Joyce McMullan: Artists come out to play at Tron 100 Club

Lisa Nicoll was inspired to set up the Tron 100 Club after seeing the work of the Actors' Centre in London
Lisa Nicoll was inspired to set up the Tron 100 Club after seeing the work of the Actors' Centre in London
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The Tron 100 Club is a forum for actors, writers and directors to collaborate and find mutual support in what can be a lonely business

Thirty-three new short plays, the same number of playwrights, and more than 200 young or emerging theatre artists in all disciplines from writing and acting to direction, all supporting one another in developing their skills through workshops with leading theatre practitioners, and in showcasing their work at one of Scotland’s most exciting theatres. That’s the Tron 100 Club, which has been presenting five evenings of new work at the Tron this week, featuring six or seven new short plays each night, all written, performed and directed by Tron 100 members.

The club was founded just 18 months ago by the theatre’s development director Lisa Nicoll, a well-known playwright, actor and producer on the Glasgow scene. Each participant pays a flat fee of £100 a year, payable in easy monthly instalments, generating around £20,000 of income which meets the costs of the Tron 100’s impressive workshop programme, as well as a range of other membership perks including free tickets for Tron shows. Over the past year, the workshops have featured leading playwrights Stephen Greenhorn, Peter Arnott and Nicola McCartney, directors including Ben Harrison and Matthew Lenton, top UK voice coach Nadine George, and speakers from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Court and Soho Theatre, as well as all Scotland’s major companies; and Nicoll feels that the appetite for the kinds of opportunities the club offers is currently almost boundless.

“The club’s been heavily over-subscribed right from the start,” she says, “and although we stuck to 100 members last year, we now have around 200. We set a fairly high bar for entry, in that you have to have either a degree in a theatre-related subject, or some professional experience, so it’s not for absolute beginners. And the range of people applying is astonishing – our youngest member is 21, the oldest is about 60, and we’re perhaps 60 per cent performers and 30 per cent writers, with about 10 per cent interested in directing and other disciplines, although many people also like to cross those boundaries.”

Nicoll explains that one of her primary inspirations for the Tron 100, was the work of the Actors’ Centre in London, which she experienced while working there a decade ago.

“It seems to me that after theatre professionals leave college, they often become quite isolated, and don’t really continue to develop their skills, particularly when they’re not working. And more so here in Scotland, where there generally haven’t been many facilities for continuing professional development, particularly for performers.

“But if we were athletes we wouldn’t stop training between competitions, so why should theatre professionals stop training between jobs? You have to keep working and learning; and by providing a creative community in which people can network, and learn, and form new working relationships, the Tron 100 really seems to help in that process.”

Tron 100 playwright Jennifer Adam, whose latest play featured in Thursday’s performance, agrees that the collaborative nature of the Tron 100’s work is particularly important, in what can be a lonely profession. “I’ve loved the sessions we’ve had with writers like Oliver Emanuel and Rob Drummond,” says Adam, who has had two plays produced on the Edinburgh Fringe as part of the Just Festival. “I also find it fascinating to go along to sessions on other aspects of theatre. And now, I find that although I’m primarily a writer, I’m becoming more and more interested in design – which is not something I would have predicted at all.”

And as for the question of whether the huge new wave of aspiring theatre artists emerging in Scotland today will ever be able to make viable careers, both Lisa Nicoll and the Tron’s artistic director Andy Arnold agree that it’s not for institutions like the Tron to try to limit that surge of creativity, but to make space for it, and to help support those future artists who do have the drive and invention to succeed. Arnold is well known for his past work at nurseries of talent like Edinburgh Theatre Workshop and the much-lamented Arches, and sees the Tron 100 project as central to what his theatre strives to achieve.

“Those of us who are lucky enough to hold the keys to theatre buildings,” he says, “really should attempt to share these spaces with the wider community of artists, particularly in the current climate. The term “creative hub” is bandied about too often to have much credibility, but that is exactly what the Tron Theatre aims to be through activities like the Tron Labs, Progressive Playwrights, and the Tron 100. Having so many artists meeting at and using the building creates a real buzz, and there’s no conflict between that aim and the pursuit of our own excellence in production – rather the mixing of different strands enriches the whole experience within a producing house, and can inspire great work.”

And for Nicoll, the business of creating your own opportunities is a skill she hopes Tron 100 members will develop through their participation in the club. “I think it’s important that people don’t just put all their hopes in the big theatre companies when they’re developing their careers,” she says. “If you really believe in the work you’re doing, and in the people you’re working with, then you can usually find a way to make it happen, even if you have to fund-raise and produce yourself. In this showcase, we’ve got an amazing range of work, from plays about the refugee crisis to great surreal bursts of theatrical poetry. And I hope that’s something Tron 100 can really achieve – to give people a sense of belonging to a creative community that will support them in making the work they believe in, whatever form it takes, and through both good times and bad.”

• The final Tron 100 Club showcase performance is at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, tonight,