Firstly, let me get all the tick boxes out of the way. I am a neurodiverse woman from a regional working-class background who has never knowingly turned down a free bag of chips. (Okay, the last one doesn’t qualify for a diversity tick box but is, I feel, a pertinent insight into the nature of my character.) Oh, and I write plays.
It’s an exciting time for playwrights. I think theatre, once steeped in conservativism, has blossomed into something bolder in recent years, with a conscious desire to reflect a broader vision of the world. Let’s just hope this new verisimilitude continues to expand rather than contract under the weight of fashionable causes; as tempting as it is for theatre to follow the gravy train television is endlessly chasing, playwrights are the surrealists to TV’s impressionists and should be permitted to explore truths without succumbing to the pressure of commercial popularity. It is not a playwright’s job to focus on being new and exciting, the confines of a stage dictate story-worlds that are far more tonal.
I think this is where development programmes can be great for playwrights in that the right one can be instrumental in building a writer’s confidence and offering guidance whilst exploring complex themes. Personally, I would advise emerging playwrights to seek out development support with organisations that they feel reflect their values: not every writer’s attachment or development initiative is going to suit you so resist the urge to apply randomly or take up every offer; if the chemistry is wrong, it can be a less than positive experience, stripping the writer of that all-important courage to opine. As the Canadian playwright, Raymond Hill, once said:
‘He who trims himself to suit everyone will soon whittle himself away.’
On that, note, Wellspring has been a very supportive experience for me. Now that the programme’s teaching element had ended and we have all been allocated our respective dramaturgical mentor, I am in the head-banging phase of assembling a two hander that explores the dark, but sadly universal subject of teenage suicide and its links to social media. As a mature writer, I must confess to finding the navigation of an adolescent worldview challenging, but that’s why artists create art, isn’t it, to push boundaries – other people’s and their own.
I joined Wellspring the hope that working with likeminded creatives, who had also faced challenges due to their differences, would permit me an authenticity that I had not previously felt free to express. I was not disappointed; the creative mentoring team have been wonderfully accepting and hugely generous with both their knowledge and with their care – I felt cared about throughout, which was just lovely. Either I got very lucky or (as I suspect) Simon Startin and his clever cohort picked my peers with a foresight that has meant the participants became a great team, with everyone showing a genuine interest in having each other’s backs. That has meant a lot to me and I look forward to watching my newfound friends grow and succeed.
Victoria Taylor Roberts, Wellspring Writer 2021 – 2022
Victoria is a published writer who has created works for stage, screen and audio. Her stories focus on social issues told through a comedic lens. She is the winner of the EDALYA International Youth Theatre Playwright award (2019) and the Kenneth Branagh Drama Writing Award (2015).
Wellspring is Vital Xposure’s professional development programme for London-based disabled, d/Deaf and neurodivergent playwrights and script writers, funded by City Bridge Trust and delivered in partnership with Paines Plough, Bush theatre, Theatre 503 and Hampstead Theatre.