This time last year, the artistic team at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh were preparing celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of Scotland's new writing hub. While a certain amount of looking back over a colourful history since its beginnings in a former High Street tenement brothel turned 1960s bohemian hub was necessary, it was the future that concerned artistic director Orla O'Loughlin and associate director Hamish Pirie the most. With this in mind, the Traverse 50 was launched. This initiative initially saw some 630 writers with no more than two professionally produced plays under their belts respond to an open call for 500-word micro-plays inspired by Edinburgh's capital city. From these, some fifty writers were selected to take part in a year-long programme of events. This was kicked off by Plays For Edinburgh, a performed reading of all fifty selected plays by a professional cast that took place over one long but exhilarating evening in January. The event sold out, and a second evening was added to accommodate demand. “That was a kind of validation for the writers,” O'Loughlin says. “For any writer to have their work performed in Traverse 1 is something to tick off their list of things to achieve, and for the Traverse 50, I think it gave many of them the confidence to realise they were writers. It's something to aspire to, so to have that at the start of the year rather than the end of it showed the level of talent as well as the level of our commitment and belief in the writers.” Over the last twelve months, the fifty writers have taken part in a flurry of workshops and master-classes with theatre industry professionals ranging from writers, directors and producers of theatre, radio and television. There have been scratch nights, where new short pieces were performed script in hand, and speed dating events, at which the writers pitched ideas to assorted industry movers and shakers. In October, three new twenty minute pieces were selected to form the centrepiece of the Traverse's Write Here festival of new writing, while another ten pieces received rehearsed readings that formed a series of lunchtime double bills. The Traverse Fifty Takeover saw another thirty four plays available to hear on headphones or else on assorted sites around the building. These included toilet walls, while diners can read one such bite-size masterpiece on the side of a salt cellar in a booth located in the Traverse bar restaurant where O'Loughlin is sat as she talks. On the walls around the Traverse bar are portraits of each of the Traverse 50, who were each paired with a photographer who responded to their plays to create an image. While a final master-class with leading playwrights David Greig and David Harrower is pending during the current run of Harrower's solo play for Blythe Duff, Ciara, the work really starts with what happens next. While many of the Traverse 50 graduates have professional projects ongoing with external organisations, The Traverse itself has commissioned seven of them to write full-length plays. While names such as Tim Primrose, who has written for Lyceum Youth Theatre and the Strange Town company, and Sylvia Dow, who has had work staged during the Luminate festival, will be familiar, others will be less so. These include Australian writer Lachlan Philpott, Alison Carr, who has worked extensively at Live Theatre, Newcastle and on radio, and Armagh-born John McCann, who has had work produced by the Belfast-based Tinderbox company as well as several readings of work in Scotland. Also under commission are Molly Innes and Martin McCormick, both well-known to Traverse audiences as actors, but who can now channel their theatrical experience into writing. The commissioned plays will form the Traverse's breakfast slot during the 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This slot has previously seen formative works tried out before going on to full production. “All of the writers we've commissioned are in the long term quite right for our stages,” O'Loughlin points out. “Our stages have particular personalities and put particular demands on writers, and I suppose we've got a sense of what our house style is, and what works on those stages. All of the writers understand that they're writing for theatre, and there's a celebration of the form inherent in their writing. There's also a sense of mischief, and a lot of them are deeply political.” The relatively speed in which the new plays will go from page to stage reflects the process of Quiz Show, Rob Drummond's acclaimed play, which was produced by the Traverse a mere six months after being commissioned. “We commission writers because we want to put their work on,” says O'Loughlin. “We're not that interested in endless development and workshops and readings for the sake of it. We want to get it on as soon as it's ready. The National Theatre in London have a git rate of one in twelve commissioned plays making it to the stage, and that drives writers mad. That's not what the Traverse is about.” Of the Traverse 50 experience overall, O'Loughlin believes that “the year has exceeded our expectations, because we didn't quite know what we were getting into. We knew we had ambition, and we knew we wanted to invest a lot of time in an emerging culture, and I think we've achieved that. The brilliant thing is that we've still got fifty writers who are very much with us and part of the story. They're all still Traverse writers, and we'll stay in touch with all of them. All we can hope is that we've inspired, equipped and provoked them to become better writers.” www.traverse.co.uk The Traverse 7 – The next generation of Traverse Theatre writers Alison Carr has had work produced by Live Theatre, Newcastle, nabokov, Old Vic New Voices, Paines Plough, BBC Radio 3 and 4, while her play, Patricia Quinn Saved My Life, was seen at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Sylvia Dow trained as an actress before becoming Head of Education at the Scottish Arts Council, and made her playwriting debut aged 73 with A Beginning, A Middle and An End, a co-production between Greyscale and Stellar Quines. Molly Innes has appeared as an actress in numerous productions at the Traverse, including The Artist Man and the Mother Woman by Morna Pearson, and dating back to Tom McGrath and Ella Wildridge's English language version of Quebecois writer Daniel Danis' play, Stones and Ashes. John McCann is from County Armagh in Ireland, but now lives in Scotland, where he has worked with Stellar Quines, and was one of four writers who were part of a mentoring scheme set up by Playwrights Studio Scotland. He has also had work produced by Tinderbox Theatre Company in Belfast.
Martin McCormick's career as an actor began at Dundee rep, where he appeared in Dominic Hill's production of Peer Gynt, and with Grid Iron in their show, Yarn. He has since appeared at the Tron, and has performed with Vanishing Point, and in the 2010 revival of Douglas Maxwell's swing-park set play for Grid Iron, Decky Does A Bronco. Lachlan Philpott is based in Sydney, Australia. His first play, Bison, played in Adelaide, Belfast, London, Melbourne and Sydney. Since then, his plays have won numerous awards, and he is Chair of the Australian Writer's Guild Playwrights Committee. Tim Primrose began writing while a member of the Lyceum Youth Theatre, who produced several of his plays. Since then, he has written numerous works for the Edinburgh-based Strange Town Theatre Company.
The Herald, December 10th 2013 ends