Playing together

Rehearsed reading at Open Door June 2014
Rehearsed reading at Open Door, June 2014

by Liz John

BOLDtext emerged from a writer’s frustration and the random, caffeine-fuelled events of 2013.

That year, I attended the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s Write Away scheme run by incoming associate director Tessa Walker.  She may have regretted inviting me because I kept saying that The Rep needed to engage more proactively with regional ‘mid-career’ playwrights – and I wouldn’t shut up.  Because ‘mid-career’ is where I’d been stuck for years.  My stage plays had been produced and toured regionally and nationally, I had screenwriting credits and awards for telly and short film – but new opportunities at the major theatres either went to the trusted few with their well-oiled connections or to the growing number of hungry ‘new voices’. No room for me. No leg-ups for me.

I was aware of my professional weaknesses: I lacked marketing skills, funding know-how, the right connections – and, crucially, confidence. But when Tessa offered space in The Rep’s studio space, The Door, I accepted in a flash.  It was only when her planning emails for Open Door referred to ‘Liz’s mid-career writers’, that I realised this wasn’t just about me.

Determined not to give up on my hard-won victory, I went for coffee with some writer mates. And the next six ‘mid-career’ playwrights who shared caffeine with me became BOLDtext Playwrights.  These writers had an array of theatre productions under their belts as well as children’s pictures books, The Archers, and much more. But they had other skills to share – Vanessa Oakes’ marketing prowess, Helen Kelly’s funding application genius, Steve Jackson’s artistic talents, Julia Wright’s staging experience, Sayan Kent’s performance and musical background, and Tim Stimpson’s strategic brain.

In the Spring/Summer season of 2014, Tessa Walker launched ‘Open Door’ and offered BOLDtext Playwrights three evenings to use The Door as we liked.  I curated our first season of work: our current plays in progress. We applied successfully for Arts Council England funding for the project, allowing up to three days’ rehearsal with our chosen director and cast, and a script-in-hand performance to an invited audience. We had to share the evenings but that meant we worked together for staging and we shared our small but enthusiastic personal audiences.

BOLDtext members collaborated brilliantly: we borrowed contacts from each other, we developed and rehearsed our scripts with fellow ‘mid-career’ directors and actors (enabling them to showcase their talents in the Rep too), and we marketed the season together.  Our scripts developed hugely, and the shows were wonderful – with packed audiences and a very enthusiastic response. We had genuinely claimed the space: local work at our local theatre.

Over those ten months, we gained experience in producing, marketing, etc;  we boosted our confidence and our status; and, most importantly, we restructured and rewrote our play scripts, improving their quality and depth, and marketed them to major theatres. Tessa must have liked what she saw because she immediately offered us more dates.

At a time when austerity is biting hard, we could simply have competed for the dwindling work on offer.  But, as BOLDtext Playwrights have discovered, collaboration is a lot more fun.  The challenge ahead:  as well as skills such as marketing etc, can we also share, shape and develop each other’s artistic practice and our artistic visions?   Watch this space.

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