It was a chilly afternoon, the 13th of November 2017, and different from all the rest. I mean I know all afternoons are uniquely dissimilar but this one was particularly so. Bundled in knitwear and warmed by herbal tea, I walked up the steps of the Royal Exchange Theatre, tugged at its large front doors and wove in and out of the growing crowd to the press desk in order to declare myself and my sister, who’d agreed to accompany me, present at the award ceremony for Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.
Before the e-invite arrived in my inbox a few weeks prior I had never heard of the biennial Bruntwood Prize despite it being the UK’s largest playwriting competition for any and all self-proclaimed writers (over the age of 16) to enter unperformed plays anonymously for the chance of winning part of a £40,000 prize. This could very well be because trying my hand at writing a play had never once occurred to me even though seeing theatre productions now feels as normal as watching television shows. But I have to admit, my brain is still jostling with the idea especially after having had the chance to interview a playwright who was shortlisted as well as the overall winner. And if you have also been toying with the notion of one day seeing your work on stage but you are not sure where to begin, this series of writing resources may be of use to you.
One thing that has always baffled me about theatre is its almost unshakable footing in the past. Though the parallels drawn between views and troubles of those living over 100 years ago and the world events today can be both eye-opening and sad, sometimes I would much rather see an entirely new play written by someone of this time. And that is one of the main aims of the Bruntwood Prize: to champion new writing and showcase its importance in theatre. I am not sure there will ever be a time where there will be as many renditions of new theatre productions (from all around the world) on stages near me a year as there are Shakespeare productions in the UK alone, but I am hopeful. After all, 2015 Bruntwood Prize winner Kendall Feaver's winning play 'The Almighty Sometimes' will be performed for the first time at The Royal Exchange this month (9th - 24th Feb 2018) and having attended last year's ceremony, this fact has a whole new meaning to me.
So, who were some of last year’s new voices? Those that attended the event (or watched the ceremony via the livestream) were given a glimpse of the reasons why the plays submitted by Alan McKendrick ('Oh Graveyard, You Can't Hold Me Always'), Archie Maddocks ('A Place for We'), Daniel Foxsmith ('Pumpjack'), Joshua Val Martin ('This is Not America'), Kevin Doyle ('When After all it was You and Me'), Laurie Nunn ('King Brown'), Rebecca Callard ('A Bit of Light'), Sharon Clark ('Plow'), Tim Foley ('Electric Rosary') and Tim X Atack ('Heartworm') made it to the shortlist as an extract of each play was enacted for all to see. They were all really good! A brilliant mix of weird, heartwarming and out-of-the-box thinking. But alas, winners had to be chosen and we soon learnt that Tim X was to become the overall 2017 £16,000 award winner with Laurie Nunn, Sharon Clark and Tim Foley each winning a £8,000 judges award. The award giving did not stop there though as Michael Oglesby (Bruntwood Group founder) decided to give two extra £4,000 prizes due to the high quality of the entries this year; Rebecca and Joshua turned out to be the happy recipients.
Once the ceremony had officially ended and everyone made their way to the bar to kickstart the after party, I quickly made my rounds and ended up chatting with several theatre makers including theatre director, Cheryl Martin and playwrights Joshua Val Martin and Tim X Atack which I found to be both enlightening and encouraging. I was then given a taste of my own medicine and was interviewed about my thoughts on new writing and I can honestly say I have no clue if I was coherent but words at the very least left my mouth so I guess we can call that a success? And although I did not muster up enough courage to wave at the man who helped bring back a certain Doctor into our lives (I'm sorry, did I hear some say, 'Doctor Who?') let alone speak to him about writing and his foray into the world of illustration, I was stood in the same room as him so that alone shows just how far I have come. Who knows, maybe one day he will watch one of my creations being performed and I would get a chance to say, at the very least, hello to him properly.
I am incredibly grateful to have been invited to attend the Bruntwood Prize Award Ceremony and am excited to hear more about the evolution of the plays that made it onto last year's shortlist as well as see Kendall's 'The Almighty Sometimes' at The Royal Exchange next week. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with actors, writers, directors and theatre-goers peeled back a layer of theatre production I had not realised existed and made me ponder a few things:
In what way does theatre play a role in society?
What aspects of theatre still needs a little work?
What does it entail to put a show together and find an audience to perform it for?
Who are the new playwrights out there?
What are they saying and to whom are they speaking to?
All of this is to say: if you are thinking of giving playwriting a go, you may want to consider entering this competition. I'll be rooting for you!