misunderstanding each other since 2003

Fence Archive

The Fence 30, Prešeren Theater, Kranj, September 8-12 2023

As this was the first major meeting since pre-pandemic, Fence 30 was an opportunity to regather ourselves and think together about the next iteration of the network.

This report covers the main points arisingfrom the meeting; it is not intended as a record and does not cover our engagement with Slovenian playwrights which was, we hope, fruitful – but for them to determine. It also acts as a bridge outwards from the meeting to the wider membership, as promised at the AGM.


  • Oladipo Agboluaje (UK)
  • Edward Bromberg (Sweden)
  • Samuel Buggeln (USA)
  • Edith Draxl (Austria)
  • Alain Foix (France)
  • Gabriel Gbadamosi (UK)
  • Andras Gerevich (Hungary)
  • LisaHoeliebauer (Austria)
  • Jera Ivanc (Slovenia)
  • Kim Komljanec(Slovenia)
  • Evangelos Kosmidis (Greece)
  • Anja Krans(Netherlands)
  • Jonathan Meth(UK)
  • Natalie Rafal(France)
  • Sara Shaarawi(UK)
  • Sarah Sigal(UK)
  • Ulrike Syha (Germany)
  • Andreea Valean (Romania)

Thanks to all participants, and especially Kim, Jera, Rok and Jure for hosting us so well. Thanks also to Kazem Shahryari, Ziad Adwan, Amelia Parenteau, AistePtakauske, Erwin Maas, Beatriz Cabur, Alex Chisholm, Ana Candida Carneiro for attending the AGM online.

Agenda – main areas in this report

  • The Fence as a network at 20. Taking stock,moving forward
  • Network and Board membership
  • Network mode and project mode
  • Greener travel and network meetings as starting in smaller groups meeting on trains

Brief historical context on the phases of The Fence

There have been three phases of the network. We are now moving towards the 4th.

London Birth and Incubation

Fence 1-10 (2003-2008): The network began as a project of its parent company (writernet) and benefited from significant early investmentvia EU Equal (1-4), EU Culture (5-8) and The British Council

Informal network

Fence 11-23 (2009-2016): Once the parent company (writernet) was wound up, we opted to remain simply an informal network.

Swedish relocation, light touch formalisation

Fence 24-30 (2017-2023): With Brexit we decided to relocate. Following research into best options, Sweden was selected. At the Rokiskis meeting in Lithuania, we decided to constitute ourselves via a six-person board. In 2020 we opened a Bank Account. In 2021 we started receiving small project funds.Since 2019 fewer meetings have been held (pandemic) but more projects were undertaken.

Fence Projects

How to balance dreaming with practicalities. Fence projects have been growing in number and so this section digs into what and how.

Who are projects for and with?

  • Fence projects can now come together in different combinations
  • Fence folk find partners across the network,but don’t need the network to be a partner
  • Fence folk find partners external to the network and/or respond to external requests
  • Fence is the instigating/lead partner

The Fence can be a vehicle for Fence members to pursue projects, but the vehicle doesn’t come with a driver. With no central administration, all projects have to be self-managing. So project application assembly and submission, project management (including financial) and all project reporting must be undertaken as part of any project. Historically Jonathan has undertaken Fence projects because he has done all of the above – or ensured that they were done.

In the future we might imagine aiming to build up a centralised resource to enable other models to evolve, but that is for a future network iteration.


Why do a project?

Curiosity, exchange, excitement, collaboration, co-creation. Most projects combine an idea with an opportunity.

Projects need to involve/benefit more than one Fence member working across more than one country.

Fence projects - How did they get started?

Click here to view details of 5 recent projects.

I’m going to explain how they came about – plus one earlier - to give an idea of the variety of geneses.

  • My Heart is in the East
  • All our Tomorrows – Ireland has Struck Oil
  • Cre-Actors
  • Plays for Young People 3
  • Boom!
  • International Dramaturgy Lab 2

My Heart is in The East, had already been written as an early draft by US playwright Jessica Litwak when she mentioned it during the lengthy session sharing current pre-occupations at The Lark in 2015 (Fence 20).Jonathan took the play to London and mounted a staged reading of that draft with Fence collaborator Philip Arditti and Jessica. After dramaturgical work between the three, and the sharing with an invited audience, Jessica wrote a very different draft which was then sent by Jonathan to Fence member Fred Fortas(France). Over many years – including the pandemic - Jessica, Jonathan and Fred worked slowly on developing the play-in-performance largely when Jessica hadpaid work in Europe. In 2023 a pilot belt-and-braces production was shown inthe UK – in partnership with Fence member Jonathan Chadwick’s company AzTheatre - at Mind The Gap Studios in Bradford and the Manchester Jewish Museum(June), as well as in Italy at LaMama Umbria (August). To date this has been anunfunded collaboration, which will now only move forward if further resourcesare found. Further plans include investigating a possible EU CERV applicationnext June to further develop the project into France and Germany and an ArtsCouncil bid in the UK.

All our Tomorrows – Ireland has Struck Oil

In 2016 at Fence 22 (Istanbul) we began to explore the notion of the playwright as a public figure. This initially led to a proposed Istanbul project, that rapidly became impossible owing to the worsening political situation. Gabriel Gbadamosi and Jonathan Meth also floated an idea around a strand of work – All Our Tomorrows – in which the playwright is the central figure responding to issues of contemporary crisis via an imagined near future. Examples generated included Alexandria is underwater (Sara Shaarawi) and Greece is gone (Andreas Flourakis). As a pilot, in 2017 Jonathan and Gabriel created Ireland has struck oil, but will it be Norway or Nigeria? in partnership (with investment) with King’s College London and their Arts and Humanities Festival. Key artists, including Neil Fleming as a performer, and speakers were paid a fee for their event participation. Jonathan and Gabriel were also paid a fee towards their time on the project. This was part of King’s festival budget.

More here.

Following this pilot, Jonathan and Gabriel thought they had an opportunity to move forward with Greece is Gone and Andreas Flourakis as the next in this strand of work, via a partnership (with investment) from Trinity College Dublin, but this turned out not to be viable. Then, when the rules regarding EU Erasmus+ applications changed this year, Jonathan thought he saw another opportunity to move forward with Greece is gone, with Pamela McQueen and Smock Alley – and this is one of the two EU Erasmus+ projects now in preparation for March 2024 submission.


Artistic Director of Border Crossings (Michael Waling) approached Jonathan with a proposal for the Fence to be a junior partner in an EU Erasmus+bid to explore intercultural devising processes across three companies (in France, Ireland and Italy) working with communities. Here the Fence would operate to deliver a dramaturgically-focused creative approach to documentation / evaluation - and the creation of an e-book on the project as the key dissemination vehicle. Asthis was an opportunity for the Fence to open its account – literally and metaphorically - as a Swedish based entity, and with Michael doing all the heavy lifting on bid assembly, this was a most welcome invitation. We were able to incorporate Edward Bromberg, Hanna Slattne, Jonathan Meth, Debbie Seymour – via Swedish/Irish/Italian connections. Erasmus paid participants all expenses, but no fees. As part of the project management team Jonathan received one day’s pay per month. (these limitations have now been relaxed). Future plans for this partnership include a portmanteau co-production, also with Riksteatern, if Creative Europe funding can be secured.

Plays for Young People 3

Plays for Young People began over a London dinner table conversation between Jonathan and Lynn Yau and Vicki Ooi from Hong Kong company AFTEC. There was a desire to identify plays in English which could be performed by young people in Hong Kong as part of AFTEC’s bilingual English/Cantonese roster of Creative Learning centred work. Jonathan brought in Edward Bromberg as he had created a similar, much larger project in Sweden. Together Jonathan and Edward each brought two Swedish and two British playwrights to Hong Kong towork on their scripts with groups of young translators. This was followed by a different second edition, owing to the funding coming as part of China’s Belt and Road cultural programme. Jonathan sought plays to be performed by young people, available in English, from playwrights in Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Romania. The third edition featured playwrights from UK, Moldova, Malaysia and China – but the playwrights were only able to be online owing to the pandemic. Playwrights and dramaturgs were paid a fee (and all expenses) by AFTEC.


In discussion with Anja Krans, Jonathan was made aware of apossible opportunity to combine Dutch and UK playwrights around Brexit and its implications. This was reframed by Jonathan, with Anja’s support, as a project that explored the shared (colonial) heritage of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. With COVID, the planned staged readings of extracts in London didn’t happen, so the project had to be renegotiated – instead we ran a series of online laboratories, with translations provided by Henriette Rietveld. This was well supported financially by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in the United Kingdom and Dutch Performing Arts; all nine participants receiving fees for their work.

The International Dramaturgy Lab (IDL)

The aim of IDL was to connect dramaturgs, directors, playwrights, theatre makers, and thinkers around the topic: What does it mean to work dramaturgically across borders? 90 people drawn from the partner organisations divided along areas of intersecting interest into around 15 groups of about five people each, worked together, culminating with online presentations made at the LMDA conference in Mexico City 2021. As a process-led collaboration, a lot of work was put in by the project partners’ co-ordinating team. None of it was paid, but the project was felt by many participants to be very valuable. After allowing a period of recovery, Jonathan picked up the core elements of the project with its original instigator, Hanna Slattne. Centring on the dramaturg, they have begun to scope a possible Erasmus+ bid with Catherine Young Dance Company in Ireland, where Hanna isdramaturg – as well as with Esther Holland-Merten in Vienna and the Dramaturgische Gesellschaft, of which she is chair.

How might projects happen?

A good starting point might be to audit Fence members; their whereabouts, expertise and institutional affiliations. This is valuable in and of itself, but only really works if you Update your biographies! Then contact Jonathan and talk through what, how and who you would like to beinvolved.

Green travel – a creative approach

When we come together, rather than starting a Fence network meeting when we all arrive at the same place, what if we begin to meet – and think together - en route, so that travel becomes a more integrated activity? While the decision not to fly in Europe, if at all possible, is an ideal - the process is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We need to balance different factors. Cities and rural locations have different levels of connectivity. We must also be mindful not to be Eurocentric / exclusive, as access to travel e.g for our SWANA (South West Asianand North African) colleagues is a very different proposition.

Using the journey to a meeting as a process takes away the pressure of immediacy and slows things down. Fence meetings could be designed as a series of intersecting Micro-travelling residencies. We would need to find funding for additional travel and accommodation costs, but taking acreative approach might enable an application to an enlightened foundation to help with this. Part of this process might also be identifying where people could stay via an accommodation offer from Fence folk, especially in cities where overnight stops to and from meetings might occur, e.g. Paris / Munich. We can travel consciously, using resources e.g. Fb group train travel in Europe, TheMan in Seat 61, so we can crowd source alternatives when travel schedules become disrupted.


The Fence will submit small grant applications in September (UK) andOctober (EU) towards a pilot creative train travel for 6 Fence members to come from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Sweden to Italy. This will also operate as a network and project planning meeting in February 2024. The discussions will be centred on the core team of 4 UK, 2 Swedish and 2 Italy based Fence folk. We will be working towards a) further Fencenetwork meetings in Vienna (2024), Sweden (2025/6) and Bradford (2025), and b) 2 project bids to EUErasmus +  : 1 centring on playwrights, the other on dramaturgs with partners in Sweden, Ireland, Italy, and Germany – to be submitted in March 2024.

Fence membership

The Fence currently has 280 members from 50+ countries. We are always on the look-out for new members, especially from countries where we have little active representation, to renew the network and extend geographic reach. Members can recommend others. For example Hanna Slattne recommended Katarina Pejovic, who came from Zagreb to meet me and Edward in Ljubljana and is a wonderful addition. I mention this as new members who are able to make actual face-to-face contact are more likely to be / stay engaged than those who just receive emails…

In the next phase of the network the goal is fewer, but more active members with better (actual) geographical spread. It will still be OK for members to be lurkers, so long as they are engaged. Members canstill take time out as their needs change (family, job, health, country ofresidence etc). We are not looking to get rid of anyone, merely to clean house.

Once a year we will send an email  / fb group message asking: do you still want to be part of The Fence?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Sometimes

If we do not hear back from you within one month, we will remove you from the membership. This will result in considerably reduced numbers, but a more accurate picture on which to build.

With no membership fees – can more be asked?

Committees were experimented with previously, but proved more onerous than emancipatory. Instead: we've gone down the route of creating time limited task-based groups.

  • Example: Evangelos Kosmidis and Sarah Sigal working to create google group and swapcard communications
  • Example: Twice a year membership zoom: What projects are you working on and what are you dreaming about - Letting fellow network members knowwhere you are…
  • Example : Once membership has been cleaned, member development across regions

Fence Board

Kim Komljanec, Edward Bromberg, Amelia Parenteau, Fred Fortas, Sara Shaarawi, Dipo Agboluaje

(previous board members: Kamelia Nikolova, Aiste Ptakauske).

Why do we need to have a board? Legal and financial compliance,and to ensure good, light-touch governance. Take some of the pressure off Jonathan. Meet online twice yearly.

If we grow as we intend to, the board will need to take a look at a few more things to meet with the above responsibilities. A separate election task group to look at future board membership, will be overseen by Ulrike Syha,so as to avoid conflicts of interest.

Future possibilities both in network and project mode.

Fence network meetings

All prospective meetings are developed through dialogue. The following are all in early stages of development.

  • Vienna – Esther Holland-Merten
  • Bradford – Alex Chisholm
  • Inverness – Sara Shaarawi
  • Algiers – Fred Fortas
  • USA – Sam Buggeln / Ana Candida Carneiro
  • Constanza / Batoumi / Varna / Istanbul / Danube– Andreea
  • + as part of possible projects: Italy / Sweden/ Ireland

Are there other possibilities for network meetings? Can you help towards any of the above?

Fence bases

Returning to locations to develop stronger links has also become a feature of the network. For instance?

  • Stockholm administrative base
  • La Charite sur Loire – Bazar Café - underrenovation until summer 2025
  • Graz/Slovenia - Gorizia /Nova Gorica European Capital of Culture 2025?

What other bases can we imagine? (the Fence ship c/o Neil Fleming…)

Fence projects

  • InternationalDramaturgy Lab 2 (Erasmus+ VET)
  • All Our Tomorrows(Erasmus+ VET)
  • Cre-actors 2 – (CreativeEurope - Small)

(see earlier section on projects)

Drama of Smaller European Languages (Creative Europe- Medium) – as Associate Partners. This means The Fence will not have Full Partner status but contribute to thinking, planning, advising, networking. This project has emerged from European Theatre Convention partners and is being led by Preseren Theatre in Kranj. It is still being developed, but should look like this:

Collaboration covers three focus initiatives. Groups meet on a regular basis, researching, planning and organizing responses to challenges:

Economic – market size, common market and promotion, limited opportunities for artists

Cultural – opportunities for collaboration, inter-cultural and inter-contextual translation, influence of cultural hegemonies

Artistic – native / second language expression, decline of non-commissioned writings, decline of publisher support, devaluationo f playwright as a single / main profession

The focus groups, built from professionals assigned by the participating institutions,work continuously (from Autumn 2024), culminating in:  A travelling showcase of Smaller European Language Drama, staged twice, once in 2025, once in 2026, in different cities. For the general public, these are small international festivals. For the professionals, these are summits, where development activities are gathered andintensified, presentations made and meetings held.

One additional idea we had was to bring together Fence members (and others) connected either to national unions / guilds and/or national playwright development centres, to share practice with each other –and then to meet with policy makers and funders. Anyone interested in this, please let Jonathan Meth know.

Are there other projects in the making?

Jonathan Meth
September 15th 2023