A TalkFest in the Life of Emma McKee


This is my first blog and I will happily admit to being more than a little nervous.  "I'm not a writer! I don't know what to say!  I prefer to support writers to write!"  "Exactly. That's what we want you to write about," said my colleagues. That made me feel a little better.  If there's one thing I love to talk about, it's how Playwrights' Studio supports writers.  So here it is - my whistle stop tour through the planning process for an event like TalkFest at the Tron.

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Discussions for 2016's TalkFest at the Tron began back in September 2015.  Andy Arnold (Artistic Director of the Tron Theatre) and the team at the Tron are always incredibly open to what we want to do.  After agreeing the dates and spaces available, we pretty quickly have to provide copy for the Tron's autumn brochure with some teaser information to whet people's appetites.

The next stage for me is to create a huge draft schedule that slowly begins to fill with all the events that will take place during that week.  This involves a lot of discussion amongst the team about what workshops would be of most benefit to writers.  We are lucky to have access to incredibly talented playwrights who can deliver fantastic and inspirational workshops.  We also look back at feedback that we have received at other events during the year. 

In terms of the rehearsed readings, the programme is carefully planned to include a broad range of playwrights at different stages in their career.  This includes playwrights who are working with us through one of our formal schemes from New Playwrights Award recipient Rosanna Hall through to those we engage with via our Professional Workshop Programme such as Linda McLean.

As a development agency, we don't follow a particular artistic aesthetic.  So the plays at TalkFest at the Tron cover a wide range of themes and styles.  The most important part for us is how the development day will benefit the writer, develop their craft and/or how the reading will allow them to gain feedback from an audience as part of the development process. 

Each writer receives a dedicated script development day with a professional director and actors as well as the rehearsed reading in the evening.  Fiona Stugeon Shea (Creative Director of Playwrights' Studio) and I meet with each playwright in advance to discuss the day i.e. what are their objectives, who would they like to work with, do they want to receive feedback from the audience?

In the weeks before the event, my time is spent liaising with the eight playwrights, five directors and five workshop leaders, casting 28 actors for the readings, printing scripts for readings, putting together contracts and liaising with the Box Office and Technical teams at the Tron.  This is where my giant schedule comes in most handy!

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It's really important for Playwrights' Studio that everyone have a productive and enjoyable experience during a script development day.  So a member of staff is on hand to welcome the artistic teams first thing each morning (and in particular, to direct everyone to the tea, coffee and biscuits!).  We check in again at the end of the day and are on hand both before and after the reading.  If requested by the writers, we facilitate feedback sessions/discussions after the readings.  We set up the workshops and script surgeries, do introductions and thanks and try our best to make sure that participants have a great time during the day.

It has been a delight to see some of the plays previously developed as part of TalkFest at the Tron go on to have another life: Liz Lochhead's What Goes Around which toured Scotland, Linda Duncan McLaughlin's Descent (nominated for Best New Play at the CATS awards 2016) and Anita Vettesse's Happy Hour which was produced by A Play, A Pie and A Pint and presented at the Traverse.

TalkFest at the Tron is an incredibly busy but rewarding six days and, as you can see, there is a great deal of time and planning that goes into making it all happen even for a 'mini-festival'. For me, the greatest satisfaction comes from the feedback we get from writers that it was being given the opportunity to have that space and time that was the most important part of the process for them.

Emma McKee is General Manager at Playwrights' Studio, Scotland. 

Written by Emma McKee at 00:00

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