Sunday, 11 September 2011

National Theatre of Scotland - Emerging Artists Break Cover

When the National Theatre of Scotland was launched five years ago,
there were some who suggested that the scale of the company's resources
would effectively kill off the chance for younger artists to develop,
let alone find an outlet for their work on a shoestring budget. The
launch of two new initiatives by the NTS, however, begs to differ.

The New Directors Placement Programme and the Emerging Artists
Attachment Programme will enable three directors and four emerging
artists to work at close quarters with the NTS, either assisting on
specific projects or else given the time and space to develop their own
practice over the next year in a more recognisably holistic approach
than simple traineeships.

Crucial to these two schemes is the support of the Bank of Scotland
Pioneering Partnership, itself a new venture. Long time champion of the
Bank of Scotland Herald Angel awards and currently Managing Director of
Lloyds Banking Group Scotland Susan Rice has been particularly vocal in
her support for the schemes. In the current climate of economic
uncertainty, the resources provided by BOS have perhaps somewhat
surprisingly allowed NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone to go
some way to fulfilling one of her primary goals since taking up her

“When I started at the NTS I was already aware that the development of
artists was one of the most valuable things,” she says, “but because
that sort of development isn't product-based, you need a real cultural
shift to have that sort of investment in the future. I immediately
wanted to try and put money into that, and what was extraordinary to me
when we first started speaking to the Bank of Scotland, was that they
didn't want to just support one particular show, but were more
interested in the more long-term development of artists that we were
thinking of. So while the artists we're working with get to be part of
the NTS as an organisation, the important thing is that they get the
space to develop and explore their own work.”

This is something Rice enthusiastically concurs with.

“The Bank of Scotland Pioneering Partnership is the first time that
both organisations have worked together,” she says, “and it also
represents a new approach to sponsorship, with Bank of Scotland
supporting not just one production or strand, but a large part of the
National Theatre of Scotland’s wide reaching programme over the next
two years. Our joint aim is to encourage and support the next
generation of theatrical talent, from actors to set designers,
directors to writers, reinforcing Bank of Scotland’s wider sponsorship
strategy of supporting emerging talent in Scotland and providing
opportunities for our customers and colleagues."

All of the artists selected from almost two hundred applicants for the
schemes have some kind of track record. The New Directors Placement
Programme may sound more straightforward than the Emerging Artists
Attachment Programme, but between them the chosen trio show off a
diverse array of talent.

Amanda Gaughan is a graduate of RSAMD and has worked at both the Tron
Theatre and The Arches. She has just completed a year-long trainee
directorship at the Citizens Theatre, which culminated in her own
studio production of Dennis Kelly's intense post-apocalyptic
two-hander, After The End. Gaughan is already hard at work on NTS
associate director??? John Tiffany's forthcoming production of Andrew
O'Hagan's The Missing.

“It's been really great watching the new writing process happening in
front of me,” Gaughan says.

Ross Mackay is one of the founders of young company, Tortoise in a
Nutshell, whose work with puppets and animation on shows such as The
Last Miner saw them acclaimed at this year's Manipulate Festival at
Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre. Prior to this, Mackay trained at Queen
Margaret University in Edinburgh, and, in-between working as a
puppeteer and magician, undertook an apprenticeship with legendary
American company, The Bread and Puppet Theatre. All of Mackay's talents
should be brought to bear when he joins the team on Graham McLaren’s
production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in December of this

Jenna Watt's diverse CV includes work with Lung Ha's, at the National
Review of Live Art and at children and young people's theatre festival,
Imaginate. This should set her up perfectly for working alongside
Featherstone on Abi Morgan's forthcoming play, 27.

“This is a major step in my career,” Watt admits, “and it will really
help me as a director. At the moment I direct my own projects, and I
also have my live art practice, so this will really help me decide what
to do next.”

The recipients of the Emerging Artists Attachment Programme are an even
more eclectic bunch.
Alan Bissett, for instance, may be best known as a novelist for
Boyracers and the just published Pack Men, but his recent adventures in
theatre have included several pieces for Oran's Mor's lunchtime seasons
of new work, A Play, A Pie and A Pint. Bissett has also toured playing
the title role in his self-styled 'one-woman show', The Moira

“Trying to write when you're juggling all these different projects is
really hard,” Bissett says, “so time is a really precious commodity
which you can use for research.”

Amanda Monfrooe arrived in Scotland from Chicago having already worked
as an actor, director and designer with several new writing companies.
Following a masters degree in dramaturgy here, she directed The
YellowWing, a piece for the Scottish Mental Health Art and Film
Festival inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman's nineteenth century
tale of ordinary madness, The Yellow Wallpaper. Since then, Monfrooe
has founded her own Pony Pie company, worked with Puppet Animation
Scotland, and presented work at irregular live art night, Love Club.
With the NTS, Monfrooe hopes to concentrate on puppeteering.

“I have no real skills in that just now,” she says, “so I really want
to learn about what I'm doing.”

Stef Smith is best known for scripting the smash hit of the 2010
Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Roadkill, directed by Cora Bissett. Prior to
this, Smith worked extensively as an assistant director on assorted
projects by David Leddy, while more recently she penned off-kilter
duologue, Falling/Flying. Earlier this year playwrights Studio Scotland
chose Smith as the winner of a New Playwright Award for her forthcoming
work, Jamais Vu, set to be given a rehearsed reading at The Arches
later this year.

“It will be great to have feedback from the literary department,” smith
says, “because as an emerging artist you don't always get that.”

Finally, Molly Taylor has already worked with the NTS on Love Letters
to the Public Transport System, a beautiful solo piece performed by
herself. The piece may have been billed as a work in progress as part
of the NTS' Reveal season of showcases at the Traverse and Citizens
theatres, but its tale of chasing the people whom unwittingly
transported her to her destiny was already perfectly formed.

“My natural way of doing things is story-telling,” Taylor says, “but
hopefully this will push me to explore different ways of doing things.”

Whatever comes of these brand new initiatives, there are no promises by
the NTS of taking anything to full-scale commissions. Allowed the
comfort to develop ideas via self-determination, however, all involved
can use this to their advantage.

“All of the directors and artists we're supporting in these schemes are
just at that point where they're wondering what is the next stage for
them,” Featherstone points out, “and if we can give them something,
time, even, to think about that and develop their ideas, then I think
that's really quite important. Scotland is a really good place in terms
of artists development just now. There's been a real sea-change over
the last ten years, and I think that's really going to change the sort
of work that's produced in the future.”

The Herald, September 3rd 2011


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