If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably made new year’s resolutions that involve playwriting; whether it’s to make more time to write, to apply for more writing opportunities or to get that script finished! So, we thought it would be a good time to share with you the exciting stuff we have coming up in 2015:
New original content: As well as continuing to bring you the latest writing opportunities, this year we’ll be stepping up our original content. We’ve brought on board some talented new contributors who are experienced in the joys and perils of being an emerging playwright. We’ve currently got a couple of them beavering away writing new content, so do watch out for some exciting new posts.
The Dark Horse Script Festival: This spring, we’ll be branching out from the world of blogging and producing a real-life festival of new writing! We’ve got some of London’s top new writing theatres on board to share with us the best new plays they’ve received from emerging writers. Taking place at a Central London venue this April, it’ll be epic, even if we do say so ourselves. Watch this space for details coming soon.
Mailing List: Quite a few readers have asked us about a mailing list to be able to hear from us directly to your inbox – we’re currently working on getting this up and running, and you’ll soon be able to sign up for it.
Before you get back to writing that draft, we’d like to say a HUGE thanks for visiting the site over the last year. Our readership has steadily grown beyond our expectations and it’s all down to your support. You’ve spurred us on to develop London Playwrights Blog further so please keep coming back and please share with your friends.
In the third post of the series about bringing her own writing to the stage, Kimberley Andrews talks money: can you produce a show without breaking the bank and should you dare to dream of making a profit?
Producing my own show was many things: it was a small glimpse in to what it might be like to be a producer (two words: hard work). It was fun and at times, chaotic. Most of all it was empowering; not in a ‘holy crap, I think I’ve just become Andrew Lloyd Webber and I’m going to dominate the West End for at least a generation’ kind of way, of course. But it was empowering to know that my work would never again be left to languish in the back of a drawer; all I had to do was pull my socks up and produce it myself.
What producing didn’t do was make me a large sum of money. This wasn’t because nobody bought tickets, in fact we sold out. And it wasn’t because we spent ridiculous amounts of money on elaborate costumes and revolving sets and a live orchestra. It’s just that with numerous outgoings and a limit on what you can charge for tickets, producing a small-scale show is never going to be a great money-spinner. It’s not all bad though – if you stick to a tight budget, you can break even, meaning you have enough money to produce another show in the future…
The first thing I did was to set the ticket price based on what others were charging for similar shows – which in our case, was £6. Now, I could have tallied up my outgoings first and based the ticket prices on covering the total. In fact, I could have charged £200 per ticket and then sipped Piña Colada’s in St Tropez for a couple of weeks on the profits. But I had to be honest with myself, who in the right mind would part with this sort of cash to see a show by an unknown writer? And could I justify increasing the ticket price to cover outgoings when my potential audience could just as well go and book a cheaper show? I wouldn’t have charged less than the ‘going-rate’ either – if you can make a few quid to stick in the pot for future shows and maybe buy yourself a Mars Bar, then go for it.
Setting the ticket price first gave me a clear idea of what kind of money I could spend on my show, which in turn, helped me to budget production costs effectively. The bottom line was that I only stood to make a couple of hundred pound even in the event of the show selling out. In the worse case scenario, if no one bought any tickets, I stood to make absolutely nothing, which as well as being a bit miffed, meant covering production costs out of my own pocket.
Now, like most writers, I don’t have money to burn – old first drafts of scripts maybe, but not money. So, as I was producing a sketch show, with other writers also contributing, I asked them if they’d split the costs with me. Split between 6 people, the £150 hire fee was only £25 each, a small amount to lose if no one turned up.
I was also really frugal about production costs, which meant working everything out beforehand in excruciating detail. Writing a list of everything you need to pay for and then adding it all up isn’t rock n’ roll, but it will stop you from getting a credit card bill that gives you palpitations later on…
Here’s what my outgoings looked like… (Please note that these prices are a couple of years old so will have no doubt increased)
Venue Hire [£150] – while you can get away with minimal set and props and pass it off as a stylistic choice, the cost of the venue is what it is and will most likely take up most of your budget. (See my previous post on finding a venue for tips.)
Actors/ Technical Staff/ Director [£40] – ok, so I didn’t pay mine but I did get them all a card and a bottle of wine to say thank you at the end.
Marketing[£27] – some might argue that you don’t need flyers for a one-off show what with the power of social media these days, but most venues ask for them and they’re useful for sticking on noticeboards etc. I roped in a creative friend who took a photo of a lettuce wearing sunglasses for mine; you don’t have to include stylish salad items but do make them eye-catching. I used a cheap online printing company for mine, a Google search will bring up a plethora of good deals. Getting them in postcard size saves money and you don’t really need more than 100 for a small show.
Props[£10] – I had a character who drank Lambrini and another who ate lots of Wotsits (yeah, it was a classy show), so I did have to purchase some props but do beg, steal and borrow where you can. It’s worth checking out whether the venue has a props store/ random junk cupboard that you can raid or seeing if you can call in favours from friends who work in theatres or drama schools. If not, hit the charity shops or raid your own wardrobe.
Printing [£0] – you’ll be expected to print out scripts for actors and programmes for the night, I managed to do mine for free because I work in an office but if you do have to pay, you can keep the cost down by getting rid of page breaks after scenes and keeping the programmes in black and white and on one page only. And if you don’t have a printer, avoid getting stung by expensive internet cafe’s by doing your printing at the library. If you’re doing a script-in-hand performance and you make lots of edits during rehearsal, you may need to print off edited copies for the performance, so do try to budget for that too.
Bits and bobs [£10] – bear in mind that there’ll always be a few extras involved, perhaps you’ll need a chat with the director and you’ll want to get them a coffee or maybe someone will misplace a prop on the day and you’ll have to run out and replace it.
Total outgoing: £237
Just for the record – at the time, the Hen & Chickens deducted £1.50 from each ticket for a membership scheme. So, although we sold tickets at £6, in reality, we got £4.50. We sold 54 tickets meaning we made a grand total of £243 and a profit of a whole £6! Mars Bars all round then…
My three top tips:
Split the costs! If you haven’t got other writers contributing, ask the director or see if you can bring a co-producer on board. Not only will you reduce your own financial risk but you’ll getting extra commitment from contributors who won’t want to lose their money by dropping out at the last minute.
Share the profits! Of course, if you’re splitting costs, it goes without saying that you have to split your profits, unless you want to lose friends. That also goes for actors or technical staff that you aren’t paying
Say thanks!If people have worked for free, get them a thank you card and a bottle of wine or a drink at the bar after the show. But don’t go nuts and spend a fortune on gifts, if you can afford to do this I think most struggling artists would just prefer the cash.
When I was single, writing was easy. I kept my own schedule and I wrote when I wanted. My room was my own: I had a desk in the corner, though I preferred writing in bed, and I would have writing binges deep into the small hours or across big swaths of time at the weekend.
But then I met someone. Tall guy, lovely eyes, big beaming smile. I wanted to spend all my time with him. I went out with him, I stayed in with him, and suddenly all of that alone time I’d been used to before became a much more precious commodity. When I did have it, I was usually exhausted, and wanted to spend it conked out in bed watching Gilmore Girls. (Great dialogue; don’t judge). Getting time at the keyboard became harder and harder, and I noticed my writing starting to suffer.
I tried to handle this by saying no to things – no, I don’t want to go for a walk in the park. No, I don’t want to hear that band play at the warehouse party. No, I don’t want to come for a curry on Brick Lane. But I wasn’t very good at it. When I said no to things, it just made us both disappointed. And unhappy. And that’s no way to live life in your early twenties, so I went back to saying yes again. I was happier, but no more productive. I kept telling myself I’d do something about it, but I never did.
And then I moved in with him. And all of a sudden, everything was different. He was there all the time. My room was not my own any more: I couldn’t stay up until 4 in the morning writing a script, and there was always someone in the house with me: someone I always wanted to spend time with. Love does terrible things to your self-control. Writing became the ultimate antisocial activity, and I lost all my momentum: I stalled completely. I had a full-time job and a full-time grown-up relationship, and my writing was slipping away from me.
As Simon Stephens said, if you want to be a writer, you have to actually… you know, write sometimes. I can’t put my finger on what made me get my arse in gear and pull myself out of the slump, but I realised that the shape of my life had changed – and that if I wanted to stay a writer, my writing would have to find a way to change too.
I committed to taking writing seriously again, and I tried to write every day, because I read somewhere that you should. This sounded like a lot of work, but it turned out it was a lot like jumping into a cold pool: terrifying before you do it, but fine once you’re swimming lengths. The trouble, I found, when I looked through my diary, was finding the time to put those hours in at all.
I decided to use the thing that had almost killed my writing to try and revive it: my schedule. Back as a shift-working MA student singleton, my diary moved in fits and starts, and I was free to binge at the keyboard freely and randomly. But that’s no longer true. I have a schedule and so does my boyfriend, and so I had to find a way to create sacrosanct writing time that fitted around both of them.
I decided to target the mornings. My boyfriend is a musician, and works sporadic hours, but he’s often out late on a gig and sleeps later than I do. I started waking up earlier to grab some time in the next room while he’s still sleeping, quietly eating breakfast and whispering my dialogue out loud for an hour or so every morning before I head off to work. I try and block out at least one evening a week, too, and I mark this out in my calendar as far in advance as I can so that he and I both have fair warning.
Scheduling around one another works well, but sometimes you just have to leave your other half alone to spend time with your writing – it’s your life’s other full time relationship. And I know this kind of thing can cause rifts.
As a musician, my other half is a creative type himself, so he understands how this works, even if his process is completely different – louder, for a start, and much more sociable. But the fact that he knows what it’s like to write something, to shut yourself away and try and conjure something from nothing, is a big help in empathising. And that empathy is what I’m most grateful for. If the person you love doesn’t understand or won’t support your writing, then that’s a serious problem no amount of scheduling will overcome.
The reality is that it will probably feel much worse for you abandoning your other half of an evening than it will for them – you’re the one making Sophie’s Choice between them and the page, and they’re the one who gets to watch telly while you work. But you have to be brutal about your writing, otherwise it will never happen. Brutal to yourself, and sometimes to your partner. Your life is going to go through many shifts in shape and size over the years, and you have to help your writing through them – even if it means spending a little less time with a person you love.
Kimberley Andrews continues her quest to bring her own writing to the stage, sharing her top tips along the way. In the second post of the series, she looks at venues: how to find them, what to expect from them and when to run away screaming.
In my case, finding a venue required looking no further than out of my bedroom window. At the time, I lived across the road from the Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar in Islington and almost every night I would hear the lively chatter of a satisfied and slightly tipsy audience leaving the pub after a show. Whenever I found myself in there, which was frequently, given that my flat had a rubbish heating system and was nowhere near as well stocked with wine, it was always jam-packed and the atmosphere welcoming. Like many of the punters, I’d often like the look of whatever show was on that night and on the spur of the moment decide to buy a ticket; usually I’d be disappointed to find that the show was sold out.
Of course, my research wasn’t as lazy as ‘we can see in to each other’s windows and they do a nice Sauvignon Blanc’. On the contrary, because I knew the theatre so well, my investigation was really quite in depth (I practically lived in the place for goodness sake). I knew what kind of work they produced, what the space was like and that the drinks prices wouldn’t force my audience in to drinking tap water. Importantly, I knew that it was near the tube, which left no excuses for those south-of- the-river folks who are inclined to treat a trip to North London like a trip to John O’ Groats (don’t underestimate good transport links, even your best mate is likely feign the death of their dog at the prospect of getting five buses to see your show).
I’m not suggesting that in order to find the right venue you need to live in such close proximity that there’s a good chance they’ll see you putting your PJ’s on at night, I’m just pointing out that it’s worth doing your research in person to make sure a theatre is right for your show. Be prepared to visit several places before you find ‘the one’ but hey, if you’re looking at theatre bars this basically means you can visit pubs and legitimately call it research (hooray). I should probably add here that as an inexperienced producer, my search was confined to smaller fringe venues – I had a hunch that the Globe wouldn’t have a slot for me somehow (sigh)…
Once you’ve loitered in a theatre for long enough to know you like it, you just need to make yourself known to the theatre manager. This can seem daunting to us writers who are used to festering in solitary confinements talking only to our laptops but it really is just a matter of enquiring at the bar or, if you want to be modern about it, getting contact details from the website. Even better if you know someone who works at the theatre who can introduce you and vouch for your greatness.
Once I’d got the details, I sent out a nice, friendly (without being creepy) email, including as much as I could to show that I was capable, prepared and willing to pull out the stops to make the show a success. That said, I’d recommend being concise: they don’t want to read your life memoirs or radical plans for refurbishing the theatre ready for your show. I didn’t send any material at this stage but I did make sure scripts were written and polished, just in case they asked. As a guide, here’s what I included in my email:
A paragraph about my background and relevant experience.
A one sentence summary of my show and the length of the run I was hoping for.
An explanation of why it would be a good fit for their space.
Details of how amazing and talented the other people involved in the project were (it’s useful at this stage to have a director attached but you wouldn’t be expected to have a cast yet).
A rough idea of when I wanted my show to take place – this should be at least 3 months in advance for a one-off show and more for a longer run.
Once meetings were in place, I was geeky enough to type up a list of questions to ask them; this comes in useful if, like me, you’re likely to lose your head at the thought of donning some Victorian attire from the props cupboard as soon as you enter the theatre.
10 things to ask the theatre manager
How much? How much? How much?! What does the venue charge for hire and do they take anything from your box office takings?
Is any rehearsal space included? I wouldn’t hold your breath for anything more than a couple of hours on performance night, but hey, you can ask…
Do I need to bring any staff with me, such as a tech or someone to manage the door?
What’s available in terms of lighting, sound and set? Will I need to pay a technician fee for this support?
Are there any rules and regulations about the space? (including get-in and get out times
Is any marketing included? EG, will my show be listed on your website? What marketing will they expect you to do on your own – create Facebook group, provide flyers, etc?
How many seats are there? And are all of them for sale or are some of them reserved for production/ theatre staff? Always check this as theatres have strict fire regulations and might not be happy about your production team cramming in to a cupboard because you haven’t sorted seats out for them.
Do they offer any discounts/ help to new writers? EG, could they give you a slot at a reduced rate for a time when they are unlikely to get another booking? Although, please see anecdote below about so-called good deals!
Is there a space behind the stage for the actors to wait and to put props? Will it be possible to visit with the director to see what this space looks like? This may be particularly important if you’re playing on an off-night of a show that’s already using the space.
Can I have a contract, please? Ok, so the answer to some of the above questions will be in the contract but always worth double checking that the details match up. Make sure you get any arrangements you’ve agreed in writing.
I learned some valuable lessons from meeting with several theatres: mainly to be wary of so-called ‘good deals’. One theatre, who shall remain nameless, offered me what first appeared to be the best deal ever. They offered hire of their venue for a whole week for no upfront cost. All they asked is that I repaid them from the box office takings. Apparently, they were keen to help out new writers and they had a free week in their calendar that they were unlikely to get a booking for (since most of their shows ran for three weeks or more). I thought all my Christmasses had come at once! A theatre, for a week, for FREE! I was about to give the theatre manager an awkwardly enthusiastic hug when they casually mentioned that they’d also need a cheque from me for the full cost of hire for the week that they would only cash in if I didn’t sell enough tickets. Suddenly, the deal didn’t seem so good after all but at least my urge for hugging an almost total stranger had passed.
Sure, it was helpful of them not ask for money up front and if you can be certain that you’ll sell enough tickets then it’s a win-win, however, I still think it would be wise to have that cheque covered just in case. Personally, if I’d had the money to cover the cheque without missing my rent and going hungry for a month, I’d have just paid for the venue upfront in the first place. And no discount for hiring the theatre during a week that no one else wants….oh thanks. Needless to say, I politely declined the offer, and left the meeting slightly deflated but safe in the knowledge that I hadn’t gambled with money I didn’t have in order to fund my show.
Apart from this random not-so-good deal, I found that most of the venues I met with had similar terms and rates so I decided to go with the Hen & Chickens, after all, it was already my second home…
In the next post, I’ll be looking at how to finance a show without making yourself destitute or tearing your hair out over sums.
Trying to fit regular writing time into your life can be a really daunting task. Some of us are lucky enough to have the flexibility to write whenever we want, but for most people, long term commitments like work, family and relationships can make regular time at the keyboard difficult to get a handle on. And it’s often the first thing to go when you’re going through a period of stress. Writing is like a muscle: the more you practise, the easier it gets. And without regular practise, your writing’s unlikely to get better.
A little while ago I went through a really dry period where my writing pretty much ground to a halt. I’d taken on a new job, moved in with someone, and lost a lot of the usual rhythms that led me to write. I’d tried kidding myself that it would just happen: that one of these days I’d be less busy, that I would find the time to sit at my desk and start typing merrily away, but I never did.
I realised the only way that I was going to get my writing mojo back was by beating myself into shape with a writing schedule. I needed to hardwire writing time into my life – and after taking a look at my weekly routine, I realised that reclaiming my mornings would be the best way to go about it. I thought if I carved out some time before work, I could get back into writing properly.
But how to do it? I had grown used to late nights and lie-ins, and the thought of rising early to fit in an hour or so before work filled me with a groggy-headed dread. But in practice, it wasn’t so bad at all – as long as I followed a few rules I set for myself.
Everyone has their own of working, but these are my top tips for making early morning writing a sustainable part of your routine:
Don’t wake up too early. We all need to sleep. Margaret Thatcher may have been able to make it through on only 4 hours a night, but needing 8 is much more normal. Don’t skimp: you’ll get exhausted, make yourself ill, and your writing will suffer. Take a careful look at your schedule and set a realistic wake-up time – and know what time you should be going to sleep. It’s better to have 20 minutes of writing time on a full night’s sleep than an hour without.
Don’t write on an empty stomach. The last thing you want is to ruin your writing time with a growling tummy. Roll straight out of bed and into the kitchen to make yourself a simple breakfast while your mind wakes up. Take time to eat it properly, too. Don’t try to eat and write – far too messy. Read the paper, check Facebook or listen to music – but then be ready to go straight to the keyboard as soon as you’re finished.
Do it in your pyjamas. Write first, wash later. Whenever I get ready for work, all the little tasks have a funny way of expanding to fit the time available. Leave yourself enough time to get ready once you’ve finished writing, but prioritise your time at the page. If you’re late, be late because you had an amazing writing session, not because you spent too long in the shower.
Find a place to do it. Don’t improvise; take this seriously. Whether it’s at a desk or curled up on a sofa, find yourself a writing nook and make sure you show up there every time. It’ll help you stick to the habit. Try to avoid the bed, as this can interfere with your sleep hygiene – yes that’s a real thing – which can have negative effects on your sleep, and your writing.
Make sure you’re ready to go the night before. Lay out your books, your pens, your computer, and unclutter your writing nook so you can just walk in and get started. Unf**k Your Habitat have great tips for keeping your work area tidy. Make sure you have what you need for your quick breakfast, too.
Don’t put any pressure on yourself. Don’t set a word count; don’t set a goal. All you’re trying to do is show up at the page and write. You don’t need the stress of deadlines getting in your way. Some days you will do really well, and other days it will be like pulling teeth – so don’t beat yourself up about the inevitable dry spells.
Make sure you’re stocked with inspiration. If you like working from writing prompts, make sure you have some lined up to get you going. If you get stuck and find yourself casting around for an idea, make sure you’ve got some nice books or images to hand. If you’re going to be doing something else, like editing a scene or developing a character, make sure you’ve decided what it is before you show up. You don’t want to waste time trying to work out what you should be doing.
Have a backup plan. Sometimes you will have bad days where you can’t write anything. You might be ill, you might be knackered, your laptop might die. Or there might be no reason at all. It happens. But when it does, try to use that time in another constructive way – maybe read something inspiring, go back over an old draft, brainstorm a character, or even just doodle something to get your mind moving.
Know when not to do it. Don’t be too hardcore about this. Good writing doesn’t come from working yourself into the ground. If you’re unwell, if you’re exhausted, if you’re stressed by something major happening in your life, don’t feel awful about taking a morning off to steal some sleep or do something else you really have to get done. If I’m having a hard week at work, I normally take Thursday morning off and have a lie-in instead. That extra hour of sleep helps me make it through the week – and one good Friday morning is better than two mornings of exhausted rubbish. Just make sure you’re not making excuses to let yourself slack off.
Be prepared to get better. At first, just waking up and typing the date may well be challenging enough for you. But the more you practice writing, the better you’ll get at it – so be prepared to move on. You may start to find automatic writing boring – see this as a good thing, as it means you should be trying something more challenging. Try more demanding exercises, or start working on project that means something to you.
Don’t pretend this is everything. Writing for short, sustained periods in the morning is a great way to revitalise your writing life, but it can’t replace the proper commitment of longer amounts of time spent at the keyboard. Block out a regular evening once a week to do more of the heavy lifting, think about taking the occasional writing holiday for a few days running, or just fit in a few hours once a week wherever you can. Whatever you do, you’ll find your morning routine leaves you feeling better prepared, your mind clearer, and your writing sharper.
Tired of rejection letters and fed up of waiting for someone else to produce her work, Kimberley Andrews decided to bite the bullet and bring her own writing to the stage. But where to start? In the first of an eight part series, she relates the trials and torments of self-producing, sharing her Dos and Don’ts for organising a show without losing your sanity.
Like most playwrights, I have spent many a long hour perfecting an unsolicited submission for a theatre. I’ve laboured over cover letters, cringed at my biography and grappled with a 200 word synopsis that stubbornly remains at 236 words even if I delete an essential part of the plot. I’ve then played the obligatory waiting game (obsessively checking my inbox at 4am in case the literary manager happens to be nocturnal) only to eventually receive a bog-standard ‘thanks but no thanks’ and the said script gets laid to rest in the cemetery that is ‘my documents’, never to see the light of day again.
This is not to say that I don’t keep submitting in the hope that one day a bidding war will take place between the Royal Court and the Bush over my latest play. However, in the meantime, I am left with the issue of how the hell am I going to get my work seen? Romantic as it might seem to needlessly print off a script and leave it to decay in the back of a drawer to be found after my death, that’s not why I write plays. I write plays for them to be performed. I need to see my work on stage every now and then to know that I’ve chosen the right career and that the perpetual financial insecurity is worth it. I need to see my mistakes in all their glory, cringe when dialogue is out-of-place and rejoice when an audience laughs at my jokes.
With this in mind, I decided to take the bull by the horns and start producing my own work. If Facebook was anything to go by, this would be fairly easy; I just needed a fancy promotional picture for my show and a commitment to bombarding my friends with invitations. How hard could it be…?
The first decision I had to make was, what, out of all the masterpieces decaying in the back of my metaphorical chest of drawers, should I produce? Should I go for that 3 hour epic with a cast of 82 Roman soldiers*, all requiring highly authentic costumes? Or what about a national tour of that first ever play, the one my Mum thought was ace?
(*Ok, you’ve got me, I haven’t really written an epic roman play with a cast of 82, which is lucky because don’t think my papier-mache skills would stretch to body armour).
After conducting some in-depth research (i.e. quizzing a few of my friends who were already producing work), I quickly concluded that if I wanted my first project to be a success, I would need to keep it manageable. This to someone with no experience, a pitiful budget and hardly any spare time meant keeping things small. (Oh, and producing work that someone other than your Mum thinks is half decent is a good move too, apparently).
At this point, I remembered that folder marked ‘sketches’ lurking on my desktop begging for liberation. Using sketches (or indeed short scenes if you’re not very funny), has some advantages for the novice producer. Firstly, the task of writing them, polishing them and making them bloody brilliant, is much smaller than doing the same with a full length play. Secondly, you’ll be asking much less of the actors and director, which is handy if you’re asking them to work for free, which I was. Thirdly, many venues offer one-off performance slots for sketches, reducing the financial risk. And finally, you can always ask other people to contribute material, which takes the pressure off and allows you to get to grips with learning about what it is that producers actually do.
Speaking of asking others to contribute, it is tempting to try to take on the whole project singlehandedly. I quite liked the idea of putting on a spectacular show all by myself and taking all the glory for it, who wouldn’t? However, I can’t stress how valuable it was to collaborate, delegate and basically beg for help from just about everyone I knew. Getting my mates to contribute sketches and handing my script over to a director really allowed me to sink my teeth in to the task of producing, which I soon discovered was a huge job in itself. Ultimately, this is how it works in real-life: when the winner of that bidding war finally gets their gleeful mitts on your script, you’ll be handing it over to directors, producers, casting directors and your main job will be to sit back, relax and feel smug.
Do’s and Dont’s
Do produce your best work. If you haven’t shown it to anyone, get some feedback (either by joining a writers group, doing a course or asking a brutally honest friend).
Don’t be overly ambitious with your project. Keeping it all manageable allows you to find your feet and make sure it’s good.
Do delegate and call in favours wherever possible, you’ll thank yourself later.
Don’t wing it. Have a plan from the very beginning. Treat yourself to some new highlighter pens and be organised.
In the next post, I’ll be looking at how to find the perfect venue and what to ask the theatre to ensure you’re getting a good deal.
You can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader. But buying scripts can get expensive, and staying in touch with the best new writing can become a serious drain on your bank balance. Thankfully, this city has a great many opportunities for the curious reader looking for some inspiration. Here are our top tips for ways to read more plays than you can handle, most of them for free:
1. The British Library.
A no-brainer. As a deposit library, the BL has access to copies of every book ever published in the UK, plays included. Just order the texts you want to read from their online catalogue, and a few hours later they’ll be waiting for you at the service desk.
You have to get a Reader’s Pass to use the Library, which is free, but requires you to justify why you need to use their resources. If you’re interested in researching a topic related to your job or studies, this will usually do. Getting a pass can seem a little daunting, but the staff are friendly and if you can get one it’s absolutely worth the effort.
You won’t be able to take books home, but with reading rooms as beautiful as this you won’t want to. Plus, it’s open late on weeknights, so you can go after work for some quality study time.
2. City of Westminster Reference Library
If you can’t get into the British Library, you might want to try this West End library as an alternative. They specialise in the performing arts, and the collection includes an extensive collection of classic play texts, as well as up-to-date copies of all the major contact directories for agents, theatres and production companies. Membership is free to anyone who lives in the UK. Plus, they have a Sherlock Holmes collection. It’s win-win.
3. The National Theatre Archive
Snuggled up to The Old Vic in Waterloo is the National Theatre Studio, where the UK’s largest theatre develops its new projects and meticulously archives its old ones. You’ll need to make an appointment to access the archive, but it’s free and open to anyone. As well as reading a production’s prompt script, you can peek at the margin annotations, browse the designers’ sketches, and sometimes even watch recordings of final performances. Well worth it if you want to study a particular play in depth.
4. Become a script reader
New writing theatres are desperate for people to help them churn through their stacks of unsolicited script submissions. Drop their literary department a line and ask if they’re looking for any readers. A lot of the scripts you’ll get won’t be much good, but some of them will – and you shouldn’t underestimate what you can learn from your peers’ work, both good and bad. This is a great way to expose yourself to the coal face of new writing, and keep an eye on contemporary trends. Plus, you’ll get first hand experience of how a literary department works, and possibly make some great contacts.
5. The Shakespeare Readers’ Society
Meeting once a month in the basement of an occult bookshop in Bloomsbury, the Shakespeare Readers’ Society celebrate the joy of reading the bard’s work out loud. Parts are doled out on a sign-up sheet, but whether you’re a lead part or a cameo, there’s nothing like getting your head back into the classics and hearing some of the best work ever written being read aloud. When it’s over, pop £3 into the room hire tin and retire to the pub across the road to discuss the play.
6. Reading Groups
If the classics aren’t your thing, you can always try one of London’s many other established play-reading groups. One of the best is the Actors & Writers’ Forum, who meet once a fortnight at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios for rehearsed readings of new plays and a subsequent Q&A. It’ll cost you £5 on the door, or there’s a membership scheme for £10 a year, which also allows you to submit your own scripts for a possible reading. But if this doesn’t take your fancy, scour meetup.com for an alternative, or use it to start one in your own neighbourhood. If you like hearing work read aloud, this is a great way to see what some of your fellow writers are getting up to, and possibly make some new friends.
7. Bush Theatre Café
Curl up with a cappuccino and browse the Bush Theatre’s wall of play texts – it’s not a huge collection but in the comfy surrounds of the old Shepherd’s Bush Library it’s a great place to kill some time before catching the evening show.
8. BBC Writers’ Room Script Library
Download copies of some of the BBC’s best comedy and drama scripts absolutely free. Yes, it’s not theatre, but don’t be a snob – you can still learn an awful lot about structure, character and style from these top-notch scripts: especially their collection of radio plays.
9. Drama School Libraries
If you can’t find what you’re looking for at a public library, you might want to try London’s many drama schools, which stock a whopping number of modern and classic plays. Some require you to pay a fee, like RADA, and some won’t let the public in at all – but access is usually free to staff, students and alumni – and if you know someone with a card it’s well worth asking if they’ll borrow something for you.
10. Samuel French Bookshop
We’re not suggesting you spend all day here reading plays from cover to cover, but browsing a bookshop can be a great way to get the flavour of different writers’ work, to contrast a few different styles and make an informed purchase of a text you’ll want to read in more depth later. Samuel French has a more extensive collection of plays than almost any bookshop in London – but the National Theatre and Royal Court bookshops are also worth a punt.
What’s your favourite place to read plays in London? Recommend something for us in the comments and we’ll go and check it out.