This advice is collated from the talks and workshops that took place over Alchymy Festival at the North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford on 7th-9th April 2017. The festival showcased new writing by graduates of its Arts Lab programme – free theatre residencies for 18-25 year olds. As a playwriting graduate of TheatreCraft 2016, I can heartily recommend it. Find out more about Arts Lab here.
It’s ok to find writing difficult
Ella Hickson, whose play Oil took 6 years to write and over 100 drafts before its run at the Almeida, says she’s ‘very suspicious of writers that enjoy the process.’ ‘The best stuff is going to be really painful and is going to come from a vulnerable place.’
It’s really hard to get in the zone
Hickson compares writing to standing outside a party. You know it can be amazing once you get in the zone, but a part of you dreads it. It’s a battle to get into the right state of mind.
Don’t take it personally if you don’t get programmed
Artistic Directors typically have five slots and a host of things to think about when programming, Hickson cautions. ‘When they don’t do your play, it has so little to do with you.’ As a writer, ‘it’s not your job to have your play put on, it’s your job to keep writing.’
Forging relationships is really important
If you want to get your play on, it helps if you are collaborating with a producer. Joel Fisher, Executive Producer at the Bunker, says that while they only have the resources to produce one or two productions a year themselves, they are excited about engaging with shows interested in a co-production.
Social media is a great space to network
For those of us who find social interaction difficult, social media and email can be a great way to start those conversations and showcase work. ‘Theatre is friendlier than it seems’, says Holly de Angelis, Education Assistant at Soho Theatre.
Get the work on its feet
Never send out your play to a theatre until you’ve heard it read aloud, warns North Wall playwright-in-residence, Sam Potter. This can just be with your friends. Scratch nights can also be great places to find potential collaborators.
Know the venue you’re submitting to and why it’s right for your show
Something that will make your script submission stand out, is if you can give a clear articulation of why this venue is perfect for your show. ‘Venues are very proud of their identity’, says Holly de Angelis. ‘Tell us why you love Soho theatre and what you have seen.’
It’s not all about London
You don’t have to go to London if you want to make theatre. Aidan Grounds, Producer at Nuffield Theatre in Southampton, highlights the development opportunities the Nuffield offers and its commitment to programming one show per year from or about the local area.
Have multiple projects on the go at once
Even when a theatre accepts your play, it can take a surprisingly long time to be put on. Katy Snelling, Head of Programming at Nuffield Theatre, says two-three years is a typical timescale. Therefore it’s important to have multiple projects on the go, rather than putting all your eggs in one basket.
‘It’s completely impossible until it’s not’, says Ella Hickson, reflecting on advice she would have given herself 10 years ago. ‘Every time you’re given an opportunity, just do your best. Just do the work – that’s all you can control.’