Guide to Glasgow’s independent theatre scene

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Aileen Booth & Agnes Checka
Culture Editors

In terms of UK cities, Glasgow has one of the most vibrant and exciting theatre scenes in the country. With numerous venues from Kings Theatre to the Pollockshaws Playhouse and world-renowned institutions such as the University of Glasgow and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the opportunities for theatre-makers and actors are abundant. Away from the bright lights and notoriety of companies such as the National Theatre of Scotland and Scottish Ballet, there lies a subculture of independent, graduate and student-run theatre. We spoke to three budding companies about the opportunities and benefits of Glasgow as a theatrical hub.

Fear No Colours

Established in 2015 by Glasgow University students and graduates, Fear No Colours describes their work as being focused on ‘experiential and visceral performances with a focus on contemporary drama’. Currently spearheaded by Julia Midtgård, the company embarked on their second trip to  the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, where they performed adaptations of two pieces by British playwright Philip Ridley: Mercury Fur, an ensemble post-apocalyptic drama concerned with the difficult decisions a group of young people must make in order to stay alive, and Dark Vanilla Jungle, a solo monologue performed by a young woman explicitly discussing her experiences with rape and abuse. Although only in their second year as a company, Fear No Colours have already established themselves as one to watch in the Glasgow theatre scene, in part due to their reputation for making brave theatrical decisions which refuse to adhere to unspoken rules on censorship.

“We relish in doing provocative stuff, stuff that makes people uncomfortable and it’s not your usual night out to the theatre,” says Raymond Wilson, one of the actors, “We want to provoke and make people think, but in the end we are a theatre company composed of young adults who just want to play about, put on some shows. We choose the shows because we like them”. Despite the dark and unsettling nature of their adaptations, the passion and enthusiasm of the Fear No Colours team shine through, giving the pieces new life. When questioned on their decision to start their own company here in Glasgow, as opposed to Edinburgh or London, Midtgård commented on the uniqueness of our city’s theatre scene: “One thing that’s very exciting about Glasgow, coming from Norwegian theatre, which is institutional and boxed in in a lot of ways, is that here you can see big professionals and big names working in small venues on smaller projects, which is very exciting to see. There is that crossover between professionals and amateurs which is very refreshing”. Company actor Sam added “From a student perspective I’d say […] there seems to be an awful lot of affordable, casual spaces which you can book for a few days and put something on. It’s very accessible and easy, even for people working around a student budget and schedule.”

Fear No Colours is a prime example of a young collaborative company, the likes of which are most likely the future of the Glasgow theatre scene. Considering how successful they’ve been over the last two years, their advice for fellow aspiring theatre-makers was surprisingly modest and achievable: “There’s no stealthy waiting for the right thing, just do everything, embarrass yourself, just go for it”, says company member and current Glasgow University student Aea Varfis-van Warmelo. “Do as much as you can. If people offer you to do a wee project, go do it with them whether it’s a masters student wanting somebody to read for their project, or if it’s a student theatre thing, or a scratch night. Just do stuff”, adds Raymond, encouraging all budding theatre-makers to take any opportunity they get and make the most of it.

Modest Predicament

Modest Predicament is one of Glasgow’s youngest theatre companies. Established this year by Jenny Gilvear and Shilpa T-Hyland, two theatre studies graduates from the University of Glasgow, the company enjoyed a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe with their show ‘Erin, Errol and the Earth Creatures’. When discussing how the company came about, Gilvear commented “Shilpa and I were teaching drama to an after school group of young people. There was a total mixture of kids, all ages and backgrounds and we loved it! […] We had so much fun with them and we were really inspired by being around young people; the kind of mad ideas they come up with and how responsive they are to new ideas. […] So when we started thinking about new projects then it just kind of came together really easily.”

Company member Ella Bendall described their Fringe show as “a children’s theatre piece about a boy and a girl, the boy goes missing so Erin has to go and find him but she comes across some lovely puppet friends along the way […] it’s a play about recycling and it’s got puppets. That’s the killer.” Children’s theatre is an oft forgotten realm for many contemporary theatre companies who tend to instead choose to focus their talents and resources on more sophisticated or complicated works. The Modest Predicament team, however, champion the originality and opportunities which come with children’s theatre: “I think that it’s always easy to overlook children’s theatre,” muses company member Ross, “but the level of skill and dedication required is no different to any other kind of theatre. […] you can ignite children’s minds and introduce them gently to ideas and creative possibilities.”

Having seen a Modest Predicament rehearsal, it is safe to say that passion and collaboration pushed the production forward creating an atmosphere that’s both productive and laid-back. Companies like this are few and far between, equal parts playful and resourceful, dedicated to making work that inspires not only them but also the next generation. When asked what advice they’d offer to fellow aspiring theatre-makers, Gilvear said “Just make things. Do things. Don’t get bogged down with budgets and admin and trying to make things work. Just do it in your living room and spare rooms with bits of charity shop furniture. Just because you’re just starting out doesn’t mean you can’t make something pretty great”. With a successful run of ‘Erin, Errol and the Earth Creatures’ and an inspiring fresh outlook on contemporary theatre, Modest Predicament will certainly go on producing entertaining pieces with a message that’ll get you thinking.

Only Skin

“Only Skin was launched by myself and a couple of friends, we were in our final year of theatre studies and the thing that kind of triggered it was discussions about arts in Glasgow and in Scotland after the closure of the Arches”, explains Cairan McLaggan, the co-founder of the arts collective. The Arches, a non-profit venue for all types of performances ranging from theatre concerts and club nights closed down in June 2015, single-handedly changing the dynamics of the local art scene. Only Skin launched their first scratch night event in March 2016, offering performers a space and an audience to put on original contemporary work. “We weren’t trying to fill a void after the Arches closed, we just thought there could be even more opportunities”, clarifies Cairan. “We’re not trying to compete with anyone, I don’t think arts is a competition, it’s just a community which we want to get ourselves involved in and contribute to as much as possible”. This attitude certainly reflects the wider Glasgow scene, which strives to promote mutual support and respect across all companies and practices.

As a theatre collective, Only Skin specialises in scratch nights consisting of bold, often experimental work chosen from artistic proposals submitted online. Whether it’s a completed piece or simply an outline of an idea, Only Skin provides the opportunity to showcase the work to an audience enthusiastic about performance. “We want to bring that arts community together and let them communicate with one another to see, to watch and to respond”, says McLaggan. He stresses that networking and community-building are more important to maintaining a successful and blossoming theatre scene than often limiting labels: “I think people who are interested [in theatre] and people who make work are also people who want to come and see it. We wanted to test this idea, make a platform for work we’d want to make, a platform that was open and as accessible as it can be for people who are interested in performance work but aren’t sure what it is”.
Fringe theatre refers to experimental work which resists the restraints of traditional theatrical expectations. Despite the post dramatic theatre movement, highly unconventional or anti-assimilative theatre often goes unperformed, due to many companies and venues being reluctant to stray too far from their own comfort zone. Although Cairan points out that it’s not particularly beneficial to split theatre into ‘traditional vs. nontraditional’, he does agree that “there is a divide and spectrum of work that can be made and can be shown and there are audiences for all different types of work”. It is companies like Only Skin which make it possible for this variety of theatrical work to be seen: as the collective is not a funding body or linked to any major Glasgow theatre spaces, it is free to express itself in any number of ways and to associate itself with numerous themes, genres and techniques. These kinds of collectives inspire creators to take the road less travelled, experiment and learn from everything they produce. “There can never be too much work being made because everything is relevant and everyone who has an interest in performance deserves an audience to see and to respond to”.