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Interview: DIY hope for the austerity generation

Stephen Arthur's Facebook page is full of his friends' summer graduation photos. He'll show his support and maybe comment on the great weather but, really, he can't help feeling cynical.

Weegies: Stephen Arthur and George Stewart
Weegies: Stephen Arthur and George Stewart

Seeing his friends in their gowns, with their scrolls and champagne, he'll think 'give it a few months and they'll still be working in Marks and Spencer'. Not that there's anything wrong with good old M&S but it's probably not the career path these starry-eyed drama graduates are hoping for.

Stephen and his friend George Stewart are only 23 so where has their cynicism come from?

After graduating from the Glasgow School of Art, Stephen found himself working shifts in the bleak warehouse at Costco. It was impossible to find a better job, and there was nothing in his chosen field of design. He'd fill out constant job applications but these were largely ignored. Most businesses won't bother to acknowledge young applicants, let along give them the chance of an interview.

So, despite graduating from one of the most famous institutions in the world, he found himself doing the same dead-end jobs he had done as a student. 'It's unfair,' says Stephen. 'Working through Art School, you do these shifts because there's a goal in mind. Then you graduate but you're still there in the same shitty minimum wage jobs. You sometimes think why did I even bother studying?'

George's experience was worse. Despite a degree, and then further study in acting, he could find no work and was soon stuck in the frustration of long-term unemployment. 'Going to the Job Centre every two weeks and being spoken to like you're not trying,' he said. 'Applying to jobs and just hearing nothing back.'

Few people had sympathy for them. The thinking was that if you opt for an arts degree you need to expect unemployment. People would mock Stephen's education and say 'Art school? Did ye just draw for four years?' The state - and fretting parents - seem to prefer students to be in neat, sensible subjects. Study teaching to be a teacher. Study management to be a manager. Study boredom to be a bore. The discourse in austerity Britain is that university is now a conveyor belt for the production of utilitarian employees. Student debt and unemployment and anxiety are screaming at our young people to hurry up and take their place in the rat race, otherwise they'll never get a career, they'll never get a mortgage, they'll never get a pension. Austerity breeds philistinism. Times are hard for those young people who have a passion which doesn't fit the 9-5 routine.

'Yes, there's a bitterness,' says Stephen. '110% there's a bitterness.'

So, Stephen and George decided to take action. Friends since the age of 14, when they bonded over a mutual love of 80s disco tunes, they had both studied acting and knew this was the career they wanted. If they couldn't get a decent job, let alone a decent break, they'd just have to do it themselves. They filled the long days of unemployment by writing a sitcom and awarded themselves the starring roles.

The result is Weegies, a comedy about two drama graduates in Glasgow struggling to stay hopeful. There are no jobs and all they have at home is daytime TV and a nagging mum. How do you keep your dream alive when everyone is pressuring you to conform? The main characters may be called Stephen and George but the show is not strictly autobiographical. They share the same names and background but some of the absurd situations the characters get into are mercifully fictional.

But how was it done? How could these two young men write and create an entire sitcom when they had no money or expertise? They laugh and say much of it was down to luck and just being a bit cheeky. 'Through a mutual friend we got in touch with Graeme Watt who has his own amateur production company, 8 Acre Films,' says Stephen. 'He had the technical knowledge and the equipment. We just sent him the script and then we phoned him and he said he was interested. There was a lot in it for him as it's his company who get their name on it and he's directing it. That meant he was willing to come on board for no fee.' Stephen admits that Graeme also just happened to have a week off work, so was able to give them his time.

Weegies was filmed in that one precious week, without a single penny, and the other actors and extras were friends from their local theatre in Bishopbriggs, The Fort.

So people gave their time, expertise and equipment but, without money to hire locations, how did they find somewhere to film? This is where the Glasgow reputation for being 'gallus' comes into it. George said 'I'd just walk into a pub and say 'Look, this is how it is. We need somewhere to film. Can you help us out?' And people would just say 'aye, batter in!' The generosity of people in Glasgow has been fantastic.'

With kindness, talent - and being a bit gallus - they've managed to create a sitcom of nine episodes, the first of which is being screened next week at the ABC in the hope that it'll spread the word about their project, and maybe even attract the attention of a TV channel. They're optimistic but they've seen too much of the grim side of life to think fortune comes easily. 'If it doesn't work,' says Stephen 'then I'll gladly sit at that 9-5 desk - but you have to try!'

The pilot episode of Weegies is being shown at the ABC, Sauchiehall Street, on the 15th July

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