This wasn't just the title of our evening panel discussion at
Dundee Rep, but became the 'mission statement' for our day at Rep
Stripped - to meet the playwrights of Dundee and discuss what
inspires them about living and working in the city.
Thankfully, a lot of the work had been done for us. Rep
Carla Almeida and Jordan Blackwood had
brought together a whole range of local and national artists.
Our Introduction to Playwriting workshop and discussion were just a
snippet of what was going on at Rep Stripped,
Dundee Rep's new writing festival showcasing as-yet-unseen
stories for the stage in a stripped back, intimate environment.
In the space of a week Rep Stripped featured everything
from work-in-progress readings, development labs, site-specific
performances, scratch nights, discussions, workshops and much
Here's what we had to offer:
Introduction to Playwriting
Our day begins with a workshop led and facilitated by playwright
Simon MacCallum. Simon was born and brought up in Dundee, a
fact that has influenced some of his work, including Balgay
Hill about the pop icon Billy Mackenzie which was produced at
Dundee Rep a few years ago. One of his recent plays, A
Single Good Hour, is about two siblings and the impact of
gentrification in Dundee has on their sense of family and
Simon starts by introducing himself and asking each participant
to do the same. They're in a circle and the room is relaxed and
focused. The range of participants' experiences is varied. There
are those who are just thinking about writing a play and at least
one person who has already produced and published their work.
Simon goes right back to basics, exploring the building blocks
of drama. He believes there is only one rule of playwriting,
"don't bore your audience! Once you've lost them, you can't get
Together, we explore the various ways you can use the passage of
time and sense of place, using examples from playwrights past and
present: Ena Lamont
Stewart (Men Should Weep),
Gregory Burke (Gagarin Way),
Stephen Greenhorn (Passing Places), Harold
Pinter (Betrayal) and many more.
Simon shows us how to create character, which can be a great
skill to apply when your play doesn't seem to be going anywhere. He
points out that different voices can often be a good source of
conflict and the characters' ambitions, wants and fears need to be
explored. What do they want before they go to bed tonight? By the
end of the week? At the end of the next 12 months? What is their
main ambition before they die? What is the best/worst possible
thing that could happen to them?
Fair play (get it?) to Simon, he covers a lot of ground in only
a couple of hours! He finishes off with what the group thought was
a very sound piece of advice: when writing your first draft, keep
going. "Don't stop or go back, otherwise you'll never finish
it. Then leave it for a month, don't look at it and only then
come back to read it and edit it."
Simon's concise, direct and straightforward approach to the
Introduction to Playwriting is noted by all participants
whose only complaint is, "I wish it could have been longer!"
Although we always enjoy seeing familiar faces at our workshops,
we're always delighted to see participants at our events who we've
never had the pleasure of meeting before. That's definitely what
happened at this workshop!
Where are all the playwrights in Dundee?
Chaired by Playwrights' Studio Creative Director, Fiona Sturgeon
Shea, the panel discussion brings together four playwrights who
work in the city. It concludes our contribution to Rep
Stripped. Joining Fiona on the panel were Bob
Ballantine (Standing Stanes),
Jaimini Jethwa (The Last Queen of Scotland),
John McCann (DUPed) and
Sandy Thomson (Damned Rebel B*tches).
Fiona kicks things off by asking each of the panel to introduce
themselves and talk about where their journey to being a writer
Bob tells us that started out writing short
stories and other kinds of prose. However, it wasn't long before he
turned his attention to playwriting as he found it to be a much
more collaborative and less isolating process. His first play,
Standing Stanes, began life as a screenplay but he soon
found that the story he was telling was more suited to the stage.
"Keep at it," he says, "it took 25 years for [Standing
Stanes] to be produced!" Bob is involved with Dundee Little
Theatre which he hopes will become Dundee's studio theatre to
bridge the gap between rehearsed readings and professional
productions. He hopes that people on the panel and in the audience
will be interested in getting involved with this.
Jaimini grew up for most of her childhood in
Dundee. She attended the University of Westminster where she
studied film. After graduating, she pursued a career in
screenwriting, predominantly working for the BBC. As well as
playwriting, Jaimini also works in digital media production in
Dundee. Her play
The Last Queen of Scotland originally began life as a
screenplay but Jaimini decided the story was best suited to a live
format and was produced by
Stellar Quines and Dundee Rep in 2017.
John has a background in working in theatre and
the arts in a community outreach capacity with Tinderbox in his native
Northern Ireland. He now lives in the Fife area. He began his time
with Tinderbox working with marginalised groups during The
Troubles, particularly refugees and asylum seekers. John always
wanted to work as a writer. Shortly before moving to Scotland, he
booked a spot on
Zinnie Harris' Playwriting Toolkit workshop in Edinburgh, so he
would have something to look forward to. It was through this
workshop that John wrote his first full-length play. He then went
on to become part of the Traverse 50 where he wrote Spoiling
which was then staged at the Traverse in 2013 and later at Dundee
Rep. Since then, much of his work has been staged in Northern
Ireland. His recent play, DUPed, which
premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe last year and more recently
toured the UK. It will make a return to the Fringe this year.
Sandy recalls getting into theatre at a young
age and admits that she is probably the person on the panel with
the longest relationship with the Dundee Rep building. After
attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art she moved back to her
native Dundee and came to work for Dundee Arts Centre as a
Community Arts worker. Sandy admits she took the job as a, "stop
gap," after drama school, but then came to really enjoy it. It was
during this period she started to want to make theatre
collaboratively and internationally. Sandy set up her theatre
Boy, in 2004 to make accessible promenade theatre, inspired by
the work from elsewhere that she consumed with a passion, including
in different languages and forms of theatricality.
Fiona continues the discussion, "Dundee was just named the
best place to live in Scotland. What is it like being a playwright
here? What is it about Dundee that particularly inspires
and/or nurtures your creativity?"
Jaimini came to Scotland as a refugee with her family from
Uganda when she was a child. Her play, The Last Queen of Scotland, sheds
light on a unique period in Scotland's social history and the
particular story of Jaimini's community in exile that has rarely
been told. She says that she's always felt at home in Dundee,
fascinated at how the city still holds a strong sense of community.
She is often told by friends and acquaintances that she is most
Dundonian person they know. She was compelled to return to Dundee
once she had graduated.
Sandy also missed her home town, feeling like an outsider during
her training at RADA. Once she graduated, she returned to the place
where the people and the language felt familiar. Sandy remarks that
Dundee has a great sense of 'street theatre' and that there is a
tremendous feeling of community in the city. It's this community
and familiarity that makes the creative process in Dundee a fairly
collaborative one. Local artists are always willing to work
together. She goes on to say that creating art in Dundee with
Dundonian artists is a democratic process. On a logistical side of
things, meeting up with other artists is easy, given Dundee's
relatively small size. The recent boom in city's creative sector
means that there is never really a shortage of safe, creative
spaces to meet.
Dundee's culture does not just lie exclusively within the city
itself. Bob remarks that Dundee's industrial and shipbuilding
heritage means that it has always been a thoroughly international
city. The wealth from these industries helped to develop art and
culture in the city as the upper classes invested in building
theatres, venues and cultural landmarks. Bob has prior experience
in working in economic development and notes the advantages of
writing a play set in or about Dundee as the city has such a
vibrant past, present and future. As a writer, he says, he has
always tried to portray Dundee and its community for how it is
without, "caricaturing it."
For John, Dundee always had a, "mythical quality," surrounding
it, even before he moved to Scotland from Northern Ireland. He goes
on to say how his experience in working with young people with
mental health issues has made him very aware of the psychological
barriers to accessing the arts. He has found Dundee to be
accessible because of the city's size. "It's like a city-village.
Small enough to still maintain a great sense of community." He
praises the Dundee Rep Creative Learning Team, in the way that they
actively work to remove barriers to attendance and participation
and are always attune to what the audience wants and needs. Sandy
agrees that working with that team on developing a play with a
Dundonian cast was hugely important.
This brings Sandy to an issue which the all panel agreed on: the
difficult leap from script development to full production and, in
particular, the lack of opportunities for professional development
outside of the central belt. Although there are grassroots
initiatives (for example in Dundee and Fife there are Scrieve
Dundee and the
Byre Writers), more needs to be done to nurture and develop new
writing in rural areas and smaller cities like Dundee. The panel
argues that it's time for larger organisations to step in and
create a, "half-way house for new writing."
As the panel comes to a close, Fiona asks the audience if they
have any questions. One audience member, who is a playwright, asks,
"would I alienate non-local audiences if I set my play in Dundee.
Would it be weird to set my play in Dundee if it was to be on at
the Edinburgh Fringe for instance?"
"Only to people in Dundee," says Sandy, "but bear in mind that
most of your audience won't be." The panel then discusses how you
can always find the universal in the specific and references the
Quebecois playwright Michel
Tremblay (The Guid Sisters).
The challenges of gentrification, and rapid change through
capital investment in the city, is brought up by an audience
member. The latest developments in Dundee are acknowledged as
generally as a good thing by the audience and the panel. However,
discussion arises on how it could impact on the values and the
community of Dundee.
The discussion concludes with dialogue between the panel and the
audience about Dundee playwrights and how vital is for them to
continue on the path of telling and writing Dundonian stories. It
is agreed that, ultimately, this will help to further support the
city's values and sense of community as it continues on its path of
cultural and economic development.
Lu Kemp, Artistic Director of Perth Theatre, is
in the audience and finds the Michel Tremblay quote, which feels
like a fitting sentiment on which to end the discussion:
"the universality of a play is
not found in the place in which it was written but in its humanity.
I think that all human beings are basically the same - we have
different ways of living and different governments but inside we're
all the same. The more local, the more specific, you make
something, the more universal it becomes."
We would like to thank everyone who came along to the workshop
and discussion and to our workshop leader Simon MacCallum, the
panellists Bob Ballantine, Jaimini Jethwa, John McCann and Sandy
Thomson. And thanks to everyone at Dundee Rep who looked after us
so well - Jordan, Carla, Andrew Panton, the Rep's Artistic Director
& Joint-Chief Executive, Liam Sinclair Executive Director &
Joint-Chief Executive, and all the box office and front of house
Playwrights' Studio is a national organisation and belongs to
all of Scotland's playwrights, regardless of where they are based.
It is always inspiring to meet playwrights we haven't been able to
connect with before and even better when they're able to engage
with us face-to-face in a workshop or panel discussion.
Although our time at Rep Stripped was brief, we came
away from the day with new relationships and an insight into what
makes Dundee playwrights tick. We were delighted to be a part of