Winners Announced for the inaugural Box of Tricks & Sky Studios Screen/Play Award

Thursday 4 February 2021

“It is wonderful to have been part of such an exciting writing competition that has discovered two truly compelling, talented underrepresented voices” - Panellist Mina Anwar

Selected from nearly 350 entries from underrepresented talent right across the North of England, Box of Tricks and Sky Studios are delighted to announce that the two winners of the inaugural Screen/Play Award are Conway McDermott and Sarah Tarbit. Each writer will be awarded £10,250 to write a 70-minute stage play and a 20-minute screenplay inspired by a single central idea to be developed with support from the two partners throughout 2021.

Conway McDermott [they/them] is a trans non-binary writer from Liverpool. They describe their work as genre fiction, using fantasy, history, sci-fi and mysticism to “create a fuller landscape of worlds and stories for weird working-class queers to inhabit”. For Screen/Play, Conway will develop The Priestess - a trans coming of age story that crashes into a psychosexual horror full of dark humour.

"All you can hope for as a writer is to connect to others through your ideas, and to find a common truth in stories. It's a great feeling to know that my pitch resonated with the panel. Suddenly these new really exciting creative partnerships are rolling into my life, and I am so excited for what they're going to bring, and desperate to rise to the challenge of it! I am on the edge of my seat with excitement for what we're going to make together!" – Conway McDermott

“Conway is an exquisite, engaging gifted writer and I for one cannot wait to see how their wonderful imaginative storytelling will be nurtured to create an exciting piece of theatre and television.” Panellist Mina Anwar

Sarah Tarbit [she/her] is from Ashington, Northumberland, one of the most deprived areas in the country. Her work documents life in the region and often calls for social and political change. In 2020, she was Highly Commended for the Sid Chaplin Award (part of the Northern Writers’ Awards) and had two short plays produced by Live Theatre in Newcastle. For Screen/Play, Sarah will develop You Belong Here exploring the effects suicide can have on a community and the people left behind.

I’m buzzing to have been chosen for the Screen/Play Award! What an opportunity! I can’t thank Box of Tricks, Sky Studios, and the rest of the judging panel enough for believing in me and seeing value in my story. It means validation – not just for me as a writer, but for working-class stories and stories from underrepresented groups as a whole.Sarah Tarbit

“The world Sarah chooses to write about is rich, full of life and familiar to me. Voices I know but don’t hear and faces I recognise but don’t see, exist there. Sarah’s desire to bring what exists in the periphery into focus is what I think this award was designed for and I can’t wait to see how her pitch develops!” Panellist David Judge

Launched last year to unearth exceptional Northern talent from communities currently underrepresented on stage and screen, the Screen/Play Award will see both writers this year develop a brand-new play for Box of Tricks and a short screenplay with Sky Studios.

Following online interviews with six finalists, the two winning writers were selected by a panel of leading industry figures comprising of the acclaimed actresses Mina Anwar (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) and Melissa Johns (Life, I Hate Suzie, Coronation Street); writers Chris Bush (UK Theatre Award-winning playwright), David Judge (writer of Box of Tricks’ SparkPlug – finalist for Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play of the Year 2017) and Temi Wilkey (2020 Stage Debut Award, The High Table); as well as Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder (Joint Artistic Director, Box of Tricks) and Donna Metcalfe (Script Executive, Sky Studios).

In addition to developing new scripts with the two winning writers, Box of Tricks and Sky Studios will support the 15 shortlisted writers through a tailored package of masterclasses – offering an invaluable opportunity to explore their craft and the world of screenwriting with industry experts. As well as the two winners, those writers include Shazia Ashraf, Mohammed Barber, Rosa Hesmondhalgh, Asif Khan, Aisling Lally, Rosie MacPherson, Lauren-Nicole Mayes, Amy Rhianne Milton, Laurie Ogden, Stefanie Reynolds, Elis Shotton, Ted Steptoe, and Christopher York.

Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder and Adam Quayle, Joint Artistic Directors, Box of Tricks, said:In partnership with Sky Studios, we set out to uncover exceptional Northern talent and to celebrate creativity at a time of adversity. Reading submissions for the Screen/Play Award has highlighted for us the wealth of talent we have here in the North but that far too many of those voices still go unheard and their stories go untold. We want to unlock doors and create opportunity and we’re delighted to champion Conway and Sarah as they uncover the stories they want to tell.

Vicky Wharton, Executive Producer, Sky Studios, said: "We couldn't have asked for a better response to the Screen/Play Award. At a time of unprecedented challenge for the Arts, working with Box of Tricks has underlined for us the importance of the whole creative sector in nurturing and developing new writers. Throughout the process we have uncovered some truly exceptional new talent from the North of England, in particular Sarah and Conway who both have unique stories to tell that will resonate with audiences of both stage and screen."

Temi Wilkey, Writer, actor and Screen/Play panellist said: “I feel so honoured to have been part of the selection process for this award and so excited about Sarah and Conway. They both represent exactly why I think this award is important, in completely different ways. Their voices are so important and so underrepresented in the TV & theatre landscape. Both of them have so much talent, so much potential and so much to say that the world needs to hear! I can't wait to see what they both do.”

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Notes to Editors

Sarah Tarbit

Sarah is a writer from Ashington, Northumberland. She has had two short plays produced by Live Theatre in Newcastle and was Highly Commended for the Sid Chaplin Award in 2020 which is part of the Northern Writers Awards. Her work documents life in the region and often calls for social and political change.  

Conway McDermott

Conway McDermott is a trans non-binary writer, a regular performer on Liverpool's drag cabaret scene, and a collaborator with anarchist theatre collectives in the city.

They began writing for theatre in 2013 with queer punk collective The Hungry Bitches. Their first piece was Americana, a musical about gay rights and gun violence in the deep south of America, which was staged in concert at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2016.

Since then, they've had a number of commissions, including The Magician's Diary (2019), for the launch of the Liverpool Everyman's Pie, Pint, and a Play programme, and The Line (2019), for Popelei Theatre Company. They've also pursued development opportunities, including the Everyman and Playhouse's Playwright's Programme (2016), New Writing North's Significant Ink Television Writing Programme (2018), and the EastEnders Shadow Writers Scheme (2020).

About Box of Tricks

Based in Manchester, Box of Tricks makes plays. They champion playwrights and empower them to tell the stories they want to tell. Together, the company go on a journey to uncover new plays that reflect the world in which we live today. Box of Tricks create heartfelt theatre that resonates, inspires, and entertains. Recent productions include the award winning Narvik, Plastic Figurines, SparkPlug, Under Three Moons and most recently The Last Quiz Night on Earth.

About Sky Studios

Based out of Leeds, Sky Studios' Innovation Hub focusses on the development of talent, scripted partnerships, and new content experiences. The Innovation Hub builds on Sky’s existing track-record of finding and encouraging fresh, diverse talent to create new, original drama, comedy and scripted ideas for Sky and its customers. The Hub also explores the interplay between innovative technology and storytelling to bring viewers new entertainment experiences.

Sky Studios brings to screen unique stories from the very best talent in Europe.

We develop, produce and fund original drama, comedy, and documentary for Sky’s 24m customers and beyond. Building on the success of critically acclaimed Sky originals including Emmy-winning Chernobyl, Bafta-winning Patrick Melrose and international hits Babylon Berlin and Riviera, Sky Studios is the new creative home of Sky originals, such as The Third Day with Jude Law, ZeroZeroZero from the makers of Gomorrah and The New Pope directed by Academy Award-winning director Paolo Sorrentino.

We’re an agile Studio, seeking out the best untold stories from new voices while working in creative partnership with today’s best writers, producers, and on-screen talent to bring viewers stories they wouldn’t find anywhere else.

With commissioning talent and production capability across the UK, Germany, and Italy, we understand local tastes across Europe better than anyone else and have plans to more than double our investment in original content by 2024, fully supported and backed by Comcast NBC Universal.

We’re also developing a new TV and movie studio, Sky Studios Elstree, which is expected to lead to the creation of over 2,000 new jobs and generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in UK creative sector in the first five years alone.

Sky Studios invests in the cultural economy and global production sector with equity stakes in several production companies in the UK and the US, including Great British Bake-Off creator Love Productions, and the premiere reality crime producer in the US, Jupiter Entertainment, creator of long-running hit Snapped. Sky Studios has invested in high quality factual specialists Blast Films and True North Productions; entertainment and format expert Znak & Co (US & UK); natural history producer True to Nature; drama producers The Lighthouse and Longboat Pictures; and growth businesses Sugar Films, Chrysalis Vision, and Talos Films (US).

Sky Studios launched in June 2019. The senior leadership team is Chief Executive Officer Gary Davey, Chief Content Officer Jane Millichip, Chief Operating Officer Caroline Cooper, Director of Drama UK Cameron Roach, Director of Comedy UK Jon Mountague, Director Original Production Sky Italia Nils Hartmann, and Director Original Productions Sky Deutschland Marcus Ammon.

About Sky

Sky is Europe’s leading media and entertainment company and is proud to be part of the Comcast group. Across six countries, we connect our 24 million customers to the best entertainment, sports, news, arts and to our own award-winning original content.

Our technology, including the market leading Sky Q, connects people to everything they love - TV, music, games, online video, fitness and educational content, all in one place, easy. Our streaming service, NOW TV, brings viewers all the enjoyment of Sky with the flexibility of a contract-free service.

Building on the success of Sky Originals like Chernobyl, I Hate Suzie and Brassic, we are doubling our investment in original content by 2024 through Sky Studios. Sky News provides impartial and trustworthy journalism for free, while Sky Arts, the UK’s only dedicated free-to-air arts channel, makes the arts accessible for everyone. Our new TV and movie studio, Sky Studios Elstree, is expected to create over 2,000 new jobs and generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in the UK over the first five years alone.

We believe that we can be a force for good in the communities in which we operate. We’re committed to being Europe’s first net zero carbon entertainment company by 2030. We take pride in our approach to diversity and inclusion: we’ve been recognised by The Times and Stonewall for our commitment to diversity and we’ve put in place a new programme to invest £30million across our markets over the next three years to tackle racial injustice.

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What is the Programme?

  • Each writer receives £10,250 each with an exclusive option for Box of Tricks to produce the stage play in a future season.
  • Supported by Box of Tricks and Sky Studios’ Innovation Hub, our two writers will write and develop a first draft of a 70-minute stage play and a 20-minute screenplay throughout 2021, culminating in a table read/rehearsed reading.
  • All 15 shortlisted writers will receive a tailored package of masterclasses and opportunities: exploring their craft and the world of screenwriting with the support of industry experts.

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