Literary manager Steve Harper: ‘I try to oversee all of the theatre’s relationships with writers’

Steve Harper Steve Harper
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Steve Harper is literary manager at London’s Theatre503. He tells Roda Musa about his work and the venue’s latest production, In Event of Moone Disaster, a play about feminism, space and exploration…

What do you do as a literary manager?

Overall, I try to oversee all of the theatre’s relationships and engagements with writers. So, along with the artistic director, I look for plays and put together teams to formulate the work that goes on for four-week runs. I also manage a team of people who oversee our unsolicited scripts system. There is a first panel reading team and a senior panel of readers. Lastly, I oversee any initiatives that we develop or any new writers.

Tell me about In Event of Moone Disaster?

It is a very ambitious and far-reaching piece of work. It starts in 1969 with the moon landings and moves into the future to 2055, when the first person to walk on Mars is set to be a woman. I think it’s about the changing role of women in society, family, and also in relation to childbirth. Overall, it is a play about freedom and exploration, and how people seek to push boundaries. Of course it’s about the exploration of space, but also the exploration of identity, and the future.

How are you involved in the production?

I’ve been giving notes to Andrew Thompson, the writer, so I’ve been involved in a dramaturgy sense, alongside Lisa Spirling, the artistic director. My involvement now will be largely going to see runs of the play and overseeing the journey of the  play into the space. I work out if the play is making narrative sense for   an audience, and if it is landing the right dramatic moments. Overall, I make sure that by the time we open the play it will be in the best possible form it can be.

How do you help writers develop their careers?

Every writer is different, and yes Theatre503 has structured schemes and initiatives to help guide writers. For example, we have Rapid Write Response, which is a short play initiative open to all. Our initiatives focus on giving writers not just time with me, but with actors, a director, and finally with an audience. On an individual basis, part of the process is learning what works best for that writer. Sometimes it is a straightforward dramaturgy approach where I give notes, in other cases it requires writers to respond to hearing their play out loud.

What attracts you to working with new writers specifically?

I’m really drawn to grassroots work, and I really love to create opportunities for new writers. In my past, working as a director, I was maybe able to do one or two shows a year, but now I can find plays that I feel we should do and put people together to make them happen. I feel it is fundamentally important that there is a space that allows new writers, new directors and new script readers time to learn their craft and practise it. Theatre needs to support new work and new writers in order to diversify its voices. Theatre can be dangerously expensive, and it needs to become more accessible. There is not enough being done across the sector.

CV Steve Harper

Training: North London University, MA Theatre Studies (1997)
First professional role: Assistant stage manager, the Man in the Moon Theatre (1998)
Agent: None

In Event of Moone Disaster runs at Theatre503, London, from October 4-28