Scene set in bid to find writers from Scottish streets
MACNICOL pushed open the door of the toughest pub in the city and strode to the packed bar. Beers were hurriedly downed and the howf went silent as the stranger opened his mouth to speak. “I’m lookin’,” he said, “for a playwright.”
This scene has not been written yet but it could be soon. Glasgow writer Mark Mac-Nicol is to scour the city’s poorest housing estates to find a playwright who can capture gritty, urban life and attract a new breed of theatregoers.
The £70,000 “Born to Write” project, financed by Creative Scotland, involves MacNicol setting young people the challenge of writing short scripts in an attempt to unearth new talent. Those showing talent will then be asked to write longer pieces, under the tutelage of MacNicol and the eventual winner will be given a bursary, an office space and professional mentoring by Playwright Studio Scotland. The organisation will then nurture the writer by giving him or her creative writing training and the opportunity to stage one of their own plays.
Supporters of the project hope to unearth another Gregory Burke, the acclaimed Scottish dramatist behind successes such as Black Watch and Gagarin Way, who came from the working-class area of Rosyth, in Fife.
MacNicol, a playwright and novelist from Pollok, hit upon the idea after compiling a list of theatre attendance in the Glasgow housing schemes of Pollok, Easterhouse, Drumchapel and Castlemilk. Using the Scottish Government’s deprivation index and a list of theatre attendance by postcode, he discovered that fewer than 15 per cent of households in the estates had visited the theatre in the previous year, while only 4 per cent had been to a theatrical production more than once in the past 12 months.
“The results demonstrated that not only were the figures well below the national average, but we were talking about a complete disengagement from the medium of theatre in our poorest areas,” he said. “It made me angry and concerned that people in these areas were being totally marginalised when it came to going to see theatre.”
His analysis led to the idea of a project attempting to engage young people in these areas through play writing. “We want to find someone who will reflect that world and write something that reflects the values and aspirations of people from that place,” he said.
MacNicol is a former IT consultant who switched to writing in his mid-thirties and whose first novel, Coconut Badger, was put forward for the Guardian First Novel award. “I never went to the theatre until I started writing plays myself,” said MacNicol. “I left school with no qualifications and it wasn’t until I got into writing myself that it started to dawn on me that no-one I knew from Pollok ever went to the theatre, and none of them had any interest in it.”
MacNicol, who was himself mentored at Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, has gone on to write four plays, the latest of which, Serve Cold, will debut at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Fiona Sturgeon Shea, creative director at Playwrights’ Studio Scotland, which will run the project, said: “We find new play writing talent and nurture it, and what we identified was a need to roll that out to areas where we weren’t attracting playwrights. So we built this project in order to identify and nurture new theatrical voices.”
It is hoped that if successful, the project could be rolled out across Scotland, particularly to rural areas in the Highlands and Islands and Dumfries and Galloway.
Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman’s theatre critic, said: “The Playwrights’ Studio Scotland has a good reputation and a good director in Fiona Sturgeon Shea so if they are on board it’s likely to be reasonably well run. I think the idea of going into housing estates to find new writers has obvious appeal but the fact of the matter is that writing plays is very tough work.”
Iain Munro, director of creative development at Creative Scotland, said: “The immense value of this project is the intent behind it to draw new voices into telling those stories and in finding ways that reach out and bring writers in, in ways that are intuitive, relevant and long-lasting.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east