Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer…

Time, Nat ‘King’ Cole counsels, to pack your basket chock-full of apt alfresco fare like sandwiches and wienies, and lock the house up. On the beach you’ll see the girls in their bikinis, as cute as ever, but they never get ’em wet — apparently.

Before you equip your lunch box with party sausages, climb into your clingy cossie, and head off to sample the ample delights of Weston-super-Mare, let’s pause for some reflection on the activities of Southwest Scriptwriters during the 1996/7 season…

Sessions kicked off last September with the first meeting set aside for reading a complete play — Jessica Townsend’s News Today. Members of the Crumbling Walls amateur dramatics group took part alongside home-grown acting talent in a very well-attended event, and rehearsed readings have scored some of the highest attendances throughout the year. Plays by David Niven, Ray Evens, Toby Farrow, Andy Graham, Lori Hill and me were also given airings. Toby’s play Baby Sharks has interested the Hampstead Theatre in his writing since its rehearsed reading in early June.

Although rehearsed readings can prove something of an ordeal for the writer, they are a very useful way in which to develop your script. The procedure for staging one goes like this: Scripts are selected from among those presented at open workshop meetings, a cast is assembled and a rehearsal arranged. During the last year we’ve been indebted to Scriptwriters’ stalwart Val Lorraine for providing us with rehearsal space as well as acting in several of our productions herself — thanks Val. Helpful comments and criticism on scripts often come out at rehearsals which writers can use to produce a redraft before the rehearsed reading — last season a couple of writers even organised a second rehearsal to go through their scripts. We try to fix dates for rehearsed readings as far in advance as possible so that they can be publicised in the local press. Getting a good turnout is important because it allows writers to judge how scripts work with an audience as well as providing a range of views in the feedback following the readings.

Our most successful event of the 1996/7 session was the talk by EastEnders and Casualty writer Tony McHale. At a lively meeting in April, Tony inspired a sell-out audience with entertaining anecdotes from an impressive acting and screenwriting career. Oozing infectious enthusiasm he told of how he collected numerous rejection letters before breaking through with one of his scripts — reminding us that even leading scriptwriters did not achieve instant success.

In line with our policy of using the skills and knowledge of group members as much as possible, other talks were given by Southwest Scriptwriters.

Gordon Ellis gave a series of four evenings on The History of the Theatre, drawing on his vast knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, the subject. Gordon also appeared recenfly in the first episode of BBC2’s documentary series about DIY, AlI Mod Cons, talking about his work as a publicist for ICI during the 1950s. Another opportunity to see Gordon’s work is an exhibition of his paintings on Clevedon Pier, opening on 4 August and running right through the month.

Two more talks were given by Steve Hennessy who, following Radio 4’s broadcast of his play The Song of the Whale, came to tell us about writing radio drama last November. After a staged reading of his play Act of Union by the Show of Strength pub theatre company in January, Steve spoke to Southwest Scriptwriters on writing for the theatre in March. Since then Steve has had another play, The Lighthouse Keeper, entered in the BBC’s commissioning rounds; staged a rehearsed reading of his script Stairway to Heaven at the QEH Theatre; and developed a play called Bench with the HTV Drama Workshop, which was performed at this year’s Bristol Community Festival at Ashton Court. Steve’s latest play, The Voyages of the Star Ship Lunar Sea, will be performed at the Hope Centre on Sunday, 12 October. This is an event for World Mental Health Day funded by the Health Education Authority and the National Lottery.

Other talks during the 1996/7 session were given by Andy Graham and me. Last November Andy and I teamed up to try to shed some light on the vexed question of script structure, while Andy went solo on the vexing process of rewriting back in April.

Number Crunching
Since last September, Southwest Scriptwriters has attracted more than 20 new members, and the average attendance at meetings has risen from 20 during our September/October season, to 25 in May/June/July. Trivia fans will be thrilled to learn that the lowest attendance all year was 11 at the open workshop session held on 5 November when the Gunpowder Plot kept many regulars away from the Cooper’s Loft.

New Scriptwriters
Our membership drive continues with Budding Bard? leaflets still appearing in libraries, theatres, universities, book shops and arts centres around the region, and this year for the first time Southwest Scriptwriters will be listed in Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and The Writer’s Handbook, both published in the autumn.

Sleeping with the sleepers?
We’ve noticed that a number of you are very keen on newsletter subscription, but never quite make it to the meetings. While we aim to be sure that our regular bulletins are packed with useful news and information, they’re really only meant to keep members up to date with what’s going on at meetings — that’s where the real action is! If you’re one of the ‘sleepers’ try to make it along to events in our autumn season starting in September and make the most of your membership.

Thanks, Mike
Scriptwriters’ chair Mike Grant has decided to stand down from the position from September. Mike was instrumental in establishing Southwest Scriptwriters in 1994, and has been involved with the group and its previous incarnation — Bristol Playwrights’ Company — for over ten years. While Mike takes a well-;earned rest from the executive, he remains a group member and we hope to see him at meetings in our autumn season.

The present Southwest Scriptwriters executive has served since April 1996, and it’s time to invite nominations for all three positions — chair, secretary/treasurer and artistic director. John Colborn and I are seeking reselection as secretary/treasurer and artistic director, and so far there has been one nomination for the chair.

Abba Fab
Catherine Johnson remains as our honorary president. Catherine is enjoying a very successful year with writing credits for TV’s Byker Grove and Band of Gold to be broadcast this autumn. She has also hit the big time with a commission from seventies supergroup Abba to write the script for a stage musical featuring many of their songs. Provisionally titled Summer Night City — after Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Annifrid’s number five hit from September 1978 — the show is scheduled to open in Manchester next summer before transferring to the West End. Congratulations, Catherine!

Hot News
The other hot news this summer is that Southwest Scriptwriters has been successful in its application to the National Lottery Arts 4 Everyone Express fund. A grant of £5000 is to be awarded to the group for the staging of several public rehearsed reading of members’ scripts using professional actors and directors. This project has been in the pipeline for several months, and those of us involved in the application are delighted that it has been successful. The first Arts 4 Everyone rehearsed readings could take place later this year, but we’re still thrashing out the final details, so watch this space for developments.

New Season
As well as setting the wheels in motion on the Arts 4 Everyone project, we’re putting together the first of this autumn’s programmes with more rehearsed readings and talks on the way — we’ve seen the future and it works! Don’t forget, though, that the staple Southwest Scriptwriters meetings are open workshop sessions, and we’re always hungry for new scripts.

Details of our September/October programme should be fluttering onto your doormat in the next few weeks.

See you in the autumn. Meanwhile, make the most of these lazy, hazy, crazy days — do some writing!