The End of the Arts Guild

Last night saw the final time that the Greenock Arts Guild will be open to the public.  It's not all bad news though as all the creativity and community spirit from the building will soon be moving to the amazing new Beacon Arts Centre. 

I first attended drama classes at the Arts Guild when I was about 13 and now, 20 years on, I am running the youth theatre alongside Marianne and Megan Yeomans.  I thought this would be a good wee time to have a look back at some of the productions that I've been involved in over the years, if anything it's a good excuse to put some embarrassing photos up on the web - thanks to Jonathan White for providing some great images and also for reminding me of the various projects we've done over the years!

I think the first show I was in at the Arts Guild was the Changeling Challenge as part of Carole M. Fry's studio theatre.  It was an original show written by Carole's friend Geraldine and... that's all I can remember - poor I know.  I have vague recollections of wearing a Harlequin suit but that's about it.

I started to help out in Carole's classes, bringing new ideas and games that I had learned from attending the RSAMD junior school, and she gave me the opportunity to have some of my songs performed as part of various cabaret shows that were put on in the main theatre.

During this time I sat my Trinity Guildhall Diploma and then Certificate in solo acting and also started to lead more and more of the groups. I created a short piece based on the Catcher in the Rye and this then led to the writing of my first musical to receive a performance - Guys and Geeks.

It's a really rough and ready, and somewhat (deliberately) offensive story about a overweight boy who seeks out the American dream and I learned a great deal about putting on shows in a short space of time.  It was through-sung, something which I'd like to try and write again and actually a couple of melodies found their way into my most recent musical 'Towards the Moon' that was performed at the Fringe. 

Guys and Geeks
Scott Peden, before the diet
Following Carole's retirement, Marianne and I took over the reigns and set-up the Greenock Youth Theatre.  Our outlook was somewhat different to the old studio-theatre, with a focus on creating new work based on the young people's ideas, elocution was OUT! We were keen to shift the focus from being all about performance to being a mix of creating and performing - this has been our philosophy ever since.

Sylvia Dazzle
We had great success with one of our first shows, The Rise and Fall of Sylvia Dazzle, that took the idea of Dr Faustus and turned it into a jazzy wee show.  I still sing one of the songs that I wrote for that particular show, here it is here:

Our first large-scale show with the Greenock Youth Theatre was the preposterously named 'The Magical Bicycle Pump of Destiny and Desire'. The idea was that the show was a panto-gone wrong (it was on in March for a start) so various panto and story-book characters all got mixed up.  The play started with Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz's house landing on Sleeping Beauty by mistake and then followed their quest to retrieve the magical bicycle pump that would pump her up again and restore her to her former glory!  All total nonsense, all done with great enthusiasm and pizazz from the young people.

Rehearsal shot for the Bicycle Pump
Every year, since creating the Greenock Youth Theatre, we have run a summer school that is all about creating a brand-new show in a week.  This is one of the most enjoyable weeks of the year for me as it's great to walk into a room on the Monday with a few exercises in mind, but not having a clue where they are going to take us.  It's a chance to really let the young people flex their imagination.  Last year we started with a line from Shakespeare and the dissolving of a sugar cube, this led us into a play about Zombies and a girl who was called Dave that redeemed herself by saving the world from an oncoming apocalypse... I couldn't have come up with that idea in a million years.

Using a sugar cube to make a play
A Summer School play that involved pancake fearing aliens!
Probably my favourite show that we've ever put on was based on a story that was created as part of the summer school - Norris Norrison Manager of Norrisons.  Unfortunately the Arts Guild was fully booked for the year so we had to move the final show to Port Glasgow, but it was a really fun, totally Greenockian production with a fantastic anti-hero played by the dour and dry Ruaridh Forde -  supermarket manager who goes on a fantastic voyage, when all he really wanted to do was get to Curry's to buy a new fridge!

Norris Norrison
It was during the writing of Norris Norrison that I went to the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) to train, and that experience opened up a whole bunch of exciting new projects.  We had second year students present a full production of Much Ado About Nothing, including a days worth of workshops, to the class and later in the year some masters students came to perform a comedy I had written called 'Lucas Petite'.  

Much Ado About Nothing

Lucas Petite
But our focus is mainly on creating new work with the young people. We have put on scores of performance over the years.  Be it classroom showings to parents or intimate plays in the Wallace Bennett theatre.  We travelled down to Largs one year and put on a short play based on Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' in a wooden cabin in the middle of a field.  We recently took part in the Festival of the Guild and created a promenade piece based on a stereotypical 1950s private school for girls, we have put on shows about a werewolf who runs a kebab shop, a survival horror play about a bomb being dropped on Greenock, plays about magical keys, pancake-fearing aliens, dogs flying spaceships and on and on.  The imagination of our young people is limitless, and the ideas will just keep coming.

Major McKenzie Cox's Finishing School for Girls
We recently changed from the Greenock Youth Theatre to the Beacon Youth Theatre, but the core team (including our fantastic volunteer Jennifer Millar) has remained the same. We hope to utilise the opportunities that becoming a registered charity and part of a larger organisation offers in the coming years.

Launch of the Beacon Youth Theatre

Our final show in the Arts Guild was last night.  We thought we'd try something different and created a show about the Afterlife, basically a call to arms to make your mark (as the show was called) on the world.  We asked the audience to write the answer to various questions on the walls and created a fantastically inspiring montage of names, thoughts and feelings about the audience and the arts guild.

An audience member makes their mark.
One of the marks
So onwards and upwards then.  The Arts Guild was a weary old dame and needed more than a few licks of paint to get her on her feet again.  I can't wait to head to Beacon and start working with our young people on creating another imaginative show this coming May.  It will be great to put it on in a theatre where you don't need to worry about the rain falling on your head!


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