The Portaloo Theatre is one of London’s most vibrant new theatres for new writing and has just announced its exciting new literary policy. Portaloo’s artistic director Yolanda Bogg-Brush has urged theatre-makers to “think outside the cubicle” and look at new innovative ways of creating theatre beyond just putting on plays that people have written down on pieces of paper.
“Let’s look beyond the traditional writing methods, we want to get away from that fusty old fashioned view of writers, y’know, all quills and parchments by candlelight, let’s look at what new writing means today, now, here, in the here-and-now. What do we mean by ‘new writing’? What do we mean by ‘new’? And what do we mean by ‘writing’? Do you have to be a writer to write? After all, I write, you write, the traffic warden writes, the girl in Starbucks writes my name on a cup for my soya latte every morning, even my little four year has started to write. In fact little Ocado’s debut play is part of our 2013 season of provocative new work! Conversely do you actually have to write in order to be a writer? After all, its all done on computers nowadays isn’t it, so maybe we should just call them typists, in which case aren’t they just secretaries?”
The Portaloo has certainly come a long way since its inception. Originally housed in a real portaloo, it gained a reputation for daring, dazzling new work that belied its humble location and tiny seating capacity (one). Then, three years ago it looked as if the theatre’s future was about to be flushed down the pan after the portaloo hire company announced that it wanted its portaloo back. But with a £6 million grant from the Arts Council they were able to re-house themselves in a new, specially built state-of-the-art venue but one which nevertheless stays close to the spirit of the original Portaloo Theatre by being the exact same shape and size of a portaloo. And with an exciting new venue comes an exciting new submissions policy!
Instead of accepting submissions all the year round, at certain times of the year the Portaloo door will creak open for a few seconds and Yolanda will blow a whistle. That’s the cue for any writers to throw their scripts through the gap before the door slams shut again for the next six months. But if you are amongst the thousands of writers who have already submitted scripts to the Portaloo, then fear not, Yolanda and her team are already putting your scripts to innovative use. “We’re printing the best scripts onto rolls of toilet paper in a groundbreaking new way of bringing our patrons into direct contact with the very best in new writing.”
But what of all those people who don’t submit scripts to the Portaloo? People who live in the area who aren’t aware of its existence, who perhaps assume it’s merely a portable toilet, what is Yolanda and her team doing to reach out to those untapped sources of creative genius in the community. “We want to engage with people who’ve never written plays before, who have never even thought about writing plays. We want to get away from this elitist notion of playwrights being people who sit on their own in cafes self-consciously scrawling in a tatty notebook, going, “ooh, look at me all dressed in black like a young Harold Pinter,” I mean, just piss off you losers! We want ordinary people, real people who work behind the counter at McDonalds, people who stack shelves in Tesco’s and who’ve never been to the theatre, people who hate and despise the theatre and thinks its all for “gays and luvvies”, people who wouldn’t step foot in a theatre if you dragged them there at gunpoint, people who want to hold those of us in the theatre at gunpoint! What we really want is people with guns in the theatre, firing bullets at the actors, creating exciting immersive theatre that blurs the boundaries between reality and drama!”
But for those struggling writers out there who plan to get a job in McDonalds or involved in gun crime as a stepping stone to getting your work on at the prestigious Portaloo, Yolanda has a few words of warning, “We can sniff you out! There’s a simple test. If you answer the question, ‘Who is Caryl Churchill?’ with anything other than the baffled query ‘Winston’s wife?’ then you and your intellectual pretensions shall be kicked straight out that Portaloo door and halfway down the street!”
And what of the next artistic director of the Portaloo, when Yolanda leaves to run the much larger Portakabin Theatre next year? Will the Portaloo be similarly looking for their next boss behind the counter at McDonalds? On this Yolanda is unequivocal. “Absolutely not! You can’t have just anyone randomly traipsing in off the street to run a vibrant arts organisation.”