The Pros and Cons of Playwriting Residencies with Ideastap and Papatango
At the end of July, I went up to London for a workshop with Papatango. The long bus ride reminded me that I’m so far behind in my posts that I still haven’t typed up my notes from the first time I met George Turvey and heard of Papatango (too the point that there’s another workshop next week). So I’ve been digging through my notebooks for my notes from the session back in February… I found at least five other sets of notes that I need to type up but I’ll get to that. Promise.
For now, however, Papatango.
Papatango is a theatre company whose goal is to invest in the careers of new, talented writers. Founded in 2007 by George Turvey, Matt Roberts and Sam Donovan, Papatango is committed to working closely with the new writers they discover to develop their work for the stage. They discover those writers through the Papatango New Writers Prize which has been running since 2009 (says the website), open submissions and their annual (funding dependent) Playwright Residency.
One of the benefits of the Papatango New Writers Prize is that they guarantee the winning play a four week run (at the Finbourgh in past years but this year, Tomcat will be staged at the Southwark). Papatango work with the winner in the run up to production to get the play as close to perfection as humanly possible. Since the company started in 2007, Papatango have produced 18 plays… that was in February so that’ll probably have changed slightly since.
Fun fact: the first winner of the Papatango Prize was Dominic Mitchel who went on to create and showrun In the Flesh for the BBC.
Now for my notes from the the Ideastap talk.
George talked briefly about the Papatango Resident Playwright scheme. The current resident is Sam Potter, Literary Manager of Headlong. This year the scheme is funded by the BBC Performing Arts Fund. For this scheme, Papatango are looking for new writers who have never been produced and want to write theatre for theatre, meaning that the idea will live on the stage and is not intended for another medium. Within the residency, Papatango help a new writer to develop an play from inception to production.
The usual process takes place over a year and goes through the following stages:
Idea > Redrafts > Workshop > Readings > Drafts > Production
The selection process is about the writer and what the writer want out of the year (10 months). As mentioned above, showing a dedication to theatre was stressed but all that interested candidates need to do is send Papatango their CV and a writing sample (which won’t be read until after the interview) when the window is announced. That window could be at any time and is entirely dependent on funding.
What Papatango look for:
- Interesting stories – They don’t look for particular themes but if something similar to your idea has been produced in the last few years, they’re less likely to take the idea.
- 90 minutes in length
- Be mindful of the cast size – 4-5 more likely to get produced. Be mindful of the actual production costs. IF you were to write for a big cast then only 4 theatres in London have the budget to accommodated that size a production – National Theatre, RSC, Chichester and Hampstead.
Theatres consider new writing a risk but Papatango have shown that effort can eliminate any risk.
PROS of PLAYWRITING RESIDENCIES
- Get the chance to work through the entire process from start to finish.
- Helping as many writers as possible with workshops.
- Get plays.
- Support, advice and discussion.
- Make decisions sooner because trail and error drafting is faster.
- Lack of pressure
- Increase in interest in the writer (producers, commissions). Almost a stamp of approval.
- Can trust in the support and the outcome.
- Papatango is unique because the play actually goes up at the end of the residency.
- Suggestions -> nudged to stage sooner. (That’s what my notes say. I can’t for the life of me remember what it actually means. N.B. Stop writing shorthand notes.)
- Papatango meet with the writer when needed. Not weekly.
- Pragmatic support – applying for awards etc leading up to the production.
- Assurance that theatre company is serious about the end goal.
CONS OF PLAYWRITING RESIDENCIES
- Some theatres don’t really invest in the work – no production at the end.
- If there’s a lack of respect in each others work (between the writer and artistic director, I assume), the entire process will break down. George emphasised researching the theatre and the company before applying for anything.
By the end, both George and Sam struggled to find negatives for playwriting residencies. They did stress that in terms of funding, a kickstarter campaign is far more effort than filming out an Arts Council form (possibly more relevant to England since I’m not sure Arts Council Wales would fund a playwright to write a film the way it seems Arts Council England are able. Go figure).
Lastly, and this is something that I’m holding on to with a clenched fist, the first draft doesn’t start out perfect. The first draft actually is shit. So take a breath and come back to it.
The best way to get updates from Papatango is to join their mailing list or follow them on twitter. As most know, Ideastap sadly closed this summer, however, they have saved all of their past work in an archive that can be accessed from their website. They have handed over most of their work to Hiive (Unfortunately, I haven’t found them very useful for theatre).