Pippa Hill, leader of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s literary department, tells Georgia Snow why her role cultivating new and existing scripts is vital.
What does your job involve day to day?
We’ve got about 20 to 30 commissions on the go at any one time, so most days I’m meeting a different writer, most weeks I’m in workshops with actors and writers working on scripts. There is lots of travel between Stratford and London, because our offices are based in both places. A lot of seeing shows as well, that’s important.
How is your work spread across the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the Swan Theatre and the Other Place?
I work across them all. I work on new plays, but also the early modern work, as well as the classical work. The Making Mischief Festival [at the Other Place] is the main focus of my work at the moment. We’ve got two new plays and then we’re reviving a play that we did with Alice Birch, as well as bringing in Joanne by Clean Break. For these new plays, we commissioned them about nine months ago, so they’re a quick turnaround. They are very hot off the press. For the new plays in the Swan or for the RST, there is a longer lead-in, it can take three or four years to write a play, so that takes a bit longer, but it’s just a difference of scale. All of our work is about big ideas. Some ideas are more urgent than others, so that’s where the Other Place is fantastic because our turnaround there is quicker.
Have you always worked in the literary side of theatre?
I started off in a very junior role at Hampstead Theatre as a general assistant. Part of my duties was to log the scripts for the literary department, which took me ages because I always ended up reading them, and that’s how I sort of realised that it was the literary work I was excited by.
Do you prefer new texts or old ones?
After Hampstead I went to Paines Plough. Applying the things I learned working with living writers to the scripts of writers that aren’t around any more is a very useful dialogue. But I love working with writers. Half of my work is hands-on script work in a rehearsal room, or in workshops, then half is managing those commissions, seeing and reading work.
What advice do you have for people wanting to go into literary work?
See as many plays as you can, get into a rehearsal room as soon as you can, and make shows. I made shows for the Edinburgh Fringe as a student. It’s about practical experience so you know your way around a play before entering a profession where you work as a dramaturg on them.