How can we support playwrights better, whatever their age? 

Convener(s): Tom Latter 

Participants: John Myatt, James Hadley, Laura Macdougall


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

  • a writer’s perspective: there’s plenty of support early on with first plays, second plays, scratch work, but not for ongoing support. Often a writer’s 5 th play or later is their best, and their work gets much better, but the response from venues, producers etc… is colder if they’ve not followed that writer since their early work. John stopped writing for a few years as a result of this.
  • the response to this: as well as working on the play, ask clear questions like ‘what audience are you writing for?’ Building momentum is as much about knowing where the audience is for your work as it is about developing craft, technique, new ideas etc…
  • what resources are out there to support writers both dramaturgically and with practical advice on how to find audiences, what venues/funders/programmers may be interested in your work? Can a group or company provide this “lynch-pin” service, a kind of combination of new writing theatre company and writer’s agency?
  • There was a general feeling that the dramaturgical culture of British theatre is poor.
  • A funder’s perspective: funders of new writing invest in the ‘whole’ not just the script. i.e. the writer’s awareness of their audience, their approach to themselves, the commercial viability and so on.
  • A literary perspective: literary managers first think about potential audience, whereas writers are often only concerned with the a response about the innate quality of their writing (structure, dialogue etc…). This leads to writers and readers having different focuses and languages. It should be the responsibility of the writer to consider more than just their own writing.
  • A theatre company perspective: how to set up an approach that lives up to the ideals of being fair to writers (eg reasonable turnaround time for reports), supporting their work positively, developing an artistic output and identity etc and the practicalities of managing the workload? Paid script-reading services are frowned upon, and open to accusation of exploiting writers.
  • Responses to this included: set your criteria clearly, so that scripts that don’t meet it take up less time; commit to principle of blind reading; plan carefully how much time/money you can afford to commit to this without promise of immediate return; always have the potential audience at the forefront of your thinking.
  • A writer’s question: who actually reads the scripts? They are anonymous voices. ‘Who is giving the feedback’ is a legitimate concern of a writer, and could there be better conversations between readers and writers?
  • How do you get script-reading work? The number of places that do scriptreading of unsolicited scripts is dwindling.