Former Guild President David Edgar has received an Otto Award for political theatre in New York. Named after a Guatemalan poet and revolutionary executed by the authorities in 1968, the Otto Rene Castillo Theatre has been making political theatre for 30 years, alongside educational and performance work for deprived young people.
The theatre’s annual awards have been going since 1998, and past recipients include playwrights Ed Bullins and Ntozake Shange, as well as noted American companies like the Living Theatre, the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Steppenwolf. In addition to David Edgar, this year’s award recipients included playwright Katori Hall, whose The Mountaintop won the 2009 Olivier best play award.
David’s award was presented by Oscar Eustis, artistic director of New York’s Public Theatre, who commissioned and directed the first production of Tony Kushner’s groundbreaking Angels in America.
The latest Writers' Guild Off the Shelf at Black's event
11am-3pm, 2 June Blacks Club, 67 Dean Street, Soho, London
Cost: £30 (payable to Blacks as an after-lunch bill)
Join Julia Lee Dean and Antony Owen to discuss writing war. The day starts at 11am with coffee or tea. After the reading and Q&A, Blacks hosts a two-course lunch with wine. Up to three audience writers are invited to read 10 minutes each of their own work afterwards.
Julia Lee Dean is a novelist, playwright and tutor, and was a member of the Young Writers’ Programme at the Royal Court Theatre in 2003. She has performed as a stand-up comic in London & Edinburgh and has produced three of her own plays for the Camden and Belfast Fringe festivals. Her new novel And I Shall be Healed looks at the emotional and psychological damage of the First World War. Dean is now working on her second novel, The Lost Son of Ambrose Garfield.
Award-winning poet Antony Owen’s first collection of poetry My Father’s Eyes Were Blue was published by The Heaventree Press in 2009. His work often explores the emotional effects of conflict and this was reflected in his second collection The Dreaded Boy (Pighog 2011). His latest work, The year I loved England (Pighog), is a collaboration with Irish poet Joseph Horgan and will be published in July. He was invited to meet Irish President Michael D Higgins in Coventry on his first state visit to England in April in recognition of this Coventy/Cork collaboration. In 2013, Owen had an exhibition of poetry and photography accepted by the curator of the Hiroshima Peace Museum.
To celebrate the life of for Writers' Guild President, Bill Ash, who died last month, we reprint a version of an article he wrote in 1999.
What enables writers in Britain to face the future in a changing world with some confidence? The answer is the continued existence of their own trade union of professional writers which is affiliated to the Trade Union Congress and which enjoys a relationship with writers’ unions in the United States and across the world – the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain.
The Writers’ Guild is not simply a voluntary association of writers in some particular field offering its members advice and encouragement for a nominal subscription fee. It is instead a group of highly committed professional writers of books, plays, film scripts, radio and television programmes willing to work for each others’ good in a closely ordered democratic framework complying with TUC rules, with earnings-related subscriptions, agreed mandates and disciplinary procedures and a regularly elected executive council.
It is the trade union character of the Guild which has empowered it, on behalf of writers of books, stage plays, film scripts, creative radio and television programmes, to negotiate officially with appropriate authorities in establishing minimum terms and acceptable conditions for the sale of all written works. It has also established for the benefit of writers such institutions as Public Lending Right which compensates authors for the loan of their books from public libraries and the Authors’ Licencing and Collecting Society which collects for authors copyright payments for the foreign use of their works.
By Nick Yapp
Bill Ash was a man of great charm and humour, soft-voiced and modest, and rock solid in his integrity. His political beliefs shone through all his extraordinary wartime adventures and through all that he did for the Guild, as a member of the Executive Committee for many years and as joint-chair from 1982 to 1983 and from 1995-1996. All his life, he battled for the causes he so passionately believed in, whether he was fighting against fascism in the 1940s, or against the chairman and governors of the City of Westminster College in the mid-1990s – the latter being responsible the shameful closing of the Soho Theatre after a prolonged and bitter struggle.
Bill was an outstanding champion of the Guild, the trade union that he loved and valued so highly. He was also an inspiring advocate of the causes for which the Guild fought. On the eve of the 2000 Millennium, he described the Writers’ Guild as a 'group of highly committed writers of books, plays, film scripts, radio and television programmes willing to work together for each other’s good'.
Perhaps, at this sad time for all those who worked with Bill, and in this revolutionary time for all writers, it would be appropriate to recall other words that he wrote for the Guild magazine, the Writers’ News, some 20 years ago: 'What enables writers in Britain to face the future in a changing world with some confidence? The continued existence of their own trade union of professional writers.' The message is timeless; the writer was unique.
On a personal note, Bill’s book How to Write Radio Drama is the best book about the craft of writing that I have ever read. It ought to be compulsory reading for every producer and commissioning editor, but I bet it isn’t.
Bill Ash's funeral will take place on Friday 9 May at 11.15am at West London Crematorium, Kensal Rise, London W10 5JS. A commemorative event will be held on Friday 16 May from 5.30pm to 9pm in central London. Further details will be announced later.
Read the Guardian obituary by Guild member Brendan Foley.
Free tickets still available for showcase at Leicester Square Theatre at 2pm next Friday 9th May, to celebrate the ‘best of British’ new writing for the stage.
Drawn from over 220 plays submitted nationwide, the Playwrights' Progress showcase features Imran Yusuf’s Westernization (pictured) and Kate Davidson’s The Ostrich. They are an exciting reflection of this unique script development project, promoted by the Writers’ Guild in partnership with Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and Leicester Square Theatre.
So don’t miss this exclusive Guild promotion at this exciting central London venue. And book for free now via Leicester Square Theatre.
WESTERNIZATION by Imran Yusuf - A married couple in crisis takes a comic journey from East to West. Over one night of metaphysical flight and fantasy, they navigate a world of authority figures, taking in gender politics, gymnastics, green tea and God; they argue, fumble and dance a way through the fundamentals of their relationship. What on earth can they – or any of us - do when the ground beneath their feet is shifting at a rapid pace?
THE OSTRICH by Kate Davidson - Middle-aged banker Teddy gets a shock when he goes home for his mother’s birthday to find that her dementia has significantly deteriorated. With neither of his sisters able to pay for nursing care, Teddy must make the tough choice about whether to put his feisty mother into a home. In this witty and poignant family drama secrets come to light, but does Teddy face up to painful reality or keep digging his head further into the sand?
This showcase will be a staged reading, performed by actors of the highest calibre, largely drawn from Central’s alumni, as the culmination of a whole process of readings and workshops, which have been led by the distinguished directors Gwenda Hughes, Tim Trimingham Lee, Janette Smith & Grainne Byrne. And is the distillation of our eight chosen playwrights and their plays.
The performance will run no later than 5 pm, when the theatre bar will be open for refreshment.
This project is funded by Arts Council England and the Writers’ Foundation (UK) with further financial support from RCSSD & Leicester Square Theatre.
The Writers’ Guild and the BBC have reached agreement on a “loyalty bonus scheme” to ensure that writers on Doctors and other popular long-running series do not suffer swingeing pay cuts later this year.
The problem arose because a former 15% additional payment for iPlayer use and repeats on BBC3 and BBC4 has been ended in favour of generally better arrangements. Under a transitional arrangement, the payment was extended until July this year for Doctors, Casualty and Holby City, but will then disappear.
Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett explains the dilemma: “The trouble with ‘transitional’ arrangements is that they come to an end, and meanwhile it became clear that Doctors writers in particular are unlikely to benefit significantly either from the iPlayer or higher repeat fees on secondary channels.”
The Guild responded by organising a meeting of members and non-members from Doctors and arranged for a writer from the series to address the BBC negotiating forum. Email forums sounded the opinions of those who couldn’t attend and a united position was established. The BBC responded with an offer of new money through a “multi-episode bonus scheme” (MEBS).
It means that any writer who is commissioned to provide at least three episodes over a year will receive a 15% bonus payment on every script delivered in that year.
The Guild and its negotiating partner, the Personal Managers’ Association, pressed for further improvements, but the BBC rejected those suggestions.
Nevertheless, according to Corbett, the new scheme is “a positive development, and a life-saver for some writers whose earnings could have fallen off a cliff. We will monitor this carefully in its first year and will continue to press for a general uplift in the pay of LRS writers, particularly on Doctors, which looks to us like the lowest-paid continuing drama on UK network television.”
The BBC unilaterally offered to extend the scheme to Casualty and Holby City, which was welcomed by the Guild, although as those shows produce fewer episodes each year, a smaller number of writers will benefit. MEBS money is in addition to the Writers Digital Payments money from the use of iPlayer that will soon be coming on stream, and does not buy any further rights – it is a straight bonus.
In a separate development, writers on the Welsh language soap Pobol y Cwm found themselves facing a substantial cut in earnings due to the cancellation of the Sunday omnibus and a cut from five to four episodes per week. As all Pobol y Cwm writers are Guild members, they were able to organise a strong and rapid response. The BBC has offered the Guild significant increases in episode fees and other improvements, and the offer is currently being considered by writers in Wales.
Corbett commented: “We are still in negotiations, but it is already clear that what would have been a huge blow to writers’ earnings will be substantially softened due to the united action of the writers on a 100% union show.”
The collective efforts of the Guild and the Doctors and Pobol y Cwm writers in confronting the BBC with a united front and a coherent, well-argued case have been crucial. Guild Television Committee chair Bill Armstrong says: “There is no reason that this should not work for other shows. The Guild continues its efforts to contact writers who aren’t members, identify their interests and help them to come together, organise and argue their case for better terms and conditions. We welcome any information – from members and non-members – that helps us help you.”