I highly recommend Alex Chisholm’s excellent article on new writing in Exeunt. She makes interesting and vital points about the danger of theatres’ attempts to help writers develop their scripts, as originality is squeezed out by homogenous received wisdom about what a good play should be.
She also, very pertinently for me, laments what she sees as a false opposition between ‘new writing’ and ‘new work’. However, I don’t see the two as opposites. I think ‘new work’ is a revision of the term ‘new writing’ which doesn’t exclude plays which have a writer or script at their centre but which can include theatre which doesn’t or theatre which is impossible to read because text is combined with movement/dance/music/puppetry/multimedia (you name it) in a way which makes the idea of a written ‘script’ impossible.
I make new work for theatre and so have more in common with playwrights writing new plays than most other people in my industry. But I feel dismayed when I see that a theatre has a New Writing Department because my creative process has little to do with writing anything down. I don’t have a script I can send them, I can’t attend a writers workshop to develop my ideas and, as a result, it can feel like I am being shut out.
Perhaps this is just semantics. But, as it happens, only yesterday I read the introduction to the Traverse Theatre’s Edinburgh Fringe season brochure, written by newly appointed Artistic Director Orla O’Loughlin. She writes,
“We are proud to place the writer at the heart of this fantastic Festival programme… Performance is stripped back this year as the words take centre stage”
In fact, it’s an exciting programme, broader than this might suggest. But one can’t help but feel that O’Loughlin is planting her flag in the ground and sending a clear message about what kind of work she wants to programme and what she does not.
There are also examples of funding opportunities which hype themselves as ‘supporting the best emerging theatrical talent’ but which require scripts to be sent in as part of the application. I feel this is like claiming to support the best young painters but actually only supporting painters who paint with the colour red.
In her article, Alex Chisholm rightly points out that the best theatres already blur the lines between new work and new writing. I encourage all venues to keep blurring them and to consider whether they need to stop talking about new writing and start talking about new work to make this happen.
Posted by David Ralfe
Alex replied on Twitter to say:
@let_slip glad you enjoyed it. We had good discussion here in #writingtheseason about whether changing language would make a difference…. more theatres seem willing to take broader view of what is new writing & new work. & intersection is where exciting much work is