Two worlds collide in traveller's tale;Arts
Evelyn Gilhaney travels the length and breadth of the UK in her family's caravan, and only goes to school for four months each year. But as the 13-year-old's play reveals, her life is also marred by prejudice. Raymond Ross reports.
The Scaldie Hoose, a play by a 13-year-old traveller girl, pulls no punches as it tells of the racial abuse and ignorant prejudice which Scotland's travelling community faces on a daily basis.
Evelyn Gilhaney lives with her family in a caravan on the outskirts of Edinburgh but has been attending Theatre Workshop for the past six weeks as part of the devising team to which she is the designated writer.
The play, based on her actual experiences, is being developed from a short story she wrote last year, which won Theatre Workshop's 1998 "Written without Prejudice" competition. Director Robert Rae was so impressed by it, that he decided to adapt it for the stage. He says Evelyn has "a strong sense of story and dramatic structuring".
"My auntie is a traditional storyteller," explains Evelyn, who would like to be a writer. "She tells it natural and from everyday life. When I write, I like to write the way I say it. A story has to have a good speaking voice."
She's writing a lot about travellers' history as part of the team of director and six professional actors: "I keep them right about how it should be with us, about how things are said and if it's true to traveller tradition."
She is not in the play, but will attend every performance to talk to pupils if they want to ask her about travellers after the show. They are likely to be fascinated by differences in Evelyn's lifestyle.
"I travel a lot. I've been to Wales and England and all over Scotland. I've gathered whelks in Argyll and I've done berry picking at Blairgowrie. I'll always want to travel and I'd specially like to go abroad.
"I only go to school between September and January. I don't think I miss out much by not going to school all year. No, I'm lucky. I like art, writing and German. At Theatre Workshop I've found how to work a computer, which is good. A teacher does come in and helps me with my spelling."
But if the young members of the audience envy Evelyn her freedom, they will also be confronted by the harsher and much less romantic aspects of a traveller's life, like narrowminded bigotry.
"At school the teachers treat us all right. But sometimes the pupils pick on you. Name calling. Sometimes they might try to bully you but I wouldn't let anyone bully me," she says.
Entering the auditorium, the audience will walk on to the set and choose their seats around a traveller's caravan (which is actually Evelyn's mother's old caravan), and thus become part of the traveller community in the play themselves.
The play attempts to put pupils in Evelyn's position, so that they become aware of the kinds of problems faced by travellers - particularly traveller children - as well as gaining an awareness of the travellers' strong traditional oral culture.
The characters in the play are fictionalised, and a "forum" style of theatre is adopted, which allows the audience to ask questions and even become part of the action.
Robert Rae says: "The production has a strong atmosphere which will engage young people. We hope it will provoke discussion about attitudes towards the traveller and gypsy community."
The title of The Scaldie Hoose derives from the traveller's term for settled people who live in houses - "scaldies".
The play runs at Theatre Workshop October 4-23. School performances are on Monday to Friday at 1pm; public performances are on Thursday to Saturday at 8pm. Box office, tel: 0131 226 5425. All schools attending the play will receive a free copy of "The Scaldie Hoose Diary" book (sponsored by Save the Children), which is aimed at pupils to further their understanding of travellers and their unique and traditional way of life.
* From "Evelyn's Story"
"I'm telling my story of the time I left Dumbarton site to go to Roseneath to get a hoose and go to school and get education and learn to spell and go to college. So we moved into the hoose. This wis an ugly wee hoose...
"Sharon said her and me would be in the same class. The first week was all right except that some of the lassies did call us names like 'Gypsies', 'Tinkies' and 'Thieves' and told us tae go back tae Dumbarton site. I went in tae my hoose to tell my mum what they said. She said tae ignore them, so I did...
"The last straw came when ma wee sister came home wi' a bad word that's never been heard in oor family before. My mum immediately packed up the hoose and we went back into the trailer"