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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Playwriting Competitions - Why I won't be entering.



2014 seems to be a good year for playwrights.  There is a sudden burst of interest in our craft.  Competitions are springing up all over the UK and many of them with prestigefull regional companies as part of the headline.  The latest include The Royal Court Liverpool.  I applaud these initiatives and  efforts to publicise the event . I think this sort of competition can be worthwhile and an excellent way to get playwrights to rise to the challenge of getting new material in front of new managements. However I must explain why I will not by entering or recommending anyone I know to enter despite the lure of a £10,000 prize.

I disagree strongly with the idea of paying a fee to enter.  In the case of one it is £15 and Liverpool Hope Prize it is a whopping £20.  Not an earth shattering amount but quite a chunk for some of us who are struggling to make ends meet.  What I really object to is the reduction in the relationship between the playwright, director and company.  In the past this has always been one of equals.  By charging the playwright a fee you are saying, in effect, “you are an appellant, a lesser part in the process”.  Playwriting has now become a vanity hobby rather than a serious craft. I have seen the status of playwrights whittled away over the last few years.  A writer who has spent his or her lifetime wrestling out the details of a craft and an art form is no longer considered part of a team who creates something new and thrilling.  As a director I have worked with new and emerging writers, they are indeed, the future, they are the ones who will shake up the industry but there is also something to be gained from those who are serious about their art and craft.  Neither should be charged for the privilege of reading their work.  In the case of the Liverpool prize one of the judges is John Godber.  Would the Royal Court charge him £20 to read one of his plays?

You will undoubtedly counter by saying that this small fee goes towards administrative costs.  This, of course, is a nonsense.  I believe it is up to you  to raise the money to fund the exercise properly.  Did you not include “administrative costs” in your original budget?  

In future I ask you to accord due respect to the artists and crafts people you rely on to create your programme and not expect playwrights to subidise it.

Please don’t think my in any way antagonistic towards you, your company or the competition. I merely argue against the underlying assumptions.  Best of luck.

8 comments:

Marcus brutus said...

I agree totally Peter. I feel the same about those organisers of those so called Webinars, paying for the thoughts and ideas of so called actors/writers/directors, who want fees to show you the way, there isn't any way!! Show you how to get the audition, nail this, nail that. It's criminal, all one can do practice your craft, The only way is to follow your life's path and your own journey. Many people and organisations try and take money of vulnerable people who have dreams.
I respect your thoughts Peter,
Marcus.

Dave Hall said...

Also, at £20, they only need 500 entrants to raise the £10,000, which they will surely get. They have to cover their costs of course, but then they have other revenue streams; this feels like a decidedly low-risk venture on their part. More significantly, it's a negative-sum venture on the part of the playwrights who enter, whose chances of winning (all other things being equal) are going to be less than 1 in 500.

There's no guarantee of a production at the end of it either. The theatre can opt in or out if it wants to, just as it could in any case, with any play.

A person, so inclined, could make make a decent bit of money running a competition like this.

I'd rather see a theatre (like the Old Vic does) giving free rehearsal space to companies producing new or experimental work, than giving 10 grand to just one playwright.

Sue Bennetton said...

well said. With any form of writing or art I do not believe in being competitive and enter competitions and especially where judges are biased against certain structures and each individual has their own opinion on what is a winner when there is a huge audience out there. Why sell yourself by having to pay for showing your work and feel pressurised by a small minority of a group of judges. Also where does the fees come into it? where does it go? some for the grand winner but not all. Write or being artistic for the love of it and loving to share to a large audience to appreciate and not be blocked before reaching the people who count out there.

Mhairi Grealis said...

I recently argues with an extremely inept would-be theatre producer who has a venue (of sorts - it's a long story) that his facilities needed to be better to meet a basic standard for rehearsing. He countered with the notion that what he was doing was 'humble' (getting people to work for free in truly crap conditions, to put on shows in his space, for his benefit!). My argument to him is the same as my argument against this competition: if you can't afford the marching band, get a kazoo. If you want a competition, pay for it yourself, don't ask the entrants to donate the prize fund. On the other hand, it is positive that they have created a platform for writers, it's always welcome - let's not forget that at least is a good thing. I hope they pay you some heed, Peter.

Philippa777 said...

Thanks for saying this, Peter. I totally agree. I have weeks when I literally don't have money for food, and can't afford competition fees. I have had one play which has toured schools in the Hull area (and was described as 'going down a storm'), but the challenge of reaching theatres when everything now seems to be done by competition with entry fee, is almost too much.I write stories,and poetry as well, but usually find myself excluded from competitions - not only by entry fee, but because I have been too successful already! There is plenty to help absolute beginners, but not for people who have proved themselves, but don't have an agent, or funds to help themselves.

Mary T Bradford said...

Thank you Peter for raising this. I am new to the play scene and like most people are running on a budget. I limit myself financially as to enter all these competitions would cost me a mortgage. So I look for the free competitions and other sites that are asking for new material. I believe I can get my work out there without it losing the roof over my head. So as writers we must be wise also. It is experienced others like you who express an opinion that allows the likes of me learn and not feel alone. I thank you Sir.

Mark the playwright said...

Writers are so often treated as if they should be honoured that anyone wants to give them a hearing.

Because writing is a very natural and human craft there is no clear distinction between amateur and professional and that's very healthy. If you're good you're good, one of the few professions where you can't hide behind professional status. But so often this means writers work for nothing or pay for the privilege.

I will enter local competitions where a small fee helps to make it possible.

I will not pay £20 to a funded theatre company.

I am not in the business of subsidising theatre. They should be subsidising me!

poormouth said...

I, too, have felt this for a long while. Seems almost as morally abhorrent as paying for sex! I also question the validity of competitions which may be free but in the end offer no more than a rehearsed reading, ticking a funding box for the organiser, but getting the writer no nearer to getting the work sold.