My Own Vaudeville

Peter Forbes, Nicholas Asbury and Cliff Burnett in The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain at The Traverse, Edinburgh.

Yesterday I was at a meeting called by the Playwrights’ Studio Scotland to hear feedback about a theatre report, for which playwrights were consulted, commissioned by Creative Scotland.

I said nothing because I was all shy and awkward and I’m never sure what I’m entitled to – so I don’t ask for anything – I drift along or I try to make things happen on the down low. That may be one of Scotland’s hidden problems – creative people lurking about being passive-aggressive and not demanding the structures we need to create new work that audiences and the wider culture would benefit from.

Some things brought up at the meeting were slightly depressing. The touring circuit has died. Venues have no real interest in promoting shows. Educational projects stay within an educational context and are never seen by the general public. Creative Scotland has no clear criteria for “excellence” – the quality it wishes to fund. Mid-career playwrights lack opportunities to create work.  Project to project funding means there are only a few months between commissioning a playwright to write a play and the play having to be on stage – which could mean unpolished first or second drafts being performed. There was even an anecdote about box office staff encouraging customers to watch a film across the road (it’s good that the box office staff were being honest or trying to give the customers all the options without giving them a hard sell – but sad they don’t appreciate theatre more. I know a lot of people who have a kind of prejudice against theatre. They assume it’ll be boring or worthy or farty and even when they enjoy a show will mark it as an exception and will continue to think all theatre is an ordeal).

There was some talk of setting up an Academy to peer review new plays. The Academy would be made up of distinguished oldsters and would probably be a soulless committee but sounds like an old school gentleman’s club with oak paneling, oil paintings of the members and leather armchairs. Being a fan of Victoriana I like the idea of it – but I’d avoid it like the plague. And I can’t see it being a facilitator of innovation. No one wants to birth a new style that might obsolete their own.

Presbyterianism was blamed, Central Scotland was dismissed as a barren rust belt, too much money is spent off-stage, some popular companies are ‘camp’ and ‘sh*t* and only two people live in the Highlands. All said in affectionate and jokey terms.

There were no scurrilous accusations. Which is good – since I hate conflict – and bad – since I do love a DRAMA. Someone at Creative Scotland apparently said that ‘Scottish theatre was a boil that had to lanced’. Which it isn’t – I mean I’m a bitter endlessly emerging paranoid needy wreck and I enjoy practically every production I see. Even the epic disasters are entertaining. Even the ones written by people I currently hate (you don’t know your names). I’d like it to be more girly and Karenesque but I’m hoping to tip that balance sometime soon. And we lack cash, directors, artistic directors and coverage outside of Scotland – but there are some exciting voices out there and despite us being tiny we’re not a closed shop. Creative Scotland is wrong (if such words were uttered) and a big Luvvie massive blood-letting would be fun. If the Royal Court was in Edinburgh you’d hear the cage-rattling for months.

But we’re so damn inhibited we couldn’t even eat the free biscuits. And they were chocolate!

Anyway despite it being mildly – but throughly – negative – I felt inspired. For a start – there’s still a lot to be done in Scottish culture. Since the Reformation was so anti-art and the Enlightenment was consumed by science and engineering – we’ve acres of new ground still to plough. The SNP needs us to develop Scotland’s brand and, while the Labour Party has unaccountably turned on us, we’ve always got the SNP to threaten them with (if we focus and word it correctly). And I realised I do genuinely love the arts in a vocational way, for its own sake, but also for the way it allows us to express our feelings and connect with others, sometimes over ridiculously large distances of time and geography. And I had a sudden surge of confidence that I could start my own theatre company. One that would combine all my diverse passions and ideas.

I would base it on Vaudeville and I would try to include new dramatic, comedy and genre writing with visual art, music, performance art, stand-up, cabaret and variety turns, burlesque, drag, circus, poetry, storytelling – all the old Music Hall stalwarts with a modern twist. Like Grand Guignol combined with Theatre Workshop. It would be political but humane. Artificial but authentic. Wist with zest. Goth without the naff sexual posturing. Brecht with everything and the kitchen sink. Punky experiments.

I’m starting the research.

Pray for me.

Sort of like this – The Tiger Lillies.




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