Proposals for 18 new plays for the inaugural New Play Commission Scheme (NPCS) have been announced by the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain in partnership with HighTide theatre company, UK Theatre and the Independent Theatre Council.
Designed in response to the decline in new theatre commissions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, the NPCS ensures 18 new commissions for playwrights, in partnership with a venue or producer, across England in 2022. The architect of the scheme is playwright and former WGGB President David Edgar, while the selection panel was chaired by WGGB Chair Lisa Holdsworth and consisted of writers Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Tom Wentworth and Roy Williams, writer/director Aisha Khan, writer/actor Amelia Bullmore, producer/director James Dacre and producer Kate Pakenham.
Research demonstrates that the pandemic has been devastating for playwrights, with a survey of UK Theatre members and other theatres revealing that new commissions declined by a third between 2019-20 and 2020-21. A poll of WGGB members found that 74% of playwrights lost income due to the pandemic – representing 40% of their annual earnings – and that 50% believed they would not be working in theatre in two years’ time.
The scheme has equity and inclusion at its heart from the very beginning and is delighted to be announcing a truly diverse list of recipients. The scheme set minimum benchmarks in terms of inclusion of writers from under-represented groups and these have all been exceeded, demonstrating the depth and breadth of diverse writing talent working in England today. The scheme is also pleased to have met its commitment to ensuring that 60% of grants go to productions outside of London and that almost 90% of grants have been awarded to new commissioning relationships.
A range of themes and subjects amongst the works in the New Play Commission Scheme shine a spotlight on theatre’s enduring ability to reflect and comment on contemporary concerns, highlighting pressing issues of the day, as well as entertaining and inspiring audiences through troubled times, such as smalltown attitudes to disability, women impacted by the Duterte regime in the Philippines, and the plight of black mothers in the UK medical and social care system, which take their place alongside “a working-class reimagining of the classical Persephone and Demeter myth” and a “lyrical, theatrical, multi-thread dive into young people’s relationship with stuff”.
The scheme provides grants equivalent to the WGGB commission minimum rate for the type of theatre and/or company commissioning the work. Playwrights were required to apply for the scheme in partnership with a venue or producer.
Initially endorsed by 317 writers, 46 venues/producers and the three major UK play publishers, the New Play Commission Scheme has been supported using public funding by Arts Council England and by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre through the Theatre Development Trust. The scheme has also raised over £50,000 in donations from major producers, actors and writers, with play publisher Faber making a donation to the scheme as well as awarding an additional £5,000 to the best play by an unpublished playwright. HighTide Theatre has produced the scheme on behalf of WGGB.
Playwright donors include Mike Bartlett, Caryl Churchill, April de Angelis, Lee Hall, Lucy Kirkwood, Bryony Lavery, Nina Raine, Simon Stephens, Tom Stoppard, Jack Thorne and Laura Wade. Producer donors include the Mackintosh Foundation, Neal St Media and Sonia Friedman Productions.