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Gone WayWORD with Kirsty Lawie: an in-depth look at the Student-led Festival

Dillan-James Carter

The Wayword festival student-led arts festival which is currently in full swing (23-27th September) aims to showcase a wide range of artistic forms and artists from different backgrounds. I joined my old school chum and WayWORD committee member Kirsty Lawie for a chat on a dreich Aberdeen evening to find out more about this wonderful collaborative effort which has shown the incredible range of talent the comes through the University and the people we attract to our North-east corner.

So, a broad question to start, how did the festival come about?

So Dr. Helen Lynch at the WORD centre for Creative Writing asked if we were interested in creating an arts festival for students by students because it was felt there was a massive gap in the market at the university for a student-led festival. The student-led aspect comes from the fact that were are all current or former students with passionate ideas of what we wanted to see.

How did the student caucus influence you?

The caucus was great to know what ideas students liked and disliked, and generally what they would like to see. What came out from this across the board was the concept of unconventional forms of expression which aren’t at the forefront of what is considered art- this becoming the central theme to the festival's ethos. Students wanted to learn more about things like comic books, street art, and dungeons and dragons which are all valid forms of expression but weren’t necessarily seen as academic or mainstream. Our comic book event ‘More Than Superheroes’ run by Golnar Nabizadeh, a lecturer in Comic Studies at the University of Dundee for instance moves past the classic understanding of comic books by using them to explain issues that are difficult for young people to understand by putting them in a fun and accessible format. While also having the traditional lot of events you’d find at a festival like the authors we’ve invited but picking authors that are saying or doing something really interesting and unique for the time.

This event really feels like apart of a movement within Aberdeen, with events like Hysteria and the English Lit nights growing in popularity, how important do you feel the local culture is to the event?

I really feel its Aberdeen was important to the festival, especially the idea of ‘making it happen’ in Aberdeen. I think students think that there is a lack of cultural events here and want to up sticks and move to bigger centres like Glasgow or Manchester or London where a scene already exists. The event wants to highlight our international community as well as what we have in Aberdeen, events like the Doric Performers meet ‘Scotland the What?’ and the Pushing Out the / Leopard Arts Showcase really highlight the range of talent that the city has produced.

An event which really stood out to me as quite unique was the BSL in Theatre - An Interpreter’s Perspective, how did the committee decide on running that one?

Well, again the student caucus was really important in that students wanted the language used to be respectful of everyone and that everything was accessible to the audience. In terms of accessibility all of our events will have a British sign language interpreter, and that all the events are free – when the event was on campus we also made sure they weren’t held in places that limited age groups like pubs or some lecture halls on campus without wheelchair access.

So from knowing you for quite a long time, I’m gonna take a guess and you played a major role in the Doric events – what can you tell me about it?

That is my event! So normally when I have crazy ideas everyone goes yeah that’s nice – get back in your box. Sure some would get shelved if they were for instance overlapping with another idea or you weren’t sure where to take it it would get tabled, but we were all really great in hearing out what the other was thinking. What I have always wanted to do a Doric comedy show, and so I suggested it and everyone went YES! And then I realized I’d have to write something when I’m not “very funny and don’t speak Doric at all”. I was initially scared because the initial concept had me doing an hour and a half all by myself, but then we started looking for other local performers which is where the event started to take shape. So again we’ve invited such a range of local artists like Shane Strachan doing the famed piece ‘The Bill Gibb line’ which is normally performed in English with a variety of accents, Bill Gibb himself being a fashion designer from just outside Fraserburgh. Along with that, we have Sheena Blackhall who writes stories in Doric sometimes revolving around the north-east and folksongs sang by Ellie Beaton. After that, we have my bit, along with fellow student writers doing a series of comedy sketches which I can only hope I’m funny in! What I like about this event is that it manages to bring in people from a variety of different backgrounds but connect them all through the north-east.

We’ve danced around the topic a bit but you must start planning early- in March we get the news of COVID, how did this affect you and the organisation of the festival?

Well, when we heard the news we organised an emergency meeting at the Grub on Spital when the email had come round that the university was closing. The two major things were: we really didn’t want to cancel, and that we really didn’t want it to not be in person. A lot of our workshops and walks are obviously very interactive so the idea of losing that connectivity was a big fear, however, Richard Browne and the Audio Visual team were extremely helpful in trying to find ways to still have the interactive aspects and accessibility to the events. In theory, the idea of shoving everything online is easy but the practicality of making sure we use a software that allows everyone to see the events- at the right times as well. Dr. Helen Lynch has also really supported us in figuring this all out as the news of Corona would have made it quite easy to give up, without having someone so strong to encourage us all to continue trying. The idea of having it online is scary in itself as the thought of ‘who is going to turn up?’ is such an anxiety-ridden thought, whereas in person you can see the people on seats. We’ve ended up with a very different festival, but one with the same amount of heart.

You can see you’ve really taken the pandemic in your stride even managing to incorporate events surrounding the pandemic.

Verbal Remedies is going to be so interesting! I’m looking forward to hearing about how the medical students approach creative writing as well as the effect the pandemic has had on them and their outlook going into the profession.

Well now for a cheesy closer question Kirsty, what have you enjoyed most about being apart of the committee?

Well, two things really. This project was such a collaborative effort between us all and it was such a respectful process, we all listened to each other’s ideas, and no one's ideas were ignored. Everyone really brought their best and were all majorly supportive. Secondly, we’re friends now!! It sounds terribly basic, ‘one-direction/girl pop group’ of me but the bonds I’ve made have genuinely been a highlight.

You can find all the info for upcoming events at: https://www.waywordfestival.com/

And if you have happened to miss any events you wanted to catch they shall all be accessible online after the event!

Image credits thanks to the WayWORD festival.