CIYC: Keira Smith

Keira Smith describes her Creative in your Community project which focusses on stories about the LGBTQ+ experience in the Highlands, in an effort to show the struggles of individuals in the community as well as celebrate and uplift these people and shed light on their experiences.

My project is a verbatim piece on the experiences of LGBTQIA+ people living in the Scottish Highlands. The piece focuses on the shared experiences of these individuals, their unique stories about how their identity is received by the world around them up here, as well as tries to provide solutions for the obvious divides both within the community itself, and as a cohesive whole with the rest of Highland society and culture.

The initial idea for my project came from a personal feeling that I felt disconnected from the LGBTQIA+ community in the Highlands. As someone who has moved up to Inverness recently, it’s an aspect of my identity that can have an effect on my social interactions. Moving to an area where I wasn’t sure what the social protocol for queer people was, or what options I had to reach out into the community was really daunting. With my project, I wanted to mainly explore if my initial thoughts of the community up here were felt by others, with loftier aspirations to make the community more visible through my findings. Throughout the project timeline, I contacted and interviewed several queer people living in the Highlands with a set of questions that served to highlight what I felt were issues impacting the community in the area. From my findings, I discovered that all the participants had an intense focus on the visibility of the community and normalising the existence of it in the area.

What I learned from my participants that there is a large queer community in the Highlands, much bigger than I had initially realised, but it feels separated and disjointed because of the size of the geographical area. The experience of a queer person living in Inverness is not the same as the experience of queer person living in Fort William, for example. This disconnect is further exasperated by a generational divide; between the older generation that has lived through such events as the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and my generation of young queer people. Facts like this made me grateful for the participants who had power in LGBT+ organisations or in other sectors to try and bridge that gap and inspired me to structure the piece the way I did; to allow for the solutions these people provided for problems that affect them and their community specifically, to be brought forward and made the focus of the attention.

The project serves to benefit many people. Firstly, it benefitted me personally by giving me a connection to the community up here; through this project I have made a lot of friends with the participants who I am still close with. I also gained professional experience running my own project with a budget along with clear aspirations to take it further. I would like to think that my participants and actors gained a lot from the process. The participants got to share their stories and their hopes for the community going forward and those hopes are now realised within the piece. Once the piece can be performed, I want to show it to people within the community who have the power to make the changes stated. I hope that the piece may be able to make changes for the better of the community. The actors involved, many of them students, also get to be involved in a professional performance and be paid for their time. This can be important experience going forward and, especially after the struggle of this year, gives them some monetary gain in an industry they are looking to enter.

I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you again for the Highland Youth Arts Hub, not only for all their support for my project but also for the enlightening Creative Conversations that have definitely had an influence on my practice. The most applicable for my project was the first one discussing GDPR and data protection. This creative conversation was particularly useful for me, as I was handling people’s personal data, and I learned more about how to handle that information ethically and with the greatest care. It also influenced how I conducted my interviews; prompting me to take on recording the interviews to ensure I didn’t miss any useful information as well as making the interviews more comfortable for the participants. The other conversations, while not wholly connected to my specific project, were incredibly useful and taught me things that I will take into the future of my practice. Most notably, thinking about how I can make my work accessible for all and what impact my work has on the environment.

As for moving ahead with my project, I am hosting my first public viewing of the piece this month, which I hope will gleam more insight into how an audience will receive it. Going forward, I would like to refine the script and extend the piece to a 1-hour runtime (from its current 40-minute runtime). I would then like to see it fully realised in a performing venue, with plans to take it on tour. In the next year, I will be looking at additional funding options for this piece to help make these aspirations come to reality. Ideally, providing we see a significant change from the current COVID situation, I will have a live performance of the piece available to the public in the next year (end of 2021-beginning of 2022) with the option for it to tour in 2022-23.

You can find out more on my blog where I will feature both this report and a piece on the challenges of directing over a virtual rehearsal space.