Interval Thoughts: Merry Tricksmas and a Happier New Year! 21/12/2020

Today is the shortest day. The darkest day. Bleak midwinter. But things start to get brighter from here. This year is one we’ll all remember – even if we’d rather forget – and we want to look back and celebrate some silver linings amongst those dark clouds as this year (finally!) draws to a close…

Back in January, we started a new year with new plays and our PlayBox Takeover at HOME’s Push Festival 2020. We had a Writers’ Breakfast, delivered a Page to Stage workshop and showcased three PlayBox plays from local playwrights. Over 250 people joined us throughout the day.

In February, Alison Carr’s pre-apocalyptic comedy The Last Quiz Night on Earth hit the road with sold-out performances and an audience of nearly 1200 people across the North before Covid-19 hit and the tour was cancelled midway through its 8-week run. In May, we shared digital companion piece Kathy in Lockdown to spread a little love and laughter at the height of the first national lockdown.

Later that month, we launched our PlayMakers Network for Northern playwrights and theatremakers to connect, collaborate and create. Now with 550+ members, the network goes from strength to strength with a range of talent development opportunities and events for playwrights at all stages of their career – all completely free to access.

Covid-19 has highlighted the many injustices and inequalities in our society and accelerated urgent social change. In June, we shared our Positive Action Plan and commitments to positive change now and in the future.

In July, we launched our PlayMakers Fund to raise much-needed creative funding for Northern talent during this crisis and beyond. We’ve already raised nearly £2500 that has been paid forward and invested in professional development, creative projects and artistic opportunities for Northern playwrights and theatremakers. If your New Year’s Resolution is to make a difference and support the arts, we’d love you to consider making a donation or becoming a regular donor from just £5 a month.

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In summer, we committed to supporting PlayMakers through our brand new Pen Pals exchange programme. Matching pairs of playwrights to connect, share ideas and develop their craft, our first cohort of 12 Pen Pals began in September and, overwhelmed with talent, we launched a second dozen in November. Read all about the plays their developing here: Pen Pals Cohort 1 and Pen Pals Cohort 2.

≡ Click on the Playlist icon (top right of video) to select which response you want to watch.

October saw us commission 12 mini digital plays in response to Manchester moving into Tier 3. Take Back Manchester, in collaboration with Take Back Theatre, gave Mancunian playwright performers 48 hours to raise their voice and respond artistically whilst theatres remained dark. The rapid responses were seen by over 21,000 people and had over 2500+ complete views.

We closed the submission window for our inaugural Screen/Play Award in partnership with Sky Studios in November. At a time when our industry faces the greatest crisis of a generation and stands to lose a wealth of talent, Screen/Play shines a light on voices that need to be heard and stories that need to be told. We received 341 submissions and unveiled the Longlist of 64 writers and Shortlist of 15 earlier this month. We’ll announce the 5 finalists in the New Year. Watch this space!

Following the Covid-curtailed The Last Quiz Night on Earth, we reunited the original cast to livestream Last Quizmas by Alison Carr – a specially-commissioned piece of digital quizzical theatre – which zoomed directly into over 130+ living rooms across the country during two performances in December. Watching an audience enjoy live theatre – via a window into people’s front rooms and lockdown lives where people laughed, danced and got quizzical – was a definite highlight at the end of a such a difficult year, a timely reminder of why we put on plays. As Christmas gets closer, get festive with our #MerryTricksmas Advent Calendar celebrating our creative family.

We’re still living through this moment and it’s hard to know what the future holds. What has kept us going throughout this year has been connection: connecting with playwrights, connecting with artists, connecting with audiences. When stages went dark, the hunger for stories, communal experiences and culture was palpable and showed that theatre is far from dead. This millennia-old artform – and our primal need to share stories – is as urgent as it ever was.  2020 has illuminated new ways to connect, new ways to reach artists and audiences. Hopefully those new connections will offer new hope for the future.

Merry Tricksmas one and all! Thank you for your support this year. We’ve needed it now more than ever and it means the world to us. We hope 2021 brings a happier new year – one with less drama and more theatre!

Festive love and solidarity,

Adam Quayle & Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder
Joint Artistic Directors, Box of Tricks