Tag Archives: Scotland

Open Space Invitation

The details of the Artists’ Open Space on the 26th are now finalised and you can click here to register for it. It’s free to attend, but there’s a limit the number of people who’ll fit in the room so best to register.

Please spread the word. And please come if you can. The Open Space, like everything else in life, belongs to the people who turn up…


Plugs and theatre politics

Next week one of my short plays is being produced by Black Dingo as part of the company’s launch event. Information can be found by clicking here.

I’ve got a lot of time for Black Dingo. This is a production company that aims to provide a really valuable resource for grassroots theatremakers – a one stop shop where you can be matched up with the collaborators you need to make your project happen, and where basic production elements like modular sets and multi-purpose lights are available at prices that are realistic on fringe budgets.

It’s an ambitious project and a real labour of love on the part of the company’s director, David McFarlane. I’m not only excited about it because one of my plays is being put on, but because this kind of enterprise is what gives me hope for grassroots theatre.

Black Dingo is part of the growing number of fringe theatre companies who not only want to create excellent theatre, but who feel strongly about treating the professionals involved in a fair and ethical manner, who look for ways to make production costs more manageable so that more of a show’s budget can go towards payment of artists. It’s a company that understands the value of exchange, of shared resources and of thinking beyond the next production or individual ambitions.

It’s a starting point, and quite a good one. There are plenty of us who see that the old fringe theatre model is not sustainable, but that’s not to say that we’ve figured out the perfect new model to replace it. There is no Fair, Ethical and Financially Viable Fringe Theatre for Dummies. It’s a process, not a fait accompli. But it’s a fascinating and exciting process to be part of, and it’s a hell of a lot more rewarding than just sitting around lamenting the failure of the current model to thrive.

Theatre politics aside, Black Dingo has an interesting and mixed programme in store. My contribution is Lost Love, a play about a SatNav that falls in love with its owner with deadly consequences. It’s part of the Shots triple bill, along with Eros and Psyche by Hope Whitmore and David’s own play Sanctuary. You can see these on 8 and 11 October at The Granary in Leith.

There’s also a double bill of Texan comedy from James McLure – Laundry & Bourbon and Lone Star. I’ve seen both of these pieces in rehearsal and can’t wait to see the finished shows. The writing is really snappy and both casts are handling the balance between pathos and humour adeptly. And if you fancy something more serious, there’s Grace Under Pressure. I don’t know much about that one, but I do know that the title role is played by my lovely friend and frequent collaborator Danielle Farrow, which is usually a good sign that it’ll be worth watching!

Once we’ve got the opening night out of the way I’ll tell you the story behind Lost Love and save future undergraduates a bit of hassle by supplying the biographical reading myself…


Story time!

A couple of weeks ago I went to my first Outside Thoughts event. It’s a simple format. Short stories are selected and given performed readings which are then made available as podcasts. Very straightforward, very well done.

One of my stories, Old Woman with Masks, was selected for the September event. I was delighted by the reading (of which more below) and by seeing my story in such excellent company. The standard of the writing was very high (read: I frequently felt outclassed). Podcasts from the evening are being released one by one, and I’d really recommend following Outside Thoughts on Facebook so you get notified when they’re available. Especially because the next one that’s due to be released is a real cracker – one that you’ll identify with if you’ve ever been chatted to by some random weirdo on a bus…

Anyway, enough about other people. My story was written when I was 22 – I was still walking with a stick after the massive car crash, just past the first anniversary of my Dad’s death, coming up on the second of my Mum’s , still feeling like I was living on borrowed time because I was on cancer watch myself. It was a hell of a time. I wasn’t writing much, because, as I’ve discussed here before, I was too deeply submerged in the trauma to make much sense of it yet. I could write, by which I mean I could construct things competently,  but I couldn’t yet get anywhere near the things I needed to write, which meant that things didn’t quite ring true to me. When writing doesn’t ring true I quickly lose interest, whether as writer or as audience.

Old Woman with Masks was a breakthrough piece for me. It was the result of a writing exercise in a short story class – I was given a prompt to work from, a postcard showing James Ensor’s Old Woman with Masks. The figure in the painting began speaking to me straight away, and I’ve loved Ensor’s work ever since. He loved skeletons, I love skeletons, it’s a match made in… somewhere.

When I got to Outside Thoughts and saw the lady who had been cast to read my story, I was a bit concerned. Pam Tibbetts, I thought, looked too young, too stylish, too sophisticated for the humdrum, stifled character I had written.

And then she began to read, and I was instantly won over. By the time she got a few paragraphs in, I was utterly convinced that this was the way the character in the story looks and sounds in her own head. Pam did a fantastic job, and our chat afterwards was lovely. I love it when performers can take my view of a character and turn it on its head, especially when it’s a character originally of my creation.

You’ll find the story here if you’d like to have a listen: http://outsidethoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Episode-Six.mp3

Old Woman with Masks – Ensor


Talking to Creative Scotland: Making Plans

This afternoon I had a meeting with Kenneth Fowler at Creative Scotland. It was a pleasant chat, refreshingly free of corporate-speak, and I should probably mention in the interests of clarity that he was the one who got in touch with me.

The most important thing first: I got the go-ahead for an Open Space at Waverley Gate. It won’t be organised or structured by Creative Scotland – it’ll be an open, artist-led conversation. The beauty of Open Space is that anyone can propose a discussion; it’s not a chaired meeting with an agenda, it’s a series of self-guided conversations around a central theme. How that theme will be worded I’m not yet sure, but I’ll be seeking guidance from some more experienced people as I figure it out.

Hopefully, this will be a starting point rather than a one-off event. I’d like to see this developing into a series of regular, roving meetings so that there’s a means of ongoing communication between artists/arts organisations in all parts of Scotland, following the Devoted & Disgruntled model. Collectively, we can feed back to Creative Scotland – and why stop there? There are plenty of organisations out there who exist to administer funding and develop artistic talent. There’s cultural policy to be created. It would surely be beneficial to everyone concerned (by which I mean everyone who cares about the arts whether as creator or consumer) for these things to be informed by continuous feedback from the arts industries themselves.

Of course, all we can do is have the conversations. Once we’ve passed the information on, it’s up to Creative Scotland and other arts organisations to decide what they do with it. Maybe they’ll use it wisely, maybe they won’t use it at all. If it’s the former, that’s great! We all win. If it’s the latter… well, we’ll have tried. We’ll have done as Andrew Dixon asked and brought the conversation to Creative Scotland, not just to the newspapers and Twitter – but much more importantly, we’ll have brought it to each other and we’ll all be better informed and have expanded our own networks in the process. We could do worse.

I’ve been accused over the past wee while of being too optimistic, insufficiently cynical, too willing to give Creative Scotland the benefit of the doubt. All of these things are fine with me. I find it far too easy to be cynical. Being optimistic is more of a challenge. But I’d really rather hope and work for the best than expect the worst. The arts funding situation in Scotland is far from perfect, but it’s the situation we’re in. If we don’t like it – and I haven’t met a single person, artist or administrator, who seems to like it – we need to change it. And by we, I mean artists, audiences, administrators, creators, consumers, everyone who cares about the arts for any reason whatsoever. An Open Space is not a panacea, but it’s a way to bring people from all of these areas (and probably others I haven’t thought of) together, and that seems like a decent place to start.

As soon as I’ve arranged a date to use Creative Scotland’s space, I’ll start spreading the word… Keep watching!


Devoted & Disgruntled Follow-Up Edinburgh:The Mega Report

You’ll find my report on yesterday’s Open Space meeting here… Or if you’d rather read it right here on WordPress, look beneath the cut.  Continue reading


My First Pixar Disappointment

At long last I got round to seeing Brave. I wanted to like it. I really did. It’s set in Scotland! There’s magic and mythology! The protagonist is a redhead! And yet… I feel dissatisfied.

I like Pixar and have high expectations of them. Their previous output, most of which I’ve seen, has shown them to be imaginative, emotionally intelligent and curious about how narrative conventions can be used and subverted. Yet if Brave had been the first Pixar film I’d seen, I doubt I’d rush back to see another – in fact, if Pixar didn’t have seventeen years of good will built up, my ambivalence towards this film might have tipped into antipathy.

The writing is weak. I’ve come to expect neatly crafted stories from Pixar. They used to understand emotional stakes, how to build up a protagonist’s hopes, expectations or fears and then dash the hopes and/or confront the fears. This time, I found I had no idea what Merida actually wants. There’s nothing massive at stake for her. She doesn’t want to get married because of the “loss of freedom”, but what does that mean? Three suitors are presented and she could run rings round any of them – even the least accommodating husband is less trouble than a mother, as I think I once heard somewhere. Without any driving desires, I’m not sure what Merida’s journey is. Yes, she gets the clan chiefs to agree that their children can choose their own spouses, but she’s still going to be expected to marry one of the unappealing heirs at some point.

There was plenty of promise in the mother/daughter dynamic between Elinor and Merida, but the resolution was far too easy. What, a wee bit of quality time with Mum plus a little bit of magic and everything’s peachy? If I’d turned my mother into a bear there would have been hell to pay when I got her changed back. Yes, there would have been an initial moment of being happy at being safely reunited, but then there would have been questions, screaming matches, all the usual mother/daughter stuff that happens after one of you does something really stupid. Perhaps that’s just me and my Mum, but it would have been more interesting than the slightly cloying ending that we got.

The thing that really left a bad taste in my mouth, though, was the depiction of the Scots. Yes, yes, this is where the Scot fulfils one of her national stereotypes and bangs on about how hard things are if you’re Scottish. Look, I know there are varying degrees and that other races have it worse, but that doesn’t change the fact that the way the Scots are portrayed in Brave is racist – or at best, it’s very crude racial stereotyping.

It’s difficult to say how Scottish women fare because there are only two female characters and they’re both busy playing cliche refined mother and cliche rebellious daughter. Certainly Merida is not helped by her voice actor, Kelly Macdonald, who has trouble sounding like a human being rather than an automated phone system that has been set to ‘Scottish’.

It’s the men who come off worst. They’re burly, hairy louts with no emotional depth (which weakens Merida’s climactic appeal – it’s directed at sensibilities they didn’t have prior to that scene). They drink, they gorge, they toss cabers, flash their kilt-clad arses at each other, feud constantly and are used for lazy comic relief. Their lines include references to tattybogles, puddens and galloots, never found anywhere else in the film. (Oh, not quite – one reference to Merida’s ‘gub’ from Elinor and one ‘jings, crivens an’ help ma boab’ from Merida.)

Would we accept this if the Scots weren’t white? We’re surely past the stage where it would be acceptable to populate a kids’ film with a group of Chinese men wearing pointy straw hats, waving chopsticks and mispronouncing the letter R? Or black witch doctors running around with bones through their noses? The fact that the Scots are white and speak English doesn’t make it any less problematic. Am I just being oversensitive here? Perhaps, and I plan to revisit this in another post to help me figure it out, but I don’t think so. I’m not a knee-jerk reactionary type. My objection is not the appearance of these stereotypes in the first place, it’s to them being accepted without question, exploration or purpose beyond filling some screen time with lazy writing. Pixar is better than that. Pixar is quite capable of creating interesting minor characters who are more than just a “hoots mon the noo” joke.

And seriously, a corset-lacing scene? To show Merida being oppressed by her mother’s expectations and traditional gender roles? Seriously, was this written by teenagers who haven’t realised how hackneyed that is yet? Not to mention that stays of that kind didn’t exist until the 19th century, and unless you laced them with dental floss you’d be unlikely to succeed in bursting out of them just by stretching and breathing in.

 

…Oh, come on,. You knew I was never going to let the corset thing pass.