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Open Doors: What artists in Aberdeen need

On receiving a New Playwrights Award from Playwrights’ Studio Scotland in 2019, I travelled down to Glasgow for the day to meet the other writers on that year’s programme. I soon became aware that most of the other playwrights already knew each other; they were familiar with each others’ works and often found themselves up for the same opportunities. They were playwrights in a city that accommodated them, that nurtured them, something I believe is greatly missing in Aberdeen. 

My first foray into playwriting came in 2014. Seeing an advert for introductory playwriting workshops in Aberdeen, I jumped at the chance to be involved. Meeting on a Sunday afternoon upstairs in The Lemon Tree our leader Aberdeen playwright and actress Lesley Hart zealously guided us ten local writers through the ins and out of writing for the theatre. Even though the workshops were only once a month for six months, through the sessions we built a small community. Not only in those six months did I find my voice as a playwright, but more importantly, I found the confidence to share it. When The Lemon Tree began running scratch nights the following year, I eagerly utilised these to continue to learn more and hone in the skills on which I now possessed. 

By 2017 I found myself in a bit of a limbo; my passion to write for the theatre was still growing but the opportunities in Aberdeen were not. I felt I had achieved what I had wanted to achieve in writing short plays and yearned to write something longer, something that challenged me. The only problem was I didn’t really know how to go about it and I also began to struggled to reason why I should even bother. There was always competitions to enter, usually for theatres in London, but it seemed somewhat futile. On the brink of giving up I decided to apply for New Playwright Award from Playwrights’ Studio Scotland. Having already applied two times before, I felt that this was the only door left open for me at this point. With my application being successful, and receiving an award, I once more felt part of something, that I had the support of a community. 

Growing up I had very little experience of the arts, bar the occasional pantomime. The only real exposure I, and many of my contemporaries had, was through television’s interpretation of the theatre. I feel I was subtly brainwashed into believing that the theatre was either Shakespeare or high concept and allegorical. This, unfortunately is a belief I held until I started writing myself, and I don’t believe I was alone in that; especially in Aberdeen. Some of the most popular shows that run at His Majesty’s Theatre are musicals; they are stories we often already know, films adaptions or Jukebox musicals with songs we’ve grown up listening to. This leads me to believe that as a city we tend to think of trips to see these shows as a thing of safety; they provide a comfort, knowing that our time and money will not be wasted nor our ego’s lost on what should have been entertainment. 

Although Aberdeen is Scotland’s third city our new writing scene is facing extinction. Whilst Edinburgh has The Traverse, Glasgow The Tron, Aberdeen has a vast amount of theatres all located within a short distance of one another yet very little new writing being produced. As a city we have our own voice as well as our own vernacular. We have a range of different cultures, each having thoughts and opinions of what is happening not just in our city but the wider world. Yet, we choose not to share them. I’d say we actively avoid sharing them, partly from the fear that no one listen and partly because we believe people will listen and ridicule us for trying. 

For writers, especially playwrights in Aberdeen to have their voices heard I think we need to establish a community. Much like the workshops I took part in, local writers need a base; somewhere where to learn, to experiment, to feel like they are part of something and that they are being heard. I have often found there is a stigma in this city around being creative, with people being very quick to tell you your dreams won’t happen, not here. Having somewhere in the city where writers of all stages can feel like things can happen for them, even in Aberdeen would really turn things around. Initiatives such as Page2Stage that runs in Edinburgh which brings together writers, directors and actors to workshop new writing could do amazing things to build relationships and new and exciting networks for the future. Additionally, letting writers try out new ideas, new pieces of work in a controlled environment, removed from the pressures of entertaining an audience, could really be the key to encouraging people to share to getting involved.

Aberdeen also has, right in the heart of the city, a college that professionally trains multitudes of actors a year. If we were to give writers more opportunities, such as scratch nights, workshops, we could share these with actors learning their craft, and therefore build an even bigger community and open a door to something bigger, stable and more permanent. Consistency is what we need, even more so as we come out of lockdown; regular events, more education, more funding. We need to find the door the city has let shut on its self and kick it open, making sure the hinges come off as not to allow it to close again.

Laura Miller

Laura Miller
Biography Laura Miller

Laura Miller is a playwright based in Aberdeen. In 2019 she was a recipient of a New Playwright Award from Playwrights’ Studio Scotland. Laura has had six short plays performed at Aberdeen’s The Lemon Tree and contributed to the scripts of two Aberdeen Student Shows. In 2021 she take part in The 24 Hour plays at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield.