How Script Yorkshire is helping aspiring writers develop the skills they need

In this series of features, profiling our theatres and companies while in lockdown, I have so far visited the theatres and companies that make up our rich ecology in Yorkshire, but there is another part of this ecosystem that is just as vital to the whole.

Actors perform a work-in-progress script at a Script Yorkshire Page to Stage evening.

It is the feeder system that gives opportunities to artists as they are starting out. One of the most supportive and active parts of this part of the system is an organisation known as Script Yorkshire.

“We are run by writers, for writers,” says Sharon Oakes, co-chair of Script Yorkshire.

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“Our mission is to provide aspiring scriptwriters with the skills, industry insight and encouragement they need to develop a career in writing for live or recorded media.”

Script Yorkshire co-chair Sharon Oakes, on the left.

There are several rather wonderful aspects of Script Yorkshire that make them worth celebrating. It is a hugely supportive community – no matter the level, if you’re interested in writing and meeting others who share that sensibility, you will find your tribe.

The other interesting thing is that the organisation is run by people who know about the industry.

There are those who are a member of Script Yorkshire because they love writing, but perhaps don’t want to pursue it as a profession, but there are those who very clearly do. Those behind the scenes understand what it’s like to have a career as a professional working writer. Jonathan Hall, who shares chair duties of the organisation with Oakes, has written for the Bush Theatre, Radio 4 and his work appears regularly at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Oakes has written a number of episodes of BBC daytime soap Doctors and a number of Radio 4 plays. On January 28 her latest Radio 4 play Voodoo Macbeth will be broadcast and tells the story of Orson Welles and his staging of Macbeth which secured his reputation as a director. The writing and recording of Voodoo Macbeth, which all happened during lockdown, is another example of the Script Yorkshire leaders knowing whereof they speak and teach others.

As a working writer, Oakes knows how lonely it can be and why there is a need for an organisation like Script Yorkshire.

She says: “When I took over as co-chair – nearly ten years ago – there appeared to be a lack of writer support in Yorkshire, especially for new writers and new writing, especially to those who may not have the financial means or background to pursue expensive training programmes and courses or for those who feel marginalised by age or background.”

Writers, and I am allowed to make this proclamation, being one, are a weird bunch. Earlier this week Dr Sarah Jarvis shared on the BBC her ‘What Makes us Human’ essay and she discussed the fact that when she went to study at Cambridge it was the first time in her life that she felt she had found her tribe. That is one of the important things Script Yorkshire does: it allows writers to find their tribe.

It also prepares writers for the battle to turn their writing into a professional pursuit.

“We are a charitable organisation run by volunteers and funded by modest subscription only.

“All our benefits are free to members. We’re lucky to have the support of many successful professionals from the worlds of theatre, film, television and radio like Lisa Holdsworth, Gaby Chiappe and Amanda Whittington, all of whom are extremely generous with their time in helping others develop their skills. We also provide a number of free workshops a year run by leading industry professionals.”

Like the whole industry, the pandemic and lockdown has had a frustrating effect on the work of Script Yorkshire, particularly those workshops.

Again, like many, the organisation has moved its work online.

“We are currently running remote workshops and are kick starting the year with How to catch ideas Workshops by Doctor Who writer James Moran.

“Pre-pandemic we have run two Page to Stage events a year. These are a fantastic opportunity to find out how well a script is working – both from the instant audience reaction and constructive critique from a guest panel of insightful professional writers. We invite different panellists to each event and everyone who submits a script for the event receives written feedback regardless of whether their piece is selected for the event.”

The events are huge fun, having been a panellist I can attest, not least because writers get a chance to see the work others are producing. Script Yorkshire has also run two radio drama competitions over the past couple of years, with award winning BBC Radio Drama producer Gaynor McFarlane last year.

The reason Script Yorkshire belongs in my pandemic profiles here in Culture is because it is a part of the reason Yorkshire is, inarguably, the best served region in the country in terms of theatre.

Oakes says: “We provide a regional writer support service that is lacking in many regions. Because our writers value being part of a community we’ve managed to sustain our membership throughout the pandemic.

"We’ve even gained a few new members who want to take part in our online workshops. However, we are mightily looking forward to meeting face to face again and being able to hold live events once again.”

Setting out on a creative journey

It’s the time for making New Year’s Resolutions and some could be connected to writing. If you are setting out on your own creative journey, Script Yorkshire can help.

Upcoming workshops include: Shoot Your Script with a Smartphone, led by Wayne Sables, February 15 and 22.

Online Sitcom Writing with Aaron Bennett, March 20 and May 22.

For more workshops and full details on how to sign up to take part visit wwwscriptyorkshire.org.uk

You can listen to Voodoo Macbeth by Sharon Oakes on Radio 4 at 2.15pm on January 28.