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How did you manage when there was no Live Theatre to see for over a year?


The writers watched a lot more TV, especially the brilliant dramas – I MAY DESTROY YOU, TOGETHER, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, TIME, etc. I think dramatic writing in any medium interested them more than theatre per se. We all listened to radio drama more than we had before – a favourite was THE ETERNAL SECOND by John Dryden. The writers read many more plays than before – we all consumed 5 each month for almost a year.


How do you advise writers to stage or broadcast their work when Literary Managers and agents are overwhelmed with new plays?


We have become a lot more DIY – one writer has written a community play and taken it direct to a local museum, another will be based in Edinburgh this summer and is staging readings wherever they are supported, two others have formed links with small or emergent theatre companies. We talk much more about the practicalities of staging than we ever did before and one of my groups use all their individual skills and contacts to help each other to stage their work.


Has Covid changed the way that you intend to work in the future?

Because we know each other in person, we can use Zoom when it is absolutely necessary and we are all grateful for it. Although online sessions are in 2 dimensions, if you know the people involved you can partly fill in the missing dimension. This is not possible with people you have never met. My course remains committed to in-person sessions.


Do you think theatre now needs stories about Covid so we can process what’s happened in the last 18 months, or is it best avoided?


It’s entirely up the writer and what they want to say. Denis Kelly’s Together showed how much emotion we have bottled up as a result of the pandemic. I am sure that his is not the last word on the subject.


What new forms of writing or self-producing have you seen occur online that have excited you?


I think Stellar Theatre are bringing writers, actors and audiences together in a constructive way.

Many theatres have stated that they will keep both online and real-life performance seasons running in future – what do you think the pros and cons of this are?


It is essential that theatres build up a stock of first-rate recordings of their shows for the next time there is a lockdown, whether now or in ten years’ time. Even without another pandemic, theatres will widen their audience and improve the quality of their live productions in doing so. The problems that have arisen for theatres in the last 18 months may prove yet to be their saviour. The world is zoom-adjusted and the audience potential for a regional theatre has expanded in a previously unimaginable way. Creative digital marketing has never been so essential.


During Covid we also saw the rise of Black Lives Matter, protests against a colonised history, against threats to our freedom to protest, and the G8 summit. In light of all this, what does it mean to be writing about the world right now?


It means that it is essential to be writing about the world right now.


Many theatres took the pause of Covid and used it to re-assess their approach to accessibility, inclusivity and diversity at a grass-roots level. What positive steps have you seen or heard about, and do you think this will also have an impact on the courses you run in turns of representation of writers, texts you read or practitioners you work with?


In a period with no live theatre, we greatly expanded the number of plays that we read. The shock was just how good modern American plays are. Stephen Karam THE HUMANS, Jeremy. O. Harris SLAVE PLAY, David Lindsey-Abaire GOOD PEOPLE, Lynn Nottage SWEAT, Jacob Brandon-Jenkins AN OCTOROON, to name a few. We began to see that race is really the driving theme in most modern American drama and how much comes out of the playwriting course in Yale.

The absence of live theatre also meant normally over-worked people had much more time to reflect, to discuss and to make resolutions. We are still in a ‘pause’. Normal service has not been resumed.

Positive steps are universal at present. More people than ever before want to write plays despite there being nowhere to stage or broadcast them. Why?


John Retallack

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