Guest Blog: Jennifer Tuckett On THE STUDENT GUIDE TO WRITING: PLAYWRITING
The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting, the first book in a new series, has just been published. So, why have we created this series?
Over the past four years, I have been investigating how best to train playwrights and writers at Central Saint Martins as part of the college's first ever creative writing degree, working in partnership with 11 professionals who have led the way in the industry in terms of writer training.
One of the things we noticed was that there seems to be a vicious cycle: writers can't get onto industry training programmes because they're not showing the skills looked for in their work, but they can't learn what the skills are as they can't get onto the training programmes. We hope publishing this industry training for the first time will provide important access to stop this vicious cycle.
The other area we've noticed is that this lack of access particularly affects those from backgrounds not previously associated with the arts. For example, at Salford University, where I worked for five years prior to Central Saint Martins and which often recruits its students from the most deprived 1% of the UK, students told me playwriting seemed like it was run by "aliens from another planet".
Over the course of the industry-partnered playwriting module I introduced, where staff from theatres would come in and work with students and teach them how theatres worked, student numbers rose from zero when I arrived to eight in year one to 40 to 80 students.
Similarly, at Central Saint Martins, we have seen numbers on the MA Dramatic Writing rise from seven students in year one to 22 to 35 to 40, with many going on to work professionally as writers and playwrights.
In a House of Lords debate about EBACC containing no creative subjects held earlier this month, Education Minister John Nash said: "The decline in the subjects to which the noble earl refers [arts subjects] has been more than made up for in the substantial increase in the number of pupils taking IT and the now almost 70,000 pupils taking computing."
What this quote confirms is that the impact of EBACC not containing creative subjects and other changes to schools and universities means that fewer students are now studying creative subjects. For example, a secondary school teacher spoke recently in Parliament of how they often see pupils arriving from primary school having never studied drama or art.
However, what John Nash fails to recognise is that research has also shown that it is students from backgrounds not traditionally associated with the arts who are particularly susceptible to being encouraged away from these subjects.
Also, if writing is about reflecting upon who we are, were and could be, this means that the writers and artists who reflect on what the world is, was and could be in our works of art are likely to become less diverse and more likely to show us only one perspective to think about.
Lyndon Johnson, upon founding the National Endowment for the Arts, said: "Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."
We hope, via providing access to leading industry training for the first time, we can help protect the future of arts education by ensuring teachers can use these lesson plans to teach classes, when EBACC and other developments are restricting resources, and that any student can gain access via the books.
We have titled the book The Student Guide to Writing in the hope it will come up easily in searches for students who may not know anything about the industry, but who want to find out more.
This book contains contributions from many industry figures leading the way in playwriting training: Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court's young writers programme; Steve Winter, Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation and co-founder of the Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays and TS Eliot US/UK Exchange; Rob Drummer, Artistic Director of Boundless Theatre and the former Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre; John Yorke, founder of the BBC Writers Academy; and Fin Kennedy, founder of Schoolwrights and Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company.
Coming from a single parent family, I grew up wanting to be, but not feeling I could be, a writer; it was only when I had access to the industry that how to be a writer became demystified.
We hope this new book series will do the same for students at schools and universities, and for anyone who wants to be a student of writing across the UK.