Playwright vs performance writer

There’s an interesting discussion going on National Theatre Wales’s on-line community in the writers’ group re- the difference between ‘plays’ and ‘live performance’, ‘playwrights’ and ‘artists/performance writers’, and the opportunities available to each. This has prompted me to engage on that site, and now here, with what is a very old chestnut indeed…

For years I’ve been contesting the separation of ‘playwrights’ and plays from ‘performance writers/makers/artists’ and texts. At various gatherings and symposia I’ve attended over the past decade and more (usually around that other unnecessarily loaded term ‘dramaturgy’), I’ve  almost come to blows when denying and descrying what I see as an odd and artificial schism. On one memorable occasion about eight years ago, I was denied kinship with the cool crowd of live performance makers because I’d written a three act play for the Birmingham Rep’ in 2000 and was therefore a ‘playwright’ and into realism and naturalism and the fourth wall and other forms of conservatism… When I challenged this with reference to my other work deemed by critics and academics as ‘experimental’ and ‘post-dramatic’, they didn’t know where I should belong, for it seemed never the two should meet….

It seems to me definitions have generally been:

Playwright = one often working alone, primary or solo voice/vision, usually (but not always) in more established classical Western theatrical forms (naturalism/ three act structure)

Performance writer = one working perhaps collaboratively, usually in more ‘experimental’ or less conventional forms (ie, not our three act structure with the 4th wall, etc).

It seems to have been useful for some in the past to create this division, and going by the NTW site, it still is causing disruption and discord, as well as engaging and interesting debate.

It reminds me again of the debates I was involved with last year at West Yorkshire Playhouse over ‘the end of new writing’ with Lyn Gardner, David Eldridge, Suzanne Bell, Dawn Watson and Fin Kennedy. Worth having a look again, if you’re interested, and Alex Chisholm’s original essay (links, below).

As to me… I just reiterate what I wrote on the NTW site: a writer is a writer is a writer and if we can be flexible in our approach and the forms we write in, so (in my experience, at least) can the funders and commissioners….

I’m sure I’ll come back again to this subject, but meanwhile leave you with those links past and present:

http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/group/writers  (but you need to join the community before you can comment)

https://kaiteoreilly.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/the-end-of-new-writing/

http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/the-end-of-new-writing/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2012/may/18/new-writing-all-black-play

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