The Bush Theatre announced its new writing policy last week. To do so during the first season without a new play in the theatre’s 41 year history was brave. Sure enough voices of dissent were soon heard, none more frankly than original Artistic Director Mike Bradwell, who wrote – on a social networking site that shall not be named
“THIS IS NEW BUSH THEATRE NEW WRITING POLICY AND IT IS UTTER…”
- well you can imagine the rest. His reaction has elicited more than 80 responses with people anxious not only about the restricted application time but also the workshop and seed funding processes that will follow.
Meanwhile on Twitter, Ian Shuttleworth – another vocal dissenter– vented his frustration with the Bush by taking umbrage with their tweeting policy during new writing festival Radar 2012 in a purposely bland war of attrition.
But just what is all the fuss about? At its heart this appears to be less about the administration differences and more about the perception that this is a move away from ‘new writing’ towards ‘new work’ . I would argue it is the inclusion of ‘solo writer/performers and companies’ into this writer’s theatre that has gotten people’s backs up – for them the role of the playwright is under attack. But just where does that role sit nowadays anyway?
After a boom decade for writers the role of playwright in the creative process appears to be in a state of flux. A new wave of artists who do not call themselves one thing or the other have begun to challenge the traditional concept of a play. For them the idea of submitting a fully formed text to be ‘discovered’ and produced is an archaic one.
It’s not only on the vanguard where questions about the role of the playwright are being asked – within the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, queries are being raised about the validity of such guidelines .
For a ‘producer of new plays’ like the Bush, it is important to recognize as Suzanne Bell of Royal Manchester Exchange does, that “The creation of theatre starts with the playwright”. But also that playwrights now come in many forms.
Into this shifting landscape how best then to pan for gold successfully? It seems as though a process that encompasses more variations of text based work is a step forward – even if the idea of development hell does potentially haunt this new submission policy.
In the same Radar discussion that Bell attended, Sabrina Mahfouz spoke of the process that resulted in her first show Dry Ice: “I wrote a poem a few years ago, before I knew I wanted to be a poet…and then this poem grew into a collection of poems, which then became a solo show which was on here earlier in the year.” Mahfouz is now an associate artist – or as she calls it ‘associate playwright’ – at the Bush. If their new commissioning scheme makes the same chances possible for another poet, solo performer or company then it can only be a good thing – not instead of the more traditional playwriting formula, but alongside it.