You may have seen the opportunity to have your work staged at the Little Pieces of Gold scratch night pop up here on LPB every few months. The AD of that brilliant company is Suzette Coon, who chatted to Editor Jennifer Richards about putting on this new writing night.
Q & A With Suzette Coon
JR: Why did you decide to create the LPOG new writing nights?
SC: I set up LPOG in 2010 . At that time there weren’t nearly as many new writing nights as there are now so it was a really welcomed platform for emerging writers.
It was and remains a chance for writers to get their plays in front of an audience and develop a network of directors & performers with whom they could continue to collaborate with.
Now of course there are lots of great new writing opportunities ,which is as it should be because, without them, it would be virtually impossible for most emerging writers to get their work staged. It’s possible for them to stage their own work but the advantage of an established new writing event such as ours is that we have a solid track record and reputation in the industry for discovering talented playwrights from around the UK.
JR: With so many submissions, how do you decide which ones to have performed? Are you looking for certain criteria?
SC: We receive on average about 400 plays per submission window from writers all over the UK. From that we usually make a shortlist of around 20.
Shortlisting can often be tricky. I’ve just run a workshop about writing the short play at the Actors Centre and participants were really keen to know, as most writers are, how we choose which ones to stage.
Mostly it’s my gut reaction to a read that makes me choose. However, I may also see something in a play that I know will appeal to others, which is why I will shortlist it for our directing team to then make the final choices.
Plays that stand out might tackle a topic or theme that we haven’t seen addressed before, or they might address a familiar theme but in a fresh or unusual way.
Good short plays are hard to write. I guess they’re a bit like a poem – there is a powerful core and the playwright has found the perfect form for the content. Crucially I’d advise: never try to second guess what people want. Write about what bothers you, what keeps you awake at night, what would make you desperately sad or angry if you never wrote about it.
JR: With the recent discussion about how playwrights make a living, it was raised about producers profiting off new writing nights where the writers aren’t paid. But you explained on Twitter that this isn’t the case, would you mind expanding on this misconception further?
SC: In my experience it’s impossible to profit from new writing nights. Venues don’t come cheap, especially a good London fringe venue. After venue hire, there is the cost of tech, back-stage help, insurance, printing & publicity. You cover your expenses and that’s it.
However, making a profit isn’t the objective – facilitating new work and giving it a platform is. For emerging writers that’s essential – as it is for more established writers who want to keep getting work in front of an audience.
There will always be people who feel that unless writers, performers, directors, creatives get paid then they shouldn’t make work full stop. This is misguided and perpetuates the already elitist nature of the theatre industry in which only those with money can afford to put on a show.
New creatives are using these events to get noticed and more established creatives still want an outlet for their work even if they’re not making a living from it
JR: Why do you think new writing nights are so important?
SC: Lots of reasons – finding your writer’s voice; tackling self-criticism and lack of confidence by getting your work in front of people; honing writing skills by collaborating with directors and performers and getting in a room with them to play and experiment.
Most importantly, if you don’t come from a writing or theatrical background, and if you don’t have that experience from drama school or university, then you may feel unentitled to your writing ambitions or remote from the industry.
Theatre can feel like a closed shop but it should be an opportunity to get as many worlds on stage as possible. Representation is key and these kinds of events make that feel more doable.
JR: What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about setting up their own scratch night, or just producing new work in general?
SC: Know why you are doing it. For example, if you’re a group of actors who are setting up an event in order to perform then obviously your long term goal is very different from a producer whose objective is to promote the playwright and perhaps follow on with a producing career.
If it’s your long term goal is to be a producer then decide what type of work you want to be involved with because it’s stressful, a financial risk, and a long, hard slog.
If you’re starting with new writing nights then follow your gut in terms of the writers you want to have a relationship with and have a good network of people whom who you like and trust to work with.
You can catch the next Little Pieces of Gold show at Southwark Playhouse on June 10.