Yorkshire playwrights are being offered the career-boosting opportunity to become the next Kay Mellor Fellow. This ground-breaking investment in new writing was created by Leeds Playhouse and Rollem Productions, the award-winning Leeds writer’s TV and film production company, in 2019, when it was awarded to the inaugural fellow, Bradford writer Kat Rose-Martin. It is now continuing in memory of Kay Mellor, who died in May last year, with key additional investment from the BBC and Leeds City Council.
Writers based in Yorkshire are being invited to apply for a paid, year-long fellowship, with one available each year over three years, which will give them the exciting opportunity to work with leading stage and screen creatives from Leeds Playhouse, Rollem Productions and BBC Writersroom, developing their writing, enhancing their skills and building a firm foundation for future success. The applications window will open in July.
In addition to the Fellowship, Leeds Playhouse is also launching The Kay Mellor Fund, which will raise money to nurture local writers – something that was always very close to Kay’s heart – through its industry-leading Furnace Artist Development programme. This fund will support locally rooted emerging writers through bespoke investment, mentoring and training opportunities.
As part of the inaugural Fellowship, Kat Rose-Martin developed her play, Cheap as Chips which has since been fully commissioned by Leeds Playhouse with support from the Writers’ Guild New Play Commission Scheme. In 2020, she was part of the BBC Writersroom Voices writer development programme and, in 2021, was selected for Sky Comedy Rep, a writers’ scheme with Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Sky.
Three new Fellows will be chosen over the next three years. Each will receive a bursary and spend 12 months on attachment with Leeds Playhouse and Rollem Productions to develop their own script and TV pitch, as well as receiving a place on the BBC Writersroom Voices writer development programme.
Councillor Jonathan Pryor, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy, culture and education, said: "The North has long been a proving ground for its own unique brand of inspiring and imaginative theatrical talent, qualities which were exemplified by Kay Mellor and the many memorable stories and characters she created.
"There can be no better tribute to Kay and her legacy than to be part of nurturing the next generation of northern playwrights and giving them the incredible opportunity to follow in her footsteps. We’re proud to be working alongside Leeds Playhouse and the BBC and to be helping to give more northern writers the chance to bring their visions to life."
Head of New Writing for BBC Jessica Loveland said: "The BBC Writersroom is delighted to be working with Leeds Playhouse, Leeds City Council and Rollem Productions on the Kay Mellor Fellowship. Throughout her extraordinary career Kay was a kind and generous champion of emerging writers and a supporter of our work at BBC Writersroom. It is a privilege, therefore, for us to be able to continue this work by supporting the fellowship in her name."
Talking about the fellowship, Anthony, Yvonne and Gaynor Mellor said: "Kay would have been thrilled with the continued investment and belief in supporting up-and-coming Northern writers over the next 3 years. This gives meaningful time to bring on new talent and celebrate – as well as hone – their skills. Kay really believed in championing new voices and loved working with Kat Rose-Martin and the Playhouse for the inaugural fellowship back in 2019. For Kay's legacy to endure feels very special."
On the fund, they added: "Kay was extremely passionate about theatre and started her illustrious career writing stage plays so it feels really fitting she is honoured in this way. The immediate feedback and buzz she felt from theatre audiences was so important to Kay and inspired her to keep writing the shows audiences wanted to watch. She was determined to find ways to help the next generation of writers in Leeds and the fund will continue to support that mission."
Leeds Playhouse CEO and Artistic Director James Brining said: “Kay remains a truly iconic figure: a distinctive northern voice who helped to shape the cultural landscape of the North in so many ways. Her deep-rooted relationship with Leeds Playhouse spanned many years and her advocacy of writers and of her beloved home county shone through in the work she created both on and off stage. Most importantly, she was a cultural figurehead for northern working-class women.
“This fund, which will support the work of our Furnace programme, will provide valuable opportunities to northern artists who will benefit from Kay’s legacy and passion for developing new writing and amplifying the voices of others.”
Fans of Kay Mellor’s incredible work are able to enjoy her breakthrough play A Passionate Woman, which was first staged at Leeds Playhouse 30 years ago and is now back on its Courtyard stage in a major new production until 10 June. Directed by Leeds director Tess Seddon, it stars television and stage actor Katherine Dow Blyton, best known as Emmerdale’s popular police officer turned vicar Harriet Finch and as Chrissy in the multi award-winning hit TV series This is England, in the role of Betty. Playing her son Mark is Tom Lorcan, familiar to Playhouse audiences from The Damned United, and to the wider public as Mike Hargrave in 30 episodes of ITV’s Coronation Street. Michael Bijok makes his Leeds Playhouse debut in the role of Craze and David Crellin (Wuthering Heights, West Side Story, Royal Exchange) plays Donald.
How to apply?
The application window for the Kay Mellor Fellowship 2024 will open in July. Once open, applicants will be invited to submit one pre-existing script for consideration along with a single-page synopsis of the idea they would like to develop. The new Fellowship, which runs from January to December 2024, is open to writers based in Yorkshire who have previously written up to three professionally produced plays and have an idea for a new, full-length production. They should have an interest in writing for television but have no prior credits as a screenwriter.
Full terms and conditions will be available on the Leeds Playhouse website.
A Leeds Playhouse production
A Passionate Woman
By Kay Mellor
Directed by Tess Seddon
Courtyard Theatre, Leeds Playhouse
20 May – 10 June
Box office 0113 213 7700. Book online leedsplayhouse.org.uk