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Guest Blog: Chris Foxon and George Turvey On Exciting Changes to Papatango

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The new writing prize now supports more artists

Guest Blog: Chris Foxon and George Turvey On Exciting Changes to Papatango

Papatango runs on one simple belief: all you need is a story. Ever since we were founded in 2009, that motto has been at the heart of our work. Everything we do is aimed at providing pathways into theatre, especially playwriting, for people who might otherwise struggle to make or experience new work.

To do that, we run regular opportunities for production/publication, feedback, and training - all free, open to anyone in the UK and Ireland, and assessed anonymously. Every year we premiere and tour two new plays and provide personal, bespoke training to over 3,000 grassroots writers.

It's a model in which the onus is just that: on us. We pride ourselves on investing the funds, time and energy into supporting new playwrights, so that they are free to tell their stories.

As it has for all of us, 18 months under a pandemic has tested our model to its limits. At times, as anxieties about health, finances and the future spiralled, it became very clear that a story alone was not always enough.

And yet we kept telling them, because they were all we had.

That underpins how our model has adapted. We have tried to keep offering accessible opportunities for writers to share their stories, while doing more to redress the other challenges facing us, so that people can tell stories with greater backing. The next few months will be a learning curve, as we put this new model into operation for the first time.

The changes we have made include:

  • Remodelling the 2021 Papatango New Writing Prize - the country's biggest annual playwriting award - in a new partnership with ETT. While continuing to offer feedback to all, it has expanded to support three - not one - winners, awarding each an audio production, digital publication and a commission. The aim is to ensure that at this most difficult time, more writers benefit from the Prize, in a format that means we can guarantee their work comes to fruition whatever the public health situation.
  • Opening up our recruitment process. This year's Prize has been our first exploration of open applications for creatives/cast. This has been a resounding success: a huge number of brilliant applications, introductions to many artists we would otherwise never have met, and the chance to collaborate in new ways and invest in new people.
  • Piloting new forms. Theatre's digital transition has been a brilliant thing, but we didn't want the Prize's audio productions to be experienced remotely. Frankly, we're ready to enjoy the liveness and communality of theatre again. So we're very excited that the three Prize-winning plays will embark on what (we think) is a first: an audio tour, in which a different theatre each week hosts tablets/headsets containing recordings of the three plays, for audiences to listen to in person. Completely free, captioned and with braille translations, we hope this brings public spaces alive with accessible new stories, in an exciting new hybrid of audio/live forms.
  • Coming to as many audiences as we can. We want to celebrate the reopening of theatres with everyone, so the audio plays will go on our biggest ever tour, taking in 14 venues in every corner of the UK, from Devon to Wales to Yorkshire to Northern Ireland to Kent to the Highlands. Moreover, the last year has made all of us wary of how we interact with public spaces. Hence the audio tour is designed to be easily distanced (or not) as each individual prefers; once checked out, audiences can use the tablet in a space in the theatre that is comfortable for them and suits their needs.

Of course, alongside these changes, we're also committed to delivering the tried-and-tested projects that have served our artists and audiences for so many years. This month the long-awaited world premiere of Old Bridge by Igor Memic, winner of the 2020 Papatango New Writing Prize, will finally come to the stage at the Bush Theatre. It will also have a digital life afterwards, because the lessons about accessibility and reach that we have all learned in the pandemic shouldn't be forgotten.

But the last few weeks, watching our brilliant cast rehearse a sweeping love story spanning generations, has been a stark reminder of the power of stories to transcend time and place, a power that is at its greatest when we come together collectively. We hope to take this lesson forward: that we need to find new forms to make work accessible, transparent and safe, but that these should also share theatrical immediacy and liveness.

In the year and a half since we first scheduled Igor's brilliant debut play for production, a lot has changed. We have changed with it. But at the opening night of Old Bridge, when the lights dim and a group of strangers hush in instinctive, expectant unison, all the old joy of theatre will feel unbeatable.

Find out more about Papatango here


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