The local chippy may not seem the most obvious place to find new writing talent, but Hammersmith’s Bush Theatre hopes to do exactly that. In conjunction with ANGLE Theatre, Be Discovered 2011 intends to expose raw talent in west London. Eschewing the traditional methods of engaging new writers, the campaign is being brought to laundrettes, supermarkets and the Westfield shopping centre in order to engage with a very different audience.
Intrigued, I headed over to Shepherd’s Bush to find out more.
“You have to go into a theatre to find out you can engage with it,” Josie Rourke, Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre, tells me. The nature of current writing schemes results in attracting middle class theatre fans, she says, but for most, the opportunities go unnoticed. “The Bush sits in the middle of one of the most diverse and compressed communities in London,” Josie continues. “If you go down the Goldhawk Road there’s the best Polish restaurant in London, there’s a café run by three Afghani brothers, a Bangladeshi fabric shop – all cheek by jowl. There are extraordinary voices and it’s brilliant to think that ANGLE might be able to seek them out.”
The scheme originated in east London two years ago, and the winning playwrights had their work performed at the Hackney Empire. Of these, Mina Maisuria is now under commission at the Bush and Shamser Sinha was offered a writer’s attachment at the Royal Court. So how did this all happen? Charlotte Gwinner, founder of ANGLE, explains: “My aim initially stemmed from the fact that I’d read lots of plays and felt like there was a very similar brew of writers coming through lots of the theatres. I felt like we needed to find something that was absolutely brand new, that brought new characters to the stage; new subjects, new ideas.” She adds, “45 submissions from writers last year were from people who had never considered writing for the theatre before”. As well as this, 40 contributors were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. One of the winning plays, Luciana Saldanha’s The Sea at Night, was translated from Portuguese and attracted a 30% Hispanic audience. “The plays really did that thing of bringing together ideas and thoughts that were happening in the local area,” says Charlotte.
Shamser Sinha’s life changed when he wandered into a café in Leytonstone. Whilst waiting for his food he idly picked up a leaflet. Despite having been “dragged” to the theatre for the first time a fortnight ago, he felt inspired to enter the competition. “I took my chance and sent in some scenes, despite never having had a go at anything like it before. ANGLE supported me through a process of helping me to write my play, never trying to get me to change what I was writing but instead helping me to write what I wanted.” Khadija is 18 went on to become one of three plays performed at the Hackney Empire.
Charlotte talks me through why Shamser’s play was chosen: “It was about a group of teenagers in an asylum seeker’s refuge. But instead of it being politically confrontational it was actually a play about them all having teenage angst and wanting to go to bed with each other. So it really explored the human side of being a teenager and being in that situation.” Shamser’s new play, Chicken n Chips, has a similar feel – the pain of teenage life and the worries faced by immigrants. He likes to focus on the small, or as he puts it, “the wrong flavour pizza”.
In his mid-30s, Shamser isn’t one of the typical ‘Bright Young Things’ often discovered through writing competitions. This is one of the many ways that Be Discovered differs from most calls for talent. “New writing is not just about the young,” insists playwright Roy Williams, who is a patron of ANGLE. “I was very keen to come and promote this. New writing was where I started. It’s good to give other people a leg up.”
Submissions to Be Discovered are being accepted until 30 June, from anyone over 18 living in the London boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Hillingdon, Harrow, Hammersmith & Fulham or Hounslow. Winning plays will be performed at the Bush towards the end of the year, as part of the inaugural season in its brand new venue.
Eligible playwrights should visit ANGLE for more information on how to apply. Budding authors outside the west London catchment zone can also submit plays to the Bush through its outreach program. Those who wish to donate to Be Discovered can do so via We Did This.