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Olivia Colman: Emerging talent in performing arts needs encouragement

The Oscar-winner was a judge for the Screenshot competition for comedy writers and performers.

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Jenna Al-Ansari won the Screenshot competition (Ali Wright).

Jenna Al-Ansari won the Screenshot competition (Ali Wright).

Jenna Al-Ansari won the Screenshot competition (Ali Wright).

Olivia Colman has said emerging talent in the performing arts needs to be given “encouragement” in order to stop them leaving the industry amid uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

The Oscar winning actress said the pandemic has “certainly delayed a lot of people’s start” in breaking into the arts.

Colman was speaking as part of a panel judging the Screenshot competition to seek out the next generation of comedy writers and performers for TV,

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Rosie Jones, Olivia Colman Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lolly Adefope with Screenshot winner Jenna Al-Ansari (Ali Wright).

Rosie Jones, Olivia Colman Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lolly Adefope with Screenshot winner Jenna Al-Ansari (Ali Wright).

Rosie Jones, Olivia Colman Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lolly Adefope with Screenshot winner Jenna Al-Ansari (Ali Wright).

Produced by Tamasha Theatre’s Debo Adebayo, alongside South of the River (SOTR) Pictures and production and development company Sister, the competition was designed as a response to the impact Covid-19 has had on the performing arts and to create opportunities for emerging comedy writer-performers to showcase their work.

The initiative was won by 31-year-old Jenna Al-Ansari, whose one-woman political satire, called Protect and Survive, saw her portray a Conservative MP named Bambi Buttery-Potts, who is battling to have her Protect and Survive nuclear protection campaign taken seriously.

Colman praised it as “one of the best, most complete performances I’ve seen in a long time.”

The Bahraini-British writer will work with SOTR Pictures, which was founded by Colman with her husband Ed Sinclair in 2019, and production and development company Sister, to write a pilot episode of Protect and Survive.

Al-Ansari said a year ago she had never really written anything but the pandemic gave her the time to try her hand at comedy.

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Jenna Al-Ansari won the Screenshot competition (Ali Wright).

Jenna Al-Ansari won the Screenshot competition (Ali Wright).

Jenna Al-Ansari won the Screenshot competition (Ali Wright).

She told the PA news agency: “This has been such a year of opportunity for people to think, ‘F*** it, I might as well.”

She added she is “very happy and grateful” to have won.

Oscar-winner Colman was joined on the judging panel by other industry figures including comedians Lolly Adefope and Rosie Jones and Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge to decide the overall winner at a closed-door showcase at The Royal Court theatre.

First announced in October 2020, Screenshot received 600 entries, which were whittled down to 13 finalists who performed during the socially distanced showcase.

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Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman congratulate Screenshot winner Jenna Al-Ansari (Ali Wright).

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman congratulate Screenshot winner Jenna Al-Ansari (Ali Wright).

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Olivia Colman congratulate Screenshot winner Jenna Al-Ansari (Ali Wright).

Colman said: “[The competition] was so encouraging that these people have actually just been bubbling away and it is going to really explode once we are allowed out. It’s so exciting.”

She added that young talent needs to be given “encouragement from the establishment, from theatres, from people who can commission” in order to keep them in the industry during the pandemic.

“Support each other. This is a huge community and everyone should look after everybody and we are pretty good at that as a community.”

Colman said being back in a theatre was “so exciting”, adding: “You sort of forget a little bit how it feels to watch a live performance and we were so lucky.

“We felt like the luckiest people in London today watching act after act that was just brilliant and they all could’ve won.”

A joint statement from SOTR and Sister said: “We could not be more delighted with how the Screenshot final unfolded.

“What a joy it was to be reminded of the vital, visceral magic of the theatre, and its unique ability to generate shared laughter. Our heartfelt thanks and congratulations go out to all our talented, dedicated and extremely funny finalists.

“We can’t wait to build on the relationships we have formed, and to continue to reach out a hand of friendship and support from TV to theatre.”

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