that are complicated and contradictory – where there is no easy answer. That’s where I think creative conversations can be so powerful and provocative. Often these do end up being themes that everyone can relate to. I am interested in how we develop work that finds space for the distinct narratives and how we can find forms to put these in conversation. AMP’s next big project will be next year – My House is a creative exploration of land ownership and housing. Another meaty complicated subject which we’re very excited about.
Finally, what kind of discussions do you hope to open up at this weekend’s event?
I am really looking forward to Saturday. I plan for it to be as discursive as possible – with everyone there getting a chance to chew over some key questions that I find myself grappling with at the moment. The thing that I am most passionate about is interrogating not ‘the value of art’ but instead ‘the values of the artist’. We can never predict, and nor should we, how an audience might react to work but I am interested in intentionality – what kind of reaction do we set out to provoke. Do we want to unsettle? Do we want to challenge? Do we want to dismantle? All of these ideas feed into the forms and style that we as artists chose to use within each piece of work – can the aesthetic respond to the politics of the work as well as the processes involved in getting there? And there’ll be some other stuff too no doubt!
The Arches Commons: At the Heart
Sat 25 Apr 2015 | 2.30pm | Free, Unticketed | 14+
(under-16s must be accompanied by an adult)
Catrin Evans collaborated with artisan bakers Bread Matters on the project I Could Eat A Horse - on Saturday 25 April, Bread Matters present thier own #ArchesCommons session, Scotland The Bread, sharing their own-recipe sourdough, and asking ‘Who Stole Our Daily Bread?’ Read our interview with Veronica Burke of Bread Matters here.
Part of Behaviour Festival