Playwriting Top Tips
By Imogen Sarre
This is an extensive resource for new playwrights and any audience members keen to see new writing, whether in its very early stages or its first production. We're keen to keep it as comprehensive and up-to-date as possible, so please do get in touch with us if there's anything you'd like us to add.
In this post we cover:
- Playwriting Top Tips
- Where to send unsolicited scripts
- Developing your work
- Development programmes
- Mentoring scheme for New Playwrights
- New Playwriting Awards and Competitions
- Performances of New Writing
- Playwriting Events & Festivals
- Other New Writing companies and theatres to look out for
1. Playwriting Top Tips:
- Read other new playwrights - both established and not so established - to learn what to do and not to do. If possible, join a script readers' panel for a new writing theatre.
- Read books about playwriting to get great tips about writing dialogue and how to implement a good dramatic structure. The Bush Theatre in London has a superb library in its cafe that - for the very worthwhile price of a cup of tea or bowl of soup - you can peruse at your leisure.
- Put your own work on. Get actors to do readings; approach small Fringe venues to do one-off performances on Sunday afternoons or Monday nights; and, if needs be, set up your own theatre company to ensure you see your work in action.
- Watch lots of plays. You'll hone your own sense of the kind of plays you like, the writers you want to emulate, and what you think works in live performance.
- Go to see work put on in the new writing venues where you want to submit your scripts. The better you understand what they're looking for, the better you can choose where to channel your energy.
- Self-promotion and networking. Although both have terrible connotations, they are crucial. The more people who know about your script-writing ambitions, and the more pro-active you are, the more opportunities that will (seemingly unaccountably) fall in your lap.
- When writing naturalistic pieces, use dialogue to show, not tell.
Exposition exposition exposition.
- Write. Lots. If you have writer's block, try Write Or Die (an app that forces you to write by providing punishing consequences for distraction and procrastination) or, if that seems a little harsh, try Written? Kitten!, which rewards every 100 words with a nice picture of a kitten.
- Think long and hard about what kind of new writing an audience is looking for. Soho Theatre's guidelines are pretty near perfect, so ask yourself these questions:
And, finally, do your research. Into the subject for your play and the type of characters you're writing but also into the different opportunities there are available for you as a budding writer. But hey, guess what, we're helping you out with this last point. Below you can find information on most the major new writing resources around the UK and in London.
- How are you going to move people to laugh, cry, argue, protest, celebrate and act?
- How are you going to make your play resonate in the world today?
- What makes your play inherently theatrical and live?
- Does it take risks? Is it brave and visionary?
2. Where to send unsolicited scripts
London Theatres that accept
Regional Theatres that accept
Touring companies that accept
3. Developing your work
No West End new writing winners (Jerusalem, One Man Two Guvnors, Constellations etc etc) are first drafts of a first play that miraculously arrive on a producer's desk to be pronounced the work of a theatrical genius. Plays - and playwrights - inevitably require development. Theatres run a huge number of events for both the uninitiated and the experienced, many of which are outlined below.
BAC (Battersea Arts Centre) runs...
- Scratch events, which see artists sharing work-in-development with audiences and using their immediate feedback to shape their work.
Theatre 503 runs...
- Rapid Write Response, a monthly event where writers are invited to write and submit short responses to current full-length 503 productions. A number of chosen submissions are then showcased.
The Old Red Lion runs...
- Writers Bloc, an informal community of writers, directors and actors who collaborate together to bring new writing to life in an informal and constructive environment.
National Theatre runs...
- The National Studio, which is a resource for a wide range of artists working in British theatre, providing an environment in which writers and other practitioners can explore, experiment and devise, free from the pressure of public performance.
Royal Court Theatre runs...
- Young Writers Programme, a 12 week Introduction to Playwrighting group for young writers (18-25) that runs three times a year.
Paines Plough, throughout the UK, runs...
- The Big Room, which offers bespoke developmental opportunities to professional playwrights of exceptional talent across the UK.
Sussex Playwrights' Club runs...
- The Sussex Playwrights' Club, which provides opportunities to showcase your play, explore a work-in-progress, or listen to and discuss members' plays, with monthly Sunday meetings.
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool runs...
- Playwright Support, a programme which offers an invaluable network of contacts and access to like-minded people, informing playwrights of up-coming events and opportunities.
- Young Writers Programme, which is a year-long programme working alongside experienced practitioners.
Royal Exchange, Manchester runs...
- Word, which provides writers with a good range of bespoke events and opportunities.
Theatre in the Mill, Bradford runs...
- Participate, an evening where four companies each produce short 10-15 minute performances that respond to one or more of the week's news stories.
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, runs...
Hull Truck Theatre runs...
- A PlayWrite course for aspiring, non-professional writers.
- A Play, a Pie & a Pint, which are monthly Script-In-Hand readings. These allow writers to work with a director and actors for 2-3 days and put the work-in-progress in front of an audience.
- Playwright groups, which are peer-led groups that meet regularly. The aim of each group is to develop each writer's craft, through discussion, debate, reading and workshopping.
Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne, runs...
- Online Short Cuts. The literary department selects a short play each month and publishes it online, inviting readers across the UK and further afield to read the script and offer constructive feedback.
- Online course, which has two leading theatre practitioners teach the art of playwriting, an exclusive video of award-winning writers, and which means you join a community of aspiring playwrights.
- Writers' Group, which supports you through the process of writing a one-act play.
- Introduction to Playwriting, which gives writers a sound understanding of the key elements of playwriting through practical exercises and discussions.
Sherman Cymru Theatre, based in Cardiff and extended across Wales as part of the Spread the Word initiative, runs...
- A Young Writers' Course, which sees playwright Alan Harris nurture and mentor young people aged 15-23 years old, helping them turn their ideas into scripts that are then performed by Sherman Cymru Youth Theatre.
- An Advanced Writers' Programme, where writers on a six month attachment with the theatre are provided with intensive workshops and individual mentoring sessions.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, runs...
- Words, Words, Words, where writers submit work for the stage that's up to ten minutes long. The ten most engaging scripts are presented in a rehearsed reading by professional actors.
Mentoring schemes for New Playwrights:
- Old Vic New Voices' London's Community Company Writers on Attachment: OVNV wants five bold new voices to work closely with its Community Company, developing new scripts with and for them, and working closely with professional writers to learn more about the craft. Application deadline 1 July 2013.
- Theatre 503 Five: this is an 18-month residency with Theatre503, during which the chosen playwrights are offered mentorship, culminating with a first draft submission of a brand new play (at least one of which will be taken to full production).
- Soho Six: six writers are commissioned and in residency for a six month period to work on a new play for the Soho's stage.
New Playwriting Awards and Competitions
- 503 New Writing Award: a new biennial national prize to honour an emerging, unproduced writer, guaranteeing them a production as part of Theatre503's main programme. The next 503 Five will also be chosen from submissions. Deadline is 31st March 2014.
- Soho's Verity Bargate Award: a biennial award.
- Old Vic New Voices' T.S. Eliot Exchange: a twenty-play, two-year long, transatlantic commissioning scheme as part of a future OVNV season of short plays.
- Papatango New Writing Prize: this guarantees its winner a development week with Bristol Old Vic, a four-week run at London's Finborough Theatre, and publication by Nick Hern Books. Deadline is 31st March 2014.
- Bruntwood Prize: the UK's biggest national competition for playwriting.
- The Barry Reckford Bursary: a new playwriting bursary that is open to BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) writers resident in the UK. Beneficiaries receive a cash award, mentoring by a dramaturg, and the opportunity to have their play co-commissioned by Talawa Theatre Company and the Bush Theatre, and published by Oberon Books if produced.
- Adrienne Benham Award: The Theatre Centrecommissions the winner of this award to develop new engaging plays for a young audience.
- Brian Way Award is given to the best piece of new play for children and young people. The prize money (£6,000) is intended to give the winner the time and space to develop a new play without the pressure of deadlines or a commissioning brief.
Performances of New Writing
Playwriting Events & Festivals
Rapid Write Response, which is an open submission initiative run on a monthly basis to correspond with all full length 503 productions and which results in a showcase of a whole host of new writers' responses to the current production
Playwright Presents, which sees an established playwright presenting a rehearsed reading of a new play by a young, undiscovered playwright that they personally mentor and champion.
LabFest, a once yearly festival of new full length plays the theatre wishes to showcase and develop towards full production.
503 Futures, a 2 week celebration of new voices, with staged plays, readings, discussions and workshops. Next programmed: January 2014.
Royal Court Theatre, London:
Young Writers' Festival, which invites writers aged 25 and under to submit a full-length play. Two are chosen to receive full productions at the Royal Court, while a number more are showcased as rehearsed readings. There are also a host of free events and workshops around the Festival.
Finborough Theatre, London:
Vibrant Festival, which features staged readings of twelve new works for the stage.
Ideas Tap and partners:
Ideas Fund Edinburgh, which sees Ideas Tap work with Underbelly and performing arts partners to take a season of Ideas Tap members' best work to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The opportunity is open to anyone aged 18-30 with a â€˜festival-friendly' new show, and final submission dates for that year's festival are in January.
Warehouse Phoenix, Croydon
International Playwriting Festival, which showcases the best plays entered and up to 40 actors, directors and authors on 29 - 30 June 2013. Entries for the 2014 festival are open until 31 August 2013.
Y Theatre in Leicester:
14/48 Festival: seven original works are written, directed and rehearsed in 24 hours. Performances on 24 and 25 May 2013.
Other New Writing companies and theatres to look out for:
Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol & South West England
Rocket Theatre, Manchester
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough
Red Ladder Theatre Company, Leeds
Tamasha Theatre Company, London (specialises in new British Asian writing)*
Theatre Company, London (specialises in Black British writing)
Kali Theatre, London (specialises in new writing from South Asian women)
Theatre Centre, London (specialises in new writing for young audiences)
The Larder, London & online (specialises in musical theatre)
Clean Break (new writing commissions on women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system)