- New Writing and Theatre HistoryIntroduction to the Special Section
The essays in this special section arrived in response to a call to consider new writing for the theatre, a call asking about when there have been particular densities of new play production, specific initiatives for new types of writing to be developed, or major shifts in the styles of theatre writing. The call for submission reflected a desire to extend current Anglo American discussions of new play production and the role of new writing in theatre economies by potentially going back further when looking at examples of the role of new writing in theatre, looking elsewhere in world geography for examples of period or initiatives marked by a desire for new plays to be written for theatre, or developing closer case studies about contemporary examples of new writing initiatives. British and American scholarship about primarily the twentieth century, outlined below, convincingly suggests that it might be fertile to give such moments attention in their individuality but also in their connections. The idea for this section came from wondering what can be seen when looking across instances where the role of the writer, the procedures of producing theatres, the dynamics of language, and the theorization of dramatic structures contend with different models of and desires for newness—for new writing, new plays, new audiences, or a new theatre. The category of newness in theatre exerts a perpetual draw for artists and audiences alike, while what characterizes the new is always contextual, always culturally conditioned, always changing, making it a very fruitful category for theatre historical analysis. Being mindful of Thomas Postlewait's caution about buying into [End Page 115] paradigms of aesthetic revolution or historical rupture too heavily has provoked patient considerations and reconsiderations of writers or writer's theatres in this section, as well as some new articulations of moments when new plays or new modes of writing formed.1 These are histories of new writing that are interested in continuity as much as they are in rupture.
Still, these histories recognize that the draw of producing new writing for theatres has both inspirational and aspirational trajectories, demonstrating the siren call of the new as a concept. Inspirationally, the production of new plays gets positioned as a manifestation of one of theatre's highest callings—that is, to be in a lively and current dialogue with its immediate audience. A strong new writing scene also sends signals about the artistic health and vitality of theatre, because it indicates that theatre artists are thinking about the future as much as the past and that there are opportunities for and interest in people's voices and developments in the form. Aspirationally, it can put a theatre on the map. It can impart a reputation for discovering new writers who come to be regarded as among the greats or for producing new plays that define a period or command attention and box office in ever-widening circles. These types of trajectories can be documented, explicated, and historicized, whether in case studies or in synchronic and diachronic overviews of events related to the encouragement and production of new writing for the theatre. This introduction provides one possible pathway through Anglo American histories of new writing as a preface to the articles in the section, which do the work of unpacking specific moments or projects in detail.
In both scholarly and journalistic writing about the last hundred years of British theatre, there is a strong strain of analysis about the role of new writers and programs in encouraging new writing for the English, Scottish, Irish, and Welsh theatres. This analysis often evokes the observation that the coronation of Elizabeth II, in 1953, ushered in a new Elizabethan age and that the late twentieth century is marked by an upsurge of new play production that is deeply stirring to national conversation and propelled by the vital presence of young, compelling playwrights at a density not seen since Shakespeare's time.2 The body of analysis became more self-consciously historical in the first two decades of the twenty-first century as conferences, government reports, and Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) projects received...