Playwrights with problems (below), panto round-up on page 46 and The Kosh reviewed on page 48.


Play pay

In the first of what promises to be a series of articles about the position of the playwright in Scottish theatre , Mark Fisher talks to members of the Scottish Society of

Playwrights about their

long-running campaign for better


‘We‘re asking for something quite radical.‘ says Simon Donald, chairperson of the Scottish Society of Playwrights. ‘We‘re questioning the whole way the playwright exists in relation to the


Donald. himself an accomplished actor and writer, is at the forefront of no ordinary industrial dispute. True enough. the Society‘s two-year old campaign against the Federation of Scottish Theatres, aims to achieve an increase in pay. but underlying the financial demands is a genuine long-term view of the future of home-grown theatre. ‘It‘s not so much a dispute,‘ he explains. ‘as an effort by the writers to move the whole process ofnew theatre in Scotland into an area where it can get better and feed off its own success. What happens just now is that a talented new writer is able to write one or two small scale plays for studio theatres and then discovers it‘s impossible to earn enought to live. just at the time when they need to make the transition to big public theatre. Consequently in Scotland we have no repertoire of large scale public plays. [an Heggie. for example. is in exactly this position. Here you have a writer WhOSC Work is generating l discussed. But while welcoming the support of

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excitement at home and abroad, yet he‘s forced to give up writing for theatre. That‘s a criminal waste and it‘s a direct result of the way the Federation of Scottish Theatres refuse to accept that they have to include writers as a part of their budget. The SAC have done their bit and the theatre‘s won‘t meet the challenge.‘

The Society has the support of the Scottish Arts Council which now plans to make up for the drop over the past decade in the real value of its contribution towards playwriting commissions. ’lfnew writing is the life-blood oftheatre.‘ says Anna Stapleton, Drama and Dance Director at the SAC, ‘then we hope always to make it a 3 priority. We‘ve increased our money for new : writing in 1991 by £30.0()0—£80.000 up to

£1 10.000. Given the restrictions on funding. this

is quite a big increase. way above the rate of

inflation. And we‘ve increased our contribution towards commissions.‘ she says. stressing that these are intended as contributions and not as full payments. ‘Our contribution to a full length play will be going up from £2000 to £4000.‘

Stapleton rightly refuses to take sides in any dispute. but she feels that the changes in SAC

l policy indicate that it is time the issues were

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the SAC, the playwrights will remain unhappy until a rate of pay has been set independent of the level ofSAC contribution. The 13—member

I Federation of Scottish Theatres has so-far

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' £4000 contribution. ‘The thrustofour campaign.‘ says Simon Donald, ’is that alone amongst theatre workers, the writers have no negotiated agreed minimum rates whatsoever. Equity do it for actors, BETA do it for technicians. everybody does it.‘

Calculating that the average time to write a play is 37 weeks and that £150 per week is a reasonable income, the Society is pressing for a standard minimum commission of£5500. Happy to negotiate about these figures, it feels that a set rate would reflect more accurately the work involved. Writer, performer and founder member of Clyde Unity Theatre, Aileen Ritchie, agrees that without such an agreement, the writer is very vulnerable. ‘I was recently at a conference,’ she says, ‘and we got onto talking about writers‘ pay and one woman said, ‘But darling, writers have always starved‘. It‘s like having someone in the NHS saying. ‘Well, infant mortality has always been high!‘ It‘s a preposterous idea. All sorts of people - lighting designers, designers and so on are automatically assumed to be within a theatre‘s budget. but the writer isn‘t. You‘re really in a very dodgy position as a writer. because you‘re seen as extraneous to the whole thing.‘

Ofcourse, any additional money has to come from somewhere. ’The bottom line is that we would be prepared to take fewer commissions until the quality ofthose plays generates the demand and the finance for more plays.‘ says Simon Donald. ’It‘s part ofcreating an atmosphere in Scotland that makes writers stay and write plays that speak to the world with a Scottish identity. which is surely what we‘re all

TV farmers

Scottish Television is within a law weeks oi iilming its latest comedy showcase and is accepting applications from those who wish to go along as witnesses. The Funny Farm, already established as Scotland’s tirst comedy co—operative is to take the guise ol a late night cabaret, representing the lirst venture by STV into the area oi televised stand-up comedy.

So what can we expect trom all ol this? ‘We set up the Funny Farm a year ago.’ explains Stu Who?, lounder member and compare ol the programme, ‘in order to provide a

platiorm lorthe talents of young writers and comedians. The idea behind the group, among otherthings, was to demonstrate that notions like ‘alternative’ and ‘traditional’ are outdated and meaningless. As far as we are concerned, the only thing that distinguishes one comic from another is their ability to make people laugh. All that we ask is that they don’t hurt anybody else in the process.‘

With this in mind, they have put together a package which not only gives a platiorm to the young hopeluls of comedy in Scotland, but combines them with established comedians such as Johnnie Beattie, Walter Carr and Una MacLean. The prospects are positively mouthwatering: the ‘old-timers’, setting out their stall on

the same stage as the newcomers.

But isn't there a chance at a little covert rivalry between the two camps? Much of the so—called ‘alternative’ material at recent years has been directed against some oi the older comics, so are there any points to prove? ‘Comics who made their name in the Fifties and Sixties learned to take it lor granted that certain subjects would not get past the censor’s desk,’ explains ‘old-timer’ Johnnie Beattie. “Jokes against the establishment, or the use at swearing were completely taboo in those days, and we had to tailor our material accordingly. We've got more treedom now, and it’s a matter at personal taste as to what we come up with. But people may well be surprised by the things that we come up


With guests from the Comedy Store. and a number at new Scottish bands adding a musical dimension, it looks as it we can expect a welcome addition to our late night viewing. (Philip Kingsley)

The Funny Farm. 8—1 0 January, STV Cowcaddens, Studio ‘A’. Glasgow 62. Tickets by written application only to Paul O’Dell at STV.

The List 22 December 1989— ll January 1990 39