On its launch in 2005 the Bruntwood Prize was one of the first writing competitions to ensure complete anonymity during the judging process by asking…
All plays are submitted anonymously to the Bruntwood Prize and are read by an expert panel of readers appointed by the Royal Exchange Theatre. There is an extensive five stage process to the reading before creating the shortlist. The readers as a cohort have a broad range of experiences and specialisms to try and give each submitted script the best chance.
The cohort of readers is made up of theatre professionals, skilled in reading scripts. They include directors, designers, dramaturges and literary managers at leading producing theatres, actors, national critics and theatre commentators and previous Bruntwood Prize winners.
As each script proceeds through the phases of reading it is addressed by a diverse team of readers. The Royal Exchange manages the reading process to ensure that each script is seen by readers with different ages, genders, work history, ethnicities and interests. The aim of the Prize is to find great plays in whatever shape or form they appear so the entry criteria are deliberately broad to allow first time writers and more experienced playwrights to be assessed on a level footing. We hope that in carefully administrating the reader demographics we ensure no script is overlooked due to an unconscious bias towards a particular way to tell a story.
Natasha is reviews editor and critic at The Stage. She co-founded Exeunt, a platform for experimental writing about theatre, in 2011 and has contributed to the Guardian, Observer, Independent and Time Out. She sometimes writes short fiction.
Midway through the period during which I was reading for phase three of the Bruntwood Prize, I saw Kieran Hurley’s play Mouthpiece at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
In the play, a writer in her 40s meets a young man in his teens, whose life has been marked by poverty and neglect, and she sets out to write his life. The play digs deep into questions about authenticity and artistic appropriation, the ownership of stories.
Because the plays for the Bruntwood are submitted anonymously, I initially found myself almost unconsciously constructing a picture of the writer in my head – wondering if, say, a woman have written this scene in this way?
I tried to steer myself away from this, to focus instead on the words, the form, the story. But one of things I found myself returning to as I read was the age of the writer and the fact that there’s no upper age limit for submission. All too often in the theatre industry the term ’emerging’ is equated with being young, as if creativity and youth were magically entangled. Many schemes and prizes are geared towards those under a certain age. The character of the playwright in Mouthpiece feels washed up in her 40’s, now that the glow of her early success as faded, now she no longer has youth on her side.
While it’s obviously a very good thing to support and nurture young artists, it frustrates me that more isn’t done to acknowledge that people can and do start writing at any age. There are numerous barriers – financial, educational and psychological – that might impact on someone’s ability to write a play at a young age. It takes a level of confidence and security in order to allow yourself to write, and a lot of people only find later in life. Placing a limit on the age of who can submit has an impact on the kind of stories being told. Older men’s experiences remain firmly at the centre of our culture, or at least they do if they’re of a certain class, from a certain background. Post-menopausal women, on the other hand, are particularly prone to being erased, marginalized or used as a source of comedy; they’re rarely given the space to be complex, to be magnificent, to be sexually and emotionally whole.
What struck me when reading the batch of plays I had been assigned was that three of them were about the experience of growing older, and they all approached the subject in different ways. One was very specifically focused on what it is to grow older in a country where the provision for care has been whittled away by austerity. The other two explored the experience of getting older, without making it the main focus of the plays. One play featured an elderly woman who had lived a long and rich life; she was afforded an interiority that struck me as rare. Another show I saw during the reading process was The Patient Gloria by Irish playwright and performer Gina Moxley, also at the Traverse. In it she talks about feeling invisible as an older woman; she ensures that by the end we can definitely see her.
At a time when the political climate is so polarizing and there’s an increasing sense of generational divisionism, with the Baby Boomer generation pitted against everyone who came afterwards, this felt welcome and necessary.
Playwriting is an act of imagination and an act of empathy. But I also believe representation matters. If only a narrow band of people get to tell stories on our stages, not only do we narrow our experiences of the world, we also diminish theatre as a medium.
Again and again as I was reading I asked myself what felt ‘true’, what that meant and why it mattered. I did not come up with satisfactory answers to all these questions but I enjoyed the different ways the plays made me think about them.
12 Sep 2019
Longlist of Top 100 Plays Announced-
We will publish the top 100 Longlist here on writeaplay on Spet 12th, 10am. These plays will still be anonymity at this stage as the winners will not yet have been chosen- so if you see your play please do maintain your anonymity!
14 Oct 2019
The winners of the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2019 will be chosen anonymously (and secretly!) in a priviate Judges meeting. To promote the achivements of all the shortlisted writers, we will then be announcing them under their real names here on the site, and via press release.