We want “electrifying stories that spark the imagination,” says Box Of Tricks’ co-artistic director Hannah Tyrell-Pinder. She’s talking about the inaugural Screen/Play Award which aims to unearth two writers from the North of England who are from under-represented communities and have no professional TV experience
Manchester-based theatre company Box of Tricks is collaborating with Leeds-based Sky Studios in the hunt for Northern talent. “We’re looking for stories with the scope and ambition to be realised on both stage and screen, stories that embrace the infinite imaginative possibilities of each medium and reflect the world in which we live.”
Each writer will be awarded a £10,250 bursary to write a new play and a short screenplay, both inspired by a single central idea, to be developed with Box of Tricks and Sky Studios’ Innovation Hub throughout 2021.
Tyrell-Pinder says: “The idea will be that, although coming out of one story, rather than creating one script that is then either crowbarred onto the stage or slightly hammered into shape for the screen, two scripts will develop at the same time, adapting themselves and growing into the format.
“This is not something we’ve done before, but we’ve spoken a lot to playwrights about plays they’ve done for us that then maybe get adapted for radio. Or there have been ‘pie in the sky’ conversations in rehearsals along the lines of ‘when we do the film of this, then we can add in all this exciting stuff’. But knowing that at the same time an idea will develop specifically for two different formats is quite exciting for us, and we hope that’s how the writers will feel too.”
The award is open to writers aged over 18 from the following communities: D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent writers, LGBTQ+ writers, writers of colour, first generation migrant writers and writers from a low socioeconomic background.
“With so much uncertainty still ahead, we face the very real prospect of losing a generation of talent,” says Tyrell-Pinder. “So it is vital that we seize every opportunity to support, nurture and promote new voices in the North, especially those whose stories are too seldom heard on our stages or seen on our screens. It’s time to make a change for the better.”
The submission window opened on October 19 with a deadline of November 6, 2020. Applicants, who must not have previously worked professionally in television, should apply via an online application with a one-page pitch of up to 500 words, a personal statement of up to 500 words and an example script (up to 30 pages).
“Actually, when we first started talking about this, and we’ve been discussing it for six months or so, we were talking about script samples for a play. But as we started thinking in more detail about the groups and communities that we wanted to connect with, we realised that one of the obstacles some of the individuals from these communities face in their lack of representation or visibility, is lack of experience and the confidence to put stuff down on paper.
“So, it’s not the script itself we’re interested in, but the voice behind it and that writing example is more just a display of their voice. Of course, it would be great if those samples did include samples of dialogue and have been written for the stage, or even if it’s a monologue, but actually we are expecting that we might get bits of poetry or spoken word. For the purposes of being truly accessible and inclusive, we’re open to receiving video formats or sound file recordings for people who might find getting stuff down on the page an obstacle.”
A shortlist of 15 writers will be announced in December 2020. They will then be invited to take part in exclusive online masterclasses exploring their craft and the world of screenwriting with industry experts before five finalists are announced in January, 2021, meeting the five-person judging panel to pitch their idea via Zoom.
Alongside Tyrell-Pinder, the Screen/Play Award industry panel includes actor Mina Anwar, award-winning playwright Chris Bush, actor and advocate for disability on screen/stage Melissa Johns, actor and writer David Judge, and actor and writer Temi Wilkey, as well as Donna Metcalfe (script executive, Sky Studios).
It’s planned to announce the two Screen/Play writers in early 2021. Supported by Box of Tricks and Sky Studios’ Innovation Hub, those two writers will write and develop a first draft of a 70-minute stage play and a 20-minute screenplay throughout 2021, culminating in a table read/rehearsed reading.
“Box of Tricks have well and truly opened the door for me as a playwright, not in a ‘welcome to the industry’ way, but in a ‘welcome to yourself’ way,” says Judge, whose play Sparkplug exploring family, race and identity toured the UK in Spring 2019. “They were able to identify and nurture my voice in a non-intimidating and collaborative environment.”
He continues: “The work we have created has directly led to me working with Sky Studios and, again, I cannot rave enough about the freedom and support I have received on this journey so far. I am so gutted not to be able to apply for this award as it is going to be such an exciting, creative and rewarding opportunity for those involved.”
Tyrell-Pinder adds:“At a time when our industry faces the greatest crisis of a generation and stands to lose a wealth of talent, Screen/Play shines a light on voices that need to be heard and stories that need to be told. New plays are the lifeblood of theatre and playwrights its beating heart. So, if you’ve got a story to tell, we want to hear it.”
Main image: Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder, director © Alex Mead Decoy Media.
Further details about the Screen/Play Award are available here.
Interested writers are advised to join Box of Tricks’ PlayMakers Network via the website or on Facebook for up-to-date information and additional content.