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Writing prizes in danger as ACE halts involvement

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Three of UK theatre’s most prestigious new writing accolades are facing uncertain futures after Arts Council England decided to end its association with the John Whiting, Meyer-Whitworth and Children’s Awards following the restructuring of its national office.

Both the John Whiting and the Children’s Awards will lose their funding of £6,000 each from next year, while ACE will also stop administering all three awards. The Meyer-Whitworth is not currently funded by ACE, but is administered by the organisation and receives its prize money from the Royal National Theatre Foundation – this cash will remain.

In the case of the Whiting award, the decision will end an association which dates back more than 40 years to 1965, when it was founded by the arts council in memory of the playwright John Whiting. Former winners include Tom Stoppard, Wole Soyinka, Edward Bond, David Lan, David Edgar and Tanika Gupta.

The 16th Meyer-Whitworth Award will now be administered by the Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and Theatre Centre will oversee the Children’s Award, which will be renamed the Brian Way Award, after the children’s theatre director who died earlier this year. No plans have as yet been confirmed for the future of the John Whiting Award.

A spokesperson for ACE said that while it had stopped funding the two awards and administering all three it “would continue to fund new writing through other channels.”

However, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain said that it was disappointed by ACE’s decision to drop the prizes. Assistant general secretary Anne Hogben commented: “This is very disappointing news. It is narrow-sighted of them really. What is the purpose of the arts council if it isn’t to support the arts. It was an inexpensive way of doing something positive. It’s a great way of encouraging new talent and it is hard enough in the theatre industry.”

The news follows complaints last week from industry figures that ACE’s recent restructuring of its national office could lead to a concerning loss of talent and experience ahead of the impending Comprehensive Spending Review.

For more information on how to apply to the new Brian Way award, see www.theatre-centre.co.uk – the winner will be anounced in February. The John Whiting Award will be presented later this month and the Meyer-Whitworth Award in November.

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