“To write a play is an act of bravery” Kwame Kwei-Armah announced at the official launch of the 2019 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting held at the Young Vic Theatre where he is the Artistic Director and Chair of this year’s judging panel. Bruntwood has launched the career of several of theatre’s rising stars including in the same year winners Anna Jordan, whose play Yen opened to much acclaim, and Poldark-star Luke Norris, with So Here We Are. Even the shortlists are full of familiar names including Ellie Kendrick of Game of Thrones and Alice Birch who went on to co-write the highly acclaimed 2016 film Lady Macbeth.
No wonder then, that Kwei-Armah insists that the Bruntwood Prize “has stood the test of time because it believes art is the lifeblood of this country.” Since 2005 many thousands of entries have been received, resulting in 28 winning playwrights whose work has been produced across the UK and Europe, and, with a £16,000 award for the overall winner as well as Judges’ Awards worth £8000, this has become a notable platform for emerging talent.
Run in partnership with the Royal Exchange in Manchester, Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom explained that the competition is open to anyone who wants to write a play about any subject, with no restrictions on eligibility other than proof of main address in the UK or Ireland. Managed through a pseudonymous process, submissions are entirely anonymous meaning whether an established writer or entirely unknown all scripts follow exactly the same process – three separate readings before a longlist and shortlist are determined.
This year, Frankcom announced, the committee have added two further prize funds to the competition; first, an Original New Voice Award (£8000) open to writers who have never had a play professional produced for more than 12 performances in a professional venue, and entrants to this scheme will also be considered for the main Bruntwood Prize and the Judges’ Award; a second International Award of £8000 will be offered in partnership with the BANFF Centre in Canada, Belvoir Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company in Australia, and the American Berkeley Rep and Playwrights Horizons. Entrants to this award will be invited by one of these partners to anonymously apply.
The 2019 competition closes at 6pm on 5 June 2019 and shortlisting will take place in the autumn. This year’s judging panel, chaired by Kwei-Armah, includes Frankcom and Michael Oglesby who founded the Bruntwood Group, alongside former winner Anna Jordan, actor Shane Zaza journalist Bridget Minamore and Faith Yianni to represent the audience perspective.
Oglesby, who announced his retirement at the launch event (to be replaced by his daughter), spoke with feeling about the importance of the prize to people “who can now say ‘I’m a playwright’,” but urged the audience not to take theatre for granted. There is lots of it, he stated, and we are good at it, but the additional mentoring and support offered to emerging talent in this scheme will “ensure the long-term future of theatre in this country.”
“You are invited no matter who you are or where you’re from” Kwei-Armah concluded, and by the end of 2019 the next group of emerging writers may well be taking their first step towards a professional playwriting career.
For further information and details on how to enter visit the Bruntwood Prize website
Maryam Philpott | Image: Richard Davenport