Originally published in The Stage, May 2016
One of the most exciting changes Rufus Norris has made since becoming director of the National Theatre is the merging of the literary department with the NT Studio to create a New Works department.
The studio, which was founded by Peter Gill in 1984, has long been home to the development of both people and ideas, and has gone through several (more subtle) changes since it opened. The regeneration of the department places it firmly at the heart of the National’s programming decisions, and it also sends a clear message that new work doesn’t always mean new writing – it doesn’t always come from ‘literary’ sources.
How a theatre or production company finds new work and programmes goes to the heart of its identity. It used to be the case that new writing was considered exceptionally risky and the preserve of a handful of specialist companies such as London’s Royal Court and the Bush Theatre. It was also the case that most new work was new writing – work led by a writer who had either sent their work in unsolicited, or who had been given a commission.