Made in Scotland and celebrated worldwide – a new model for exporting theatre and dance is thriving
By Thom Dibdin, Freelance journalist and Scottish Corrrespondent for The Stage newspaper|
From intimate children's theatre, to abstract dance performed against a bare mountain backdrop, by way of the cutting edge of immersive theatre, Made in Scotland is a programme which finds the best Scottish theatre and dance, shows it off at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and then helps it travel the world. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe might be the largest performing arts market in the world, but for Scottish theatre and dance companies the irony is all about how hard it is for them to appear there. And if they do, then getting seen is another matter entirely.
For the hundreds of bookers and producers who come in searching for work at this immense open–access event, the irony is that there is so much un–curated material that the best can be all but impossible to find.
Made in Scotland is the resolution of both these ironies. Any Scottish–based company may apply to be part of the annual showcase, which has been developed since 2009 by the Federation of Scottish Theatre, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and Creative Scotland, supported by the Scottish Government's Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund.
But only the best – and those with with a real potential for touring outside Scotland – are chosen by the international panel of theatre and dance experts who curate the event under the impartial chairmanship of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society's chief executive.
In 2012 there were 56 applicants, of which only a dozen were chosen to take part in the scheme. But for those who are chosen, the hit rate is high. Over the programme's first three years it featured 41 different productions, including such hits as Roadkill, White and works by Scottish Dance Theatre among those which have had an international life beyond Edinburgh.
According to Gill Robertson, artistic director of specialist children's theatre company Catherine Wheels and director of the multi award–winning White, the whole Made in Scotland programme has been integral to the production's success.
"The success of White was absolutely helped by the fact that we had a platform at the Fringe," she says. "It was a great springboard for all the interest we had. And then there is a further Made in Scotland fund we applied to for international touring."
Beck Pearce, programming executive at the Adelaide Festival Centre in Australia was just one of those who have been bowled over by White. She went to the Fringe in 2010 for the first time, in search of productions to programme back in to Adelaide.
"It was a great opportunity to see what was showcased in the Fringe in terms of Scottish companies both for theatre and dance." she says. "It was a one stop shop, in a way, for me as an international presenter." But Made in Scotland is not just about putting on a programme. It is about putting companies and promoters in touch with each other, as Pearce explains: "They were extremely helpful in terms of being a pathway and making contact with the Scottish companies. And also finding a way round the Fringe – which is not quite clear at the best of times! They were able to help me make contact with those companies, and helped make it an easier Fringe experience."
Taking White to Adelaide for a near sell–out run was just the next step for Pearce's association with Catherine Wheels and Made in Scotland. The touring fund meant that she could afford to bring the company over, but once there they were a resource for local creatives – designers and performers – who flocked to see the show, and ensured that the production's audiences were not just confined to its target age group. "It was an opportunity to talk about working with Catherine Wheels in the future," she says. "By further creating our relationship with them, there is the opportunity that, when they do create new work, for that work to potentially tour – not only to our venue but to other partners in Australia who saw them when they were here."
It is just such a continuing relationship which has endeared the Made in Scotland programme to both Scottish Dance Theatre and the international producers who have brought the Dundee–based company to work at their venues and festivals.
James MacGillivray, acting artistic director for Scottish Dance Theatre, says that appearing in the Made in Scotland programme in 2009 opened up a whole range of opportunities for the company and for its international partners.
"We have had a lot of international work come off because of Made in Scotland," he says. "Contacts have been made and projects have come from it. The spinoffs have been that we have been able to network, our artists have been able to develop their work and different projects have come up that have allowed them to expand their own networks with creative opportunities."
The first of these was the invitation to take up a residency and performances at the Luoghi Comuni Festival in Italy. The festival's artistic director is Michele Losi, who visited the Fringe in 2009 both as a producer in search of work and bringing his own production.
"When we had the show in our festival it was very important for us that they were Made in Scotland," he said. "We had some financial help. They paid part of the fee and part of the travel costs so that was very good for us because we had high quality shows. Our festival is not so big but is very important because it is a very high quality festival. We have not so much money but we are trying to find very good things that are going to be seen by other promoters.
"Also we started some collaborations with Scottish Dance Theatre – they helped us with some of the choreography in a show we did the next year and one of our actresses went to Scotland many times, to Dundee, to work with the company."
Of all the productions Made in Scotland has helped on their way Cora Bissett's Roadkill is arguably the most memorable. An immersive piece, performed in a domestic flat or house, it takes its 30 strong audience into the heart of a young girl trafficked for the sex industry. According to Bissett, Made in Scotland was integral to the production's creation. The Fringe was the production's first proper step and without Made in Scotland funding, it would not have been able to get there.
"There was a massive benefit from being at the Fringe, you can't underestimate it," she says. "The festival appearance in 2010, brought about massive awareness, that lead to the London run happening – we did a run with the Barbican and Stratford East – and that in turn led to our appearance in Paris. That Paris date, at Theatre de la Ville, shows just how integrated the whole funding and promotion platform of Made in Scotland can be. It came about because the theatre approached Made in Scotland looking for an extraordinary piece of immersive theatre – and Roadkill was exactly what was needed."
Richard Jordan, Roadkill's producer, says: "Made in Scotland is more than a funding company, it is a collaborator. There is a real interest in what is going on, a real interest and a desire to help. There is a supportive ability into what is happening within that so you feel that Made in Scotland is part of that collaboration."
It seems that the promoters around the world and the Scottish companies they have put on, agree.
For details of this year's showcase please visit: www.madeinscotlandshowcase.com.