Eve Nicol: 'I got experience through being part of the drama society in all the really important, practical things'

Eve Nicol: 'I got experience through being part of the drama society in all the really important, practical things'

Eve Nicol / credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

Two rising stars of Scottish theatre tell us how students with an interest in the performing arts can make the most out of their uni years

Whether you're an aspiring performer, playwright or director, studying theatre in Scotland can provide rich opportunities for developing your craft and building your network. Having studied theatre-making in Glasgow and Edinburgh, respectively, we speak to ascendant playwrights Eve Nicol and Diane Stewart about their own uni experiences and the routes students with an interest in theatre can explore.

For Nicol, who received her MLitt in Playwriting and Dramaturgy from the University of Glasgow, the support offered through the university was vital to helping stage her work. 'That was the year I started seriously making my own work independently, because I had access to space through the university,' she said. 'You get lots of free rehearsal rooms, which you don't have at other times.' Moreover, the university offered funding for student projects, which Nicol used to stage a show at Glasgow's Tron Theatre. Stewart had a similar experience in Edinburgh while studying for her BA in Drama and Performance at Queen Margaret University. She reels off a list of venues that host student productions, from established theatres like Bedlam, to the basement of Haymarket's Mad Hatter's Bar. But for Stewart, it was QMU's annual performance festival in the Caves that was particularly formative: 'When I was at uni, I took part in that every year,' she says.

Outside of academia, however, both Stewart and Nicol sing the praises of the drama societies they were involved in. Stewart, who was vice-president of the drama society at QMU, highlighted the creative experimentation that took place in the company of her fellow students. 'It was a very supportive community for sharing ideas and thoughts,' she says. 'There's some work I made that I wouldn't make now, but I'm so glad I did it then, because it gave me the opportunity to try and test it and go, "oh, that's not for me". Or "actually, I never thought about doing that … "'

Eve Nicol: 'I got experience through being part of the drama society in all the really important, practical things'

Diane Stewart / credit: Kallum Corke

'I got experience through being part of the drama society in all the really important, practical things,' says Nicol. 'Like, what does a good selection of plays look like in a programme? How do you balance the different skills you've got available? All that comes through the student-led activities and the am-dram scene that Glasgow has.'

Nicol and Stewart pay heavy emphasis on the importance of their peer network, and it's no wonder, given the close-knit nature of the theatre-making scene in Scotland's central belt. But happily, both have found the community to be an incredibly nurturing environment. 'There's so many opportunities to try work out,' says Stewart, 'and even if they say "I don't know if that went great," there's always someone willing to talk to you about it, and normally it's actually someone who has got something positive to say.'

When Nicol returned to Glasgow after completing her undergrad elsewhere, she could sense immediately the unique bond that was shared among the city's theatre community. 'Swinging in and doing an 18-month course in postgrad was me desperately trying to get a little bit of that thing I was seeing amongst my peer group,' she says, laughing. 'But really, across Glasgow and Edinburgh, there's a real sense of DIY – of, "oh I want to do this thing, so I'm gonna do it".'

So what's the one bit of advice they'd give to an aspiring playwright? 'Read all the plays!' says Stewart enthusiastically. And, she adds, take all the risks you can while in the safety of the university environment. 'Those opportunities have to be taken advantage of, because you can fail, and it kind of doesn't matter, because you got to try something out,' says Stewart.

'I think it's just to do it,' says Nicol. 'And doing that while you're studying is particularly good because you'll have those resources that you're never going to get again. You'll be surrounded by people who all want to take that leap with you.'

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