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.

PART 2: Bruntwood Playwriting Competition 2011

Image of Ben Musgrave (© Marius Macevicious)

Ben Musgrave (© Marius Macevicious)

BEN MUSGRAVE…on winning the inaugural Bruntwood Prize in 2007 for his play Pretend You Have Big Buildings

How has winning the first Bruntwood Prize affected your career as a writer?
A week before the prize announcement, I had given up my job to concentrate on writing full-time. Winning the prize felt like a miraculous validation of this decision. It launched my career as a writer: all of a sudden I had representation, interest, the time to write, and, most importantly, the opportunity to work with some wonderful practitioners towards the production of my play in the Main House of the Royal Exchange. It was really extraordinary. Nick Hern published a playtext of Pretend You Have Big Buildings, and every now and again I’m in a bookshop and see a copy of my play on the shelves, which is a lovely thing. The playtext is also on the syllabus at Westminster University…

Jacket for Pretend You Have Big Buildings

Pretend You Have Big Buildings by Ben Musgrave

What advice would you give to a writer entering the prize this year?
I believe that the real value of a prize like this is that it has the potential to find the best play – on its own terms. Not the most fashionable play, or the play most suitable for a particular theatre, but the best play in its own right. In a sense, my play Pretend You Have Big Buildings, very firmly set in Romford, was entirely inappropriate for a theatre in Manchester, and it had already received a “not one for us” response from a few theatres. But there was something about it, and I think that came through. So the best advice I can give to entrants is to write the play you want to write, not the play you think the theatre wants you to write.

What have you done since winning the prize and what are your plans for the future?
It’s been hard to top winning the Bruntwood Prize! It’s also been hard to write the follow-up to Big Buildings, a play that came easily to me, and which emerged, very suddenly, with its heart and character almost fully revealed. But the big ‘Second Play’ has been slowly emerging – I hope it’ll be ready sometime in 2011. In the meantime, however, I’ve been privileged to write a couple of really interesting plays about science – one about neuroscience, and one about privacy and government databases, and I’m really proud of them both.  Last year I also had my play Exams Are Getting Easier produced at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre – performed by their youth theatre. I’m also working on a play for a really interesting company called Only Connect, and I think I’ve just been commissioned to write a play for Radio 4!

2011 Bruntwood Playwriting Competition

Today marks the launch of the third Bruntwood Playwriting Competition – the UK’s biggest (and most lucrative) award for playwrights.

It doesn’t matter where you come from in the UK, whether you’ve never written before (or you’ve written a hundred plays), or what you want to write about.

Royal Exchange Manchester logoYou’ve got until 3rd June 2011 to submit a play to Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, who organise the competition. One first-prize winner will win £16,000 and the offer of a year’s attachment at the Royal Exchange; three runners-up will be awarded £8,000 each. Some of the plays will also receive full, professional productions at the Royal Exchange. In addition, four of the previous competition winners whose plays have gone on to premiere there have been published by Nick Hern Books – and we are delighted to be offering the same again for this year’s winners.

Publication of these new writers has been an excellent way for us to add four distinctive new voices, and their superb debut plays, to our list. And we think it’s helped promote the writers’ work in the wider world. As Sam Pritchard, the Royal Exchange’s New Writing Associate, says: ‘Publishing the texts of those Bruntwood winners that have been produced at the Royal Exchange has been a crucial element of what the competition has to offer writers. Nick Hern Books’ editions of the plays help launch the lives of these plays after they have been staged, and are an important landmark in the careers of winning writers.’

For the rest of this week, each of the four playwrights published by NHB will be talking about the prize and the effect it had on their careers. First up tomorrow, the winner of the first competition in 2007, Ben Musgrave, for his play Pretend You Have Big Buildings. So make sure to check back tomorrow to read his post!