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Theatre gives a voice to black playwrights


THE DEBATE on the lack of black and minority ethnic people in the arts sector is an ongoing one.

Yet for the past four years the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry has been running the Critical Mass Playwriting Programme to develop new writers from within the local BME community as well as represent their voices and stories.

The free 11-week course is delivered in partnership with Britain’s leading national theatre, the Royal Court, London and The Drum, a black-led arts theatre based in Birmingham.

Aimed at writers aged 18 or above, Critical Mass enables participants to produce an entire play as they are taught more about plot development and characterisation.

The programme funded by The Belgrade Theatre has been a success. Past alumni include the Laurence Olivier Award winning playwright, Bola Agbaje who wrote her play Gone Too Far at the Royal Court and said it “changed my life.” 

Maeve Clarke, a 50-year-old novelist from Birmingham, was selected for the 2011 programme.

She told The Voice: “I was curious to see if I had the ability to write a play. It was very challenging, and different to novel writing. I discovered an interest and that I had the ability, not a good ability, but that I had one.”

Clarke said she believes that Critical Mass is important to encourage black people to engage in theatre.


She said: “There are not enough black people in the world of arts. Critical Mass encourages them and tells them they can do it and that’s it’s not just a dream. Sometimes people think it’s too late to start, but everybody has something to write about.”

As a result of the course, Clarke has written plays for the Black Youth Theatre group and is developing a play called Tales of the Jackanooni which she hopes will get picked up by theatres nationally.

RENEWED: Joan Carty

Each year, the number and calibre of applicants for the Critical Mass Playwriting Programme increases.

Youth worker and writer, 52-year-old Joan Carty, joined the programme in 2010.

She said: “I’ve always wanted to write plays, but life got in the way. I started working at Connexions with young people who had been excluded or disenfranchised in some way. I found that drama was effective way of engaging them. People who are excluded often think that it’s only happening to them and that they have no power to change it.”

Carty said the Critical Mass Programme was motivating because it worked with the mechanics of writing, sub-text and structure.

She said: “The course is crucial because if your perspective isn’t out there then it becomes devalued and will die as there is no way for it to be represented, so there’s no way someone will see it.”

Submissions for the 2013 course end on July 19. They can be handed to the Belgrade Theatre box office or email Leon Phillips

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