The world’s their stage at Halesworth’s Ink Festival

Ink Festival

Ink Festival - Credit: Archant

Catherine Larner profiles the Ink Festival in Halesworth, which aims to help launch budding playwrights and screenwriters

Ink Festival

Ink Festival - Credit: Archant

Everyone has a book in them, so we’re told. But what about a play? And if it’s difficult to get a book published, then how do you attract actors, stage and audience for a first time drama?

Emma Struthers recently graduated with an MA in scriptwriting from UEA at Norwich. She benefited hugely from seeing her work performed in front of fellow students and lecturers while she was studying, but once she left college she realised there were fewer opportunities to try out her work off the page.

Sharing her frustration over a drink with neighbour and theatre director James Holloway, Emma asked if he might help her find an outlet for her writing, and for others like her.

“There are various events and competitions for playwriting,” says Emma, but points out that these can sometimes have complicated or restrictive application processes. “There was nothing promoting snippets of theatre which let people introduce themselves to writing.”

Ink Festival

Ink Festival - Credit: Archant

Emma wanted to replicate the event she had enjoyed as a student, called a ‘shorts festival’, for the wider population of East Anglia.

“This is when 15-minute plays are directed and performed, back-to-back over a couple of days to an audience,” she says. These bitesize productions are less daunting than writing something full length, and encourage writers to try out their ideas. Audiences are also receptive and willing to try something new and different because they will pay a modest fee to attend and can pick and choose what they see.

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Emma felt that the innovative arts centre at Halesworth would be the perfect venue. James, founder and artistic director of The Cut, enthusiastically agreed, so last year he and Emma, and a large group of friends and family, and professional directors and actors, hosted 12 short plays, two short films, a poetry reading and music performances in rooms throughout the old maltings building over two days. Called the Ink Festival, it was back to basics theatre, says Emma.

“The emphasis was on new writing, and we selected work we believed in and that we knew needed a stage. We had such a variety of work over the weekend.”

There was a play about a man having an existential crisis in a lift, a farce about a pop-up power station, a political sketch about a government’s foreign policy, and an imagined future where animals behaved like humans. There was also a play called Beached, written by James McDermott which was then taken to Latitude and won Velvet Trumpet’s comedy award at Southwark Playhouse. It has now been developed into a full length play.

This year, it is hoped that the scope of the festival will be even wider. More than 100 stage plays and 20 short films were submitted and the selection will be rehearsed throughout March.

“The only criteria for submissions was the length of the piece and that the writer has to have some link with East Anglia,” says Julia Sowerbutts, an actress and director who is part of the team driving Ink. “They can write about whatever they like. It just has to attract our attention.” There are five categories – new play, young writer, child’s play, short film and a film school pitch. At the festival weekend in April, plays will be supported by sessions including an eight piece jazz rap band, creative writing workshops, a talk by radio, stage and TV comedy writer, Jan Etherington, and a show by children’s theatre company Mini Mouth.

Now with novelist Esther Freud as patron, also an emerging playwright, Ink is raising its profile and seeking funding and sponsorship.

“Ink is very accessible,” says Kevin MacLusky, a GP who is overseeing fundraising for this year’s event. “A short play is about 3,000 words. That’s a fair bit of work, but it’s achievable for someone who may not have full-time writing opportunities.

“I would never have thought that I could do it,” Kevin adds, referring to his first play which was staged last year. “There is this opportunity through Ink – and it’s a great thing to do, to have created something.”

The Ink Festival takes place at The Cut, Halesworth, April 8-10.