Tag Archives: education

Mark Wheeller Interview: “The arts have a general thing of surviving no matter what… as well as a good thing that can be a bad thing… as with or without funding arts will thrive… because people enjoy participation.”

Mark Wheeller is a writer and part time Executive Director of Arts at the Oasis Academy Lord’s Hill and director of the Oasis Youth Theatre. Although his name is not well-known outside of schools and colleges, he is one of the most-performed playwrights in Britain.
He is a champion of young people’s work and theatre in education more broadly. I thought it would be nice to catch up with Mark to see exactly what’s happening. And I was right – it was very nice indeed.
Mark at work

1. Hello Mark! What are you doing at the moment?

Literally at this moment I’ve just returned from a school who have some GCSE students working on one of my plays “One Million to STOP THE TRAFFIK” and I  was there to have a look at what they’d done and to offer them some ideas as to how they might improve their response to it. I haven’t seen or thought about that play for about six years and it was, as it nearly always is great to see fresh pairs of eyes on the play presenting it very differently from how we did. So it made me re-examine those words and find new things. I’ve also just bought a new car and for the first time have a hybrid car where is runs partly on electricity… this has led to a number of learning curves.
2. What is ‘I Love You Mum’ about? 


It’s the tragic story of Daniel Spargo-Mabbs a sixteen year old lad from Croydon who went to an illegal rave without his parents knowing, took MDMA, unknowingly a double dose and two days later his parents were at his bedside giving permission for the Dr’s to turn off the life support machine. Dan was a popular and able boy and it was a surprise to everyone that he had become a victim to MDMA.  His parents are determined that some good should come out of this dreadful situation and through the Foundation set up in his name (Daniel Spargo-Mabbs Foundation) commissioned me to write a play telling the story. The original idea was that his school would put the play on but it soon became obvious that some distance (emotionally and geographically would benefit the project) and so my Oasis Youth Theatre were offered the chance to premiere the play. We have been working on it for the last year and a half.  It has been in incredibly powerful project to be involvement.  It has been about stickability rather than ability in terms of those who will be in it. They have had to be so committed over such a long period of time. We also have incredible back up with a professional set designer (Richard Long), musician (Paul Ibbott), who has written a musical underscore, and multi-media expert (Danny – Gagging for It – Sturrock).  This team have worked tirelessly to produce the most incredible support to our work and add so much to the final result. I think the professional Theatre would do well to compete with the time we have been able to find to put into the production… and therefore the result.
3. Do you think about National Curriculum  potential when you’re writing?   Of that catalogue of 100 plays you have, how many are mega successful? 
I never think about the National Curriculum. My productions have been written because I found it so hard to find scripts I liked for my Youth Theatre work.  It seemed a daunting task to find a script that was just what we need as a group. It seemed to be easier to write what I fancy directing and then, as they are brand new, everyone in the production feels a greater sense of ownership. It has been other peoples idea to include them in the curriculum.
It depends on the definition of “mega successful”.  I have never had anything on the West End. I’d love that to happen.  I have never had a professional adult group perform any of my plays in a major provincial Theatre. So… who has been performing my plays.  Mostly a few Theatre in Education groups (professional) touring schools, prisons or the workplace. Also, as a result of these groups drawing attention to my work Youth Theatres and school have picked up on my plays and presented their own versions of them.  In the late 1990s they started to be used in GCSE. A/S and A’Level exams (mostly unbeknown to me) and from that two (Missing Dan Nolan & Hard To Swallow) have been taken on as set texts by two of the four boards offering the new GCSE Drama (9-1) exam.  I guess that’s pretty successful to have these plays emerging from an unfunded provincial Youth Theatre where all the other contemporary plays have come from the professional world.  I’m very proud of that!
Numerically… I have some plays that have been performed (licensed performances) a massive number of times. Here’s my top 5 as of today 8/03/2016
1/ Too Much Punch For Judy (1998) 5,998
2/ Chicken (1992) 5,654
3/ Legal Weapon 1/2 ((1999) 2,546
4/ Arson About (2004) 1,442
5/ Hard To Swallow (1990) 365
Of all my others (there are 28 in all) only two have notched up more than 100 performances, but that’s partly the fact they haven’t (for the most part) been out as long!  I would be intrigued to know whether any of these would qualify as the most performed contemporary plays?
4. Are the arts doing enough to nurture and support young talent?
Not sure that “the arts” can do this.   People can do this… people who are in the arts.  I imagine they are.  Are those people given enough support/resources?  No.  The arts have a general thing of surviving no matter what… as well as a good thing that can be a bad thing… as with or without funding arts will thrive… because people enjoy participation.  I’d love to see a more foams programme that is well funded from the grass roots.  I think football has a great model, where, with football in the community there are lots of opportunities for young people. It would great for this to be applied to Theatre and the arts… but it’s beyond me to know how to organise this.
5. Do you think decent theatre needs an undercurrent of sorrow? 
It seems that mine does. I’d love to write a good comedy. I don’t have the ability. No I don’t think it needs it.  I think my work does it because that’s what I think I do best. As I say I’d love to be able to do a good comedy.  I have been so pleased to see my son Charlie working with his Barely Methodical Troupe on some wonderful comic moments, and my Daughter Daisy in her musical Theatre work being much more light hearted than my better known “stuff” is.  All power to them.
6. And what else do you have coming up this year?
I have two premieres in one month. I Love you Mum (The Brit School 29th March 3pm)  and Scratching the Surface at a One Act Play Festival in the Midlands on March 6th), which is about self harm.
In May I have been told there will be a premiere of my verbatim play Kindness – A Legacy of the Holocaust written with Voices Director Cate Hollis, who directs this production.
A couple of International Schools have asked me to visit them in the next academic year… which gif it happens will be very exciting.  I’ve never been to Malaysia… and before that my wife and I are off on holiday to Cypris where Daisy is singing in one of the Thompson Gold Hotels!   So… and exciting year in prospect.
Thanks for listening!
Adios, Mark!

Masterclass Launch ‘In Your Hands’ Campaign

Masterclass want you to write your passion/profession on your hand and upload it to Facebook/Twitter/Instagram using the hashtag #InYourHands

Right then. Here’s a Q&A with Josh Brown (Press and Marketing Manager at Masterclass and Theatre Royal Haymarket).
To kick things off I asked Josh some questions. Josh is good at talking about Masterclass’ place in the Theatre cosmos, and how the ‘industry’ works in 2016.

Here’s how the chat went.

Hello! What are you doing at the moment?

Well, it’s been pretty hectic. We’ve just launched our new In Your Hands campaign and have been redesigning all of our marketing material to fit in with the rebrand!


Please tell me a bit about the #InYourHands Campaign.

Creating career opportunities in theatre is challenging, but I think a far greater challenge is instilling the confidence and self-belief in young people to actually put themselves forward for such opportunities. In a nutshell, that’s exactly what Masterclass’ In Your Hands campaign aims to address. We want to empower emerging theatre makers and to foreground the diverse range of career routes available within the Arts.

HI YA! Josh Brown, ladies and gentlemen.

Whether you’re working as an Actor, Stage Manager, Journalist, Director, Technician, Producer, Reviewer, Marketer etc (the list is endless!), be proud of what you do and never shy away from an opportunity because you feel under qualified or intimidated by the sheer volume of other creatives out there. Instead, rest safely in the knowledge that everything you work to achieve, really is the future of our industry.

So basically you’ve rebranded Masterclass, launched a campaign and continue to schedule some brilliant schemes and opportunities for young people and it’s not even March?

Haha! Well the rebrand has been in the pipeline for about a year now and I think all of us knew we were going to hit the ground running for 2016! It’s a really exciting time to be involved with Masterclass. The whole team work incredibly hard to ensure that the programme can offer these unique opportunities to people aged 16 – 30. This year alone we’ve offered out 3 paid apprenticeships in Design, Directing and Stage Management to work on Breakfast at Tiffany’s and, as you say, we’re just launched a new campaign – It’s relentless! I love it.

Photo credit Alex Rumford

Do you feel that too much power in the industry is held by people with little to no taste in Theatre?

Well, I think that’s probably dependant on the definition of taste. There are some wonderfully original, thought-provoking pieces of theatre being created, particularly in fringe venues, and it’s just a case of shining a spotlight onto this work for a mainstream audience.  Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of those working in theatre today to empower and inspire emerging theatre makers of tomorrow. The future of our industry really is in their hands!

 And what else do you have coming up?

On Tuesday 9th Feb, we’ve got a Masterclass with Indhu Rubasingham, Artistic Director at the Tricycle Theatre, and she’ll focus on new writing, which should be really exciting! Then on 1st March we have Ruth Sheen coming in to work on characterisation and improvisation – again, another really exciting session to be involved with!


Indhu Rubasingham (above)

We also have some really big announcements and plans for later on in the year so make sure you keep an eye on our website across the next few weeks and sign up to our mailing list!

One thing is for sure, the future of Theatre is definitely safe in the hands of these people.


N.B. Please use a solvent free and non-toxic pen!


Young Critics Autumn Season

Young Critics

Theatre Royal Winchester is extending its industry-leading project into the Autumn season, due to popular demand. Workshops are led by national journalists and leading theatre critics. There are exciting opportunities to review shows at regional theatres and participants will be provided with mentoring and an opportunity for their work to be published in The Big Issue. A number of regional theatres have been supporting the scheme with an offer of press tickets for participants. Michael Ockwell Chief Executive of The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton said: “We are delighted to be working with our colleagues at Theatre Royal Winchester on this wonderful initiative. Informed, relevant and considered criticism is crucial to the development of arts appreciation and Issue. Mayflower Theatre is pleased to play a small role in facilitating enriching discussions for all the participants in the Young Critics scheme.’

Michael Billington

Young Critics has been attracting a stellar lineup of contributors including The Guardian’s Michael Billington: Britain’s longest-serving theatre critic. He is undeniably a fixture of British Theatre. Michael said: ” I’m delighted to be taking part in a workshop for Young Critics.. So I’m very happy both to talk about the critical trade and hand on whatever practical advice I can.”

The six week course begins in September and costs £90. The course fee includes all sessions and additional ticket offers to shows at other regional venues (including Theatre Royal Winchester, The Mayflower, Southampton, Salisbury Playhouse and Nuffield Theatre) To book call Theatre Royal Winchester box office on 01962 840440.

For further information visit http://www.theatreroyalwinchester.co.uk/

For press information please call 01962 844 600 ext. 208