Artistic directors and playwrights gathered at York Theatre Royal on Friday 22 November 2019 for the WGGB’s annual literary managers forum.
More than 40 theatres, including Leeds Playhouse, the National Theatre, Royal Exchange Manchester, Hightide and Sheffield Theatres, were represented at the event.
Following a networking buffet lunch, the forum kicked off with provocations from writers Karla Marie Sweet and Rukhsana Ahmad. This was followed by a discussion panel featuring Stephanie Sirr (chief executive of Nottingham Playhouse), Tom Bird (executive director of York Theatre Royal), Paul Robinson (artistic director of Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough) and Stuart Allen (senior producer, Derby Theatre), with questions and comments from the audience.
The panellists were asked about their respective theatre’s output and what they perceived were the greatest challenges for new writing. All were committed to new writing in some way, via artist development schemes, a programme to showcase “companion pieces” by female playwrights alongside main productions, and commissions that were of relevance to the local community. The speakers highlighted the priority of filling main spaces and the need for more money for development.
Asked if there was a thirst for new writing in their theatres, the panel admitted that success was elusive and that plays were often chosen on the basis of their marketability.
Asked what shifts they would like to see in terms of Arts Council England (ACE) priorities and the development of new work, the panel was pleased that the inclusivity agenda was being widened in the 10-year strategy but wanted more recognition of how much productions cost. One panellist wanted ACE to hand over money (and the decisions over how it should be allocated) to theatres themselves.
The issue of cultural appropriation cropped up frequently throughout the discussion. Asked whether it was acceptable for playwrights to write for other communities or identities beyond their own, the panel’s comments reflected a range of views in the room.
Photo: Kate Glasspool