PlayMaker Spotlight: Screen/Play Award Winner Sarah Tarbit 28/10/2021

For this month’s PlayMaker Spotlight, we’re delighted to catch up with one of the winners of our inaugural Screen/Play Award in partnership with Sky Studios: Sarah Tarbit. Writing both a short screenplay and a full length play has meant Sarah’s had a busy year and we sat down with her to find out how things have been going.

What’s your relationship with Box of Tricks? Have you worked with them before or seen their work?

My relationship with Box of Tricks is pretty new. I won the Screen/Play Award at the beginning of 2021 and before that I hadn’t worked with any of the Tricksters. They were on my radar though, as I’d attended workshops led by Adam & Hannah whilst I was on the Everyman’s Young Writers’ Programme and Live Theatre’s Playwriting Course. I knew they championed new writing but I didn’t have any work to show them at that point. That was one of the best things about the Screen/Play Award – you only had to submit an idea rather than a full-length script!

As for their work, I’ve read Plastic Figurines, Narvik and Under Three Moons and I’ve watched SparkPlug. I wish I’d seen Chip Shop Chips though! I love chippy teas (they tend to pop up in my scripts a lot!) and I’ve always been intrigued by theatre in unexpected places. Theatre buildings can be very daunting – it’s easy for working-class people to feel like they don’t belong in them so having performances in libraries, pubs, chippies, football clubs etc. is a great way to engage new audiences.

How would you describe your your writing?

My work depicts working-class life in the North East. Most of my stories are set in Ashington (my hometown) which is about 20 miles north of Newcastle. Once the largest mining town in the world, Ashington is now in the top 10% of deprived areas in the country. The stories I share are the stories behind the statistics. I want to show the realities of living in a town and community that’s been scarred by a long gone industry. I want to show the humanity that’s here that’s so often ignored when the media mock, villianize or shame people who are below the poverty line, unemployed, struggle with mental ill-health, have unstable housing, a criminal record or an addiction…  I write to advocate for social justice.

What excites you most about working in the creative industries?

I’m pretty new to working in the creative industries so everything excites me at the moment! Being freelance is a particular highlight. Although there are lots of challenges that come along with being a freelancer (security, financial stability etc.) it’s meant I’ve been able to work on projects that I’m passionate about and work with different companies and creative teams across the north. I get such a buzz from working with other creatives that are full of ideas.

What do you think needs to change about the industry?

I’m probably too new to the industry to really comment on what needs to change, but then I suppose that’s an issue within itself. I’m new to the industry not because I’ve just started writing, but because, when I wanted to pursue a career in writing ten or so years ago, I couldn’t afford to. We need to work out ways of making the creative industries financially sustainable career options for new artists… and that starts with a government that values the arts.

What advice would you give to others starting out in your field?

Take some time to work out what it is you want to say in your work. Then, apply for as many opportunities as you can. There are lots of incredible development programmes right now as publishers and production studios move up north and invest in northern voices and stories. If you’re a playwright, make connections with your local theatres and theatre companies, see if they have writers programmes you can join or if they have submission windows where you can send them your work so you can start building a relationship with them.

My career has snowballed quite quickly in the last two years and it started by attending Live Theatre’s Playwriting course. From there I had a 10 minute script produced by Live which was well received so they invited me to write another. I then used those scripts to apply for the Screen/Play Award and secure a commission from Laurel’s Theatre. The drama script I’m writing for the Screen/Play Award will likely go on to be my calling card and will hopefully open up doors for me in the future… so it’s definitely worth touching base with your local arts organisations as you never know where these things will lead.

What projects have you got lined up and what are you getting excited about in the next 12 months.

Early next year there will be a table read of my screenplay with Sky Studios and a rehearsed reading of my play with Box of Tricks. It’s super exciting and I can’t wait to see the characters come to life. I’ve also been commissioned to write a full-length play with Live Theatre so work on that will be starting soon. Beyond that, I’m not sure! It’s a bit daunting looking twelve months into the future when you’re a new-ish freelancer. I might be back working in a supermarket or I might have a script optioned for the telly. I don’t know but that’s kind of exciting.