For two years (2007 & 2008) iceandfire and Amnesty International UK ran the Protect the Human playwriting competition. This was a really exciting initiative as it gave iceandfire the opportunity to explore the work of hundreds of playwrights, create relationships with high profile theatres across the UK and develop a long lasting partnership with arguably the most well known human rights organisation in the world. Our first winning play in 2007 was Sarah Grochala’s S27, which went on to have a very successful run at the Finborough Theatre in 2009 and has now been picked up by an Australian company, Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney, having its international debut in 2010. 2008’s winner, After the Accident by Julian Armitstead, was produced this year by Theatre West and has also been picked up by BBC Radio 4. These are great achievements and we’re really proud that the competition provided a springboard for these plays and writers but the thing is, we felt that iceandfire could do more.

In order to make this happen we wanted to change the set up of the initiative, taking it away from a competition to instead being a rolling script submission service for writers who are creating theatre scripts that have human rights at their heart. And Everyone has the Right was born. We believe this will allow us to create longer term relationships with writers, still providing them with a platform in the shape of professional rehearsed readings at both the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre and at partner venues around the country but also by pairing exciting writers with dramaturgs to develop their work over a longer time scale. The competition was no doubt high profile and brought in audiences but it was also a hot house environment – forcing plays and playwrights through a very tight schedule where timeframes threatened to become more important than organic development of work.

There are other companies who provide a similar service to writers – Soho, The Bush, Paines Plough to name a few – and we are not setting ourselves up in competition to these long established and respected organisations as that would be daft. What we are doing is recognising that iceandfire has an expertise in supporting and developing a more specific type of new writing, one that has human rights at its heart and we are aiming to create a natural home for those writers who are keen to create work or works that deal specifically with that subject matter.

We’re not saying that to explore a human rights story is an easy thing to do and it has taken us much time and brainwork to outline what we mean by that. This was first explored in an earlier blog that I wrote back in the summer and has now been developed in to a longer piece accessible from the website. A quote that I found really helpful was from Theatre and Human Rights by Paul Rae:

“Such is the complexity of ‘the subject of human rights’ that it is arguably better served by a theatre that reflects that complexity than by one that seeks to resolve it.”

The initiative officially launches tomorrow, the 10th December, and time will tell whether it is a service that playwrights actively want. From conversations that I’ve had with writers and other theatre practitioners I feel confident that it is and I hope that in 2010 iceandfire and Amnesty will be able to bring you a whole array of readings of plays that fulfil the aim of Everyone has the Right in exciting and dynamic ways.

By Sara Masters, co-Artistic Director

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