Last week, on World Book Day Plymouth Laureate of Words, Laura Horton took part in events across the city celebrating the joy of reading.
Laura met and read to pupils at primary schools in Plymouth, sharing what it’s like be in the role. In the evening, she appeared at an event at Plymouth’s Proprietary Library to unveil a brand new modern plays section and read from her play. Laura tells us about why play texts are so important to her and why should consider picking one up the next time we visit a library.
As a playwright, public speaking was never something I had to do, other than the occasional post-show discussion, until I became Plymouth Laureate of Words. In my role I’ve found myself reading my work aloud on a number of occasions, I still find it quite terrifying, but true to advice, the more I do, the more galvanizing I find it.
On World Book Day I read to over 200 primary school children throughout the day, including Hyde Park Primary, where I went to school. It was wonderful to tell the children how shy I’d been and how it hadn’t deterred me. A little girl told me she was shy too and she was glad that was okay.
I then rushed to my own event to read an extract of my new play Breathless at Plymouth Proprietary Library. It was packed, I could hear my voice slightly shaking as I started reading but daunting as it was, my confidence picked up quickly and the wonderful reaction to the play and the interesting discussions it prompted absolutely made my week.
As I move into my final nine months in the role I’m keen to support and amplify different aspects of the theatre industry and change perceptions about what a Laureate can be. This event was about supporting the library in obtaining more play texts and also getting people to consider picking up a play in the same way they might a novel, a poetry book or a collection of short stories.
I started reading plays before I became a playwright, when I couldn’t get tickets for shows – either because of geography, they were sold out or I couldn’t afford them. But what started as perhaps a consolation became something I treasured doing.
Of course I would still love to see these plays, but reading them allows me to fill in the gaps with my own imaginations and stage inventions. It would only enhance the experience of seeing the piece live eventually.
It’s not easy to get hold of plays – modern texts don’t seem to be well stocked in bookshops and they’re often more expensive to purchase than other books, apart from the odd occasions you can pick them up in the theatre alongside the show. Libraries tend to stock largely vintage texts and often the sections are small. So I was delighted when Concord Theatricals and Paines Plough donated play texts to two of my local libraries.
As we approach World Book Night on 23rd April I’ll be presenting my second event at Central Library, reading from a new play, presenting a Q&A and unveiling donated and new plays acquired by the library. My hope is that by widening the ways people can access plays we can keep doing the things we’re all striving to do: encourage more people to find joy and connection through theatre.