Brimming with ideas and enthusiasm, and always questioning the status quo, Lindsay Dunbar is a creative force to be reckoned with. Artistic director of Play Pieces, a company dedicated to supporting emerging theatre work in the Highlands, arts columnist for the Inverness Courier, and currently taking part in the Clore Fellowship, a programme of leadership tailored to the individual, she is also a thoroughly decent person.
Hi Lindsay, thanks for agreeing to take part in the Smorgasbord. How did your involvement with Play Pieces come about?
When I moved back to the Highlands I became involved with rural arts promotion. Working with voluntary promoters is really inspiring because they have an excellent understanding of their audiences as well as what makes great theatre. Part of my work was to inform the promoters about work available to tour the Highlands and I began to wonder where the next Dogstar or Right Lines theatre company was coming from. I thought support was needed and explored a model based on A Play, A Pie and A Pint to make theatre more accessible to rural audiences and to support Highland theatre makers to create new work. It’s been a great success with sell-out performances, shows going on to tour around Scotland and perform at the Edinburgh Festival.
Would you describe theatre as your passion, or is it part of a bigger picture for you?
I’m passionate about stories. I like hearing them and sharing them. I think theatre is a great way to share stories whether they are political, funny, personal dramas or historical. It’s just storytelling and there is no end of amazing stories to share.
What difficulties have you faced and what is your proudest achievement?
So many difficulties – starting a new organisation from scratch is hard. I’ve learned so much but there have been many heartbreaking moments of disappointment which are hard not to take personally. It’s taken me a long time to come back from some setbacks. I continue to feel proud about Play Pieces when I see how well artists we have supported are doing – Nicholas Ralph performed in the first ever Play Pieces Shorts as well as 3 lunchtime performances and he has just performed a critically-acclaimed run at the Citizens Theatre. It reminds me why I feel so passionate about supporting emerging work by Highland theatre-makers, we have real talent up here and creating a supportive theatre sector is essential.
When writing your weekly arts column for the Inverness Courier, Arty Ness, how organised are you?
Sometimes I can be very organised and start the column very early on in the week. Usually, though it’s a Sunday evening task, a nice chance to reflect on the week. I know it’s a good column when I can write most of it fairly quickly, if it flows. If I’m struggling to get past the first paragraph then I start a new idea. Sometimes it takes three attempts to get a column that works but I always save the first attempts. You never know when they will come in useful.
Are you ever stuck for ideas?
It’s an opinion piece so sometimes I feel I’ve exhausted all my opinions, I don’t want to bore people. A good column is one I can imagine ranting to someone about. Usually, I rein that rant in a bit after a few drafts.
Is there anything you’ve wanted to write about for the column but couldn’t, because of politics or artistic sensitivities?
There are some subjects I’d like to explore more around gender inequality in the arts or the lack of support for arts and cultural organisations because they fall outside the creative industries sector. Public authorities don’t seem to see the social and economic impact of some art forms. I’d love to name names more but the Highlands is such a small place.
What were you like at school?
Probably a nightmare. I suspect I was quite frustrating because I didn’t really try as hard as I could have. I talked too much, far more interested in the social aspect of school than the education. That’s what happens when you are from a small village with not many other children around you.
You are the current Clore Leadership Programme Fellow. What impact has that had on your life?
It’s challenged the way I think about my work, myself and what I want from my future. It’s given me space to explore new ideas and given me support to work through issues. I’m currently in the middle of a sticky, muddy, difficult part of my journey but I’ll get through it. I don’t think I’m going to see the full impact for many years, I hope I have many Clore moments to come but right now it’s where I need to be.
What advice would you give to the young Lindsay Dunbar?
Whatever you are thinking of doing…just don’t.
Who inspires you?
My daughter Millie is by far my biggest source of inspiration. She is the most authentic person I know and I hope she never loses that. She has a clear sense of what matters to her and she is sensitive to others too. She has no shame, there is a real sense of freedom about her and she loves being outside. She has never been a great sleeper and yet she has boundless energy and enthusiasm for life. She questions everything and never accepts the first answer. She makes me demented but god I wish I could be more like her.
If you could spend a day hanging out with any one person, past or present, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?
I would want to spend it with the teachers who have made an impression on my life. I don’t think we take the time to tell them how much we appreciate everything they have done for us. I would some time of the day with Al Fraser from Achiltibuie Primary school and berate him for encouraging us to down tools on sunny days and get outside. I now spend a lot of time staring out of windows longing to be up a hill when I should be working. I would sing in a choir with Val Bryan from Ullapool High School who gave me many opportunities to perform and taught me that anyone can sing. It’s not just singing, everyone has the ability to be creative if you let them. I would take the time to sit and thank Mrs Askew, my modern studies teacher in Edinburgh who spent her free-time to take coach me through the coursework to take me from a failed exam to an A pass. She was a kind, dedicated teacher who knew I was capable of better, she believed in me more than I believed in myself. Sadly I never got the chance to thank her properly for profoundly impacting my future. Finally, I’d like to ask my University Professor about the world today. Prof Cathal Ó Dochartaigh was the smartest man I’ve ever met and like Mrs Askew, he saw something in me which I didn’t – he encouraged me to speak up and to ask questions. He made me realise that it’s ok to thinking something completely different to everyone else in the room and it’s good to speak up and challenge perceptions. When you find someone who changes you I think we need to take the time to thank them and maybe take the time to help support others. I get very emotional at the end of The History Boys because of the profound effect the teachers have on their lives; “Pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do. Take it, feel it and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on, boys. That’s the game I want you to learn. Pass it on.”
Who would play Lindsay Dunbar in the film of your life?
I’d like a Studio Ghibli animation film please as someone growing up stuck between the real world and her imaginary one.
This could be written on my grave stone. I’ve always been a ‘what’s next?’ person. I am never content in the moment. Never. I tried mindfulness and couldn’t do it. I have accepted that I am never ‘in the moment’ because I’m always thinking ‘what’s next?’. I don’t think it’s a bad way to be. I like space and time to myself but only because I know I need to recharge for what’s next.
A few short questions to finish. Favourite:
Book: I read Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon when I was young and living in Edinburgh. I was missing the Highlands and everything I knew. The seasons, the land, the music and a young girl growing up all resonated with me. It’s just a beautiful book which I still quote and still has the power to make me cry.
Author: Frank Fraser Darling – although I’ve never actually read his books I collect them and I would love to develop a play around his work on Tanera Mor, near Achiltibuie. Fascinating man.
Drink: Black coffee in the morning, wine in the evening.
Food: I could eat pizza forever.
Film: Brazil by Terry Gilliam, I mean can you imagine a society driven by a pointless, ineffective, bureaucratic system dependent on technology, where the gap between rich and poor is growing, people become blasé to acts of terror around the world and women are stretching their faces unrecognisably in the name of beauty…
Music: I’m rediscovering Tori Amos and I’m delighted that the 14-year-old in me stills remembers all the words.
TV show: Oh so many, I love TV and we are in a golden age of box sets but Dr Who has been with me most of my life. I get quite emotional knowing that my daughter will have a female Doctor as her role model. Not many TV shows can make you feel like that.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve just finished Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman which made me sad because I didn’t want to leave her world. I can’t find another book yet as good as that to start reading so recommendations very welcomed.
Thanks, Lindsay. It’s been a real pleasure having you on the Smorgasbord.
Find out about the Isle Martin Writing Retreats 2018 here.