Chris Urch blogs about the Kenyon Institute Playwrights Conference

The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is delighted to announce a unique partnership with the Kenyon Institute Playwrights Conference to enable winners of the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting to spend a week at the Kenyon Institute in Ohio to take part in their Playwrights Conference which includes workshops with award-winning playwrights, American theatre companies and a UK new writing company.

Chris Urch was the inaugural recipient of this Fellowship and below are his reflections on the week spent at the Playwrights Conference.

“Last October in rainy Manchester I was having a notes session with the New Writing Associate at the Royal Exchange Theatre when she slipped into conversation that the Kenyon Institute were giving me a fellowship to go and take part in their Kenyon Playwrights Conference – http://www.kenyoninstitute.org/programs/playwrights-conference/ . Now, I must admit when I heard the word fellowship I thought this sounded pretty damn impressive. Also the potential to do a stop off trip to New York on the way to Ohio didn’t make this a tough decision on my part…Eight months later I was on my way!

A bit of background… The Kenyon Institutes Playwrights Conference is in its third year and is a week full of workshops, lectures, master-classes and readings. People from all over the world pay for the privilege to attend these events and lessons. What struck me (other than the heat) was the range in people who attended. There were screenwriters who work on top network shows who wanted a week to learn about writing a play. Some participants had returned for their third consecutive year to refresh their skills. Others were writers with commissions with highly regarded companies, and others were escaping motherhood or their jobs in the city for a week to indulge in their love of writing.

A lot of people also sign up for the experience of being taught for a week by some of the world’s leading theatre companies. This years guest lecturers were Gabriel Green (La Jolla Playhouse – http://www.lajollaplayhouse.org/ ), James Grieve (Paines Plough – http://www.painesplough.com/ ) and Adam Greenfield (Playwrights Horizon – http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/ ). Each of these practitioners also brought along a playwright who they are currently commissioning and we lucky few got the first hearing of their brand new plays! These playwrights were the incredibly talented Kirstin Greenidge. Equally talented Kirk Lynn and my pal Tom Wells. Also teaching was Playwright extraordinaire and professor at Kenyon Wendy Macleod. Though I learnt a fair few new things during my week, the morning I spent with Wendy was by far the most fruitful and I would advise anyone going to sign up to her lessons be it just for the hand out entitled ‘what to do when you’re hating your play.’

Although the classes were incredibly useful, and being set writing assignments gets you to stop thinking and forces you to write (always a good thing), I gained most from attending the three master-classes with the visiting playwrights. It’s always good to see how a writer approaches character, structure, story…and above all it’s a great opportunity to pick their brains. Likewise, it was truly inspiring and humbling to be among the first people to hear their new plays. All three have bucket loads of potential and I can’t wait to see them on the stage soon! (Brits watch out for Tom Wells’ new play – it’s a charmer).

The week is also an opportunity to get to know new people. My classmates were such a diverse bunch. Always positive and warm when reading each others work and constructive when asked for it. Oh and a big-up for my interns Henry and Hannah (students at Kenyon) who were always on hand if you needed anything and the best readers of work…seriously they were impressive sight readers.

One of Kenyon’s other highlights is the very popular Open Barn where you can have you work-in-progress read and get feedback from those on the course. Many people don’t have access to actors in everyday life so this opportunity is one to be seized. You learn so much from having you work read aloud, and once again it was a truly warm and receptive group.

The campus itself is – well I’m still not too sure quite where I was (let’s go with remote countryside – perfect for walks) has may good things going for it. Other than the frozen yoghurt machine in the canteen hall my choice of venue would be the Village Inn. Many a night (who am I kidding – every night), the groups would come together after a long day and have a few drinks to wind down. Being a writer is quite an isolated profession so when you get the opportunity to be around other writers who understand what it’s like there’s nothing better than to exchange stories.

All in all I had a great week! I met many wonderful people and I want to thank the Royal Exchange, Manchester, for nominating me for the fellowship. Sarah and Wendy for giving me this amazing opportunity and for being so open, warm and welcoming. And lastly, Tom Wells and James Grieve – we’ll always have Ohio boys!”

For more information about the Kenyon Institute please click here.

Published on:
25 Jun 2015

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