Covid-19: A Catalyst for Change?

By Rebecca Tierney

In the past twenty months, life has changed drastically for all sectors in Scotland not the least of which is the theatre industry.
I caught up with Glasgow-based theatre practitioner Catherine Rose Tausney to get her perspective on life on stage after covid, creating your own creative opportunities, and wish-granting toads.

May be a close-up of Catherine Rose Tausney
Catherine Rose Tausney advocates for the importance of “pushing” theatres to invoke real change in Scotland.

Catherine, who was brought up in the Catholic faith, says that theatre has always been a “lifeline” for her: “I feel like I’ve wasted a lot of my life trying to follow rules and do things I thought I should do, so as an adult I’m making up for that by trying to unwrite a lot of the rules.”
Attending the Citizen’s Young Company growing up inspired Catherine in all things theatre and at a time in her life when she was feeling particularly “unsettled” she turned to her roots in the Young Company: “Part of the tradition was that you’d finish at 9 at the Citz building and then a lot of you would go to the pub afterwards…and we spent years in there just talking and dreaming about what kinds of theatre we wanted to see.”

Through all of this talking and dreaming brought an idea to fruition from the minds of Catherine and her friend, and fellow Young Company alumni, Andrea Cano Molina. As well as the late night dialogues with Andrea, Catherine was going to see live theatre “at least every two weeks” and was a member of the Traverse Young Writer’s Programme. Andrea was performing at the Fringe. They were both, Catherine says, “sooking up all the theatre that Scotland” had to offer: “We were both unsettled with where we were in our jobs and in our lives, and facing rejection after rejection, and so we came up with the idea to create our own opportunities as opposed to waiting for them to come along.”

Catherine says the idea was really sparked from feeling “tired about being told what [she] should look like, where [she] should study, how [she] should act”. She believes that Scottish people are “really good natural storytellers” and that “there was this real gap” in the theatre community with lots of people who wanted to be involved but who had “nowhere to go”.

And so, their theatre company Half-Light Nights was born: “Half-light is another word for Twilight and we called it that as an homage to the time that we spent dreaming about what we wanted to do and what we wanted to be.”

When I ask what sets them apart from other theatre companies operating in Glasgow, Catherine can’t help but laugh: “Fearlessness, I think, as stupid as it sounds – we’ve been rejected so many times at this point that we literally don’t have anything to lose.”

Half-Light Nights staged their first show I Love You, But in June of 2019 to sold-out audiences.
Following this success, the company turned their attentions to a devised piece of theatre: “Old Rip: A Tale Told by Assholes was set in an auction house for cursed items, with five eccentric characters all fighting over this enchanted toad that grants wishes.”

The company put on an excerpt of this play in February of 2020, just before the precipice of the Coronavirus pandemic, which Catherine sums up nicely: “All our plans were totally scuppered [by the first lockdown]”. She goes on to elaborate: “At first we thought it was going to be a few weeks and we thought, okay, maybe we can postpone the show until August [2020] but as it went on, it became less and less doable in the time frame that we had predicted.”

Turning the interview to the effects of Covid-19 on her own life, Catherine admits: “It got to the point where I didn’t want to watch any live theatre, really. I remember watching a recording of Emma Rice’s Wise Children and as much as I love that play it was heartbreaking to hear the rumble of the audience and the clapping and the laughing from the theatre, whilst watching it at home on a screen.”

In a world that very quickly became dominated by screens, the thought of watching a recording of a production after spending your workday in front of a computer lost its appeal rather hastily: “We didn’t know it was coming, and so we didn’t know that our last time in the theatre would be our last for a while, and you forget that kind of magic [that comes with being inside a theatre].”

Our interview diverges into a more serious tone when I delve further into the effects of the last year and a half in conjunction with the theatre world. On this topic, Catherine highlights that “the very fact that so many theatres did release recordings of their shows” proves that “they always could have done [this]”. This was a huge moment during the pandemic, Catherine notes, as it displayed the lack of accessibility in the theatre community in a stark new light, and that there was a lot of “pushing people out” of the community in existence before Covid: “These theatres had basically been saying before Coronavirus: if you can’t physically get to a venue – maybe because you’re wheelchair bound, or you live rurally, or you can’t afford to get there – then too bad’.”

She also acknowledges the amount of “pale-and-stale theatres” that advocated for wanting to “do more” in terms of representation on stage and inclusivity in the wake of the death of George Floyd: “I feel absolutely disgusted that it took [his death] and the death of so, so may other for us to start taking racial equality seriously”. In the same vein, Catherine notes: “People will go to see shows that they see themselves reflected in.”

However, Catherine acknowledges that there was a lot of “community-building” as a result of the pandemic, but isn’t sure it’s going to continue: “The Tron have programmed a Shakespeare and a Beckett, very very good shows yes, but where are the changes you promised us? Where are the writers of colour? Where are the new creatives? Are you going to programme queer people?” These are just some of the questions Catherine voices as fears for the future of the theatre community in Scotland. She says she thinks it’s “important” that theatres open themselves up to the public that they have built this community with over the past 20 months, to have these conversations and stresses that it’s okay for them to admit that they “don’t know”: “No one is looking for a straight answer, because there isn’t one…but I think they’re still very much afraid to take risks on newer pieces of work.”

Half-Light Nights’ new show, Twisted Firestarter by Jamie Cowan, is described by Catherine as “tragic, savage, hysterical and asks the question: how far would you go for what you believe in?”

Twisted Firestarter is playing from the 23-25 November in The Old Hairdresser’s in Glasgow and tickets can be bought online for £8.50, or at the door for £10.

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