Leading playwrights April De Angelis, Jack Thorne, Laura Wade, David Eldridge, Lucy Kirkwood, Roy Williams, James Graham, Bryony Lavery and David Edgar have backed guidelines launched by WGGB today.
WGGB has also reached agreement with the theatre management body UK Theatre on the key proposals contained in the guidelines. They confirm the rights playwrights continue to hold under WGGB Theatre Agreements and provide a blueprint for protecting working playwrights during these challenging times, when existing work is being streamed free, and writers are under pressure to accept digital work for low rates.
WGGB is particularly concerned about the impact the Covid-19 lockdown might have on the commissioning of new plays. As former WGGB President David Edgar says:
“This century has seen a huge increase in the number and quality of new plays produced by British theatres. There is a great danger that a logjam of postponed productions will combine with understandable risk-aversion to discourage theatres from commissioning new plays now, leading to a dearth of great new writing in two or three years’ time. To stop talented writers abandoning theatre for other media, we are encouraging theatres to devote some of their donation income to new commissions, and campaigning for the setting-up of a national New Commissions fund.”
The full WGGB guidelines, which can be downloaded here, set out a manifesto to protect UK playwrights, and the health of the theatre sector, for the duration of the lockdown, into the future.
UK Theatre (the management body for the vast majority of regional and London subsidised theatres) states that theatre can only begin to return to putting on shows and running theatres with “significant cooperation from everyone”. Following discussions with WGGB about its guidelines, they have endorsed the following principles, jointly agreed with WGGB:
- UK Theatre (UKT) and WGGB’s national Agreements will continued to operate fully. (The WGGB Agreements can be viewed here, plus you can also see a summary of these in a Rights Card).
- Plays that were scheduled or intended for future performance should be postponed rather than cancelled wherever possible.
- To encourage this, playwrights should grant theatres a free licence extension of nine months from the date of the theatre or venue’s reopening (with the option of the theatre offering a further extension of six months, where there is a serious prospect of production).
- New plays (including short plays and monologues) commissioned to be digitally broadcast during lockdown should be paid for. The spirit of WGGB agreements should be honoured, and fees calculated pro-rata to those in the current agreements.
- Where shows are live streamed, and fees are being paid, writers will be included. Any donations should not simply underwrite the running costs of the venue, but – where possible – help to stimulate the creative ecology of theatre, including writers, as a whole.
- UKT and WGGB are committed to encouraging new commissions and the production of new plays, and support the campaign for a national New Commissions Fund.
The following playwrights, all WGGB members, have pledged their support for the WGGB guidelines:
April De Angelis said: “New writing is the lifeblood of our theatre without which theatre becomes a museum. It is of the utmost importance for the continuing life of our theatre that new work continues to be commissioned and is prioritised by arts institutions.”
Jack Thorne said: “The creative sector has been left so vulnerable by this crisis. The brilliant WGGB have, as always, looked to protect the writer through this but also aren’t looking to bankrupt our theatre homes. I think these guidelines are great for everyone as a way of working our way forward.”
David Eldridge said: “Over the last 25 years there has been a boom in new writing in the UK, and we in the theatre must all do our utmost to ensure that the pandemic does not bring it to a sudden halt. As we look beyond the current crisis and towards the future I know that the best way to ensure that is through continued investment in our world class playwriting culture, by continuing to commission new plays and by continuing to produce new plays. It is living playwrights who will make sense of the post-pandemic world for their audiences, much as our forebears caught us in dramas from the edges of their own changing times. We must sustain, cherish the playwrights to write the new world.”
Laura Wade said: “We know that all theatre companies are facing a difficult present and an uncertain future – the hope is that a national New Commissions Fund can become a reality so that living writers retain their essential role, and theatres are enabled to support them. Writers are ready to play our part in making the future life of our theatre as vivid as it can be – we hope these best practice guidelines will ensure we aren’t written out.”
Roy Williams said: “We are indeed living in unprecedented times, but everything begins with the written word. New writing, new commissions is the beating heart of theatre. As a member of the WGGB, I fully endorse their points in ensuring writers are protected as well as served.”
James Graham said: “We are entering an incredibly difficult time for artists and institutions alike. While recognising that producers and theatres are going to be under intense economic pressures in the immediate future, it’s important to remember that writers will play the most pivotal role in revitalising the sector’s fortunes. I therefore completely support the WGGB recommendations that offer both practical flexibility but importantly the vital commitment to writers going forward as we all work together.”
Main photo: Shutterstock.com/sirtravelalot; photo of David Edgar by Em Fitzgerald; photo of Bryony Lavery by Guy Cragoe, photos of Roy Williams, James Graham, Lucy Kirkwood and April De Angelis by Matt Writtle; photo of Laura Wade by Linda Nylind