An exciting partnership
This collaboration is about providing opportunities and creative space for new writers, directors, companies and individual theatre makers, with one of the first initiatives linking the Playhouse’s new writing schemes with the University’s Masters course, Writing for Performance and Publication.
Institutions like these are enormously important to Leeds being recognised as the cultural city that it is. The West Yorkshire Playhouse has an international reputation as a leading UK producing theatre, dedicated to building sustainable projects that reach out to a diverse range of communities. The University of Leeds has more than 31,000 students and was positioned as one of the top 100 best universities in the world in the 2014 QS World University Rankings.
The new partnership was originally sparked by talks between James Brining, Playhouse Artistic Director, and award-winning playwright and screenwriter Garry Lyons, programme leader for the University’s Writing for Performance and Publication MA. Discussions were spurred on by the success in 2014 of the play Boi Boi is Dead, which was developed by Leeds playwright Zodya Nyoni, a postgraduate student on the Writing for Performance and Publication course. This play premiered at the Playhouse to great acclaim, and was later shortlisted for the prestigious Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the foremost international award for female dramatists.
Everyone involved in bringing this partnership to life shares a mutual enthusiasm and passion for this project. They recognise just how much of an exciting prospect this combination is for influencing both the world of theatre, and the City of Leeds itself. Two of these people include Garry Lyons and Robin Hawkes, Executive Director at West Yorkshire Playhouse, who answered some questions about what they believe this collaboration offers, and how significant it is.
What implications does the University feel this will have for the students who are involved with this partnership?
There'll be immediate benefits for playwriting students on the MA Writing for Performance and Publication course. They'll be accessing regular workshops from theatre professionals, being given work placement and internship opportunities, and having the chance to take part in collaborative projects with the Playhouse like new writing festivals. Beyond that, we see the scheme growing and extending to other students in the School of Performance and Cultural Industries and others at the University who are interested in theatre. There'll be opportunities for acting, directing, community and educational projects, design and technical work, and the Playhouse is very keen to collaborate with the University on research.
How important is this scheme to highlight the current talents that the University of Leeds has?
The partnership is about education and training rather than showcasing talent. Personally I'm not in favour of an X Factor approach to talent development that's all about catapulting people into a career for which they're ill-prepared. Theatre skills take many years to acquire, and this partnership is concerned with nurturing talent and helping to build long-lasting careers for the future.
What implications does the West Yorkshire Playhouse feel this partnership will have for the theatre company?
There has been a variety of informal links between the Playhouse and the University stretching back over many years, so it’s great that this relationship is now being formalised. With the recent establishment of the University’s Cultural Institute, our ambition is that this new writing partnership will be the starting point for a wider collaboration which stretches across many areas of our work. Looking ahead to Leeds’ proposed bid to be European Capital of Culture for 2023, it’s now vital that organisations in the City with a cultural focus are working together in this way.
Does the partnership have anything in the pipeline currently?
The programme itself means the Playhouse’s artistic team will be delivering workshops for students on the University’s MA Writing for Performance and Publication course and offering opportunities for students to do bespoke placements within our literary department. Conversations between the Playhouse and the course have already triggered some possible, exciting creative collaborations.
Do you feel it was particularly important to create this partnership in order to encourage new talent?
I think talent development, and talent retention, are two key questions for Leeds. Whilst there is an increasingly strong and broad offer in terms of educational and training courses across the Performing Arts in the City, our experience is that many graduates from these courses still feel they need to leave Leeds in order to get their first jobs – and as a consequence the Playhouse often finds itself recruiting from London and elsewhere. Anything which can be done to give students in Leeds a bridge to employment in the City is very important to us.