West London’s Bush Theatre has this week launched a pioneering social networking website which allows playwrights to post their work online for producers and directors to read and commission.
Bush Green currently features more than 170 plays and around 500 test users, but these numbers are expected to increase dramatically following the site going live early this week. Users of the site, who sign up for free, can preview the first 20% of a play for no charge, but will have to pay £2.58 to download the full work or £1.38 if it is a short play.
The playwrights will earn £1 from the £2.58, while £1 will go back into the upkeep of the site. The remainder is an administration fee paid to PayPal, which oversees the transaction. The initiative has been supported with a £60,000 grant from the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, although the Bush is currently looking for long-term sponsors for the site.
Bush artistic director Josie Rourke told The Stage: “What we wanted to do, as a small organisation, was think of a really concrete way we could realise more of the potential of the work we read each year. We’re now up to something like 1,500 plays which are submitted each year to the Bush [a venue which specialises in new writing]. We invest a lot of time and heart in reading them and looking for new work.
“Because we’re small, though, there’s only a limited number of them that we can produce. So we began to wonder what would happen if we were to use the internet to connect other potential directors and producers of good, new work with the plays themselves. That’s the main idea behind it.”
Users are able to search by the number of male and female roles in a work and the ages of characters, as well as themes, influences on the writer and the playwright’s location. The Bush’s official readers, who will use the website for the theatre’s official submission process, will put a ‘Bush marker’ on plays they have read and commented on.
Rourke explained that writers would still be able to post in their submissions or drop them at the Bush’s box office, but it was hoped that the site would help streamline the theatre’s reading process, as well as making it more sustainable – saving in both paper and travel for readers.
There is also a strong social networking and advice aspect to the site, so that writers can find out about what to do if a producer wants to licence their work for production. More experienced writers such as Neil LaBute and David Eldridge also offer advice in a series of interviews. It is hoped that it will help build up local networks of writers and theatre-makers in more isolated parts of the UK.
“It’s an extremely lonely business, playwriting, and we hope that this will make writers feel more supported,” said Rourke. “It’s brilliant at building local networks. If you’re a playwright and live in Salford, for example, you can see if there’s anyone else who lives in your area who is producing or directing. I really hope that that geographical function will prove to be very strong. It’s about networking emerging playwrights and practitioners and getting work on.”
Rourke added that writers’ agents had been “almost totally enthusiastic” about the project and the Bush expected many of them to have a presence on the site.
“Online publishing is happening. Someone was going to do this sooner or later. It just happens that we’ve done it sooner and one of the important things about that is because we hold playwrights at our centre, we can promote best practice.
“There are companies and shows who have been working with digital as a creative medium for some time, using the internet to make work. What is exciting about Digital Theatre [an initiative where filmed versions of plays can be downloaded from the internet] and Bush Green is that it’s a group of people in theatre asking themselves how they can use the internet do what they do better. Everything that Bush Green does, we’re already doing in a small way in-house. We’re already accepting scripts, we’re already trying as much as possible to advocate plays we can’t stage but we think other people should be doing. What this enables us to do is put that together in a much better way. It’s about taking the work that the Bush already does and making more of it.”
Other online theatre initiatives:
¥ Digital Theatre – The Royal Shakespeare Company, Almeida and Young Vic are among the theatres offering high definition film recordings of their productions for download at £8.99 each. www.digitaltheatre.com
¥ Play Registry – Online searchable database of published plays, which offers precis of the plot as well as information including number of male and female parts. www.playregistry.com
¥ Theatricalia – A theatre-focused version of Wikipedia which asks its users to input information about past and future theatre productions, including casts and creative teams. www.theatricalia.com