Playmaker is Oxford Playhouse’s professional Writers’ Attachment Programme, where budding playwrights receive mentorship to develop new scripts. This year, the Playmaker showcase has gone digital - anyone can listen to the six radio play extracts, and find out more about the participants, here. We were fortunate to chat with Eleanor Warr, Resident Director at the Playhouse, about this exciting new work.
How long have you been involved with the Playmaker scheme?
Professional playwright Clare Bayley leads the scheme, and I got involved this year as Resident Director at the Playhouse. I took part in the interviews - so I met the playwrights at the very beginning of the process. It’s been amazing to see their plays move from initial ideas to full-length scripts, and to be a part of the group building a supportive network for sharing drafts and feedback.
Is there a theme connecting the plays? How were the particular extracts chosen?
All the plays are completely different. The idea behind the Playmaker scheme is to support the writers on the projects they want to develop and, since the group is diverse in terms of age and background, everyone’s project is unique. Natalia’s is a semi-autobiographical play about her experiences growing up in Chile and Canada, and feeling torn between both cultures. Samson’s is a post-apocalyptic love story with two non-binary characters. Rowena’s features a Palaeolithic figurine brought to life. The extracts were chosen to give a self-contained ‘taster’ of the plays and leave listeners wanting more!
Had you directed plays for radio before? How does it differ from in-person theatre?
Lockdown has been an opportunity for me to embrace audio plays, which is a form I've grown up with and love anyway. So while working on the extracts, I was also writing and directing When We Meet Again, an original radio play produced by Magdalen College School in lieu of the summer productions we had planned. This eight-part series is written and performed by the students, and we were seven episodes in when it came to recording the Playmaker extracts, so I was confident with the process.
It’s different, of course - I really miss being in the room with the actors - but I think everyone is trying hard to branch out into new forms of storytelling at the moment. We rehearsed the extracts over Zoom so that the playwrights could ‘meet’ the actors and ask them questions that we’d normally be able to explore in the rehearsal room.
There are surprising hurdles when you’re recording remotely at home, like neighbours mowing the lawn mid-take or wifi cutting out in the middle of a read-through. The performers rose to the challenge brilliantly!
What other projects have you got lined up?
I’m running Community Playmaker at the Playhouse - a scheme designed to get people of all ages and with all different levels of experience writing and sharing their plays. We’ve had submissions from all over the county and beyond - the team at the Playhouse read every single play we receive and send feedback to the writer. I love it - there are so many stories out there!
If you're inspired by the Playmaker extracts, check out the blog posts and resources Clare and the Playmakers have helped develop for budding playwrights to use to write at home. And send us your plays! Email [email protected]
What can people in Oxford do to support the theatre industry at the moment?
The industry is in a very worrying place at the moment. Regional theatres are closing down across the country and the National had to ask artists to waive their fees for the NTLive productions that are being shared every week.
Every time you stream iPlayer or Netflix, think about the creatives who cut their teeth in theatre to make those shows. Normal People was adapted by Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe, landmark playwrights whose work I adore - Fleabag and Killing Eve speak for themselves.The Playhouse is for the people of Oxfordshire and we need your help now more than ever. Please give to the Playhouse Plays On Appeal and consider donating your ticket cost for postponed shows. When theatres were open, a ticket to watch these extracts performed live would have cost about £5. It would be amazing if everyone who listened to the audio plays could donate that same amount.