Are you a budding playwright with a few small pieces under your belt, looking for the big break? Would you like to see your first work come to fruition, created with a full-length run in an established theatre in mind? If so, this could be your lucky year. Applications are now open for Theatre503's pioneering writers’ residency.
The 503Five is one of the projects we are most proud of, giving a voice and a stage to an incredible array of early-career playwrights
The 503Five, as it’s known, is an 18-month attachment to the theatre. It includes a £2,000 seed commission to write the play that has perhaps been in your head for years. Alternatively, it could provide the inspiration you need to embark upon a completely fresh idea; one that you can pursue from conception, through its development and onto the stage. It’s not a course for beginners. Potential recipients should have already brought their writing to a high standard, but not have had the opportunity to see it professionally produced, which in this context means a full-length play of more than 65 minutes for 4 weeks or more in any theatre.
Participants benefit from a series of masterclass workshops, peer-to-peer support and dramaturgical assistance. With guidance, they are able to fine-tune their research and development processes and make vitally important industry connections. Since its inception in 2006, many playwrights have benefitted from this chance to hone their skills at a critical point in their creative careers and gain a platform from which to advance further.
The achievements of 503Five alumni speak volumes about the quality of this course. Nominations and awards abound amongst them. The Evening Standard Awards for Most Promising Playwright went to Charlene James in 2016 for Cuttin It and Beth Steel in 2015 for God Bless The Child. In 2010 Katori Hall stunned the Olivier Awards ceremony when she was given the Best New Play prize for Mountaintop, over the two favourites Jerusalem and Enrone. Seven years later Jon Brittain collected the second Olivier Award for Theatre503 when Rotterdam was chosen in the Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre category. In a field of over 80 entries from around the world, 2020 saw Yasmin Joseph win the coveted James Tait Black Prize and a £10,000 cheque for J'Ouvert, co-produced by Theatre503 and Tobi Kyeremateng.
The James Tait Black Prize is Britain’s oldest literary award, dating from 1919. The University of Edinburgh, under the auspices of the incumbent Professor of English Literature, assisted by a small advisory committee, is responsible for its administration. In a unique procedure, postgraduate students have the privilege of reading the submitted works and drawing up the long list of plays for final consideration. Originally there were only two awards for this highly prestigious prize; one for fiction and the other for biography. The drama category was added in 2012. The Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland and the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, where the award ceremony is usually held, were invited to assist with the shortlisting and judging, from which three nominations emerge for the final award.
This year, as with so many other events, the ceremony was held online and hosted by journalist and broadcaster Shereen Nanjiani. She explained that “the prize celebrates bold playwriting and is awarded to the best new play with an original voice written in English, Scots or Gaelic”. Joseph’s play tells the story of two close female friends in a thought-provoking exploration of relationships and cultural identity. The idea for the work was formulated during her internship in New York, where she had a close-up view of the Labor Day Parade. Transferring the party atmosphere to the UK, she realised that the celebratory energy of the Notting Hill Carnival, its history and the politics that surround it, provided the perfect setting for exploring the experience of being black and British. J'Ouvert is a big work in many respects and staging the carnival with its oversized costumes was not without its difficulties in the confined space of Theatre503 above the pub.
In addition to this achievement, in 2019 Joseph was nominated for the Evening Standard’s Most Promising Playwright Award. Currently, she is under co-commission with Soho Theatre and The Actors Touring Company as part of the Soho Six and is the writer-in-residence at Sister Pictures. She is also on attachment to the Royal Court Theatre, as a winner of the Channel 4 Playwrights' scheme.
Her story is just one example of how 503Five can change a person’s prospects. Many beneficiaries of the award have made names for themselves in the theatre with plays written subsequently. Vinay Patel went on to write BBC One’s honour killing drama Murdered By My Father in 2016, which won the RTS Award for Best Single Drama and was nominated in the same category for a BAFTA TV award.
In 2020 Ross Willis won the Writer Guild Award for Best New Play for his production of Wolfie. The accolade was particularly notable as it meant the work entered the very small group of debut plays ever to receive the Award. It also won the Off West End award for best new play and Willis was subsequently awarded one of the inaugural Royal Court/Kudos Fellowships on the strength of the script. Panelist and playwright Dennis Kelly referred to it as one of the best new plays he’d read in a very long time.
With so much prestige attached to the award, it’s no surprise when asked about it that Steve Harper, Theatre503’s Literary Manager said, “The 503Five is one of the projects we are most proud of, giving a voice and a stage to an incredible array of early-career playwrights, who are empowered to write the story they’ve been burning to bring to life, as well as opening up further opportunities to develop their career. We are very grateful to the Carne Trust and Orseis Trust for their support and look forward to meeting the next generation of 503Five applicants”.
The award is open to writers throughout the UK, but their expected presence and regular attendance at the theatre requires them to visit its home in South London, although a contribution towards expenses may be negotiable. The deadline for submissions is 12 noon on Monday 15 March. Follow this link to the website to find out more and to submit your application.