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Writers' Guild Of Great Britain (WGGB) Announces New Play Commission Scheme

Eighteen new plays have been announced as part of the inaugural NPCS.

Writers' Guild Of Great Britain (WGGB) Announces New Play Commission Scheme

Eighteen new plays for the inaugural New Play Commission Scheme (NPCS) have been announced today by the Writers' Guild of Great Britain (WGGB) in partnership with HighTide theatre company, UK Theatre and the Independent Theatre Council.

Designed in response to the decline in new theatre commissions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, the NPCS ensures 18 new commissions for playwrights, in partnership with a venue or producer, across England in 2022. The architect of the scheme is playwright and former WGGB President David Edgar, while the selection panel was chaired by WGGB Chair Lisa Holdsworth and consisted of writers Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Tom Wentworth and Roy Williams, writer/director Aisha Khan, writer/actor Amelia Bullmore, producer/director James Dacre and producer Kate Pakenham.

Research demonstrates that the pandemic has been devastating for playwrights, with a survey of UK Theatre members and other theatres revealing that new commissions declined by a third between 2019-20 and 2020-21. A poll of WGGB members found that 74% of playwrights lost income due to the pandemic - representing 40% of their annual earnings - and that 50% believed they would not be working in theatre in two years' time.

The 2021 Creative Majority report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Creative Diversity highlighted further challenges for the sector post-pandemic, in particular the chronic under-representation of women, racially minoritised people, those with a working-class background, people with a disability, and those living outside of London and the South East. As MP and Co-Chair of the APPG, Chi Onwurah states in her introduction: "Without action, we risk exacerbating inequalities further in the creative industries and an entire generation of talent - the future of the sector - could be lost."

The New Play Commission Scheme had equity and inclusion at its heart from the very beginning and is delighted to be announcing a truly diverse list of recipients. The scheme set minimum benchmarks in terms of inclusion of writers from under-represented groups and these have all been exceeded, demonstrating the depth and breadth of diverse writing talent working in England today. The scheme is also pleased to have met its commitment to ensuring that 60% of grants go to productions outside of London and that almost 90% of grants have been awarded to new commissioning relationships.

A range of themes and subjects amongst the works in the New Play Commission Scheme shine a spotlight on theatre's enduring ability to reflect and comment on contemporary concerns, highlighting pressing issues of the day, as well as entertaining and inspiring audiences through troubled times, such as smalltown attitudes to disability, women impacted by the Duterte regime in the Philippines, and the plight of black mothers in the UK medical and social care system, which take their place alongside "a working-class reimagining of the classical Persephone and Demeter myth" and a "lyrical, theatrical, multi-thread dive into young people's relationship with stuff".

The scheme provides grants equivalent to the WGGB commission minimum rate for the type of theatre and/or company commissioning the work. Playwrights were required to apply for the scheme in partnership with a venue or producer.

Initially endorsed by 317 writers, 46 venues/producers and the three major UK play publishers, the New Play Commission Scheme has been supported using public funding by Arts Council England and by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre through the Theatre Development Trust. The scheme has also raised over £50,000 in donations from major producers, actors and writers, with play publisher Faber making a donation to the scheme as well as awarding an additional £5,000 to the best play by an unpublished playwright. HighTide Theatre has produced the scheme on behalf of WGGB.

Playwright donors include Mike Bartlett, Caryl Churchill, April De Angelis, Lee Hall, Lucy Kirkwood, Bryony Lavery, Nina Raine, Simon Stephens, Tom Stoppard, Jack Thorne and Laura Wade. Producer donors include the Mackintosh Foundation, Neal St Media and Sonia Friedman Productions.

David Edgar, award-winning playwright and architect of the scheme, said: "The New Play Commission Scheme was conceived early in lockdown, and designed in partnership with UK Theatre and the Independent Theatre Council. However, as the weeks turned into months, we feared that cash-strapped and backlog-burdened companies would be increasingly leery of commissioning new plays - even with help from NPCS. We couldn't have been more wrong. Our brilliant selection panel were faced with the daunting task of whittling no less than 216 entries down to 18.

The shortlisted and selected writers included playwrights and screenwriters but also poets, novelists and spoken word artists. Unsurprisingly, many of their proposals were autobiographical, identifying and challenging discrimination and celebrating the agency of the excluded. Others combined political passion with mythology and magic realism. Many will place community research at the core of their process.

While extra fundraising and good financial housekeeping has enabled the panel to offer three more awards than we had originally planned, there remained many, many more of the plays we weren't able to select that are deserving of production. We hope NPCS will inspire the companies which submitted them to bring them to the stage. Truly, extraordinary plays for extraordinary times."

Sandi Toksvig OBE, WGGB President, said: "As our theatre industry emerges from a devastating two years, which has seen venues shuttered and new playwriting commissions dry up, it is vital for the health of the sector, and the playwrights who power it, that new plays pave the road to recovery. I am delighted that WGGB has stepped up to the bar with the New Play Commission Scheme, and what a fantastic selection of new work it is too."

Ellie Peers, General Secretary of WGGB, said: "New writing is the lifeblood of our theatre sector and it is vital that in the post-pandemic world support is given to playwrights, including those from under-represented and diverse backgrounds, so that our stages truly represent our society, and careers can flourish under fair and equitable working terms.

As a trade union, we are proud of delivering just this through the New Play Commission Scheme, which shows what is possible when our activists and industry partners come together collectively."

Lisa Holdsworth, Chair of the NPCS selection panel, said: "I'm very proud that the WGGB responded to the post-pandemic crisis in UK theatre in such a practical and positive way. The New Play Commission Scheme is the result of a great deal of hard work by union activists, staff and partners and a fine example of what can be achieved when the industry comes together."

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