Moving the centre – Whoop’n’Wail guest post

Photo of Ali and Debs in discussion

Ali and Debs in discussion

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… is a new writing showcase with a difference. With six short pieces by both male and female playwrights, all must pass the Bechdel Test, ensuring the female characters’ contribution is significant to the plot. Inspired by Alison Bechdel’s now famous 1987 comic strip, The Rule, the test has become the benchmark for gauging fair gender representation on stage and screen and is, Whoop ‘n’ Wail believe, the lowest bar.

As guest contributors, Whoop ‘n’ Wail founders Ali Kemp and Deborah Klayman tell 17Percent about the drive behind the showcase and their plans for their next night, Represents… Desire.

We have been writing together as Whoop ‘n’ Wail since 2011, and one of our passions has always been creating exciting, entertaining theatre populated with significant (and interesting) female characters. This may be born out of our mutual frustration as actresses – frequently auditioning for parts called ‘mum’, ‘sister’, ‘girl’, or ‘whore’! In these scenarios there was always a named male character these women revolved around, and it made us wonder where all the real women were in these stories?

It became apparent that this frustration was shared by most of our creative colleagues, and not just by the women. Both male and female actors, writers and directors expressed their frustration at the paucity of significant characters for their female friends, colleagues and loved ones to play, yet found themselves at a loss when it came to changing the status quo. We began to ask ourselves, what could we do to redress the balance?

Discovered in a cultural theory class at university, the concept of the absent centre truly hit home. White, straight men are the norm and do not need to be described as – in the absence of a description to the contrary – those traits are presumed automatically. All characters that do not fit that mould are ‘other’ – therefore women, LGBT, non-white and older characters become secondary to the male role at the centre. This is not just reflected in drama, these are the stories our societies are built on, and that both men and women respond to.

Because of this, we believe it is important that all of us – male and female writers – are part of challenging this concept by addressing our own assumptions. We need to actively work to tell the ‘other’ stories, about significant characters who are not the absent centre. If we look back through history there have been women working in all spheres of society, as there are non-white, LGBT and older figures of import. All women are not the same, and don’t participate in society in a uniform way. They say behind every great man is a great woman – so let’s hear about it! Let’s make theatre that includes and examines these characters, putting them at the centre without excluding the men that they existed and interacted with.

Whoop ‘n’ Wail’s response to this is Represents…: a showcase with an even number of male and female playwrights on the bill, and an even number of male and female directors taking them from page to stage. Each of the pieces passes the Bechdel Test: they have at least two named female characters, who, at some point talk, to each other about something other than a man.

Produced in association with 17Percent, our debut showcase,Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents…The Launch was a sell-out success. This time we took open submissions and, as a jumping off point for writers, set the theme of Desire.  Having received 70 pieces from Canada to New Zealand – as well as home-grown talent – six plays have now been selected and our directors have been busy working with their writers, casting, and getting rehearsals underway. We are delighted to have been invited back to Waterloo East Theatre for our second showcase in February – another fantastic opportunity to bring innovative, entertaining plays to a wonderful central London venue, and with so many talented people involved in its creation. Tickets are on sale now so don’t miss out!

Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… Desire

Waterloo East Theatre, London, SE1 8TG
Friday 6 – Saturday 7 February 2015, 7.30pm
Tickets on sale now: £10 in advance (£12 on the door)
Box office: 020 7928 0060 / www.waterlooeast.co.uk

 

Posted in 17percenters, event, Launch event, news, Opportunities, plays to see, Women playwrights, women writers | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Free playwriting course for Medway-based young women

Tell your stories – get your work performed!

Medway-based playwright Sarah Hehir is running a free drama writing course for young women aged 16-21 in Kent – The id Project. If you are interested or know a young women who might be, please email Sarah. The course starts in February, and will take place in Medway.

Find out more on Facebook – The id Project.

Flier for the id Project

The id Project

Posted in course, Medway | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Lucy Kerbel interview

Lucy Kerbel photo

Lucy Kerbel

Lucy Kerbel is the Director of Tonic Theatre and an award-winning theatre director. She also researched and wrote 100 Great Plays for Women, an inspiring guide to plays with great roles in them for women. Hannah Roe spoke to her.

You have to try to keep hold of what you want to make work about and the way you want to do it. Keep in mind what matters to you and why you are the person to tell this story. It’s very easy to become what other people think you should become.”

In December, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Lucy Kerbel. The acclaimed writer of 100 Great Plays for Women and director of Tonic Theatre had an incredible year in 2014, and I caught up with her at the National Theatre Studio to chat to her about her work and her hopes for 2015.

Let’s start off by talking a bit about your creative background in directing and how that progressed into creating Tonic…

I became interested in being a director when I was at college doing a BTEC in Technical Theatre. I started off wanting to be a costume designer because I’d been interested in art and drama at school but I knew I didn’t want to act, so I thought costume-designing would be a logical combination of the two. I was also really interested in stage management; I’d been in the rehearsal room as a stage manager at college, watching the acting students work with their director and that was when I realised that directing was actually what I wanted to do. I went on to do a drama degree and spent the whole of that time trying to get experience working in theatre. I taught myself to direct by doing lot of youth theatre directing, and youth theatre’s brilliant if you want to work out how to direct because you get big casts, quite often you get big stages, and you’re given a bit of a licence to do what you want. When I came out of university, I went to the Young Vic part-time for a year as an administrator and around that, I was directing little pieces for festivals and fringe venues. Then I got a big break when I was 22 and went to the National Theatre Studio for a year as a Resident Director. It was an amazing year and it’s a hugely inspirational building because there’s always different groups of artists coming in and out; you can watch them rehearse, sit in on their workshops and I would be given play readings to direct. I was told to take a rehearsal room and some actors and just play for a week! So I had a whole year of that before going into freelance and doing some staff directing at the NT where I assisted Katie Mitchell for a while.

Then after a few of years as a jobbing director, I became increasingly interested in this question of why women still weren’t as well-represented as men. I’d been working in the industry for a while at this point and was aware of the lack of women onstage and in key creative roles, but I thought that was just how it was. I looked at the places I was working and in certain areas there would be lots of women, such as in the stage management teams. But when I looked at the casts I was working with, they were nearly always predominantly male. I had a bit of an epiphany moment when I went to Sweden because I was about to direct the English language premiere of a Swedish play. I went over there and realised that they were just miles and miles ahead of us here, so around 2010 I decided to set up Tonic because I was aware that there wasn’t anything really that was supporting theatre organisations to move forward in terms of gender equality. I got really interested in who holds the power in the industry and actually who could make a big difference. So I began thinking that if we could get the really influential theatres to recognise the clear creative benefits in making this shift towards having more women in their workplaces, then progress could really be made.

Why do you think there is a gender bias towards men in the theatre industry?

Some people just don’t think women’s stories are as interesting; they don’t think they’re as valuable as men’s. Whilst I haven’t come across many misogynistic monsters in my time, I have come across an awful lot of people, probably myself included, who have just grown up in a culture where we’ve all been brought up to think and act and do in certain ways. And often until someone points out to you that maybe there’s a different, better, more productive way to think or do or make, then actually you just stay in those patterns. So I do think a lot of it comes down to the fact that we have an industry that is structured in a certain way and that structure was created at a time when women weren’t in the workplace in the way that they should be, want to be and can be now. So I think we’re dealing with a lot of shadows of the past and it’s about breaking away from that and doing things differently.

You’ve had a pretty great year in terms of the fallout from your book, 100 Great Plays for Women, and also Tonic’s Advance programme. Starting with the book, what sort of research went into creating your list and how did you choose your 100?

Well it wasn’t particularly scientific in that I basically just read any play I could get my hands on that had more women in the cast than men. There were a couple of conditions I set for myself; the first was that the plays had to be published. The book is intended to be a reference tools for theatres, schools, drama groups and societies so the plays all needed to be accessible. That, in itself, was problematic because what emerged was that there is a huge wealth of writing by women which hasn’t been published. In particular periods, there’s been these bursts of energy of writing by women, and those works made it to the stage but they weren’t always published. The second condition I set myself was that they had to be in English, either originally or in translation. But beyond that, anything was fair game and I just read everything I could. There’s a big script library at the National where the walls are lined with scripts so I worked my way through the vast majority of those. I used the British Library, libraries in drama schools, second-hand bookshops. I was living in New York for a while so I spent a lot of time in their Performing Arts Library, which was good because it introduced me to writers that are not as well-known here but are really top playwrights there.

I knew that the book was going to feature 100 plays and that it was going to be a subjective list; I never claim that it’s a “top 100”. And across the 100, I wanted there to be a real range – plays for big casts and big stages, two-handed plays for small pub theatres, different styles, genres, subject matters, women of different ages, etc. A lot of people asked me if the plays were all set in kitchens – some of them are but there are also plays in there about science, war, religion, love, technology and art. It became clear that in terms of work that’s been published about women, there are key trends that come up again and again. I could have filled the whole book with plays about marriage and childbearing, and there are absolutely plays in there about those things because they’re the two things that have characterised women’s lives for so long. It was by chance that when I drew the list together, it was made up of half male playwrights and half female, which wasn’t really something I was aiming for but really liked because it’s important that men feel they can write about women. We did some interesting research as part of Advance where we looked at every new play that was premiered in twelve London theatres in 2013. Findings showed that female playwrights wrote for roughly half-and-half male and female casts, whereas male playwrights would write two thirds male and one third female which shows there’s work to be done there.

That links us nicely into the Advance programme… For anyone that doesn’t know about it, could you explain the purpose of Advance and what it entailed?

So Tonic approached a range of artistic directors of leading theatres around England and asked them if they would like to take part in a six-month programme with us where we would work with them to explore how their organisation could work more effectively for female theatre artists. We brought together a cohort of eleven theatres (Royal Shakespeare Company, the Tricycle, Young Vic, Sheffield Theatres, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Pentabus, Headlong, Almeida Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, English Touring Theatre and the Gate) and we asked them to each write a question that they wanted to answer over the six months. For instance, Headlong asked ‘does our current commission model suit men better than women and if so, what can we do about it?’ So we worked with each of those eleven theatres; we conducted a whole load of research for them, we worked with them to explore how they think within their organisations, how they communicate, how they make decisions, how they commission and program work – so it was about them reflecting on themselves in addition to looking at the situation for women externally.

Each theatre also had their own line of enquiry they were following depending on their question and we would regularly bring the theatres together so we could keep them connected and ensure they were benefitting from the work being conducted in the other participating theatres. Then we got them to work on an action plan that outlined what they were going to start doing differently. Some of them have already started putting those plans into place and some of them are having different types of internal conversations which will make a real difference, such as them reflecting on the way they commission and their other internal processes. There’s been lots of unexpected outcomes too, like English Touring Theatre were looking at actresses and the experience for actresses touring and how they can improve that, so their action plan was about that part of their company. But then they also got really inspired by the research the Gate were doing into female lighting designers and they’re now running a scheme which supports young female lighting designers, so it’s like the eleven theatres have all rubbed off on one another.

And your hope is that now this will start to filter out into industry-wide change?

Yes, we’ve had a number of theatres who’ve been in touch now that want to know how they can implement similar changes in their organisations. We held a big symposium in September where we shared the findings of the Advance initiative and we invited members of the industry to that. And we’re now having conversations with theatres of all different sizes across the country about how they can augment some of these changes. It feels massively promising and I think it is about trying to achieve that culture shift. For Tonic, it’s now a case of us trying to expand our organisation so that we can work with more theatres and that’s our plan for 2015.

How exciting! And what else is next for you?

I’m in talks with Nick Hern Books who published 100 Great Plays for Women about the possibility of a second book. They approached me about writing something charting the shifts that are happening at the moment in terms of women in theatre because there’s this wave of change occurring. And something I’m really excited about that Tonic are doing in 2015 is Platform. In the summer, we’ll be launching a series of three new scripts which will be published by Nick Hern. They’ll be written specifically for school and youth theatre groups to perform, so they’ll have large and predominantly female casts. We did a big research study a couple of years ago with National Youth Theatre where we looked at what the opportunities are like for girls who participate in youth theatre or any kind of extra-curricular drama. We found that the majority of people who want to be involved are female but when it comes to the scripts they’re working with, most of the parts are male. We also found out that really has an impact on their confidence; instead of a growth in confidence that came from taking part in drama, there was actually a gradual depletion in confidence because, again and again, these young women would audition for the end-of-term play and they wouldn’t be cast or they’d be shoved at the back of a chorus. Meanwhile their male contemporaries were able to climb through the ranks very quickly and were having access to a fantastic range of roles. A lot of the young women we spoke to said they often don’t recognise themselves in the roles that exist in the plays they work on; they feel there’s a lot of outdated stereotypes and they’re very aware that a lot of the time, the female characters aren’t functioning as protagonists. So we’ve got three writers who are just beginning to write those scripts now and they’ll be published in June. Our hope is that two years later, we can then commission another three scripts and another three two years after that and so on.

Tonic is an affiliate company at the National Theatre Studio next year and that’s really brilliant because the studio is a wonderful laboratory space for trying out new ideas. We’ll continue to work with the eleven Advance theatres over the next twelve months to move them forward, turning their action plans into concrete reality. And then hopefully Advance will come back in 2016 with a new cohort of theatres.

Let’s round off with some quick-fire questions…. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to pursue directing or playwriting?

I think that as much as you should listen to the comments and the feedback of other people, you have to try to keep hold of what you want to make work about and the way you want to do it. Keep in mind what matters to you and why you are the person to tell this story. It’s very easy to become what other people think you should become. Also, it’s so important to understand the system. Get into it in whatever capacity you can because I think when you understand the system, you are more likely to get why people aren’t putting your work on if they’re not. I spend a lot of time talking to people who feel a bit like they’re not being invited to the party and that frustrates them. But you almost need to get to a point where you feel like there is no party and then things become a lot easier and happier.

And finally, can you give me a few examples of lesser-known female playwrights whose work you’d really recommend?

Well there’s a whole generation of female playwrights who were writing around the eighties, some of whom we’ve kept hold of and we know about but others who have got a little lost. It was a real pleasure writing the book and being able to pull out some of those names again; plays like Pax by Deborah Levy which is a phenomenal piece of writing. And Louise Page – her play Salonika is fantastic. Someone who I’m a great champion of is an American playwright called Megan Mostyn-Brown. I was lucky enough to direct a reading of a play of hers in New York a few years ago. Only a couple of her plays have been published in the UK; she writes about really ordinary people who work and have ostensibly very normal lives but she just fantastically captures their interior worlds. And then you have writers whose work has just disappeared, maybe because they were writing at a time when women’s work wasn’t respected. Like Githa Sowerby – I always find her story really fascinating. She’s best known now for a play called Rutherford and Son which was staged at the National in the late nineties. She also wrote a play called The Stepmother which is one of the plays in my book; it is remarkable and only had one performance in 1924 at a private theatre club. Everyone thought the script had disappeared; it sat in a cardboard box in the basement of Samuel French’s bookshop in New York and was discovered fortuitously eighty years later. I think, ‘God there must be so many plays like that’, plays that were taken to publishers or theatres and were forgotten because they were about women or by women. The mind boggles about all the amazing work by women that must have been lost in the past. I just hope we enter a more enlightened phase where we make sure that doesn’t happen.

Lucy is the Director of Tonic Theatre and an award-winning theatre director. Having begun her career as Resident Director at the National Theatre Studio and English Touring Theatre, Lucy went on to direct a range of classics, new writing and productions for younger audiences. It was while directing around the UK that Lucy became interested in the question of gender equality in theatre. She recognised that the industry would need better support if it were to achieve greater balance in its workforces and repertoires and so in 2011, with the support of the National Theatre and Royal Opera House’s Step Change scheme, Lucy founded Tonic Theatre to go some way towards achieving this. Today, Tonic is partnering with some of the leading theatres in the UK including the Royal Shakespeare Company, Young Vic, Sheffield Theatres, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Chichester Festival Theatre. Tonic is Affiliate Company at the National Theatre Studio. www.tonictheatre.co.uk

In addition to directing and her work with Tonic, Lucy does consultancy, is a visiting lecturer at Central Saint Martin’s, and works in theatre education. Her first book, 100 Great Plays for Women is published by Nick Hern Books.

Posted in Comment, Interview, director | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Karis Halsall interview

Photo taken during rehearsals for Karis' show, MEGALOPOLITAN.

Photo taken during rehearsals for Karis’ show, MEGALOPOLITAN.

Karis Halsall is a playwright and performance poet.

She is passionate about creating theatre that pushes boundaries and blends the diametric styles of physical theatre and written word, whilst exploring cross art form collaborations.

Her playwriting credits include: Finelines (Hampstead Theatre Startnight, 2010), The Phantom (Rapid Write Response, Theatre 503, 2010), Terror Tales (Drywrite @ Hampstead Theatre, 2010), Do Us Part (For the Heat and Light Company @ the Hampstead, 2010), Rule Brutannia (Nabokov, Present Tense @ The Southwark Playhouse 2010), The Woman who Stops and Talks to Prostitutes (PLAYList @ Theatre503, 2011) and The Killing Moon (Labfest, Theatre503 2011), Bizarre Bazaar (Brunch Plays – Hightide Festival, 2012), HELP ( REDfest – The Old Red Lion, 2013), Times Up! (Bush Theatre Beano, 2013), Little Stitches (BAREtruth Theatre – The Arcola, The Gate, Theatre 503) 2014.

Karis is currently the Literary Associate at new writing powerhouse, Theatre503. She is also Artistic Director of multidisciplinary Theatre Company, Luminary Theatre.  

We’d be really interested to hear about your professional practice as a playwright, poet and performer and how that fits in with your work as a literary associate…

For a long time I kept my performance poetry separate from my practice as more ‘traditional’ – but recently that all changed. I started developing a project called MEGALOPOLITAN  which won the IdeasTap brief to be performed at the VAULT Festival in February.

It blends the traditions of spoken word and theatre to a live electronic soundscape score. I’ll be performing my own playwriting too – which is a first for me!

I’m interested in work that pushes boundaries – and this is an exploration that runs across all of my creative practice and into my work as a Literary Associate.

So many of our contemporaries are experimenting with binary traditions in intriguing and innovative ways, so I gathered a few of them together to create a play at Theatre503 – 503Fusions. (15th, 16th and 17th Jan, 7.45pm)

Do you think working in a literary department has aided your creativity/playwriting (and vice versa)?

Working in a Literary Department has been absolutely invaluable for my development as a playwright. It’s given me a shot of reality and some important perspective on the new writing ecology.

I discovered there’s a lot of sleepless nights before the ‘overnight success’ and ‘first time writer’ is a great marketing term but not necessarily true. Most ‘first time’ writers have been plugging at it for years and although is their first full length four week run, they have loads of experience under their belt.

I also learnt a rejection letter isn’t always a reflection on the work. The reality of the situation is there is so much brilliant new writing and so little funding and even less theatres that accept unsolicited work. This means more competition for less slots.

I think “grit” is a key attribute for success and you have to be steadfast, resilient, be prepared to fail and to keep on developing your craft.

What do you look for in a script?

For me a good play possesses the qualities of tautness and immediacy and intrigue with an urge to do or say something new.

I relish work that unsettles me and challenges me and acts as a mirror – pushing me to question my own world.

I look for a dynamic dialogue by characters I can feel passionately about.

My personal taste is a tendency towards the surreal and an inclination to experiment with form, but I keep my personal taste separate when I read for an institution.

How do you juggle your day job with your own writing?

With difficulty! A day off to me is an absolute luxury.

I have 2 jobs and run my own Theatre Company, Luminary Theatre – so my working weeks tend to run at 6 or 7 days.

But I love it, so I make it work….. I sort of have to because if I wasn’t writing, I’d probably go mad.

As you’re both a playwright and performance poet, do you see a link in the lyric of language between the two?

Definitely! Let’s not forget arguably the greatest playwright of all time wrote predominantly in verse.

I think the rise of naturalism now means writers can’t entertain that lyricism as much as we’d like to because it draws the audience out of the world you’ve created – people don’t tend to talk lyrically or in beautiful metaphors.

But I try to bring lyricism into the plays I write – whether that’s through a poetic narrator or writing a monologue with a strong rhythmic drive.

Bodies can write poetry too – theatre’s a great medium as it allows you to express the beauty of what it means to be human visually.

What has your experience been as a female playwright, and how do you feel about the issue of gender imbalance in theatre?

I classify myself first and foremost as a playwright – as opposed to a ‘female playwright’, because for me, in an ideal world a playwright’s name wouldn’t be prefaced with their gender – and I think there’s a danger of being defined by it if your name is preceded with it.

At Theatre503 to avoid gender bias or assumptions / stereotypes we chose to do all our award reading blind, because we believe strongly that everyone should be judged on their talent alone.

Anecdotally – if someone asked me who had written “And Then Come the Nightjars” by Bea Roberts (one of the Theatre503 Playwriting Award winners) – and I was coming at it from a stereotypically gender-based point of view – because it beautifully expresses the platonic relationship between two male Devon farmers – I’d have probably said it was a male writer. The same in reverse for the stunning “Valhalla”, written by Paul Murphy. So it just goes to show that gender definitions of writing are meaningless.

However I do however think it’s crucial we don’t ignore the gender imbalance in theatre.

I heard that on being asked the question -“Why do we need more women in theatre?” a director responded …. “Because you’re still asking me that question”.

That sums up how I feel about it. Often the worst thing you can do is choose to do nothing at all. We have to acknowledge it and address it head-on to push for progress.

But there’s a lot of other important imbalances that need addressing in theatre too – like racial diversity – we’ve got along way to go before it’s equal.

Do you have any recommendations for plays to see/read?

503Fusions of course!

Any work by the 503Five – Vinay Patel, Chloe Todd Fordham, Ella Carmen Greenhill, NessahMuthy and Brian Mullin, they are truly brilliant talents and I can’t wait to see how they develop.

I believe you can catch Vinay’s brilliant play “True Brits” headlining the VAULT Festival in February.

Finally, my show MEGALOPOLITAN – have a watch of the video on our crowdfunding page for a little more context – any support is greatly appreciated!

Interviewer: Hannah Roe

Posted in Advice, Close_up, Interview, Plays for today by women, plays to see, theatre company, Women playwrights, women writers | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Represents script call out

Whoop’n’Wail’s new showcase Represents… launched in November at Waterloo East Theatre and sold-out. Consisting of six fifteen-minute shorts, each piece of writing must pass the Bechdel Test – they must include at least two named female characters who, at some stage, talk to each other about something other than a man. Inspired by Alison Bechdel’s 1987 comic strip, The Rule, the Bechdel Test has become a common test for gauging fair representation on stage and screen.

The launch featured work by both established and emerging playwrights and directors invited by the curators to kick off the inaugural event. For future nights, each will have an
overarching theme, with pieces selected via an open submission process. Each submission will be read, six pieces selected, and successful writers paired with a director.

Whoop ‘n’ Wail have committed to achieving gender equality on the UK stage by creating a night of entertaining, engaging theatre with all plays having significant roles for women.

For the next showcase, Whoop’n’Wail are looking for 10-minute plays using the subject of desire as  a stimulus. This opportunity is open to male and female playwrights.

The rules…

* Stage plays – either complete short plays or a self-contained extract from a larger work.
* Plays written by individuals or writing teams.
* Plays that pass the Bechdel Test:
There is no limit to the number of characters your play can have, however at least two must be female. We will accept gender-neutral characters, provided a female-female interaction can be achieved through casting.
The qualifying female characters must have names (not ‘wife’, ‘mum’, ‘woman’, etc.)
Two female characters must interact with each other directly about a subject other than men.
This interaction should be significant and have a bearing on the plot.

(NB: Plays do not need to be all-female to achieve this. It is entirely possible to pass the test and have male characters in the play and we welcome submissions that achieve this.)

Submit scripts in Word Format only via email to submissions@whoopnwail.com by the deadline, 17:00 on Friday 2nd January 2015. Submissions sent after the deadline will not be read or considered.

* Attach a character breakdown, including each character’s gender, and a three-line synopsis.

Any queries, please email Whoop’n’Wail.

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Some London plays you could see by female writers

Some interesting new plays by women writers you could go and see if you are in London, over the next few months.

·         3 Winters by Tena Štivičić at the National Theatre (Lyttleton), playing until 3 February. Info.

·         God Bless the Child by Mollie Davies at the Royal Court, playing until 20 December. Info. 

·         Liberian Girl by Diana Nneka Atuona at the Royal Court, playing 7 – 31 January. Info.

·         Islands by Caroline Horton at the Bush Theatre, playing 15 January – 21 February. Info. 

·         Chimera by Deborah Stein and Suli Holum at the Gate Theatre, playing until 20 December. Info.

·         The Chronicles of Kalki by Aditi Brennan Kapil at the Gate Theatre, playing 8 – 31 January. As part of the female-centred Who does she think she is season. Info.

·         Golem by Suzanna Andrade at the Young Vic Theatre, playing until 17 January. Info.

·         The Heresy of Love by Helen Edmundson at Shakespeare’s Globe, playing 31 July – 5 September, public booking opens 9 February, 10am. Info. 

·         Miss Havisham’s Expectations by Di Sherlock at Trafalgar Studios 2, playing until 3 January. Info.

·         Di and Viv and Rose by Amelia Bullmore at the Vaudeville Theatre, playing 22 January – 23 May. Info.

·         Silent Planet by Eve Leigh at the Finborough Theatre, playing until 20 December. Info.

Listing compiled by Hannah Roe. Please email 17PercentEvents if you have any relevant events you’d like us to review or list. 

Posted in plays, Plays for today by women, plays to see, Women playwrights, women writers | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

December newsletter

The 17Percent newsletter has just been published and you can find it here.

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Round-up of playwriting competitions

There are a good number of competitions and opportunities open at the moment, so if you fancy a break from eating turkey, tofurkey or Christmas pudding here are some places you could send your plays.

  • The Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award is an opportunity for an emerging company or individual to create a show either for the Pit Theatre, Barbican or a site-responsive non-traditional show to take place in East London. The winning show will be part of the Barbican Theatre 2016 season. All scales/lengths of productions will be considered. The Award comprises two R&D grants of up to £2,500 each, a production grant of up to £32,000, a project mentor and in-kind support from the Barbican including press, marketing, tech support and admin. Application details are available from the Award’s website. Deadline: 19 December at 5pm.
  • Heavy Weather are accepting submissions for their new-writing night, Lover, as part of the Black Box Festival at the Etcetera Theatre in January. They are looking for four ten-minute long plays with minimal tech requirements and a same-sex relationship at its core. A cast of up to four actors – two female, two male – will perform all of the plays so do take this into consideration. Send your play to heavyweathertheatre@gmail.com before 22 December.
  • Lost Theatre is open to applications for its ‘5 Minute Festival’ which will run from 2– 7 February. They are looking for emerging/newcomer playwrights, poets, spoken word artists, comedians, actor-writers, physical performers, etc. who have something different or interesting to say and are looking to get their work out to a wider audience. Whatever you submit must be less than five minutes in length, have a narrative thread and either the writer, director or cast must be under twenty-seven years old. Each successful applicant must pay a non-refundable fee of £10 to cover costs of the festival and a £50 guarantee cheque must accompany it, but this will be returned when your performance is completed. Deadline: 28 December. For full details of the application, festival process and entry rules, please visit: http://www.losttheatre.co.uk/index.php/whats-on/festivals/five-minute-festival.
  • The East End Literary Salon is a monthly new writing night at Ophelia, Dalston, featuring rehearsed readings and semi-staged performances from emerging playwrights. Texts submitted should be ten to twenty minutes long – can be short plays, extracts or monologues with preferably no more than three actors as the stage is very small. They operate a profit-share model to keep the salons accessible. Please send expressions of interest, queries and submissions to eastendliterartsalon@gmail.com. Deadline: 31 December.
  • The North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, is offering an in-depth residential experience to talented young writers and directors with a genuine commitment to working in the theatre. The TheatreCraft Easter project brings these two vital roles centre-stage, offering them a team of professional actors and highly-experienced mentors to work in a safe and supportive space. The residency will run from 23 March to 4 April and is completely free of charge, including accommodation and all meals. The work created on the residency will be showcased to a public audience at a scratch performance evening at the end of the residency. Places are strictly limited. Writers must submit a maximum of two short scripts/extracts (up to ten pages) to support their application. Deadline: 31 December. Shortlisted applications will be invited to interviews which will take place early in the New Year. If accepted, you will need to complete a rehearsal draft of your script so that it is ready for Easter. For further information and to download the application form, visit: http://www.thenorthwall.com/projects.php?s=theatrecraft.
  • The Sussex Playwrights’ Club’s Constance Cox Playwriting Competition. Submissions must be original new plays from any genre (except musical theatre) lasting seventy-five to one-hundred minutes in length. As this is a competition launched for the eightieth anniversary of the Club, the script must contain the word ‘eighty’ somewhere in the text. All entries should be unproduced, written in English and for the stage with a maximum of seven roles (including any off-stage voices). Monologues will not be accepted. There is a fee attached to enter so each entry must be accompanied by a cheque for £7 made out to The Sussex Playwrights’ Club. There will be three prizes of £280, £180 and £80 with a rehearsed script-in-hand reading for the first-placed play being given as part of the Club’s anniversary celebrations. Send your entry to: The Constance Cox Playwriting Competition (SPC), c/o Mr J. Attwood, 42 Abbey Road, Sompting, West Sussex, BN15 0AB. Deadline: 24 January.
  • Amsterdam-based theatre company, Orange Tea, is accepting rolling submissions of full-length plays for a production in 2015/2016. They are looking for plays sixty to ninety minutes in length for a cast of two to four. Plays should be contemporary and reflect global society. Topics might – but don’t have to – include the environment, social issues, cultural differences or politics. Funny is good but not obligatory. Send your play to submissions@orangeteatheatre.com.

    Listings compiled by Hannah Roe. Please email 17PercentEvents if you have a competition or opportunity we should know about!

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Photos from Politic Man

Some photos from Alison Mead’s script in hand reading of  her new play ‘Politic Man’ at She Writes at Roundabout Nights. Thanks to Marilyn Simpson for the photos.

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Posted in 17percenters, event, plays, Plays for today by women, Roundabout Nights, She Writes, Women playwrights, women writers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Passionate, poetic, political playwright: interview with Sarah Hehir

Sarah Hehir photo

Sarah Hehir

Sarah Hehir is a Medway based poet and playwright whose first radio play, Bang Up, won the BBC Writers Prize in 2013.

For the past two years she has collaborated with Sam Hall, 17Percent’s founder, to write short plays which made up 17Percent’s portmanteau Rochester Litfest productions: in 2013, she wrote the parable-like The Fourth Circle,  and in 2014, Blood Red, a twisted Romeo and Juliet story which is revealed backwards.

Sam caught up with Sarah to find out about the progress of her first full-length stageplay: Child Z. Sarah and Little Pieces of Gold production company have recently successfully raised £4,500 via a Kickstarter campaign to support an Arts Council England application for touring the play next year.

In 2012, Sarah first heard the story of ‘Girl A’ on Woman’s Hour. ‘Girl A’ was one of up to 50 young girls who were groomed by a paedophile ring of nine men in Rochdale. After repeatedly alerting the police, Girl A’s complaints were finally listened to, and the gang were jailed in 2012. But only after a frontline whistle blower, tired of reporting the scandal to the police and managers, and getting nowhere, went to the papers.

Sarah has a link to the area, her first teaching job was in Rochdale, and it struck her that she had worked with a lot of vulnerable young girls of a similar age, so was enraged by the apathy and sloppiness which had failed the girls in the case. Sarah says there was a culture of believing that the young girls were making ‘lifestyle choices’ and ‘voting with their feet’. Although, how was that possible, she asks, when the girls were only 14 and 15?

There was an attitude from police and high up within social services that these usually poor, working class girls, often with behavioural problems and troublesome (or troubling) backgrounds, were just not important, or not a priority target area, in a cash strapped, target driven area where, not long after ‘Baby P’, the focus was on safeguarding very young children.

With the recent Rotherham case echoing the Rochdale one, the play is becoming more topical and important, an indictment of a system which repeats its mistakes over and over again. Sarah says “I worry that small media storms, such as happened after Rochdale, blow over. When it came to the Rotherham scandal, Rochdale was hardly mentioned.”

Sarah’s response was to write Child Z – to expose the issue and ask ‘why’ about the many disturbing aspects of the case.

The playwriting process

After a 15-minute short play written by Sarah, March, was selected to be showcased at Little Pieces of Gold (LPoG), producer Suzette Coon heard about Sarah’s idea and asked her to write a 45-minute play for the LPoG rehearsed reading series, which was performed in November 2013 at The Drayton Arms. As a result of tweeting about it, Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, got in touch and invited Sarah to Rochdale, to talk to him and Sara Rowbotham, the whistle blower social worker, from the Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team. The social worker was interviewed in 2012 at the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation. Sarah also interviewed the father of Girl A.

Child Z, however, is not a straight dramatisation of the facts of this case, but inspired by it, though the factual details do remain close to the true story. She says the original 45-minute play is a very different one to the play now: it has gone through over 20 rewrites, and starts where the first play left off. The challenge has been to make 3D characters of all the individuals portrayed in the case, when it would be easy to portray a stereotype, for example, of an indolent, Fat Cat Council Leader, out of touch with his staff and the situation.

Sarah then watched the Select Committee inquiry, and spent time researching further, then she wrote and rewrote, making the characters and structure of the play suitable for doubling, so it can be performed by just three actors. The play was then given another rehearsed reading at Bread and Roses theatre, where further feedback was given.

The most surprising thing about the play is that although it necessarily covers some very heavy material, “you can’t shy away from acknowledging that these young girls were raped, repeatedly…” that it is also a play with much humour and compassion, and the usual richness and depth of language that Sarah, an accomplished poet, always uses.

Non-traditional structuralist

At this reading, and knowing Sarah’s short plays, another aspect of her writing really struck me – that is, an interest in structure, and in non-traditional, non-linear narrative storytelling.  The play is designed for three actors to play all the roles, with interjections of off-stage sound montages. As structure, is something I am also very interested in, I asked Sarah about this.  “I’m glad you noticed that,” she says, “because I work very hard on it.” After criticisms of the structure of her early pieces, Sarah now consciously does a lot of planning, she also finds that non-traditional structures work better in the context of low budget fringe productions, it gives you the opportunity to ‘think more creatively’. She also enjoys the challenge of limitations and deadlines, in both the plays we collaborated on for the Rochester Literature Festival, there was a series of rules to follow, or elements that had to be included.

Future plans include a play called Zero Down,  for Abla George: a play set in a nursing home, amongst what appear to be health workers. The idea at the play’s core is to ask can life be reduced to a single tweet in our soundbite culture? She is also working on a TV series.

Child Z will have a short run in London, in June 2015, followed by a national tour. Please watch this website for further details.

 

 

 

Posted in 17percenters, Close_up, Inspiring + Interesting, Interview, She Writes, Women playwrights, women writers | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment