To celebrate 20 years of The Lyceum Youth Theatre and Scotland’s Year of Young People, The Lyceum has commissioned five playwrights to pen short scripts that consider what life might be like for Scotland’s young people in 20 years time. One of the playwrights is Isla Cowan, who was a long-standing member of the Lyceum Youth Theatre.
Isla spoke with The Fountain about the project, her focus on climate change in the future with The View From Portobello and tips she would give to aspiring playwrights in the future.
TF: Can you elaborate on this lyceum youth theatre project to celebrate its twenty years?
The Lyceum has commissioned five new plays to be performed by Senior LYT on 10th November as part of their 20th anniversary celebration, and I’m really delighted to be a part of this. There will also be a talk show after both the matinee and the evening performances to elaborate on what we’ve seen and the importance of what the youth theatre does. The Senior groups have been busy rehearsing over the last few months and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited in to see some rehearsals. Jordan Blackwood is directing my play, The View From Portobello, and he and the young people have done such a wonderful job bringing my script to life. All the pieces are very different and I’m really excited to see the full show on the 10th November!
TF: And you are one of the writers penning a script on what life will be like in twenty years, that’s exciting?
Yes, it’s very exciting. Imagining the world in twenty year’s time is an interesting project, because it’s not so futuristic that you imagine flying cars or apocalyptic disaster, but it’s far enough away that you know things won’t be exactly the same as today. My play takes an environmental slant on this, and predicts the future impact of rising sea levels on Edinburgh’s coastline. I began by doing a lot of research into global warming and the sea: we know that, if we don’t change our current habits, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight) and in 2070 we’ll see a dramatic erosion of our coastlines, and destruction to low lying cities. The View From Portobello investigates how much of this impact we might be likely to see in 2038, but imagines it through the eyes of the young people, in a timeline of memories. I wanted to write a piece that was local and of intimate importance to the young people, but that also responded to the realities of climate change across the world. Writing a ten minute piece for thirty young people was definitely challenging, but I think I’ve written something that’s important and entertaining, and has great characters and creative opportunities for the young company. I’m so pleased by how they’ve embraced the text and taken real ownership of the play – to me, that is the most important and most rewarding thing when writing for young performers.
TF: And what tips would you give to an aspiring playwright Isla in twenty years time?
Things don’t always work out as you imagined, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work out ‘full-stop’, as it were. Sometimes the opportunities that you thought were perfect or certain turn out not to be, but then something else comes up, out of the blue, that’s equally wonderful, if not better. Just don’t lose faith. Don’t stop trying. And don’t stop writing!! I strongly believe that hard work and determination are rewarded. It’s so important for emerging playwrights to keep seeing as much theatre as possible, keep applying for things (even when it feels like a constant stream of rejection), and, most importantly, keep being yourself and enjoying yourself – you and your experiences are what makes your work so wonderful, so don’t lose it!
TF: You are also a Lyceum Youth Theatre member, what does that involve?
Well, I’m no longer a member of the Lyceum Youth Theatre, but I used to be, once upon a time – I would probably say I’m like an LYT Alumni! I went to youth theatre classes at the Lyceum from the age of eight to eighteen and actually remember celebrating the company’s tenth anniversary! Being an LYT member is a huge privilege and it provides such fantastic opportunities. Not only did I get involved in youth theatre projects such as Summer on Stage and the NT Connections Festival, but I was fortunate enough to be cast in professional main stage shows too. In 2007, I performed in the Wizard of Oz and in 2015 I played The Speaking Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both here at the Lyceum. What’s also so great about LYT, though, is that it’s so much more than just acting and performing; I learnt so many skills attending the youth theatre, from basic confidence and communication to devising and creating theatre – which then fuelled my desire to become a writer and director.
TF: What else can we look forward to from you and the Lyceum in the coming months?
I work regularly with the youth theatre, and will be involved in the Lyceum’s main programme later this season, too. I love this theatre so much and really hope that more of my work will be performed on the Lyceum stage in years to come!
For tickets and more information on The View From 2038 at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre click here.