Wednesday, November 15, 2006

What are playwriting schemes for?

Today on my other blog I ask What is Theatre FOR? but you could ask the same question about playwriting schemes, and when I came back from holiday I was alerted to the fact that Lyn Gardner has.

Wondering where all the good new playwrights are nowadays, Gardner speculates that they are clogged up in burgeoning playwriting development schemes, which she suspects exist for their own sakes, and to keep personnel in jobs, rather than actually to bring plays to the stage.

Some of the comments on her post endorse my own about theatre script readers in an earlier post here about my attempts to place 'O'Leary's Daughters' with New Writing mainstream theatres. (I hesitate to betray the arrogance of placing myself among the 'good playwrights', but the play has been fringe-produced, twice, and has won prizes, and I'm a pretty established, you might even say veteran radio dramatist). Gardner might have added that the playwrights are stuck in never-to-be-touched slush piles: it was February when I sent the play off, and I'm still waiting to hear back from several of those theatres and know now that I never will. But of the responses I did get back, more than one betrayed the tendency I described earlier to apply naturalistic measures to a non-naturalistic play (and thus to find it lacking), and the rest appear to fulfill Gardner's suspicions. I have been repeatedly told that my 'well-written and engaging script' can't however be put on by a theatre, since the theatre only puts on the plays it 'develops'. Once or twice this has extended to putting my name down on a list for 'the next development programme' (ie to write another, different play, which will, as Gardner says, be molded to the theatre's mission statement).

The most encouraging response was from Suzanne Bell, the Liverpool Everyman's Literary Manager, who I have to say quickly is a great person, but her hands are tied by this system. Again she said that the theatre only puts on the plays it develops, but she said she wanted to keep links with me and invited me to a workshop with Paines Plough and Graeae Theatre Company. But what was this workshop? Oh dear, yes, the Paines Plough and Graeae people were lovely, but it was one of those workshops which I used to do all the time with schoolkids, and then later with WEA adults, you know: get into pairs, each think up a character, swap characters, then write a dialogue using the two characters. Oh... Groan. For godssake, I just want to get my play on a mainstream theatre; it's already wowed audiences, I'm a radio writer going long in the tooth... what am I doing BEING TAUGHT HOW TO WRITE FROM SCRATCH????

A few weeks later I get an email from Paines Plough. Would I send them what I wrote at the workshop? A bit later another: if I've developed this piece since, or written anything else, would I send it, as they are looking for writers for their Wild Lunch series of rehearsed readings. What they are looking for is 30-minute plays. Oh! Well, sounds like an opportunity you can't miss. I sit down and develop my piece into a 30-minute play.

A couple of months later I am informed that unfortunately I am not one of the fourteen writers they have selected to develop their 30-minute plays into 45-minute pieces. Fair enough, but what was I doing being diverted through hoops to no avail, WHEN I JUST WANTED TO GET MY ALREADY WRITTEN PLAY STAGED? This week I am sent the Wild Lunch programme of rehearsed readings. Eight plays, eight writers. Which means that SIX of the fourteen CHOSEN TO DEVELOP THEIR 30-MINUTE PLAYS have been dropped!

Oh please! These lovely, committed and hard-working people aren't to blame, it's the system, but this is playing with writers. This is not taking seriously any concept of writers' individuality or professionalism, just as Gardner laments.

1 comment:

Ben Ellis said...

Thanks for that post. I think that's the best response to Lyn Gardner's piece I've read.

The big problem, as you suggest, seems to be with setting up systems that make playwrights write anything but the theatre they truly envisage writing.

Regards and sympathies, a fellow playwright.