Hannah Pierce, 27 January 2013


Are Scratch Nights really useful for writers and artists? Or is it just an exploitative

means in which to build company profiles? Make money? Develop relationships with

venues? And yet again, is it okay to ask artists to give up their time for free without a

promise of any future development?


The first thing to clarify is the distinction between different Scratch events. An artist

can decide off their own back to present a new piece of work in an informal setting. A

rehearsed reading, a 20 minute snippet, a chat in a living room with a bottle of wine.

And then there are the curated scratch events that seem to saturate the London fringe

scene at the moment. The one off evenings, the themed Scratch Nights, the

ten-minute play competitions etc etc.

We all agreed that it can be very helpful as an artist to take the initiative to organise an

informal Scratch opportunity for themselves, in which to engage an audience, of 1 or

100 in order to receive feedback in an informal setting. But this is artist led, and I want

to really unpick the ‘curated’ Scratch Nights.

Exposing new work to an audience is exactly that, exposing. It puts artists in a

vulnerable position and the work may not be ready. But then is it also a great

opportunity to take risks. It was mentioned during the session that Jerry Springer The

Opera was developed from a Scratch performance. In the context of high risk theatre,

scratching can therefore be an essential way to test the boundaries AND it is only a

Scratch Night, so it doesn't matter if you go to far! No money will be lost, and you

didn't offend toooooooo many people.

It was raised that Scratch Nights can also be an opportunity to ‘give it a shot’. Do I

even like writing, acting, directing etc?

The way feedback is dealt with appeared to be the most sensitive issue. Some argued

that feedback is not necessary. The ‘too many chefs’ argument. That the audience

response and the writers' own reaction to their piece should be enough to know

whether the idea is any good. Like when a stand-up comedian tests out jokes and only

repeats the ones that got the laughs. Some people in this session were big advocates

for feedback. Written feedback gives audiences a chance to be honest, and perhaps

more articulate. Spoken feedback offers the opportunity for discussion and questions

to be answered. But does the Scratch Night mean that delicate ideas can be crushed

before they've even begun to be explored? A really interesting model for feedback was

discussed. The Liz Lehrman model, where very specific questions are asked in order

to provoke the most useful audience response.

Some said that scratch nights should not be so apologetic. “I'm sorry if this is a bit

shit…and the lighting hasn't be properly designed” A Scratch Night is what it is, and

should be marketed and priced accordingly. Also, if production values are higher than

one chair and a bunch of mis-cast actors holding scripts, it can help the artists gain

confidence and validate their work.

A Scratch Night could be a ‘way in’ to a venue for a writer or a team of artists.

It was suggested that cutting a play in order to fit a remit is a bad idea. It should be the

other way round. Plays shouldn't be cut down in order to fit the ten minutes before the

gong sounds. It should be an opportunity to test out a VERY early idea.

From a venue/company perspective, Scratch Nights are quite ‘in-house’ and it could

be argued that it is not useful for developing audiences.

An idea was suggested that using less appropriate casting is a great opportunity to

listen to the text. A cracking actor can make bad writing, sound good.

We talked about the marketing for Scratch events. Is it good to advertise Scratch

Nights for the general public? Are they not your eventual intended audience after all?

Presenting the work to the general public puts the pressure on too, and this could be


In a world where we are not all fortunate enough to work on a piece of theatre in a

full-time capacity, the excuse to develop an idea and getting it out there by means of a

Scratch Night that someone else has curated, could be useful.

There could be a benefit of Scratching for more than one night, thus giving the artists

more than one chance to play. However the limitations of time, and low production

values can also be very useful for artists to work and hone in on the creativity.

One member of the session said they had developed a play over a 3 week scratch.

This allowed the audience's daily response to really feed into the piece.


So it seems, Scratch Nights are useful. But writers, don't compromise on the full length

piece by cutting/squeezing it into a time/remit. This is back to front. Reductive. It is

useful to explore a snippet of an idea.

Carefully exposed, work can be successfully critiqued. Feedback should be specific,

individual and sensitive. This is the responsibility of the venue/company, the artists

and the audience. Also, ask yourself, why are you doing a scratch?

Venues/companies, is it to discover writers? Is it to find a specific idea you want to

explore? Writers, why do you need an audience in this particular time in your process?

Who do you want to invite? Be careful. Keep expectations low. Writers, your piece will

be staged with a low budget. Audiences, the work will not be polished.

We heard lots of positive experiences about the Tete-a-tete Opera Festival, at the

Riverside Studios.

Support is essential. Communicate and develop relationships amongst artists and

venues/companies in order to gain a mutual understanding about what it is you want.

Trust is key.

We talked of a mutual interest in a laboratory space. This is where companies share a

space and resources, and use each other as audiences from which to feedback to

each other after Scratch events. This would encourage a shared responsibility to

support the work and a safe environment to play.

On the 21st March at Arts Admin - a report is being presented on Scratch nights.

Writers/theatre makers, choose your Scratch Nights carefully. Go and see the Scratch

before you submit your work. Did you like the venue? Did they handle the piece well?

How was the feedback dealt with?

We would like to have an online resource/network for Scratch Nights and new work

generally. Scratches could be opened out to the general public. Feedback from Non

friends, open minded people who have no connection to the artist and the work. Do we

want to develop work that is audience led or artists led?

Artists, discover how you recieve feedback. Learn how to give/receive feedback.

Scratch Night organisers - Look after the artists. Buy them lunch, if you make a bit of

cash on the door!

and finally,

Do not over scratch!

Hannah xx



scratch, test, work in progress