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April 20, 2016

EPIC performance

It sounds like one of those ‘you had to be there’ occasions to fully appreciate the impact of this show. 90 performers plus two sheep and a donkey from four Aberdeenshire villages, putting on an outdoors alter:nativity production in the rain and snow, in part inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. Sounds mad but ended up as Scotland’s winner in the annual EPIC awards for the voluntary arts across the UK. As part of our overall Vision for a Stronger Community Sector, we see this as the contribution that voluntary arts can make.


Voluntary Arts Scotland

Local People Leading position statement on…….Voluntary Arts

When the people behind Christmas show alter:nativity talk about ‘community spirit’, they’re not just paying lip service to it. Ninety performers from four rural villages in Aberdeenshire (Birse, Ballogie, Finzean and Strachan) came together to stage this modern day nativity, ranging in age from 4 months to late 60s, plus two sheep and a donkey.

Inspired by recent events in Syria, the show paralleled the traditional nativity story, likening Joseph and Mary to today’s refugees fleeing their homeland in search of a safe haven.

While the performers rehearsed, the backstage crew built a stage – aided by two farmers who created seating from 120 straw bales – and a professional sound and lighting engineer was hired to mentor the amateur techies.

Open days were held, to give newcomers to the community a chance to engage with neighbours, and ‘rusty’ musicians dusted off their instruments and formed the show band.

From the start of the performance, the audience was engaged with the refugee theme – tickets stated that people should arrive in shared transport, carry sufficient bedding and hot drinks, and be prepared to complete paperwork. On arrival, they were made to queue, given ‘rations’ and marched to their seats after being ‘processed’.

“The audience was given three labels, with ‘hope’, ‘love’ and ‘fear’ written on them. They were asked to write their dearest wish on the first one – which was then read out during the performance. They were encouraged to pass on the ‘love’ label to their nearest seated neighbour – and then throw the ‘fear’ label in a fire on the way out.

“This was the first time in local memory that an outdoor play had been performed, and was about much more than the two actual performances – it was as much about the preparation and residual positive impact it had on the local community.” – Guy Haslam, alter:nativity