New Views is the National Theatre’s annual playwriting competition for groups of students aged 14-19 in schools and colleges across the country. Over the past 10 years New Views has worked with 12,672 students on this exciting opportunity to explore their creativity and write about what matters to them. 750 schools, colleges and groups have taken part, and we’ve produced 79 rehearsed readings and 10 professional full productions of winning and shortlisted plays at the National Theatre.
After taking part in a writing course, students have the opportunity to submit first drafts of their plays, and receive one to one feedback from their mentoring playwright. Afterwards, they submit their final finished scripts to a competition and a team of readers choose a winner. The winner’s play is produced at the NT with professional actors, alongside rehearsed readings of a group of other fantastic shortlisted plays.
To celebrate 10 Years of New Views, we caught up with some of the previous winners – Will Pinhey (2014) and Alice Sparrow (2018). We asked both Will and Alice questions about their experience – here’s what they had to say…
Give us a little insight into the play you wrote for the competition?
Alice: If We Were Older is a love story that spans two generations. It explores relationships and friendships between the women of the 1960s and of the current day. Our love has always been here, and will always be here!
Will: What starts as a normal evening between friends Jay and Chester soon grows increasingly strange and surreal, as figures from Jay’s past inexplicably emerge to confront him in his own flat, dragging long-simmering old wounds between the pair back to the surface with them.
Had you ever written before taking part in New Views?
Alice: If I had never had that opportunity come to me in Wakefield, I would of probably never written so my life would be completely different.
Will: I had, but never plays – I’ve only ever wanted to be a writer, but prior to New Views I’d only experienced writing prose. New Views gave me motivation and confidence to expand into a new medium, one that I instantly felt an affinity for and started me on the journey of my playwriting career.
Tell us about what it was like taking part, and then seeing your play produced.
Alice: In 2018 at the start of the process, our teacher went to the NT and got the training and then ran workshops for us, then a playwright came to us. Then when I won, I was in the rehearsal room loads even though I was still living in Batley – I felt like they actually wanted me to be in the room and wanted me to feel fully supported to come and experience the whole thing. The creatives always asked my opinion and my thoughts on specific characters and the idea’s I had.
Will: It was a truly surreal experience that I will always carry very close to me. Thanks to the openness and warmth of director Adam Penford and the entire creative and administrative teams, I felt like an integral part of the production as an involved and valued collaborator despite my young age, and was given unparalleled first-hand access to the behind-the-scenes process of professionally transferring a play from page to stage.
How did it feel to be in a professional creative enviroment?
Will: Adam guided me through every step, from sitting down to discuss the script page-by-page at the start, to being present for every day of the rehearsal process throughout. Not only was I lucky enough to see my script performed at the National by incredibly talented professionals, but I effectively had my own personal shadowing experience with a world-class director.
If We Were Older was eventually made into an audio play in collaboration with Audible – how did it feel to have your play adapted?
Alice: It was three years later I got the email about doing the collaboration with Audible and it gave me a new lease of life and I was like this, this is what I want to be doing – I found the perfect chance for me to really make it a northern thing and it meant that I then got chance to work with a really cool northern actress called Laura Elsworthy. I think art should always change – it should always develop, grow and evolve and I think it’s cool that I’ve been able to see that happen twice with the same piece of work.
What has your journey looked like since winning the competition?
Alice: I went to drama school and really knuckled down for those three years, I didn’t really think about writing that much and then it was after I graduated, I’ve got myself back into it a lot. I’m currently writing a full-length play, set in Yorkshire. I want the overall message to be that you always think that the most important moments of your life are the big monumental things like getting married or getting promoted at work but the moments that end up being burned in your memory forever are always like when your boss brings in a box of snickers and you all have a snicker, it’s the really little moments that pass you by and they’re the moments that stay with you forever and that is what makes your life, your life.
Will: Since winning the competition I have continued to pursue writing, with an appetite to work across as many mediums as possible which I consider a direct result of my New Views experience. In 2018 I co-founded independent theatre and film company Mannequin Mouth with a peer while at university, through which we have staged two of my original scripts. After their live runs we produced filmed versions of both productions, which are available to watch now at mannequinmouth.com. With the pandemic scuppering our plans to present our first show in London, I instead took the chance to take on a new challenge and wrote my debut feature film screenplay, which was independently filmed through Mannequin Mouth over the course of March 2021 and is currently nearing the end of its post-production journey, with an eye to begin the process of submitting to festivals next year. Alongside this I have a completed novel of speculative fiction that I am trying to get out there, as well as several new play scripts in development that I’m excited to find homes for.
What’s your biggest takeaway from New Views?
Alice: My biggest take away from the programme is to just write about whatever you want to write about because it will resonate with someone, don’t write something that you think other people want to hear. I think there’ s so much artistic joy that can be found in sitting and being a person, watching other people sitting and being the person that they are. I just find it so creatively inspiring to just be around people.
Will: New Views taught me that I might just be good enough to seriously pursue what I love, and that was a crucial early-life affirmation that has no doubt set me on the path I’m on now to becoming a writer. It’s the benchmark experience upon which I have based my own practice when it comes to creating shows, and the lessons I learned there are ones I take into every rehearsal room, and indeed every creative experience, with me to this day.
Any last words?
Alice: If I ever got rich, I would put so much money into this programme because I just think what a brilliant thing, it’s so encouraging. The National Theatre is such a massive organisation to validate your writing and say ‘you’re good, keep going’.