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While I Breathe I Hope – Chatting to Liam Sinclair

As I’m sure you’ve heard, this November marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. One of the most violent and destructive conflicts in history, it saw hundreds of thousands of young men and women leaving their homes to serve on the European continent. And the work didn’t just occur overseas as well – part of the war effort meant that any person with a pair of hands was drafted in to help in some way. In factories, as the home guard, even growing vegetables in their back garden.

This year, The Byre are remembering our past and looking to the future with our Dum Spiro Spero – While I Breathe, I Hope – season. Honouring the soldiers who fell, and remembering the sacrifice they made can help us look towards a better, more peaceful future together. We had a brief chat with our Artistic Director Liam Sinclair, who spoke about the impetus for the project, and why he thinks it’s important.

So Liam, tell us a little bit about the inspiration for this project. Where did it come from?

“When I joined the Byre a couple of years ago, I found the memoirs of A. B. Paterson and Charles Marford, the original founder of the Byre in 1933 and his key associate, in my office. I was struck by how much the war had impacted their lives – Marford writes that one of the ways he managed to keep himself sane in the trenches was dreaming up re-interpretations of shows. Unusual castings and often thinking of ways to do really big shows with quite small casts.

Paterson didn’t serve in the First World War, but he did serve in the Second, and when he left for the front Marford took over the running of the theatre. Of course, at that time, men were away from home and serving in the army, so his interpretations of plays with small casts were put to the test. I think that has really shaped the Byre’s attitude to this day – that war-time mentality and finding ways to make great work without blockbuster budgets.

The Byre became such an important part of the town from then on, and it also played a crucial part in not just the lives of Marford and Paterson, but many people from in and around St Andrews. It has woven together so many stories in St Andrews, and that’s something that we’re trying to echo in this project.

And how did you come up with the title?

The title of the project just kind of fell in to place really. I’d read these memoirs, and the ideas were just bouncing around in my head, and then in a completely unrelated context I came across St Andrews’ town motto. Dum Spiro Spero – Latin for While I breathe I Hope. I thought that so perfectly embodied everything that we wanted to do with this project – display the difficult and challenging times faced in St Andrews during the war, but also demonstrate that in remembering those times, we would keep hoping – keep breathing – and keep moving forward to build a more positive future.

What does the While I Breathe I Hope season have in store for us?

The season actually begun in May, when we opened our While I Breathe I Hope exhibition. With a lot of help from the St Andrews Preservation Trust, we were able to create an exhibition that showed what life was like during the war in St Andrews. Lots of people came through the doors and got to see what we had, and we felt like that was a great start.

From there, we’ve got a couple of very exciting shows lined up – last weekend, The Men Who Marched Away: Songs of the Great War told the story of the war through the songs that it created. It had some classic tunes as well as some beautiful original scorings of traditional war poetry, and it celebrated the courage and humour of soldiers in the war in a bright yet haunting way.

In about a month’s time, we’ve got our next show – Michael Mears: This Evil Thing. Another slightly unusual viewpoint, this show basically tells the story of the war from the perspective of men who said no – who refused to be conscripted in to the army. It raises some really interesting points about what we may or may not owe to our country, and the ethical implications of conscription. I feel like both of these ideas are particularly important today.

Finally, we’re rounding it off with a day of reflection and remembrance – our While I Breathe I Hope Walk and Website Launch. As I mentioned, a big part of this project is how we share and tell the stories of our past – and how those stories unite us. We’ve been working for a while on creating a shared resource where we can store as many stories as possible – the First World War is a springboard for that, and we’re going to be using this opportunity to speak to different members of the community and take down some of their stories and experiences in war time St Andrews.

As I mentioned, a big part of this project is how we share and tell the stories of our past – and how those stories unite us. We’ve been creating a database and website where we can store some of these stories, and we’ll be launching it that evening too – that’s something we’re really excited about. We invite absolutely anyone to share their memories in St Andrews with us – although we’re using the War as a starting point, we’re happy to hear any and all of the important moments that you might want to talk about.

The event is absolutely free, but it is ticketed, so make sure your grab yours soon!

There we have it – there are lots of amazing events coming up to celebrate 100 years since the end of The War to End All Wars. From movie screenings to musical memorials, and an evening of celebration and remembrance, head over to our website to check them all out, and grab your tickets now!