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The first ever Lighthouse Playwriting Prize has a winner; St Ives, by Dan Nixon.

Exploring the tensions between local communities and tourists, the winner of the first Lighthouse Playwriting Prize may be set in Cornwall but it will touch a nerve throughout Dorset and the South West. 

St Ives, by Dan Nixon, is set in the Cornish beauty spot and tells the contemporary story of the difficulty local people in finding affordable housing in the face of demand and prices pushed up by interest from the tourist/second homes market. 

The play will now be performed by professional actors at Lighthouse in a rehearsed reading on 9 March in front of a paying audience as well as invited guests from regional producing houses. The reading will also be recorded. 

Launched last year to discover new stories and to champion writers, the first Lighthouse Playwriting Prize attracted 41 entries that were judged by a panel of independent readers including Bridport-based international theatre director and practitioner Natasha Nixon (no relation!) who will direct the rehearsed reading, playwright Andrew Muir, Tamsin Fessey and Lynne Forbes of Angel Exit, Gobbledegook Theatre’s Lorna Rees and readers from Wiltshire Creative. 

Commenting on the competition and the winning entry, Natasha said: "I was taken aback by the breadth of subject matter and inspired by the tenacity of the writing to reach for new ways to reflect our audiences and communities. 

St Ives was one of the plays that myself and the team kept coming back to and in the end it felt that the quality of the writing combined with the themes were ripe for a rehearsed reading and to develop further.” 

In awarding the main prize of £1500 and the rehearsed reading to St Ives, the judges also singled out four plays to be supported in development: 

Lifeline by Ashton Corbin, from Weymouth 

The Paper Doesn’t Rot by Frankie Golding, from Bridport 

The Modern Shelleys by Rohan Gotobed from Poole

Can You See Me Now? By Rowan Prescott Hedley, from Weymouth

Each received £150 with a further £350 to be spent on dramaturge advice and mentoring. 

Natasha added: “The fact that this competition will also develop four other writers in the area is brilliant. Yes, it is a competition and there is a winner, but really this competition is about beginning relationships with artists in and around the South West to nurture their talent and bring their work to audiences. I’m delighted to be a part of it.” 

Lighthouse Producer: Artist Development, Paula Hammond commented: "Not only was the standard of entries received for the first Lighthouse Playwriting Prize absolutely phenomenal, but our wonderful readers did a fantastic job of providing feedback for every entry.” 

Lighthouse Playwriting Prize was funded by Garfield Weston Foundation. 

Lighthouse wants its commissioned artists and writers to reflect our audiences and communities and encourages applications from people who are under-represented in the arts, including people who experience racism, identify as working class, have disabilities, are from the LGBTQ+ community, are care experienced or are discriminated against. 

(NC)

Here, Lighthouse Playwriting Prize winner Dan Nixon talks about his work...

What is St Ives about? The story follows two young St Ives locals, Jago and Kat, who face a dubious eviction from their seaside fisherman’s cottage – the last place they can afford to rent in their hometown – after the absentee owner goes against his wife’s dying wish and tries to sell the property. The story is full of twists and turns, unlikely alliances, and I hope it gives an authentic sense of place. I’m interested in exploring themes around grief and legacy, socio economic tensions between the tourist and local economy, and the morals and ethics around the housing market. I'm sure it will strike a chord all over the South West region, but why did you pick St Ives? I’ve visited Cornwall regularly since I was a teenager (as a blow-in, so maybe part of the problem, sorry!), and so it’s somewhere I know well and a place I’ve always wanted to write about. I love the culture and the history, from the landscape to its connections with Arthurian legend to its separatist tendencies, embodied by the Cornish flag – I think Cornwall has a really interesting relationship with the rest of Britain. St Ives specifically felt like the right place to set the play as they had a local referendum in 2016 which essentially banned developers from selling new build properties to second home buyers. I went down and talked to a few of the people involved in the campaigning for that legislation, and in speaking to them it seemed to me that the depth of feeling behind the debate related to so much more than just the housing market, which felt like an interesting starting point for a play.  How did the idea take shape and how has it developed? As I say, it started with a period of research, talking to people, reading lots around the subject, thinking about my own connections to the area. Then I really had to put all that to one side and start creating the characters. My writing's quite character driven and I find too much research can actually be a bit inhibiting – audiences don't really want an essay, they want to feel something – so there was definitely a period of forgetting. After I had a basic shape, I was fortunate enough to be given seed funding by Sky Arts to workshop the idea with some actors and a first draft came out of that process. I’ve been rewriting and refining it since. What does it mean to win the Lighthouse Playwriting Prize? The most exciting thing for me is being able to share the play at a theatre in the South West, in Poole, a place where I hope the themes will resonate. But it’s obviously very gratifying to know that the judges saw something in it – that’s a real confidence boost. And the prize money will buy me some much needed time and space to focus on writing too! How long have you been writing, and how did you get started? I had a slightly circuitous way into it. I started writing about eight years ago. At the time I was a literary agent working on behalf of other writers, helping them develop their careers. Reading all their scripts, there was probably a small voice in the back of my head that had the temerity to think, ‘I could do this. It can’t be that hard.’ The voice was wrong. It’s really hard to write anything at all good and it took me a long time to write anything I didn’t find completely embarrassing. In practical terms, one of the first things I did after I had a bit more confidence was to join a young writers’ group at Soho Theatre, where I wrote my first proper full-length play. I was lucky that play won an award and I’ve been able to build incrementally from there. What's next for St Ives (the play!)? I’m not sure! I’m just focussed on getting it ready for the reading at Lighthouse to be honest – I’m so excited to have won the prize. But yes, hopefully that might give it a platform for a future life… Any advice for budding playwrights?See lots of theatre. Read lots of plays. Always ask yourself why you’re telling this story live in front of an audience and consider how that affects the story you’re telling. Writing is really hard, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come out perfect first go – but do be prepared to put the work in to make it better. There are also lots of online resources with much better advice than me: https://www.writeaplay.co.uk/ is a good place to start.