Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Traverse 50 - An End of Term Report

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

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