国際交流基金 The Japan Foundation Performing Arts Network Japan

Presenter Interview プレゼンターインタビュー

Jan 25, 2023
Sin Ae Park (C) Helen Murray

「劇作家のための劇場」を掲げる
ロイヤルコート劇場のインターナショナル・プログラム

UK

Aim of the International Program at the Royal Court — London’s renowned “writers’ theatre”

Sam Pritchard

From its base in London’s elegant Chelsea neighbourhood, the Royal Court has long been known as the “writers’ theatre.” Since the Italianate building it occupies was acquired by the English Stage Company in 1956, the RC has operated as a non-commercial West End theatre dedicated to cultivating rising talents and consistently presenting the best contemporary plays. Among those over RC’s splendid history have been many great playwrights including John Osborne, Edward Bond, Arnold Wesker, Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, Simon Stephens and Martin McDonagh.

Every year, the RC itself premiers about 12 brand-new plays, while also continuously meeting with and supporting writers from the United Kingdom and beyond. Its Literary Office receives some 2,000 new scripts a year and the theatre welcomes and engages in various ways with many of those submitting work. In addition, RC runs a number of Writers Groups where writers can meet and discuss their plays and get feedback both from each other and leading professional writers.

Then in 2019 the RC and the major London-based Kudos film and television production company together started a new writing fellowship.

Meanwhile, the RC is focused on actively developing relationships with writers and artists around the world, and fostering writers’ workshops in many countries through its International Programme*. Two years after Eriko Ogawa, the Artistic Director of the New National Theatre, Tokyo (hereinafter NNTT), visited the RC in 2017, the two theatres launched a new joint collaboration project in which 14 Japanese playwrights which finally became 12 joined the first workshop in Tokyo.

This writer interviewed the RC’s Associate Director (International) Sam Pritchard about the “writer’s theatre” itself, its fundamental policy, and the joint project with NNTT.

Interviewer: Nobuko Tanaka

Royal Court Theatre

The Royal Court Theatre
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

* International Programme
The International Programme at the Royal Court builds and develops the theatre’s relationships with writers and artists from around the world. It forms long-term partnerships with theatre-makers and organisations from different traditions, working in different languages and cultural contexts. Its aim is to support writers to bring their practice, dramaturgy and perspective to the works they make with the RC. The programme runs long term writers’ groups, residencies, exchange projects and produce work by international artists. It programme also seeks to support the practice of theatre in translation, with projects and opportunities aimed at emerging translators.

After Eriko Ogawa, the Artistic Director of the New National Theatre, Tokyo, visited the RC in 2017, the two theatres launched Royal Court Theatre×New National Theatre, Tokyo, Playwrights’ Workshop — a new joint collaboration project in 2019.

Royal In the first phase of that project from May 13–19, 2019, Sam Pritchard, the RC’s Associate Director (International), along with Jane Fallowfield, its Literary Manager, and the award-winning English playwright Alistair McDowall, all visited Tokyo and held the first workshop with 14 Japanese playwrights. In the second half of that meeting they started to discuss the writers’ ideas for their new works, with each one committing to submit their first draft within three months.

For the second phase of the project, from Dec. 9–15, 2019, the same people returned to Japan from the RC, and again held workshops while also exchanging opinions about the playwrights’ first drafts. This time, they made it the next target for the writers to submit their second drafts within two months.

After that, the third and last phase, spanning 2020–2021, had to be held online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the 14 participants discussing their writing with RC’s facilitators in London and also having individual meetings with them before doing workshops with actors in Tokyo.

Finally, audiences will see the first fruit of this joint international project when Ei Sugai’s My Month, centered on the sudden loss of a close family member, runs at the NNTT from Nov. 2–20 — while readings of Not Yet Midnight by Tomoko Kotaka, Onigoro Valley (Saori Chiba) and 28 hours 01 minute (Shoko Matsumura) will be presented at the RC from Jan. 26–28, 2023.

Why does the Royal Court only stage new plays by contemporary writers?
The focus on new plays by living writers has always given the RC a real clarity of mission and purpose. We’re here to serve playwrights of all different kinds and to build long-term relationships with some of the most exciting ones in the United Kingdom and internationally. It allows for our audiences to always come here and encounter how writers are seeing the world now.
I have read that you receive around 2,000 new plays every year, so you have to choose. With that many candidates, what are the key criteria in a proposal that make a work a strong contender to be presented by the RC?
I suppose we’re often looking for really unique and distinctive voices who feel like they’re completely themselves and have a completely distinctive theatrical imagination and a way of using language; a really singular way of putting the world on a stage. Those things about the writer always feel more important than, say, the topicality of any one play or the subject matter we would want to cover on stage. We tend to feel it’s about the writer first.

So all the submissions we receive will be carefully assessed by a team of readers, by our literary department, and by other members of our artistic staff. Some of the work that’s read will lead to writers going into playwriting groups to work on and develop how they are writing; some of it will lead to a conversation with a member of the team here and encouragement to send us more work; it might lead to an invitation to come and spend some time involved in the RC programme; or in an international context it might lead to a residency for a writer here.
Ultimately, how does all this work out in terms of receipts?
We are very lucky that the work we programme often sells out. Most subsidised theatres in the UK have a range of funding which comes from ticket sales, government subsidy and donations and that is our model too. It is essential when running writer development programmes that we are able take risks on newer or even unknown voices and bring audiences new work and this set-up allows us to do that.
Would you explain more about your Writers Group work?
The groups are a context for writers to think about how they want to write — not a teaching programme. There’s no method, we don’t offer a particular set of approaches.

That feels important because brilliant writers break rules and write in their own distinctive way. It’s dangerous for a theatre to set an expectation about how a play might be written or what it might look like. The groups are really opportunities to learn from, and with, other writers.

Our groups are always led and facilitated by one or two more experienced playwrights, though their approach is less about teaching than exploring work together. We give the group members freedom in how they want to work with other writers, and the kind of things they want to explore.

In the groups they might read things they’ve never encountered before; they might share work with one another; or they might discuss their own work with each other. So they’ll encounter lots of different approaches, but not as a taught methodology or programme.

That’s particularly important in an international context, where writers are working in different languages and approaching work from different dramaturgical traditions.

Writing is a lonely activity. One of the things that was striking when we started working with the NNTT was how excited Japanese playwrights were by the possibility of us bringing together a space where they could work with and alongside their peers.
Yes, Japanese playwrights often live very much in isolation in a bubble and I don’t suppose there are many who ask anyone, not even their family, to say anything about their work. However, you went to the NNTT and did workshops. What did you think was the best way ahead for Japanese theatre people?
That’s a very good question. Part of what we explored with the writers was the very different journey their work has onto stage; that it’s often written in isolation and the first draft arrives just before rehearsals, and the rehearsal process helps to shape and edit the draft.

Something that Eriko Ogawa-san has particularly been exploring with this project is a space where writers had time to develop a second and a third draft of the play outside a rehearsal context. So some of the things we explored with the group were about that process — about a drafting process. The workshops were an opportunity to share inputs from very different dramaturgical traditions. It felt like a really productive and rare dialogue about what these different traditions might learn from one another.
Please explain a bit more about the differences you noticed.
 One of the things we found most interesting was the parallel between Japanese and British theatre in the way the 1960s produced a very experimental wave of artists. In the UK, some of that was associated with the RC and writers such as Beckett, Ionesco, Soyinka and others who were being shown here. In Japan there was the “black box” theatre and the radical tradition of the 1960s took a very different form. There was an interesting dialogue about those things and a lot about the influence of “quiet theatre” and the power of that in the last 20 or 30 years in Japan.
In the workshops, what did you actually do with the group?
 We spent time reading and discussing different texts together, sharing our perspectives on them, exploring how work is made in both different traditions. Then in our second workshop, when the writers had written their first draft, we focused on reading those together, hearing them in the room, discussing them as a group to help shape how that writer might be thinking about their next draft.
There isn’t anything in Japan like those discussion sessions between writers about drafts of their work. However, if we started to do that do you think it would lead to very different outcomes?
 On our research trip we heard about what I think in Japan is called “brush-up” — a tradition in which plays are read and shared with other writers who then offer feedback and notes. So I know that some of that tradition is present in Japan. But hearing their play and hearing other perspectives about it can be incredibly useful for a writer. Ultimately, though, that play needs to be the product of a really singular vision. So there’s always a limit to how much the democracy of that process is useful.
In the NNTT’s recent programme you referred to Toshiki Okada’s comment that “the things I’d thought were ‘domestic’ often had global or universal reach … (and) I’d probably still be convinced of my old assumption if I hadn’t explored the international scene.” Do you also feel like that?
Absolutely. In the last decade, we in the UK have lived through lots of experiences that have been about closing the door to other relationships and other cultural influences in terms of Brexit with our nearest neighbours in Europe. So for us international exchange is more important than ever, and building relationships and partnerships outside the UK, like the one with the NNTT, is vital at a moment when there is a risk of countries turning in on themselves and focusing exclusively on what’s most familiar.
Now, I want to ask about the three new plays slated for January 2023 at the RC. Why did you choose these three women’s plays? — Onigoro Valley (Saori Chiba), 28 hours 01 minute (Shoko Matsumura) and Not Yet Midnight (Tomoko Kotaka)
 In different ways these three plays imagine the world from very unique and singular perspectives in terms of their form and their theatricality.

One is a kind of folk-horror story exploring the fallout from the decontamination work going on around Fukushima, and it brought a perspective between human beings and the natural world that we haven’t seen before. There is a play that explores motherhood and the expectations around becoming a mother for the first time in a society that finds an extraordinary, symbolic language to explore those issues. And there’s also a play with a very quiet and subtle theatricality that explores small moments between groups of characters across a city that are shifted or revealed during an electricity outage. We’re very excited to see how those plays land in front of an audience here at RC.

The collaboration that will happen between these writers and the UK-based directors they will work with also feels hugely exciting and there may well be things that spring out of that which allow us to develop work further.
I read that you are doing a workshop in Brazil. How many countries do you have a relationship with?
We’re doing a project now that’s open to writers in Brazil and to writers anywhere in the world writing in Portuguese It’s a big “open call” for plays in Portuguese. We usually have four or five projects running internationally at different stages.

Currently we have a Writers Group in partnership with a theater in Mexico City, and another in partnership with several universities in Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago. There’s also a group with partners in the UK and Iraq, and Iraqi writers. There are plays in development by writers from a range of different countries and contexts.
I also see you are doing a podcast. Because of the pandemic, the Edinburgh Festival, for example, started doing a lot more online distribution. Is that why you are doing that?
Working in person will remain a crucial element of how we interact with writers and what theater is. But things we discovered during the pandemic have shaped how we work. We're able to do more work with writers, particularly internationally … bringing people together online, the speed of that, and the positive impact in terms of our carbon footprint — as when we were unable to visit Tokyo ourselves —  all feel really important. RC also remains alive to the possibility of work in a digital context. We filmed a show of ours last year, seven methods of killing kylie jenner, that was really successful as a piece of digital work. I also directed a work by the Chilean writer Pablo Manzi which we made a film-capture version of.
In Japan nowadays I think lots of great story-creating talents aim to work in manga and animation. So not only theatre suffers but also movies and TV. Is it the same in the UK, because today’s generations seem to be so interested in games and anime?
 It’s a conversation we’ve had in theatre in the UK, but less so about manga and video games than the platforms that TV and film offer writers. However, I don’t know that thinking about that as a competition has ever been particularly helpful for theatre, in that the offer in theatre has to be unique. Theatre is not a stepping stone to those other art forms; it’s a conversation with a live audience, a thing that happens between people in a room that the other art forms don’t offer.
So do you think there are still a lot of people in the UK who want to be involved with theatre as writers?
 Definitely. We have relationships with some really extraordinary writers. We could programme our schedules several times over with some of the brilliant work writers are sharing with us. So we are very fortunate from that perspective.
Why does the Royal Court only stage new plays by contemporary writers?
The focus on new plays by living writers has always given the RC a real clarity of mission and purpose. We’re here to serve playwrights of all different kinds and to build long-term relationships with some of the most exciting ones in the United Kingdom and internationally. It allows for our audiences to always come here and encounter how writers are seeing the world now.
I have read that you receive around 2,000 new plays every year, so you have to choose. With that many candidates, what are the key criteria in a proposal that make a work a strong contender to be presented by the RC?
I suppose we’re often looking for really unique and distinctive voices who feel like they’re completely themselves and have a completely distinctive theatrical imagination and a way of using language; a really singular way of putting the world on a stage. Those things about the writer always feel more important than, say, the topicality of any one play or the subject matter we would want to cover on stage. We tend to feel it’s about the writer first.

So all the submissions we receive will be carefully assessed by a team of readers, by our literary department, and by other members of our artistic staff. Some of the work that’s read will lead to writers going into playwriting groups to work on and develop how they are writing; some of it will lead to a conversation with a member of the team here and encouragement to send us more work; it might lead to an invitation to come and spend some time on attachment here; or in an international context it might lead to a residency for a writer here.
Ultimately, how does all this work out in terms of receipts?
We are very lucky that the work we programme often sells out. Most subsidised theatres in the UK have a range of funding which comes from ticket sales, government subsidy and donations and that is our model too. It is essential when running writer development programmes that we are able take risks on newer or even unknown voices and bring audiences new work and this set-up allows us to do that.
Would you explain more about your Writers Group work?
The groups are a context for writers to think about how they want to write — not a teaching programme. There’s no method, we don’t offer a particular set of approaches.

That feels important because brilliant writers break rules and write in their own distinctive way. It’s dangerous for a theatre to set an expectation about how a play might be written or what it might look like. The groups are really opportunities to learn from, and with, other writers.

Our groups are always led and facilitated by one or two more experienced playwrights, though their approach is less about teaching than exploring work together. We give the group members freedom in how they want to work with other writers, and the kind of things they want to explore.

In the groups they might read things they’ve never encountered before; they might share work with one another; or they might discuss their own work with each other. So they’ll encounter lots of different approaches, but not as a taught methodology or programme.

That’s particularly important in an international context, where writers are working in different languages and approaching work from different dramaturgical traditions.

Writing is a lonely activity. One of the things that was striking when we started working with the NNTT was how excited Japanese playwrights were by the possibility of us bringing together a space where they could work with and alongside their peers.
Yes, Japanese playwrights often live very much in isolation in a bubble and I don’t suppose there are many who ask anyone, not even their family, to say anything about their work. However, you went to the NNTT and did workshops. What did you think was the best way ahead for Japanese theatre people?
That’s a very good question. Part of what we explored with the writers was the very different journey their work has onto stage; that it’s often written in isolation and the first draft arrives just before rehearsals, and the rehearsal process helps to shape and edit the draft.

Something that Eriko Ogawa-san has particularly been exploring with this project is a space where writers had time to develop a second and a third draft of the play outside a rehearsal context. So some of the things we explored with the group were about that process — about a drafting process. The workshops were an opportunity to share inputs from very different dramaturgical traditions. It felt like a really productive and rare dialogue about what these different traditions might learn from one another.
Please explain a bit more about the differences you noticed.
 One of the things we found most interesting was the parallel between Japanese and British theatre in the way the 1960s produced a very experimental wave of artists. In the UK, some of that was associated with the RC and writers such as Beckett, Ionesco, Soyinka and others who were being shown here. In Japan there was the “black box” theatre and the radical tradition of the 1960s took a very different form. There was an interesting dialogue about those things and a lot about the influence of “quiet theatre” and the power of that in the last 20 or 30 years in Japan.
In the workshops, what did you actually do with the group?
 We spent time reading and discussing different texts together, sharing our perspectives on them, exploring how work is made in both different traditions. Then in our second workshop, when the writers had written their first draft, we focused on reading those together, hearing them in the room, discussing them as a group to help shape how that writer might be thinking about their next draft.
There isn’t anything in Japan like those discussion sessions between writers about drafts of their work. However, if we started to do that do you think it would lead to very different outcomes?
 On our research trip we heard about what I think in Japan is called “brush-up” — a tradition in which plays are read and shared with other writers who then offer feedback and notes. So I know that some of that tradition is present in Japan. But hearing their play and hearing other perspectives about it can be incredibly useful for a writer. Ultimately, though, that play needs to be the product of a really singular vision. So there’s always a limit to how much the democracy of that process is useful.
In the NNTT’s recent programme you referred to Toshiki Okada’s comment that “the things I’d thought were ‘domestic’ often had global or universal reach … (and) I’d probably still be convinced of my old assumption if I hadn’t explored the international scene.” Do you also feel like that?
Absolutely. In the last decade, we in the UK have lived through lots of experiences that have been about closing the door to other relationships and other cultural influences in terms of Brexit with our nearest neighbours in Europe. So for us international exchange is more important than ever, and building relationships and partnerships outside the UK, like the one with the NNTT, is vital at a moment when there is a risk of countries turning in on themselves and focusing exclusively on what’s most familiar.
Now, I want to ask about the three new plays slated for January 2023 at the RC. Why did you choose these three women’s plays? — “Onigoro Valley” (Saori Chiba), “28 hours 01 minute” (Shoko Matsumura) and “Not Yet Midnight” (Tomoko Kotaka)
 In different ways these three plays imagine the world from very unique and singular perspectives in terms of their form and their theatricality.

One is a kind of folk-horror story exploring the fallout from the decontamination work going on around Fukushima, and it brought a perspective between human beings and the natural world that we haven’t seen before. There is a play that explores motherhood and the expectations around becoming a mother for the first time in a society that finds an extraordinary, symbolic language to explore those issues. And there’s also a play with a very quiet and subtle theatricality that explores small moments between groups of characters across a city that are shifted or revealed during an electricity outage. We’re very excited to see how those plays land in front of an audience here.

The collaboration that will happen between these writers and the UK-based directors they will work with also feels hugely exciting and there may well be things that spring out of that which allow us to develop work further.
I read that you are doing a workshop in Brazil. How many countries do you have a relationship with?
 We’re doing a project now that’s open to writers in Brazil and to writers anywhere in the world writing in Portuguese It’s a big “open call” for plays in Portuguese. We usually have four or five projects running internationally at different stages.

Currently we have a Writers Group in partnership with a theater in Mexico City, and another in partnership with several universities in Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago. There’s also a group with partners in the UK and Iraq, and Iraqi writers. There are plays in development by writers from a range of different countries and contexts.
I also see you are doing a podcast. Because of the pandemic, the Edinburgh Festival, for example, started doing a lot more online distribution. Is that why you are doing that?
 Working in person will remain a crucial element of how we interact with writers and what theater is. But things we discovered during the pandemic have shaped how we work. We're able to do more work with writers, particularly internationally … bringing people together online, the speed of that, and the positive impact in terms of our carbon footprint — as when we were unable to visit Tokyo ourselves —  all feel really important. The theatre also remains alive to the possibility of work in a digital context. We filmed a show of ours last year, “seven methods of killing kylie jenner,” that was really successful as a piece of digital work. I also directed a work by the Chilean writer Pablo Manzi which we made a film-capture version of.
In Japan nowadays I think lots of great story-creating talents aim to work in manga and animation. So not only theatre suffers but also movies and TV. Is it the same in the UK, because today’s generations seem to be so interested in games and anime?
 It’s a conversation we’ve had in theatre in the UK, but less so about manga and video games than the platforms that TV and film offer writers. However, I don’t know that thinking about that as a competition has ever been particularly helpful for theatre, in that the offer in theatre has to be unique. Theatre is not a stepping stone to those other art forms; it’s a conversation with a live audience, a thing that happens between people in a room that the other art forms don’t offer.
So do you think there are still a lot of people in the UK who want to be involved with theatre as writers?
Definitely. We have relationships with some really extraordinary writers. We could programme our schedules several times over with some of the brilliant work writers are sharing with us. So we are very fortunate from that perspective.