The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain presented its annual awards for the encouragement of new writing at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on Friday 2 February 2018.
The Olwen Wymark Theatre Encouragement Awards, the brainchild of playwright Mark Ravenhill, were set up to give WGGB members the opportunity to publicly thank those who had given them a positive experience in new writing over the previous year.
They are named in honour of playwright Olwen Wymark, passionate supporter of WGGB and former Chair of the WGGB Theatre Committee, who died in 2013.
David James, former Chair of the WGGB Theatre Committee, who has organised the award since 2005, said: “The award was set up to make a statement of how important encouragement is, and is based on the simple premise of saying ‘thank you’. Now in its 13th year, it is a bright spot on the Writers’ Guild’s annual calendar.”
The winners of the 13th annual awards are:
Nominated by WGGB member Deborah McAndrew for her support since Deborah’s first production for the company in 2004.
Deborah McAndrew said: “I have had eight plays produced by Northern Broadsides and Sue’s encouragement and hard work on my behalf has been fantastic throughout. She reads every draft, and is unshakeable in her support of the writer.
“Sue’s determination in recent years that all new work for the company should be published has meant that four of my plays have been published by Methuen, including the 2017 production of my adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac. I know that Sue was also behind the commissioning of An August Bank Holiday Lark, which won ‘best new play’ awards for me in 2014.
“She has made so much of my work possible from the very beginning right up to the present time and receives little or no public recognition for everything she does.”
Nominated by WGGB member Diane Samuels, for her support with her play Waltz With Me, that travels across two centuries, two marriages, acts of devotion and leaps of faith in pursuit of spiritual and creative calling, inspired by the life of Cornelia Connelly, who sacrificed her relationship with her family and children to become Reverend Mother and founder of an educational order of nuns and schools, including Mayfield near Tunbridge Wells.
Diane Samuels said: “From the moment of generously giving me this story, personal to her, Ghislaine has unstintingly supported me: helping raise funds, introducing nuns from Cornelia’s order, exploring archives, organising research trips, guiding me through Catholic practice (my background is Jewish), reading every draft of the script, helping find actors and a wonderful pianist to play the reams of music included in the piece, setting up a website, networking with producers, and – most remarkably – seeking out lost descendants of Cornelia’s.
“As a result, the play has brought together Cornelia’s fractured family line and so the themes of reconciliation are being played out not only in the drama, in life too. Ghislaine has been my creative guardian angel. Giving birth to a new work, I am blessed to have had such a kind, adventurous, open-hearted doula beside me, giving me courage to work with such powerful material.”
Nominated by WGGB member Mary Jane Wells for mentoring her for her first play, Heroine: A Female Soldier’s Story.
Mary Jane Wells said: “Heroine is a one-woman theatre piece, written and performed by me, and based on the true story of military sexual trauma survivor Danna Davis, who served for 10 years in the US armed forces. I was given the opportunity of a staged reading at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh in March 2017. I wanted to make it brilliant, for Danna, and because I knew it might never happen again. I had not been on stage for five years, and had no money for rehearsal or a team so it was a case of pulling together the forces of the universe to meet the expectations of a difficult subject about a living person – a once-in-a lifetime experience for a first-time playwright.
“I could not afford dramaturgy and Nicky waived the cost and was there for me to provide help in punching a play up to spec for its debut. She was hard on me too! But it had the desired effect. Nicky helped me meet the professional expectations I had for myself without breaking; create the beginning of a career path for me as a writer; and all for absolutely no personal or professional gain. Without solid foundations as a play, it could not have flown as it did.”
Nominated by WGGB member Anthony Mariani, for his support as a mentor for Anthony’s play The Rooster Rebellion (set on the eve of the Brexit vote), in which Jon had the lead role.
Anthony Mariani said: “Jon was a very supportive mentor in the re-write process. Always encouraging, but never satisfied, his love for theatre and its processes is infectious. Long after our original production finished, Jon has continued to mentor me on my writing. I’ve been able to bounce ideas off him and get valid constructive feedback that every playwright needs.
“My script was chosen as a tutorial play for the Kenyon Playwrights Conference last year, where I also had the chance to work in masterclasses with Max Webster, Associate Director of the Old Vic, and playwright Diana Nneka Atuona. There were many times when I could have given up on this play, and little does Jon know, but his mentorship helped me press on with my work.”
Nominated by WGGB member Poppy Corbett for giving her the opportunity to elevate her career to the next level.
Poppy Corbett said: “Last year, Deirdre – at the time Director of the MA Acting programme at Arts Educational Schools – commissioned me to write one of the final productions for her students. The remit was to write a play for a diverse group of 14 actors, following a couple of workshops, alongside another emerging writer, Jodi Gray.
“Taking a chance on an up-and-coming writer was hugely risky but displays Deirdre’s creative insight – she wanted the students to have the experience of working with writers at an early stage of their careers. This trust in our individual playwriting processes and commitment to fostering collaborative relationships demonstrates her dedication to support career development.
“The commission allowed me to ‘grow’ my career by offering the chance to write my first full-length, professionally produced play. Deirdre gave up personal time to offer guidance and support and I felt fully trusted and relished the freedom she gave me to write exactly what I wanted, in the way I wanted.
“It was specifically Deirdre’s intention to commission two female writers to try and combat the under-representation of female writers in professionally produced theatre and her understanding of the importance of diversity is another reason why I have nominated her for this award.”
Nominated by WGGB member Jenifer Toksvig, for their support of her writing over many years and recently for her work to support refugee charity UNHCR.
Jenifer Toksvig said: “Emma and Matt are wife and husband. Between them they perform, play instruments, do aerial work and puppetry, write, do dramaturgy, and also produce theatre. Emma performed in a show of mine at the 2001 Edinburgh Festival, and since that show she has performed everything I have ever written, even if only at my kitchen table. When she met Matt, he joined her at that table.
“Emma has done a huge amount of work in support of UNHCR around the global refugee crisis, and in the past year asked me if I would write some songs with my composer Alexander Rudd for a benefit at the National Theatre. We did so and I also wrote a spoken word poem which was made into a short film by UNHCR and Facebook. Emma gave me an opportunity to use my voice to make a difference in the world. It was an enormous placing of trust.
“Alongside that placing of trust, Matt has acted as my dramaturg, my writing ‘confidante’, endlessly patient and there for me every step of the way. Recently, he has worked with me on the refugee benefit material, and also one of the most challenging book writing projects I have ever had.
“The refugee poem I wrote was a list of things that people took with them when they fled, gathered from verbatim reports. One girl took with her a notebook and pen: ‘I want to study, so I can be someone.’
“I would not have become the someone I am without the collaboration, the support, the trust and belief, the invitations, and the love of Emma and Matt, and this award is a tiny, tiny acknowledgement of the enormous gratitude and love I have for them.”
Nominated by WGGB member Zena Forster for his continued mentorship, and support in developing her first original stage play The Fourth Dog.
Zena Forster said: “I first met John at a scratch night at the Old Fire Station in Oxford where I was trying out a scene from a work in progress. I had written adaptations for Radio 3 and 4 but this was my first piece for the stage. John liked my writing and encouraged me to send him some of my work. Since then, he has become a wonderful mentor to me, helping me transform my rather rambling script of Antigona and Me, and directing the piece for last year’s Offbeat festival and again last year in a staged reading at the National Theatre (for which he received no fee).
“John is a writer’s director and the insights and guidance he gave me – during script development and rehearsals – have taught me a huge amount and facilitated professional productions of my work. He is well-known for his commitment to new writers, but the time and energy he has invested in me this past year demonstrates his remarkable passion for theatre and new playwrights.
“In the past year, he has given freely of his time and experience and helped me develop my first original stage play, The Fourth Dog. He has been with me at every stage, read countless drafts, devoted whole mornings to script meetings and offered to act as a dramaturg for Human Story Theatre’s production of the play, again without a fee. I’m in no doubt that without his support, The Fourth Dog would not have enjoyed the popular or critical success that it has. Indeed, without John’s generosity, experience and insights, the professional production of this play would never have happened.”
Angela Street – Artistic Director of Playwriting Salisbury+ (supporting and developing writers throughout the South West), founder of Juno Theatre for female theatre-makers, and freelancer at Salisbury Arts Centre with Wiltshire Creative
Nominated by WGGB member Pippa Roberts for her support of women in theatre and inspiring Pippa during an Emerging Writers course.
Pippa Roberts said: “Angie inspired me because she felt like a real role model, somebody who has struggled with the sort of difficulties I have and who has been successful.
“She has a passion for theatre and writing, and she taught her workshops with the help of many different texts, so we encountered the things we might not encounter otherwise – many of us did not have the kind of income that would allow us to travel to see a lot of plays.
“Angie has been an inspiration to me – because of her humour and down-to-earth realism.”
Nominated by WGGB member Mike Elliston for championing him following a long career break from playwriting.
Mike Elliston said: “This unsubsidised company spend a lot of their resources in encouraging emerging writers through dramaturgy workshops in which they bring together professional actors to help the writer understand the body of work they are creating for live performance.
“I started playwriting in 1983 and won an Edinburgh Fringe First and National Student Drama Award. It wasn’t long before I had an agent and job offers rolling in, including joining the script department of Emmerdale. But quite soon after, traumatic family circumstances led my attention away from the craft of playwriting and I didn’t start to pick it up again until the last 18 months. By chance I was introduced to the salon:collective and, with the gentle but firm expert guidance from dramaturg Dominic, I began to find my playwriting voice again.
“This encouraged me to apply for Arts Council funding and to my surprise I was successful. Dominic went on to direct a script-in-hand performance of my TRAILER/trash, to great acclaim. We are now planning a full tour and I’ve also been commissioned to write a full-length play Austerity off the back of this. I have two further pieces in the pipeline and an offer of funding from European partners, plus I’ve been asked to run workshops and courses and have also been able to rejoin WGGB as a Full Member.
“All this as a result of Dominic and the salon.collective. To me they are the unsung heroes of West London, who many actors praise highly but have yet to receive the full recognition for the valuable input they give to writers, young and old, and without whom I would still be languishing in a corner trying to work out what it is I want to do with my life.”
The Olwen Wymark Theatre Encouragement Awards winners and those who nominated them at the Royal Court on Friday 2 February 2018