Over the summer, Liam Sinclair was announced as the Byre Theatre’s new artistic director. Expectations are high: what will the new director do with such a recently rejuvenated and therefore somewhat unstable theatre? I caught up with Liam on the phone this week, as he’s busy catching up on meetings. (He just got back from a trip to Rio with the Scottish Dance Theatre Company.)
The Saint: What have you been up to recently?
Liam Sinclair: I’ve been in Rio and Sau Paulo with the Scottish Dance Theatre Company for the Paralympic Games, for a 15 day tour. The show we’ve put on, Miann was first produced in 2014 as part of Glasgow’s Culture Programme. The piece explores relationship and loss, as well as our connection to earth and rituals that may have been lost over time. It was so suitable for Rio, a place that has such strong ties to it’s own cultural past.
TS: What has the response been like from audiences?
Liam Sinclair: Amazing, we’ve had four standing ovations, which often happens in Rio where the audiences tends to have a more exuberant reaction, but rare for Sau Paulo. We’ve also been putting on an education based work: an outreach programme delivered by “Walk the Plank” for technical dance training. These Brazilian dancers (of which there were 500 applicants) then became involved in the show. They’re all incredibly passionate and determined to get the most out of the experience. Our dancers learnt a lot from them too.
TS: Were you ever a dancer yourself?
Liam Sinclair: No, I trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland doing the Contemporary Performance practice degree. This did involve some movement class, but not dancing in the same vein as the Scottish Dance Troup in Rio. Initially I was interested in education, working with young people and then through that became involved in producing and festival curation. I chose not to go down the line of making work myself, but producing and nurturing talent instead.
TS: I saw that you were Artistic Director of Macrobert Arts Centre in Stirling, another university-supported theatre. How has this experience affected your plans for this year?
Liam Sinclair: They’re both of quite a similar set up, but the distinction is that the Byre is really apart of the history of the town. I suppose my plan is to make sure the heritage of the Byre is preserved, both as apart of the fabric of St Andrews and Scottish theatre as a whole. The University of St Andrews is renowned for research excellence, and this should extend to the cultural realm of the town too. The student body, and community as a whole seem to be buzzing with creativity, and I’m looking forward to collaborating and allowing this potential to come to life.
TS: Why do you think the arts still exist? They rarely make money, and serve no ostensible purpose and yet every culture engages with the arts in some way.
Liam Sinclair: In one sense, it stems from the absolute intrinsic human need to make sense of the world around them. That need is growing, as the world around us becomes more complex, more stressful and more nuanced. This desire has always existed since people drew on walls, and told stories around fires; artistic expression is a means to make sense of the ‘mess’ of life. I know that lots of people say we have a more globalised world, that there’s greater connectedness it’s simpler and life is easier. There’s lots of evidence to the contrary, that we’re becoming more disconnected as a society and the ability to communicate. Whether you’re sitting watching a play, opera or going to a gallery the arts has a very particular nature, in that it provides the opportunity to slow things down a bit. Time is a precious commodity, and watching a performance gives you a moment to try and illuminate the struggles of life.
TS: What did you want to be when you grew up? And has that answer changed?
Liam Sinclair: When I was very young, I was obsessed by trains, but now my answer has definitely changed! The focus on an artistic career began in high school, quite early on when I was apart of a great drama department and joined a local youth theatre. I quite quickly got the bug and initially wanted to be actor but then became more interested in directing and education.
TS: What are you most looking forward to about coming to St Andrews?
Liam Sinclair: It’s a great part of the world. I used to go on family holidays to St Andrews and have very vivid memories of playing on the beaches there. More recently, I’ve enjoyed being back for during the interview process. It’s a tiny town, by international standards but is packed full of potential, creativity, and people that really care. One thing that struck me about the Byre scenario is that theatres are going bust quite regularly now, but there was a really strong campaign from the town, including the University that it had to be saved. A real feeling that it would have been a real loss to town, in terms of its identity if it had been allowed to close. That says a lot about St Andrews, it does care about what goes on in town and how people engage with different parts of town.
I was certainly impressed by Mr Sinclair, and I can only hope his wonderfully lofty aspirations match up to the progress he makes in the theatre this year.