A QUICK GLANCE AT THE EVER-CHANGING SCOTTISH SCRATCH NIGHT SCENE AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR SCOTLAND’S NEXT GENERATION OF ARTisTS.
Towards the end of last year, I had the pleasure of attending Under the Rug’s second scratch night – Cuttin’ A Rug. Hosted at The Record Factory bar in Glasgow, attendees were immediately met with the buzz of artists ready to share their work and a packed crowd to lap it up. The vibe was welcoming; the nervousness of performers gently soothed by the safe and supportive environment surrounding them.
Amongst the attendees were Scottish Youth Theatre alumni Sophie Michelle (Making Space Online Festival), Lara Delmage (textLAB) and our MCs and Under the Rug company members Bethan Murray and Mikael Philippos (Trajectories). Sophie, Lara and Mikael were all presenting work that night at varying stages of development. The structure for feedback was the tried and tested method: sit, watch and write down your thoughts, responding to some of the evaluative prompts given to you by the writer. Later, this feedback would be filtered back to the writer to take on board at their leisure.
The night was a great success. Sure, The Record Factory had booked the room next door for a karaoke party, but as the off-pitch notes of ‘Can’t Stop the Fire’ started drifting through the room, the crowd drew closer and the setting became even more intimate. Each piece was an exciting, fresh idea that highlighted some of the leading voices of Glasgow’s emerging writers’ scene, highlighting the urgent need for environments like these.
Scratch Nights have always been a pillar in the development of emerging theatre artists, no matter their specialism. A space to trial new work and receive feedback, to gain confidence in yourself and your work whilst also networking with your peers and getting your art seen. Scratch nights can be coordinated on multiple levels – by individuals, small companies and larger organisations. They each recognise the benefits scratch nights bring to the artist, as well as the value they bestow upon the industry. It’s a win-win for all involved, with the potential for connection and the fostering of new voices and work that could shape the future of Scottish theatre…
So why are they all disappearing?
It appears that Scratch Nights can be a bit like buses, right? There are none in sight and then suddenly five come along at once. These dry spells seem to be more frequent, with once-regular scratch night organisers remaining inactive for a multitude of reasons, circumstantially leaving large gaps in the calendar. And that’s without addressing the Central Belt-shaped elephant in the room, with even fewer opportunities for non-Central Belt residents.
Page2Stage Edinburgh recently shared the news that they would be ceasing operations temporarily after they were unsuccessful in their most recent Creative Scotland funding bid – real blow to the Scottish Scratch Night scene.
Funding, and lack thereof, is a large culprit in the case of the disappearing Scratch Night. Budget cuts, cost-of-living crisis – we’ve heard it all before. But what are emerging artists supposed to do when yet another organisation is unable to support their development and yet another platform to present their work is stripped from under them?
Well, of course, our friends at Under the Rug have answered that question for us – you make your own! Unfunded, unable to pay artists’ fees and a reliance on ticket sales to pay back the venue hire – it’s a lot of work for an emerging theatre company. But, for them, it’s a necessity. They wanted to connect with other artists but also needed an opportunity to trial work they were taking to the Fringe: a chance they would have otherwise struggled to come by.
It’s an enormous administrative and producing undertaking – communicating with several artists and supporting them in their performance, whilst also producing the event itself and the feedback distribution that follows. And for artists who are supporting their creative endeavours through other jobs, a commitment to running these regular events indefinitely would be asking too much.
Whose responsibility is it then?
Should more emerging artists be taking the opportunity to run their own Scratch Nights where they see gaps in the market? Should funding bodies prioritise channelling money into more Scratch Nights, across Scotland, that can be reliable for emerging artists?
Okay, there are strong arguments for the latter… But there is also still a need for the grassroots Scratch Nights that have a strong feel of the community’s pulse and what they need.
Is it a case of quality over quantity? Putting money into the nights that have strong development models for the artists they work with and are consistent in returning year after year? Or could we have it all? Those nights that are just a buzz of creative messiness: paid in pints where anything goes, paired with the more polished events that are backed by the industry, both financially and in future opportunity pathways.
These kinds of events do exist, on both sides of the spectrum. But the lack of geographical spread and regularity could become an issue for the next generation of Scotland’s theatre-makers.
So – what needs to be done? We would love to hear your thoughts about what we all should be doing to ensure the Scratch Night scene in Scotland thrives.
Until next time,
Many thanks to all that contributed to this piece. A thank you to the organisers of Cuttin’ A Rug for a brilliant night and to those involved – Bethan, Lara and Sophie – for offering your time during the event to talk with me. And a big thanks to Lewis Sherlock for your insights and sharing your wealth of experience into the world of Scottish Scratch Nights.