Across the Arts will begin reporting on the latest happenings at A Play, a Pie and a Pint, beginning with a discussion with its artistic director about the current programme and how he goes about selecting each season's work.
Michael Cox: First, let’s talk about your decision process. How do you pick these plays?
David MacLennan: It’s a kind of rolling process, the programming here. I’m constantly talking to writers and directors and co-producers and the plays start fighting for space as the preceding season goes on. So, for example, now I’m looking at programming the spring, and the final line-up will be decided late November, early December. This season was sorted out by June at the end of the last season.
I try to strike a balance in the variety of work, so there’s a great many contrasting pieces. Some are comedies, some are serious, some are historical, some are contemporary, some are political, some are fluffy and light. The audience are never entirely sure what they’re going to get. I think once you know what you’re going to get, you stop coming.
MC: What is it you look for when you’re looking at work? I’m guessing a season comprises of a fraction of what you actually look at and talk about.
DM: I think the very first thing I look for is whether it’s an original voice. I like it when the writer has an original take on events or ideas. Good writing is, I hope, what drives Oran Mor. I’m not saying we always get it right. Of course we don’t. But that’s my intention, that each play should be well-written and then we bring out the best performances we can and keep it technically reasonably simple.
I’m interested in bringing people here to do things they might not otherwise do elsewhere. So, for example, Linda Mclean’s play The Uncertainty Files was taken from verbatim interviews she did in New York. It wasn’t strictly a play, really. It was more of a theatrical event. One of the plays this season is written by Alan Massie who, although he has written other plays, is predominantly a novelist, and I very often try to attract writers from other media. Given that the creative writing gene pool in Scotland is not enormous, it’s quite nice to introduce people from other spheres.
MC: Have you noticed a certain theme or trend in the plays you’ve been getting recently?
DM: No, I wouldn’t say I do. I mean, sometimes you can detect themes if you look for them, but if…let’s take three plays in the middle of the season: Elysium Nevada by Barry McKinley is a comedy set in an old folks home set in the edge of the desert in America, Wee Andy by Paddy Cunneen is a sequel to his play Fleeto, written in blank verse about gang warfare in Glasgow, and Baltamire is a comedy written by the stand-up Sandy Nelson and set in Orkney. So there’s a huge variety in subject, style and writer.
MC: Now let’s talk a bit about the opposite. I know there are theatres that look for their own themes. Do you purposely try to mix it up, because you just spoke about mixing comedy and drama and stuff? Do you also try to mix up storylines?
DM: Yes. I was hugely influenced, I think, as a young person by Variety. I love Variety, and it very well informed the work of 7:84 and Wildcat: the admittance that the audience was there, the quick change, the what you might call ‘hat acting’. I have borrowed from all that in constructing the programmes of Oran Mor.
MC: I wouldn’t ask if there are one or two that you’re looking forward to, but if there’s one that…
DM: Well, there are ones that I am very much looking forward to: One Gun by Ian Low. He’s a young writer who’s never had a play produced professionally, and one of the things I like doing is giving young writers a platform.
I think the important thing at Oran Mor is that I try to have an open door to people so that nobody feels they couldn’t work here, that it’s somehow a set group of writers or a set group of directors or an ensemble of actors. It sends out a signal to the profession that they’re welcome, and also the audiences enjoy seeing people that they haven’t seen before.