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Scourie Residency - a producer's perspective

Midway through writing our Creative Scotland application to develop When Mountains Meet, I spoke with the team about where we should hold the first week of development. When Anne casually mentioned that she had access to holiday houses in Scourie in the Highlands the answer from Co-Directors Kath Burlinson and Niloo-Far Khan, my covid-restricted, central-belt based colleagues, was a resounding HIGHLANDS. And so, the decision was made.

Writing an application for an in-person development mid-way through a worldwide pandemic feels a bit like buying things on the never never – you know you will deliver a project but you aren’t very sure when. When we submitted, I don’t think I really believed that the week in the Highlands would actually come to pass, rather that we would muddle through on Zoom. But in the middle of May, having written a Covid-protocol, with a bubbled team and a car crammed full of lateral flow tests, we were off to Scourie Bay.

Scourie is in the Highlands, two hours northwest of Inverness in the middle of the North West Highlands Geopark and is an extraordinary landscape. It is where Anne Wood, our Lead Artist on When Mountains Meet, spent much of her childhood and it has cultivated her fascination with geology, both of her home and the home of her Pakistani father. Being able to explore the knochan (little hills) and lochan (little lochs) with Anne’s local knowledge gave us all a valuable insight into the roots of her story.

It is also very far away, and conversations needed to be had with our collaborators, percussionist Rick Wilson and actor/musician Afnan Iftikhar, who would not only have to make long journeys (from North Wales and Middlesbrough) but were also going to have to live cheek-by-jowl with five other people they didn’t know from Adam for a week. Fortunately, they were both game and after a little hiccup caused by Scotrail strikes we were all in situ and ready to go.

I feel this blog should cover the brilliant work the creative team did during the week (and they definitely did) but my reality was more prosaic. It turns out planning meals for seven people for a week is quite a thing – we had at least four types of milk and enough tins of coconut milk and chickpeas to last for months. Leading up to and during the residency, to say that this occupied most of my waking hours would be an understatement. In a previous job, I regularly managed residential theatre projects, often with dubious food and I know how it can impact morale. So, it was really important to me that the WMM team felt comfortable and accommodated while we were away. Consequently, a lot of our conversations were about food, so many that apparently our Digital Artist, John McGeoch who kept a tally, lost count. However, since food and its role in cultural connection and identity is part of the When Mountains Meet story, I considered this an important part of the development work…!

The team worked hard, often in a darkened room so restorative walks and refreshing, head-clearing swims in the tropical-looking Scourie Bay were part of the process. An excellent week was had, delicious food was eaten, but perhaps most importantly, good progress was made.


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