As we mark 10 years of the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, it is fantastic to look back and celebrate the achievements of the past winners, the far-reaching legacy of the Prize and consider the impact this Prize has had on the new writing landscape in theatres not only across the UK but internationally. As the New Writing Associate at the Royal Exchange Theatre, I am fortunate enough to work with a wide range of theatre artists, placing the playwright at the heart of the theatre-making process. I see a huge number of productions each year and I read a lot of scripts. A lot. I once tried to count and think it averages about 2-3 scripts a day - and more at the weekends when I'm not looking after my toddler.
But the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is quite unlike anything I have experienced before. It provides us with a unique snapshot of playwriting across the British Isles. We can look back and reflect on the shifts in style, tone, ambition, voice, theatricality etc. In a year that has seen the most diverse and daring subjects tackled, there is clearly an exciting urgency in what it means to create stories on our stages and engage with audiences to share experiences of the world we are living in. It's 4am and I am reading a script that might make the shortlist. It is utterly gripping. It has already been read and championed by 4 previous readers. I've read about 300 of the submissions. In my imagination I can see the playwright. But this is completely made up, because, perhaps most importantly, the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is entirely anonymous. The work is judged on the merits of the script alone, the theatrical ambition of the writing, the imagination of the writer, the clarity of intention and the passion of the gesture to share something with an audience in a live unique experience.
At its heart, the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting encapsulates collaboration and partnership. From small beginnings, hatched over dinner in a café in South Manchester, it is now the biggest award committed to new plays in the country. Since its inception in 2005, 17 playwrights have been awarded a total of £160,000; there have been 16 full productions in over 28 cities and over 150,000 people have seen a Bruntwood Prize winning play. And this experience has clearly had a significant impact on its winners who have gone on to be produced at the National Theatre, Royal Court Theatre, West End Theatres and across the UK. They have won other awards - the George Devine Award, Olivier Awards, Evening Standard Awards, Papatango Prize. It's so exciting to see these playwrights go on a journey, to create new work that is produced on some of our largest stages, for their work to reach new audiences and to think that the Bruntwood Prize has been a part of that journey.
Part of the ethos behind the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is an aspiration to support playwrights and anyone interested in writing to put pen to paper, or fingertip to keyboard, and write a play. Through our website we are able to support playwrights across the globe. The way in which we engage with playwrights has evolved over the last ten years, from on-line tips through a roadshow that covered over 4,000 miles to a series of live-streamed workshops with internationally renowned playwrights including Simon Stephens and Bryony Lavery that were watched by people in USA, China, Russia, Singapore and Australia. Over the last six months, we have advertised over 75 other opportunities for playwrights, enabling them to take advantage of other support networks and forge new relationships with potential collaborators.
So we launched with a heated and passionate debate at the National Theatre on 30th January 2015 - looking at how new writing has changed in the last 10 years - chaired by Kirsty Lang and featuring commentators and theatre artists including Miranda Sawyer and Simon Stephens. It felt exciting, like we were able to prove what had come before but that we were entering a new era for the Prize and a new era for playwriting. So then we opened for entries and the process started all over again. We never know how many scripts we are going to receive. We wait with apprehension to see whether anyone is going to join us at this party. At first it was just a small trickle, a few scripts every day. But as the deadline of 5th June fast approached, the trickle became a stream, became a river, ultimately turning into a torrent which the website could barely process! At one point over 20 people were entering their scripts within the same 10 second period! We saw the total number of submissions keep rising until the 6pm deadline and we could confirm that we had received a staggering total of 1,938 scripts! And then the work really began.
A dedicated team of 92 readers carefully considered each script - debated, argued and championed the scripts they loved. The readers are previous winners, directors, dramaturges, critics, actors, designers and literary agents. As scripts pass through the phases, they are given to different readers with distinct areas of expertise and a range of taste. Playwrights have referred to this as "stress-testing" their play and we hope the scripts that reach the shortlist can engage not one imagination but thousands.
It is with excitement and trepidation that the final shortlist of 10 scripts, still all anonymous, are finally sent to the judges for consideration. Each year, we endeavour to bring together an exciting group of judges and this year is no exception. Sir Nicholas Hytner, who was one of the judges in 2005, returns to chair a panel including Meera Syal, Miranda Sawyer, Ramin Gray and Bryony Lavery. The judges will meet in a locked room the night before the Award Ceremony to decide the final winners.
On 17th November 2015, we will gather at the Royal Exchange to present the four awards from a total prize fund of £40,000. These four plays will then be developed and supported by the Royal Exchange Theatre and we hope to see productions of the winning plays in our theatres and beyond in the near future. The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting provides a fantastic snapshot of who we are, what our fears and dreams are, what our hopes and aspirations are and the way in which theatre offers a unique platform through which to share stories. All great plays were new plays once and if theatres do not support, produce and celebrate new writing, we can not invigorate the old writing. We can't wait to support this new crop of plays and see more work from the competition on our stages.