Fireworks Young Writers Programme

John Higgins takes an introductory look at Tinderbox Theatre Company's flagship developmental scheme for emerging playwrights

For a decade now Tinderbox Theatre Company's Fireworks Young Writers Programme has helped foster a new generation of dramatists in Northern Ireland. Some of its previous participants have gone on to write for the stage, TV and radio. Others have progressed to Master's in scriptwriting, taken part in the company's graduate schemes and gotten commissions through the Tinderbox CONNECT network.

Judith King, who began the Fireworks programme in 2008, has had her original Christmas comedy All Through the House run for the past two weeks at the Crescent Arts Centre, continuing until December 19. Tinderbox's in-house dramaturg Hanna Slattne spoke about what the initative offers.

What does Fireworks actually do for young writers who are given a placement?

Fireworks is one of the most important programmes we do as a new writing theatre company. It invests in future talent and shows them what it means to be a professional writer.

So our Fireworkers are taken through a programme mimicking the real commissioning process for a writer but with workshops along the way. We work with them over 5 - 6 months from idea to a third or fourth draft, which is presented in a rehearsed reading with professional actors in front of an audience.

There are a great many creative writing courses around. What makes the Fireworks different?

One of the most important parts of the programme is when we take their first draft into a development workshop with actors and directors to really explore the ideas and to help them see how their decisions are holding up and what they need to do in the next rewrite.

It’s also a very enjoyable couple of days, where the writers get to work with a full team of theatre makers and we introduce them to other potential employers such as the BBC, Northern Ireland Screen and fellow theatre companies.

What impact has Belfast City Council's funding had on the programme this year?

We added an element of research and sent our writers out to meet with people in interesting work places around the city for inspiration. So one writer went behind the scenes of the Merchant Hotel, another met with traders at St George's Market, another went to the High Courts. We sent one writer out into the Belfast Harbour and one to a family run butchers!

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I spoke to one of this year’s new writers, Caitlin Magnall-Kearns, whom I had previously known as one half of Right Swipe, Left Swipe, the comic duo whose spandex, mittens and slapstick nastiness have had me hooting through many an evening at Voicebox. On this occasion, however, the beret perched jauntily on her head is very much her writing hat.

How did you find out about Tinderbox’ Fireworks scheme?

I’ve kind of known about it for years. A few of my friends were on it last year and I went to see the showcase. I didn’t like everything I saw but a lot of it was of a very high standard and it was just something that really interested me.

I’ve always done a lot of acting but writing was something I’ve always been very interested in getting into and so I thought that doing a ten minute play with a company with somebody mentoring me was a good way of easing into it.

A ten minute play?

Yeah. They pick six young writers a year, and they each submit two pages of script and a little bit about themselves and Tinderbox pick them to do a five month scheme, in order to put on a ten minute play at the end of it.

We do workshops once or twice a month, September through to March but we need to have our first draft in by January. So, you get a few months to do the first draft, to come up with the idea: learning about structure, then unlearning structure, and then learning it again! We think about character and dramaturgy and what that actually does. And we’re given writing exercises to do as well, so we are learning skills.

You do comedy, alongside Mary Flanigan, as Right Swipe, Left Swipe. Is this comparable at all? Do you think it might inform your future comic stylings?

My comedy is very free-wheeling and loose, and I like to think it's funny! I find with my writing it’s very different, so it’s nice to be able to explore another avenue. It’s actually quite freeing to be able to present something and not have the pressure to make it funny. The play is a bit funny, but there aren’t gags. And there has often been a bit of underlying tragedy in my comedy too. So it’s a question of emphasis, really.

Have you enjoyed it and are you enjoying it still?

Yes, it’s been really good to meet other people who write. I’ve really enjoyed doing it.

Tinderbox Theatre Company's Fireworks Young Writers Programme for 2015/16 has been underway since October. To find out more about applying in future visit www.tinderbox.org.uk.