Jim Beirne discusses a series of social enterprises designed to create additional income streams, based around creative and physical assets

From 2004, Live Theatre has been developing http://www.beaplaywright.com as one of four social enterprises. Since 2002, we’ve been running an annual Introduction to Playwriting course. Since it was always oversubscribed, we created an online version of the course to help us cope with demand, and to generate additional income for the organisation. Created by Live Theatre’s Literary Manager Gez Casey and his former colleague Jeremy Herrin (now Deputy Artistic Director at The Royal Court), the course has allowed us to give more people the chance to learn the craft of writing a play as well as offering students the opportunity to study from anywhere at their own pace.

Students who sign up for the course are able to watch exclusive videos and receive advice from award-winning writers including Lee Hall (‘Billy Elliott’, ‘’Cooking With Elvis’ and ‘The Pitmen Painters’), Alan Plater (‘Close the Coal House Door’ and ‘The Blonde Bombshells of 1943’) and Shelagh Stephenson (‘Five Kinds of Silence’ and ‘A Northern Odyssey’) as well as having the chance to become part of an online community of aspiring playwrights. Containing five step-by-step modules, the website covers different aspects of playwriting. Each module is introduced by a video featuring the tutors, Gez and Jeremy, and contains practical, tried and tested writing exercises. Participants are able to watch video clips of great dramatists offering the benefit of their experience and learn what makes a well-made play from close study of scripts.

We created two levels of entry. The ‘Solo’ option offers participants the chance to work through the modules independently at a reduced rate, while students who sign up for the ‘Interactive’ option receive regular feedback on their work, meet a tutor for a live online discussion every two weeks, and become part of an online forum where students can discuss and share ideas. Participants pay a one-off fee of £95 for the Solo version or £495 for the Interactive version. Students who sign up for the Interactive option can pay the course fee in one lump sum, or choose to spread their payment across four monthly instalments.

As the Solo version requires little management, the majority of this fee, minus VAT, is additional income for the company. The Interactive option provides budding writers with personal feedback and a support network, and is therefore more resource heavy – but still sees around 60% of the fee form additional income. The company is choosing to roll out the programme slowly, to understand the demand and the capacity needed within the organisation. It is early in the life of the project but Solo and Interactive membership is split roughly 50:50, generating approximately £4,200 to date.

This project will generate additional income that will be invested back into the organisation’s three aims: to create and perform new plays of world-class quality; to find and develop creative talent; to unlock the potential of young people through theatre. Although the course is not accredited via a college or university, it does offers students the chance to learn the craft of writing a play from people working within the industry today.

The catalogue of video extracts from the country’s leading writers will be updated three times a year, ensuring that additional views and opinions are shared with students on a regular basis. With the help and support of UK Trade and Investment, we are in the process of developing relationships with colleagues in the USA with the view to developing a US audience for the project.

In 2010 the Live Theatre/National Theatre production of ‘The Pitman Painters’ played to packed houses at the Samuel Freidman Theatre on Broadway (presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club and Bob Boyett Productions). Following this, we have developed an excellent working relationship with the Manhattan Theatre Club as well as with other new writing houses. Our aim is to proceed with this second phase of development during the spring of 2011, when we will film interviews with a number of high profile American writers to add to the catalogue of advice already available to students.

Jim Beirne is Chief Executive of Live Theatre.

e jim@live.org.uk
t 0191 269 3480

This week Jim is looking forward to the World Premiere of ‘Faith & Cold Reading’ by Shaun Prendergast at Live Theatre starring Stephen Tompkinson, as well as a visit to Glasgow to see the Royal National Scottish Orchestra playing two Sibelius symphonies.

 

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