Salford Arts Theatre have opened the Shelagh Delaney New Writing Award to commemorate the Salford playwright’s legacy.
The award is hoping to encourage young, female talent to submit work with the prospect of the winning writer receiving £3000 and seeing their play be fully produced and performed at the theatre in 2022, with a helping hand from professional mentors.
The theatre commemorates the work of Delaney every year on November 25th every year with ‘Shelagh Delaney day’, but in 2021 decided to create something with a longer lasting legacy.
Roni Ellis, Artistic Director at Salford Arts Theatre, spoke of the importance in this award being created:
“We felt like we were kind of going over the same thing, and we felt like her legacy needed to mean something more than just kind of creating new writing events and nothing bigger happening from it.
“We thought it was the right year to launch the new writing award, and that’s where it stemmed from. There’s something more solid at the end of it that hopefully, hopefully there’s a one act play at the end of it”.
The limited requirements of this year’s entry criteria has caused discussion on social media, with some people suggesting that the criteria are too tight, something which Ellis can see, but wanted to reassure people that these requirements are for this year’s competition only:
“I think some people on social media were pointing out people over 25 and older sometimes change their career or have a play in them, and I totally agree with that.
“Because it’s the first one, we just felt if we almost stick to who Shelagh was, she was young when she wrote her first play, when her first career first started off is the reason why it’s 16-25. She was identifying and was female, so that’s basically the only reason why.
“I’m an older person and feel that also, so each year the criteria will change, and it won’t just be about supporting females, it’ll be about supporting a wider network of creatives basically.
“I wrote my first draft of a play in my 40s, I’m still in my 40s now, just! I totally understand that, but for us, the first Shelagh Delaney writing award for us has to link with where she was when she first started her career”.
‘A Taste of Honey’ was Delaney’s breakthrough play, performed for the first time when she was just 20 years old. The play was set in Salford and was trailblazing in its effect on the portrayal of ‘real stories’ at the time.
“She made a massive impact really, with regards to a cultural shift that was going on, around about a time that ‘A Taste of Honey’ was written, there weren’t really many females, if any, writing those kinds of stories about real people”, said Ellis.
“She opened the doors for many people, before ‘A Taste of Honey’, and not just Shelagh Delaney but other writers of that time, who majority of them were male, they were changing things with regards to stories that were being told, they weren’t just talking about the upper class anymore, but it was actually stories that were being told about working class people, people that we could relate to, and that’s what really important”.
Opening doors is something Salford Arts Theatre prides itself on, and with Ellis being from Salford herself, creating opportunities for the local community is something she is passionate about:
“It’s important because, I personally want, because of where the theatre is, it’s situated in an area of Salford that a lot of children might not get the opportunity to, and young people, to engage with the arts, and that’s what we’re all about, making sure that young people know that this is an option and this is a choice.
“It’s just important that children of that area, and areas like it, and working-class areas know that there is an option for you to be part of a creative industry.
“People might not want to be playwrights, but having this award, it almost opens that thought process. It might be ‘ooh, that theatre’s in my area, they’re offering this’, or ‘I necessarily don’t want to be a writer but I think I want to act’ or ‘I think I’d like to do the lights’, there’s lots of different areas that people don’t know that that’s an option for them basically.
The coronavirus pandemic has really put a spotlight on theatres and the financial pressures they have faced in that period.
“We’re slowly getting there, we’ve been really lucky”, Ellis remarked.
“We’re a self-funded theatre, we stay open because people come in. We try to make the theatre as accessible as possible, with regards to the financial side of things and ticket prices as reasonable as possible, so that everybody gets an option. We’ve never been funded, but we’ve been really lucky that over the pandemic we have had some Cultural Recovery Fund support, and that most definitely has enabled us to stay open and reassess how we can progress going forward”.
Full details on the Shelagh Delaney New Writing Award can be found at: http://www.salfordartstheatre.com/shelagh-delaney-award
Featured image credit: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 robert wade via Flickr