Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Right Lines Productions – Rapid Departure
Impacts: Young people, Older people, Education, Environment, Community and social empowerment, Increase community awareness of Floodline and enhance the understanding of flooding issues through the medium of comedy theatre
Right Lines Productions is a professional theatre company based in the North of Scotland. The company writes and produces original theatre shows and tours these productions to communities in the Highlands & Islands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and throughout Scotland. Right Lines specialises in interactive theatre and has had great success with this particular format over the years, taking high-quality professional comedy theatre into rural communities across Scotland. Although the company policy is very definitely aimed at delivering entertaining comedy theatre, our shows always seek to examine issues which affect the communities to which we tour. Rapid Departure was the company’s latest interactive theatre piece which explored environmental issues such as the impact of flooding, climate change, green renewable energy and re-wilding.
Following an application to Creative Scotland, the project was supported by a Quality Production Arts award. This major funding allowed the project to proceed, but given the subject matter of the play, we felt there was an opportunity to partner with a business organisation which focused on environmental issues. We therefore made an approach to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and held a meeting with their representatives. This initial approach met with a warm response and following further discussion, an agreement was reached for the project to be sponsored by SEPA.
The play was written and produced by Euan Martin and Dave Smith from Right Lines. A professional director, cast and crew were engaged and a three-week tour was co-ordinated. The company re-located to the Isle of Eigg for the bulk of the rehearsal period and the show opened there on 16th May 2015. The Isle of Eigg is world-renowned for its “green” credentials and therefore we felt this connection was very much in keeping with the aims and values of the project, the company and indeed the sponsor. It also resonated with Creative Scotland which actively supports collaboration between companies like Right Lines and local communities.
The outcome of the project was a 90 minute interactive comedy theatre show which toured for three weeks throughout the Highlands & Islands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Perthshire. The production was very well-received by audiences and promoters everywhere, as evidenced by the exceptional volume and quality of feedback responses gathered by the company
Arts/cultural organisation story
The sponsorship award, plus the New Arts Sponsorship (NAS) Grant allowed Right Lines to enhance the audio-visual aspect of the project through the engagement of a film-maker and a video artist. This allowed us to use a drone camera to film aerial footage of all the venues on the tour and then process each video clip with computer generated imagery (CGI) effects giving the impression the local hall was surrounded by flood water, thereby customising each performance to each specific venue. The additional benefit to the company was the opportunity to engage with most of the promoters on the tour via these site visits to the venues by members of the production team. We were also able to engage a well-known BBC TV reporter to appear in a mock “live” broadcast as part of the play. These aspects of the production were additional to the original concept and would not have been possible to the standard achieved were it not for the extra resources made available via the sponsorship and NAS support.
We were able to incorporate aspects of SEPA’s work into the production – in particular, there was reference to Floodline and the emergency contact number – and we also distributed leaflets at the conclusion of each performance so audience members had information to take away with them. It is important to note that we consulted with SEPA representatives regularly throughout the writing process to ensure accuracy and authenticity and we also shared the script with them prior to embarking on rehearsals. It is also important to note that the sponsor was completely supportive and understanding of the fact that the main aim for Right Lines was to create a piece of comedy theatre, as opposed to a public information show and therefore there was no interference in the creative process of the project.
We believe we achieved the aim of raising the profile of Right Lines during the course of the project and also successfully raised awareness of Floodline in particular, along with general exposure of the work of SEPA. We were able to offer SEPA staff opportunities to see Rapid Departure through the provision of complimentary tickets at a number of venues and details of the show were highlighted in staff newsletters. Right Lines staff and production team were also exposed to SEPA’s work and most of the production team signed up to receive Floodline alerts. With regard to community reaction, in the many hundreds of feedback comments there was frequent reference to the enjoyment of the show for its comedy and entertainment value, but also because there was an exploration of more serious issues underlying the piece.
As Scotland’s flood warning authority, SEPA was delighted to have the opportunity to sponsor a production which links so well with some of our core work. We are always keen to support initiatives or projects which actively raise awareness of the risk of flooding, and this production proved a great example of how drama can be used effectively and entertainingly to highlight environmental issues faced by communities in Scotland, including flooding, climate change, land use conflict, and ecological pressures.
We believe that through this sponsorship, we achieved the aim of raising the profile of SEPA’s flood warning services – particularly Floodline - with over 1,000 people viewing performances in communities across the north of Scotland. Many of the performances were in areas badly affected by flooding in the past, and some were in areas where SEPA operates a flood warning service. We also believe that through making people aware of the impacts of flooding on individuals and on a community, people will consider taking steps to prepare for flooding, and will visit the SEPA and Floodline websites to obtain more information about flooding and flood risk.
SEPA and Floodline were referenced several times during the performance, and the audience also had the opportunity to take away leaflets on the Floodline service at the end of performances, and some took up this opportunity. Right Lines Productions also promoted SEPA’s sponsorship through their website, posters and fliers, and through social and traditional media, which has helped to make communities across the Scotland more aware of SEPA and the Floodline service.
Both Euan Martin and Dave Smith have maintained contact with SEPA from inception throughout development and the tour, and have responded to any enquiries promptly and positively. Right Lines also was willing to share the script with SEPA in advance of the tour to ensure that references to SEPA and Floodline were realistic.
An additional benefit was that Right Lines staff and the production team were also made aware of the work of SEPA and Floodline, and SEPA has been made aware that some of the production team have now signed up to the Floodline service, which was an unexpected but welcome benefit of the sponsorship.
In terms of the wider community, a number of positive media articles made reference to the SEPA sponsorship of the play, again making the public more aware of SEPA’s responsibilities with respect to encouraging people to prepare for flooding, and also the Floodline service. This included an article in Scotland on Sunday prior to the start of the tour, and articles in the John O’Groats Journal, and in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald which both made reference to SEPA’s sponsorship of the production.
SEPA staff benefitted from the sponsorship arrangement as Right Lines Productions offered SEPA a number of complimentary tickets for performances at Ardross Hall and Birnam Arts. An article was included in the SEPA Staff Bulletin to promote the tour and to give staff the opportunity to apply for free tickets. Ten free tickets were allocated to SEPA staff, and some staff brought friends and partners with them to the performances. SEPA staff also attended performances in Portmahomack and Inverness, and all who attended spoke very positively of the production, and considered references to SEPA and Floodline to be realistic. One SEPA employee provided the following comment in a feedback form: “Very entertaining, innovative piece of community spirit. You make me proud of my job as a SEPA Flood manager! Very well done!”
SEPA is committed to the environment, excellence and to engagement, and seeks out productive partnerships. This partnership with Right Lines Productions was very welcome and particularly productive, and SEPA would be more than happy to work with Right Lines Productions again, particularly on a future tour of this production.
Rapid Departure was a great success from Right Lines’ point of view, but the audience reaction was beyond our expectations. The NAS grant combined with the sponsorship money allowed Right Lines to develop the project beyond the original idea and incorporate a level of technical expertise that would not have been possible without the additional funding support. Drone photography is a rapidly expanding art form and we were keen to use this technique to shoot aerial footage of each venue for a mock news report which formed an important part of the show. Thanks to some technical wizardry and CGI processing, we were able to use the video footage to reveal a “before and after the flood” image of each venue which added to the amusement of the local audience as they watched a “live” aerial camera shot of the venue they were in at that very moment, apparently completely surrounded by flood water.
The NAS grant not only permitted the employment of a skilled film-maker and a video special effects artist, but it also allowed the production staff to visit each venue on the tour in advance to carry out the necessary filming and in most cases, make a direct connection with the local promoter or hall committee representative. This was helpful in terms of pre-tour publicity and PR between Right Lines and the local promoters. It is hard to quantify if this had any great impact on ticket sales, but it almost certainly helped in terms of the overall positive experience of the tour management as reported by the promoters. Finally, the engagement of an actual BBC Scotland senior reporter in the form of Craig Anderson to present the on-screen news report not only added value to the whole production, but also contributed to the hilarity of that section of the show – especially in Portmahomack where Craig Anderson was both on-screen and in the audience!