Phase 2 reader blog- Shahenaz Jivani

The Bruntwood Prize closed to entries on June 6th. We were delighted to receive 1890 scripts. Since that date out large cohort of around 150 expert readers have been working on reading every script.  There is an extensive five stage process to this reading. You can read a bit more on the reading process here: How do I enter? – The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting (writeaplay.co.uk) 

This year- readers also participated in some new training- written by a group of people who work across theatre, diversity and inclusion and human resources to support readers with their task. Of course it has been drawn up by a limited number of individuals, so we anticipate in a cohort of over 100 readers people will find their experiences and ideas about reading differ. We are not looking to create a homogenous reading model but instead to offer some though provoking resources to prepare readers specifically for the Bruntwood Prize reading. 

In today’s blog- phase TWO reader Shahenaz Jivani talks a little on the process and responsibilities of reading.

This is my third year reading for the Bruntwood prize. I was a Phase One reader previously and it’s my first time as a Phase Two reader which is a bit like being introduced to a friend of a friend. It’s not starting from scratch because someone’s already done the initial part of the journey from Phase One but now the responsibility’s all yours whether this script will go forward for a third read.

So many of the scripts this year have read with a clarity, imagination and scope. It feels like the competition is reflective of what’s happening in the world – who wants to write plays, just how many people want to write plays and what’s being said globally right now. Storytelling about war, homelessness, gender identity, racial tension and bereavement to love and friendships. A couple of the scripts have been so funny they made me laugh out loud.

The sheer number of entrants alone make this an exciting time for the competition, which itself was pushed back because of the pandemic. Then perhaps people wrote more during the pandemic or are writing more because of the pandemic. One positive to come from lockdown though is that distance matters less now. This year there was a significant rise in entries from global majority entrants. Plays were set all over the world – from Kampala to Paris. Then the vast amount of new entrants has been so encouraging and has hopefully redressed a bit of balance after such a challenging time for theatre.

There have been lots of submissions from writers who haven’t written a play before. For all the writers, fresh to the process or more experienced, the readers and competition organisers really appreciate that a lot of trust is involved when submitting a play. Hours and hours of work go into each script, often with only the scrutiny of the writer… sat up late at night to reach the deadline. There’s been an abundance of quality submissions which is clearly a reflection of the commitment and devotion each writer has applied to their work.

This year all of the readers have undertaken the new training which has been invaluable. It emphasises just how seriously we take the reading process and how much we appreciate the writer’s putting their faith in us. To have a mindset as a reader conducive to evaluating with the best possible eyes, I try never to read when I’m stressed or have unrealistic time constraints, making sure to be critical while completely open to the work, putting aside any bias or preference and focusing solely on identifying unique playwrights. A part of working out whether a script should go through to the next phase is initially not pitching it against any other play. That can come later, naturally.

I always have two voices running in tandem when I read. One is ticking off the criteria – to name a few, speakable, distinctive dialogue, inventive propulsive storylines, textured characters and the ability to engage an audience theatrically. The other voice is reaching from a more subliminal place; a feeling that this play has an energy, an attraction that makes it special. This year more than ever I’ve felt the writers have expressed that quality.

 

Shahenaz Jivani is a BBC Studios Drama Script Editor. She has recently worked as Script Editor on Kate O’Riordan’s RTE/ BBC Studios drama ‘Smother’, Series 3. Since 2018 she has developed and worked closely across BAFTA winning, Liverpool prison drama, ‘Time’ by Jimmy McGovern. More recently she has worked in development for Jimmy McGovern’s ‘Time’, Series 2. She has script read for BBC Studios Scriptworks/ Thousand Films ‘A Thousand Stories.’ Shahenaz was born in Saskatchewan, Canada to a Ugandan Asian father and British mother. Raised in Lancashire, she graduated with a Drama and Media Studies degree from John Moores University, Liverpool in 1995.

 

Published on:
27 Jul 2022

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