How do we get people writing (produced work) for theatre when they can’t build a relationship?

How do we get people writing (produced work) for theatre when they can’t build a relationship?

You need to be familiar with a range of our work.

Spend time at the bar, introduce yourself.

If you’ve not seen new writing here in the last few months, I don’t want to hear from you.

These are all real words spoken by theatre building peeps, to writers.

I can’t argue – and am not about to – with the sentiment. If I ran myself ragged running a theatre, or its literary department, I’d have to know that a writer who wanted a relationship with us knew what we did and had seen a decent amount of it. I totally get it. 

As you know, the heart of good drama is conflict – and ideally conflict within one person. So here it comes.

There are barriers to theatre-going. Especially if you want a loving, close relationship. That’s doubly so if you’re in “the regions”: you need to be au fait with work at your locals, the fringe and do the same for London. 

But I don’t want to be airy-fairy about this- let’s look properly at those barriers:

  • Time. Say a show starts at 7:30, average. You’re out 2-3 hours later. More if there’s a drink after.
  • Money. Say £12-15 regional fringe, £25+ bigger house and £35+ for London? Please correct me if I’m way off.  [Then parking / travel, say £5-10; a drink @ £3-4; a programme,maybe £3-4?] So, between £15 and £50+ a pop.
  • Taste. You might not like what’s on. That’s a barrier. But if you’re a writer, you don’t let that stop you. After all, it’s a chance to pat yourself on the back about how you would have done so much better.

OK, so we’ve established, there are barriers to going to the theatre – that’s not news. They apply to all kinds of things in life. What’s different in this case is that you can build work relationships in other spheres during your normal working day. Dentists don’t have to hang round at night, waiting for vampires to appear. Teachers don’t do the 5am wake-up, better to understand their pupils. This is a price we “pay” (quote marks to neutralise any negative connotations). But it’s not one that everyone can.

So who doesn’t have these barriers?

  • Time. If you have nothing else to do, the time is certainly not a conflict. Chiefly, this is people who work by day, don’t have kids, or have whose partners who will babysit. (Or who have a great babysitting set-up of another kind)
  • Money. If you get comps (eg by working in theatre, or you’re an agent / publisher / critic / friend of the cast etc), money is not a barrier.
  • Taste. Is there anyone to whom taste is no barrier? I’ll let you answer that one…

Thanks for bearing with me.

Who is “out”, then? (Assuming, of course, that they want to be “in”). Who might be writing, but have no theatre relationship? Shift workers; carers; parents, esp. single ones; anyone who can’t afford £30 (a pair) more than once a month – a proper luxury by many standards. We know these people are under-represented as writers. ‘Cos if they ever get successful, their life circumstances are top of the story: alas, I can’t find any to quote for you. If you spy a “long-term carer playwright,” “nightshift dramatist” or “cancer nurse single dad playwright” success story, please let me know.

I don’t have an answer. And I am not angry with theatres. I meant what I said at the top: I totally get it. If we all start blaming each other, by the next general election, there will be no arts world to speak of because we’ll have ripped each other apart and flung the remains into the furnace.  But what can we do? Because there is a bias.

Here are some mad ideas. Please add your own:

  • Bursaries to include accredited babysitters
  • Matinees to target shift workers (perhaps promo discounts)
  • Creches at theatres for matinees (corporate partnership-tastic)
  • Loyalty cards – see 5, get 1 free (would benefit everyone, or could be targeted to partic. audience groups or types of show)
  • Workplace competitions – not unlike BBC’s workplace choir – where playwrights mentor a workplace group of staff (personal development, community relations, confidence, writing skills, the benefits list is long!) – Tescos, are you listening?

If anyone is interested in talking about these, by the way, it’s the kind of thing I put together at work, so get in touch here or pop over to http://www.lyric-communications.com and contact me there.

We all know that these days, a writer can gain so much from a relationship with a theatre. It helps them to see work, consider it, build experience and taste, try things out, perhaps win opportunities and introductions…That relationship is at the core of a virtuous cycle. (It’s why people get narked at the “same old faces” getting the chances.) Should we just shrug and accept it, or is there something we can do? I know I’d like a broader pool of writers getting work on. Some more “gogglebox” flavour, and less “Radio 4” would feel a bit more like a theatre of Great Britain, wouldn’t it?

7 thoughts on “How do we get people writing (produced work) for theatre when they can’t build a relationship?

  1. Very interesting article. I’d like to see some arts/writing competitions and opportunities targeting people over 30! Nothing wrong at all with encouraging young people to get involved, but I’ve yet to see any financial support or initiatives specifically for older people (e.g. if they have any of the responsibilities Gill mentions). The more responsibilities you have, the harder it is to spend time writing. With less time to develop a theatre relationship too, it also means your writing may not have an outlet, and opportunities for receiving critical feedback and development are limited (so you possibly develop more slowly!).

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  2. Guys,these are great comments. I can feel something coming together! Pls feel free to get others joining in the conversation. If we can present enough benefits to our ideas, we start to have something great and viable… Thanks!

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  3. Love the idea of creches during matinees! And that would alo mean that drama facilitators (like myself!) get a chance to entertain the kids maybe on the themes of the show (if accessible) or just practise storytelling AMD other skills (according to the age of the children)

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  4. Love your ideas about how theatre could reach out more and be more accessible in the sense of actually enabling people to get to it. I think that more daytime theatre in different locations that isn’t for children would be excellent but would need to be priced appropriately. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could get some kind of culture benefit if you were a carer for example? 1 pair of tickets to see something locally per month/quarter and respite help available if required :)…..

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    1. Love the idea of mentoring artists in primarily non-art professions. There is such a rich plane of experience, stories and talent within workplaces, not least of all in public service industries where the potential to see and absorb stories is enormous. I’ve always had customer facing jobs alongside my creative life, and always stored away the characters I have met and experiences I’ve had in case I ever get the opportunity to write. How wonderful to be mentored to create, particularly if its not something you had previously considered.

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