Wednesday 10th October 7 - 8.30pm - a Birmingham Book Festival event, in partnership with the Writers' Guild
Lecture Theatre, Muirhead Tower, University of Birmingham B15 2TT
A talk with readings showing how drama shares many of its structures with poetry £8 / £5 for Guild Members
To book: call 0121 2364455 or visit www.birminghambookfestival.org
In this session, playwright David Edgar will show how drama shares many of the elements and structures of poetry. This is because both forms are written to be spoken, as well as being designed to be consumed at a single bite.
Illustrating his session by actors’ readings from classical and modern plays as well as clips from films and television drama, David Edgar will show how how plays communicate meaning by the technique – familiar to poets – of drawing unexpected connections between different elements. Plays as a whole have a common, underlying shape which owes more to the metaphorical character of the poem than the literalism of the novel. This is partly because the key events in so many plays take place in a metaphorical space.
So, as well as containing poetry (from the Greek chorus via Shakespearian blank verse to the bleak imagery of Samuel Beckett), great plays are poems in themselves.
David Edgar is one of Britain’s leading playwrights, who has written extensively for the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and many other theatres. His best known work includes Destiny, Pentecost and a multi-award-winning adaptation of Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby. His play about the making of the King James Bible – Written on the Heart – opened at Stratford last October. Founder of Britain’s first full-time university playwriting course (at Birmingham in 1989) his session draws on his hugely successful book about playwriting, How Plays Work, published by Nick Hern Books in 2009.
11am-4pm, 1 October
Price: £25 (includes two-course lunch and coffee)
Off the Shelf at Black’s is a literature collaboration between Black’s members’ club in Soho, London, and the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain books committee that organises a series of monthly, one-day residencies for fiction writers, held on the last Monday of the month. The next writer-in-residence is Nigerian-born Chioma Okereke.
The writer will read from published work as well as works in progress. The audience will then discuss the work and writing processes, chaired by Jan Woolf of the WGGB books committee. After lunch, there will be an open mic session during which participants can read short extracts from their own work. This is an opportunity for established authors to receive mature critical feedback and for the audience to get some guidance.
Okereke came to England at the age of seven. She started her writing career as a poet before turning her hand to fiction. Her writing has been published in Bum Rush, The Page and the Callaloo Literary Journal. Additionally, her work has been shortlisted in the Undiscovered Authors Competition 2006, run by Bookforce UK, and in the Daily Telegraph’s Write a Novel in a Year Competition 2007.
Her debut novel Bitter Leaf (shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Africa Best First Book) is a richly textured tale set in the idyllic village of Mannobe. The story features a colourful cast of inhabitants: Babylon, a gifted musician who falls under the spell of the beautiful Jericho who has recently returned from the city; Mabel and M’elle Codon, twin sisters whose lives have taken very different paths; Magdalena, daughter of Mabel, who nurses an unrequited love for Babylon; and Allegory, the wise old man who adheres to tradition. Set during a time of encroaching commercialisation, these inhabitants try to get to grips with their changing situations, without losing themselves in the process.
David Edgar introduces two new booklets from the Writers' Guild
- The Working Playwright - Agreements and Contracts (pdf)
- The Working Playwright - Engaging with Theatres (pdf)
In the old days, getting a play on wasn’t easy, but it was simple. You’d send a play off to a theatre, and, if they read it, they might decide to put it on. The production would be cast, designed and marketed largely without your input. If the director felt like it, you might attend the read-through and a late run, to check on what changes had been made in your play. After it opened you’d get some money, in the form of a percentage of the box office. In the 1970s and 1980s, all that changed. In collaboration with the Writers’ Guild, a new Theatre Writers’ Union negotiated binding, minimum terms agreements with, first, the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal Court. Then agreements were negotiated with the rest of the building based sector, and finally with independent, non-building based companies.
These agreements gave playwrights an up-front commission fee (or an option fee if the play wasn’t commissioned) as well as a royalty. It guaranteed the playwright the right to approve or prevent any changes in their play, to be consulted over the choice of directors and actors, as well as over casting and marketing, and to attend rehearsals. Despite dire warnings by theatres, these changes didn’t lead to a drop in the number of new plays being presented, but, over time, the reverse.
Over the last couple of decades, things have become more complicated. Encouraged by the Arts Council, expanding literary departments came up with schemes to develop young playwrights in particular, including seed money schemes, attachments, mentoring, readings, workshops and scratch productions of various kinds. There is a growing number and variety of co-written plays, and playwrights are increasingly working outside theatres in the community and in schools.
None of these forms of development fitted within the existing agreements, and playwrights found some aspects of them irksome and even exploitative. On the other hand, these schemes were designed in good faith and led to many more new plays being done, particularly over the past 10 years (during which the number of new plays presented in the building-based subsidised theatre has more than doubled).
In order that playwrights can get their plays on, but also get the best deal for their work, the Writers’ Guild has collaborated with the Antelopes playwrights’ group to produce two sets of guidelines: Agreements and Contracts outlines the current agreements the Guild has with theatres in (we hope) comprehensible language. Engaging with Theatres describes the various schemes to develop writers and their work which lie outside our current agreements, with examples of best (and worst) practice and guidelines for playwrights and theatres to follow.
The idea of these booklets is to inform and arm playwrights and their agents, and also to help theatres and companies to get the best out of playwrights. As we seek to preserve and improve our agreements, we hope that theatres will endorse and implement our recommended guidelines.
Please let us know of your experiences of the theatre- playwright relationship – where it goes right and where it goes wrong. We are also keen to hear how our agreements and guidelines work, and how they might be improved.
Since our first agreements were negotiated, the number of working playwrights has expanded hugely. Good agreements, contracts and guidelines are vital to keep new work at the core of the British theatre.
David Edgar is President of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain
Jayne Kirkham reports from the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton
Brighton is supposed to be a sunny, rather hedonistic place isn’t it? Not sure that’s how I would describe the Lib-Dem conference there this week. The weather was cold, wet and blustery and, given the furore about Nick Clegg’s apology and their position in the polls, you might think that would describe the conference too. But, while politicians are always full of wind, everything was rather… fuggy: warm and soporific with any genuine angst or anger covered in a blanket of goodwill.
It is of course a gathering of the clan and, Lib-Dems are no different to the other parties in the midst of a storm: smiling while holding their skirts down firmly lest the wind woofs up and shows us their pants.
So do I have anything new to report? Anything that you couldn’t read in the main papers or hear on TV? Quite possibly I do. Because my agenda was not that of the main press nor of the Lib-Dems. I went as a writer. And a children’s writer at that – someone who believes children deserve the best we can give them. So I went looking to hear from ministers and spokespeople for Education, Culture, Media and Sport about their policies on art, media, children’s art and media, art in education, education, soft education, hard education (beginning to sound like toffees), the creative industries, intellectual property rights…
I didn’t hear very much. On some subjects I was the one doing the telling: about how the new English Baccalaureate will affect the teaching of and children’s access to theatre, music and art; how British children’s TV is the best in the world, yet crippled by an un-level international playing field; how so little public arts funding is spent on children.
What was very satisfying was that they were listening. Now, of course, the important bit is the follow up – will those meetings I had really result in questions at Prime Minister’s Question Time? Have I really found new advocates that will do rather than just say? Will we see changes to policy regarding arts in schools or the funding of children’s arts? In his speech, David Laws, the Minister of State for Schools (pictured above), said ‘A good education is the cornerstone of a liberal society. A good education for all is the cornerstone of the society our party wants to create. My job is to deliver just that.’
My job then is to not let him forget it.
Jayne Kirkham is Chair of the Writers’ Guild Children’s Committee
Darren Rapier talks to Howard Read about stand-up, the differences between writing comedy for adults and children, and creating Little Howard - an animated alter ego.
Also available as a podcast on iTunes, or via the Writers' Guild app for iPhone and iPad.
By Nick Yapp
Eva Figes, who died last month, grew up the hard way. She was born in Berlin in April 1932, just six months before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. During the Nazi persecution Eva’s father was arrested and spent some time in Dachau concentration camp before being inexplicably released. Eva, her sister and her parents escaped from Germany in 1939 and came to live in Britain. Fear gave way to bewilderment, but in 1953 Eva left Queen Mary College, University of London with a good degree, and with the determination to become a writer. As such, she became internationally famous, writing both prize-winning and experimental novels, literary criticism and polemics, of which the most famous is Patriarchal Attitudes: Women In Society, published in 1970.
Stubborn, outspoken, passionate and deeply concerned for the welfare and standing of writers in society, Eva became a member of the Guild as soon as book writers became eligible to join, in 1974. Two years later, she and Tim Jeal, both newcomers to the Authors’ Committee (forerunner the Books Committee of the Guild), worked together to draw up a draft Minimum Terms Agreement (MTA) between writers and publishers. It was a mammoth task, combing through an immense pile of existing publishers’ contracts to select and collate the best practicable terms. Then came the struggle to persuade publishers to accept the MTA. The draft was mailed to 50 leading publishing houses. Almost without exception, publishers dismissed the idea that there was any need to depart from the old system of gentlemanly exploitation of writers. Eventually, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson, Managing Director of Hamish Hamilton, entered into voluntary negotiations with the Guild, and the first MTA was signed in July 1977. Sinclair-Stevenson’s brave initiative may well have been influenced by the fact that three of his leading writers at the time – Brigid Brophy, Maureen Duffy and Elizabeth Jane Howard – were all members of the Guild’s Authors’ Committee.