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Writing prize saved by theatre and trust consortium

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New writing prize the John Whiting Award has been saved by a consortium of UK theatres and the Peter Wolff Theatre Trust.

A group of new writing venues, led by Hampstead Theatre will administer the award following Arts Council England’s decision to stop funding the initiative last year.

The group also features The Royal Court in London, Nottingham Playhouse, the Traverse Theatre and the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse among others.

The £6,000 prize money will be supplied by the Peter Wolff Theatre Trust and the prize is to be renamed as The Peter Wolff Trust Supports the John Whiting Award.

Established by the arts council in 1965, the award was launched to commemorate the playwright John Whiting, who had served on the arts council’s drama board for eight years. Winners have included David Edgar, David Greig, Tanika Gupta, Terry Johnson, Joe Penhall and Tom Stoppard, for whom the award was instrumental in launching his writing career.

Following the restructuring of Arts Council England’s national office last year, it was announced the organisation would no longer be able to fund or administer the award and its future seemed in jeopardy.

ACE director of theatre strategy Barbara Matthews said: “The commitment of the Peter Wolff Theatre Trust, along with the hard work and collaboration between theatres and companies, shows the importance of this annual award to theatre in Britain.

“We are delighted that the John Whiting Award will now be owned by the theatre industry itself. This takes this prestigious award forward in its support of the best of new writing for British stages.”

Bryan Savery, executive director of Hampstead Theatre explained the criteria for the award had been changed slightly, so now only plays which had already been produced would be eligible. Meanwhile, these productions will have had to take place within the subsidised sector.

For this year’s award eligible plays must have had their first performance between April 1, 2006 and July 31, 2007. Scripts must be sent to the Hampstead Theatre, marked “The Peter Wolff Trust Supports the John Whiting Award”. The closing date for entries is September 30.

Savery added the judging panel for the price would be drawn from a long-list of suggestions from the consortium, such as former winners of the award, but was unlikely to include representatives from the theatres themselves.

This year’s award will be presented at the Hampstead Theatre in November. Next year, the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse will host the event as part of the city’s European Capital of Culture celebrations.

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