Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting: the first ten years

The Bruntwood Prize is the biggest national competition for playwriting. With prize money totalling £40,000, plus the chance of a production on a major stage, as well as publication by Nick Hern Books, it’s a fabulous opportunity for writers. Since its inception in 2005, over 11,000 scripts have been entered, more than £200,000 has been awarded to 22 prize-winning writers and 16 winning productions have been staged. Here publisher and NHB founder Nick Hern reflects on what makes the Bruntwood Prize so special, while below we introduce this year’s winners and catch up on the Bruntwood Story with Exeunt Magazine’s podcast…

HernNICK HERN: Memory is an unreliable friend, but it tells me that the first thing I did ten years ago on hearing the announcement of the brand new Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting was to write suggesting that part of the prize might be to guarantee publication of the winning play by Nick Hern Books. I was very taken with the essential premise of the award: that no entry should have been performed or published before and that all entries were to be submitted anonymously, the identity of the winning author only to be revealed after the judges had arrived at their verdict. In other words the work was to be judged on its merits alone and not according to the expectations aroused by the author’s other work – or lack of it. This seemed to go a long way to fulfilling every writer’s desire to know whether what they’ve written is really, intrinsically, even existentially any good!

Pretend You Have Big Buildings by Ben Musgrave, winner of the 2005 Bruntwood Prize

Pretend You Have Big Buildings by Ben Musgrave, winner of the 2005 Bruntwood Prize

Anyway, my offer to act as ‘publisher by appointment’ was accepted, and so I found myself at the ceremony awarding the first ever Bruntwood Prize to Ben Musgrave’s Pretend You Have Big Buildings. True to our word, we had the pleasure of publishing it when the Royal Exchange, also honouring their commitment to stage the winning play, premiered it on their main stage.

I’m not going to pretend to remember the chronology of subsequent winners, but together they amount to a seriously impressive collection of brand new plays, each of which might have remained in their author’s bottom drawer had it not been for the Bruntwood. Indeed, in at least one case, the play would not even have got as far as that drawer: it would probably never have been written. Vivienne Franzmann tells the story that, as a career schoolteacher, she had been saying for some time that she was going to ‘write a play’ – but never had. Then, hearing of the Bruntwood, and realising the deadline was only a couple of weeks away (alert: unreliable memory at work), she set to it. The result, Mogadishu, opened to loud acclaim in Manchester and proceeded to transfer to London, thereby launching Viv on a new career as a full-time writer.

Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann, winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Prize

Mogadishu by Vivienne Franzmann, winner of the 2008 Bruntwood Prize

I am as proud of each of the playwrights we have published thanks to their winning the Bruntwood as if I had discovered them myself: as well as Musgrave and Franzmann, there’s been Matt Hartley, Fiona Peek, Andrew Sheridan, Janice Okoh, Nayla Ahmed, Louise Monaghan, Katherine Chandler, Anna Jordan, Gareth Farr and Luke Norris. In the same way, we ‘take on’ each of our writers in the fullest sense, publishing not only the winning play but also standing by to publish their subsequent work as well, as has been gratifyingly the case already with Janice Okoh (who won with Three Birds and went on to write Egusi Soup) and Anna Jordan (who won with Yen, but whose Freak and Chicken Shop have been published subsequently).

So Here We Are by Luke Norris, winner of a 2013 Judges Award

So Here We Are by Luke Norris, winner of a 2013 Judges Award

As the Bruntwood has grown in reputation and renown – and, it has to be said, in the generosity of the prize money on offer – my sense is that more established writers are submitting their work. In the early days we used to joke about a situation where Tom Stoppard, say, submitted a play – anonymously of course – and failed to win… Now, it seems, something like that really could happen, though, to the writer’s relief, only the administrator of the prize would ever know! Our latest winner, in fact, has already broken the mould in some respects: Luke Norris was already a performed and published playwright when he submitted – and won with – So Here We Are.

In its ten years, the Bruntwood Prize has already gifted a rich panoply of new plays to the world. So here’s to its next decade – and to ten more years of splendid if unreliable memories.


KatherineSoper

Katherine Soper, winner of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize (photo by Joel C Fildes)

Congratulations to Katherine Soper on winning this year’s Bruntwood Prize with her play Wish List.

Katherine, who currently works in a perfumery on Regent Street in London, was announced as the winner of the 10th anniversary Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting 2015 on 17 November.

Wish List is Katherine’s first play. She said: ‘This is the best boost of writerly confidence I could imagine.’

Congratulations also to the recipients of the four Judges’ Awards: Chloe Todd Fordham, James Fritz, Alan Harris and Kendall Feaver.

Find out more about the Bruntwood Prize at www.writeaplay.co.uk.


PODCAST: The Bruntwood Story

In this episode of Exeunt Magazine’s podcast Pursued by a Bear, produced in association with Nick Hern Books, Tim Bano takes an in-depth look at the Bruntwood Prize, following the progress of scripts from submission to shortlisting by speaking to judges, readers and writers.

Featuring interviews with: Michael Oglesby, Anna Jordan, Sarah Frankcom, Suzanne Bell, Andrew Haydon, Megan Vaughan and David Mercatali.

Podcast presented by Tim Bano. Produced by Tim Bano and Annegret Marten.

Janice Okoh: Three Birds in rehearsal – the evolution of a Bruntwood Prize winner

Janice Okoh photoJanice Okoh’s Three Birds – her startling and darkly comic play that won the 2011 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting premieres at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester later this month. In this piece, the playwright talks about how the script has continued to evolve throughout pre-production, and the importance of the relationship between collaborators.

When I sent Three Birds in to the competition, I was on my third draft. Although I was happy with it, I felt that it was still far from whole. What’s attractive about the Bruntwood Prize is the fact that it offers a year developing the winning plays, so it was really exciting when I actually won one of the prizes.

I met Suzanne Bell, my dramaturg, and Sarah Frankcom, the director, several times over the year and each time we discussed how we should go about improving the play. We decided that I needed to write an additional scene in order to develop one of my characters, work out a suitable time frame for the play and bring some of the drama that happened offstage on. Suzanne and Sarah also encouraged me to experiment and ‘go bonkers’ with the play so a lot of my drafting involved taking things out in one draft only to find that I would put them back into a later draft or conversely binning stuff that took the play in a completely different direction.

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester (photo)

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

I really enjoyed the process. Sarah and Suzanne were able to climb right inside my head and voice the thoughts that I would be thinking. It really felt like they got the play. However, it was still really hard work trying to make sure everything fitted together in order to create something I was happy with and, ultimately, proud of. But it’s been wonderful having a dramaturg and director working hard at making the process work for me. They organised a reading when I wanted one, moved deadlines to accommodate my other writing commitments, and, most importantly, reassured me when I voiced my fears at the thought of Three Birds going into production before it was ready. But the thing is, and I guess a lot of writers would concur, I don’t think my play will ever be ready and, as I prepare to send Three Birds to the publishers Nick Hern Books, I’m tweaking and adjusting, always trying to make it just that bit better. But there has to be a cut-off point which is probably when the actors need to start learning their lines!

Listen to a conversation between playwright Janice Okoh and Three Birds director Sarah Frankcom, discussing the writer-director relationship:

Three Birds (jacket)

Three Birds, £9.99

Nick Hern Books are proud to publish Janice Okoh’s new play Three Birds. To order your copy, click here.

Three Birds premieres at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester from 27 February, before transferring to the Bush Theatre, London in March. For more information, and to book tickets, click here.

The 2013 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting is now open. To help you get inspired for your own entry, we’re offering free UK P&P on all NHB-published, Bruntwood Prize-winning plays – including Three Birds – bought through our website, on top of our standard 25% anniversary discount. Just enter the code BRUNT13 at checkout. The offer is valid until 3 June. For more information, including details of the plays included, click here.

[This piece has been reproduced from the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting blog, published on their website. Many thanks to all at the Prize for their kind permission.]