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Jonty Claypole: The BBC is not forgetting emerging talent by giving established stars new opportunities

Frank Skinner will be joining the Debut pilot scheme for new writing. Photo: Shutterstock Frank Skinner will be joining the Debut pilot scheme for new writing. Photo: Shutterstock
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Our new scheme, Debut, has prompted some debate on social media. I’m keen to respond to this, and to Stephen Arnell’s recent comment piece for The Stage, by explaining why we are doing it and why we’re working with the writers we are. 

Back in 2014, I felt BBC Arts could do more to connect and commission talents from across the fields of broadcast and performance.

At a time when different art forms and disciplines are reinventing themselves, combining in new and exciting ways, I believe the BBC should provide greater opportunities to connect the performing arts with broadcast and digital – and vice versa.

Debut is currently a pilot scheme for new writing rather than new writers. It’s a slight, but important, distinction. We haven’t at any point claimed Bim Adewunmi, Katherine Parkinson, Beryl Richards and Frank Skinner are anything other than what they are: brilliant, proven talents from different fields, keen to share new ideas in front of a live audience, working with emerging directors and creative teams to do so.

Our commitment to new writers, meanwhile, is best seen within other schemes such as Performance Live, The Space, a new BBC Four monologues project and, of course, the hugely successful BBC Writers Room.

For BBC Arts, Debut is an opportunity to see new work, which could have an afterlife in broadcast, developed in the public eye. Our offer to these writers has been complete creative freedom, allowing them to experiment with different forms and ideas in a unique environment – an opportunity that is hard to find in the world of broadcast media.

Alongside Debut, we are also creating a pop-up drama studio at Summerhall that will record eight new plays for broadcast on Radio 3 by both established and emerging writers. Both projects are part of a desire to not only broadcast coverage of the Edinburgh Festivals, but also to invest in new work that merges talent and experiences from the worlds of theatre and broadcast.

Both these projects are just one part of a much bigger story. Over the last four years, we have transformed the way we collaborate with and invest in the performing arts as a whole. We have grown our commitment to bring some of the most talked about theatre performances to a larger audience – as we did recently with the Almeida’s Hamlet and Charles III, the National Theatre’s My Country: A Work in Progress and Banksy and Danny Boyle’s Alternativity.

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The Live from Television Centre project, supported by Arts Council England, Battersea Arts Centre and BBC Four, resulted in the Performance Live on BBC Two strand, which has broadcast new or adapted shows by Touretteshero, Eggs Collective, Tamasha, Twenty Stories High and others.

We are also currently in production on Snatches: Moments from 100 Years of Women’s Lives for BBC Four: a series of dramatic and challenging monologues about women’s experience from the Royal Court working with writers such as EV Crowe, Theresa Ikoko, and Rachel De-Lahay. Finally, along with the Arts Council, we remain enthusiastic funders and supporters of The Space, which in recent years has commissioned a dizzying range of theatre projects right across the UK.

Although it is a contained pilot, we are keen to explore Debut’s potential to be something bigger, working with emerging as well as established talents, which is why when we announced it we asked writers who are interested in developing the initiative further to get in touch (debut@avalonuk.com).

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