It may be the last week of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but O'Loughlin has already been at work for two hours, as she has been for pretty much every day of August. The reason for such un-artistic early starts is Dream Plays (Scenes From a Play I'll Never Write), the series of 12 performed readings of newly commissioned works curated and directed by O'Loughlin with playwright David Greig, and which ran each day over two weeks.
As the mini season's name suggests, each reading took place at 9am, a time when most Fringe carousers are just settling into some rapid eye movement after a night propping up their favoured watering hole. With a final hour's rehearsal for each play beginning at 8am, for O'Loughlin and Greig, at least, sleep has become something of a luxury in the rapid turnover required for each play. The first week of Dream Plays featured works by established writers David Ireland, Sue Glover, Nicola McCartney, Alan Wilkins and Janice Galloway, plus one from Traverse newbie, Sabrina Mahfouz, who was commissioned after O'Loughlin saw her play, One Hour Only, at the Underbelly.
The entire Dream Plays experience, according to O'Loughlin, has been "a labour of love. It's been a pretty schizophrenic experience holding 12 different plays in my head for the last couple of months, and then two on a daily basis."
Dream Plays came about following a conversation between O'Loughlin and Greig, who were both aware of the precedents set in previous Traverse breakfast seasons, Ravenhill For Breakfast and Impossible Plays For Breakfast. "It was very early on in my tenure, and I was keen to work with as many writers as possible," O'Loughlin says. "It was an open invitation, and every play has turned out completely different."
The second week of Dream Plays began with Room 7, Johnny McKnight's scurrilous science fiction play about one woman's entry into what turns out to be a glorified baby factory, watched over by a multitude of cameras. It's quite a departure for McKnight, who nevertheless manages to bring some of his trademark camp to an otherwise dark tale.
For National Health, playwright Lynda Radley sits at a table at the back of the stage, blowing bubbles while the three young women in the psychiatric unit where her play is set push their situation as far as they can.
For Skeleton Wumman, Gerda Stevenson puts a guitarist and cellist onstage to accompany actress Pauline Knowles delivering an already lyrical monologue written in a rich Scots idiom. Also present onstage is a signer, providing access for the deaf.
In his introduction to A Respectable Widow Takes To Vulgarity, Douglas Maxwell describes his play as "Pygmalion in reverse, which is pretty much the case in a yarn in which a merry widow takes to one of her dead husband's potty-mouthed employees. As she learns how to "vulgarise her inner monologue", this liberation of her own vocabulary becomes a last gasp connection to her self-made husband.
It Ended. Or the body of an unknown man on Somerton Beach was the second play by a writer picked up on the Fringe. Australian playwright Tobias Manderson-Galvin's play The Economist, was spotted by Greig, and within 48 hours, Manderson-Galvin's flight of fancy based in part on a real life mystery of a man washed up on a beach in 1948 was onstage.
Using elements of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam fused with a self-reflexive detective story, Manderson-Galvin's play proved to be a fascinating exercise in form that revealed a tantalisingly playful voice.
Out of the 12 plays, it is the newest voices that have proved the most revelatory. When Mahfouz was first approached by O'Loughlin to write what turned out to be a play about three female computer game avatars written in streetwise rhyme, "I thought about it for about five seconds, and then said yes. It was quite fateful, really, because I hadn't been up to Edinburgh yet, so when I got here it made it all the more exciting."
For Manderson-Galvin too, being thrown in the deep end left little time for thought.
"It was an idea I'd been playing with," he says, "so this forced my hand somewhat, and now I'll probably write hundreds of pages more and see where it goes."
All parties are keen to continue the relationship begun with Dream Plays. If all goes well, new plays by Mahfouz and Manderson-Galvin should hopefully be seen in Edinburgh before too long.
Greig says, though: "Dream Plays was never about putting on complete works. That's been the best part about it, that sense of roughness and unfinishedness to everything, and the fact that they could go anywhere."
If Dream Plays has been O'Loughlin's coming out ball, as she gets to develop relationships with Scotland's writers and actors, it also suggests a new sense of urgency in terms of putting work on in increasingly cash-strapped times.
"Our job is to get work onto the stage," she says, "and not to do development for development's sake. It's also been a way for me to get to know the writers quickly, and discovering the range of work that's out there. It's also about saying that we have the will to get this work on. If this year has been about ant anything, it's about putting the writer at the centre of the programme."
All of which comes through in last week's announcement of the Traverse's autumn season, in which O'Loughlin will direct both in-house productions. The first of these will be the Artist Man and the Mother Woman, a new piece from the fantastical mind of Morna Pearson, whose debut play, Distracted, scooped the Meyer-Whitworth Award in 2006. This will be followed by The Arthur Conan Doyle Story, a riotous Christmas show in association with the physical-based Peepolykus company.
As well as a visit from Grid Iron and a new dance festival, the new season will also begin Traverse 50, which, in the spirit of Dream Plays, will see the Traverse work with 50 writers in the run up to the theatre's half century anniversary in 2013.
In the meantime, it's 10am again, in the Traverse bar. It's Sunday morning, and the final Dream Play, Found at Sea by poet Andrew Greig, has just been performed. A dramatisation of a long poem about a sailing trip undertaken by Greig, in some ways its the most complete of all the Dream Plays.
With actors Tam Dean Burn and Lewis Howden gathered around a pub table topped with half-finished drinks, the pair map out a very personal voyage awash with little epiphanies en route. A set of sails sits behind the actors, who chalk out tents and camp-fires on the floor while Greig himself sits to one side, sound-tracking the whole thing with his live banjo playing. Greig's writing exudes warmth in abundance, and, in David Greig's mini-production, again points to a more inventive future.
For now, though, the Dream Plays are over. In the bar, David Greig chats with former Traverse artistic director Philip Howard. O'Loughlin sits in the corner with her family, relaxing at last at the end of her first Fringe in charge of the Traverse. It's an all too rare pause for breath before the dreaming begins once more.
Details of the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh's autumn season can be found at www.traverse.co.uk