Am I Too Young To Be A Playwright?

It’s International Youth Day! But Editor Jennifer Richards is worried that youth isn’t always an advantage when it comes to playwriting…

Even in a creative profession, where it may be slightly less frowned upon to spend the day in your pyjamas (that’s what being freelance means right?), you still need to be taken seriously.

But I could don on the most impressive suit in the world, and there’d still be one thing that would get in the way: my age. Because I’m 20. And most playwrights I know usually aren’t just fresh out of their teenage years.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t questioned if I was being stupid by pursuing a career in writing. Maybe I should be returning to my dream in a few years once I would be seen as more legitimate by theatres, or even a safer bet. After all, would a theatre be prepared to invest in someone my age?

Young people feeling patronised happens in many industries; from a young MP complaining of not being taken seriously, to a Forbes article about entrepreneurship titled ‘When Youth is Not Your Friend’. It doesn’t look like my fears are coming from nowhere.

There’s a belief you need to be of a certain age to have the needed wisdom and experience; though that raises the Catch-22 of someone not taking a chance on you because you lack experience, but then needing someone to take a chance on you to get that experience. Jeez. My head hurts.

Also this suggests that just because someone is older, their experience of life is somehow more worthwhile. But believing that what young people feel can’t be true or real diminishes the stories that we want to tell.

Many people my age are going through huge difficulty in finding an identity or just simply finding their feet in life, and it’s so important to have young playwrights be taken seriously enough to be allowed to tell their stories.

It shouldn’t be negated by the belief that we’re too young to really understand life’s complexities; our voices should carry just as much weight as someone more senior.

My fear I’m too young to be a playwright comes from the day-to-day experience of my age stopping people from seeing my opinions as valid and credible. I want to be a part of the conversation, but what I have to say is dismissed as I’m just ‘too young to understand’, whether I’m talking about politics or relationships.

But if creatives want to increase the number of young people going to the theatre, you have to be talking about their experiences on stage. You have to listen to us.

And the positive is we are seeing more of a drive towards this, with schemes like Hampstead Inspire and Soho Young Writers’ Lab being all about nurturing young talent.

My advice for other young playwrights questioning their place is to look for these types of opportunities where your age is not just a benefit, but a criterion.

I wouldn’t have had my first short play performed if it wasn’t for my age. It was put on by Writers Avenue, a theatre company for 18-30 year olds, so if I had been a more senior playwright, I wouldn’t have even been able to get involved.

Me outside The Courtyard Theatre on the opening night of my play!

There’s also often youth sections on theatre websites, like Roundhouse Young Creatives or Young Court at Royal Court. Writers Avenue even have an open submission to be involved in their next showcase.

So if, like me, you’re fed up of not being listened to, apply for all the schemes and opportunities you can – it’s time to take your story to stage.

2 thoughts on “Am I Too Young To Be A Playwright?”

  1. Hi Jennifer. I’m a 36 year old writer and I totally understand that being a young person is probably quite daunting this day and age. I think your concerns are valid and the condescension you and your peers are often subjected to is definitely real. On the other hand… British playwriting, I would argue, is not an area that is particularly unfriendly to young, inexperienced writers. From Shelagh Delaney in the 1950’s, but more recently Lucy Prebble, Polly Stenham and Anya Reiss, who were all produced in their late teens or early twenties, there is definitely a hunger for young voices in the theatre at present (I’m sure young men have also been produced, but I’m drawing a blank).

    There is such a degree of interest that, unfortunately, there are more and more opportunities around the country for emerging writers that explicitly exclude people over 25 or 30. Which I believe assumes most people start writing earlier than that, which isn’t true for a lot of writers, myself included.

    I don’t mean to dismiss or belittle your concerns. My point is that, as a writer who is 20, I think you have as good a chance as any. Maybe even a better chance.

    1. Jennifer Richards

      Hi! Totally agree that theatres are looking for younger voices much more at the moment, and really interesting to hear your experience. Voices over 30 are definitely as important as those under it!

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