From Kwame Kwei-Armah: “This has been a painful period not just for the parties involved but also for the sector. As the Artistic Director of the Young Vic, my responsibility is to answer to the statements made by Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley factually and truthfully, but also to hear the pain.”
Statements made by Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley in their article published on Medium on 2nd July 2019, entitled ‘Tree. A Story of Gender and Power in Theatre.’:
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: “Female writers removed from theatre production ‘Tree’ after working on it for four years.”
Tori and Sarah were approached by Idris Elba in 2015 to help him develop his idea for a production based on his original concept, which was inspired by his personal story and his ‘mi Mandela’ album. In 2016 Green Door Pictures and Duchess Street Productions engaged Tori and Sarah to write a script for consideration, which was then workshopped.
This is work that was paid for in full at the time by Green Door Pictures and Duchess Street Productions, which was not taken up by any producers.
Any work which Tori and Sarah undertook historically was not for the current 2019 production of Tree, which is a new story based on Idris’s original idea.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: This production of Tree “has failed to acknowledge the original writers for their work.”
The Producers of the 2019 production of Tree have always acknowledged that Tori and Sarah worked with Idris Elba in 2015-16 on a script based on his original concept for a production.
Tori and Sarah are not the original writers of the 2019 Tree script, which is why they are not credited as such.
They have been acknowledged in the 2019 Tree programme foreword, in a piece written by Idris Elba where he gave thanks to those who had helped him on the journey to develop his idea along the way.
In addition to this, in acknowledgement of their historical connection to an earlier interpretation of Idris Elba’s idea, and through a desire to involve them in the new production and encourage new writing talent, Idris and Kwame invited Tori and Sarah to be part of the creative process, exploring the new direction for the 2019 production of Tree.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: Tori and Sarah mention having a document which they cite as being “a commissioning agreement, which gave us the right to veto any other writer brought in, and to approve any changes in the script. It also entitled us to a royalty should the show go ahead”
This document is a Deal Memo with Green Door Pictures and Duchess Street Productions from March 2016, relating to Tori and Sarah’s script which they were engaged to write for consideration. Any terms within that Deal Memo relate to the 2016 script.
When Manchester International Festival (MIF) decided they were interested in exploring Idris’s original concept, but in a new direction of travel – specifically for a large-scale show in Manchester – the Young Vic and Kwame Kwei-Armah were invited to collaborate.
Idris requested that Kwame meet with Tori and Sarah. On 29th May 2018 Kwame, Tori and Sarah met to discuss how they could move the creative process forward. Kwame explained that the next step was for Idris, Kwame, Sarah and Tori to meet, to brainstorm the new direction of travel.
In the week following this meeting, MIF emailed Tori and Sarah to request their agent’s details in order to start the formal approach. Tori and Sarah responded to acknowledge the meeting went well. They also acknowledged this production was effectively a brand new piece, and the intention to abandon the old version.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: “Between June and October, there were multiple emails and phone-calls between Tori, Sarah and MIF suggesting that delays were merely down to difficult scheduling with Idris and Kwame’s diaries, along with reassurances that the project was happening.”
Due to Idris’s busy schedule, the planned initial creative meetings between Idris, Kwame, Sarah and Tori could not happen. Due to the demands of a production less than a year away, and a workshop just a few months away, in order to catch up on lost creative time Kwame wrote a first draft of an outline, intended to act as a jumping off point for discussion for the four parties, which he sent to Idris on 3rd September.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: Tori and Sarah say that on the 18th October they received Kwame’s draft outline and that they “were a bit confused as to why Kwame would be writing a synopsis. When the email came later that day, in the cover letter at the top it had Kwame’s clear intention to write the piece stating ‘when I sit to write the first draft…’. This was very surprising to us after what he had told us when we met.”
Kwame did not have intentions to write the script himself. The cover letter was referring to the document itself, this first draft outline, in an attempt to describe its purpose as a catalyst for debate, in which he said ‘when I sit to write the first draft’ that it was ‘written as a very basic guide… that will help shape the future of this narrative’.
After receiving Kwame’s first draft outline, written to be a catalyst for creative discussion, Tori and Sarah declined invitations from producers to meet for conversations. They then stated their dissatisfaction with how they perceived the new direction of travel.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: “we weren’t informed about the announcement, nor were we mentioned anywhere in it, and it was the first indication that we were being pushed off the project by far more powerful people in theatre.”
MIF communicated with Tori and Sarah’s representatives in the lead up to the announcement and they were informed of the 26th October 2018 announcement date and the 29th/30th October 2018 on-sale dates.
Before the announcement, a formal offer was made via Tori and Sarah’s agents for them to write a draft script for a workshop in January 2019. Tori and Sarah did not agree to the terms of the offer.
As no official agreements were in place about who would write the show at the point of on-sale, the MIF and Young Vic announcements of Tree did not contain any ‘written by’ credits.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: “the same people who we initially trusted… then threatened us with legal action if we spoke up.”
Tori and Sarah introduced the threat of legal action with a breach of contract case which has been refuted by legal representatives of Green Door Pictures, the commissioner of Tree.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: “the levels of intimidation and disrespect we faced were totally unacceptable”
Tori and Sarah were communicated to via their agents in a friendly and professional manner by representatives from MIF and Green Door Pictures.
Those producers took continuous measures to include Tori and Sarah in the new project out of respect for their historic connection in helping Idris develop a previous interpretation of his idea for a production.
Despite the threat of legal action, between January to the start of rehearsals, producers remained in dialogue on the subject of how things could be resolved, including mediation, in a wish to find an viable solution, subject to Tori and Sarah reading the 2019 Tree script.
TORI & SARAH’S STATEMENT: “The official line from their side is that it’s a completely different project”
The script for the 2019 production of Tree, and Tori and Sarah’s 2016 workshopped script are different projects. The 2016 workshop was a naturalistic musical about a bi-racial teenager from London, embroiled in gang culture, whose mother sent him to South Africa to visit his half-sister. The 2019 production is a non-naturalistic piece of immersive theatre, with movement and dreamscape choreography at its heart. Its core narrative is about land reform in the Orange Free State province of Bloemfontein with a storyline that follows a 33-year-old bi-racial man, who goes to visit his grandmother on a quest to scatter the ashes of his mother on his father’s grave. It is a storyline inspired by Idris’s original concept and Kwame Kwei-Armah’s 2018 visit to Bloemfontein.
Any similarities between the 2019 production of Tree, and Tori and Sarah’s 2016 workshopped script can be attributed to the fact that both were based upon the same original concept created by Idris Elba.