Playwrights Survey 2017

Download the Final Report: 
2016/17 Survey of Scotland's Playwrights

Introduction from Playwrights' Studio, Scotland and the Scottish Society of Playwrights

Welcome to the 2016/17 survey of Scotland's playwrights, co-commissioned by Playwrights' Studio, Scotland and the Scottish Society of Playwrights (SSP).  This survey follows Scotland: a place for playwrights?, the major research and consultation project undertaken by Christine Hamilton Consulting covering the financial year 2014/15.  


As the cornerstone of that project, a playwrights' survey was specifically designed to be undertaken every two years to allow us a long-range view of the context in which playwrights operate.  It enables the formal recording and tracking of changes as they impact on the health, wealth and welfare of these important artists and on the vital contribution they make to the creative industries and wider Scottish society.

As Fraser White, the researcher we re-commissioned to undertake the survey, is at pains to point out, the survey is still in its infancy.  The comparison of data between 2014/15 and 2016/17 does not yet constitute definite trends.  What it does, however, is allow us to log points of interest or issues of concern.  Where necessary, we can begin addressing them as a sector.  

The survey was distributed to a closed group of 243 playwrights from Scotland, who live in Scotland or have a strong Scottish connection.  The playwrights who were surveyed had a broad range of professional experience.  We are aware of the enormous contribution made to the new writing ecology by emerging playwrights working at the grassroots, who have not yet been  professionally commissioned or produced, and those working in the voluntary sector.  However, to include their views was beyond the scope of this particular research, where comparison with a similar group of playwrights from 2014/15 was necessary.

This survey belongs to all of us and we have been pleased to note the use of the 2014/15 survey by various colleagues including Stellar Quines, Joyce McMillan in The Scotsman and the newly formed Theatre Directors Scotland network. 

Summary of findings

As in the first year of the survey, it is of little surprise that the survey paints a contradictory picture for playwrights.  

On the one hand, it indicates a healthy level of commissions, productions and subsequent productions.  The survey identifies a narrowing of the gender gap between male and female playwrights.  A new question in the 2016/17 survey highlights the migration of playwrights around Scotland and to Scotland, indicating that the country is a place for playwrights.  The UK and international profile of Scotland's playwrights is buoyant, with translations, commissions, first, second and subsequent productions in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, England, France, India, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Sweden and the USA.  The playwriting community remains hugely skilled and entrepreneurial, influencing Scottish theatre in its widest sense.  

Dig a little bit deeper into the data, however, and some of the challenges highlighted in 2014/15 are hardening.  In Scotland, the survey suggests that shorter plays are being commissioned and that this is having an impact on earnings.  The survey indicates that this particularly affects female playwrights.  While different models of production are welcome to meet the needs of modern audiences and respond to global trends, rapid change can come at a price. Non-professional contracts seem to be on the rise, with some traditional platforms appearing less accessible. 

Playwrights' Studio and the SSP have continued to work together on a series of Playwrights Gatherings to examine the impact of the findings of this survey and to collectively form solutions.  This included a Gathering in Edinburgh during the 2018 Festival to formulate a response to the Scottish Government's draft Culture Strategy.

As a direct result of ongoing consultation with playwrights, including these surveys, Playwrights' Studio has today launched two new Programmes.  One Programme addresses issues around geographical location and the another hopes to stimulate productive new relationships between organisations and playwrights.

We are indebted to the playwrights who attended the Playwrights' Gatherings in December 2017 at the Tron and Traverse Theatre.  These individuals skilfully interrogated the findings, as well as bringing different perspectives to bear.

There are still serious concerns about diversity in Scottish theatre, beyond gender and geographical location which are analysed in some detail in the survey.  This includes race, social class and disability, with a positive suggestion that future surveys, and the work of other sector organisations, pay more concern to these sections of our community.


Enormous thanks to Christine Hamilton for setting up this survey so that it can be repeated with ease into the future.  And, of course, for introducing us to Fraser White.  Thank you to Fraser for the detailed work and dedication that has gone into collating and analysing this data, and for his patience in explaining the statistical implications of all of this to groups of non-researchers!

Further thanks are extended to the playwrights who attended the Playwrights Gatherings in December 2017.

And, as ever, our thanks go to all the playwrights who have continued to complete the survey.  It is a detailed undertaking and we absolutely appreciate the time and attention this takes.

Fiona Sturgeon Shea, Creative Director, Playwrights' Studio, Scotland
Stephen Greenhorn, Chair, Scottish Society of Playwrights
23 August 2018

Download the Final Report: 
2016/17 Survey of Scotland's Playwrights


Photo: Ruth Armstrong

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