Image: Katherine Soper – Winner of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting.
This year the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting celebrates its tenth anniversary, and I am lucky enough to have been involved since the very beginning. I have seen it grow and develop into the biggest playwriting competition in Europe, and through it we have discovered some astonishing talent, playwrights who have made waves not only in the UK but also internationally. As I write this Anna Jordan’s Yen is in Sweden and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation of 1984 has just finished playing in Melbourne and here in Manchester we’ve just opened Alistair McDowall’s Pomona. It is an extraordinary prize which makes playwriting, as a creative form, feel very alive today.
The prize is very democratic, we have opened the door very wide, absolutely anyone can enter, we don’t even ask for their name. Everything is read completely anonymously which makes this prize one of the only ones in which a writer has the freedom to explore and say exactly what they want without the pressure of being judged for their choices. For me, the prize, from its launch to the announcement of the winners, is a very emotional journey. This year we had nearly 2000 entries, over the last 10 years we’ve had 11,000 submissions, to think that across the UK and Ireland all of those writers were engaged in the incredibly difficult task of creating and writing a play at the same moment is very exciting. Knowing that all those different imaginations were working to depict different worlds, to highlight different stories, issues, passions and people – makes playwriting feel very connected to everyday life.
This is the second time I have sat on the judging panel and I approach this process in the same way I approach programming at the Exchange. I create some quiet space to be with the plays, to give them my full and undivided attention and space to breathe. When I read something that I think is good I have a very physical reaction to it, the hairs stand up on the back of my neck and it makes my blood run quicker. It’s a very present tense reaction, it’s then I know that this is a possible winner. Every judging panel is different but people always get very passionate about the plays that have resonated with them. Discussions can get fiery as what we are really deciding is whether or not to give life to a play to place it in a theatre in front of an audience. It’s a big decision, which is why the chair of the panel (this year Nick Hytner) is really important and makes the process of deciding very equal.
When I begin the process I have no idea what I am looking for, I don’t go in with a set of rules or expectations. The best plays are the ones that make you think ‘I haven’t read anything like this before’ and those are the ones that come from the heart. My advice to anyone wanting to write, is to be yourself, write what is in your head, create a uniquely personal response to the world and really don’t worry about how that idea will be realised on stage, don’t let that limit your imagination. If the play wins then the process of collaboration begins with us, a director, designer, and composer and so on – that team will find a way to bring the play to the stage.
The continued support of Bruntwood is astonishing, Mike Oglesby always sits on the judging panel and is passionate about the plays that inspire him; he sees a huge amount of work so his instincts are often very right. For each award Bruntwood take a leap of faith in artists that nobody knows anything about, as sponsors they create an opportunity for discovery, supporting us to uncover the next generation of writers and theatre makers and helping us bring those plays to the stage and to you.