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IdeasTap Underbelly Awards help new plays into Edinburgh limelight

The IdeasTap Underbelly Awards, launched this year, have funded four debut Edinburgh plays and provided young creatives with mentors. Louise Miles investigates further.

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A scene from award-winner Where the White Stops

IdeasTap, an arts charity focused on helping young creatives, and Underbelly, one of the largest venues at the Fringe, launched the IdeasTap Underbelly Awards this year, funding and mentoring four shows at Edinburgh.

The winning plays, all by IdeasTap members, are being staged at the Big Belly Underbelly Cowgate Theatre from 1 to 25 August 2013. They are: The Love Project, Where the White Stops, Hope, Light and Nowhere and The Islanders.

"The Award has gone beyond finances," Ellie Browning, director of verbatim play The Love Project, told WhatsOnStage. "Both IdeasTap and Underbelly have been on hand from day one offering advice and regular expert sessions for the winners to attend, as well as marketing and expertise. Without the award we wouldn't have been able to come."

Browning has received mentoring from London Road writer Alecky Blythe to assist with script development and Scamp Theatre directors Louise Callow and Jennifer Sutherland to help budget and market the Edinburgh production.

"They know a lot, and are very generous in offering advice," Browning said. "We have found a long standing friendship with them. Alecky gave me some tips on what kind of stories engage an audience, as a young verbatim practitioner this advice is like gold."

Talking to WhatsOnStage about mentoring Browning, Blythe said: "I was delighted to be involved having seen her show earlier in the year at the Rich Mix and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have found Ellie very enthusiastic and professional. She has a keen ear and lovely manner that will both serve her well in this field."

Alecky Blythe
Blythe, who was inspired to write her first play Come Out Eli after taking part in a workshop by Mark Wing-Davey, said the best piece of advice she has been given in her career is to trust her instinct and stressed that anyone going to the Fringe should see as many other productions as they can in between marketing their own.

She is one of four mentors for the awards, alongside David Micklem (ex artistic director of the BAC), Rachel Tyson (producer at the Bush Theatre) and Rob Watt (youth programme manager for the National Theatre).

Alongside creative mentoring, Browning has had extensive input from Scamp Theatre's Louise Callow and Jennifer Sutherland before and during the Festival. "They taught us that 70% of our audience would be people from Edinburgh," she said, adding that marketing to Edinburgh-based individuals is not something commonly done, but that has helped her production.

Describing working with Browning, Callow said: "It is hugely rewarding already. She is working with a fabulous and talented group of actors and has moulded them into a cohesive team both on stage and off. She listens to advice and acts on it and somehow manages to ask all the right questions."

She was also impressed with the standard of work. "The Love Project is a great piece of work and deserves and future life," Callow said. "The Scamp team are still debating it a week after we all saw it, which is a great sign as we are not easy to please!"

Browning recommends applying to IdeasTap Underbelly Awards for anyone wishing to take work to the Fringe for the first time, describing the charity as "such a huge asset to the industry genuinely assisting lots of young creatives" and Underbelly as an organisation that "have a genuine interest in the work".

She said that the best piece of advice she has been given is to always be out and about in Edinburgh, meeting people and making friends to find new opportunities.

The IdeasTap Underbelly Awards run pre-Edinburgh boot camp sessions for winners, as well as providing funding and mentoring. For more information visit Ideastap.com.

- Louise Miles