Our walk begins at Brodick beach just as the sun sets and ends on a field at the foot of Goat Fell. We transition from the sea to the sky. The first thing we ask the spectators to do is to listen to the wind and the waves, to become aware of the sight of the peaks of Arran and the faint outlines of mainland Scotland in the distant mist. Later in the walk they hear voices of Islanders, collected by History researcher Hannah Baxter, explaining how the landscape of Arran creates a particular sense of identity, a kind of topophilia as one of them says. Along the way fragments of a Viking song not performed for hundreds of years trail in the wind, brought to life by the skills and imagination of opera singer Brianna Robertson-Kirkland. We transition from the present to the past. Finally, after nightfall, the procession arrives at its destination. A series of reconstructed funeral pyres are lit above Brodick bay: an instance of experimental archaeological research for some, a sensual event evocative of rituals of a past so far-away it often feels entirely severed from us for others. The fire burns until late in the night while spectators drink beer and chat about Bronze Age cosmology. We have transitioned from dusk to nightfall.
As a practice-based researcher in Theatre Studies my research is founded upon the conviction that performance is a way of thinking in its own right and that creative work can both produce and communicate knowledge. For example, Burning the Circle, the piece detailed above– developed with Northlight Heritage and supported by the National Trust for Scotland – emerged from a collaboration between a charity specialising in archaeological heritage and researchers in Theatre Studies, Music and History. The aim of the piece was not simply to transmit information to an audience in a creative form but to make use of the potential of performance to engage in sensate, affective and corporeal ways. The crackling of flames in the night, the shadows cast by a perpetually transforming fire and the uttering of words in a lost language allowed both the audiences and researchers a glimpse of how Bronze Age pyre burnings might have felt and what feelings Viking music might have roused in its listeners. Authenticity was not the goal as much as producing an embodied experience of sights, sounds, smells and atmospheres.
Since performance is a fundamentally collaborative and public field, it has a lot to offer knowledge exchange activities. Performance events like Burning the Circle are an opportunity to bring together people from different backgrounds, who possess various types of knowledge and know-how to collaborate, to exchange perspectives and ideas while building towards a shared experience. Working with non-University partners – whether the dancers, actors and live artists I work with or festivals and organisations that programme my performance works – gives me the opportunity to make my knowledge and expertise available outside of the University while in turn my research is propelled in new, unforeseen directions through these encounters.
Text by Cara Berger – Theatre Studies Teaching Assistant (Theatre, Film and Television Studies)
View Cara’s video on YouTube