Performance Collective Stranraer


image source: Performance Collective Stranraer

NOA managed to grab Performance Collective Stranraer (PCS) Director, Sarah Rose Graber, in between rehearsals to find out about the Collective’s latest projects, and how it supported creatives during COVID-19 restrictions.


PCS is a diverse Collective that aims to (primarily) support 16–25-year-old performance artists across Dumfries and Galloway. Its members include a diverse range of talented creatives, including spoken word performers, directors, choreographers, dancers, actors, and musicians.



image source: Performance Collective Stranraer

An Artistic Associate at PCS for three years, Graber became the Artistic Director in Spring 2021: right in the middle of one of Scotland’s longest and harshest COVID-19 lockdowns. While the restrictions presented challenges, it also presented new and surprising opportunities to include people, says Graber.


For example, some PCS members do not have car access, so before the COVID-19 lockdowns, PCS ran residential workshops to increase the amount of people who could attend. This model helped to include many members, but it still couldn’t always include everyone. Then, with residentials cancelled during lockdown restrictions, PCS created new online rehearsal and performance spaces, allowing for people to join in as long as they could access Zoom. “We have been able to bring in folks that couldn’t do everything we offered before,” says Graber.


Graber explained to NOA further that PCS works to include people not just by creating spaces that are accessible in terms of mobility, but also safe spaces in the wake of the #metoo movement. “It’s shocking the amounts of abuses of power in spaces that are being spoken about as ‘safe spaces’, but then, in reality, it turns out they are not actually being held as such,” says Graber.


“It has been really important to me that we vocalise that, and that we put into practice the kinds of spaces that we do want to hold; spaces that have no room for bullying or power dynamics,” says Graber. “If anyone feels any of those concerns, we have a system in place to ensure people always have someone to go to, and to address those issues.”


“We need to do the work of ensuring people can access us,” adds Graber, “and that is everything from tackling mobility challenges, to addressing mental health concerns and ensuring that we are supporting everyone properly.”

This prioritisation of inclusivity helped inform the Collective’s performance of ‘Bad Bored Women of the Rooms’ by UK playwright Sabrina Mahfouz, as part of Wonder Fools’ Positive Stories for Negative Times, a national programme of performances in association with the Traverse Theatre. (More can be viewed at www.positivestories.scot).


This play is about “badass women that were criminals and killers,” says Graber. It questions the historic narratives of women criminals by retelling the lives of four historically ‘bad’ women: a prolific drug dealer, a tomb raider, a pirate, and a bank robber.


Written for purpose, the UK play was designed to be rehearsed and performed from home, within the perimeter of a Zoom screen. Graber explains that in the restrains of a computer monitor, there can still be creativity and movement, entrances and exits and choreography: “We can play with close-ups [...] or everyone moving collectively together, and then solo moments, and we can layer sound design elements in post.”


As well as its online performances for Positive Stories for Negative Times, PCS held monthly online ensemble workshops during lockdown to supports rural artists over the course of the pandemic.


image source: Performance Collective Stranraer

“Rural art making in general can be really isolating,” says Graber, “but once we were all together online it was really fun and infectious.”

PCS also continued to provide its year-long mentorship programme, partnering its members with professional artists from across Scotland. Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, these mentorships included in-person sessions and physical theatre trips, during lockdown however, mentors and mentees met up over - of course - Zoom. Particularly for young PCS participants who had just graduated from universities, or drama schools and programmes that had been limited to online classes, the limitation to virtual spaces was frustrating, says Graber. The challenges for young people “are really difficult now, in that they are not the traditional challenges,” says Graber – on top of entering an already infamously competitive industry.


These unique challenges also led mentors to give powerfully honest answers to PCS’s mentees, says Graber. “There were moments that were beautifully vulnerable; professional artists were being asked questions by young artists, and the mentors were able to give very candid responses: that it is really challenging right now, and they don’t know what is going to be next, and that is hard, and it is ok for it to be hard, and it is ok to not know all the answers.”


To assist its participants, and to help counteract these daunting challenges, PCS offers a supportive network and community. This improves creativity as, “then everyone is pitching in for support, and also, then you are not alone,” says Graber.


“When you remember that you are part of a community, and you are all together trying to do your best work and to help each other out, it makes that a lot easier,” says Graber, adding “there is something really important about making work that can’t truly be done on your own. You need a community around you.”

If you or someone you know would like to join the PCS community, Graber says the Collective is always interested in meeting new artists and invites anyone interested in joining PCS to attend one of its ensemble workshops - anyone of any ability and skill can attend.


You can view PCS’s performances for Positive Stories for Negative Times on Youtube, and you can follow PCS on Facebook at: @PerformanceCollectiveStranraer


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