Lately, I’ve become interested in the state of new work in the American theatre scene, so I’ve decided to make a two-part piece comparing the American scene with the British theatre scene, which seems to place a great emphasis on new work. In this blog piece I’ll talk a bit about what I’ve read concerning the state of new works in the UK, and next week I’ll do the same for the American theatre scene, with the intent of comparison. Which theatre scene puts more emphasis on new work?
Maev Kennedy of British newspaper The Guardian explains in the article “New Work Makes Up Nearly Two-thirds of All British Theatre Productions” that “For the first time in more than a century, the British theatre scene is now dominated by new work including original plays, musicals, operas and pantomimes, which make up almost two-thirds of all productions.” It is important to note, however, that “the bulk of these shows were not musicals or dance shows, but straight theatre productions,” hence a bulk of it is new writing. The Guardian shares that a survey for the BBC of 62 subsidised theatres (carried out by the British Theatre Consortium) found that new works produced rose from 361 in 2009 to 395 in 2014. And, more specifically, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre saw a 23% increase in new works in 2014, compared to 2009.
The Royal Court, one of London’s most well-known theatres, is deeply committed to new writing. Its dedication to new writing has uncovered great writers such as Arnold Wesker, John Arden, and Edward Bond. The Royal Court writes on its website, “For over 50 years, we have premiered groundbreaking new plays and helped to launch the careers of our foremost playwrights.” The Royal Court reads and considers 3500 scripts every year and nurtures the work of emerging playwrights through writers groups, such as one described as an “open access beginner’s group.” They also provide developmental workshops and readings to allow the playwright the opportunity to hear their play read aloud. The theatre boasts that their writers groups and previous developments such as Rough Cuts and the Young Writers’ Festival jumpstarted the careers of “some of today’s most influential young playwrights, including Jack Thorne, Polly Stenham, Rachel De-lahay, Bola Agbaje, Mike Bartlett and Lucy Prebble.” The commitment not only runs deep – it runs far. Royal Court playwrights and directors travel across the globe every year to cultivate relationships with emerging international playwrights through workshops, residencies and touring. The theatre runs long-term development projects in various countries, such as Mexico, Brazil, Palestine, Germany, France, the U.S. and more, in the hope of stimulating new writing and bringing new works to London.
Does the American theatre scene have something similar in scope and breadth? Does new work make up nearly two-thirds of all American theatre productions? I’ll find out next week!