Sphinx Theatre and 15 Leading UK Theatres Announce Female Playwrights Selected For Landmark Programme

By: Jul. 17, 2020

Sphinx Theatre, the UK's longest established women's theatre company, and 15 of the UK's leading theatres have announced the playwrights they will be supporting via Sphinx 30, the landmark programme for female playwrights in the UK being launched to mark Sphinx's 30th anniversary.

The announcement reveals the 15 female playwrights who will be co-funded by 15 theatres and Sphinx as part of a pilot of the Sphinx Lab, and it will be followed shortly by the announcement of more female playwrights selected via an open call to ensure writers at all stages of their careers are included. The Sphinx Lab is a ground-breaking new programme to support female playwrights in the UK being launched as part of Sphinx's 30th anniversary. The programme aims to become an ongoing initiative to support female playwrights in the UK, designed by Sphinx's Literary Director Jennifer Tuckett, based on her work with Yale School of Drama and the Women's Project (WP) Lab in America, and the first of its kind in the UK.

Each playwright will receive a £1000 seed commission and attend the Sphinx Lab, as will the female playwrights selected via an open call. Tutors on the Lab will include leading female playwrights Winsome Pinnock, the first black female playwright to be produced at The National Theatre, April De Angelis, author of the modern classic "Playhouse Creatures" and "My Brilliant Friend", recently produced at The National Theatre, and Timberlake Wertenbaker, author of the modern classic "Our Country's Good". Other tutors will include industry leaders Dame Rosemary Squire, co-founder of ATG and Trafalgar Entertainment, Toni Racklin, Head of Theatre and Dance at the Barbican Centre, Stephanie Sirr, Chief Executive of Nottingham Playhouse, Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Watford Palace Theatre, Sphinx Literary Director Jennifer Tuckett, who has designed and led creative writing programmes for the BBC amongst others, and Sphinx Artistic Director Sue Parrish. The initiative is additionally supported by Arts Council England funding and will support 30 of the UK's most talented female playwrights in total to mark 30 years of Sphinx Theatre.

The female playwrights co-funded by 15 leading theatres will be as follows:

  • Bush Theatre: Sarah Connors
  • Derby Theatre: Rommi Smith
  • Graeae Theatre Company: Anita Kelly
  • Hull Truck Theatre: Maureen Lennon
  • Kali Theatre: Satinder Chohan
  • Leeds Playhouse: Gemma Bedeau
  • Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres: Ginni Manning
  • Nottingham Playhouse: Jane Upton
  • Octagon Theatre Bolton: Punam Ramchurn
  • Red Ladder Theatre Company: Bea Webster
  • Salisbury Playhouse: Hannah Treadaway
  • Stephen Joseph Theatre: Janice Okoh
  • Theatr Clwyd: Ming Ho
  • Watford Palace Theatre: Suzette Coon
  • Yellow Earth Theatre: Joanne Lau

Mark Babych, Artistic Director, Hull Truck Theatre, said: "We are proud to be partnering with our colleagues across the country to address the imbalance of voices in our industry and stages - Hull Truck Theatre is committed to supporting and empowering women's voices on our stages and Sphinx 30 is a pioneering opportunity to make a real difference to the future of our industry."

Brigid Larmour, Artistic Director and Chief Executive, Watford Palace Theatre, said: "This is a bold and timely initiative from Sphinx, in partnership with a brilliant range of playwrights and companies, supporting the creative ambition of female artists at this incredibly challenging time for theatre freelancers. It is a central part of the mission of Watford Palace Theatre to fully represent women, both onstage and behind the scenes: we are proud to be part of Sphinx 30, making the future."

Stephanie Sirr, Chief Executive, Nottingham Playhouse, said: "Nottingham Playhouse is very pleased to partner with Sphinx 30 to tackle the shortfall of feminist voices reflected at scale on our stages. It's a much-needed and really visionary programme. We can't wait to see what it produces."

Rod Dixon, Artistic Director, Red Ladder Theatre Company, said: "We are extremely proud and excited to be one of the Theatre Partners contributing to Sphinx 30. This project is exactly the kind of platform that playwrights who write from a feminist position need at this time of fracture and division in the world. Red Ladder have a long tradition of presenting new and radical writing onstage. Sphinx 30 is an exciting opportunity for us to give audiences a 21st century play written by one of our emerging artists."

Lotte Wakeham, Artistic Director, Octagon Theatre Bolton, said: "The Octagon is thrilled to be one of the partner organisations for the Sphinx 30 project. Female writers often still encounter a 'glass ceiling' when trying to move from writing for studio spaces to getting commissions for main stages. We're delighted to be investing in exceptional female writing talent, by supporting brilliant North West writer Punam Ramchurn. We passionately believe that everyone's story matters, and we're looking forward to soon being able to open our new theatre building, sharing even more stories with our audiences in Bolton and beyond."

Gareth Machin, Artistic Director, Salisbury Playhouse, said: "Wiltshire Creative is proud to be working alongside Sphinx on this important initiative that seeks to redress the gender imbalance in terms of whose plays are being produced on main stages across the UK theatre landscape."

James Brining, Artistic Director and Joint CEO, Leeds Playhouse, said: "Sphinx's pioneering practise for the last 30 years has been inspirational within the theatre sector and Leeds Playhouse are proud to be working with them and an exciting range of partners, to increase opportunities for women writing for main stages across the UK. We look forward to reading what this dynamic group will achieve."

Sarah Brigham, Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Derby Playhouse, said: "Sphinx have been the trailblazer in our industry in getting female voices to the fore and we at Derby Theatre are delighted to be partnering with them. At Derby we have made small steps in supporting the female voice through our RETOLD programme and this feels like a natural extension to that work. The opportunity to be part of a package which supports 30 potential new female playwrights is incredibly exciting and we look forward to seeing the seeds of ideas these women have come to fruition."

Helena Bell, Artistic Director, Kali Theatre, said: "Kali is delighted to be partnering with Sphinx 30 in our own 30th Birthday year to give Satinder Chohan - one of our most inspiring, mid-career playwrights - an opportunity to develop a piece for the UK's main stages. We welcome this brilliantly timely initiative from Sphinx which will move marginalised female writers out of the studios and on to the mid-scale. Kali has been championing talented South Asian women playwrights for 30 years mounting compelling, innovative new work in theatres across the UK. It is exciting that ambitious, state of the nation work such as Satinder's now has the opportunity to grow bigger still, with the potential to reach even wider audiences. Kali is proud to be supporting this project."

Nickie Miles-Wildin, Associate Director, Graeae Theatre Company, said: "We are extremely excited that Anita Kelly will be joining Sphinx 30 as one of 15 female playwrights for their year long programme to celebrate Sphinx Theatre's anniversary. Anita is a recent graduate of our Write To Play year long programme set up to develop disabled writers throughout England. As Graeae we are thrilled to be one of the leading theatre companies on the programme. We constantly challenge the preconceptions around disability and new writing is a great vehicle to do that. Our voices should be heard and our stories told. We wish Anita and the other 14 playwrights all the best for the programme and we cannot wait to read their work."

Kumiko Mendl, Artistic Director, Yellow Earth Theatre, said: "We are extremely happy to be partnering with Sphinx for their anniversary programme supporting female playwrights to write for the main stage in the UK. We have seized this wonderful opportunity to be able to engage one of our writers from last year's Professional Writers Programme cohort; Joanne Lau. Joanne is an incredibly versatile writer and as a scientist and woman of colour as well as a former stand up comedian, we are excited to be able to continue to amplify her voice and work to a wider audience."

Paul Robinson, Artistic Director and Joint Chief Executive, Stephen Joseph Theatre, said: "Everyone at the SJT is thrilled to be involved with the Sphinx 30th anniversary project. We are excited to collaborate with this brilliant group of theatres, companies and writers. We know it is vitally important for theatres around the country to allow female writers access to our main stages and what better occasion than Sphinx 30."

Gemma Bodinetz, Artistic Director, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, said: "We are thrilled to be partnering with Sphinx Theatre on this wonderful initiative to celebrate their 30th Anniversary. Plays by women performed on the main stages of our national and regional theatres are sadly still something of a rarity; the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse are proud to be part of a project that seeks to change that. Ginni Manning is a Liverpool writer we have long been excited by and this partnership allows us to support her in this next exciting chapter of her career."

Tamara Harvey, Artistic Director, Theatr Clwyd; said: "What an extraordinary and vital thing it is, in this moment, to be able to celebrate Sphinx Theatre's 30 years of incredible work with women. It is increasingly clear that the social and economic impacts of this pandemic will be particularly devastating for women and so it feels more important than ever to give female voices the biggest and widest platforms possible. We are passionate at Theatr Clwyd about nurturing and developing female artists - we're so proud to be working with Sphinx and to be able to champion and support the brilliant Ming Ho as one of the Sphinx 30."

For more information on Sphinx 30 please go to www.sphinxtheatre.co.uk