Features Published 11 May 2012

The End of ‘New Writing’?

Alex Chisholm is Associate Literary Director at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Alex Chisholm

Lurking behind these assumptions and aesthetical choices about what makes New Writing, is the opposition of New Writing vs. New Work and its closely allied cousin Writers’ Theatre vs. Directors’ Theatre. This opposition posits particular qualities and values to the two types of theatre: New Writing does narrative, story, characters and naturalism, whereas New Work does non-linear, non-narrative, non-naturalism. New Writing and New Work is then developed in different ways, programmed and managed by different people, sold to different audiences. Which is all stuff and nonsense in my ‘umble opinion. There is nothing inherent in writing a piece that means it will necessarily employ naturalism, narrative, characters and nothing inherent within non-written devising or collaborative practice which means they won’t. Writers can create work in which the text is only one element in the conception of the piece, collaborative processes can produce work in which the text, the story, is central. I have been party to some dreadful productions where the director has arrogantly trampled all over a writer’s work and occasionally vice versa. But, as the working relationship between Simon Stephens and Sebastian Nübling, or between John Tiffany and Gregory Burke, demonstrates with trust and respect on both sides theatre is not either the director’s or the writer’s but the director’s AND the writer’s.

And I am aware as I am writing this that the best practice is already blurring and ignoring these distinctions. The Royal Court, the spiritual home of New Writing, has often led the way, whether working with artists such as Tim Crouch, or staging plays that take the dramaturgical rule book, pull it apart and dance on the remains, such as Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.

So, where next? Well, I wanted to start by asking writers and artists how they wanted to work, and what they wanted a theatre like West Yorkshire Playhouse to do for them. This conversation kicked off at the start of this year (you can read more about it here) and now continues in the Playhouse’s forthcoming new writing season (yes, I know, the irony…). Through this we are exploring different ways of getting writers and other artists in a room together and making work. And we will be discussing this very topic in a panel discussion on Wednesday 30 May with the wonderful and strongly opinionated line up of Suzanne Bell, New Writing Associate at Manchester Royal Exchange, the playwrights David Eldridge, Fin Kennedy and Kaite O’Reilly and Dawn Walton, Artistic Director, Eclipse Theatre. But this is the very start of the conversation. A conversation about what kinds of theatre we want to make and how, about who we are making it for and where and how best these big theatre buildings can help make that happen. And it is a conversation we want everyone to be part of, by turning up to the event, following a blog or heckling us on Twitter. Whether you want to get rid of New Writing or defend it to the hilt, come on, join in…




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