Links for potential playwrights

This time last year I started my play-writing course with the Open University. I also signed up for NaNoWriMo. Unfortunately I found it impossible to attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days and learn the basis rules of play-writing, where less is more and you are trying to tell the story using as few words as possible. In play-writing, you have to tell the story without writing long descriptive paragraphs about the weather and what your characters are wearing, you can’t give them long inner monologues or tell the reader exactly what they are thinking and feeling at any given moment.

On the other hand, when you are trying to churn out as many words as you can, these are all invaluable tools. I had to give up on the novel writing last year in order to concentrate on the play-writing course.

I’ve read a few plays recently but I haven’t tried writing one in a while. I did come across a couple of links for anyone who is thinking about playwriting.

The first is an article in The Irish Times called Budding playwright? Then here’s how to take your latest script from page to stage. It’s a six-point plan of how to become a playwright! Number 1 is write the play!

The second is a competition run by the Soho Theatre in London. It’s called the Verity Bargate Award. It’s open to playwrights in the UK and Ireland, the prize is £5000 and the deadline is 11 March 2010.

So I will have plenty of time to write sometime, once National Novel Writing Month comes to an end.

The Ugly Blog

I was flicking through links on Twitter last Friday afternoon and came across this wonderful blog. Over the weekend, I worked my way through all The Ugly Truth blog posts, which start in October 2009 and finish last month. In them, Emma Adams talks about writing a play called The Ugly Truth, from draft 0 to the rehearsal room. She talks about the highs and lows of play-writing and I found it fascinating!

Back to School

Since tomorrow is September 1, which means back to school for a lot of people, I thought I’d do a little round-up of drama-related courses for adults coming up in the next few months.

The main place doing courses is the Gaiety School of Acting. As well as the full-time acting course, they have lots of short courses in Dublin and Cork. The courses from now until Easter are now up on the website. They have a really wide selection from introductory acting classes to writing and directing classes, as well as acting for camera, stage combat, stand up comedy and loads more. I have done a couple of courses with the GSA before and enjoyed them. I’m not planning on doing any more right now because I don’t think I can commit to a three month term at the moment. When the classes cost so much, and you’ve paid for them up front – you don’t want to miss any!

I am considering a couple of the one-day courses – Directing with Paul Meade (who taught one of my Practising Playwriting classes and was very informative and easy to listen to!) and the Casting & Audition Workshop. I’m also tempted by the Shakespeare Workshop because that language is so much fun to work with but money is an issue!

GSA has courses for people who want to write for the stage – the introductory course Dramatic Writing, and the year long course The Writer’s Room. The one that I did last year was the second part of The Writer’s Room but that doesn’t seem to be an option this year.

Fishamble also run playwriting courses, which concentrate specifically on writing for the stage. Their nine-week evening course is full (though you can ask to be added to their waiting list) but there still spaces on the three-day October Bank Holiday course.

The Irish Writers’ Centre also has two-day course on Playwriting.

Actor’s Training Ireland may have some more voice, acting and singing courses coming up in the next couple of months. I didn’t get an e-mail announcing the new courses and I’m not sure if the dates listed are for this year or last year! I’m easily confused! But I’ve sent them an e-mail and will let you know.

Adventures in Playwriting

This time last year, I signed up to do an Open University course called “Start Writing Plays.” It was a year since I finished college and I missed studying; I wanted reading lists and assignment dates and homework. I also wanted to learn more about play-writing because I want to devise my own performances. I have always done devising with a group and I have no idea how to start devising on my own. I thought an introduction to play-writing would help with that.

I wrote my first when I was 8 or 9. I know it was set in a forest and that it involved bears, it might have been vaguely based around the Teddy Bears’ Picnic, but I can’t remember the title or even the plot. My cast were my sisters and my cousin, and it was very much written around the props and cast available. It was performed after my birthday party and I remember getting upset that the audience (my mum, my aunt and my uncle) weren’t taking it seriously enough. The production was not a great success – lines were forgotten and the set didn’t live up to my expectations (the “forest” was a single paper tree hanging from the light shade in the middle of the room). It was so far from how I’d imagined it that I didn’t even attempt to write another play until my final year at university.

It was for a module called Writing for Performance. As an introduction to writing, it wasn’t great – we spent hours exploring why people wrote and doing exercises to find a subject to write about. In one class we were partnered up and one person was blind-folded and lead around the building for half an hour by their sighted partner, and then we swapped. I’m still not sure what that class had to do about writing plays.

I read lots of plays and books about play-writing during that course, mainly because I wasn’t getting that much from my classes. The end of term assignment was to write a script. I learnt a lot about what not to do from my first draft and made a half-way decent attempt at the second draft. It’s hard to write realistic dialogue that also keeps the audience interested and also keeps the plot moving along. My attempts at play-writing ended when I handed in my assignment at the end of term.

Until last year, when I decided to try again! The Open University course gave me a much better introduction to play-writing. It was an online course with loads of exercises, examples and regular feedback from the tutor and the other students. I learnt a lot about creating characters and structuring a play, what you are trying to do in each scene, as well as remembering that theatre is a visual medium, as well as an aural one. There were extracts of plays and interviews with playwrights describing their working practices, how they outlined their work (or not), creating characters, using dialogue to make a character come alive. I found it really useful and by the end of the course I could definitely see an improvement in my writing. Even just having lots of exercises to do forced me to write something and it was great to get positive feedback from the other people doing the course.

(The first time we had to submit a scene to the forum for other students to give feedback, I really tried to give everybody some constructive criticism. By this I mean, I tried to point out the problems with it and the things they could have done to make it better. I wasn’t a total bitch – I said what I liked about each piece, and what really worked for me as well, but I just thought it would be more useful to know the problems with the script. If 8 people all say, ‘that’s nice. I like it’ you don’t learn anything. But I did feel mean when I read their feedback on my piece and everybody said really lovely things about it!)

The OU don’t do that course any more, but I would definitely the Open University in general. I think it’s one of those things that the more you put in, the more you get out of it. I didn’t always have as much time as I would have liked to dedicate to the course – to go through every exercise, to read and response to everybody else’s work, to really utilise the forum as a place to try out new ideas, etc. The only thing that would put me off was the price. It’s expensive to do it as an Irish citizen. If I ever find myself living in the UK again, I think I would like to do a few more courses.

The course satisfied my need for study and learning and it also got me really interested and enthusiastic about play-writing. Before the OU course ended, I signed up to do another play-writing course with the Gaiety School of Acting.

The real-life class – Practising Playwriting – was very different to the online one. Online, I was really just doing the work, getting on with the exercises and doing my assignments. The Gaiety course, with real people in the same room was so much chattier! I got to hear other peoples ideas and ways of looking at the world. The OU course was more like studying – I got a grade at the end of it and was given formal feedback. At the Gaiety the feedback came from the people sitting in the room instead of a teacher, but it had the advantage of hearing your work read out-loud. And hearing other people’s works in progress being read for the first time.

I got different things out of both courses and I have two half-finished plays as a result. Sadly, I haven’t written a word since the Gaiety course finished last March. I would like to work further on my two plays. Though they were both written as class assignments, and I don’t really see a life for them beyond that, it would still be interesting to finish and polish a play or two. I think I would learn a lot from the work and it is an area that I’m interesting in learning more about and getting more experience in. I want to get good at it!

Play-writing is not something that comes easy to me but I think it would be something that would give me a great deal of pleasure if I could do it well. I would really like to see something I’d written on stage. Someday, maybe I’ll be able to make that happen. In the meantime, I am thinking about setting up a play-writing workshop. It would have all the advantages of the Gaiety class – people to talk to about your ideas, a chance to hear your work read aloud and get feedback on what you have written, and a weekly meeting as motivation to write.