Morna

Young

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Scottish playwright, actress and musician... writing about writing.

By mornayoung, May 2 2016 07:20PM

I had to check my diary before writing this because I’d lost track of how long I’ve been here. In my last blog, I spoke about time playing tricks and it remains so. Minutes and hours and days are floating by in a strange way that I can’t seem to contextualise. And so, I’ve given up. There’s something about this place, the scenery, the weather… it’s all consuming.

Today is Sunday 1st May. A new month and a new season, for the Icelandic summer has officially begun. The weather didn’t really pay attention to this change, though, and the snow continued to fall. The shifts in conditions here are like extreme Scotland – from glorious sun to almighty blizzard in a few short moments (maybe longer but, who knows? Time is decidedly absent).

I’ve settled more into this timeless place. For the first week or so, I continued to pace back and forth, feeling the looming pressure of the surrounding mountains and wild snowstorms. But now… I feel content. The fidgety jitters have been replaced by a sort of ‘island time’ mentality… yes, yes, I’ll be there… I’ll do it. Some time. Some place.

My turnaround came after joining a local fishing crew and heading out to sea. It was a chance to escape the mountains and, with my backpack and forty layers, I skipped down to the harbour like it was the first day of school (well, ran... because I was a bit late… Slippery time).

Off we set and, for the first hour or so, I was on top of the world. Then, the view and my stomach turned upside down, topsy-turvy and – for the first time – I was violently seasick. Embarrassingly so. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. Clutching to the side of the boat, bobbing viciously back and forth, throwing up and up, again and again, surrounded by the sharp stench of fish and diesel and tobacco, I suddenly thought: “Why? Why am I doing this? What the hell am I trying to prove?” The thought left as quickly as it arrived with the next wave of sickness.

Pulling myself together – albeit briefly until the next heaving spell – I saw the world around me. The never-ending sea stretching bravely beyond, the looming snow peaked mountains and the sky – the sky! – misty, vast, grey and powerful. And there we were, the two crew and I, dipping up and down on this wee boatie in the middle of it all.

Those at the moments that make you feel so very small. Those are the moments of awe and gratitude. It feels clunky and predictable to say breathtaking but, yes, exactly that. A moment of peace. Fear, wonder, respect. A small part of a much bigger picture. And then… another heave. Back to earth (sea) with a bump (vomit).

When I returned home that evening, I felt like I’d been away for a week but it was only 8 short hours. A standard working day. A day like any other for the crew. I will never ever fail to value or be amazed by the work of a fisherman. The challenges, the physical work, the elemental forces.

My fisher friends will probably laugh when they read this but it’s just such a different world to my own. Even though it feels such a big part of who I am, it’s still an alien experience. I love it and hate it equally. I was so relieved to get back to land but, now, I can’t wait to get back out there.

Anyway, my sea adventure was the trigger for thinking differently about my time here. I’ve eased into the timeless space and my mountain claustrophobia has turned into a sort of wonder instead. It’s pretty spectacular to wake up in the morning, open the curtains and see the persistent peaks. I wanted a room with a view and I got it. Iceland is a seriously stunning country, almost magical in it’s nature. I feel very grateful to be here and experiencing this.

Work on the project continues with lots of research and reading and documenting. Kate – my collaborator – left last week so I’ve been working on my own these past few days. I’m going to write another post soon about our work with the local choir and some of the sound/music experiments we've been conducting (have a listen here...). I still don’t know what our final presentation will look like but some ideas and images are beginning to form. I’m meeting more and more amazing, generous people and have been fortunate to interview many of these. I’ve also been thinking a lot about Seaman’s Day – Iceland’s yearly celebration of fishing and fishermen which takes place in early June. I’m pretty gutted I’m going to miss it but I’m penciling next year in the diary… I’ll definitely be back.

For now, the big paper is out and gradually being filled with scrawls, scribbles, angles and thoughts. There’s hours of audio to be transcribed and more to collect. If only I could stop time running away and pause here a little longer. Alas, time and tide wait for no (wo)man…

Until next time,

Morna x

By mornayoung, Apr 20 2016 05:21PM

I have been in Ólafsfjörður for only one week and, yet, it feels much, much longer. A persistent feeling of deep time, all that has come before and all that will be, is suffocating. Here, in this abstract landscape, I am in a constant state of dreamlike thought. Time has become a surreal concept.

I have been trying to find a way to describe this feeling and, yet, words – my usual currency – seem decidedly insignificant. A few years ago, I came across the Japanese word “yugen” pertaining to 'a profound awareness of the universe which evokes feelings that are inexplicably deep and too mysterious for words'. I believe this means a state of awareness although I cannot say for certain. The word feels bigger than my knowledge but, all the same, it pops into my head whenever I consider the insignificance of man next to nature. This is precisely what I feel here in Ólafsfjörður.

A blizzard has hit. Snow falls and snow falls again and again. On arrival, the sun shining deceivingly, I could see the surrounding mountains dominating every view. Now, they are hidden in the whiteout. For some unidentifiable reason, this makes me uneasy. They are hidden in plain sight.

Ólafsfjörður – a small town in the northeast of Iceland - is both familiar and unfamiliar. The pungent stench of fish, the harbour, the boats – they are part of my habitual history. But their familiarity is tainted by an intangible difference. It is my world through an alien lens.

We are inside a valley, connected to the outside world by two mountain road tunnels, one on either side of the village, great long passageways that seem never ending. Another word that I cannot fully comprehend – claustrophobia – seems appropriate. Inside these tunnels, my skin crawls and there’s a pounding weight inside my head. It is a feeling of being trapped.

I feel a similar pressure inside the village. I usually spend great amounts of time on the road; travelling, searching, asking questions. I have a strange obsession with ‘freedom’. If I stay in the same place for too long then cabin fever forcibly kicks in. Indeed, when the blizzard came, I found myself pacing back and forth, fighting some irrational fear of being confined. The imagination flies.

There is, of course, another escape route aside from the tunnels: the sea. Ólafsfjörður’s harbour and fleet of boats is precisely the reason why I am here. I am working with Sound Artist, Kate Carr, on a collaborative project for the stage. As yet, we don’t know what this will be but our key research centres around fishing culture, memory and musicality. We’re gathering film, photographs and stories with the eventual aim to create a fully immersive performance.

So far, we’ve been working with a community choir to record Icelandic and Scots fishing songs. Kate has been experimenting with rebroadcasting these and I’ve been on the research trail including joining an Icelandic fishing crew and heading out to sea. Much of my study has touched upon the mythology and folklore of Iceland but I am, as yet, only scratching the surface of one area in this magnificent country. I have no idea what I’m searching for but I have a million questions and a growing intrigue. I can sense a gathering force in my dreamlike state.

We’re building the foundations of a story that we cannot yet describe but there are floods of ideas and themes and potential. It is the stage of creative development that I love the most; where anything and everything seems possible. I am especially excited to see how text/performance can be woven with Kate’s incredible soundscapes and how these forms can influence each other.

And, so, with a lack of words, it seems ever more fitting that this project will focus on storytelling through sound. Perhaps my senses are heightened through working with Kate because I find myself listening acutely to everything. The dull silence of snow is deafening. The feelings of abstract time, sense of myth, wonder of nature, the extraordinary in the ordinary and insignificant words. Themes of isolation, loss, memory, being on the outside… I can hear it in the sound. This clip shows a small sample of what we're exploring. Happy listening and imagining.


Morna x


N.B Our residency in Iceland has been kindly supported by both Arts Council Australia and Creative Scotland.



By mornayoung, Mar 27 2016 05:28PM

The Spring 2016 tour of Netting is well underway and I'm absolutely delighted by the audience reactions we've had so far - THANK YOU. I'm currently blogging / vlogging along with the rest of the cast and crew over at www.nettingtheplay.com - do stop by and say hello. Otherwise, I'll be back post tour with more news about upcoming adventures including my next project working in Iceland with the fantastic Sound Artist, Kate Carr.


Morna x

By mornayoung, Feb 21 2016 05:09PM

It’s been a while since I’ve written a personal blog on here. The note BLOG has sat at the bottom of my to do list for far too long. There’s never enough time or something more urgent barges its way to the forefront. Blogging takes a back seat because it’s never the most pressing or vital task.

So, why the busyness? Like most artists, I find myself constantly in a state of juggling one too many projects. It’s a curious life when you never quite know which one will receive funding or backing. Thus, we plough on with the motivation that something will shift for the creative work to begin. That's the incentive which makes the many hours of admin worthwhile. Juggle and hope for the best… head down to buy some precious time in the rehearsal room or space for uninterrupted writing.

2016 has been a pretty great year so far. After many months of seriously hard work spent buried beneath a mountain of paperwork, I’ve emerged with some creative projects that are now ready to go. The long days and nights of emails and phone calls and applications have, eventually, paid off. For this, I am entirely thankful.

One of my goals for this year is to improve my scheduling and time-lining. After many years of working as an actor, I still find it tough to visualize what I’ll be doing next month – let alone in a year or two. Over Christmas, a friend recommended I invest in something called a Passion Planner. It’s not quite as saucy as it sounds. Essentially, it’s a swanky diary providing the tools for short and long term goal setting. It’s designed to incorporate reflection, planning and action and has become my right arm. Daily goal? Check. Monthly goal? Check. Lifetime goal? Well, I’m still working on that one.

My love affair with stationery has also reached a new level of commitment (obsession?) with investing in a huge cork pin-board and a white-board. The cork board details projects over a three year period and the white board focuses urgent priorities. All very organised, all very geeky. But, it’s changed the way that I work entirely and, for the first time, I’m beginning to see projects as a continued investment rather than simply asking: “what’s next?”

So, armed with my Passion Planner, cork board and white board (seriously, I can’t believe I’m confessing my sad organisation addiction…) I’ve navigated my way through January and into February in a fairly structured way. At the end of each month, the Passion Planner asks you to fill in a monthly reflection and suggests looking back and colour coding how time has been spent. I wasn’t particularly surprised to see that most of the month was blue - representing admin. Pink, my ‘creative’ colour, rarely featured at all. I’m always aware that admin takes a lot of time but I was pretty shocked to realise that creativity had taken such a back seat. Fortunately, that will all change over the coming months. I suppose that’s the upside of the crazy admin; it lays the foundations for the creative work.

So, what’s ahead? Well, Lost at Sea is still my ultimate focus with a 2017 tour with Eden Court on the cards. It’s the play that changed my life and it’s the one that means the world to me. I realised recently, though, that during the past few years of working towards this goal, I had forgotten about the journey. Everything else I was doing paled in comparison. Every life choice was put on hold with the conclusion: “I’ll think about that after Lost at Sea. I’ll decide where I want to live and who I want to be after Lost at Sea. I’ll take a break after Lost at Sea.”

I was so determined to reach the end point that I forgot that weeks, months, years were passing. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate that time, I just forgot that it’s important to think about the present as much as the future. Hemingway said: 'It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.' I didn’t understand that fully until now. I wasn’t letting myself celebrate the successes or take time out to reflect because I hadn’t reached the end point. It seems obvious to say but it’s taken me a long time to realise that there isn’t actually an end. There is no one big happily ever after. There are only moments and pauses and I’m finally learning to value these. Lost at Sea can remain my biggest ambition but that shouldn’t prevent me living – and dare I say enjoying? – life between. I’ve finally grasped that it’s not about deciding who you want to be; it’s about being who you are.

Armed with this newfound knowledge, I’ve enjoyed 2016 so far a lot more than previous years. It’s been busy and challenging but, equally, enlightening. I’ve stopped beating myself up as much. I’m not stressing as much about things that I have no control over. I’m finally dealing with the anxiety that’s stalled me for years. I don’t know if I can keep all of these up but I seriously hope so. Life’s just a little bit easier when you stop being mean to yourself.

Over to work. At the end of 2015, we received funding to tour Netting as a co-production between myself, director Allie Butler and Woodend Barn, Banchory. Over the coming months, I’ll be blogging about the experiences over at nettingtheplay.com so I’ll save the tour booking stories for another day. Netting is a pretty good example of extreme role juggling – in addition to re-writing the script and organising the many logistics for taking a show on the road, I’m also performing in it this time (an unexpected curveball but one that I’m really excited about – another blog for another day).

Sandy Nelson and I also launched Folkify, a new monthly music night at The Tron where we present folked up versions of popular songs. It’s been brilliant to play my instruments for fun again and I’ve loved working with our guest artists and playing around with folky arrangements. My collaboration with the awesome Sound Artist, Kate Carr, will commence in April when we leave for a month long residency in Iceland. The actor inside has also been involved with some role-playing and corporate shoots and I’m really delighted to have signed up with the fantastic Brennan Artists (it looks like I’m well and truly out of performance retirement…). I also started some advisory work with the amazing Impact Arts and returned to Lochend High School in my Scots Language Ambassador role.

Work continues on Heroines (with the fantastic AJ Taudevin, Belle Jones and Catrin Evans) exploring strong female characters and my project Folk (exploring multi-disciplinary artistry), will go into development later this year supported by The Tron. We’re also developing The Edge, my Rough Mix residency project with Magnetic North, at some point in the coming months and I genuinely can’t wait to return to the fantastical world that we created back in 2014 (… how time flies!). I’m also working on collaborative projects with some of my favourite artists including Catriona Lexy Campbell (stepping into the scary world of television), partner-in-creative-crime Allie Butler (some magical feminist developments), Helen Milne (the most wonderful producer), Dani Rae (wearer of many hats but, mainly, just a total star) and Sarah Rose Grabor (exploring the self versus the selfie which, along the way, has resulted in the most amazing conversations). My interests continue to centre around female led work, multi-disciplinary / cross-art form performance, collaborative practice and marginalised voices.

What else? I’ve seen some fantastic theatre this year including Blood of the Young’s The Golden Arm Theatre Project and Peter Arnott’s FACE: Isobel at a Play, a Pie and a Pint. Also, Matt Regan’s Greater Belfast was one of the most stunning shows I've ever seen – spoken word, a string quartet… it was honest, beautiful and completely inspiring. I also celebrated my 21st (ahem…) birthday, finally connected with friends that I haven’t seen for a long time, got some new headshots taken, waved goodbye to my friend and colleague Katherine Nesbitt who is off to the big smoke (look after her, Londoners) and, of course, over-indulged in admin, emails and application after application after application. And, lest I forget, my phone broke, mice invaded the flat and the bank accidentally temporarily blacklisted me. All sorted now but, yup, I could’ve been doing without the additional drama…!

There’s never enough time and there’s never enough money (let’s face it, I’d earn more working in the pub – another conversation for another day but one that I feel very strongly that artists have to keep having) but I’m thankful to have woken up with a smile on my face most days and that, in itself, has made this a great year so far. And, here we go, I can finally tick BLOG off of my to do list... (but what colour highlighter…? Is it blue admin? Or pink creative…?).

Anyway, here’s to less stressing and more living this year - that's the plan, anyway...

Morna xx

By mornayoung, May 20 2015 06:31PM

When the CATS awards were announced last week, I felt an all too familiar disappointment as I read the nominees. There were, of course, wonderful names and brilliant productions. But the all male list of nominated directors and playwrights showed, yet again, how rife the gender imbalance in theatre is.

Lynn Gardner recently published this blog titled “In 10 years nothing has changed for female playwrights – it’s time to act”. It’s a well informed but frustrating read. What stood out for me most was the term “organised forgetting” coined by playwright and academic Julie Wilkinson. Essentially, many hoped that equality would come ‘in time’ following progress made in the 70s and 80s but a lack of continued commitment has stalled this effort.

I am a female playwright. I am friends with many gifted female artists who, quite frankly, are not given the opportunities they deserve. Over time, I have heard numerous ‘excuses’ as to why women playwrights remain unequal to men in the industry. Apparently women don’t pitch as well as men. Women can’t write about political subjects. Women in their 30s leave and have babies, why invest in them? Blah dee blah dee blah. Most of these reasons are so innately sexist that I’m ashamed to even type them.

People live in fear. Fear of criticising an employer and losing a commission. Scared of commenting about critics in case they get a bad review. Worried about challenging those who hold the balance of power. I understand this. I had a terrible theatre experience in the past where I was treated appallingly and experienced blatant sexism. I felt bullied, vulnerable and, honestly, I didn’t know who to turn to. People don’t like it when you rock the boat. Keep your head down and get on with it. That’s what I did and I’m not proud of it. This is where my biggest problem with the arts lies. Most of us like to think that we’re progressive left types. We fight injustice. We lead campaigns and challenge politics. We’re very good at speaking eloquently about unfairness. And, yet, I don’t think this is necessarily echoed in our own work environments.

I originally trained as a journalist because I believed (as a naïve teenager) that reporting was an honourable profession. I imagined myself exposing injustice and fighting the bad guys. All too soon did I realise that the media wasn’t the vehicle of truth I imagined. The elite at the top hold the power. In recent years, I found a new way of telling the stories around me through theatre. I was perhaps naïve to think that the media was honourable but I see no reason why theatre shouldn’t be.

In November last year, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced her new 50/50 cabinet after “pledging to put equality at the heart of government”. Here we are in Scotland with a uniquely balanced Government. Has this great feat trickled into the arts? A simple answer: no.

Theatre prides itself as being at the forefront of politics but change only happens when people pledge to make it happen. Let’s put this to scale. We’re not talking about defeating poverty. We’re not talking about tackling the bankers or austerity. We’re not talking about changing the world. The challenge that lies before us is actually one that is easily fixed with a bit of time and careful planning. It is not an impossible situation. It’s not even a particularly tricky one. We have an abundance of wonderful female directors, playwrights and theatre makers in Scotland. They are out there. So why aren’t they represented?

Venues and organisations have a responsibility to ask themselves this question. In England, Tonic Theatre’s Advance Programme has been working with 11 theatres including the RSC and The Young Vic to bring concentrated change to the gender imbalance. The 11 theatres involved recognised that something was preventing talented women in the theatre industry from breaking through. They wanted to understand why and to pave a way for tackling this. Advance asked theatres to consider what barriers exist within their organisations that prevent female artists from prevailing. They asked them to monitor statistics.

We cannot keep taking part in the “organised forgetting”. It is everyone’s responsibility to address this and challenge patriarchal institutions. All too often, venues and organisations hold the power. Artists shouldn’t be afraid of the places that present their work. At the end of the day, what is a venue without artists? It’s just a building. Yes, we need them to showcase our work but they need us too. That relationship should not and cannot be one sided. Venues and organisations have to adapt their thinking. They can, very simply, make alterations that permanently change the gender landscape in theatre.

Every year, I attend some sort of women in theatre event, be it play readings or discussions or showcases. These are the types of events that I should be heralding and, yes, it is wonderful for women to have this kind of platform. All too often, however, it feels like these become tick-box “that’s the women’s contribution done” and we all go on our merry ways, back to business as usual. These events have little standing unless theatres actually embrace and incorporate the discussions and feedback. They have to back up a conscious effort to address the gender balance otherwise they simply become excuses for not programming enough women because they’ve had ‘their slot’. I’d also like to point out that, often, women aren’t paid for their contribution to these events.

I am proud to live in Scotland with our 50/50 Government but I would be even prouder to work in an industry that embraced, relished and showcased their commitment to equality. Women’s events are a temporary solution. We need long term monitoring and plans. I’m all for embracing 50/50 quotas but venues and organisations have to take the lead. Gender imbalance in theatre isn’t exclusive to Scotland or the UK. It’s echoed around the world from France to the US. But wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a country that was used as a positive example of gender equality?

In Sweden, gender equality is taken seriously. They were declared to be the 4th most gender equal country as of 2011 (The UK is 16th. Figures from www3.weforum.org). In Parliament, half their delegates are women – sound familiar? In 2006, the government appointed a committee to investigate gender equality in the performing arts as it was overwhelmingly dominated by men. A vital part of this was gathering data that allowed yearly comparisons to be made. By 2011, 46% of new Swedish drama was written by women. The success of some small actions showed that it is entirely possible to embrace gender equality in theatre with strong commitment and an ongoing monitoring process. This is exactly the lead we need to follow in Scotland. It isn’t good enough to know there’s a problem and to simply forget it. Know the problem and then, for goodness sake, take steps to bring about positive change.

Awards like the CATS will continue to showcase the gender imbalance if programming doesn’t change. Indeed, we essentially accept under representation every time award lists like this are published. Venues and organisations must start to monitor their statistics and consciously consider the problem. Critics need to criticise inequality. If you programme an all male season (playwrights, directors and actors too) then, clearly, there is an issue. If you claim not to know enough talented women then try harder. Go out into the world and find them. They’re there. Form relationships. Nurture and develop the talent. Ask artists what you can do to help foster links. Women are not a minority and it’s important to remember this. At 52% of the population, we are a desperately under-represented majority.

I don’t want to go to the theatre to be reminded that, yet again, women are unequal. I don’t want to see a continued focus on white male stories written, directed and performed by white men. Theatre shouldn’t look like Westminster. It should be diverse and representative of the world we live in. I want to live in a fair and equal country and I most certainly want to work in a fair and equal industry.

Change is possible but we need commitment and ongoing evaluation. We need to celebrate our female talent and remember those that history forgot. We need to lose the fear of asking questions and, instead, open up legitimate dialogue between artists and theatres. Only then will we see tangible results.

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