Martin O’Connor selected as 2018 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow at Playwrights’ Studio Scotland

Published: 15 Mar 2018

Performer, writer and theatre maker Martin O’Connor has been selected for the 2018 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship, hosted by Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland, the national organisation for the development of playwrights, in partnership with the Royal Lyceum Theatre

The Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship, supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, provides a writer with time and support to develop their work in partnership with a host organisation. The Fellowship was established by Creative Scotland in 2013 in memory of Dr Wallace who committed his entire professional life to helping writers and literature organisations in Scotland.

Responding to this year’s theme, ‘Epic’, O’Connor will create a contemporary long-form performance poem written in Gaelic, Scots and English, inspired by the tales of the famous Ossian poems, the purported poet ‘discovered’ by James Macpherson 1790, and written by Macpherson himself. 

During the Fellowship, O’Connor will embark on participatory research across Scotland with groups of people from particular areas of linguistic interest and will explore themes such as journey, work, family and faith.   The Fellowship will enable O’Connor to develop his practice of working with people’s own stories and voices, demonstrated in previous work such asBuilding a Nation, Theology and The Mark of the Beast, and his growing interest in Scots and Gaelic and how they are presented on stage. O’Connor aims to create a platform for minority voices and the sense of Scotland as a plural nation.

We are thrilled that Martin O’Connor has been appointed as the 2018 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow, selected from one of the strongest shortlists for the fellowship we’ve seen since its inception- Jenny Niven, Creative Scotland

On receiving the Fellowship, Martin O’Connor said: “I am honoured not only to have been selected but also to be in the company of previous celebrated writers and to be part of Dr Gavin Wallace’s legacy, which has had a major impact on the development of Scottish voices.  I’m thrilled to be working with Playwrights’ Studio – an organisation which has support and nurture at the heart of its values, and whose reach around the country will help me in engaging with as wide an audience as possible. 

“In choosing to use Macpherson’s writing as inspiration I hope to address some of the main challenges and assumptions surrounding Gaelic and Scots languages and create a new body of work made up of both traditional epic poetry styles and contemporary voices. I’m looking forward to diving straight into my research. I’ve set myself some ambitious goals and aim to stretch my writing and my practice as far as I can, particularly in terms of translation.”

Fiona Sturgeon Shea, Creative Director at Playwrights' Studio, Scotland, said: “We were overwhelmed by the number and quality of the proposals we received for this year’s Fellowship, and by the exciting and varied interpretations of the Epic theme.  Martin’s feels like a truly national project, focusing on the language, landscape and people of Scotland. 

“We are delighted to be working with a writer of Martin’s skill and inventiveness, who gives so much to the theatre community in Scotland through his work with participants and aspiring writers.  We are looking forward to supporting Martin’s own creative ambitions in the development of this contemporary epic which is very much rooted in and reflective of the Scotland we live in today.  As Martin describes it, “constantly changing, complex and ambiguous.”

Jenny Niven, Head of Literature at Creative Scotland, said: “We are thrilled that Martin O’Connor has been appointed as the 2018 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow, selected from one of the strongest shortlists for the fellowship we’ve seen since its inception.  The Ossian poems are rich material for any writer but are especially suited to Martin’s practice. Through engagement with Scots and Gaelic communities across Scotland, O’Connor will blend and integrate three of Scotland’s languages into a new work for the stage that promises a fascinating exploration of the concept of ‘Epic’.

“Throughout his career, Martin has created a number of works to critical acclaim and we look forward to seeing the development and creation of this new multi-voiced reinterpretation of McPherson’s mischievous work. The partnership between Creative Scotland, Playwrights’ Studio and the Lyceum promises to be a fruitful one and we look forward to working with them and with Martin throughout the year.”

The first host organisation selected was the Association for Scottish Literary Studies at the University of Glasgow.  Following an open call for applications to become the inaugural fellow, they appointed Kirsty Logan.  In 2014, Moniack Mhor was selected as host for the fellowship, and they subsequently appointed Jen Hadfield as their writing fellow.  In 2015/16, the National Library of Scotland appointed Angus Peter Campbell.  The most recent host was Aberdeen City Council’s Creative Learning department who appointed playwright, actress and musician Morna Young.