The Royal and Derngate invests in playwrights

27th November 2022

The brutal cuts to arts funding in England poses a huge threat to playwriting. It will have a major impact on new work coming from both new and established playwrights and will have a devastating effect on programming and the future of theatre.

Our industry hasn’t fully recovered from the pandemic where we lost a huge number of creative people. A survey from The Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) shows that the pandemic was damaging to writers. The results revealed that new commissions declined by a third between 2019-20 and 2020-21, 74% of playwrights had lost income (representing 40% of their annual earnings) and 50% believed they would not be working in theatre in two years’ time.

These are extremely sad figures that now post pandemic we can only improve on.

Theatre gained a wealth of new audiences during the pandemic so now is the time to continue strengthening and adapting theatre works by being more creative and innovative, pushing boundaries and creating a diverse and inclusive programme.

In order to do this, we need to get a full range of writing that covers a multitude of subjects that audiences are interested in and that they can relate to. Isn’t that what theatre is about?

But, how will we do this if we are losing playwrights or not encouraging more into theatre? Where will the new plays come from that have diverse storylines? Where will the new commissioning opportunities come from? It is through incredible projects like The Royal and Derngate’s artist development programme ‘Generate’ that such opportunities come.

The programme is dedicated to supporting the work and development of emerging and established artists both locally and across the country, with aims to ‘strengthen the artistic community in Northamptonshire through connections, collaborations and conversations.’

Artists go onto showcase their work at the theatre’s annual ‘Gen Fest’, which is now in its fourth year. It is a fantastic platform that puts artists in front of new audiences and springboards them onto other new and exciting opportunities.

Audiences are invited to come along to Gen Fest for free to support artists, watch the new work and also provide constructive feedback on each piece via a Q&A to help develop the works further.

Rosemary Hill, Artistic Director at The Play’s The Thing, staged her new play ‘Darlint Peidi’ at Gen Fest at the beginning of the month. The play was a great success and well received by audiences.

Rosemary said: “We were very well supported by the Royal and Derngate for this performance. We had rehearsal space the day before and on the day of the performance. We had technical support for the whole day, which meant we could run the show several times with lighting and sound.

“We had a wonderful attentive audience who all stayed for a very valuable Q&A session afterwards. People were really interested in the case of Edith Thompson and the main theme of the show, which is “ingrained misogyny” in our society and institutions. We were honoured to be part of this wonderful initiative.”

Rosemary is really excited about some of the suggestions on how to develop the piece. She is already working on the re write!

Supporting and giving experiences to emerging and established playwrights, is what this project is all about. The Royal and Derngate see the importance of nurturing talent and just how much theatre makers and playwrights need support in getting visible, particularly in the current climate.

The Generate programme has been running since 2012 and has so far supported over 6000 artists. According to its website, artists have gone on to achieve ‘three writing commissions, eight Assistant Director placements and partnerships with Plaines Plough, Perfect Pitch, Diverse City, National Theatre Studio, China Plate, High Tide, Improbable and The Pleasance to name a few.’

This just goes to show how powerful an initiative like this can be. More theatres need to be doing this so we can get new plays and new stories onto our stages and new audiences into our auditoriums.

Writers are at the heart of theatre and everything we do. New stories are a key part of our industry’s future. We must continue to invest in and encourage new and established playwrights to keep on creating now more than ever.

After all, without playwrights, what is theatre?

Submissions for the new Generate Associate Artist Programme will be in January 2023, so keep an eye on The Royal and Derngate’s website.