Writing for Theatre with Literary Producer at Bristol Old Vic- Sharon Clark

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Powerhouse of energy Sharon Clark met with me at Bristol Old Vic to discuss script development opportunities in Bristol. Sharon is literary producer at Bristol Old Vic, lecturer at Bath Spa University and playwright. Straight to the point and dedicated to her work, Sharon outlined what is available in the literary programme at the moment.

The spoken word programme at BOV is growing in popularity, how did it start? Do you see it growing?

Tom Morris instigated the programme, he did it at Battersea Arts Centre and it worked. He asked me to include it here as part of the literary programme; there isn’t anywhere else in the South West that there has been a consistently successful programme of Spoken Word. I set it up with Byron Vincent and now I am running it with Anna Freeman. We have just done our first ‘Blah, Blah Blah’ weekend which was a success. I have gone back to the Arts Council to talk about doing a young ‘Blah’, so we can work with young spoken word artists, get some teenagers in. I also dramaturg the spoken word artists so they can learn how to use the stage.

Do writers approach you with their work directly?

When I first set up the literary dept six years ago – writers could come direct to me, here at the Old Vic. For the first six months I spent my time mapping who was in the area. I put a call out for scripts from the South West region and I received four hundred.

I started getting people in and doing small pieces of work – showings – and that worked.

Do you think writing script is out of fashion at the moment?

Yes, there are rumours that script is dead. However devising is popular, particularly devising with a dramaturg in the room.

What opportunities are available for developing new work at Bristol Old Vic?

Kate Yedigaroff set up Ferment, the model for which is, twice a year in Jan and July we have the ‘Ferment Fortnight’. We find people whose work we like and they will pitch an idea to us, we give them two days in a rehearsal room and then they perform it. It’ll either be it didn’t work or we find things that really have something. That’s gone brilliantly. It was supported by a charitable trust, as it was bringing on the new generation of artists.
We are feeling the impact of the government arts cuts, cuts hit new writing hard, as people don’t want to take a risk with a new author when budgets are tight.

I realised the community we were building was great and thriving but I could see that we were meeting the same faces over and over. I set up the Open Session which runs through June, where writers from the South West can send scripts in and myself and James will read them. The top twenty from this process will get a full readers report and the top five will be offered an attachment with the Old Vic for a year. This is the third year it’s been running and when we announce the chosen five for this year, we will have a group of fifteen writers based here. For these writers we run the ‘Inspire’ programme where we basically find out what they want and try and give it to them. We see our role as creating careers for people not just telling them if their play is good or bad. If I can’t help them I’ll pass them on to a colleague. For example we wanted to produce ‘I and the Village’ by Silva Semerciyan but we don’t have a big budget for the production of plays. ‘I and the Village’ is now being produced by Theatre 503, it’s just about to open, it’s a really great play. For Ferment I worked with Bea Roberts, putting in some dramaturgy work for her play, ‘Then Come the Nightjars’ and she won the Theatre 503 playwrights award with that, beating 1600 other entries. We are going to co-produce that in October, really looking forward to that.
How do you get to see the good plays? Do you go out and see work?
Yes I go out all the time, most nights. I also go to London once a week.
When do you get time to write? You’re teaching at Bath Spa University and you have just been nominated for an award for your latest play.

Yes I just got in the top five for the Yale drama prize that took three years. I have my own show, called the ‘Stick House’ this year as well, but that also took three years.
What opportunities are there for older writers?

I am interested in good work, whether that is by someone who is 16 or 60. I really think we need to get rid of this age prejudice; I was nominated for a prize at the National Theatre, in my acceptance speech I was addressed as a young writer. Well I didn’t start writing until my forties; I was an emerging writer, or a new writer not a young writer. Bryony Lavery is still seen as hot at 67, Richard Bean didn’t start writing until he was 40.
Speaking personally I have worked in community theatre for years alongside being a mother. Now I want to make links as a writer and get my work out in the world. Do you think the best way to do that is just produce my scripts myself?
Yes. I have 580 writers on my database and I produce one play a year. I do not generally read unsolicited scripts, I haven’t got the time. If there is work to go and see though, I will go and see it. If I like it we can start working together, we have a relationship with people who are proactive; I can’t make things happen for people who are not proactive.
This city is amazing for creating new work in that way, the only problem there is, is there are not enough venues. Be creative, think outside of the box, use an office block or empty shop, and get out there. D.I.Y is absolutely the way forward. Times have changed, funding has shrunk. If a writer has a script then they can get in touch with me and I can put them in contact with a director I think they will get on with.
We’ve had Creative England get in touch this weekend; they came to us and asked us to put forward three writers. It’s hard when the climate changes and people have to adapt, the biggest message that I want to put out to writers is, we have an Arts Council, use it. Put an application in, we may lose the Arts Council, use it whiles it’s here. Don’t rely on theatres to produce you; there isn’t the money to support everyone, make things happen for yourself.

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