Thursday, December 12, 2013

The cuts continue


After yesterday's minor victory, it's sad to have write with bad news of further cuts affecting small scale theatre companies.

I rarely make personal appeals of this nature, but two theatre companies got in touch with me yesterday with separate sets of bad news. I've worked with both of them this year and can personally vouch for the great work they do. Sadly, as is so often the case, they are both companies making with, for and about young people, and based in areas and among communities where they really are the only provider of these services for miles around. They're also both, in their own ways, quietly innovative in what they do.

The first is Islington Community Theatre, who operate out of offices at Islington Library
and run workshops and stage plays at Hornsey's Platform youth hub. ICT is run by founder Ned Glasier, an old friend from our days working at Almeida Projects together. ICT is a unique operation - a new writing theatre for North London young people, in which its members are not considered 'students', 'young people' or 'kids' but simply 'theatremakers', and are treated as equals to the writers they work with (and they work with many of our best: Alice Birch, Innua Ellams and Phil Porter among others). ICT's theatremakers also devise and perform their own work. Unusually, they offer a genuine ladder of opportunity into the industry - two ICT alumni were recently professional cast members in Clean Break's Billy The Girl, for instance. 

My own connection with ICT is through Goldsmiths. For the past two years ICT have been the training base for Goldsmiths students on the MA Writing for Performance when they have taken my Writing for Specific Audiences module. This year, we worked with ICT's own young writer's group, Speakeasy, an important course they run when most youth theatre offerings tend to be about acting. ICT work closely with Islington schools (some of the toughest in the UK - I know, I've worked in some) to take recommendations of kids who are getting into trouble who might benefit from some extra-curricular arts activities. Funnily enough, they are good as gold when they come to ICT...

Luckily, the whole company isn't under threat - but Speakeasy is. Here's what Ned had to say about a recent adverse funding decision:

"As you might know, for the last 2 years we’ve been running a group for young playwrights aged 14-18 called Speakeasy.  They are an inspiring, extraordinary bunch of young people - from some really challenging backgrounds and with voices you rarely hear in mainstream theatre.

Yesterday we got some really bad news – our regular Speakeasy funder is, at the last minute, no longer able to support the project and we may have to close it down if we can’t find alternative funding, quickly.

I’m absolutely desperate that we keep it going and wondered if you might be able to help with a tiny donation?

If we can find 100 people to give £4 (or anything they can) every month we’ll save Speakeasy.  The kids are already pounding the streets raising money (one has already raised £200) and it would mean so much to them to save it.


Please don’t donate unless you really can, and whether you can or not, the most useful thing you can do is forward this email onto other writers and theatre people with a note about our work and why it’s worth supporting."

I've been a regualr donor of £5 a month to ICT and I've just upped that to £10. Do send something their way if you can.

The second company is Pegasus Theatre in Oxford. They don't need money (well, actually, of course they do) but in this case it is about signing a petition to protest Oxford County Council's proposal to slash their funding by 67%. 

My link with Pegasus is through writing tutor Taryn Storey, who I met through my In Battalions campaign, and who runs their young writers' group. She got me in for some sessions earlier this year and a lovelier, more imaginative group of young people you could not hope to meet. You might associate Oxford with wealth, and while the group there are very different to, say, ICT's members, they are not without their own needs. Pegasus is based in east Oxford, the most deprived part of town, and two of Taryn's group members are on the autistic spectrum - a condition she embraces when teaching them to write plays. And what plays they are! Those two group members in particular have the most fantastic imaginations, and engage with the world in their written work in ways far beyond what they are capable of in person.

Here's what Yasmin Sidhwa, Head of Creative Learning at Pegasus had to say:

"We received news last Friday of proposed cuts to our future funding from Oxfordshire County Council. Pegasus Theatre currently receives £68,266 of funding towards our core programme of work with, by and for young people in the region. The proposed cuts would not take effect until April 2015 but are: a cut of £22,755 in 2015/16 and a further cut of £22,756 in 2016/17. This represents an overall cut of two-thirds, ie. nearly 67% over a two-year period. It would have a devastating and disproportionate impact on our ability to deliver our core programme, especially our work with vulnerable and disadvantaged young people.

This is a proposal, not a final decision. The next stage of the process is that the proposal will be reviewed at a meeting of the council’s Performance Scrutiny Committee on Monday 16th December. I have asked to address this meeting and want to demonstrate there the level of support we enjoy for our work with young people. Here’s how you can help:

  • Sign the e-petition we have set up on the council’s website, asking them to consider a smaller reduction in our funding:
  • If you would like to comment personally on the proposal you can leave comments here on the council’s website.

  • Circulate this email to as many people you can!
  • Do it this week – we need as many responses as possible by the morning of Monday 16th December.
We really appreciate your support on this matter and all of us at Pegasus thank you for making your voice heard."

I hope you can take a moment to support these two fantastic companies in whatever way you can. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Possibly a result

I wasn't able to go to the Performers' Parliamentary Alliance Reception at the Commons this year. (It was at last years' one where I had the conversation with Ed Vaizey which led to In Battalions). But it was held again last night, and several people have told me that Ed Vaizey made a speech in which he specifically named that conversation, and the In Battalions report, as the reason behind the recently-announced consultation on tax breaks for new plays and regional touring announced in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. 

A few people on Twitter had speculated about this, but it's quite a result to have it confirmed. (I'm trying to find a link with reference to Vaizey's mention of it yesterday, without any luck so far. Let me know if you spot one. The main news report about the Autumn Statement from The Stage can be read here.) 

Before we get too excited, we need to remember that it is still just a consultation, and we will need to keep the pressure up for the idea to become a reality. There is also likely to be all sorts of devil in the detail, but even so, I think we can allow ourselves a little moment....

Thank you to everyone who took part in the study, and enabled the campaign to get such a head of steam. Who said political lobbying was pointless? For all the bluster, it looks like they did listen in the end. Maybe they were listening all along? Politicians remain a bit of a mystery to me. But together we really are stronger. 

Let's hope the Delphi study - out next month - makes a similar impact. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On Over-Writing

This is a foreword to a recent booklet published for the Adopt-A-Playwright award. I sit on the panel for this award and for the last two years I have mentored and dramaturged the winner. Regular events are held throughout the year for the scheme's Angels, in which they get sneak previews of the play as it progresses, and get to hang out with the writer, cast, other Angels and, for their sins, me. There's more on the scheme, and this year's winner, Satinder Chohan, here.

Over-writing is something of a curse that can affect all writers, myself included. It is like knotweed at the heart of a play, running its tendrils over the delicate, elegant thoughts contained within it, choking theatricality to death with words, words and more words.
 
It is a little-noticed phenomenon, because usually it is something which takes place behind the scenes, in the early stages of a play's first or second draft. By the time the play reaches an audience, it ought to have been sorted out - though even in professional productions you can still sometimes spot the odd moment.
 
Over-writing can take the form of an over-stuffed plot with too many unlikely or confusing twists and turns, though I would suggest this version tends to affect screenwriting more than playwriting, particularly in TV. In theatre, over-writing is most often characterised by using too many words in a character's dialogue. The give-away is typographical - at a glance you can spot several big chunks of text on a single page. People rarely speak like this in real life; real speech is messy, quickfire and overlapping. While there is a case to be made that theatre is not real life, and can of course be a stylised presentation of reality to make an artistic or philosophical point, writing in big, verbose speeches is rarely a stylistic choice (a notable exception might be the work of Howard Barker, who uses it to send up pomposity, power structures and egotism).
 
Over-writing has several causes. One is a misunderstanding about what the wrighters job is, and I use that spelling advisedly. The etymology of the 'wright' part of 'playwright' is from the verb 'to wring', as in wrought iron. A shipwright wrings a ship from steel, a wheelwright wrings a wheel from wood, and a playwright wrings a play from life - or more specifically, from character actions, which make up the events in most people's lives. Productions are what we wright, not texts - the text is merely a blueprint for that production, like an architect's plans for a house, or like sheet music for a recital.
 
In that sense, the playwright's craft is three-dimensional. We do not write words, like a novelist or a poet. In fact, there is a school of thought that plays are not a branch of literature at all, despite how they might be presented in school. We are wrighting events in time and space, not words on a page. Our craft is theatrical, not literary. But it is easy to forget this when the over-writing imps take control.
 
Another cause is simply lack of experience of the rehearsal room, and what good actors and a smart director can bring to an audience's understanding of the play. Body language, actor positioning, subtext and silence are crucial to our craft. The playwright must consider tempo and pauses as critically as the composer must. In a good actor, a raised eyebrow or a well-timed pause can speak volumes, and more eloquently, comically or heartbreakingly than a speech ever could, however well-written. Cutting away the excessive words gives these moments room to breathe. Playwright David Hare has a saying: "The play is in the air". It's absolutely true. It's the key factor behind Harold Pinter's famous pauses, for example.
 
A third cause is a writer's lack of experience of audiences, and not trusting them to keep up. But audiences are smart - never more so than in the theatre, where they tend to be as highly attuned to the language of drama as regular concert-goers are to the grammar of orchestras. And not only that, but audiences actually like it when information is withheld from them. It makes them sit up, try to work out what is going on, and actually makes them active participants in the drama rather than passive recipients of information. I've already mentioned Harold Pinter, but many of our other most successful playwrights have understood the power of an enigma to entrance - from Caryl Churchill to Martin Crimp, Mark Ravenhill to Dawn King.
 
In literature, Ernest Hemingway famously proved that you could tell a story with six words: "For Sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." I'd say the same is true with plays, and there's an exercise I've developed called Six Word Plays. Here are a couple:

                        A          When?                         A          Leaving.                     
                        B          Soon.                            B          Good.
                        A          Really?                         A          Going.
                        B          Yes.                               B          Go.
                        A          God.                              A          Right.
                        B          Mmm.                          B          Stay.
           
They are arranged into couplets so that each has a beginning, middle and end. They are deliberately sparsely written to give actors and audience an active involvement. I use the exercise as a tool for writers-in-training, from teenagers to postgraduate students. (The joy is that you can write several in a few minutes. Have a go yourself if you like.)
 
Bodies in a space. Active objectives. Beginning, middle, end. You get the idea. I know Satinder won't mind me saying that I'm telling you all this because her own tendency to over-write has been something we have worked hard on between the first and second drafts of Mother India (though the problem is by no means unique to her, or to this play). But we have spent some time cutting away the knotweed, to leave the one essential thought or action at the heart of every moment.  In his fascinating and highly readable book The Crafty Art of Playmaking, playwright Alan Ayckbourn says that with every play he writes, he asks himself how 'elegant' he can make it - in the sense of having no extraneous parts. How economically can the story be told?
 
It's a critical lesson for any dramatist, and Satinder is rising well to the challenge, and picking up skills which I know will transfer to her other work - and which will also allow her to go back to previous plays armed with a new set of tools. The extract you will see tonight is the product of that process, and I hope will contain room for the play itself to breathe, and give an illustration of that golden rule in drama, 'less is more'. 

And on that note, I am going to stop here.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The latest from our Culture Minister Mr Ed Vaizey

I have finally had a response from Culture Minister Ed Vaizey to my last letter of 18 June
My 18 June letter was basically demolishing Vaizey's letter of 18 April (which itself tried to demolish In Battalions). Four months then passed and I chased him up about it on Twitter last week. He said he had responded on 4 July, but for some reason I never received it. 
Anyway, here it is. 
It is a lot more conciliatory than his last one, which is something. I'm inclined to leave it at this ... what do you all think? The Delphi study is ongoing and in a way the campaign has evolved beyond a row with Ed Vaizey. But it sounds like we might at least have made a small imprint on his thinking.
I should also add that I have had no approach from ACE about the meeting Vaizey says in this letter he has suggested. I'm not sure what the point would be now - they know all about this and have been quite supportive. But it would be interesting if anyone thinks otherwise, and that we should go and see them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Dream Collector

East London schools seem to be in my life a lot at the moment. They often are, of course, but after a bit of time away from them in the past 18 months, at the moment several projects seem to be converging to make it feel like my schools work is back with a bang.

Not only is there Schoolwrights, the UK’s first playwrights-in-schools training scheme which I launched this month, but I’m also at the early stages of planning a new Mulberry show for 2014’s Edinburgh Fringe, for which I’ve just had the budget approved. 2014 will be Mulberry’s 50th anniversary, and they want to go back to Edinburgh to celebrate, the first time we will have been since 2009 and The Unravelling, which won us a Scotsman Fringe First.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve got a new schools show about to open, which will be the inaugural show in Mulberry’s new theatre, which I helped to found and which has just been built. It’s not only East London’s newest performing arts space – available for hire - which we’ll be showing off, but a new way of working too.

The Dream Collector
is a 16-hander for a cast of teenagers which I developed across two schools last year, Mulberry and St Paul’s Way Trust School in Bow. Each year, Mulberry and I have sought to evolve the way we work in some way, and this year, for the first time, we decided to try to develop a play across two schools simultaneously. This is part of a broader push to build on Mulberry’s expertise in developing new writing with and for East London’s young people, by bringing in new partners and sharing some of their practice.

However, it quickly became clear in the planning stages of The Dream Collector that ferrying two groups of young actors back and forth each week, to attend developmental sessions with me, was going to prove far too costly and time-consuming.

Then I had an idea. It was far easier for the ideas, rather than the people, to move back and forth. So, I came up with a plan whereby I would hold two after-school sessions per week, one in Mulberry and one in St Paul’s Way. Each week, one group would develop part of the story, then send the ideas, through me, back to the other school, who would develop the next part, then send them back again – and so on. It became a sort of long-distance version of the game Consequences. The two groups of participants never actually met – the first time was at the first draft read through.

The idea I came up with was a while coming into focus, but bears the hallmarks of both groups, and is a true collaboration.

One week in Mulberry, we were doing a session on possible locations for the play, and the girls came up with two unrelated ideas – one a spooky old country house, and the other, a trip to the cinema. In the session at St Paul’s Way, we put these two together, and came up with the idea of a spooky country house, which is discovered to have a disused cinema in the basement. The cast are a group of East London teenagers on a Media Studies school trip; the house belonged to an early black-and-white movie pioneer. Having slipped away from their teachers in the night, the young friends discover the art deco screening room, complete with old-style projector and cans of films. They kick back for a night at the movies... But what do they see on the screen?

For a while, I had absolutely no idea what they would see on the screen. The suggestions

from both groups struggled to get past teen horror movie territory. But then in one session, as so often happens, an informal chat took place after the session itself has finished, in which the final piece of the jigsaw fell into place.

Completely unprompted, the students started telling me about their dreams. They were unlike dreams I had had myself for years – dark, dystopian and shot through with mysterious symbols and cryptic imagery. I remembered having vivid dreams during adolescence, though I had forgotten quite how potent and disturbing they could be. Perhaps it is something to do with the way the brain is developing at this age? But it was extraordinarily rich material for the play. What they would see projected onto that movie screen were their own dreams. The house became that of Charles Somna, and the ‘movie projector’ his legendary invention, the mysterious Somnagraph...

Writing a play for two schools was a particular challenge. Clearly, it required a large cast. But at this time we were also intending to have a mixed cast, drawn from both schools. The logistics of organising this were still challenging, and I realised I would have to structure the play in such a way as to allow considerable chunks of it to be rehearsed separately by the two groups. So, I came up with a core cast of 8 named characters, who exist in the ‘real world’ of the play – modern East London. Each of them also had a shadow double, a group called The Neverborn, who exist only in the dream world, trapped and restless, like ghosts. After circling each other for the first half of the play, these two eventually converge in the dusty old basement cinema...

However, eventually even this proved impractical. How would two teacher-directors work together simultaneously, and how would two groups share the same set? So eventually, it was decided to rehearse up two entirely separate shows. The happy outcome of this was that, at a stroke, twice the amount of young people could be involved (32 in total – and that’s just the onstage cast) effectively halving the cost-per-head of the project for each school.  It also meant that the two teacher-directors could bring their own visions and creativity to bear in full, and that each group could watch one another’s shows, and potentially even write about the two interpretations for their GCSE coursework. It was a happy outcome all round.


In fact, in this model of shared development, though something of an accident at the time, we inadvertently hit upon a new way to R and D new plays at reduced cost. Two schools share the costs of the play commission and workshop time, and both get a large cast play out of it. There are two full productions, two directors, two technical teams, double the parts, double the design possibilities – the whole thing becomes hugely more cost effective. I even began to wonder whether a third school could have been involved...The only down side is that school productions being what they are – time-consuming for both teachers and students – they can only be put on for short runs. Mulberry’s version of The Dream Collector will only have two public performances: on Friday 15 November and Saturday 16 November, both at 6.30pm. Tickets are only £5 each and are available to buy here. I’d love it if you could come along.

But if you can’t - there will be another chance to see St Paul’s Way Trust School’s version of the same play in December. So there are double the chances to catch it too.

There is a page with more about the play on my main website here. I had a sneak preview of a section of the production over the summer, and it’s a real stunner. It’s the same designer, Barbara Fuchs, who we had on The Unravelling and our director Shona Davidson was assistant on that show too – so it is pretty much the same award-winning team, and the same glowingly imaginative aesthetic. It’s undoubtedly the most technically challenging show I’ve ever written for Mulberry, but they have risen to the challenge in an astonishing way.

Any school which can stage dreams gets my vote. I hope you can come along to see what they’ve achieved.

The Dream Collector
plays at the new Mulberry and Bigland Green Centre, Bigland Street, London E1 2ND (nearest tube: Shadwell DLR/mainline) on Friday 15 Nov and Saturday 16 Nov 2013, 6.30pm. Running time 70 mins approx. Tickets are £5/£3 concessions, available here.


----------------------------------------------------------------------

UPDATE 20 NOVEMBER:

The dates for the second production of The Dream Collector, by St Paul's Way Trust School in Bow, have now been announced. They are:

Wednesday 4 Dec, 4.30pm
Thursday 5 Dec, 6.30pm
Friday 6 Dec, 5pm

Running time 1 hour.

Performances take place in the school theatre on the main school site:

Willoughby Theatre
St Paul's Way Trust School
125 St Paul's Way
Bow
London
E3 4FT

Nearest station: Devons Road DLR

Tickets are £3 each (£1 children) and can be reserved to pay for on the door by calling 020 7987 1883.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Schoolwrights: A new playwrights-in-schools training scheme


 

This is a piece I have been meaning to write for some time, but after my exciting Tamasha news, and publishing last week’s keynote speech, I thought I would wait a while so that it gets a bit of its own space.

The first public mention of Schoolwrights was actually in the Tamasha press release about my appointment, but regular readers may recall that it is a scheme I have been working out how to run (and how to pay for) for some time. The background is the long association I have with Mulberry School in East London, stretching back almost ten years now, and taking in seven plays, three Edinburgh premieres, a Fringe First Award, our own London fringe festival and a published play volume.

Each year Mulberry and I have sought to evolve this work in some way, to produce bigger, more ambitious projects, to offer new opportunities to students, and to find new ways for theatre artists to work with them. In 2010, the Specialist Schools and Academies scheme, under which much of this work was financed, was scrapped by the incoming coalition government. So, in 2011, I applied to Tamasha to work as their Associate Artist, in order to continue this work in a new form, and share the costs with a new partner.

The pilot playwrights-in-schools training scheme which we set up together attempted to test out a new model. It went phenomenally well. Even though the scheme was barely able to offer much more than expenses, we had over 60 writers apply for 8 places, proof of the strong demand among playwrights for some sort of managed training around working in schools.  The 8 writers we ended up working with, who included Sabrina Mahfouz, Tim Cowbury, Neela Dolezalova and Amman Brar, each wote touching, funny, quirky and heartbreaking 15-minute plays which Mulberry’s students presented at Soho Theatre in June 2011.

To their immense credit, Tamasha really put their money where their mouth is. After the project was finished, they commissioned me to conduct a feasability study into how the scheme might be extended across the school year and be rolled out to more than one school, and even how it might become an annual programme of managed training with different cohorts of writers each year. I spoke to schools, colleges, new writing companies and playwrights across London, and put together several draft budgets for how the scheme might operate at different scales.

I’ve been very lucky in the partners this idea has inspired. My friend and longtime collaborator Sofie Mason, who runs campaigning listings site www.OffWestEnd.com entirely from private donations, and with whom I set up the Adopt-A-Playwright scheme, offered to back Schoolwrights and help me with fundraising.

Sofie once worked in opera so knows a lot of wealthy people. She specilaises in getting private individuals to donate to the arts. (Adopt-A-Playwright, for example, is run along a Roman or medieval patronage model in which private donors rally round one emerging playwright per year and donate funds to a pot to buy them out of their day job so they can write a first draft).

Sofie introduced me to a former hedge fund manager, Paul Wedge, and took me round to his house to talk more about my idea. This is what I think of as ‘proper’ fundraising! Not an Arts Council form in sight, just you, your idea, and a potential donor sat across the table. It was scary. But I must have done something right because at the end of the evening he pledged £6,000.

That first chunk was absolutely key. With an amount like that in the bank, we were able to go to further trusts and foundations and show that the scheme had some chance of becoming a reailty. Sofie marshalled a few of her contacts and between us we were able to raise further funds from The Writers’ Guild Foundation, the Herbert Smith Trust, and the Mackintosh Foundation. Tamasha also continued to support the scheme by pledging £1,500 of their own.

But towards the start of this year we were still £9,500 short, so I bit the bullet and put in a couple of weeks applying to ACE’s Grants for the Arts. It was the right time to do so – at that point we could show that the majority of the funding had been raised elsewhere but that we could not run the scheme without a top-up. We were successful – I’m proud to say at a time when only 39% of GFA applications are. It’s heartening that ACE are prioritising this sort of socially-proactive theatre-making at a time when R and D for new writing is being cut back in theatre industry. In total, Sofie and I raised £26,000 in two years – a longer wait than we would have liked, but it was worth it.

So what is Schoolwrights? 

Schoolwrights is a professional training scheme which sends playwrights into inner city schools, focusing initially on schools in East London. Playwrights are recruited from within the theatre industry and embark on a managed period of training to equip them with the skills to become writers-in-residence in an urban state school. They will have regular, direct contact with the school’s students, working with them to generate creative ideas for stories, and write a short play (15 minutes) in response. This first phase takes place at Mulberry, which is well-placed to offer itself as a training base for this sort of work. It’s a lovely, supportive school full of friendly, well-behaved kids, in which to cut your teeth if you’re doing this for the first time.

From now until Christmas is Phase One; a discrete term of work at Mulberry which doubles up as a training phase. I train the writers and pass on a whole host of creative exercises I’ve developed over the years, and support them developing creative session plans to generate the ideas they need to write the play for their group.

In January 2014, the writers will start a new residency in a second, nearby school, this time with more autonomy. They will work in pairs to support one another, though each will write their own short play with their own group of students. In total we have six writers who will work across three further schools. Each will deliver a further 15 minute play at the end of this second residency.

After Easter break, we will hopefully have twelve short plays developed across the four schools, each of which has those students’ voices at its heart. Each school will take responsibility for rehearsing these up with their students, in polished productions directed by their teachers. There is money in the budget for a masterclass for teachers with a high profile theatre director, as well as follow-up sessions where the director will observe rehearsals and give the teachers some notes. All the productions will be off-book and there is a small budget for set, costume and props.

The twelve short plays will then embark on a mini-tour in June 2014. Clearly, twelve 15-minute plays is too much for one evening, so we will present them in different combinations; once in each school’s own theatre, then at Rich Mix in Whitechapel who have generously donated their entire upper floor for one whole Saturday so that we can make something of a festival out of presenting all twelve across the day. And finally Soho Theatre have also offered to continue to support us, this time (we hope) on their main stage. (Dates for your diaries: Saturday 21 June 2014 for the Rich Mix performances and Sunday 22 June for Soho).

One of the key principles of Schoolwrights is parity of esteem between the venues and professionals involved. The same plays are presented in East London school theatres, at local professional venue Rich Mix, and at leading new writing theatre Soho. And for the professionals involved, everyone can learn from everyone else: playwrights from experienced Drama teachers, and the teachers from a professional writer and their process. Asking the teachers to direct the productions, rather than bringing in someone external, provides a professional development opportunity which many teachers are eager for, but all too rarely receive due to the pressures of delivering the curriculum. 

I’m thrilled with the calibre of writers we have managed to attract. Since they are all now contracted and confirmed, and have started their sessions at Mulberry, I can exclusively reveal that they are:
  • Alia Bano, acclaimed writers of Shades and winner of the 2011 Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright award.  
  • Rachel Delahay, whose play Routes has just sold out the Royal Court upstairs.
  •  Rex Obano, 2010 Alfred Fagon award shortlisted.  
  • Jane Wainwright, Royal Court Supergroup and BBC Writers Academy member.
  •  Morna Regan, 2012 Irish Times Best Play award winner.  
  • Abi Zakarian, 2009 Soho Theatre attachment scheme, 2012 RSC Writers' Group.
I admit that this year I made personal approaches rather than solicit open applications, just due to the workload that generates. But in years to come I hope to be able to open the scheme up to unsolicited applicants.

I’m also due to have a conversation with my publisher Nick Hern Books around digital publishing. With the twelve plays next year, plus the eight from the pilot scheme, we will potentially have twenty 15-minute plays written with, for and about London’s young people. I have a theory (backed up by every teacher I speak to) that there is a gap in the market for good quality, well-structured plays which can be read from beginning to end within one school lesson – with time to spare to then discuss and analyse them. And schools which might not be able to afford to commission them from scratch may well be able to stretch to a few pounds to download them as a professionally-typeset digital collection. This could potentially be a really happy marriage – quality plays for schools, available nationwide, structured to support teaching and learning, plus a steady trickle of income for writers.

Schoolwrights is a new way of working. It is a manifestation of one possible solution to the problems surrounding new play Research and Development identified in my In Battalions report. One silver lining amidst the gloom is that fewer resouces to go around means we will need to work together more, in particular with community partners. If we can find ways to stretch and develop our artists, which simultaneously benefit members of the community organisations which host them, then we might be onto a winning formula. And what’s more, we’ll make some great theatre together along the way.

Sofie Mason, Tamasha and I have every intention of making Schoolwrights an annual programme; the UK’s first centrally-managed, quality-controlled playwrights-in-schools training. We will need to be very on the ball around fundraising, but I hope that after this first year it will be easier to showcase what we have achieved, and inspire donors accordingly. (If you would like donate to next year’s programme, please get in touch!)

And at some stage, we will need an audience too. I hope to see you among them next June.