Working with Imaginate

My writer’s residency with Imaginate came after a fairly varied few years of making different kinds of theatre.  I started off as a student in Edinburgh devising and performing with an ensemble of friends.  We made shows happen by ourselves.  We produced, directed and performed all the work and expected no support from anyone.  This was a good grounding in how to survive and form a career making theatre.

A lucky break and a trip to Australia introduced me to the Royal Court where one of my first ‘written’ plays was produced; A Girl in a Car with a Man.  From there I was directionless.  I thought the world would come to me.  How stupid of me.  No one in Scotland had seen my work down south and even if they had they probably wouldn’t really care.  So I worked.  I devised shows for the Edinburgh festival – Aruba and Fish Story – and I worked at the Arches and the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.

Then my real lucky break came.  Andy Manley and Gill Robertson of Catherine Wheels Theatre Company took a punt on me and asked me to work with them on a small project which would experiment with how a one man show could interact with a school audience.  We decided it would be brilliant to walk into a classroom and surprise the kids with a story they didn’t know was going to happen.

So I wrote Kappa.  And it was a total mess.  So I rewrote Kappa and it was less of a mess and perhaps even…quite good.  Yeah!  Quite exciting actually.

We followed this up with another 1 man show for a slightly large audience that could come together in school halls and we called it The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk.


It was making these two shows and watching how Andy and Gill worked that taught me some of the skills that I value most today.  How the only thing that matters is your audience.  What do you want to ask them?  What questions do you want them to leave with?  How can you be brave, cruel, daring and shocking without being boring or spouting endless words, words, words?  It taught not to be scared of playing or going for a walk when you’re trying to make work.  And essentially that you need to go and be inspired.  You need to bounce off other artists from around the world.  You need to go and see stuff.  This is when I really discovered Imaginate.  I think I hit their radar at exactly the time I needed it.  They let me see things, first of all at the Imaginate Festival, and then in Sweden and Belgium.  It was AMAZING!  To talk, swap ideas and see brilliant work and shit work and work in between and meet so many people from across the world was a step up for me.  And you should grab every opportunity you have to develop like this.  Perhaps the best opportunity I had was actually to host the international delegates for 5 days during the Imaginate Festival.  It has led to some firm friendships with theatre makers across the world and has directly influenced my work being taken to New York, translated into Swedish, French and German and performed across Europe.

My trips to European children’s festivals were followed by a 9 month residency with Imaginate as the rather grandly titled ‘writer in residence’.  I was sad not to have any robes or a special hat, but I made do with the office support and the time and contacts that Imaginate were able to form with secondary schools in both Edinburgh and Kilmarnock.  The residency gave me the freedom to try (and often fail) with new ways of working.


I came out of it with a new show The Dark, which I test-ran during the Imaginate Festival in a school in Leith.  And I loved it.  I felt it was something new; a thriller for teenagers, but on stage and highly interactive.  It was a new direction for me, but I felt it still had the things that I will always bring as a writer; a strong story line, a desire to stretch and thrill the imaginations of my audience and an attempt to make the theatre as pleasurable and exciting as anything else on offer to young people.

God, I could go on and on about the personal and work links that Imaginate has helped to form and strengthen; to producers around the world, to artists like Mark Storor and David Harradine, who I would not have known otherwise, to younger artists and artists across art-forms who are all allowed to mix together in a way that is often denied to artists working for ‘adults’.

But perhaps what I have found best about Imaginate is that I never felt I should rely on them forever.  They are there to support you when it would be interesting and productive to do so, but you always know that you must then fly yourself in different ways, come back to them certainly, perhaps when you have another good idea, but in the meantime don’t be afraid to go and test other areas of your work.  After all, their whole philosophy seems to me to be about breaking down boundaries, go and work with a dancer on a show for 80+ or with some crofters in the Highlands.  Don’t get stuck.  I think that’s what Imaginate are there to tell you.  Don’t get stuck, but bring us back something good.