You never know your home till you leave it. It is a truth that 12 teenagers have been discovering for themselves in the past few weeks as part of a drama project led by the 7:84 Theatre Company. Under the general title of Belonging, the group of 16 to 18-year-olds have been investigating their own identities and cultural ties and those of their peers in two contrasting communities in Scotland.
Teenagers in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Benbecula in the Western Isles and Castlemilk, Glasgow, were invited to volunteer for the project. After workshops in each area, four were chosen by artistic director Claire O'Hara on the strength of their sharing skills to join the final group.
The first step was to acquaint the 12 with the identity of the others' communities. They all met in the three localities, where the hosts took the visitors on their own "alternative" tourist trail, to the places dear and significant to them and to the other young people of the area. In Benbecula this included crawling to the edge of a cliff to peer down at a curious rock formation battered by the Atlantic; in all three cases it took in a visit to the place where "everybody goes to make out".
After the sightseeing came the local culture, when the hosts shared the area's folklore. Huntly and Benbecula were strong in this, the latter particularly so. In Castlemilk the folklore was expressed as urban myth, not least in ghost stories.
Christopher Deans, playwright and writing facilitator on the project, was surprised that the Castlemilk teenagers had most pride of place (Huntly had least). Those from Benbecula were envious of the bright lights and opportunities, and anonymity, of the city but still said that were they to become parents, they would choose to bring up children on the islands.
The army saying that the plan of campaign holds good until you make contact with the enemy is true of drama too: even the barest of schemes prepared by Mr Deans and Ms O'Hara was soon modified. Because of the age group and the teenagers' own imminent moving on to work or university, the 12 decided a journey, the "leaving home", was a crucial part of the "belonging" scenario.
Sitting in on an early devising session on this part of the story, when the group are waking up on the morning of departure, the atmosphere in the rehearsal room is relaxed but concentrated. The director is laying on the floor, "in bed", like the others, mirroring the work. She is the channel for all the ideas, the focus of the group. Gradually she choreographs their movement ideas into a simple, "truthful" (the word repeatedly crops up in her conversation) harmony.
For dialogue, she begins by asking them all to write down five random thoughts they might have on such a day. The responses vary from the mundane "Where did I put those keys" to the poignant "I wish I'd seen him before I left" and the anguished "Am I doing the right thing?" Ms O'Hara shuffles the one-liners into a random sequence to make a frame for three monologues created after one of Mr Deans' writing workshops. To give the teenagers an outline for their personal stories, he adapted the language of fairy tale and myth, two familiar forms in which personal stories could be related in the security of the third person. It is a device that typifies the project: the most personal truth expressed in the safest manner.
The final result can now be seen in the students' three home communities and at the Tramway Theatre in Glasgow tomorrow (7.30pm).
Brian Hayward 7:84 Theatre Co, tel 0141 334 6686Tramway, box office 0141 422 2023