Over the past year he has taken on the mantle of de factor executive producer on Walking The Chains, a not-for-profit, community theatrical production which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. It is an ambitious show, featuring high-wire circus acts and music, being performed at Brunel’s Passenger Shed, Bristol Temple Meads Station, 13-25 January 2015.
His work on the project, entirely voluntary, has garnered Maurice one of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s Olwen Wymark Theatre Encouragement Awards 2014. The brainchild of playwright Mark Ravenhill, they were set up to give Guild members the opportunity to publicly thank those who provided them with a positive experience in new writing over the previous year.
“When he retired, I had just accepted a commission from the trustees of Clifton Suspension Bridge to write Walking The Chains,” explains Guild member Anthony Smith, who nominated Maurice for the award.
“It had to be independently produced, and I needed someone with a business head. Maurice joined up initially to oversee the financing, but his work has effectively grown into that of executive producer. He knows his limitations, without experience in theatre, but has formed six of us into a steering group that covers all the bases. He gees up the meetings, timetables work for the rest of us, does the budgeting, fixed the venue, spends his days sweet-talking sponsors and donors (raising £40k so far), prepared our successful Arts Council application, and has set up a team of teachers to organise in-school workshops and free school matinées. For the Arts Council budget he had to write in a fee for himself, but in the income column he is refunding it to the production, so he is working 24/7, for months, for the love of it. Without him, I don’t believe we could have got the show on.”
The awards, now into their 10th year, have been renamed in honour of playwright Olwen Wymark, lifelong supporter of the Guild and former Chair of the Theatre Committee, who died in 2013 aged 81. Her work includes, among many other productions, Find Me, Loved and Best Friends, and throughout her life she was an enthusiastic advocate of new writing.
“The awards have become one of the most rewarding events in our calendar,” says Nick Wood, current Chair of the Writers’ Guild Theatre Committee. “A time when we can say thank you to those remarkable people from all over the UK who never stop working to help us make theatre, and at a point when theatres and companies are not only fighting to make new work, but in some cases for survival in the face of the most stringent cuts the arts have seen. We need these dedicated individuals and their spirit and determination more than ever.”
The other three winners of the Olwen Wymark Theatre Encouragement Awards 2014 are also testament to that spirit:
Martin Witts, Artistic Director of Leicester Square Theatre, London, was nominated by Guild member Richard Pinner, for his support of the Playwrights’ Progress script-development project (a joint initiative between the Writers’ Guild, Leicester Square Theatre and Royal Central School of Speech and Drama).
“Martin has been a great enthusiast for Playwrights’ Progress, looking to broaden his theatre operation, embrace new writing and more innovative stage work,” explains Richard Pinner. “He offered the use of his theatre, staff and marketing team for free, and at the highly successful showcase event, staged at his theatre in May this year, was the warmest host, offering free drinks to the participants and footing the lunch bill for guests. As a result of Martin’s support, the Writers’ Guild Theatre Committee is now planning significant developments for the future. Although Leicester Square Theatre is a purely commercial venture, with a reputation (second to none in the UK) for stand-up and alternative comedy – and it has never received a penny from the Arts Council – Martin has demonstrated the kind of extraordinary largesse to the cause of new writing that would grace any ACE revenue client.”
Joanna Read, Principal of London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), was nominated by Guild member Lisa Evans, who was commissioned by Joanna to adapt Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood (being performed at London’s Pleasance Theatre in spring 2015).
“LAMDA stands to make little money for public performances of plays, yet Joanna Read continues to commission new work, often with women performers in mind,” says Lisa Evans. “She also regularly commissions LAMDA’s ‘Long Project’, which enables writers to create plays with large casts – something we all know is otherwise impossible unless under commission by the Royal National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company. It also gives young actors the opportunity to experience working on new writing over a period of time and to understand something of the writer’s creative process, both before and during rehearsals. Joanna is tenacious, honest and loyal and has a talent for bringing together creatives to inspire and provoke innovative theatre, despite very small budgets.”
Adam Pownall, Programme Co-ordinator at Derby Theatre, was nominated by Guild member Nick Wood, for Adam’s support of his play A Girl With A Book, in his previous role as Theatre Co-ordinator at Create Theatre, Mansfield.
“Create Theatre is part of West Notts College. West Notts College is on the outskirts of Mansfield. When Adam Pownall arrived it was little more than an idea,” recalls Nick Wood. “He turned it into a vital part of the East Midlands theatre scene. He encouraged new companies, he encouraged new writing, he found ways to offer support. When I began touring my one-man play A Girl With A Book last year his was the first name I called. By the end of the phone call I had a booking and a workshop set up. In a short while he has made something exciting and challenging out of nothing.”
The four winners received their awards at the Royal Court Theatre in London on 28 November 2014.