Cambridge's inaugural new writing festival "Hotbed" launches this weekend with three weeks of events showcasing premiere commissioned works from national and local writers. The festival, running from 5 to 21 July 2002, is a joint project between Menagerie Theatre Company and the Junction CDC.

Launching the festival is Short Fuse a series of new plays about men and women written by Tim Etchells (best known for his work with Forced Entertainment), Amanda Wittington and Steve Waters. Amanda Wittington's play brings Elvis to Lincolnshire, where the King is alive and well in a burger van. Steve Waters' In the White Highlands is a darkly humourous work; his current play After the Gods is being produced at the Royal Court.

Award-winner Naomi Wallace premieres The Retreating World, a solo piece centring on the effects of sanctions in Iraq since the Gulf War. Her previous work includes Slaughter City and The Inland Sea.

The festival also features work for children: a new play called Feast tells the story of King Nibbles attempt to find a better meal than frozen food that tastes like cabbage; My Uncle Arly is a new family work-in-progress, inspired by the life and work of Edward Lear.

There are a variety of workshops and forums including one-to-one career advice for up and coming playwrights and an interactive discussion and debate featuring Jack Bradley, literary manager at the Royal National Theatre. Matthew Wilde, associate director of Out of Joint Theatre Company, provides a practical workshop on bringing new plays through the rehearsal process.

In another new stage writing initiative called "Raising Voices", the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, Berkshire, is currently inviting submissions from playwrigths. Six new plays will be chosen and the authors will be given the opportunity to workshop their piece with a professional dramaturg, director and a company of actors. The revised plays will then receive rehearsed readings during a week's season at the theatre in April 2003.

- by Sarah Beaumont