Natalie Wilson, Theatre Centre’s Artistic Director, gives AYT an idea of what to expect from its forthcoming conference…
On 20 June, Theatre Centre will host Write Lines, a conference on new writing for young audiences for writers and industry professionals. Guest speakers include playwrights Amanda Dalton, Rob Evans, Bryony Lavery, Philip Osment and Evan Placey, and industry representatives Anthony Banks (NT), Jonathan Lloyd (Polka Theatre) and Purni Morell (Unicorn Theatre).
Theatre Centre is celebrating 60 years of working with writers to produce outstanding theatre for young people, and Write Lines is inspired by my experience of running our Skylines writers programme. Over the past 12 months, Skylines has encouraged 47 emerging writers to develop work for audiences aged four to 18.
I noticed how much energy was generated when writers came together, exchanged ideas, listened, questioned and debated. These moments of reflection and learning seemed to be cherished by the writers, and I want to present this opportunity again but on a bigger scale. New writing for young audiences is a niche area but the beauty is that it is open to all: experienced, emerging, young or old.
The Write Lines conference is designed to bring together writers, artists, commissioners and producers, and to harness a sense of shared purpose and best practice to produce quality new plays. The contributors offer an extraordinary and diverse wealth of experience and perspective which I hope writers will find immensely valuable.
Our contributors will galvanise debate on collaborative working with young people, cross-artform inspirations and making extant stories fresh for a contemporary stage.
Writers will be able to meet like-minded artists and hear from the commissioners about what they want from the plays they stage. TYA-England’s series of debates, Whose Title Is it Anyway?, will take a new turn with Evan Placey (winner of the Brian Way Award 2012) presenting a provocation to four leading new writing commissioners on what writers can offer the programmes of our theatres and companies. Write Lines aims to bring writers and producers together, and perhaps a few new collaborations will be seeded by the end of day. Each delegate will arrive at Write Lines with questions and curiosity. I hope each will leave with some answers, a new question, fresh vigour and a strong line to pursue in their individual practice.
With this in mind, acclaimed playwright Rob Evans whets our appetite by telling us why he writes for young audiences…
Children have not yet had the link between their imagination and their physicality broken. They move and fidget and squirm, and if you get it right they lock on tight to your play with eyes as wide as saucers and they really, really watch. This is so satisfying to me as a writer because it’s how I feel when I’m writing.
Writing is a visceral thing; it can make me cry or explode with laughter. I think this very strong physical reaction is why I work a lot on plays that get performed to young people and their parents and teachers.
The reaction of young audiences in turn affects adults who watch the shows. Adults often think of plays for young people as a kind of babysitting service, then find they get sucked into the story. Theatre that engages both adults and young people equally is something to strive for. When you see young people and adults (their parents or teachers) enjoying the same story, the boundaries we might perceive between young and old seem made of the flimsiest stuff.