Illuminating the Scottish Character with "Anything That Gives Off Light"

Apr 28, 2016

A new play will explore the connection between this region’s Scots –Irish population and their ancestors in Scotland; their conceptions of personal freedom, responsibility and the meaning of home. 

The Brooklyn based theater ensemble is known for mining cultural history and mythology to create stories that illuminate the present moment.  The TEAM recently spent a few weeks in the Blue Ridge, interviewing locals here about their lives and world views, to find just the right take to craft characters for the play. Robbie Harris dropped in at a writing session and she prepared this report.

(Sound of The TEAM translating local stories into characters) “Is this the story we heard? The grandpa or the grandma pulls her over on the side of the road, , this was Nell, and says, ‘It’s voting day. We’re going to go vote now’ And she says,  ‘Well who are you voting for?

The theater group is actually called the TEAM.  And that’s because they work as one. They even write as one.

“And he goes, ‘You’re telling me you just started thinking about who you’re going to vote for on election day. What are you doing?  I’m not going to tell you.  You have to think for yourself.’ Yes, that’s your job all year round.”

hey were here doing a residency at Virginia Tech’s School of Performing Arts along with collaborating Scottish artists, and fanned out across Southern Appalachia, interviewing people who trace their roots to Scotland.

The Team

Rachel Chavkin is the director. She says, “So it’s a really fascinating question as to how,  if we took these seeds and planted them in American soil how did they change here?  People whose families are still in the coal industry, which was a huge area of Scots Irish employment and then farmers whose families were granted land by the King in the 1700s. So we talked with so many people who provide all these different entry points in the Scot s Irish legacy in this area.”

The Team is collaborating with the National Theater of Scotland on their play called "Anything that Gives Off Light,"a play on words and a clue that it delves into the political - exploring the idea of how the Scottish enlightenment cast its glow on this country.

“Again and again we’ve heard about the pride and sense of independence and sense of ‘leave me to do as I will on my land and with my family. Nobody tells me what to do’ coming out of the people who we’ve spoken with here who are Scots Irish descendants and our two Scottish performers, and Scotland as a whole, is a deeply liberal country that is incredibly invested in the public good and the public responsibility towards, everyone for everyone.  There was a Scottish slogan that’s like, 'All of Us First.' And so in a sense, that’s almost counter to the American spirit of Independence.  “

Davey Anderson is a writer, dramaturg, and co-director from Scotland. He says, “It’s not like looking in a mirror, it’s like looking in a kind of distorted mirror where some of the experiences and some of the values are very similar to where I come from in central belt Scotland and this area, Glasgow, but some of the political values and lived experiences are completely different in terms of being alone in this landscape where there’s a big emphasis on self reliance.”

And those issues form the arc of the play. An American woman from Appalachia on vacation in Scotland meets two Scottish guys in a Glasgow bar. And this being theater, of course they decide to go on a road trip.

Again, Rachel Chavkin: “In American movies it’s often a road trip west in Scottish movies it’s often a road trip north. And there’s also a line in the show that comments on that, in American movies y you’re always chasing the sunset and in Scottish movies it just gets colder and darker and wetter. “

But the road trip is not linear. It circles back and forth in time and place, magical realism merging the two homelands and the characters with their ancestors and descendants.

(Actors working on a scene)

“I’m Brian.”

“I’m happy to meet you.”

“Have you ever been to Scotland before?”

“First time.”

“When did you arrive?”

“I haven’t slept yet. Can you say you’ve arrived if you’ve not gone to bed there yet? I actually came from Jamaica. Bit of a second honeymoon without my husband.”

“I’m gonna call you ‘Red.’”

“I don’t think I want to be called that.”

(Singing)  “Well ye know come back again.  Well ye know come back again. Better loved you cannot be.  Well ye know come back again.”

“What’s that mean?  That song.”

“It’s a Jacobite song.”

“What does Jacobite mean?”

"Anything That Gives Off Light” premiers this August at the Edinburgh International Festival, and discussions are underway for a performance in Blacksburg.