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Judging the James Tait Black Prizes 2019: Karolina Oleśkiewicz

We chat to the Playwriting MSc student about the impact of the Drama Prize on her own creative development.

The James Tait Black (JTB) Prizes are the only major awards of their kind in Britain to be judged by scholars and students.

Playwriting students
Playwriting MSc students with Emma McKee from Playwrights' Studio, Scotland (seated, left) and playwright Nicola McCartney (seated, centre). Karolina is standing, second from left, at the back.

Karolina Oleśkiewicz is one of the Playwriting MSc students who helped judge the Drama Prize this year alongside Programme Director and playwright, Nicola McCartney, other colleagues from the University, and representatives from partners including the Traverse Theatre and Playwrights’ Studio, Scotland.

First presented in 2012, the £10,000 Drama Prize is the latest addition to the JTB portfolio. It is for the most original play written in English, Scots or Gaelic and first performed by a professional company in the previous year, with a particular focus on the playwright’s significant and unique contribution to the art form and original voice in theatre.

In advance of the awards ceremony on Monday 19th August 2019, and the professional reading of her own work at Traverse Theatre, Karolina tells us why she got involved in judging the Prize, and how it's added to her experience of studying Playwriting at Edinburgh.

Find out which three plays made it onto this year's James Tait Black Prize for Drama shortlist

‘The more experiences we grab, the richer we’ll be’

Karolina describes the year-long Playwriting MSc as an extremely intense time, explaining: “I like to think of it as a buffet of opportunities that we get to choose from during the year. The more experiences we manage to grab, the richer we'll be on graduation day.”

Asked what appealed about judging the James Tait Black Prize for Drama, she says: “It was this shiny, fantastic and new opportunity that I knew I couldn't miss. It allowed me to feel like a specialist whose opinion mattered while still being a student.”

“Helping judge the Prize definitely motivated me, as I got a taste of how a true 'dream job' could feel. And I got to read eight extremely diverse, original stories, some of them highly out of my comfort zone. I am especially grateful for those plays, as I believe that the further away the play is from my interests, the more reading it widens my horizons.”

Originality and intention

We wanted to know if reading Prize entries had influenced Karolina’s own craft and, if so, how.

She says: “Judging the James Tait Black Prize for Drama felt special, because I wasn't asked to say how good the play was, but rather to assess the originality of the voice, which made me approach it from a completely different perspective.”

“Reading the entries definitely forced me to engage with each play more than I normally would. I had to form clear opinions and back them up with examples.”

“I think this has helped me become more intentional about the choices in my own writing. Now, when somebody asks me 'why is it so?', I'm less likely to answer, 'because I felt like it' and more likely to give a real thought-through answer and engage in a discussion.”

You can catch professional readings of our Playwriting MSc students’ plays at Traverse Theatre on Mondays 5th and 12th August 2019 as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Find out more and book on the Traverse website

Are you interested in studying for an MSc in Playwriting at LLC?

Our practical masters programme is taught over one year (full time) or two years (part time) through a dynamic combination of seminars, workshops, one-to-one supervision and professional masterclasses. The rehearsed readings at Traverse Theatre are unique to the programme; no other course in the UK or Ireland offers this element.

Find out more about our MSc in Playwriting 

Related links

Find out more about the James Tait Black Prize for Drama and book tickets for the Awards Ceremony