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Theatre takes its act to Russia

When it comes to education, every theatre company has its own house style and its own flagship project. For the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, it is Class Act.

The programme, which has been running for 16 years, takes playwrights into schools in the city, Lothians and Scottish Borders to partner drama and English teachers in teaching playwriting. The Standard grade and Advanced Higher pupils then have the ultimate thrill of seeing their work performed on stage.

Now, with the British Council's assistance, the theatre is taking the idea to Russia. Playwrights Nicola McCartney and Douglas Maxwell have gone this week to follow up their pilot project last year, when they had to overcome incomprehension and indifference.

"In Russia, children have even less status than they have here," says McCartney. "There isn't even the negative reporting in the press that we have. Children just aren't talked about.

"When we said we wanted to work not only in schools but also in an orphanage, there was just frank disbelief. Even other children despise the orphans.

"Russian writers are only interested in high-status art. There is hardly any arts in education."

Nevertheless, the pair persuaded some playwrights to believe in the Class Act scheme and now they are returning to monitor their work. After that, they will go to Moscow to try to spread the idea.

"I would describe our attitude as cautiously excited," McCartney says. "In Russia you have to expect the unexpected, improvise when you gauge the reaction of the people you are talking to.

"All Douglas and I can do is keep ourselves on the learning curve and be positive all the time."

Meanwhile, this week has seen the culmination of Class Act locally.

Fifty-seven S4 and S6 pupils at James Young High in Livingston, West Calder High, Musselburgh Grammar, Peebles High and the Royal High in Edinburgh have been learning from playwrights Douglas Maxwell, Davey Anderson, Catherine Grosvenor, Jules Horne and Alan Wilkins this term.

The pupils have been given the kind of help and incentive only a professional theatre can offer. Apart from the advice of the writers (one to each school), they have had the advantage of having their dialogue worked on by a Traverse director and professional actors.

This, in fact, mirrors contemporary practice; increasingly plays are being written by collaboration between the writer and company.

Developed and rehearsed in the schools, the plays were then performed at the Traverse on Tuesday, Wednesday and last night.

Traverse Theatre, tel 0131 228 3223

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