I want to show a perspective of autism that I believe hasn’t been truly shown in modern media, and yet which some people experience every day of their lives.” – Mackenzie Wellfare

New Views is the National Theatre’s annual playwriting programme for young people in secondary schools and FE colleges. The New Views competition received more scripts last year than ever before, with the winning play – Perspective by 17-year-old Mackenzie Wellfare, from HSDC Alton College – chosen by a panel of judges from over 400 scripts nationwide. Mackenzie was inspired to write his play to share both his own and others’ experience of autism.

“No targets”

The programme sees hundreds of students write 30-minute plays on issues that interest them, with support from their teachers, mentor playwrights and the NT. Through writing their plays, the students get to explore and respond to contemporary issues such as mental health, relationships and politics, develop their creative skills and learn how to effectively communicate messages to an audience.

Last year saw New Views being delivered digitally, with online workshops presented by professional writers, free access to recordings of NT productions and masterclasses with renowned playwrights, such as Simon Stephens and Vinay Patel.

This year we’re once again inviting teachers to attend introductory training sessions that cover the aims of the programme, a range of teaching approaches they can use and the supporting New Views classroom resources.

One teacher from Ricard’s Lodge High School told us that, “The training sessions were brilliant, and we’ve absolutely loved working with our mentor playwright and were amazed at the support during such a challenging time.” Another observed that, “It’s not just the students this programme helps.

Teaching, even in English and Drama, can often suck you of energy and creativity, as you’re forced into ticking boxes and teaching to exams. Being able to work on something purely creative, with no targets to meet other than to enjoy, create and discover, has been such a gift. Every school in the country should be doing it.”

Tricky restrictions

The New Views Festival usually takes place at the NT, with audiences watching rehearsed readings of shortlisted plays, followed by a production of the winning play on stage. Due to COVID restrictions, however, Mackenzie’s winning play was performed at the NT and streamed to participating schools to watch as part of a digital festival.

To bring his play to life, we worked within tricky restrictions. Picture a rehearsal room where everyone was always two metres apart, and only six audience members were allowed in the auditorium at any one time. Yet with support from our brilliant technical departments, we were able to stream the production to teachers and students across the UK.

Our digital producer, Joey, notes that, “The journey of capturing the winning play for New Views was a unique and exhilarating experience.

Unique, because filming a play for the festival in this way has never been done before at the NT, and exhilarating because the wealth of experience the NT has to offer was available to everyone. Lighting, sound and video specialists embraced the challenges of making a play exclusively to be filmed, while teachers thanked us for finding a way to share the work more widely.”

Perspective and this year’s other shortlisted plays were additionally BSL-interpreted and captioned, so that they could be made accessible to the widest possible audience.

There’s much that we won’t miss about the past year, but also plenty we now want to take forward – including the embrace of digital and the access and convenience it can provide, while still appreciating that there’s nothing quite as special as being in a room together making theatre.

This autumn, the NT will be holding a series of CPD sessions for over 250 PGCE drama teachers on how they can work with the NT once they qualify, and we’ll be kicking off our New Views training for teachers. Through this, we hope to continue meeting teachers from across the UK and support them as they reach thousands of young people every year.

Sarah Eastaff is secondary and further education programme manager at the National Theatre; to find out more about New Views and the NT’s Learning programmes, visit nationaltheatre.org.uk/learning