Maria Oller is the Artistic Director of Lung Ha Theatre Company, the leading professional theatre company in Scotland providing opportunities for adults with learning disabilities to become actively involved in the performing arts.
Over the past 30 years the Company has produced over 40 original stage productions and collaborated with a wide array of arts professionals from across Scotland and beyond. The company distinguishes itself not only by the quality of its work, which marries a successful blend of theatrical invention, technological creativity, and poetic writing, but also by the way the Company succeeds in challenging its audience whilst still being accessible to all. The Company has a current membership of 18 actors with learning disabilities.
We caught up with Maria to talk about her work and what she thinks of Edinburgh's lively cultural scene:
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
I am a theatre director and actor and the Artistic Director of Lung Ha Theatre Company. I am also working for Hearts & Minds as a Clowndoctor and Elderflower.
I grew up in Finland and studied there and in Paris and London. My home has been in Edinburgh for the last 16 years.
What makes you proud to live and work in Edinburgh?
I find Edinburgh inspiring and I love the fact that it is by the sea. I am proud of the good public transport and the green parks. When I first moved to Edinburgh I found it quite grey, but now I see a lot of different grey colours and it’s the atmospheric grey buildings make Edinburgh beautiful even on a dark rainy day. There's also Edinburgh Leisure which gives everyone a great opportunity not only to exercise, but also to get to know your local community.
How does the city inspire your work as Artistic Director for Lung Ha?
My main inspiration is my actors, most of whom are from Edinburgh. Their enthusiasm, commitment and urge to learn is so inspiring.
I’m also inspired when close to nature such as cycling or running along the shore or the old railway line.
Of course Edinburgh's cultural scene with theatre, concerts, music and exhibitions is also very inspiring. Having the Edinburgh festivals take place throughout the year is a huge privilege. We get interesting work visiting us from all over the world every year. I don’t know any other city that has so many different festivals showcasing such good quality work.
What is your favourite aspect of the theatre scene in Edinburgh?
The theatre scene in Edinburgh has a good variety of repertoire and the theatres always suppor each other and share knowledge and resources.
We are in need of more rehearsal spaces and mid-scale theatres to take productions to though. What I miss in Edinburgh is local theatre venues within the city. Many cities, like Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki, have small to mid-scale theatres around the city where residents can go for a drink, see shows and feel like this is their own local theatre. In Edinburgh, it would be great to see areas such as Newhaven, Stockbridge, Meadowbank, and Bruntsfield, for example, having their own theatres. It works during the Fringe festival but it would be nice to have more of this during the rest of the year. Village Pub theatre is a step in that direction.
Why do you think arts and culture is so important?
There are so many reasons why culture and arts are important. Culture is just part of who we are. I think all people are creative and need a creative outlet in their lives. It can be organised activity or something spontaneous. I just think we can't exist with an healthy mind if we don’t have art and culture in some form in our lives.
What is your favourite Hidden Gem in Edinburgh?
In the Botanics there is a path through a woodland that reminds me of Finland. It is such a beautiful wee place.
When you hear the words “Forever Edinburgh…” what springs to mind?
A palette of different grey colours, and the festivals.