Turning the Page: Creating New Writing 1945-2013 (September 2013)

Turning the Page imageOrganised by the University of Reading and the V&A Museum, London

Friday 13th to Saturday 14th September 2013 at the University of Reading

The interrelationship between new writing and state subsidy to the theatre began sixty years ago with the establishment, in 1952, of a new writing sub-committee by the Arts Council's Drama panel. Twenty years later, the Arts Council's Annual Report for 1971/72 celebrated the success of this policy, emphasizing that the 'quite exceptional' contribution made by 'British playwrights' could not have been made 'unless there had been available a growing number of permanent theatre companies with the resources to stage their work, and the confidence to risk failure'. Despite the acknowledged success of new writing, the following two decades would see a marked reduction in the number of new plays premiered by subsidised producing theatres, with a concomitant decline in audience numbers. Indeed, in 1982, a report by the Theatre Writers' Union (TWU) claimed that new writing had been relegated to the 'ghettos' of small studios, and referred to playwrights as 'an endangered species'. Yet since the mid-1990s, a renewed industry focus upon new plays and playwrights has (re)positioned the development of new writing as a key activity of theatres and companies in receipt of regular Arts Council funding. In sharp contrast to the gloomy outlook reported by the TWU in 1982, in 2009 a report by the British Theatre Consortium concluded that 'new writing is now written into the DNA of English theatre at all levels'.

In the last of three conferences organized by the AHRC-funded project, Giving Voice to the Nation. The Arts Council of Great Britain and the Development of Theatre and Performance in Britain 1945-1995, participants sought to chart and explore the peaks and troughs of New Writing since the advent of state subsidy to the arts. With a specific focus upon fostering dialogue across the decades, this conference brought together academics, practitioners, funders and policy-makers to share knowledge, perspectives and insights into the histories, practices and discourses of 'New Writing'.

The conference programme included presentations and panel discussions by playwrights Trevor Griffiths, Timberlake Wertenbaker, etc.


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