Tandem Writing Collective on their DIY Approach to Theatre
Two of the three women behind one of Scottish theatre’s newest writing collectives chat to The Skinny about why they decided to go their own way
“The catalyst was basically, I’ve got these pieces that I would love to try out, but nowhere to do it, let’s work together.” That, according to playwright Mhairi Quinn, was the spark that led to the creation of Tandem Writing Collective, who create bold and eclectic short plays and are about to make their first appearance at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow later this month. The collective, which she formed in 2016 with fellow playwrights Jennifer Adam and Amy Hawes, writes and stages new work at Edinburgh’s The Canons' Gait pub and DRAM! in Glasgow, and was set up to perform short “taster pieces” of theatre written by the three playwrights.
The pieces are performed script in hand by local actors and emerging directors, as part of their so-called scratch nights, which also feature live music. “I always think it’s like a wee multipack of crisps,” Quinn continues. “If you don’t like one thing, there’s always something that you can enjoy!”
This theatrical night of treat-size new writing came about from a sense of frustration; as emerging playwrights, Quinn, Amy Hawes and Jennifer Adam wanted to get their work on stage and seen by people in the industry. So, they did what other emerging playwrights in Scotland would do – write plays and apply for funding, prizes and schemes. However, because everyone else was doing it, getting noticed was difficult.
“It’s like having control over your own destiny,” begins Hawes. “For emerging writers you can sometimes feel like you’re scribbling into the void, and it can feel completely soul destroying.”
Tandem is designed to be a welcoming and informal evening, where the audience can head to the pub to watch a night of new writing for no charge. Because there is no funding in the collective, everyone involved in the evening does it for no fee, and as they aren’t taking money at the door, the pubs they work with allow them to rent the space for free.
Because there’s no funding in the collective, the three playwrights – as well as the actors and directors they work with – are doing it for the love of theatre. But it’s also a reciprocal arrangement: the playwrights get their work staged in a safe space; the actors get to work with a director, who in turn, gets to direct a new play. As Quinn explains: “It’s giving actors [the chance] to be seen by directors, so it’s a wee bit of a showcase if you like.”
The preparation for this showcase always takes place over one day where they workshop the script with the director, and the collective have very few rehearsals so that everyone can be involved in their spare time.
“It’s quite by the seat of your pants," says Hawes, "it is really fast. It’s usually about an hour to prepare for on the day; it’s quite bold, and our audiences know that and they respond well to it.”
This 'by the seat of your pants' approach has won them support, not just from audiences but also from actors such as Stephen Greenhorn. Crucially, it gave them the confidence to, as Quinn puts it, “chance their arm” by approaching Andy Arnold at The Tron about staging an event at the venue. He agreed, giving them one evening in February, before having to add an extra date after the first one sold out.
The collective hope to be able to grow in the future, but for now they’re concentrating on continuing to build a community, and hope to make Scottish theatre more accessible to new and emerging artists. “It’s what theatre should be,” says Quinn of the collective. “It’s theatre for everybody.”