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Theatre Encouragement Awards 2013
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.'
Juliet Forster, York Theatre Royal
Nominated by Neil Duffield
'Juliet Forster, associate director at York Theatre Royal, has commissioned me to write an adaptation of the EM Forster short story The Machine Stops, which will be staged at York Theatre Royal some time next spring. I’ve worked with and been commissioned by Juliet before and always find her an excellent director on new work. She’s always supportive and her suggestions and criticism are invariably worth listening to and always offered in a positive manner.
'But it’s not just for the encouragement she’s given to my own writing that I would nominate her. Juliet is one of the founders and principal organisers of a wonderful annual event called the Playhouse Project, a festival of new work involving four theatres – York Theatre Royal, Plymouth Theatre Royal, Polka Theatre for Children, and the Coventry Belgrade. Every year each of these theatres commissions a new play to be performed by children aged 8-11. Six primary schools in each city take part and the plays are performed in the respective theatres with professional support at every stage in the process.
'One of the key features of the scheme is a weekend get-together with directors, writers, teachers, and other professionals to read, discuss and work on the new scripts. For any writer, it is a unique and invaluable experience. Over the years, commissioned writers have included: Charles Way, Deborah Gearing, Mike Kenny, Adrian Mitchell, Tanika Gupta, Brendan Murray, Nick Wood, Fraser Grace, Kevin Dyer, and many more. My own play Small Fry was commissioned by Juliet as part of Playhouse Project in 2008 and was runner-up in the Writers’ Guild Best Children’s Play Award the following year. It was published by Aurora Metro Books and has since been performed many times throughout this country and abroad. It’s a rare thing for professional writers to be commissioned to write a play intended to be performed by 8- to 11-year-olds and an incredible experience for all involved. Juliet is the sort of director who doesn’t make a huge shout about the work she does in commissioning and supporting new writing, but, in my opinion, there can be few who could match her.'
Gillian Hambleton, Northumberland Theatre Company
Nominated by Bob Shannon
'Late last year, Gill invited me to submit an idea for a 30-minute play to form part of an evening of new writing (four plays in all). My idea was selected from over 70 submissions. From the writing of the script in January 2013 to the subsequent rehearsals in February and the final tour of rural venues in Northumberland and the borders, I was treated with great generosity and professionalism. The working atmosphere at the company’s base in Alnwick was friendly, welcoming, collaborative and constructive. The dedication to achieving the highest possible standards of performance from the best possible scripts was impressive and heartening.
'The openness and professionalism of the whole company – from director, writing mentor and actors to set designer, stage manager and the company administrators –made the experience enlightening, educative and exhilarating. I find it difficult to imagine what more could have been done – including being picked up at the station, having a bed for the night, or sharing an evening meal – to enhance the experience of writing, developing and then seeing the performance of a new theatrical work.
'What’s more, the buoyant optimism and determination of the Northumberland Theatre Company was remarkable given the fact that their Arts Council funding was completely cut during the last financial round. Gill and the NTC have always placed great emphasis on new writing, and their continuing support for that, despite the financial tsunami they face, is particularly principled and heroic.”
Bill Hopkinson, director and dramaturg
Nominated by Donna Worthington
'Bill has acted as my playwriting mentor for many months and spent much time offering valuable advice and encouragement. He has helped me through my first successful Grants for the Arts application and has worked tirelessly to enable my play to tour this summer, doing research, advising on everything from transport to set and props etc. He also is directing my play, as well as being the dramaturg. With ACE funding and Bill’s help, I am now able to move to a new stage of putting on a professional production. Bill has been instrumental in this process. He has a deep understanding of theatre and has offered much challenge, honesty and strategies forward in terms of my writing and its development.'
Paul Milton, Cheltenham Everyman Writers’ Lab
Nominated by Philippa Roberts
'Paul runs the Cheltenham Everyman Writers’ Lab, which I belong to. He goes to a lot of trouble to get top playwrights and specialists in different aspects of scriptwriting to speak to us. This year, several of us have done the Theatre Centre Skylines Project, and have had talks by David Edgar and Alan Pollock – and we’ve had David Lane teaching us to do adaptations. This weekend six of us have had a free course with Vamos, in Theatre Without Words. (We pay a small subscription for Writers’ Lab at the beginning of the year, and then most of this has been free.) In other sessions actors read our scripts, and they and Paul give us feedback on them. This extends beyond the sessions. Paul will meet us for coffee, and discuss private decisions about our career paths, or any difficulties we encounter in writing specific scripts.
'I know he is deeply discouraged by the lack of funding to Cheltenham Everyman (they had a lottery grant to do up the building, but it was specified that it was only for building work). I think I’m right in saying they receive nothing from the council, so it’s a challenge to put anything on at all in this lovely, newly refurbished, theatre. Every project he tries to do is scaled down and down and down, until there’s almost nothing left of it. In spite of this he keeps a positive attitude, helps us to think round obstacles, and keeps encouraging us in an atmosphere that could very easily make us give up in despair. He thoroughly deserves any award going.'