Hot off the press

first_imgThe deadline is fast approaching for entries to this year’s New Writing Festival. Some plays will already have been finished, proof-read, revised, polished and popped neatly into the Burton Taylor office at a sensible, even healthy hour. Other writers, scattered across Oxford in various garrets, might at this moment be realising with horror that the estranged Jacqueline can’t return at the end, but must remain estranged because she died in Botswana when she was nine. A few might simply not realise at all that a character who entered to eat a biscuit in the first act has beenleft silent on stage ever since, still eating biscuits we presume. Many entries are probably even more raw and are being hammered into existence as we speak; perhaps some are still only good ideas waiting to begin their frantically unnatural growthspurt into a living room comedy about Chernobyl. It is, however, the deadline itself which seems best to encapsulate the effect that the New Writing Festival can have on people of a literary bent. Not only does it accommodate those who would usually take action upon an idea, offering them a wonderful platform from which to pursue it, it also shakes the inactive, shy and bemused into becoming bumblingly pro-active members of the thesp community. And all this only to meet the deadline.The format of the competition is relatively straightforward: eight shortlisted plays are announced in eighth week of this term, and four finalists shortly afterwards. Directors enter the scrum in order to bid for individual scripts and are accepted early in Hilary, the play is cast and then suddenly, and rather disarmingly, you the writer are introduced to the flesh-and-blood embodiments of the characters who peopled your brain in the gusty, panicked approach to the Michaelmas deadline.As your previously mounting suspicions about your own mental wellbeing ease off, the hard graft of the festival itself begins in earnest and you are soon swiftly tumbling towards the fourth week denouements in the Burton Taylor, OFS and O’Reilly. The society of those who do, would do, or have done plays in Oxford is, like any other group, united under the auspices of a slightly peculiar and austere habit. Yet the allure of the New Writing Festival seems to be precisely its emphasis on ‘the new’, as declared by the title. It might just as easily have been called ‘The Cameron Macintosh Prize,’ and yet the funding and institution of the event are kept commendably clandestine in favour of an emphasis on open entry and the encouragement of new voices on the Oxford stage.The other titular emphasis is, perhaps, slightly more misleading. The ‘writing’ which is celebrated in the initial stages of the competition often represents, as perhaps it should, little more than a catalogue of things which will inevitably change in the process leading up to the fourth week performances. This is not, of course, to say that the writer’s wishes become in any way denigrated, but rather that after the finalists are announced there emerges an astounding task force of thespianic worker bees who take these scripts (which can vary from laboured opus tohasty works executed in crayon) and transform them into living, breathing theatrical experiences. It is often pointed out, in a manner perhaps too dismissive of a writer’s capacity for excitement, that the greatest thrill for a writer is to see their work realised on stage. In fact, the thrill isin the actual process itself: the four weeks of changing, amending and, for some, begrudgingly compromising, are where the thrill-seeking writer finds the greatest measure of fulfilment. The New Writing Festival deadline may loom, but this is really only the beginning. Information on the festival, along with details of the trials and triumphs of last year, can be found on www. 3rd week MT 2005last_img