3. Graz, 2004

To give you a verbatim flavour of discussions, here is a day’s worth from our first meeting in Graz, Austria:

Session Date: 30th October 2004, Morning Session

Place: Literatur House, Graz, Austria

Present: Jonathan Meth (JM), Gabriel Gbadamosi (GG), Edith Draxl (ED), Alex Chisholm (AC), Milan Govedarica (MG), Andrey Kureichyk (AK), Peter Arnott (PA), Amela Simic (AS), Julie Ellen(JE), Aiste Ptakauske (AP), Svetlana Dimcovic (SvD), Sarah Dickenson (SD)

Subjects: Introductions, Reflections on the Fence, IETM and ICDE Database

1. Summary

1.1 Agenda

The first session in Graz as part of the Steirische Herbst Festival. The group met in the Literatur House. This first session focused on:

  • Introductions of new people
  • Reflections on the first two meetings of The Fence
  • Discussions around The Fence’s relationship to the IETM
  • Presentation of opportunities offered by the ICDE database

Summary of Action Points

Fence Members will contribute to the ongoing updating of information on the Fence subsection of the Writernet site. Questions to structure country profiles would be sent out to those yet to complete a country profile upon request. Fence members undertook to check and update their own profiles when necessary.

2. Introductions

Gabriel Gbadamosi (GG)

A playwright for 20 years. Has worked in the UK in Black Theatre sector and when it collapsed went to work in Europe including in Germany, Holland and Portugal. Moved to Africa and became a scholar in African performance and its context. He has been a writer and lecturer in the Caribbean and the Middle East and a Poet in Ireland.

Edith Draxl (ED)

Edith is the director of Uni-T at the University of Graz. Uni-T delivers activity, which falls into three main areas:

  1. The application of theatre in Social Settings
  2. Projects with Students
  3. The training of new playwrights and screenwriters

They run workshops with students, and are now running a 2 year playwrights’ training programme which includes workshops and mentoring. This kind of training is not widespread in the German speaking countries, with only a few programmes in Germany (Berlin, Leipzig and Munich). Integral to the philosophy of the programme is treating young playwrightsas playwrights rather than as students. The programme is into its first six months and the mentoring is going well. Their aim is to get writers into the theatre network and build connections between them and the festival, but they are mindful not to put writers under too much pressure at these early stages in their career. Edith herself is a director, but is focusing her energies on management at the present time.

Alex Chisholm (AC)

Alex is the literary manager at the West Yorkshire Playhouse (WYP). At WYP they work with writers regionally, nationally and internationally. They are currently in close contact with 50 writers closely and are in irregular contact with 300 writers. 20 –25 writers are currently been invited into workshops and the theatre itself mounts 6-8 productions of new plays a year. The WYP has two auditoria, a 750 seat main house and a 350 seat studio space. They also have a children and young people’s touring company. Alex first joined the Fence at the inaugaral meeting in Shropshire and Birmingham last Autumn. She has recently directedHuddersfield, a Serbian play at the WYP.

Milan Govedarica (MG)

Milan works on the NADA (new drama) project at the National Theatre in Belgrade. Their aim is to facilitate the work of new playwrights. In Serbia the structures for developing the work of new writers are poor. Their goals, therefore, are:

1.To facilitate new work

2.To bring about changes in production cycles, seeing directors workingwith playwrights in a mutally condusive process and encouraging shorter rehearsal periods.

3.To make international collaborations to enable the free circulation of new work and translations.

NADA’s work has included showcases, readings, helping people in other theatres to develop new plays by offering dramaturges etc. In October 2002 they were part of an international exchange with the National Theatre’s Studio which included a focus on the playwright’s relationship with the director. Even still the project’s challenge remains persuading theatre managements that they need a new play project.

Andrey Kureichyk (AK)

Andrey is from Minsk in Belarus. He began his career as a law assistant, then as an actor. He wrote his first play in 1999 which was performed at the Russian State University in Minsk. In 2001 he became Chief Advisor on the subject of copyright for the President of the Belarusian Theatre Union and then vice-president on copyright laws. Last year he founded the Union of Playwrights, of which he is president, which comprises 21 Belarusian playwrights most of whom are under the age of 35. In 2003 he also founded the Centre of Contemporary Drama and Directing in Minsk in order to support gifted young playwrights and directors. Stages in Belarus have seen productions of contemporary British playwrights, such as Ravenhill and Kane, but often Belarusian playwrights suffer from the habit of theatre companies of presenting work by international authors (such as Stoppard or Aykbourne) without paying copyright. He sees part of the work of the union to inform international authors of these violations. They also want to begin to build a website and database of information for Belarusian writers.

Peter Arnott (PA)

Peter is a playwright and the chair of the Playwright’s Union of Scotland, which has been in existence for the past 30 years. The Union supports theatre writing in Scotland and writing in the Scottish dialect. Scotland is an old and new country, and Peter has noted the connection between the emergance of new countries and new theatre writing: something that happened in Scotland in the 1970s. For Scotland it is an exciting time, with the emergance of the new Scottish Parliament which is actively interested in the Arts. Today sees the first day of work of the Artistic Director of the new National Theatre of Scotland. Unlike the Royal National Theatre in London, the National Theatre of Scotland is not building based and has no centre. Instead it is working with existing companies in the country. For Peter, The Fence is also working away from such a notion of ‘the centre’ and sees the emergence of writing for theatre as a kind of anarchy in itself.

Jonathan Meth (JM)

Jonathan is Director of writernet. Writernet will have its 20th Birthday next year. The organisation began life as The New Playwright’s Trust, a grass roots organisation which was formed to support young playwrights. Now as writernet the organisation exists to support writers across dramatic mediums at any stage in their career and has a key focus on diversity. Jonathan began his career as a theatre director but has been working in arts management for the last 10 years.

The Fence was set up through writernet’s participation in an ESF funded project called Creative Renewal. The idea behind the Fence was to investigate and strengthen the mobility of the individual artist across borders and the first meeting was in the UK 12 months ago.

Writernet is not a Guild (the UK has the Writers Guild of Great Britain) nor is it a development organisation, but occupies a curious position in the landscape that enables a movement in and out of formal structures.

Amela Simic (AS)

Amela is the Executive Director of the Playwrights Union of Canada. Canada is a European Country! The Playwrights’ Union has 500 members. The Union grew from a group of playwrights who in the 1970s decided that Canada needed its own drama and voices. The Union owns its own publishing house, The Playwrights Canada Press and is the only Canadian publishing house that publishes its own plays. They also publish a magazine, CANPLAY, lobby for playwrights on issues such as copyright and act as agents for playwrights who don’t have their own. They have agreements with the Association of Professional Theatres which are reviewed every three years, and through doing so have managed to agree pension provision for Canadian writers. The agreements also mean that noone can touch a word of a writers text without consulting the playwright. The Union administers amateur and educational rights and also offers grants for playwrights to read in public places such as libraries.

Julie Ellen (JE)

Julie is the Creative Director of Playwrights Studio Scotland. The Playwrights’ Studio is a new organisation but an old idea and acts as a central organisation to promote playwrights and their work. The scope of the studio includes developmental work, lobbying and working with the Scottish Arts Council to raise the level of support.

They are currently in their first year as an organisation which has essentially been focused on research. In Scotland, The Traverse Theatre is acknowledged as the main developed of new plays, but playwrights wanted an independent organisation where their development was not subject to the whim of producers, and the playwright could be truly placed at the centre. A board secured funding, which has led to the appointment of two full time staff and 3 associate playwrights who, over the course of the year, will support and advise Julie. Current initiatives include:

  • A mentoring programme, which will support six writers in their work and help them to develop a sense of themselves as artists.
  • The sourcing of new writers, taking diversity in its widest sense, and looking for writers in every nook and crannies. This has led to Evolve: a competition advertised in libraries and bookshops which will see 3 or 4 winners coached in the writing of a new play.
  • Script development for older playwrights: writer led development programmes for uncommissioned plays, especially for playwrights wishing to take risks and explore different forms.
  • A database of produced Scottish plays on the internet enabling wider access to the full canon of Scottish playwriting.

Aiste Ptakauske (AP)

Aiste is from Lithuania where she has recently started her career as a playwright. She has also worked as an actress and assistant director and also works as a journalist. Lithuania has a directors’ theatre. After the collapse of the USSR there was no playwriting in the country. Now playwriting is very young – only 5 years old – and the national landscape primarily views fiction and poetry as written forms. There is a journey now to get directors, who are used to working without writers, to work collaboratively with playwrights in developing new work. In the last 3 years, the National Youth Theatre has been developing a forum for young writers, where first drafts of their work can be read and produced. Even still, getting professional directors to work with playwrights remains difficult.

Svetlana Dimcovic (SvD)

Svetlana is the International Associate at the Gate Theatre in London. Originally from Belgrade, she is also a freelance director and translator in Europe as well as the UK, and has recently translated Serbian plays for the Royal Court in London. At the Gate she runs GateInk, a project for young playwrights between the ages of 14 and 18.

Sarah Dickenson (SD)

Sarah is the Information and Research Consultant at writernet, where she works with Jonathan Meth. Amongst her work for the organisation is the curation of a network of new writing practitioners in the South West of the UK. She is also the New Writing Associate for The Red Room, a political theatre company based in London. Her background is in theatre direction, but over the last four years she has focused on dramaturgy and project management.

3. Reflections on The Fence

3.1 Writernet Website

The internet is an important way of storing and communicating information to one another. The writernet website (www.writernet.org.uk) includes a subsection devoted to The Fence which includes country profiles documenting how new writing is developed in each country and how these processes do and do not work. JM asked the Fence to aid writernet in creating this information sources by updating or adding these profiles where appropriate. Profiles can be emailed to us and we will place them on the website, or we can find methods through which they can be updated remotely by individuals.

Action: Questions to structure country profiles would be sent out to those yet to complete a country profile. Fence members undertook to check and update their own profiles where appropriate.

3.2 The Network Model of the Fence: How it Might Work?

In relating his experience of attempting to create a regional theatre network in East Africa (Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya), Gabriel Gbadamosi highlighted the importance of the Fence retaining its independence from institutions. The politics between the three nations meant that it was necessary to bring practitioners together through the medium of the Royal Court’s Summer School in London. Whilst the meeting was facilitated by the Court, and it had an interest in the delegates’ participation in the wider event, it doesn’t have a remit to bring together networks nor the interest to kept them alive beyond the initial meeting. As the Fence we’re not dependent on institutions, but we do work with them. We should retain our independence, however, from them: this gives us the chance to ‘urge on’ beyond individual remits.

Julie Ellen described how the Playwright’s Studio in Scotland is writer centred. It is nothing without the interests and needs of those playwrights, and this is a vibrant way to bring people in.

Amela Simic (AS)talked about the relationship between an emerging national cultural identity and a nation’s engagement with the outside. When building this identity you don’t want to hear from the outside, but having established this you can find that the culture can slowly become suffocating and you then wish to open up.

Peter Arnott talked about what he terms as theintelligent premise that underpins the Fence. The Fence, as he sees it, focuses on:

  1. Individual communication
  2. The context in which work happens

This context is essential, whether it be social, historical or political. It enables us to see how things are happening and the ways in which they are changing. Through this we can help each other out.

Jonathan Meth (JM): We’re continuing to understand the mix of the Fence. In Greek myth, Athena speaks through Mentor to the young Telemachus. This should be our aim. If you work with institutions who deny the possibility of Athena speaking through Mentor, then this is a problem. However, for all of us, there are limits to what we are able to offer as we have different capacities. The Fence is based on the principle of offer and request.

Milan Govedarica spoke on how the connections made through the Fence had begun to work for him and for NADA:

  • Through meeting Italian playwright Letitzia Russo at the first Fence meeting in Shropshire Milan was able to make contact with an Italian director to work with one of the NADA writers alongside British directors like Alex Chisholm.
  • Milan and Milos have been able to organise a regional conference of new writing people, which took place in May.
  • Participants were invited from Slovenia, Hungary and Romania, and contacts came from the Fence. It enabled them to decentralise things. They were able to get together and just talk and see where they all were.

JM: Sometimes the Fence has a whole network focus, sometimes it has self-actualising micro-networks like those that Milan describes.

AS:The International Theatre Institute (ITI)did a similar thing, but it became thwarted by bureaucracy. Think that we have to ensure that we keep things on a light footing.

JM: The ITI’s problem is that it doesn’t understand the different capacities of the countries involved. There is a huge difference between what is earned in Bulgaria/London. It’s important that we understand these differences and through them begin to characterise our aspirations.

4. International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM)

The aim of this conversation was to determine how we felt the Fence should continue to engage with the IETM.

4.1 Background

The first Fence happened as part of the IETM when it met in Birmingham in October 2003.

The Fence was conceived as a smaller network inside the greater network of the IETM, and we saw it as an opportunity to enable writers to engage with the IETM as part of this group.

The Fence gave JM the opportunity to answer a question that he took from the first IETM meeting he attended in Vienna on behalf of New Playwrights Trust: How do I get the members of the IETM to engage with the cohort of playwrights on whose behalf I am attending this meeting. It was difficult to see where the points of engagement could be.

Every 5 years or so, the IETM doesflirt with playwrights. But it still appears that they are not clear about how they fit in.

The Fence came at a time when the IETM was due to engage again with new writing. By creating a network in Shropshire beforehand which had had a chance to form it was possible for the IETM toseeus, because there were 20 of us there together. This was strengthened by the IETM’s invitation to Gabriel, who already has a background with the Fence, to take part in the opening panel discussion.

4.2 Next Steps: Reactions from the Group

We now have a relationship with the IETM and we need to work out how we would like to continue to engage with the network. The next meeting is scheduled for three week’s time in Milan. The Fence spent 10 minutes reacting to these ideas:

Alex Chisholm: The IETM is a marketplace. We need to sell what we’re doing. It’s a gathering of producers and promoters and we need to interest them in playwrights and what they have to offer.

JM:

How successful a marketplace is it do we think?

AC:

It’s hit and miss. Sometimes it feels like a feeding frenzy. They do try to stream things to prevent that though.

JM:

Instinctively it can feel like we’re crashing someone else’s marketplace: The Fence is relational and not transactional.

GG:

I believe that some of the markets are rigged, so if I was thinking about how the market could berigged in my favour, where would I get? When we first met as a group at the Hurst we were loose. The IETM gave us a cold bath and woke us up. We need to go to the market authorities and find out what the transaction is. Go under the Fence maybe?

JM:

I don’t think that’s how the IETM think of themselves, I think they see themselves as a network. Maybe we need to be sly?

SD:

What if we don’t go under the Fence but openly declare ourselves?

JE:

I went to the IETM 3 years ago. My predecessor had his own circle in the IETM, and they used the IETM as a meeting point. I think that’s a valuable and clever way to source and structure those meeting points and it allows funding for it. In that engagement with those people you regularly have dinner and drinks with your view of Europe and your relationships develop. The first time I went, however, I didn’t have a group to play with.

JM:

At their Showcase at the Edinburgh Festival,The British Council curate breakfast networking meetings and Sally has added new writing to the classifications. It facilitates people a little more so they know who to talk to, who they would have a shared interest with. That’s the difficulty of the IETM, finding ways to discover those people.

The IETM is based in Brussels, which is the heart of European politics. Culture 2000 ends in 2006 and there will be a successor project for 2007.

Currently we don’t have a power base in Brussels. But we need to politically up our game in terms of how we approach Brussels (and the funding and opportunities it presents). What we’re doing is what they say they want. Marianne and the IETM could help us.

MG:

I am frustrated with meetings where things are discussed but not taken further. I see New Writing as a European phenomenon. Vassily Sigarev was not recognised in his own home until he was brought to the Royal Court. People disappear everywhere in that way. New writing is related to language but there are shared topics regardless of where that writing is coming from. This must related to European cultural policy. This is a good reason to relate to the IETM. Now we have something we can work on, maybe we can widen the field of action.

PA:

The position of the playwright is still very week. Playwrights don’t have strong institutional strengths. The Fence is a strong presence that can address that. As we continue to debate the terms and conditions, the minimum standard for control of a text, a forum like this can be a place where these things are addressed.

The Fence is a small network that has the potential to influence a larger network, put things onto their agenda.

Gabriel Gbadamosi

: The IETM started out with a group of friends and grew. The terminformal is an important one. The concept of informal economy infers that you can run with the fox and hunt with the hounds. It’s maybe possible for us to do this and it makes other opportunities possible.

Edith Draxl

: What can they offer us?

JM

: Because the IETM is recognised by funding agencies they can make a difference if we collaborate with them, work with them in resourcing the Fence. We need to up our resources. Also, real knowledge lies within Marianne who maybe can help us access the support we need.

5. ICDE Database

Svetlana Dimcovic briefly informed the group about the ICDE database. The ICDE database will be an international database of plays in translation, but will also act as an internet search engine. Riitta Seppala in Finland is project manager. It’s in a pilot stage and at the moment has a set of specific parameters: namely only listing translated, produced plays. The idea is that eventually it will link up with other regional databases.

Afternoon Session

Session Date:

30th October 2004, Afternoon Session

Place:

Literatur House, Graz, Austria

Present:

Jonathan Meth (JM), Gabriel Gbadamosi (GG), Edith Draxl (ED), Alex Chisholm (AC), Milan Govedarica (MG), Andrey Kureichyk (AK), Peter Arnott (PA), Amela Simic (AS), Julie Ellen(JE), Aiste Ptakauske (AP), Svetlana Dimcovic (SvD), Sarah Dickenson (SD), Laslo Upor (LU), Tibor Soltensky (TS), Kamelia Nikolova (KN)

Subjects

: Janus – feedback on the Culture 2000 bid.Cllarifying the bid, and how it relates to The Fence. What can your involvement be?

NB:

This session focused on some of the issues arising from the Janus project. It was a wide ranging discussion. These notes highlight the key points and are not exhaustive.

Areas touched on:

  • The theme of the project: Cultural Identity/ Cultural Diversity
  • The possibility of each country/ festival having its own theme over and above the main theme: preventing us from repeating ourselves and adding to local context.

Context and Festivals

  • The context of each of the cultures in which the plays are to be performed needs to be articulated. This will add value to the project.
  • The role of the playwright in the project
  • The opportunity

LU:

If we go to one festival at a time, and end up picking some plays later on, there may be a different focus: isn’t it better to select all the plays all at once.

JE:

Opportunity to connect Janus to a dialogue around the role of the playwright

JM:

Varna festival, we’re participating but not reading. There’s an opportunity here to have a symposium and it fits well with Kamelia’s role. We have to balance pragmatics and timeline that enables the plays to be developed. We need to understand the mobility of the context.

LU:

Means you cannot select 15 plays. One group for each context.

PA:

do we have a timeline and a nomination date?

JM:

I want to hold off this conversation until Riitta and Kamelia are in the room. Finland shuts in July for example, we need the individual knowledge.

Milan:

Age of authors?

JM:

Not limited in terms of what we want to do.

TS:

we can’t limit in terms of age with the thematic focus.

JM:

We’re creating opportunities that don’t exist. Those are often determined by access to power, etc. If principle is ACCESS then a one size fits all model doesn’t do the trick. We need to build in checks that create a mix.

PA:

What might the criteria be? If cultural identity: something about being Scottish my heart sinks. If looking for plays to represent.

JM:

Cultural identity and diversity joined. Looking both ways. How it’s manifested.

AC:

very good plays by very good writers. Often can be about identity but involving.

JE:

Bigger pool of plays narrow down?

AS:

How many plays can we read?

JM:

Certain ways to unpack and get to equality, fairness.

Language issues

Build in mechanism for changes

AC:

Criteria re writer than play. Certain writers more useful than others. Not age specific but in terms of career trajectory.

We look for best plays

Process is articulated so people who will benefit from it

Overall thematic

Julie

Not seen budget? Payment angle to writer? Commission?

JM:

Not a process tied to commission, existing plays

JE:

Unproduced

JM:

Need free access. No rights/ option

JM:

any views on unproduced?

JE:

opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Quality playwrights in Scotland not writing in an uncommissioned way

AC:

Emerging writers more benefit?

JM:

Difficult. No explicit money for commission. Se let’s work around bid. What an involvement be? That’s why we need a localised knowledge

Alex

In selection process there’s 15 other writers re. Versions.

JM:

May not be writers? Finland. It’ll be different.

Alex:

Certainly 6 British writers part of process 2nd stage of selection process who these people are done as a match to plays selected. Talking specifically about Leeds. Consider criteria for that.

AS:

Confused, plays or playwrights. Don’t understand the notion of a literal translation.

JM:

selection is made on contributing people.


Alex:

Intermediate translation. Literal intermediate translator and playwright and original.

Edith:

German selection edith/ david who does first round.

JM:

lot’s to unravel. Series of recommendations the a process.

No money for plays to be translated to be selected. Targeting as front end. Limits at bits of process. Bid allows flexibility on a country by country basis.

Varies.

Laslo:

Lichenstein play trans into finnish.

JM:

People need to send amongst themselves

Also:

think it’ better that translator is in original country.

JM:

real situation on ground

AC:

what hope – 15 writer exchanges – get to know each other.

LU:

see how I live?

AS:

professional translators don’t need that.

LU:

Disagree

GG:

Whilst context is important, would be interesting for a writer to see journey of a play to Finland. As a network we’re about enabling people to make these journeys which play which

Objectives about facilitating writers and artists to move. Would like to keep I n mind.

Alex:

When Jonathan asked for ideas. Model we used. In Huddersfield. Both do good things for writers.

Milan:

If it’s about Milan better playwright ges there. If short run thing.

JM:

Flexibility

Gg:

we want to do this. Most value to most people most ways.

Laslo

Worked both ways.

GG:

move people out/ bring people in. considerations are of value to us.

Andrey:

will there be cooperation between all 15 playwrights? Will it only be 5?

JM:

Not worked this.

25 People at each festival. Balance consideration of each of places. Bi-lateral relationships. What’s relationship in whole project?

AC:

All 30 writers and translators. 12 there anyway. More flights. Pay on board. Find additional 18 flights.

JE:

So much is open. What is fixed.

JM:

Do we know what’s fixed? Can move towards chunking it up.

JE:

Start at arse end. With 3 festivals. Learning project have to make this complex and flexible.

TS:

we make selection o r tampere make selection/

AC:

15 bi lateral relationships

JM:

Focus of the bid: deliverables.

Thematic focus cultural diversity identity. Potential production: Riitta Tampere english and finnish.

Alex:

Gap between oct 05 and may 06. Strong scot bring writers to Scotland.

JM:

advantage of gap is it gives us time.

Edith:

Two drafts of programme: deadline in March and June. We will need to sit and explain. Very thick programme in June.

JM:

Scheduling challenges

GG:

We are selectors. Wide range of skills amongst us.

Examples

No the network. A network. Shouldn’t set itself up to know everything? They pay half.

JM:

Space around time slot, space within time slot. Want to explore what it will take. What might your involvement be. Open invitation. Moscow and Belgrade we can look at.