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Playwrights, writers and theatre makers are heading to Blackpool over the next few weeks as the Old Electric’s Power Plays Festival begins.

Power Plays is a four-month long festival of artistic activity from April to July 2024 at Blackpool’s newest theatre. It aims to bring established talent to the town while working with local emerging writers and changing the narrative about Blackpool on the stage – challenging the notion of who has the power to tell our stories.

Internationally acclaimed playwright Simon Stephens (Punk Rock, The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night Time); renowned theatre maker and academic Dr Andy Smith (Citizens’ Assembly); award-winning playwright Nick Wood (Warrior Square, A Girl With A Book); literary manager, critic and dramaturg Dr Frank Peschier; National Theatre dramaturg Stewart Pringle, and top screenwriter and performance artist Krishna Isthna (Sex Education) are just a few of the industry names who will visit the festival to host workshops and talks over coming months.

Martha Pailing is Power Plays’ writer in residence

The aim of Power Plays is to support new writing for the stage, explore original perspectives on Blackpool, and establish the OE as Blackpool’s home of new writing. It comprises of 48 events which will all connect with new writing. A literary festival line-up also includes visiting author Q&As, alongside new live productions, a pioneering primary schools programme, peer-to-peer projects and keynote masterclass sessions.

“I am excited to be part of a project so committed to supporting playwrights in Blackpool,” said playwright Simon Stephens at the launch of the event last week. “It’s a place that has meant a lot to me and a place that has inspired me to write. If, even for a brief time, I can inspire writers, well that only seems right and proper.”

Fellow masterclass host and playwright Nick Wood, added: “The theatre, playwrights, and the arts in general, are going through a tough time at the moment and I think it’s great that this festival will give new, fresh, vital, regional voices a chance to be heard. I know we’re going to discover some very exciting writers.”

Dr Frank Peschier from internationally acclaimed theatre company Headlong is also a freelance dramaturg, critic and lecturer who is passionate about new writing, creative access and shaping experiences that bring people together. She said the Old Electric is “a creative hub and home for artists in the North West, and I can’t wait to read stories from all over, inspired by right here.”

Blackpool’s a place that has meant a lot to me and a place that has meant a lot to me and a place that has inspired me to write.

The programme also includes a supported visit to Blastfest at the Dukes Theatre in Lancaster; a practical Wild Writing session exploring ways to write without being limited by expectations; a Reimagining Gothic Horror workshop; opportunities for neurodivergent writers who want different techniques to create material; an interactive spoken word event; pre and post-show talks, plus a National Theatre supported Primary Schools programme with local year five pupils who will see their words brought to life by professional actors onstage.

A playwriting competition will be launched in May, inviting writers to submit scripts showcasing themes that have resonance to Blackpool to a panel of professional readers. This will lead to a performance of the winning script in July 2024 and a tour of the production in 2025.

Melanie Whitehead. Photo: Claire Griffiths

The Old Electric Artistic Director, Melanie Whitehead, is the driving force behind the festival. She said Power Plays is the “next stage in our journey for encouraging and supporting new talent. It ties in perfectly with our ethos of community, creativity and culture.

“Power Plays is also about changing the narrative that is so often associated with Blackpool and looking at positive change and regeneration through new creative works and we hope to encourage and mentor a new generation of writers.”

The Power Plays programme has also meant The Old Electric has been able to appoint a festival assistant producer, Abi Hellam, and three-month writer-in residence, Martha Pailing. Blackpool born Pailing is a writer, spoken word and performance artist whose writing often blends personal material with fictional characters to create absurd and tender narratives. She will be hosting a Conversation Drop In during the festival to chat and explore our personal relationships with laughter.

She said: “The Old Electric is the home of alternative art that I wish would have existed 10 years ago – it represents much welcomed creative progression in Blackpool and brings together several art forms, takes creative risks and challenges the negative.”

Visit www.theoldelectric.co.uk/powerplays to see the full programme of events.

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