08 January 2013
Posted in Theatre
Richard Pinner reports on the first ever venture supported by the new Writers Foundation (UK)
Photo: Writer Kerry Hood (left) and her director, Sophie Lifschutz
The Theatre Committee of the Writers’ Guild has been considering the possibility of running script development workshops for some years, but each time these discussions seemed to founder. Either it was because we couldn’t readily commit adequate funding or find the right partner, or because we were aware that other writers’ support groups, like Script (in the West Midlands), Theatre Writing Partnership ( in the East Midlands) and North West Playwrights, were already fulfilling this brief. We were also fixed on the idea that there had to be an end-product, the need to direct this process toward some kind of public showcase. Which, in turn, led to concerns as to where the performances could take place, how would they be marketed and for what audience; not to mention whether we could afford to underwrite such an event.
Then a number of elements synchronised to put wind in the sails of this venture. Firstly, I called to mind James Houghton, the director of The O’Neill Playwrights’ Conference, describing with great enthusiasm how this convention, held in Connecticut each summer, was purely a get-together of theatre practitioners; a self-contained community of people focussed on the needs of new work without the pressures and compromises that come with performance. Also, how they deliberately encouraged the discourse of emerging writers with very experienced, accomplished dramatists.
Suddenly, then, this notion gained momentum. And almost immediately we discovered a willing partner in RADA, who, through their Dramaturg, Lloyd Trott, and with the support of their Director, Ed Kemp, had developed a distinguished track record of workshopping new writing. This, in turn, coincided with the availability of a source of funding from The Writers Foundation (UK), which had been set-up by the Guild from overseas forces broadcasting payments, intended for the whole community of writers in the UK to promote writing through 'education, training, competitions, awards and in other ways’. Indeed our project became the first beneficiaries of this fund.
Finally, the critical element to fall into place was the impact of the current financial crisis. It seemed that now, more than ever, with the demise of agencies like Theatre Writing Partnership, and with NW Playwrights under siege, plus the ever-shrinking financial and practical support afforded writers, there was a frustrated demand for this kind of development opportunity.
And as soon as we put out our appeal for the scheme, this need became palpable. Within weeks we were deluged with applications and found ourselves confronted by three, large Royal Mail bags full of over 140 plays to be considered. And our diligent reading committee of Robin Soans, Lisa Evans, Nick Wood, Joe Coelho and Roy Kendall had their work cut out.
So that’s how this first project for Plays of Innocence & Experience came into being and we eventually chose our four writers and their scripts: Kerry Hood (These Stretched-Out Streets), Michael Ross (Hungry Heart), Jan Harris (The Green Crow) and Rob Johnston (In A Land Much Like Ours).
The Writers Foundation (UK) has been set up by the Guild to expand our work in promoting writing including through education, training, competitions and awards
Rob Johnston - 2nd right - and his company