Morna

Young

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

By mornayoung, Jun 28 2017 11:33AM

We all dream. We all have ambitions. Some are bucket list style grandiose adventures. Others are less obvious; aims and mottos to make small changes to our lives. I keep a list for both. The bucket list contains travel plans, long term career ambitions and life challenges. The smaller list is about day-to-day improvements; daily writing and reading, cooking more, waking earlier.

Somewhere in the middle, exists a list of actions that are just a bit further than immediate. Those goals that I have to work towards strategically, the shorter long term plans, the mid scale ideas. Last year, I wrote the word ‘Fellowship’ on that list after a career planning session where I identified a need for more research time, more writing time and greater opportunity to focus on individual projects. After many months of wearing different hats and juggling roles, I desperately needed to reconnect with the writer inside.

Early this year, I interviewed for - and was offered - the Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship. This still hasn’t sunk in yet. Even changing my email signature to state ‘Recipient of…’ took a small amount of self-coaching. I wanted to pick up the phone and double, triple check. This is actually happening? No mistakes?

Most writers probably won’t be too surprised by my disbelief. The opportunity for full and focused writing time is unbelievably rare these days. Playwrights tend to be ‘playwrights and…’ teachers / producers / makers / actors / administrators / *insert other bill paying job* etc etc… To say I am honoured is an under-statement. And to receive this particular Fellowship – in memory of the great writing champion Dr Gavin Wallace – is a privilege.

This year’s Fellowship is hosted by the Creative Learning team at Aberdeen City Council (supported by Creative Scotland). The set theme, ‘The Folk, the language and the landscape of the Northeast of Scotland’ feels even more significant. Interestingly, when I wrote my application, I realised just how much my work centres around this theme already. Lost at Sea, Never Land, B-Roads, Netting – the folk, the language and the landscape is ingrained in them all. The Northeast has inspired all of my work to date – and it continues to do so.

As my writing evolves and my interests develop, I still turn to my childhood for inspiration. I turn to the people who have shaped me and the events that impacted upon me. The sea and geography always play an unseen character. The language and dialect bring natural and lyrical poetry. This theme – the folk, the language and the landscape – is in every word, every character and every story. It’s as connected to me as I am to it.

Though announced in February, I ‘officially’ took up the title in late April and my time attached to the Creative Learning team will continue through to next Spring. The bulk of my year will be spent working on new plays but I also sought time and space to reflect upon my artistic journey so far. The past few years have been wonderful but they have been full on and fast paced and chaotic. It’s been all work and very little play, moving from one project to the next with no time to process, reflect and learn; a series of blurred moments without space to breathe between. There are the creative times, of course, but there is also administration and producing and all of the unseen work we all do to keep ourselves moving forward. Last year, I toured Scotland, produced a play, performed in three touring productions, developed two new productions as a maker and set the wheels in motion for two new developments this year, created and performed in Folkify every month, consulted and dramaturged for a community project, spent five weeks in Iceland, took part in a Lyth Arts Centre residency… and I can’t remember the rest. I looked back at 2016 and realised that I was often so busy being a playwright that I wasn’t actually writing plays. It made no sense.

I needed to pause. I needed to stop and to think about where I was and who I am and who I want to be - as an artist but, more significantly, as a writer. What do I actually want to write about now? What interests me? What has led me to the here and now?

The Fellowship is a blessing in every way. Even writing the application allowed me to consider some of the questions above – yes, the folk, the language and the landscape of the Northeast is ever present in my work. But, as time goes on, I realise more and more that it is working class voices and, more specifically, working class female voices that interest me. Why? Because I do not readily see them on stage. I do not hear them on the radio. I do not see them on screen.

The work created by playwrights directly affects the ‘lens’ that we see work through; from gender to language to race to class and beyond. Those ripples spread throughout the industry; by supporting diverse voices on paper, we support diverse voices on stage which impacts actors, creative teams and audiences. If we want more diversity on our stages, on our TVs and our radios, then we need to drastically consider the support we are offering writers who exist outside the white, male, straight, middle class ‘norm’.

This year, I will write a large-scale female ensemble piece in Doric. I will write about working class women, about wealth disparity, privilege and entitlement. I will write about identity and belonging. I will continue to ask myself questions about who I am as a writer and what / whose stories I am choosing to tell. I have questioned my own belonging in this industry many, many times but, in some ways, this is probably more beneficial than I can put words to. If I doubt my place because I am a working class woman then there, in itself, lies a deeper issue.

So I will keep writing and exploring and questioning. I will keep trying to shape and develop my writing and keep striving to challenge myself. I will keep reading and championing the work of Northeast female writers of the past and present. The major difference in the year ahead is that I have the support to make this possible; I will never fail to be thankful for that.

I’m also very grateful to be working with the fantastic writer, Creative Learning team member and generally wonderful human, Shane Strachan, during this Fellowship year. I’ve also been privileged to co-facilitate The Writer’s Room with Shane; an intense programme of professional development for early career Northeast writers. The joy of facilitating is learning as much as you teach. So, thank you, Alison, Sareen, Elaine, Richie, Jan and Frances.

One of my upcoming aims is to set up a writing specific blog separate to my website and I’ll post an update once I finally manage to do that. I’ll also be performing at various events in the Northeast in the coming months, reading extracts of old and, perhaps more importantly, new work.

And, so, to writing…


More soon,

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

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