ANNUAL REPORT ON THE ACTIVITIES OF WRiTEON
June 2011 to May 2012
2. Membership & Newsletter Subscriptions
5. Community Links and Outreach
Throughout 2011/12, WRiTEON has continued to thrive; enabling writers, producers directors and actors to develop new work through staged readings, workshops and informal feedback meetings. Following the switch to Mailchimp, during the previous reporting year (February 2011) we have been able to further improve the visual quality of our newsletter, which now boasts 586 subscribers. With this and our Facebook group (369 members) and Twitter account (118 followers) we reach an impressive number of interested parties; largely in the Cambridge area but also throughout the UK and as far afield as Israel, Singapore and the USA, thus enhancing Cambridge’s international reputation and demonstrating to the world that its long history as a centre of creative innovation continues right into the present day, amongst the townies as well as the gownies.
Over the year, we have staged 46 new short plays, mainly by local writers, plus a few from further afield, who travelled to Cambridge to see their work performed. This we insist on, as the readings are a learning experience for the writers. This is also beneficial in drawing a few more visitors to the city, who may bring family or friends and often use the opportunity for a short break, doing some sightseeing or attending other local events while they are here.
Our partnership with the ADC Theatre continues to be mutually beneficial. Attendances at our staged readings in the ADC Bar now almost always sell out, as do the workshops we offer, which also now take place in the Bar. Both Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University students and graduates number amongst our script submitters, actors and workshop attendees, partly due to our events being publicised on the ADC website and through the CUADC. Participation in our events at the ADC also draws our members’ and supporters’ attention to the ADC programme and inspires them to support other events there.
This year we invited award winning local playwright, Fraser Grace to become our patron. Fraser attended some of our staged readings, gave some tips to writers and contributed to the feedback sessions.
Towards the end of 2011, our chairperson and newsletter editor, Michelle Golder, decided to resign from these two roles after three years as chair, a further five on the committee prior to that and having produced literally hundreds of newsletters, to enable her to concentrate on her own creative projects. She therefore handed over the reins to me (following a long apprenticeship as a fellow committee member and as artistic director/producer of several WRiTEON events). I feel that I have successfully continued where Michelle left off and I am tremendously enjoying taking the group from strength to strength.
2. Membership & Newsletter Subscriptions
The membership fee remains compulsory only for writers submitting scripts for our staged readings but we now encourage others to support our activities financially by joining if they wish. In 2011/2012, our paid-up membership rose to 80. Membership for that year only expired on 30th April and, as at 2nd May, we already have 20 paid up members for 2012/2013. The fee is £15 per year and, since last year, we have made it a pre-requisite to the submission of plays, rather than allowing an optional one-off submission fee. We feel this has helped to gain commitment from submitting writers so that they become part of the WRiTEON community. We can now gauge the effectiveness of our newsletter communications through Mailchimp, which enables us to see how many of our 586 subscribers actually open each one and which links within it are clicked. Our December 2011, January, February and March 2012 newsletters are all in the top five (in terms of the highest percentage opening rates since we switched providers in February 2011) with April and May 2012 close behind (the latter having not yet been out long enough to reach its full potential).
Our workshops are open to the public with reduced rates offered to paid-up members. Now that we publicise these through the ADC website, they usually sell out ahead of the event; capacity being around 16-18 participants, subject to leader stipulation. Workshops held during the past year were:
Introduction to Sitcom Writing, led by Declan Hill & Simon Wright of The Sitcom Mission - October 16th 2011
From Script to Screen, led by TV and Film Director, Tim Fywell - February 26th 2012
Structuring a Full Length Play, led by Ola Animashawun, of Euphoric Ink & The Royal Court Young Writers’ Programme - March 26th 2012
Releasing Creativity Through Improvisation & Other Ways into Writing led by prolific published writer, performer and director, Stella Duffy – April 26th 2012
Beginners and Improvers Improvisation 8 and 10 week courses - repeated throughout the year
WRiTEON’s performance schedule now features frequent Improv events as well as our usual festivals of staged readings of new writing - MaD (Monologues and Duologues) and Naked Stage.
WRiTEON continues to extend the involvement of its supporters on every level.
We encourage both accepted and unsuccessful writers to get involved with the performances in other ways, including producing, acting in or directing the work of other writers (and very occasionally their own, if appropriate) as well as helping with Front of House. We also actively encourage local writers to bring rejected scripts along to our Feedback Group, so that, even if they can’t see them performed, they can hear them read aloud and get constructive feedback from fellow writers, to enable them to improve their work before resubmitting elsewhere or to a future WRiTEON season. We do sometimes accept scripts that have been substantially reworked following a previous rejection. We also encourage writers to try out newly written scripts at Feedback Group before submitting and this has been shown to increase their chances of acceptance, both by WRiTEON and elsewhere.
MaD Festival 2011
This took place in the Bar at the ADC on 3rd, 4th, 10th, 11th & 17th July. There were 26 short plays for one or two actors performed and, despite the necessity to run it on consecutive Sunday and Monday evenings (due to ADC availability) rather than five Sunday evenings as was traditional; the producers, directors and actors rose to the challenge of rehearsing two programmes simultaneously and there seemed to be no negative impact on our attendance figures. The audience responded, as usual, with eagerness in offering feedback, which was digitally recorded, transcribed and sent on to the writers for them to revisit at their leisure.
Naked Stage 2011
This took place in the Bar at the ADC on 23rd & 30th October, 6th, 13th & 20th November. Twenty plays were chosen for performance; by writers new to us as well as regular WRiTEON participants. Once again, each evening was sold out and performances generated lively discussion amongst the audience.
For this season, we tried out a new system of selection; having a panel of readers, rather than just the two or three artistic directors. This worked well and we developed it further for our forthcoming annual summer season of Monologues and Duologues (MaD), for which the script selection process was completed in April, expanding the reading panel to 7 and, this time, anonymising the scripts before circulating them to the panel and only revealing the writers’ names once the final selection was made.
Our Improv courses, led by Clare Kerrison continue to be extremely popular. Once participants get beyond beginner level, each term ends in a performance at CB2, B Bar or the Emperor public house. These events are always well-attended, the audience clearly enjoys them tremendously and the participants build their confidence. While a number of our regular actors have joined the Improv courses in order to develop their performing skills, it also works the other way round, in that some who first come to WRiTEON as Improv beginners, develop the confidence through these classes to go on to audition for our staged readings.
5. Community Links and Outreach
Our newsletter is an invaluable tool for actors, writers, producers and directors in the Cambridge region and beyond. As well as using it to inform people of our own activities, we publicise submission opportunities, writing competitions, auditions, workshops and courses that might be of interest to our subscribers. We do not charge organisations to promote their events. The newsletter is taken by other national arts organisations and by individuals globally.
The current editor has made WRiTEON News more people-focussed, with an emphasis on reports of our members’ writing successes and photos of past productions with the names of the writers and performers involved. We have also started asking actors and writers to provide a profile of themselves. These are added to our website with links to the newsletter and we are gradually building them up over time. This has been warmly received and gives both the website and the newsletter more of a ‘family’ feel, rather than just being a purveyor of information.
Supporting Local Groups
We continue to support the events of a wide variety of local arts organisations as well as encouraging members of the WRiTEON community to promote their own arts events through the newsletter.
In recent months, we have had requests from Cambridge-based community theatre group, Freudian Slips, for their forthcoming production, Gathering the Threads, and from a writer member wanting to make podcasts of some recently published short story/monologues, both asking for help in finding actors for these. We were able to put each of them in touch directly with suitable actors from our own pool, who they went on to use. Similarly, we had a request from Talking Walls Theatre, who are developing a local history community theatre project, for which they needed writers to collaborate with them on a long term project for performance in 2013, and we were able to find them two of our writer members who are now working on the scripts.
The Feedback Group, which meets in the home of our Chairperson, now has a mailing list of 40 attendees, of whom an average of about 10 attend each meeting. Writers can bring along scripts, whether completed, still in progress or even at a very early stage, which are intended for theatre, radio, television or film. These are read aloud by the group, in full or over two or more meetings, depending on length, and then discussed and, if the writer so desires, suggestions may be made as to how they might be improved/developed. This provides a great deal of help, support and encouragement for both new and experienced writers. The group generally meets at least once a month but this may sometimes increase to fortnightly, at times when a WRiTEON submission deadline is imminent, there are several submission opportunities coming up elsewhere or members are just in a particularly prolific phase and have a lot of work they want to read.
A number of scripts premiered by WRiTEON as staged readings have gone on to full productions. One of these, which was premiered in Naked Stage last year, was recently entered in The Cambridge Drama Festival (winning multiple awards, including best new play, and going through to the next round, so will be representing Cambridge in Surrey later this month). This was directed by one of our members, featuring some of the original WRiTEON cast, and one of our actors carried off the best actor award. Another new play which had been tried out at our feedback group also did well in the Cambridge Drama Festival, winning the best actress award for its leading lady, who is also known to WRiTEON audiences as one of our performers. Another writer entered a piece which had been premiered in MaD last year in a London new writing festival, where it was selected as one of seven (out of 250 submissions) for a staged reading and then voted through by the audience as one of just four pieces to go on to a full production. On the back of these successes, both writers are also taking these plays to The Edinburgh Fringe, this summer. A member who had had two scenes from a longer play staged by WRiTEON in 2011 (one in MaD and another in Naked Stage) went on to have the play selected for The Croydon Warehouse International Playwriting Festival.
Another of our members had a play selected for the Offcut Festival in the autumn and another had a piece short listed for the Red Planet Prize. One of our regular Feedback Group members won the £1,000 prize for a play suitable to be performed by children in the Trinity College London International Play Writing Competition, which he had found out about from our newsletter. Two writers who attended our Sitcom Writing Workshop in October 2011, which was led by the organisers of the London-based Sitcom Mission, went on to enter a co-written script for Sitcom Mission, which made it through to the semi-finals. Several members had plays selected for Menagerie’s One Page Plays Competition, which was part of their Hotbed Festival. Some of these had first been tried out at the Feedback Group and two of the latter were voted through into the final by the audience, taking first and second place in their heat. Several members have been very active in film making and have achieved some success, one writer alone last year having had a short chosen as a TiVo top Ten in the VM Shorts competition, a screenplay shortlisted in the Bafta Rocliffe Forum and another screenplay shortlisted for the LSF Four Days in August competition. A few of the plays that have been featured as staged readings have also gone on to be adapted into short films and are available on the internet for public viewing.
Mill Road Winter Fair
In December 2011, WRiTEON once again had a presence at the Mill Road Winter Fair, where we were represented both by writer members and some of our most experienced Improvisers, who drew an appreciative crowd with their spontaneous performances.
Winter Social Event
In January 2012, we threw a Party for our members and supporters. This was held in a member’s home and attendees were invited to bring food and drink contributions to share, so this was at no cost to group funds. Theatre-themed quizzes helped to break the ice and get people interacting, with prizes for the best entries donated by a member. This was extremely successful as a social and networking event, enabling people who had thus far only been involved in one aspect of WRiTEON (e.g., attending Feedback Group, an Improv course or a writing workshop or being involved in a staged reading) to meet together and find out from each other about other aspects of the group and become interested in extending their involvement. In the light of this, we have decided to make it a twice yearly event, holding one around the Christmas/new year season and one in the summer, the next being scheduled to take place on Sunday 24th June, a week after the end of our MaD run.
We are very proud of our achievements in providing unique opportunities for writers, performers, directors and producers, a social focal point for the city and an alternative, indigenous source of performance in scripted plays, improvisation and film shorts.
We recently commissioned a new logo to strengthen our visual identity and we are in the process of producing some new generic flyers to promote all our activities.
As Interim Chair of WRiTEON, I am delighted with what the group has achieved this year and look forward with enthusiasm to the many events we already have in the pipeline for the remainder of 2012 and beyond, including a one-off themed performance event in the historic Corpus Playroom, a collaboration with The Cambridge Folk museum, a Skylines workshop on writing for young people, a radio podcast project and further workshops for writers and improvisers, as well as our annual programmes of staged readings, MaD (Monologues and Duologues) and Naked Stage.
(with acknowledgements to Michelle Golder for her Chairmanship in the first half of the reporting year and to Trish Rawson for her assistance in preparing this report)