Meet our graduates: Amy Rhianne Milton
Just one year on from graduating in Playwriting, Amy has been longlisted for the inaugural Women’s Prize for Playwriting and had a play commissioned by Traverse. Matterhorn runs online from 27th August to 9th September.
While 2020 was a challenging year, it also produced many professional highlights for Amy Rhianne Milton, who graduated from the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures (LLC) in 2019 with an MSc in Playwriting.
In July 2020, having previously been nominated for both the Papatango and Verity Bargate Awards, Amy’s MSc dissertation play Bleak Law was selected from over 1,000 entries for the 70-strong longlist of the first Women's Prize for Playwriting, and the following month her play Matterhorn debuted at Traverse Theatre during the online Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Describing Matterhorn as the “ultimate collage” of her personal skills and passions, which range from philosophy and history to sci-fi and politics, Amy has continued to find her voice as a ‘Cowboy Playwright’ as she remembers Programme Director, Nicola McCartney, describing it - “someone who goes off alone, explores new territory, and discovers new ways of telling stories” .
Here, she talks to us about gaining the confidence to experiment with playwriting’s rules, adapting scripts for online performance, and the joy of having been among so many great playwrights on the Women’s Prize longlist.
Rule-breaking artfully and with purpose
Set in a cathedral in a post-apocalyptic world, Matterhorn follows the lives of three women and the effect they may have on the future. Based on scientific principles and ethical debate, and told across three realities, the play is similar to Bleak Law in playing “fast and loose” with how we view linear time, as well as the realities of cause and effect.
Speaking about how the MSc in Playwriting helped her build such structural complexities into her writing, Amy says “I had always been quite an experimental writer, always wanting to take risks, but before the programme I thought that meant I was hardly writing “properly” at all. Learning what rules I was breaking, and how to do so artfully and with purpose, was one of the most important lessons for me.”
“Most importantly, the MSc gave me the knowledge and time to figure out the kind of writer I wanted to be. I was introduced to playwrights and scripts and styles of theatre I had never heard of or considered before, and encountering them was a major catalyst for me developing my own voice and style.”
Asked how she developed over the course of the year and between the two plays, Amy says “The biggest difference was certainly my confidence in my own ability. Bleak Law was a total shot in the dark; it literally felt like jumping off a cliff when I walked into Nicola’s office and told her I wanted to write a play that went forwards and backwards, about people walking up a mountain, at the end of the world. To my utter shock, she just said, “Yes that’s okay, how?”.”
“I had been dreaming about the story for a long time [so] I was genuinely surprised at how the director, Finn den Hertog, and all the brilliant actors just jumped on board with it and believed in it the way that I did. Watching the reading in Traverse 2 (during the 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe) was a huge confidence boost and really helped me figure out how to fine tune the script in time for my dissertation submission”.
By the time it came to writing Matterhorn, which was commissioned by Traverse for its new online venue, Traverse 3, “I didn’t walk in with a jumble of unconfident ideas unsure if I was allowed to do what I wanted to do. Working with (the dramaturg) Eleanor White, we just jumped straight in and got the work done.”
“While we all missed being in the rehearsal room, recording Matterhorn in isolation was still an amazing and really informative experience. My director Debbie Hannan and the actors were so insightful and patient as we all ventured into an unknown territory of Zoom rehearsals and adapting my script to fit the new audio format.”
A beacon of camaraderie
Together with two other LLC graduates, Amy was longlisted for the inaugural Women's Prize for Playwriting in July 2020, the panel having read each of the 1,000+ submissions at least three times before selecting the 70 longlisted plays.
Describing how she reacted to the news, Amy says “I really couldn’t believe that. I must have checked the email about 20 times before I told anyone. Being on there with so many other amazing writers, including previous graduates of the Playwriting programme, really made me feel in very good company.”
At the time she told us “Knowing that my script had passed through so many hands and been enjoyed by so many people was a really special thing. I’m so honoured that the script is getting some recognition. My aim now is to keep working on the script to make it as strong as it possibly can be, as I would love to see it on its feet one day.”
“I cannot wait for theatres to reopen so we can finally see some of those plays that the Women’s Prize brought to light. It has really served as a beacon of camaraderie in an industry that may try to pit one artist against another rather than raise them both up. I am excited to see what comes of this.”
This is an updated version of our interview with Amy, which was first published in August 2020. In December that year, she was shortlisted by Box of Tricks and Sky Studios for the Screen/Play Award.
Are you interested in our MSc in Playwriting?
Our taught masters programme is a highly practical and immersive introduction to the theatre scene in Edinburgh, Scotland and internationally. It focuses on the craft of writing for performance, and on how a script plays out in real space and time in front of an audience. You’ll be assessed through a combination of portfolio work, essays and your final dissertation - a 100 minute, full-length play. This will be written with the advice of the Programme Director - a professional playwright - and developed through intensive workshops and readings with a professional director and actors.