A conversation with the 2016 George Devine Award

The George Devine Award is a £15,000 prize for writing stage plays. It doesn’t really have much in the way of entry criteria, except for this year, when this happened:

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This is how I imagine the conversation leading up to that caveat went:

-You know what’s just THE WORST?

-Uh… the Zika virus?

-No silly, reading plays written by strangers.

-It’s not THAT bad though, is it?

-Dude, when you run a playwriting competition it’s pretty much the worst thing that can possibly happen.

-Surely it comes with the territory, as it were.

-Yeah but the problem is that although obviously some of them are quite good, some of them are also really shit.

-Isn’t that what makes the running of an industry award varied and exciting?

-Well, sort-of, but I’d find it a lot more varied and exciting if we actually got sent *less* plays that were *better*.

-Okay. How are you defining ‘better’?

-Well obviously it’s quite subjective, but I’d say anyone who’s already either won a different industry prize, or had a play produced by a well-known theatre.

-That doesn’t sound like very many people…

-No, but it means that the UK theatre industry, which as we all know is the closest mankind has come to a pure meritocracy, will have done the hard work already. Let’s face it, all the best plays get put on, and the ones that don’t get put on must obviously not be very good.

-That makes no sense whatsoever.

-It does if you *believe* it does.

-But if that were true, then no new writing would ever be discovered. There’s always a stage in a writer’s life when their work hasn’t yet been performed and they’re not well-known, that’s how artistic development works. And that also pre-supposes that society has LITERALLY NO STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS AT ALL which would distort the level playing field that everybody notionally starts from. Isn’t this fundamentally just an ‘Oz-the-Great-and-Powerful’-style smokescreen to encourage reverence and awe amongst the stupid?

[PAUSE]

-It does if you *believe* it d/

-[SIGH] Oh well it’s your playwriting award I guess, you can restrict the entrants to whoever you like.

-/oh not at all! We won’t STOP anyone from entering. We’re not idiots. Like you say, that would mean we’d get so few plays the award would lose credibility, and we’d look exactly like one of the structural problems that UK theatre doesn’t have.

-So… what are you going to do?

-We’ll just put an FYI on the entry information that anyone is welcome to take part, but that unless you’ve already been recognised by the industry in some way then really it’d be a bit of a waste of your time. And, more importantly, ours.

-Oh yeah, I see what you mean, like the warnings they give minor-league teams entering the FA Cup, or athletes trying to qualify for the Olympics? ‘Before you try to establish a reputation or career, think of how annoying you’ll be for the gatekeepers?’

-Exactly!

-Yeah, they don’t actually do that. God knows the FA and the IOC have their own problems, but at least they recognise that inclusivity and ‘taking part’ are hugely important in building a grassroots culture of sustainability and respect.

-That sounds like so much effort though…

-It probably is, but that’s why people like sport more than theatre. And it sounds like you can’t even make the effort to specifically ‘not care’ about it. That kind of attitude would make me think twice about submitting anything to you.

-I’d be fine with that – unless you were already known in the industry, and then it’d be a bit embarrassing and I’d make it very clear that you were welcome.

-Although… actually… if I, a mere nobody, sent an entry, you’d have to spend at least a *little* bit of time looking at it, wouldn’t you?

-Officially, yes.

-So if I was feeling vindictive (and, mind you, still acting within the entry guidelines) the most annoying thing I could do (as per the very start of this conversation) would be to refuse to be intimidated, and keep sending you my ‘probably-dogshit’ plays anyway? If only because winning an award and £15 grand would be pretty sweet?

-I might think a little less of you.

-Yeah but who cares what you think of my work? You’re obviously a bit of a wanker, right?

– Right!

[HIGH-FIVE]

-Also, when you’re putting your little ‘caveat’ on, do try to write the sentence properly, no need for you to look like more of a dickhead than is absolutely necessary. And happy 50th birthday.

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