You never know until you try. And now, for the time being at least, we know.
The competition - and by that we mean our playwriting competition, not other companies! - was, to all intents and purposes a bit of a flop. A non-starter. Having expended a huge amount of time and energy getting the word 'out there' it now seems apparent that playwrights in the south west have little or no desitre to see their work on stage; see their characters brought to life; have a chance at some sort of recognition. Three - count 'em: three! - lovely writers took the plunge and sent their work to us, in that hope. Massive respect and thanks to them.
And now...nothing. We had several comments from various people on various platforms bemoaning the fact that we were 'exploiting' writers by asking for an entry fee, but here's the thing:
We are a small, independant company doing our best to bring all manner of theatre to audiences in the south west. Completely unsupported by grants and subsidies, we took the plunge a couple of years ago and set up Theatre Hub as way to help actors, writers and audiences get more from local theatre. And, we thought, a competition of this sort would be just the thing to galvanize not only them but us as well. Staging something like the competition could only happen with the writer's support, audiences and actors. All the people we had asked to judge the plays, in the initial stages, were writers, actors and directors themselves, who were doing this for exactly the same reasons that the competition was set up in the first place. No one was getting paid at the stage.
Then the idea was to take the three best entries, as decided upon by the judges (which didn't include the Artistic Directors of Theatre Hub), and present them to audiences who would have the final say in who won the £200 prize money. The actual cost of theatre hire, actors, props and set, technicians etc would be borne by the company and, we hoped, we might in this first year (yeah, we had hoped that this would become a regular thing) just about break even.
So 'exploitation' was never a factor and never entered the equation.
It certainly wasn't for lack of publicity that the competition didn't take-off (a huge thank you to all the local newspapers and radio stations who supported us here) so we have to presume that, for whatever the reason, the writers themselves were just not moved, enthused or motivated enough to try.
Getting your writing out to the audience is one of the hardest things imaginable...and I speak from personal experience here...and it certainly isn't attempted for financial reward (ditto the above!) but whether you're writing plays, books or poetry, the majority of writers (please note: the majority - some write just to write, which is great for them) want other people to see and/or read what they've written. Without wishing to sound glib or cliched, they have something to say that they believe needs to be heard. And we thought (hoped) that this competition would offer another route for playwrights to follow.
Sadly, it wasn't to be. We, however, will not be giving up, having come this far. We'll have sit down, a think, a regroup and we intend to come back even stronger. We don't as yet know what form this will take, but it will be about the writers and their stories and the voice they want to be heard...and the audiences who want to hear them...and the actors and directors and producers who have faith in their words. That'd be us then.