Award-winning writing struggles into print
A founder member of The Independent David Lister joined the paper in 1986 as Assistant Home Editor. He became the paper's arts correspondent in 1988 and is now Arts Editor and writes a column each Saturday. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Sunday 03 October 1993
ROD WOODEN is one of Britain's more a successful new playwrights. He has already won two top awards and has new plays opening atthe Royal Shakespeare Company and Manchester Royal Exchange are presenting his new plays works. of his. But no British publisher will touch them, writes David Lister.
Wooden has fallen is a victim of a trend that is alarming theatres and playwrights: publishers in the recession a recessionary periodare wary of printing the works of by playwrights who are not already widely known and guaranteed a reasonable sale.
As a result, the public who see the plays are unable to read them, and students in the future will be unable to get a picture of what new drama in 1993 was like. In addition publishers have driven a wedge betwen writers, with the newer playwrights increasingly resentful of established writers like Harold Pinter and David Hare, whose new plays are automatically published.
Wooden, who is 48 but has only in the last few years taken tobegan playwriting plays only in the last pasta few years ago, has won the Mobil and John Whiting playwriting awards. in the last three years. He is currently rehearsing Moby Dick at Stratford-upon-Avon. He has been told by Methuen, who have which has published previous work of his, and who havehas a strong good reputation for publishing new work, that they it will not publish either Moby Dick, opening at the RSC's Other Place theatre on 28 October, or Smoke, which opens in Novembernext month at the Manchester Royal Exchange, until they seeit sees how they fare go down. with audiences.
After getting the same response from every other British publisher, publishing company, (though an American company US firm has expressed was interested),other publishers, he has put 3,000 of his own money into setting up one of his own, publishing company, called 'Crimes Against Theatre'. He said: 'Both these plays are in high-profile theatres with bookshops. If you can't get plays published that are on at the RSC and Royal Exchange, then where can you? It's not about the money. You don't make money from having your plays published. It's so people that people can see the written wordwords. that led to that magic in front of their eyes. Also, future generations will know what theatre was like in 1993, and And But if you get the text published people are more likely to put on the play again. But with publishers taken over by big corporations they no longer want to be bothered with small sales.'
'People say your name is not well enough known, but how do you get known? It's the establishment, David Hare, Harold Pinter and the rest, saying no one else can join. But they are not in touch with the street. They are writing for the upper middle classes. When David Hare writes about the criminal justice system he has to research it. I've experienced it. We've got a responsibility as writers to start speaking to a different generation.'
Another new playwright, Gregory Motton, has just had a play on at the Royal Court, but this too is not being published by Methuen.
Colin Chambers, literary manager at the RSC, said: 'Things are changing. Anyone who publishes a play now has to have a strong commercial reason for doing so. Publishers have lost a lot of their independence and it's a very serious trend for writers.'
David Tushingham, drama editor at Methuen, said: 'This is a very difficult time for all publishers. We are in the fifth or sixth year of recession. Sales figures overall for a wide variety of playwrights have been going down. We published one play of Rod Wooden's and, although it won the premier playwriting award in the country, it still sold under 1,000 copies.' e only contracted to publish that play and we make artistic judgements on subsequent work when we read it.
'We have also published two plays of by Gregory Motton (he recently had a Royal Court production),. He who has had two more performed since they came out, but it's very difficult to publish everything a playwright does. We still publish well over 100 British living playwrights. and I don't accept a distinction between someone who is a younger writer and a more established writer who has written new plays. There is a similar risk involved.'
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