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Farah Abushwesha's New Writing Forum was founded on a passion for acting and a frustration at the lack of a space for young talent to display their abilities. Held monthly in a pub in Islington in North London, and accompanied by a superb monthly newsletter, the forums team up professional actors, directors, writers and producers for live and barely rehearsed readings of individual scenes. As a provider of information and general facilitator myself I was most keen to ask this gregarious, shock headed ex hack what her motives could possibly be for the monthly migraine that her forums must be. I expected, rather cynically but you understand, for her to say something like, "Oh I just love to help people be creative, I don't ask for anything in return!" She didn't, and had I asked her I'd have the got the same response in sub surface meaning as calling her 'darling.'
Farah is an actress and a writer and she puts in this effort because she wants to 'meet that director, actor or that part that's perfect for me.' It's really taken off too. In under a year her email list for the newsletter has soared from 8 to 1,500 people.
I am all for this type of individual, wholly beneficial initiative but I worry for the innovator, I see them giving and finding nothing on offer from the recipient, my heart is scarred all over by that natural instinct to take first and contemplate giving post digestion. I'm here to tell you, I had nothing to worry about.

| by tom fogg |
| photos courtesy of farah abushwesha |
| in london |
 
 
     
 

Tell us a little bit about your background Farah.
I moved to Paris in 1993 to work as a journalist and I set up a bilingual acting workshop as well. The reason being, there was nothing for English speaking actors and yet there was a whole pool of them that had no place to network. There was an English speaking theatre but it was very small and confined so I got a group of people together who wanted to write and act, I believe that's still going.

Then I moved to London to go to drama school because I wanted to utilise my attributes, and also to understand my limitations as an actor, I think that's very important. Following that I've played a few parts, nothing huge but I think that in London there are ten parts for men compared to the one for women.

Were those stage or screen roles?
A few short films and a stage play.

When and why did you set up Rocliffe?
Rocliffe was set up in 1998 while I was at drama school, coming up to our agents night. It was a way of pooling resources for sending out our c.v.'s to agents and casting directors, and on the back of that I teamed up with some people to get casting reports and we split the costs on that too. Then we put on a production in 1999 but when we were looking for a play for four women there was very little out there unless you were either very old or very young. So from that I set up the New Writers Forum to introduce me to new directors, other actors and to be able to get my hands on original material. Of course I realised as soon as I'd set it up that people needed this platform to show of their talents and their work as writers, actors, directors and producers and there really is little around that facilitates those four within the industry.

Is Rocliffe just the New Writing Forum?
No, it's also a production company but that side has been on the backburner because the forums need to be set up so that they can run on their own. It's almost getting to that point now, my mailing list has gone from 8 to 1,500 people inside a year and I'm constantly getting c.v.'s through my door because people really want to become a part of it. Not just actors, writers, directors and producers but also cameramen and editors because it's a fantastic place to meet, it's a friendly and constructive environment.

Do you define it as a workshop?
It's not a workshop, it's a forum and I make that distinction very clear because workshops tend to be led by people, you tend to go to a workshop to be taught something. In a forum everybody is equal and everybody has a say. It gives writers the opportunity to have their work read by professional actors, directed by professionals in front of an audience of professionals. They get feedback from those actors and directors and also from other writers, that's something that rarely happens at an early stage with a script.

Take an actor for an example, they get the final draft of a script and lines don't work, scenes grate on them and things end up getting cut but, the writers at the forum get feedback from people that have actually got to work with it. Writers don't often get that privilege, writing is a very isolating thing.

How do differentiate your forum from what the Script Factory do?
I don't, I just think we all have our place. I'm not in competition with anybody and I don't aim to be. I'm not intending to make money from anybody, there is a 3 entry charge but that covers the room hire, photocopying and the phone bill - everyone I deal with seem to use mobiles.

I imagine you receive many vague and broad requests from potential attendees. How would you ideally like people to get in contact with you regarding your forum and newsletter?
People have to make a reservation because I need to have a clear picture of how many people are coming and how I can cover all the scripts. In the past I would limit the number to say 40 or so but this didn't work because, if I had a certain amount of actors per role they'd end up letting me down for a part or an audition. Then a script doesn't get performed so everybody gets let down, I try to ensure that if an actor doesn't get to act in one forum they are sure to get the chance next time.

If I see a part that I feel would be good for somebody then I'll call them up and offer it to them but that's not in any way elitist.

How do you get hold of scripts?
I used to place ads in Shooting People and a number of other places and I've had scripts in from Hong Kong, Italy, Germany, America, all over the world but I only do one five to eight minute scene from each script. The writers get in contact with me and I send them an application form with name, address etc but also what characters they would like.

They also need to give me a brief synopsis of the script, so that the actors and directors know where the characters are from, and I also ask for a pitch to put in the newsletter. That way, someone interested in the script can email the writer directly - their contact details are also listed.
I do not get involved in any negotiations between writers, directors and producers.

What do you like to see in a submitted script?
There is nothing I won't accept, apart from abuse! (laughter)

 
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