As his play, Chutney plays at the Bunker Theatre this month, Reece Connolly talks about the importance of new writing initiatives.
In 2016 I saw a call-out from Flux Theatre for their inaugural EMERGE night, a new writing initiative designed to give a platform to emerging writers, directors, and actors in front of an audience that included industry professionals. I’d never heard of the company and this was my first time submitting to such a call-out. My piece was a bit weird, dark, risky and my hopes weren’t high, but it had been sitting on my desktop, collecting virtual dust. As they say where I’m from: “shy bairns get nowt.”
So, I sent the email.
My script was selected and after that first EMERGE, I began a relationship with Flux. They asked if I had anything bigger than a 20-minute piece. I did, and after some R&D, many drafts and feedback sessions later, my full-length play Chutney is being produced and opening at The Bunker Theatre this month. It’s been an incredible journey, one I’m very lucky and majorly chuffed to be on. But this couldn’t have happened without that first new writing gig and that is why new writing initiatives like EMERGE are so important; keystones in the foundations of our future theatrical landscape. They’re crucial in providing opportunities to emerging artists, are great exposure and a chance to build your network by collaborating with and/or meeting directors, producers, performers, theatres, other writers, or just another notch on your CV. The experience gained is invaluable, as is the experimentation they promote, vital to pushing theatre places it hasn’t been before, but ultimately all presented in a safe space. Obviously some are better than others, but there are some fantastic ones out there.
Whatever happens, you’re going to get feedback. This is one of the biggest pros as well as cons. No one likes to hear how their piece isn’t working, but everyone (well, everyone who genuinely wants to become the best artist they can be) knows the value of critique, especially at such a formative part in your career.
Not knowing who’s in the audience is thrilling and terrifying. One of my mates runs a night called Plays Rough, usually at the Old Red Lion Theatre and Nigella Lawson rocked up to watch someone perform recently) Aside from TV chefs there could be agents, producers, any number of collaborators who’ll see your stuff and think ‘I want me some of that.’ The doors these initiatives can open are potentially limitless.
More, the chance to see others’ work is fantastic sustenance for your own craft. Writing is a muscle, as Stephen King says, and must be flexed every day. It must also be fed. The best food comes from seeing as much as possible, and staying current with what your peers are doing. These nights can be explosive little selection boxes to gorge on.
It’s not all great. One of my shorts was totally butchered by the actors. Another company used my piece for a whole run, then never contacted me again. Not terrible in itself, but there was no fee involved from beginning to end (and it was long process). Looking back, it was pretty exploitative. But you know what? These experiences are also good. They teach you what to look out for, how to handle rejection/disappointment, how to look after yourself and what’s best for your piece.
My best advice is to have a good stock of short plays (between 10 – 20 minutes) ready for call-outs. Aside from being great writing practise it means you have plenty of material you can send out into the ether. Also, get hunting. BBC Writers Room and London Playwrights Blog (not just for London-centric opportunities or creatives) are treasure troves, updated weekly with fresh opportunities as well as other stuff like bursaries and competitions. Keep an eye on the social medias of regular new writing companies like Pint-Sized, Rapid Write Response, and the Miniaturists at the Arcola to see what they’re up to. Most theatres now have initiatives like this running, whether in-house or through visiting companies, so have an ear to the ground and pounce when the time is right.
So remember: Make sure, if selected, it’s definitely benefitting you in some way, but never let anyone get a free ride from your hard work.
I cannot recommend enough to any young writers like myself how important it is you apply to these initiatives, especially if your work and voice is unique and feels like it needs to be heard. These nights exist to provide a platform to artists like you, so grab ‘em. You literally have nothing to lose and so much to gain. Who knows the doors that could open?
Chutney will play at the Bunker Theatre from 6 November until 1 December 2018. For more information, see the website.