Notes from a Playwriting Workshop

Kelly Creighton interviewing Jo Zebedee at her latest Book Launch

Yesterday, before attending Jo Zebedee’s latest book launch (which was great by the way, go check out Waters and the Wild!), I was at a free playwriting workshop put on by the Lyric Theatre.

Apparently the workshop was part two in a series, and the next one is at the end of August (keep an eye on the Lyric’s website for more details).

The event was more in the style of a lecture followed by a question and answer session, really. I’m told the previous one was about the nuts and bolts of actually writing and formatting a script, and the next one is from the point of view of a director, but this one was words of wisdom from Stuart Pringle of London’s Bush Theatre.

He says that he often scouts around for new talent at showcases, showings of short plays, and “scratch nights.” I think the take away from that is to try for something small before aiming to get a full-scale play commissioned.

Similarly to traditional book publishing process, there are submission windows and agents that work specifically with/for scriptwriters. There are some theatres and production companies that specifically work with new writing, and producing theatres (that is, theatres that don’t just host plays that have already been made and performed elsewhere) will have literary departments consisting of people who’s sole job it is to read scripts. There are theatres specifically for experimental work, also.

Don’t assume that new writing means young writing. Older writers just starting out should not feel discouraged.

Most plays require private funding, either sourced by the theatre through sponsors or fronted by the playwright’s wealthy fans/family/companions/contacts. The Bush theatre, for context, gets a third of its funding from the box office, a third from the Arts Council, and a third from sponsors, who the writers and directors are encouraged to meet with regularly.

The Royal Court accept submissions year-round and are great at providing feedback. Most other theatres simply don’t have the people power for such things.

There are two main types of commissioning agreement in the UK, but they will vary depending on the theatre. How much creative input a writer will have after their work goes into production and is put in the hands of the director also varies greatly. If you have a play commissioned that doesn’t get produced, the rights should always revert back to the writer. Having an agent can really help with all the finer points of contracts.

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