Edward​ Oulton: Young, Northern and Hopeful with £45,000

Edward Oulton is full of hope after receiving £30,000 from the Arts Council England (ACE), and a further £15,000 of support in kind from various theatres including the Everyman & Playhouse Theatres, Liverpool. He still has concerns about the state of funding and opportunities for aspiring writers, but for now, he has the wherewithal to move forward.

The opportunity to fund a play in the North is now better than ever

Oulton is a Liverpool/London-based writer whose debut play Mortality was written and performed in March of 2023 at The Hope Theatre. He then went on to write Misplaced, a comedy series that has been optioned by Vicarious Productions to pitch to the BBC, Netflix and ITV in the coming months. Additionally, through his role as part of The Old Vic Theatre Makers, he will be working with The Old Vic and Theatre Peckham as a writer during their 2023/2024 season.

He’s received the funding at the age 21 and at a very early stage in his career. This means he joins an elite group of writers aged under 25 that have received the maximum £30,000 from ACE. According to an official source at the Arts Council, Oulton is 1 of just 4 people, 21 and under, in the whole of the UK to receive ACE project lottery funding in the last 2 years. He believes this Award shows that there is hope for emerging regional writers and young artists. As he puts it, “It aids a Northern writer to create a play about the North that’s set in the North”. In addition to the direct financial boost from ACE, further practical assistance from the Award includes a week’s R&D at both The Unity Theatre, Liverpool and the Everyman Liverpool, a rehearsed reading at the Liverpool Playhouse Studio Theatre and another at The Bush Theatre, London.

Oulton will use the money and associated benefits to develop his play Bury your Brothers about experiences of masculinity growing up in Merseyside/Liverpool, in a play that confronts a taboo topic of eating disorders in men and directly advocates for men’s mental health. This is one of Ed’s main areas of focus and as a writer from the north, he combines it in his play with his passion for asserting a regional presence in the theatre. What he’ll do one day with his interest in the Irish Troubles, rooted in his Irish Catholic heritage, remains to be seen.

Currently, he feels that “the UK theatre industry is in a particularly hostile period for emerging artists”. “Traditional new-writing theatres,” he says, “ like the Royal Court, now undergoing a restructuring, and others associated with cutting-edge works, are becoming increasingly conservative and detached from emerging artists as their budgets constrain and they opt for box-office safe bets. Eight separate productions of Macbeth are scheduled in the UK for 2024 so far.”

Recent decisions by the Arts Council and the ensuing controversies and debates have highlighted the precarious state of national funding and the delicate economic viability of many venues. Yet he sees rays of hope in the darkness. “With London’s theatres increasingly in turmoil, there might be an opportunity for the rest of Britain, as resources become directed more towards struggling regional theatres who might stand more chance of retaining the talent that so often moves to London.” The situation particularly plays into his concern at the disparity between the north and south of the country. “With Arts Council Funding being broken down by regions,” he believes, “the opportunity to fund a play in the North is now better than ever. For regional playwrights, it may well be easier to get their work made and put on to a high standard in their home cities. This could well be the change in the landscape that theatre needs to diffuse the centralised control of London Theatre.”

He hopes that his situation might become a micro example of what the future could hold. “ If funding becomes decentralised and can be accessed in the regions just as readily as in London, then regional writers have the incentive to make great work in their home regions, still incorporating universal and widely relevant themes, but rooted in their communities and using local examples and contexts.”

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