Richard Pinner reports on the Writers' Guild's development scheme
Playwrights (clockwise from top left) Rachael McGill, John McCarthy, Imran Yusuf and Kate Davidson
After an exciting week at the beginning of March, when all eight of our chosen plays were read by a high-calibre company of actors, largely drawn from Central School’s alumni, Playwrights’ Progress really took off in style. And having now completed a successful week of workshops for four of these plays we now look forward to the showcase.
But, firstly, we would like to commend the four pieces selected as 'plays of promise' – Junk by Susan Avery and Sally Grey, Guilt by Julie Bainbridge, The Room Inside by Jimmy Osborne and Ninety Days by Ashok Patel. For these writers the read-through was the event. No doubt both exhilarating and daunting for the authors – as they were observed by a distinguished group of guests, including literary managers, artistic directors and literary agents – in each case the plays proved their mettle. Indeed, the discussions that followed each reading were so animated and engaged they could have continued well after the time allowed for them. Already there has been significant interest and follow-up for some of the playwrights involved, while all the writers were encouraged and stimulated to address re-writes and pursue suggestions made by their guests to improve and refine their scripts.
Meanwhile, Ostrich by Kate Davidson, Stage Irish by John McCarthy, Chickens Don’t Fly by Rachael McGill and Westernization by Imran Yusuf , have just been given their three-day workshop, which was served by a brilliant company of actors, cast by Central’s Martin Wylde - and led by the distinguished directors & mentors Gwenda Hughes, Janette Smith, Grainne Byrne, Tim Trimingham, Lisa Evans & Roy Kendall.
Thumbnail sketches of these plays (see below) reveal the rich diversity of material we explored and provide an appetiser for the forthcoming Showcase, featuring the best work to emerge from the workshops.
This showcase, at Leicester Square Theatre at 2pm on Friday 9 May, culminates the whole project and will be staged in the main theatre, and is open to the public with FREE tickets. We would therefore be delighted if the auditorium was full and for the Guild to be present in force, so please book now and bring your friends!
Rupert Creed on a new community play with a cast of 100
After three years of research, scripting and planning, and three months of intensive rehearsals Dorchester’s 6th Community Play, Drummer Hodge, hits the boards. The play has a cast of 100 local performers, a 20 strong community orchestra, a percussion band, and a set encompassing five separate stages. In this promenade performance you experience the action as it happens around you. You don’t just watch it – you’re in it.
Written and directed by myself, designed by Dawn Allsopp and with music by Tim Laycock, Drummer Hodge is set in Edwardian Dorchester and portrays the town’s involvement with the Boer War. Inspired by Thomas Hardy’s poem the play creates the imaginary back story of the eponymous young Dorset drummer boy who enlists and then dies in the war in South Africa.
The Boer War of 1899-1902 has been overshadowed by the Great War, and in the year we commemorate WW1 it’s fitting to remember some often overlooked facts of British history. In the Boer War we were responsible for the internment and subsequent deaths through illness, malnutrition and disease of over 26000 Boer women and children.
At the time these shocking facts were exposed by the female campaigner Emily Hobhouse, and in Drummer Hodge the play explores the tensions & conflicts between the younger more radically minded women of the town and the established male order.
Drummer Hodge is a play about why we sign up for war, and what happens when the values we subscribe to are exposed as spurious. It portrays what happens to a community when honour collides with shame.
For a writer the opportunity to script a play with 100 characters is a rare privilege indeed, but it does bring challenges. Whose story is it? How many storylines can be told? What links them together? The clue is in the title- a community play should portray a story that engages and conflicts its entire community of characters.
Successful entries selected for Writers' Guild's new development scheme
Having received 213 submissions of plays, from across the whole of the UK, the Playwrights’ Progress team is delighted to announce who the eight successful writers are.
The Plays for Workshop:
- The Ostrich by Kate Davidson
- Stage Irish by John McCarthy
- Chickens Don’t Fly by Rachael McGill
- Westernization by Imran Yusuf
The Plays of Promise:
- Junk by Susan Avery & Sally Grey
- Guilt by Julie Bainbridge
- The Room Inside by Jimmy Osborne
- Ninety Days by Ashok Patel
The overall standard was exceptionally high which is why we would like to recognise the other shortlisted candidates: Hassan Abdulrazzak, Nicola Baldwin, Alison Carr, Neil Edwards, Jason Hall, Danusia Iwaszco, Dan Murphy, Rob Johnston, Neasa O’Callahan, William Stanton, Roberto Trippini, Brian Woolland & Tobias Wright.
The partnership - Writers’ Guild, Royal Central School Of Speech & Drama (RCSSD) and Leicester Square Theatre - will concentrate on the script development side of the process, looking forward to the read-throughs in the week beginning 3 March and the workshops on the 1, 2 & 3 April.
Finally we’d like to put out an invitation for Guild members, to come to the showcase event, which will take place at 2pm on 9 May, Leicester Square Theatre. This exciting culmination to the project will be a reading of the best play or plays to emerge from the workshops - performed by actors of the highest calibre, primarily drawn from Central’s alumni – and it is open to the public and the tickets are free and are available from Leicester Square Theatre, book early to avoid disappointment.
Playwrights' Progress is funded by Arts Council England and the Writers' Foundation (UK), with further financial support from RCSSD & Leicester Square Theatre.
The Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group will today host the launch of expert consultation on ways to protect risk-taking on new work in British theatre
The authors of the influential In Battalions report, examining how government cuts to the Arts Council are affecting new play development in England, have secured a launch event in the Houses of Parliament for their follow-up study, on ways to protect risk-taking on new work for the stage, despite austerity.
The original In Battalions report was published in February 2013 after one its authors, playwright Fin Kennedy, had a chance encounter with UK Culture Minister Ed Vaizey in which Mr Vaizey said that Arts Council cuts were having "no effect". Kennedy's response, a research-led report co-authored with Oxford University doctoral student Helen Campbell Pickford, found theatres across the country cancelling new plays, commissioning fewer writers, and curtailing a whole host of creative research and development such as young writers' groups and education work. It has been downloaded over 24,000 times and had questions tabled in Parliament.
Their follow-up Delphi study, a form of expert consultation, can now be downloaded for free, and will be launched at a meeting in the House of Commons of the Performers' Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group on 29 January, sponsored by the Group's chair Kerry McCarthy MP. The event will be attended by around 70 theatremakers and politicians, including playwrights David Edgar and Dennis Kelly, artistic directors Giles Croft, Kerry Michael and Ramin Gray, the Principal of RADA Edward Kemp, Ben Bradshaw MP – a member of the Culture Select Committee - and Shadow Culture Minister Helen Goodman MP.
The invitation to launch the study in Parliament comes after Culture Minister Ed Vaizey acknowledged in a speech last month that the first report had been an influence on the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. It contained a pledge to hold a consultation on a tax breaks for new plays and regional touring.
Nick Wood explains how he became a writer-actor to perform his latest play
Nick Wood in A Girl With A Book (photo by Alex Esden)
There’s a knock on the dressing room door. I follow James the duty manager up the stairs to the back of the stage. I bend to put my keys down under the second step. Before I can straighten up the house lights are coming down. I take a breath. The pre-set is brought up and I walk on to the stage at Square Chapel Halifax for the first night of the tour of my new play A Girl With A Book.
One third of the way through. The words are coming out in the right order. I haven’t tripped over the scenery. Then I cut the last three words of a paragraph. I’ve lost the rhythm. I’ve no idea what to say next. I suddenly realise sweat breaking out your forehead is not a cliché – I can feel it. I look at the chair where I’ve established Malala is sitting. I walk back to the desk, look at my notebook. Look at the spot where her father stands. I have been silent now for at least an hour and a half. I’m thinking do I say ‘Ladies and Gentlemen I have no idea what happens next’ or just walk off the stage. From nowhere the word Ziauddin comes out of my mouth and we’re off again.
Afterwards I’m complemented how I had the nerve to pause and let my character, the writer, think about the implications of what her father asked Malala to do. On my own I walk it through to see how long it really lasted. Top estimate? Four seconds. Let’s get things into proportion – it’s not coal mining and nobody died, but, at that moment, it did feel pretty scary.
I wrote the play for another actor. I said. But I didn’t really. I would have been happy if we’d found another actor after the showcase at Nottingham Playhouse. I was overjoyed when it was suggested by my director Andrew Breakwell that I do it myself. I knew what I was trying to do from the start. Use the story, not tell it. But I could see the problems. In one try out where I only did an extract I was asked what did I think I, a white, middle aged, male, had to contribute to the debate? I was able to tell my questioner she had almost quoted one of the lines from the play. ‘What have I a white middle class middle aged playwright of no fixed belief living safely in the West got to say on a subject he knows nothing about?’
At the top of the playtext it says: ‘The writer can be played by an actor of any age, gender, or ethnicity.’
I wanted to do it because I wanted to react to this event. The play isn’t ‘about’ Malala. I wanted the disjoint that would come from seeing a middle aged man wrestling with attitudes and prejudices he finds far too near the surface as he researches the event. Tying himself in knots, making a fool of himself, venting his anger at the evils religious differences have brought on the world, wondering how a father could let a daughter run such risks, before arriving at the one quality that undercuts all our fears of the different – empathy.
Writers' Guild General Secretary sceptical about consultation over theatre tax relief
A tax break for theatre was an unexpected component of the so-called 'autumn statement' or mini-budget today (Thursday).
There will be a consultation next year on corporation tax relief for new commercial theatre productions, including touring versions. The Government said the move recognised 'unique value that the theatre sector brings to the UK economy'.
Writers’ Guild general secretary Bernie Corbett commented: 'The coalition government has spent the past three years skinning and gutting Arts Council England, so that all subsidised theatre has had to cope with massive cuts, with the knowledge that there is worse to come. Even Little Orphan Annie would choke on the thought that George Osborne has changed his spots.
'In reality the money that has been taken away from innovative and community-based new writing is to be recycled into big-business theatre, to enable it to compete more ruthlessly with all these awful local reps and studios who have somehow survived (so far). Doubtless it will be eagerly accepted, to the benefit of proprietors and shareholders – at least, until they start to wonder why the supply of great new writing, previously supported by ACE, has begun to dry up.'
If approved the tax breaks will take effect in April 2015 – one month before the next general election.
A librettist is part lyrical poet, part dramatist, says Dic Edwards
The librettist has traditionally been regarded as less important that the composer in the creation of an opera. But in an age of musicals and music theatre, the distinction between these hybrid genres is less clear and the librettist’s work is increasingly seen as the engine driving the project.
As with Rogers and Hammerstein or Lloyd Weber and Rice, equal billing for the librettist seems reasonable. If we can use the Apollonian/Dionysian dichotomy so often invoked by Western aesthetes, the librettist is the Apollonian – the provider of the form, the structure on which the composer, the Dionysian, can practise the ecstasy and exceptions of his creativity.
The librettist is part lyrical poet and part dramatist.
Annual Writers' Guild awards recognise those who support playwrights
Theatre Encouragement awards winners, nominees and guests - Back row(left to right): Bob Shannon, Andrew Curtis, Paul Milton, Mark Shenton Middle row: Gillian Hambleton, Juliet Forster, Mandy Fenton, Bill Hopkinson, Donna Worthington Front row: David James, Pippa Roberts, Anne Hogben
The Theatre Committee of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain presented its annual awards for the encouragement of new writing at a lunch ceremony at the Royal Court Theatre Bar on Friday.
The awards, the brainchild of the playwright Mark Ravenhill, were set up to give Guild members the opportunity to thank those who had given them a particularly positive experience in new writing over the previous year. This also gives the committee and the Guild a welcome opportunity to celebrate, rather than focus solely on members’ problems.
The winners of the ninth annual awards are:
Mandy Fenton, Equal Writes
Nominated by Andrew Curtis
'Mandy Fenton launched Equal Writes earlier this year to help redress the gender imbalance in UK theatre, where for every female role there are two male roles. Deciding that discussion and campaigning alone was no longer enough, Mandy launched a showcase with an open submissions policy. Over 600 writers entered 800 pieces of work, with 12 being selected and performed in March 2013. Of the 12 writers, four were male, including me. Sex was not a barrier in this sense; it was about what we writers, male or female, could offer in terms of writing female roles.
'The whole experience has really helped me develop as a writer. A writer finds out so much in the rehearsal room and during the performance, and I feel my writing was stronger for the experience. Mandy has been fantastically supportive. With her boundless energy and creativity, she has helped me and other writers bring their work to stage, while at the same fulfilling a broader social purpose.'
Submissions for Guild's exciting new development scheme close on 16 December
Update: entries have now closed. The successful entries have now been selected
The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain is inviting emerging and established writers throughout the UK to take part in Playwrights’ Progress, an inspiring new script development project, FREE to the chosen participants with all expenses paid. This is a major promotion run in partnership with Royal Central School of Speech & Drama and Leicester Square Theatre.
The project (open to Guild and non-Guild applicants) will give eight writers the opportunity to progress their career paths. Four will be chosen to attend a three day, intensive workshop to develop their exciting new scripts in progress. The best work from the workshops will be showcased by actors of the highest calibre at Leicester Square Theatre to an audience of invited literary managers, agents, directors and producers. Four other writers will be selected for the ‘potential’ of their draft plays, which will be given a read-through by Central’s alumni, involving invited literary managers etc.
Funded by the Arts Council England and The Writers’ Foundation (UK), this is open to all writers, at any stage of their careers, to enable them to work on their unperformed plays with professional actors, directors & dramaturges of the highest calibre. To apply, candidates should:
- Submit one hard copy plus an electronic copy of a draft of an unpublished, unperformed dramatic piece. Initially this needs to be the first act only (drawn from a full-length script of maximum running time of 2 hours 20 minutes).
A shortlist of contenders will then be drawn up, when full scripts will be requested. So please…
- Submit a brief biography of your experience/career to date, which should include one public/ workshop performance or equivalent publication or broadcast.
- Include a letter of application (max 500 words) giving your reasons for wanting to develop this piece, its potential as a drama and your aspirations for it. Also your contact details plus stamped, addressed envelope for your script to be returned.
The read-through workshops will take place in London the week beginning 3rd March 2014, followed by the three day workshops 1 - 4 April. The public showcasing at Leicester Square Theatre will take place on the 9th May.
Paul Herzberg on the development of his play The Dead Wait, now showing at The Park Theatre in London
I left South Africa in 1976 after returning from the Angolan border as a conscripted soldier. The country was caught in volatile times: Black Consciousness had exploded in the townships, the Portuguese had fled Angola and Soweto was in flames.
The war in which I had been involved, set to continue for another 13 years, was like no other in that it was almost entirely secret. Soldiers were forced to pledge their silence. The apartheid authorities were determined that word did not get out as to what was going on beyond the Namibian border. It was South Africa’s Vietnam.
Long after I left I began a conversation with a man on a British train. He told me of an incident involving his nephew as a young soldier in the border war. While on an Angolan mission his unit had captured a wounded black freedom fighter. The unit commander had it in for the soldier and suspecting their captive might be important, ordered the soldier to carry him on his back until they reached the border for interrogation.
The freedom fighter whispered into the soldier’s ear as they moved through the bush and in the mayhem a bond began to grow. The commander responded to their unlikely friendship with catastrophic results.
This image, ally and foe locked together, haunted me. Using my long absence from the country I found a way to build a play round that anecdote, to connect it to contemporary South Africa. The notion of these two older men — an iron-willed Afrikaans officer and a black freedom fighter doing battle for the soul of this callow white kid — while around them a war is raging, was simply to tantalising to ignore.
Playwright recognised at Writers' Guild Awards for Outstanding Contribution to Writing and Writers.
The award was presented to David Edgar by Lee Hall – here's the text of Lee's speech
It is an enormous privilege to be asked to present this award to David Edgar. Not least because it allows me to acknowledge my personal debt. If there was one reason I became a writer - it was David Edgar.
I first encountered his work when I read one of the early short plays: Ball Boys - in the school library and decided immediately that I had to put it on.
It is a blackly comic tale of two ball boys who plot to assassinate Sven Svenson, a Bjorn Borg - like tennis ace. Not only is it uproariously funny, witheringly sharp in its social satire, it is full of ideas, from thumbnail explications of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach to comic fusilades condensing the insights of the Frankfurt School into machine-gun-fire, coruscating invective.
But unlike so many plays where bravura philosophising are some kind of window dressing. The ideas in the play weren’t just tacked on - they were central to the piece. Here was writing that was as keen to be entertaining as it was to be thoughtful, as keen to be political as it was to use the dialectical nature of theatre to make a problem of easy sloganeering. But most importantly for me it was writing which was effortlessly ‘theatrical’. And it was a huge success in the Tynemouth Sixth Form College Assembly Hall.
So I devoured all the other plays I could find: TeenDreams, Destiny, Mary Barnes, Albie Sachs.
The thing I liked most about them was how taut they were, how vivid they were as pieces of drama, they were proper grown up plays, searingly intelligent, but always poking at political, psychological and ideological contradictions. They were phenomenally diverse: Mary Barnes was an intimate examination of the anti-psychiatry movement, Destiny an Epic about the rise of a fascist Right. But all these plays were concerned with the same thing: how we might transform the world. They were not evasive about the personal or political problems of doing so - and that was why they seemed exemplary. These were fearless, fiercely intelligent, grown up pieces of writing. Thrilling and life changing for me. I knew this is what I wanted to do.
A new script development project from the Writers' Guild, Central School of Speech & Drama and Leicester Square Theatre
The Guild is inviting emerging and established writers in the UK to take part in Playwrights’ Progress, an inspiring script development project, run in partnership with Royal Central School of Speech & Drama (RCSSD) and Leicester Square Theatre. The project (open to both Guild members and non-Guild members) will give eight writers the opportunity to develop their career paths. Four participants will be chosen to attend a three-day, intensive workshop to develop their scripts in progress. The best work from the workshops will be showcased by actors of the highest calibre, at Leicester Theatre to an audience of invited literary managers, directors and producers. Four other writers will be selected for the “potential” of their draft plays, which will be given a read-through by Central’s alumni, again in front of invited literary managers.
Funded by Arts Council England and the Writers’ Foundation (UK), this project has been set up by the Guild to promote writing through education and training. The scheme is open to all writers, at any stage of their careers, to enable them to work on their unperformed plays with professional actors, directors and dramaturges of the highest calibre.
To apply, candidates should:
- Submit one hard copy plus an electronic copy of a draft of an unpublished, unperformed dramatic piece. Initially this needs to be the first act only (drawn from a full-length script of maximum running time of 2 hours 30 minutes). The text should include a cast list, essential production notes plus a resume/ scenario of the whole piece. A shortlist of contenders will then be drawn up and these will be asked to submit their full scripts for the final selection.
- Submit a brief biography of your experience and career to date, which must include at least one production for public performance or equivalent publication.
- Include a letter of application, of no more than 500 words, setting out your reasons for wanting to develop this piece, its potential as a drama and your aspirations for it. Explain why this experience would be valuable in terms of your personal development as a writer. This letter should include all your contact details plus a stamped, addressed envelope if you wish your script to be returned.
The initial read-through workshops will take place in the week beginning 3 March, followed by the three-day workshops on 1-4 April at the Bloomsbury Studios in London. The public showcasing at Leicester Square Theatre will take place in the week beginning 4 May.
Owing to the considerable task of selection, it will not be possible to offer a critique or respond to those candidates who have not been selected. But if you have any questions or need more information, please contact Richard Pinner.
Playwright Nick Wood on the advice he gives to aspiring writers
Whenever there’s a Q and A at a writers’ group I'm talking to, the same questions come up. What’s your routine? Where do the ideas come from? How do I get my work noticed? You try to be realistic, but you remember that once it was you sitting down there, asking the same questions, so you try to be encouraging too. Recently a letter came into the Writers' Guild from a Candidate Member asking for advice on how the Guild might help them get their work noticed and it was my job to reply. Here is what I wrote – which is what I also say at writers' groups.
Dear Candidate Member,
There's no simple answer to your question, at least not the kind of simple answer I wish I could give you and that you would like to hear.
There's nothing I can do, and there's nothing the Guild can do, because that isn’t the Guild’s job, because that isn't how it works, because there aren't any shortcuts. But, there's plenty you can do.
However, it will take persistence and patience and a willingness to accept the knocks and the criticism that will come your way. Be prepared for the disappointment, but if you believe in your work get over it and don't give up.