1: Clun-Birmingham, 2003

The aim of this gathering was to explore the practice of contemporary dramatic writing in many culturally diverse European contexts, identifying key similarities and differences, common problems and possible creative solutions, opportunities for further information and skills exchange. It also operated to raise the profile and status of contemporary writing for performance in all contexts.

We invited 13 playwrights and organisations that support and develop new playwriting from different European countries to share practice and look at mobility and exchange possibilities with 15 UK counterparts. We provided opportunities for information dissemination/exchange and capacity building focusing on key topics of concern (translation, publication, agents, rights, articulating points of connection). We emphasised the skills and thinking necessary for playwrights to be more entrepreneurial and to think of the contribution their work could make in a range of contexts.

This working group was particularly focused on the role that playwrights play in countering xenophobia, challenging attitudes to disability and social exclusion; the role of the playwright as part of a vehicle for social change and tolerance: From representation - reflecting the mix on the street - to the imaginative engagement of any individual playwright. We reflected on the contrast between the culturally specific approach of countries such as the UK and whether this was helpful or could we learn from other European broader cross or inter-cultural approaches?

In looking at mobility issues we also; facilitated an initial engagement with the programmers, producers and festival Directors who make up IETM's constituency and who would be our natural allies in further development.

At this stage we were building The Fence as a person-to-person network, ie discussion and relationship-building were key. Past experience has taught us that this is what makes real partnerships at a European level. We recognise that the future of the network also relies on the input from the institutions and cultural operators who are working in this field.

This original meeting in the context of IETM enabled The Fence to examine a range of possibilities and to finally identify the need for a separate network to develop playwriting.

Throughout this initial exchange we were concerned with gauging:

  • the personal profiles and country profiles of those involved, giving us a clear sense of who the network consists of, and therefore what its strengths and areas of reach are ( geographical; media – whether radio, television, theatre, puppetry; cultural; mainstream or outside the mainstream)
  • how we could use evaluation and documentation to deal with the notion of process being on a par with content ie making specific processes clear and developing ways of working which may be specific to the group
  • and posing the question of the need for such a network and how it might be developed …so as to involve participants from the outset in the network’s growth.