Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Tom McGrath Trust Maverick Awards - A Playwright's Legacy

When playwright Douglas Maxwell first heard his mentor, the late Tom
McGrath use the phrase “writers like us,” it was the first real
acknowledgement of him as a serious artist that McGrath had received.
McGrath, then Associate Literary Director for Scotland and based at
Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre with a brief to nurture younger
playwrights, sealed the deal a cheque for 75GBP. As small an amount as
it was, this money allowed Maxwell a small amount of time and space to
develop his craft while also giving him the sort of personal confidence
his first ever professional fee made possible.

The now hugely successful author of Decky Does A Bronco, If Destroyed
True and Our Bad Magnet related this tale at the launch of the Tom
McGrath Trust Maverick Awards in October of this year. A low-key and
informal breakfast affair, the newly constituted awards ceremony stayed
true the more holistically understated if creatively all-encompassing
creative vision of McGrath. This was made even more evident by the
winners of both the Maverick Award and the accompanying round of Small
Grant Awards.

“We try to make the awards open to as many developing artists as
possible,” says Ella Wildridge, one of the founders of the Trust. “It's
useful at that stage to have a bit of money to work with professional
actors, and to give them help and encouragement at a time when it
probably feels like a hard slog.”

As McGrath's partner for twenty years, Wildridge saw McGrath's
enthusiasm for connecting with developing artists more than most. As a
translator and dramaturg in her own right, Wildridge too recognises the
importance of plugging writers into a wider community. During several
years at the Traverse Theatre, Wildridge initiated the Windows On The
World series of readings of international work, as well as The Monday
Lizard, a monthly event in which new work was presented cabaret-style
in a way now prevalent throughout the theatre community.

The Tom McGrath Trust was launched in March this year by way of an
event in the Traverse Theatre bar in Edinburgh. On the night, friends,
peers and colleagues such as poet Tom Leonard and playwright David
Greig gathered to pay tribute to a man who bridged populism and the
avant-garde, and who made things happen, be it as a writer, musician or
as first artistic director of both the Third Eye Centre and the Glasgow
Theatre Club. These would become the CCA and the Tron Theatre
respectively.

Also on board with the Awards is McGrath’s daughter, Alice, whose
development work at Imaginate children's theatre festival and now the
MacRobert Centre in Stirling has been similarly acclaimed.

“After my dad died, a lot of people talked about how supportive he'd
been to artists, and how important that had been, “ says McGrath, “and
we just wanted to do something in that spirit.”

With donations coming from individuals and institutions including
Playwrights Studio Scotland, plans are afoot to develop international
links, as well as set up artists residencies in Wildridge's Fife home
she shared with McGrath. In the meantime, the first round of winners
have set the tone.

The four Small Grant Awards allowed writers and theatre makers Sylvia
Dow, James Ley, Leann O'Kasi and Lynsey Murdoch the similar sort of
space to explore and research for future material as McGrath offered
Maxwell. Such was the quality of applications for the Maverick Award
itself that there were two runners-up, plus an additional award for
writer Katy McAuley to develop a website to publish work developed out
of a collaboration between fiction and baking.

Of the runners-up, playwright Catherine Grosvenor aims to develop a
one-person play based on the real life story of an Iranian bear-cub who
was adopted by Polish soldiers in World War Two. This new piece will be
developed in an ongoing laboratory process with artists Gregor Firth
and Jenna Watt. The other runner-up is visual artist Sarah Forrest, who
aims to produce a new piece of creative writing which will form part of
a time-based sculptural installation.

The overall Maverick Award winners, however, are writer Mary
Paulson-Ellis and visual artist Audrey Grant. Their project puts an
existentially challenged dog at the heart of an illustrated storybook
and digital artwork aimed at children. The execution of it will go
beyond cartoon cutseyness, however, to get to their character's
troubled heart.

For the future, a new round of applicants for the Awards will be
looked at in January 2012, while plans are afoot for a second
fundraising event, this time with the emphasis on music. What, though,
one wonders, would the beatific McGrath think of all this?

“I think he'd be a little bit embarrassed,” his daughter says, “but I
think he'd be delighted with the connections being made between
artists. The essence of the projects that excited us all started from a
very playful place, and that's something my Dad maybe had an influence
on, because he was a very playful person. All of the projects seemed to
be pushing the artists in new directions that were about exploration.
That's the main thing we want from the Maverick Award. We want artists
to be able to explore.”

www.tommcgrath-trust.org.uk

The Herald, December 20th 2011

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