One year ago, in the midst of a pandemic, Tori Allen-Martin, Sarah Henley and Tara Finney launched Burn Bright. Seeking to level the playing field, they have supported hundreds of women writers across the UK and Ireland, creating a network of support and offering new opportunities. Burn Bright champions important voices who so often feel silenced and lobbies for change. This incredible company is reliant on generous donors and individuals; to continue supporting their community of writers, Burn Bright are now looking to match their original funding by raising an additional £15,000. This is only the beginning for Burn Bright.
Since its inception, Burn Bright have streamed four live events which have been viewed in over 600 households across the UK. These offered paid commissions to 23 women writers – 60% of whom were artists of colour. 50% of the plays were these writers first ever paid commissions – a quarter of them have gone on to other work as a result. From these writers, 36% disclosed a disability and 80% self-identify as working-class. One event focused entirely on Black or Black mixed artists in response to the urgent need to elevate their voices after the murder of George Floyd last summer. Another event focused entirely on Northern women’s voices – championing talent from Hull, Scarborough, Bolton, Leeds and Newcastle in collaboration with the Hull Truck Theatre, Live Theatre, Octagon Theatre and the Stephen Joseph Theatre.
The Burn Bright Time Bank was launched to connect women writers with industry professionals willing to offer mentorship, feedback and advice. It has seen over 250 women writers benefit from one-on-one sessions with over 100 experts and offered nearly 500 sessions of free support and advice.
Burn Bright have also hosted nine informal ‘Connect’ panels on Zoom with industry experts, covering topics such as understanding legal rights, commissioning and pitching for TV as well as working with a dramaturg.
All of the company’s initiatives are designed to help writers and provide them a space to flourish. Burn Bright have created a safe space for women’s voices to be heard and for new connections and collaborations to be born. This supports the company’s ethos that women’s voices shouldn’t be viewed as ‘a risk’ and that women from all walks of life deserve a seat at the table to tell their stories.
Over the next few months, Burn Bright will be pausing their programme of digital panels and events, so that they can plan and fundraise, in order to return bigger and stronger than ever. They will continue to support their community of writers during this time through monthly uploads to the Time Bank and keeping their Resources webpage updated. You can still watch previous events, Better in Person 3 and Hear Me Roar, on demand.
Sarah Henley commented: “We want to see work by women on our stages be at least 50% of the work that’s presented, and not at a date in the future for programmers to ‘work towards’ – there’s no reason why it can’t happen now. Burn Bright intend to continue supporting women identifying writers and to do it in a way that reflects the true diversity of the country. Hearing from a diverse range of writers breeds empathy with stories that aren’t necessarily your direct experience – and empathy and understanding are distinctly lacking at the moment. We have achieved a huge amount on very little and, with the necessary funding, there is a lot more to come.”
Tori commented: “We are so proud of what we’ve achieved and what we’ve been able to give back with the money raised, but in line with the transparency we hold so dear, we are simply out of cash. We pride ourselves on paying our writers and other collaborators and we refuse to stop doing that, so for now, our only option is to press pause. This is by no means a goodbye, it’s a see you later and you can be sure that we will be back. There is no force more powerful than a woman determined to rise, and there are three of us fighting this battle! We can’t wait to continue burning the house down.”