Venue of The Month

"Playwrights Studio Scotland is here to help playwrights complete their work and help theatre organisations get the best plays possible onstage." So says Creative Director, Julie Ellen

Feature by Michael Cox | 01 Apr 2010

The story behind the Playwrights Studio begins with the radical poet and playwright Tom McGrath. "Tom was someone who made things happen," says Julie Ellen, Creative Director of the initiative. "He had the idea of a place where writers could come and hang out and get support without a producing context." After receiving much support through committees and the Scottish Arts Council, the project finally got a green light, but only after McGrath had suffered a stroke.

Looking for a new leader, a steering organisation chose Ellen. "It was curious. They appointed me to a job that didn’t exist, and I didn’t realise this until I was sitting up in bed on the first day and thinking 'Hum, Playwrights Studio. What do I need? Oh yes, register a company, open a bank account, find an office. Oh, this is actually very complicated.' But it was really good fun." That was back in 2004, and since then the organisation has not only grown but has become a well-regarded component within Scotland’s theatre community.

"We are not in competition because we do not produce. That’s the bedrock principal of the organisation: we will not produce. And that gives a different engagement with the playwrights and myself and the rest of the Studio’s team because, if you’re a playwright, you want your plays ON! If you are sitting before a person who can put your play on, that’s a different engagement than the one with me where we can talk about the writing and the piece and we can start to free up the thinking from that. We have this fantastic artistic independence."

Ellen has seen firsthand the trials of writing for the stage. "One of the hardest things for an emerging playwright is to have written three plays that you’re satisfied with yet there is no glimmer of interest from anyone. You have to keep writing. If you invest too much in your plays getting produced, you can get tied in a big knot and lose the will to write drama."

And in her six years at the Playwrights Studio, what has she learned about the writing process? "Just how painful of a process it really is. What a lonely, agonising place being the writer can be. And I re-learn that all the time. And what a delicate process it is, and how you have to flirt on the edge of madness to allow an imagined world to completely occupy your head in order to be able to then shape that into a really strong piece of dramatic writing. I have such admiration for writers, such respect." She adds, "We don’t know who or where the next playwright is, but we do know we want to make it easy for them if they come in."