Steven Atkinson on First Commissions 2018

Steven Atkinson on First Commissions 2018

Posted on December 1st, 2017

First Commissions 2018

I don’t want to be told what the future of new writing theatre is through buzz. I want the writers to speak for themselves.

Every year we commission six writers who are receiving their first commission for a full length play. At least two of the six, HighTide will fully produce. This is an open application opportunity. I think we don’t shout about it enough.

When I started out, I remember my peers were writers like James Graham, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Mike Bartlett, Ella Hickson, D. C. Moore, Joel Horwood and many more.  I read their writing and I said WHY THE FUCK AREN’T THEY BEING PRODUCED? I used to think: artistic directors are seeing through commitments to other writers, and maybe they don’t see how good their writing is? It’s taken me ten years at HighTide to realise that people care more about buzz than finding talent. I now know that saying a writer’s name is a short hand, that artistic directors say ‘ooh, I’d like a piece of that’, because they have a impression of what producing that writer means.

Well, fuck that. I don’t want to be told what the future of new writing theatre is through buzz. I want the writers to speak for themselves.

But is there a strategy?

Yes, there is.

My colleagues and I at HighTide believe that writers will tell us what the future of new writing theatre is. In order to realise this, we know that we need to create the infrastructure to find writers and develop their plays. We look at contemporary theatre and we ask ourselves, what voices are missing? We have said that at least half of our productions each year will be written by female writers. At least a third will be led by a BAME artist. Where are the opportunities for exceptional East Anglian narratives? And we look at the writers who contact us and ask: why are there so many university educated middle class males asking for meetings? This is not trite. These are still the majority of those who feel empowered enough to ask me for a coffee.

So we’ve made a programme called First Commissions, and we’ve committed to fully staging at least a third of these plays because that’s what we can currently afford, and the other four we will do our utmost to get produced elsewhere. But now that we’ve made the opportunity, we’re committed to making sure that the types of writers that we want to work with know about First Commissions. We specialise in producing new plays by new writers in East Anglia. Thankfully, there are other companies working specifically with underrepresented artists and writers, and what Andy, Charlotte and I are doing at the moment is making partnerships with such organisations to fold new partners in to First Commissions. We’ve noticed the absence of BAME applicants, writers creating work for young audiences, writers that want to incorporate technology in to their productions. So we’re going to work with partners who specialise in these areas more.

Writers –  as soon as we can, we’re going to say: these are the writers that our partners and we want to commission. We will be as inclusive and accessible as always, but we want to make sure that it’s not just those in the know about new writing that apply. We anticipate that applications for First Commissions 2018 will open May 2018. We will take on six Commissions and they will be developed over a three year period toward production in 2021, or sooner or later depending on what the play needs.

Sparks, our Academy, our Writers’ Group, the meetings I take – they all feed ideas in to what plays to commission through First Commissions.

I always think back to when I was starting out and it was such a mystery how plays got produced and how people found the money to produce fringe productions. HighTide ensures that new writers will get support and financing to write a play and get it produced. It makes us unique. The talent of our writers makes us exceptional. We’re here for writers. Come join us or tell your friends who need this opportunity.

Steven Atkinson, Artistic Director