From the playground to the office block, pecking orders exist in all walks of life. This is made explicitly clear in the revival of Multiplex, Christopher William Hill's play written for the Tron Theatre, Glasgow's Tron Skillshops young people's theatre group that forms part of the theatre's outreach and community initiative, Tron Participation.
Hill's play looks at the twilight world of multiplex cinemas where a coterie of ushers jockey for position in the after-dark food chain they occupy. From the Plankton at the bottom of the pack, we move up a peg with the too cool for school Dudes before we meet the Buffs, for whom what goes on up there on the big-screen is a matter of life and death.
Whether such a chain of command exists in the assorted groups that make up Tron Skillshops and Tron Participation isn't on record, although it's interesting to note that many of the teenage performers taking part in Multiplex were members of the junior group when the play was first performed back in 2008.
“It really appeals to the age group who are doing it,” says Multiplex director and Tron Drama Officer Deborah McArthur, who works alongside the theatre's Education Officer Lisa Keenan on assorted Tron Participation and Tron Skillshops initiatives. “Part of that is because it speaks to them, and part of it is because there's some pretty strong language which they enjoy. But the play's about how someone new can come into a situation like the one that exists in Multiplex, and really shake things up.
“When it was first done it was with a much smaller group, but now I've got a cast of twenty, some of whom remember it. We've worked really closely with the group, so everyone's had a chance to contribute to it, and I think there's a real sense of ownership of the play now. We've tried to bring it up to date with some of its references, but it's been really surprising with some of the things the group didn't want to change. They've all been saying, no, I’ve seen that film, leave it in.”
McArthur's new production of Multiplex is the latest in a series of revisitations of some of Tron Participation's greatest hits over the last ten years since it was founded in 2003. Then as now the aim was to open up the theatrical experience to all-comers, from Primary 1 age-group upwards.
“They can come along, have fun and meet friends,” McArthur observes, “but we also try to take things a step up, and teach them about theatre-making and being part of a group in a theatre building. That's why we bring in professionals from various different aspects of theatre-making.”
With this in mind, for Multiplex, the company has brought on board audio-visual artist Jamie Macdonald, who worked wonders on Random Accomplice's award-winning show, The Incredible Adventures of See-Thru Sam. Also working on Multiplex are costume designer Kirsty McCabe, who worked on Tron productions of Scenes Unseen and Stones in His Pockets, lighting designer Callum Smith and sound designer RJ McConnell. Beyond Multiplex, a forthcoming tenth anniversary project in October will see the groups working with writer/director, Martin O'Connor.
“With Jamie they're making short films and learning about story-boarding,” McArthur says, “while RJ McConnell will come in and play them new some new pieces of music, which they'll have the chance to contribute to. For some people in the groups it's just a hobby, and that's absolutely fine, but some others come in when they're very young, and as they stay with it they end up taking it quite seriously. One of the group has just been offered a place on at the Royal Conservatoire Scotland, which is great.”
Although working with young people is a key part of Tron Skillshops, Tron Participation goes beyond youth theatre to engage adult groups into the theatrical process.
“There are adult writing classes, set design classes and projects with Glasgow City Council,” McArthur points out. “When Tron participation started, it was just Lisa Keenan on her own, but now there are two of us we're able to do a lot more. We're making better connections with other companies, and we're trying to raise our profile, not just in youth theatre, but with adult participation as well. We've also started storytelling classes for children who are six months old and their parents. All of the classes are open access as well, so age and ability don't matter. We're also introducing a second level of the set design classes. With level one I think we've taken things as far as we can , and we really want to push people's skill-sets.”
Tron Participation and Tron Skillshops, then, are as inclusive as they can be.
“We just want to get people who might not normally come to the Tron,” says McArthur, “or any theatre for that matter, to come into the building and participate in what we do here rather than just be a member of the audience. We want to give them a different experience of somewhere they can come in and access the facilities we have here. Whether that's through taking part in writing workshops or set design, it's important to realise that there's a lot more to being in the arts than going onstage.
We also try to run projects that run parallel with whatever's going on on the main-stage. So with [Tron director Andy Arnold's adaptation of Julia Donaldson's novel for teenagers about a runaway girl] Running on the Cracks, we did a massive outreach project about the play's subject. It's things like that which really seem to matter. If Tron Participation and Tron Skillshops are about anything, they're about building relationships.”
Multiplex, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, June 27th-29th
2003 – Tron Participation set up as ‘Education & Outreach’, with ‘Children’s Workshops’ are re-launched as ‘Skillshops’.
2004 - Partnership work with Childline, including a performance at their annual general conference in Aberdeen.
2005 - The first Skillshops show Samurai forms part of Shell Connections theatre festival, and selected to represent Scotland at the National Theatre in London.
2006 - Writers’ workshop with Douglas Maxwell on Melody, while Skillshop present new adaptation of Jump for Your Life
2007 - Write Tron see their first rehearsed readings and performances on work on stage. Hosts first Arts in the City programme. Skillshops present Lords of Creation
2008 - New Adult performance group Tron Studio devise and perform their first production The Tenement. Skillshop present Theatre of War. Pre 5 Xmas show - Little Rudi
2009 - First Skillshops performance of Christopher William Hill’s Multiplex. Younger groups present new devised piece The Woolgathers.
2010 - Tron Young Company for 18-25s launched, with performance of Remind Me Who I Am Again.
2011 - Tron Young Company work with Artistic Director Andy Arnold to create From A City Balcony.
2012 - Tron Young Company Andrew McKie is Assistant Director to the main stage production of Ulysses. Skillshops present Gifted and Average Jo and Curse of Class 2B. Launch of new costume and set design course
2013 - Skillshops shows: Project Branded, The Woolgatherers, Multiplex.
The Herald, June 25th 2013