Thanks to its famous annual Fringe festival, Edinburgh is well known as a place to discover new writers, performers, and artists. Established in 1963, the Traverse Theatre was founded with the hope of carrying on the spirit of Edinburgh’s festivals throughout the year. In the years since, the theatre has gone on to dedicate itself to new work, producing critically acclaimed new plays and nurturing emerging talent.

The Traverse Theatre's Associate Artists are paving the way for new writers (Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic / Traverse Theatre)

The Traverse Theatre’s Associate Artists are paving the way for new writers (Photo credit: Mihaela Bodlovic / Traverse Theatre)

Supporting new writers

“There really is no substitute for having your plays produced on the main stage. The Traverse is so open to new writers” Rob Drummond, Associate Artist As one of the theatre’s Associate Artists, Rob Drummond stresses just how important the Traverse has been in helping to launch the careers of new writers such as himself. Drummond describes his position at the Traverse as a mutually beneficial ‘friendship’ which allows the theatre and Associate Artists to help each other. In other words, the artists have access to the resources and minds that work there, and the theatre can use the opinions and expertise of the artists to create new productions and workshops.

Above all, the Traverse has supported Drummond’s career simply by putting his work on the stage. “When I first approached them, years ago now, I asked for a meeting and I got it, with Orla [O’Loughlin, Traverse’s Artistic Director] herself. The first step was asking her to read some of my work and after that, my show Bullet Catch was accepted to run as part of their festival programme. “Now, every time I have a new idea for a play, I get the sense that Orla is pushing me to do something I’ve not done before – trying to find ways to make me a more rounded writer. I’ve never had better support from a theatre in my life.”

Standing out from the crowd

Unlike many theatres – especially those of a similar size in Scotland – the Traverse’s entire existence is built around new writing. Drummond notes that the unique family atmosphere and diverse range of people within the Traverse team help to encourage creativity amongst new writers.

“With all the associates, both writers and directors, and literary and artistic minds on the production team it’s an embarrassment of riches in the sheer quantity and quality of people you have to ask for advice. And they’re pretty much all women, which shouldn’t be remarkable or even noteworthy, but is.”

The importance of nurturing new talent and producing the work of emerging writers should, according to Drummond, be obvious and taken more seriously in the wider theatre world.

“It’s important because the industry itself will die without new talent coming through. Short-termism is a plague on our culture at the moment, and perhaps has always been.”

Encouraging the next generation

As well as supporting writers ready to launch their careers, the Traverse Theatre team also work with the wider community to encourage creativity amongst the next generation.

Their Class Act programme (an annual schools playwriting project) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The unique, hands-on creative learning project offers 15 to 18-year-olds real life experience of what it feels like to be a playwright.

The participants are tasked with writing a short play, with the help of a professional playwright, and work with Traverse directors and actors to develop their work.

Traverse’s Engagement Manager Sunniva Ramsay, who works closely with Class Act, suggests the programme has been so successful because it is continually evolving.

“We work very closely with schools and teachers, to ensure that the project supports their internal curriculum, whilst also offering young people the opportunity to explore, experiment and develop their own interpretation of the world through creative writing.”

Traverse Theatre. Wikimedia Commons. Photo Credit Kim Traynor

Traverse Theatre. Wikimedia Commons. Photo Credit Kim Traynor

Traverse Theatre is, and always has been, passionate about supporting new talent, at whatever age or stage it may emerge, according to Ramsay. “The Traverse is passionate about new voices and new ideas.  We want to start conversations through our work with emerging and established artists and, of course, with audiences, that respond to the world around us in a timely and provocative way.”

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This post was written by Gillian McDonald.

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