Persistent & Nasty: Celebrating Diversity in Scottish Theatre
The Skinny chats to the founders of Persistent & Nasty, a new platform for showcasing new and underrepresented voices in Scottish theatre
“It was kind of a refusal, wasn’t it, to sort of accept that we couldn’t find those plays because they didn’t exist, or they weren’t being written,” explains Emilie Patry when we meet with her and two of her colleagues, Louise Oliver and Elaine Stirrat in the Tron café over coffee to discuss their latest project, the excellently-titled Persistent & Nasty.
Founded earlier this year by Patry, Oliver, Stirrat, and Belle Jones, all actors with years of experience in the Scottish, UK and international theatre industry, Persistent & Nasty was created out of a need to see more diverse work and more recognisable characters work on the Scottish stage.
“Persistent & Nasty is a platform for the female-identified voice for stage and screen and it intersects with any marginalised voice,” explains Oliver, “Essentially, LGBTQI community, trans, minorities, people of all different ethnicities and ages. Basically, anyone that doesn’t feel represented in the stories that are being told in popular culture. It’s mainly a live event, with some digital content, namely a podcast right now. The goal is to use it towards changing the cultural narrative through the stories we tell.”
After noticing that they couldn’t find plays that they wanted to read, namely ones that featured empowering roles for women, or scripts that didn’t cast them as victims of predatory men, the group decided that these plays had to exist, somewhere. In fact, they did exist, but maybe there weren’t enough opportunities for the writers to share them. They decided that they could put their experiences and contacts to use and start an event to showcase undiscovered writers.
“So, that’s where it came from – we just kind of came from ‘well actually, let’s create a space where we can discuss that; and to invite people to submit, people who have perhaps not been given a chance elsewhere to submit their stories,” explains Stirrat.
In order for them to create this space, they decided to put out an open call for scripts on any theme by female-identifying writers, with the hope of selecting a piece to be read at their first event in January. They received 100 submissions, which they managed to whittle down to one to be read, a new play called Culture Club by two women scientists, Dr. Laura McNamara and Dr. Zara Gladman.
The first event at The Old Hairdressers at the end of January was a success. It quickly sold out and was swiftly followed by another successful event in March, this time at the CCA, that focussed on race. An accompanying podcast was launched in February.
This month’s Persistent & Nasty takes place at the CCA and will focus on gender and the gender spectrum. As with the first two events, it will be in two parts; a rehearsed reading of a piece of writing for theatre, film or TV by a female-identified writer, followed by an open discussion and Q&A with an invited industry guest. And it was this conversation that proved to be very helpful.
“The response to the first one was pretty overwhelming. There was desperate desire to have this conversation, and I think nobody thought they could. There was a kind of simmering frustration,” remembers Oliver. “It became very quickly apparent it wasn’t about trying to find the right writers, that in and of itself was a goal.”
“It’s as you say, a platform, and a space, for all of us,” interjects Stirrat. “It’s certainly not ‘come and manbash’; that’s just an echo chamber. It’s about the bigger picture, the bigger conversation and how we move forward, not just in our industry but socially, and in our culture. How do we move forward?”
“It became apparent that this was a big conversation – where are these writers, why don’t we have a roster of female playwrights being presented more regularly?” agrees Oliver. “When you look at the programming trends in Scotland across all our theatres and A Play, A Pie and A Pint, and everything, the presence of women in a playwrighting capacity, the balance is not good, it’s not there. So, the panel thing came about because we need to have a conversation about this and who are the best people to equip to lead on that than us?”
For Patry, the response to the discussion after the rehearsed reading was the most important part, as it let the audience become more involved and allowed them to be able to speak about the issues that they really wanted to speak about.
“In some sense the Q&A set up can be quite awkward, it can be laborious to get people to speak and all of that. I wasn’t there, but I was watching the live feed. I was amazed, there was an appetite for it, a real appetite to get in amongst it,” she explains.
“Nobody was screaming at each other,” says Stirrat reassuringly, “I think it was good, because people were getting to say how they’d been feeling about certain things, not necessarily what we had shown that night, but stuff that they had preconceived thought about. There was a definite energy.”
The power of an event like Persistent & Nasty lies in its ability to show the participants themselves and their worlds on the stage, making them more visible, and making marginalised people or overlooked stories more accepted, according to Oliver.
“It comes from an understanding that when you see yourself represented in the cinema or on a stage, that is feeding into what is the cultural narrative on a mainstream level and if you start diversifying these stories, then that becomes mainstream. So, that’s for me, what the core purpose of this is; start representing more people, tell different stories, and when you do that, that becomes normal. I don’t know if we’re a long way off that, but I think that’s the point,” explains Oliver.
“Ultimately, it’s a business like any other,” begins Patry. “and it’s about creating a demand for something as well. If you really try and bring numbers together, and people together who are clamouring for the same thing, a sort of fanbase for diversity, if you want, it becomes impossible to ignore.
“It’s like anything – you have to create content, if people are asking for it. I think bringing people together is the one strength that we have as people that are not running buildings or producing, it’s just trying to bring people together and start shouting and going 'I want this!'”
Ultimately the event is about helping Scottish theatre become more inclusive and more welcoming to the many different people, stories and voices that call this country home, which can only make the industry stronger and more hopeful for the future, explains Stirrat. “I said it before, how do we move forward if we’re not inclusive with everyone?”