Saturday, August 19, 2006

Taking brickbats

Sometimes, when you're a writer, you've got to laugh or you'd cry.

Some years ago now, when I was munching on my toast and marmalade, a letter popped through the letterbox: would I like to be a reader of scripts for Contact Theatre? I sprayed marmalade and wet crumbs. Me? I had written one short one-act play, which had not even received a professional production, but a rehearsed reading by North-West Playwrights. I wasn't qualified to judge scripts by people who could well be far more experienced playwrights than me! I turned down the offer.

So I should have expected what happened when I recently sent out my play O'Leary's Daughters to theatres. Now I'm not one to boast (though it seems to be part of the job description nowadays) and it is in order to illustrate the irony of what happened that I tell you that this play has already won two awards and has received two successful fringe productions with full houses and standing ovations, as well as having been chosen by Alan Plater (among others) for an earlier rehearsed reading by the Writers' Guild - successes which I naturally mentioned in my letters.

This week a response comes back from one theatre, a copy of a reader's report. First, I am treated to a long synopsis of the story of the play - I, who wrote the thing and know the story better than anyone. And then, in a much shorter report section, I am told in no uncertain terms that this is not a play yet, only a skeleton of one, that the motives of the characters are 'somewhat suspicious' (by which I think the reader means unconvincing), and that the characters 'would probably make the worst ultra-masochistic trio a world has seen' (which he clearly thinks a bad thing), and that the play 'frankly isn't that much engaging.'

Well, he could be right of course, I won't dismiss the possibility, but you can't help thinking that he never saw my letter and if he had he might have been less certain that I was an incompetent novice. What this illustrates is a lazy, lip-service system for dealing with scripts - the synopsis was clearly meant for the theatre, not me, but was lazily passed on to me anyway - which does no service to writers or readers (I know from my own invitation that readers are paid pennies), but simply shifts the burden of considering scripts away from the theatres, and is based in any case on the assumption that unsolicited scripts to theatres come from would-be playwrights unlikely to produce anything of value.

This lack of commitment over scripts is particularly hard on new writers whose confidence is most in need of nurturing, and it helps to understand what's going on when those cavalier and damning reports come slinging through the letterbox and bring you to your knees.

And not all theatres are the same. I got a lovely response from the Liverpool Everyman, where Suzanne Bell, the fantasic Literary Manager, is working her socks off for new writers and new writing...

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