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Illuminating the voices of female playwrights: Vignettes returns to Hope Mill Theatre

Hannah Ellis Ryan, actor, producer, and founder of Her Productions, discusses the inspiration behind the female-led theatre company's collection of short plays, Vignettes, and shares her thoughts on the Manchester arts scene and the importance of supporting emerging artists.

Hannah Ellis Ryan is an actor, founder of Her Productions – a female led theatre company in Manchester, Co-founder of Play With Fire – who aim to give voices to the invisible and producer at Elysium Theatre Company who are based in Durham.

If you are a regular at the Hope Mill Theatre, you will recognise Hannah from her work as a former manager there.

And if you are a Corrie fan, you might remember Hannah starred as Liz and Jim McDonald’s ‘daughter’ – who came back to Weatherfield in a major storyline which was part of a scam.

We caught up with this busy creative to find out more about Her Productions collection of short plays – Vignettes which is back at the Hope Mill Theatre next week.

This has become a showcase for female playwrights, emerging and experienced and offers audiences variety and something really unique.

How did Vignettes come about? 

The fabulous Alex Keelan and I discussed the lack of opportunities there are for emerging (and established!) female playwrights, which is very much still the case in Manchester and the UK. As a writer, it can be very hard to get your work seen, to get an agent’s attention or meet producers / fellow creatives. So Vignettes is, we hope, just one suggested answer to that; a chance for playwrights to showcase new work and I’m so proud to say that we’ve had many Vignettes writers go on to gain representation or develop their ideas post Vignettes.

What do you look for in the writing when you are selecting these short plays to be staged?

We actually don’t select the pieces – we select people. We seek out playwrights who we feel will work well together as a group and support each other for that ‘cohort’, if you will!

Once we have our six writers (usually 3 emerging and 3 more ‘established’) we meet up and let writers discuss ideas they have for this new piece.

We have never set a ’theme’ or put any parameters on the work, we just let those writers develop their idea and, as a group, they exchange drafts and give each other feedback.

It’s a wonderful process.

One of our 2023 writers, Lekhani Chirwa, has just made a 1 minute video about her experience, which people may find enjoyable/useful.

Vignettes always features a huge variety of genres. What can audiences expect this time? 

This is easily our most diverse set of stories yet.

We have a woman coming to terms with diagnosis, a girl tackling a tricky school essay (and much more), a Japanese funeral tradition and a young couple stuck in a relationship loop.

Truly a huge variety and I couldn’t be prouder of the 2023 line-up.

You always seem extremely busy. Where do you go in Manchester when you are seeking some downtime?

I love this question.

I love sitting with a coffee and a big window where I can watch the world go by.

Ezra and Gil is great for this (if you can get a seat!)

What do you love about the city? 

I love almost everything about Manchester.

I am Australian and people constantly ask me why I live here and left the sunshine.

But, as an artist, how can you not love Manchester?

It’s rich with culture and community and I’m always discovering new spots and ways to feel creative.

What would you change and why? 

Funding. More funding for artists. It’s never been harder financially to be an artist and everyone is feeling it.

We need to diversify the funding opportunities available to artists as The Arts Council has never been harder or more competitive.

I wish Manchester had more support in place for the incredible artists who make this city so rich and vibrant.

You have a close association with Hope Mill Theatre. You have worked there as a manager and you stage productions there, including this one. What keeps you coming back for more? 

Hope Mill Theatre is my favourite place in the City.

It’s a home away from home. Not only is it filled with memories, but it’s the embodiment of a ’safe’ and warm arts space.

Many arts venues can feel alienating, especially for first-time theatre goers. But Hope Mill is warm and welcoming.

You walk into that venue and feel the love and care and passion that has been poured in (and I can say that first hand experience!) Hope Mill audiences are unlike any other – they love the venue, they will come back for more and stay supportive.

You can build a genuine community at Hope Mill and, as artists, that is such a privilege.

If someone reading this does not have a great deal to spend on theatre but they are keen to something like Vignettes, how would you sell it to them?

I would say that, due to the process we have, which we’ve honed over years, Vignettes guarantees a quality evening.

But also, the joy of short plays is that if you don’t connect with one, it’s not long till the next rolls around.

Also, if you were going to support something, Vignettes is a profit share show, with everyone (including myself) working for the ticket sales.

It’s a labour of love and a passion project, so your ticket money is going directly into the pockets of the phenomenal people you see on stage and the writers/directors and the design team who work behind the scenes.

Vignettes is at the Hope Mill Theatre from 26th April – 10th May and tickets can be booked here.

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