WGGB presents its annual awards for the encouragement of new writing in London on Friday 1 December 2023.
Founded by playwrights Mark Ravenhill and David James (former Chair of the WGGB Theatre Committee), the Olwen Wymark Awards were set up to give WGGB members the opportunity to publicly thank those who have 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, who has organised the award since 2005, said: “Writing thrives when it is encouraged and, as our theatres continue to face challenging times, encouraging writers has never been more important. In the 19th year of the awards, we are pleased to celebrate 10 nominees who have all provided steadfast support through difficult times.”
The winners of the 19th annual awards are:
Nominated by Tom Wentworth for her encouragement and support when he lost confidence in writing his play Little Bits of Ruined Beauty
Tom Wentworth said: “Stephanie is a shining beacon in our industry – she always goes above and beyond and has that very rare ability of being able to meet the play on its own merits rather than turning it into what she might want the play to be.
“I first worked with Stephanie at a time when I was thinking of giving up writing for theatre. I was heartbroken by this decision but could not find a way forward: I was writing a play that was not working and I had lost all my confidence. Thankfully Steph not only restored my belief that I knew what I was doing but also helped me to make the play much, much better – while most importantly, restoring my faith in the power of theatre to connect with audiences. My play was completed, produced and most importantly I gained not only a trusted ally but, more importantly, a dear friend and future collaborator. I am thrilled to be writing plays with renewed vigour and confidence and my continued career in the theatre is truly down to her.”
Nominated by WGGB member Nilgin Yusuf for the support she received during the staging of her first play Nine Moons
Nilgin Yusuf said: “I graduated from Birkbeck with a First in Creative Writing in 2022 at the age of 56. This was where I discovered the craft of scriptwriting. I was lucky enough to be one of four writers selected by Mrs C’s Collective to receive support and learning to facilitate the staging of my first play Nine Moons, which was staged in August 2023 at The Space for two rehearsed readings.
“Charlotte not only secured the funding from the Arts Council to make this a possibility, she co-ordinated the programme and has been a kind and reassuring presence throughout. I’m incredibly grateful for her hard work and for the love that she exudes to all in the community she has helped to build. Mrs C’s Collective aim to deliver work that is bold, diverse and accessible, and I will be eternally grateful that they took a chance on an old rookie like myself.”
Nominated by Barry Johns and Tizz Wallman-Raj
Barry Johns said: “It’s been years since I wrote anything for the stage, so I joined this friendly group to refresh my memory. Nadine brings so much energy to the workshops. She has a genuine passion for theatre and writing, which is infectious. Nadine’s exercises were amazing and insightful, and they rekindled my desire to write for stage.
“The course culminated in a showcase, which was unexpected. Nadine gave great feedback and encouragement and had us all excited about having our work performed, even if only as a table read. She even helped cast it and direct if required. It was an amazing experience from start to finish. I will definitely be writing for stage next year as a result of her passion and enthusiasm. What is also great is that the meet-ups are open to, and attended by, anyone. She opens the possibilities of playwriting to those who maybe thought it was not possible.”
Tizz Wallman-Raj said: “Nadine Gray is an experienced playwright and theatre maker who imparts and shares the craft brilliantly. She breaks playwriting down into parts and shares this with Riverscribes’ members. It’s such an inclusive group and her skillset to accommodate many different requirements is generous and kind whilst not shying away from the craft points we all need to understand in order to put on a piece of engaging, exciting theatre. Her energy is very can-do and she encourages a collaborative, safe space to experiment and improve.
“What a joy that someone like me (who has come into the craft late after having children and another career) can access this calibre of mentoring. Nadine is a true blessing to new writers of all ages and walks of life, looking to build their professional credits to create live theatre work in the UK and keep writers feeling excited and hopeful about our craft.”
Nominated by Barney Norris for Alice’s support in developing his new play
Barney Norris said: “From the beginning of my career, Alice has been the artist who had the most significant influence on my work. A fastidious developer of new plays, she has always held true to the idea that nothing should ‘be enough’, and that a writer like myself will, in the end, be grateful for having been pushed to realise their full potential.”
Photo: The Other Richard
Nominated by Alice Barber for Lisa’s continued mentorship and support for her play The V Word
Alice Barber said: “I’ve known Lisa since 2017; she wrote the script for the first play I ever produced (Unsung). We have collaborated since then on various projects, Lisa always in a writing role and me producing. Over the pandemic years, I realised that I’ve always been drawn to writing, but hadn’t tried myself for a lack of confidence in the validity of my own voice. I expressed this to Lisa, who said that I should follow my instinct, and offered to mentor me. This gave me the confidence I needed in order to apply for Developing Your Creative Practice funding to develop my writing, which was then successful.
“Lisa has been generously mentoring me on my play The V Word ever since. The story is deeply personal; it is about vulvodynia, a pelvic pain condition from which I have suffered for the past 10 years, and am keen to explore onstage (but in a fun, musical and glittery way) given how taboo it still is for women to talk openly about gynaecological difficulties. The care and kindness with which Lisa gives notes is second to none, and I can’t believe the avenues of creative possibility that open up for me simply through the questions that she asks. She mentors in a way that allows me to feel as though I’m discovering the path myself, and inevitably this allows the lessons to stay with me all the more. I’m so thrilled with where the script is now, and it is in no small part thanks to Lisa’s incredible guidance and wisdom.”
Photo: Emily Goldie
Nominated by Hannah Khalil for his support with her new, as yet untitled, play
Hannah Khalil said: “I’ve been having a difficult journey with a play that is very meaningful to me. Ostensibly it’s about a famous actor’s only UK performance, but ultimately in the writing it became a play exploring my relationship with my father and my mixed heritage. I was commissioned by a theatre to write the play but they decided not to produce it so it was put in a drawer and I feared it would never see production.
“Enter Kerry, who read the play, encouraged me, believed in my vision and undertook to produce it. We did a workshop on it earlier this year and again his faith in the play and in me as an artist meant my vision, the actors and director I wanted to work with were all prioritised. I felt seen and heard and we are hoping the play will make it in front of an audience in 2024. Kerry has spent decades encouraging and advocating for artists and I recently talked to two other writers who were full of praise and admiration who said they wouldn’t be in the industry still if it wasn’t for him. I’m sure they are not the only ones.”
Photo: Helen Murray
Nominated by Sarah Isaac for their support and mentorship in helping her develop her work
Sarah Isaac said: “Both Breman and Bhasker have been very generous with the time and care they have shown my work. I have been very well supported and encouraged by both of them to keep writing and developing plays.
“They’ve read drafts, given notes, arranged meetings, and always been happy to offer their time and expertise. Without Bhasker and Breman, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to keep redrafting Hurricane and start a completely new play, which has already had interest from theatres.
“What allows playwrights to thrive, is being around artists who encourage them to be excellent. Both Bhasker and Breman have done this. They have nurtured me as a writer to make work that has longevity as well as quality. I will never forget the care and kindness they have shown me as a writer, and they are both worthy recipients of an award that celebrates how crucial and fruitful the relationship between mentors and writers can be.”
Photo of Bhasker Patel: Gareth Cattermole
Nominated by Nicola Werenowska for her exceptional support during Nicola’s time as HighTide playwright-in-residence
Nicola Werenowska said: “As an experienced neurodivergent playwright from a working-class background I feel privileged to have been supported by so many arts professionals in the theatre sector as my career has developed over the last two decades. However, the support and encouragement I have received from Clare Slater during my role as playwright-in-residence with HighTide (recipient of a Peggy Ramsay/Film4 Bursary) has been simply exceptional and has extended way beyond any expectations I had for the residency.
“Not only has Clare given me brilliant dramaturgical support on the piece I am writing for HighTide but she has encouraged me in many other ways – commissioning me for a separate piece of work embracing a new genre; inviting me to take part in associate and staff meetings; involving me with the development of HighTide’s literary department and writers groups; and supporting me to find new pathways and commissioning opportunities. Clare understands the challenges disabled writers face and she has helped me to build my confidence in overcoming ongoing barriers. She champions my work, believes in me, and is committed to supporting my ongoing writing journey.”
Nominated by Victoria Taylor Roberts for his support on Wellspring, Vital Xposure’s programme for disabled, d/Deaf and neurodivergent playwrights and scriptwriters
Victoria Taylor Roberts said: “Simon was not only hands on in working with me and the other playwrights online, delivering workshops and helping us achieve mentorships through other theatres, but he ensured that we all felt like a valuable part of the writers’ attachment initiative, always aware of our access needs, adapting sessions to suit them and including in the team of tutors other disabled and neurodiverse creatives that we could empathise with and be inspired by.
“Simon really worked hard to make this a valuable experience for us and left me with a sense of ‘an open door’ at the end – this is very rare. A year on, I still feel like I can approach Simon and his small team with queries. He was personally very encouraging to me with regards to the potential of my writing and made me believe that it was fit for production; praising it and, when conducting a reading, going above and beyond to present it to industry guests in its best light. I will always be grateful to Simon for renewing my sense of faith in myself and hope for both disabled and mature playwrights in an industry that rarely caters to us.”
Top photo of Olwen Wymark Awards recipients and those who nominated them: Kate Glasspool