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
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.
Sue McCormick tells the story behind her new play
The basic storyline for No Fat Juliets had its beginnings on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank over 10 years ago but was never realised as other projects kept me too busy to develop it. The commissions I’ve been lucky enough to get since then have been for plays with a specific historical setting so when I decided that it was time to write a contemporary play, I went back to the idea I had for No Fat Juliets - a madcap comedy set in a failing Lakeland hotel, with a love story, a ghost, original songs and a good-humoured sideswipe at the pressure on women to conform to a physical ideal. There are broken hearts, broken limbs, songs, storms and seductions before we are finally served the obligatory happy ending!
As an actor I created the role of Jan in Ladies Day and Ladies Down Under by Amanda Whittington and I wanted NFJ to have the same warm-hearted accessibility that audiences had loved in those plays, with something to think about overlaid with bags of fun and frolics! As always I wanted to write strong roles for women and for the first time, as the lead was drawn in many ways from personal experience, I decided to pitch the project as writer/actor and double my workload!
My First Play: An Anthology of Theatrical Beginnings is published by Nick Hern Books to celebrate 25 years of theatre publishing.
All royalties from the sale of the book are donated to the Theatre Section of the Writers' Guild. To buy a copy with a 25% discount off the cover price of £9.99, go to www.nickhernbooks.co.uk/my-first-play (discount valid until 31 December 2013).
The extracts below are reprinted with kind permission of the authors and Nick Hern Books.
Introduction by Nick Hern
In 2013, the year I’m writing this, the publishing firm I set up in 1988 celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. As a publisher I naturally wanted to publish something special to mark the occasion. Rejecting the idea of a ‘Reader’ consisting of bleeding chunks of plays and books by the various authors on the Nick Hern Books list, I hit instead on the idea of asking pretty well everyone whose plays or books had been regularly published by NHB to write a little piece on ‘My First Play’.
I explained to them that this could be ‘the first play you ever saw, the first play you wrote/acted in/directed, the first one that blew your socks off, the play that made you want to go into the theatre etc., etc.’ And I attached a piece I had just written on the subject by way of proving to myself it could be done – and that it could be fun.
The result was instantaneous. Pieces started coming in that very evening. The first was by Caryl Churchill with a note that read: ‘This is the sort of thing that if I don’t do it at once the time will rush by and I won’t do it at all.’ Then a piece by Ella Hickson, full of the joy of a fascinating discovery. Then Larry Kramer, Stephen Jeffreys and Alexi Kaye Campbell all came through within a day or two. After the trickle came a gratifying flood, the results of which fill this book.
People who were absurdly busy were often the most punctilious – Bruce Norris and Dominic Cooke both sent pieces while opening The Low Road at the Royal Court, Richard Eyre from Chichester where he was opening The Pajama Game, Howard Brenton from Hampstead where he was arresting Ai Weiwei, Joanna Murray-Smith from the opening of her new play at the Sydney Theatre Company, Oliver Ford Davies from the exhaustion of an extended tour of Goodnight Mister Tom, and Polly Teale from mid-rehearsals for Alexi’s Bracken Moor. Tanya Ronder struggled out from under the Table at the National to deliver her piece, while Conor McPherson managed his while attending to the revival of one play, The Weir, and the premiere of another, The Night Alive, both at the Donmar. It wasn’t all theatre, though: Elaine Murphy, six months pregnant, overcame ‘baby brain’ to write a piece, while Chloë Moss delivered hers soon after giving birth. And these are just the stories I heard about. Everyone whose pieces appear here generously put aside pressing obligations to make their contributions, for which I’m humbly grateful.
And what heart-warming, revelatory, hilarious and touching pieces they are – all in all a marvellous birthday present to NHB. I read many of them with eyes misting over at the joyous – yet complex – innocence on display. And it occurred to me that each of them in their way is the story of a love affair…
The Writers' Guild stall at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on 19 Augiust was a great success, with a stream of enquiries from established and emerging playwrights.
The Guild would like to thank Fin Kennedy, Scottish rep Julie Ann Thomason and Daphne Hamilton (pictured from left), as well as Ali Rutherford, for helping to run the stall.
Fin also launched the voting stage of his In Battalions Delphi study at the Fringe.
A Delphi study is a consultation process with experts in their field, in response to a study question. The question in this instance was: "In what ways can theatres, theatre-makers and the Arts Council work together to protect risk-taking on new work and new talent, without creating significant extra expense?";
Fin is urging writers to take part in his online survey on responses to this question. Please note that you have until Friday 20 September to complete the survey.
David James remembers writer Olwen Wymark who died last week
Olwen was extraordinary. Vibrantly alive and present, raffishly glamourous, fiercely intelligent, often maddening, and with great human fragility. She was a real dame (in the American sense) and the full deal.
Olwen loved writing and writers, and one of her greatest passions was championing writing as a viable profession that would pay the bills. On the Theatre Committee, we always spoke of the ‘career playwright’ and their need for support (she had little truck with funding initiatives aimed at the likes of ‘Mrs. Ding-dong’s Bell-ringing School’). Olwen was chair of the Theatre Committee from 1989 through 1999. She worked closely with David Edgar on drawing the Theatre Writers’ Union into the Guild, was tirelessly involved in endless Arts Council dialogs as a member of their now-gone Drama Panel and through meetings with New Writing officer Charles Hart. She deeply mourned – as did all of us on the Theatre Committee -- the losses over a decade ago of ring-fencing for new writing and of blue-sky bursaries, which gave writers the chance to freely explore new ideas and themes. Often together or with others like Neil Duffield, we trawled the regional ACE offices, talking to Drama Officers, some of whom, like Alison Gagen at West Midlands and Ian Tabron in Manchester were cherished allies, and some of whom felt like a total waste of space. But we kept at it. It was a time when regional new writing policy very much depended on the commitment of the officer in place. She was always in a dialog with SOMEBODY.
Olwen’s own writing was very precious to her. Although I can’t speak fully about her writing credits, her most prominent play was certainly Find Me (1977), which is still often a set text on UK school syllabi, and she would glow with pride when receiving a letter from a student, about how the play remained relevant. She approached every project, from the smallest to the biggest (which included a massive – and brilliant – adaptation of Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward, with her old friend Paul Schofield) with equal commitment. She would go to the British Library day after day in her little car to write SOMETHING on a yellow pad in her great, scrawling hand; and – as for all of us – it pained her deeply how difficult it was to actually get something commissioned and produced. I remember a late reading at John Calder’s bookstore (John was another old friend) when she spoke so movingly about how she always struggled with her writing.
The American-born playwright Olwen Wymark, who spent much of her working life in England and was a long-standing member of the Writers' Guild, has died.
Her plays include Find Me, Gymnasium, Loved, Best Friends and Strike Up The Banns. Olwen also wrote for extensively for radio and television.
Olwen was Chair of the Writers' Guild Theatre Committee for many years.