The state of Scottish
Thom Cross and George Gunn are absolutely right – modern Scotland is being betrayed by its theatre. The issue is not about giving native-born Scottish writers priority - it's about giving them any place at all, and in particular the place that on merit they clearly deserve.
To take just one example: in 1988 when it was the centenary of the birth of James Bridie, a dramatist who is in the tradition of Ibsen and Shaw and worthy of comparison with both, nothing was done. For example, the Glasgow Citizens Theatre (founded by Bridie) did not even include a Bridie play in its programme for the year.
The gap was so noticeable that it was highlighted in a BBC Radio Scotland programme and a Herald editorial – but nobody responded. Indeed, the situation reminds me of Arnold Wesker's play 'Roots', and the challenge from Beatie Bryant: 'I'm telling you that we don't know what we are or where we come from. I'm telling you something's cut us off from the beginning. I'm telling you we've got no roots'.
I suspect that what is happening is that theatre companies, in their urge to attract the drama critics and demonstrate their originality to the funding bodies, are going out of their way to ignore Scottish writers.
The Scottish Government, as the major source of arts funding in Scotland, could and should have done something about this situation long ago.
Not so long ago, I had an essay red-lined by the head of the largest school of creative writing in a Scottish university. The reason for the red-line? I used the word 'eident' in the essay.
I attended a 'start-up' training day last year, facilitated by Creative Scotland. What a waste of time, money and resources it was too. Nothing you can't get on the internet or by speaking to anyone who has been or is self-employed.
The information being spouted that day is all on paper so I found it hard to understand why it took someone an afternoon to tell us all that we are great and how to juggle our day-to-day lives in order to make a business out of our art. I know of one, yes one, single artist who makes his living from his actual art. I am talking about an artist with integrity, talent and a wee bit of business savvy to boot. Forget Sunday painter and pretty landscapes – we see so much of these days everywhere, that's easy but empty.
At the end of the 'start-up' day we were told with great gusto: 'Go out there and make opportunities for yourselves'. At that point I really got the gist of what the whole thing is all about. They were saying, we aren't going to help you financially, but we will give you lots of advice on how to make your own opportunities.
It's the young artists I feel sorry for, just starting out and expected to be successful businessmen and women as well as putting their energies into actually creating. Creating anything decent takes a huge amount of time and 'time is money,' as my son says. If you don't have the funds, they do not materialise out of thin air, it's financial support that artists 'starting out' need.
The advice is great of course, if twinned with realistic solid support to help artists make their honest way in the competitive world of 'creative' practice. Being 'creative' takes time and money, not airy-fairy notions of making opportunities out of thin air.
Seems a heck of a lot of cash is floating about, then, but just who is at the receiving end of it? An unattainable carrot, is that how Creative Scotland is operating?
If there are no artists, there is no creative Scotland. We need a fair system for supporting artists to actually 'create'.
Creepitative Land (a needful graffitto)
Festervale is indeed where we are,
where the Arts are just parts of PR
and there's no bar on nonsense
if it generates an audience
and intoxicates like a free bar.
Festering vale, with a song in your heart
and a dream of the day when our region shall part
from the properly sceptical
as a cheering spectacle
and the censored line's rhyme-word is tart.
Home, home in the glen,
where empowered folk now are faur ben
wi yin and anither
and sister, brither, mither
and faither nod ayes through, amen.
Robert R Calder