Blair Cunningham

Culture Deputy - Theatre

The Trips and Falls director talks all things theatre, Fringe, and female directing in an exclusive chat with our Theatre Editor Blair Cunningham.

Here at Glasgow Uni we partake in a (loving) rivalry with our East Coast sister - she may be the capital but we’ll ever be the cooler sibling. However, we do have to give Edinburgh props on one thing: she pulls no punches when it comes to performing arts festivals. So much so, in fact, that GU’s own student theatre society, STAG, have undertaken the trip across the Central Belt to join the hubbub of the Fringe and put on a performance of their play Trips and Falls this August. Last week we joined the play’s director, Aimee Buchanan, to find out more about the play and to lift a lid on the process of putting on a production at the Fringe as a student company.

GG: What was the process of getting the play from script to stage like? Any particular struggles or heights?

Aimee: Everyday there seems to be a hoop to jump through—limited budgets, actor relations, moving set across the country, crisis management, etc… but I like to take each day at a time and each new challenge as a learning experience. At the end of the day, all the low points are worth it for the high points. Seeing people watch this show makes every challenge disappear—today I watched two girls experience theatre for the first time, and they loved it. Yesterday my assistant director, Charlotte Smith, spoke to a woman who said the show helped her with getting over the loss of her own mother.

Getting Trips and Falls to the Edinburgh Fringe has certainly been a series of trips and falls in itself. It’s the culmination of months of dedicated teamwork and collaboration between a group of very hardworking students who have volunteered hours of their time, just out of a love of the theatre. We originally premiered the show in Glasgow at the 2019 New Works Festival in Cottiers, Partick; winning the festival gave us the funding to go the Fringe. Since then, the show has developed and grown, the script has gone through rewrites, and I took over as the sole director. Our initial show had really great bones, it just needed fleshing out and adapting for a new venue and new audiences.

GG: Where did the inspiration for Trips and Falls come from?

Aimee: Maddie’s inspiration for the play was a trip she took to the Isle of Skye with her family to spread her own grandmother’s ashes. The play is very personal to her and her family, but I see a lot of my own family in it too, it’s very relatable. Growing up, one of my favourite things to do with my own gran was to go on a road trip and explore somewhere new in Scotland, and a lot of those memories inspired the movement and the little details. I also drew inspiration from old Scottish films that feature road trips, like Restless Natives and the plays of David Greig.

GG: Was the experience of directing Trips and Falls different to other productions you’ve been involved with?

Aimee: Trips and Falls has been similar but different—I have a lot more responsibilities than usual. It’s more than just directing the play itself, I’m responsible along with my producer for the actors and the production team’s well being, ticket sales, etc. It’s not a glamorous job, but it has its perks. Some nights I’m mopping the floor of our fringe flat at 2 am and letting locked out drunken actors in at 5 am, other nights I’m rubbing elbows with theatre professionals from around the world and getting free drinks. It’s wild.

GG: How does it feel to have the play chosen for the Fringe? Is it nerve-racking or does the excitement of it all replace any stress?

Aimee: It’s really exciting! Then you get into the actual process of it, and it’s really stressful. Then you see your audiences and how much they enjoy it, and it gets exciting again! It’s a roller coaster of stress and excitement, but you tend to forget the stressful bits because the exciting parts make it worth it.

GG: What’s been the best part of putting on the production?

The best part of putting on the production would definitely be audience reactions. Of course, family and friends are always supportive audience members, but to have complete strangers who are from the other side of the world come up to you afterwards and tell you they really enjoyed it is an amazing feeling.

GG: What advice would you give to aspiring writers/actors/directors coming to Glasgow Uni in September?

Aimee: There are so many opportunities to get involved in student theatre, definitely give it a go! But if you’re not getting the opportunities you want, make your own! Student theatre is an amazing, supportive environment, filled with lovely passionate people but there’s also a big wide world beyond it just waiting for you to make your mark.

GG: What does it mean to you in your career directing at the Fringe?

Aimee: To an extent, the Fringe is a right of passage for theatre directors because anyone can bring a show there, as long as you have some financial backing to do so. It’s not easy, you’re competing with three thousand other shows, and every day you are just overwhelmed by the vibrant talent around you.  Everyone is so supportive of you, because they’re in the same boat. We’re all starving, we’re all hungry for that next step—and we help each other as much as we can. Essentially, most festivals and theatres don’t programme young directors; it’s too much of a gamble. But the fringe takes anyone. It’s a chance to be a part of your first festival, and go to future employers and say 'Look! I did this! And I didn’t mess it up! Please hire me!' It’s given me an essential toolkit of business skills that I can now take and start my own company, and student theatre is a great practice run because your peers are so supportive.

GG: Do you feel directing as a female is any different considering the mode director in theatre and certainly film is male?

Aimee: The massive one that all female directors deal with is all the double standards. If we’re nice, we’re labelled as a pushover, lacking control. If you’re attempting to assume basic leadership and are being more assertive to maintain control, you’re labelled as bossy. You have to find a middle ground, constantly watching your word-choice to maintain a balance. Your choices and authority are always questioned, your methods scrutinised. It’s thankless, like being a mum. But you also have people around you who will do anything to support you. I’ve known my producer Seb since we were freshers, and he’s always behind me, fighting in my corner, picking up my calls and sending me to networking opportunities. Maddie, the playwright, is always a step ahead of me, reaching back and pulling me up the career ladder. And I’m right behind her, pushing her up when she needs it. No matter what your gender identity is, no matter what your workplace is, kindness and understanding goes a long way. That’s something I will always bring to the table!

GG: Is there a particular direction you would like to see the industry move in?

Aimee: If we want more diverse voices telling stories, we need to have more investment in local TV, film, and theatre industries, supporting new, fresh voices. There needs to be more collaboration between established directors/writers and early-career ones. Right now we don’t have the financial capability to put even established directors on long term contracts—if we want to make the arts into a more sustainable career choice for people there needs to be a whole reshuffling of the infrastructure: actually paying people for their time, effort, and labour. Scotland has so much potential, but so little money to develop that potential. I want to see new content reflecting the diversity of modern Scotland.

GG: Apart from Trips and Falls (obviously) what’s the best thing you have seen at the Fringe this year?

Aimee: Definitely check out Painted Corners at the Space at North Bridge, they’re on at 10 am and are a group of very dedicated Glasgow students who started their own theatre company. I also laughed, cried, and was super inspired by Cora Bissett’s amazing piece of gig theatre, What Girls are Made Of. She really nails the experience of being a young artist so much—you realise that it doesn’t necessarily get better, but you get better, you get stronger. I related to it so much, and Cora Bissett is one of my personal heroes! 

Trips and Falls will be at the Edinburgh Fringe until Aug 17 at the Space at Niddry Street.  For tickets and more details go to:

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