Features Essays Published 25 June 2012

The Start of Something Else?

Fin Kennedy is an award-winning UK playwright, lecturer, and arts blogger. Here he clarifies and traces the embattled concept of New Writing, through "in-yer-face" and the Royal Court, implicating development culture and UK dramaturgy, and pointing toward the reinstitution of the playwright as artist at the centre of national culture.
Fin Kennedy

There are of course writers who are already working in this way, perhaps most notably Caryl Churchill (she is certainly the most sustained). More recently a lot has been said about Simon Stephens’ collaboration with Sebastian Nübling, Three Kingdoms. I’m sad to say I didn’t get to see it myself, but it’s notable that Stephens is at the absolute pinnacle of his career. Where are the similar creative stimuli and exposure to these fresh approaches for the vast majority of writers below Stephens’ level? Where is the equivalent of Daldry’s Royal Court, a crucible of new writing which is simultaneously stretching and nurturing its stable of playwrights, by inviting dance, devising and foreign companies not just into the building, but into its literary department and planning meetings?

In this sense I suppose I’m arguing for a widening of the definition of dramaturgy to take responsibility not just for developing the aesthetic and ideas of plays and playwrights – but of our entire art form. If dramaturgy is the management of the communication of ideas between playwright and audience, then can we not also extend that to managing drama’s function within 21st century society? As an industry, we need to more successfully dramaturg theatre’s relationship with the wider world.

It was Mike Kenny again at the WYP debate who captured this, when he pointed out that there isn’t a platform for playwrights or performance-makers to really explain what we do to the societies that sustain us. We blog and debate among ourselves, but there’s really no meaningful channel with which to allow the public into our processes, nor indeed for us to listen to what the public want from us.

I’ve recently been struck by artist Grayson Perry’s TV series about class, All In The Best Possible Taste, in particular the ease and good humour with which he engages with a range of groups within British society. The fact that on prime time TV we see a modern artist extract original observations from the world around him, which we then watch him weave into a piece of original artwork, I think makes this a landmark programme – not just within TV, but in terms of the public understanding of the processes and importance of making art of collective significance. British theatre needs to find an equivalent.

In an age of austerity, and with the whole notion of public funding of the arts under attack as never before, it is all the more urgent that we have an answer for the question about what taxpayers are getting for their money. It can’t be slightly cheaper tickets. Nor can it be plays remarkably similar to several that have gone before. The answer has to be something so urgent, so unique to our craft, and of such importance to a society’s health, that there can be no question but to collectively fund it, at least in part.

Only once we adopt this holistic approach to the training of playwrights as theatre artists who are also thinkers for our times, will we see playwrights and theatre again take up their place at the centre of our culture.

If that means overhauling New Writing as a brand, a process and an aesthetic, and starting over with Something Else, then bring on the bulldozers.

The future is a blank page.


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Fin Kennedy is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

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