Resources for Playwrights

playwright-quoteWriting a play is hard. And in my experience, finishing a play is even harder! But it’s a great feeling to reach the end of the script, especially if I’ve managed to figure out a really great ending. (This doesn’t happen that often so even a half-way decent ending leaves me delighted. Endings are hard!) It’s an accomplished, euphoric sort of feeling. But then it fades and I wonder – what now? What do you do when you finish a play?

Here are some ideas about where to do next and some more general resources for playwrights.

Hear it out-loud.
Print out a few scripts, and ask your friends nicely if they’ll take part in a reading. Promises of tea/cake/wine/future favours might be helpful here. Hearing your script out-loud is incredibly helpful. It can also be incredibly painful because you hear all the bits that don’t work, such as the clunky dialogue where your characters stop sounding like human beings. You have to sit through the boring bits and know that you are responsible for the tedium. You suddenly notice the scenes that end too quickly and the ones that drag on too long. It’s really hard but really helpful. And it’s not all bad – you get to hear the great bits too, the bits that sound so real you can’t believe they came out of your head. You’ll see connections that you didn’t realise were there, you’ll see new aspects to the characters you thought you knew inside out. It’s definitely worth the pain. Take lots of notes, and note the good stuff as well as the bad. You learn from both.
Top Tip: If the idea of showing your precious script to anyone or allowing it to be butchered in the mouths of your friends fills you with dread and horror maybe it’s not finished yet. Do another rewrite and then see how you feel.

Send it to production companies and theatres.
Depending on how the reading went, you will have a little or a lot more work to do on your script. If it was really bad you might want to tear it into little pieces. Resist that urge, hold on to the things that worked and fix the things that didn’t. Once that’s done, you can send it off to the professionals. Fishamble, the Abbey, Theatre Upstairs and The New Theatre all take unsolicited scripts. They’re much more likely to give feedback than offer to produce your play but it’s a good place to start. Make sure you read and adhere to the submission guidelines! Feedback can take months so make sure you start something new while you waiting.

Enter competitions.

Follow Stephen Gregg on twitter@playwrightnow. He’s tweets are bite-sized morsels of good advice.

Apply for the Abbey’s Playwrights Hub.

This September, as part of the Tiger Dublin Fringe, the Abbey are running a series of curated workshops at the Irish Writer’s Centre. They are describing it as “a space for playwrights to question, craft and create.” Deadline for applications is this Friday – 21 August 2015.

DETAILS FOR THE PLAYWRIGHTS HUB 2015

Any interested writers will need to send an expression of interest and their writing experience to script@abbeytheatre.ie.

As the places for the Hub are strictly limited, the deadline for expression of interest will be August 21 and we will contact all applicants with the decisions by August 28.

There will be three groups of 10 playwrights and each group will have a 3 hour workshop with an established theatre maker.

Dates: 8 – 10 September, during Tiger Dublin Fringe
Time: 2 – 5pm
Location: Irish Writers’ Centre

All done!

On Thursday morning I felt ready for the day ahead and the show that night. We’d had a good dress and tech rehearsal the day before, the show was looking really good – we were ready! And then as the day went on, the nerves started kicking in. A lot of people I knew were coming to see the show that night and I didn’t want to disappoint them. I was suddenly afraid that it wasn’t funny and I should have put in lots more jokes. By the time I had to leave for the theatre, I wanted to run away and hide.

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When I got into Smock Alley, it was buzzing. It really felt like something exciting was happening and that distracted me from my nerves. We ran lines in the Banquet Hall, where there was one, maybe two other company doing the same. There were small groups warming up or having a quick bite to eat before their show. When we headed backstage to get set up, that was also a hive of -very quiet- activity. With four shows in each space, there were people everywhere! We ended up in a corridor while we waited for the cast of the previous show to finish up. We had a chance to run it onstage one last time (the advantage of having a very short show!) and then suddenly it was time to let the audience in!

I was very nervous as I sat in the dark and waited for the show to start. Then it started and my cast were wonderful and the audience laughed when they were supposed to laugh, which was a major relief. Not only did they laugh, but they listened and it felt like they were getting it. It was great. I had a pen and notebook in my lap but took zero notes. There was no need! I was on a bit high after that and in bar afterwards, I felt giddy and happy as I tried to talk to six people at once. People said lots of lovely things and I felt content and proud. Friday also went well – I was a little less nervous, though we also got less laughs. Mostly I was pleased and grateful to all the friends who came over the two nights. It was really kind of them and made me feel very supported. I was also so grateful to my cast who did such a lovely job with the script. They really couldn’t have been better.

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And now it’s all over but I’m glad that I did it. I was a fantastic experience, even the scary bits. Even the stomach-churningly terrifying bits when I wondered what the hell had I gotten myself into. Taking a play from page to stage has been enormously encouraging for my writing. Now I know that I can write something that makes people laugh! That makes people think! That makes them discuss it in the bar afterwards! I also learned a lot about editing. Listening to your own words over and over again makes you want to cut them down to the bare essentials. Everything has to be justified and the rehearsal process really puts that to test. I am hoping I’ll be able to write more sparingly in the future.

Mostly it was a joyful process of taking something that was just an idea inside my head and making it into a piece of theatre that I could share with other people. That was exhilarating. I want to do it again now!

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Opening night excitement

It’s opening night! Tonight my play takes to the stage which is both exciting and terrifying.

Over the last few weeks I have been busy rehearsing with my wonderful, talented and generous cast – Mary Conroy and Rachel Mungra. We have been blocking scenes, cutting lines and learning about these characters and their stories. It’s been great fun to work on my own script and to see it get better as I work on it with the cast and we throw away the unnecessarily lines and add moments of movement or stillness. It feels like such a privilege to be making this piece for Collaborations and I am very grateful to Mary and Rachel for working with me to turn it into a living, breathing thing, instead of just words on a page.

Yesterday morning we went into tech in the Main Space and we got to spend four hours making that beautiful space our own. I have been thinking about lights and sounds and set and how I can use them to enhance the story we are trying to tell, without spending too much money. Yesterday we got to put all the different elements together with a basic set and a made-up lighting design. They added another aspect to the whole production. It all feels very real now.

As rehearsals progressed, I’ve been getting more and more eager to get the show in front of an audience. I think it’s good. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and I want to share it with people. Watching the tech run in the theatre yesterday, I couldn’t wait to be watching it with an audience. I am excited for opening night tonight. It’s going to be fun. I hope I’ll see you there!

Tickets will be available on the door or you can book here.

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Friday Five: New writing

Last week was all about returning favourites and this week it’s about new work that will be staged over the next few weeks and months.

  1. Leper + Chip isn’t brand new, it had a very successful run at Theatre Upstairs last year but it has now transferred to the Project Arts Centre. The run finishes tomorrow and is sold out, which is brilliant for a new play from a young writer and frustrating for the last minute theatre booker. However it’s always worth looking for returns, particularly for the matinee on Saturday afternoon which will be followed by a discussion on New Writing in Contemporary Dublin. Leper + Chip was first performed in Theatre Upstairs where you can see world premiers of brand new writing almost every week, for a very reasonable price. Their next show The Swing, opens on Tuesday.
  2. Fishamble: The New Play Company are also one of the go to places for new writing and they are currently on tour with Underneath, written and performed by Pat Kinevane. This was first performed at the end of last year as part of the Limerick City of Culture programme. Any one who has seen Silent or Forgotten will know that a new Pat Kinevane play is an exciting prospect and it is on tour all over the country, from now until the beginning of July. All the dates are here.
  3. Rough Magic’s Everything Between Us may be more “new to me” than brand new because it has already won the Meyer-Whitworth Award and the Stewart Parker Trust BBC Radio Drama Award. I’m not familiar with the playwright David Ireland; he is making his Dublin debut with this play. It opens in Project next Wednesday and runs until the end of February. Rough Magic are running a series of panel discussions along side the play, as well as offering a limited number of €10 to those under 30. The panel discussions are free but ticketed.
  4. The Abbey seem to have a lot more planned for the Peacock stage this year, including a new play by Owen McCaffery who wrote the award winning Quietly. Death of a Comedian is on in March. It’s about a stand-up comedian played by Brian Doherty, who I remember fondly as a bitter and twisted comedy writer in Anthony Neilson’s God in Ruins. I saw that bleak Christmas show seven years ago and still remember his fantastic performance, amongst a wonderful ensemble cast.
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  6. If you want to give it a try yourself, the Irish Writers Centre is running a course called Playwriting: Writing Towards First Production with Michelle Read who wrote one of the 24 Hour Plays last weekend. It’s for writers with some experience of theatre writing, rather than complete beginners. It starts on Tuesday 10 February, so if you want to sign up, do it now! Fishamble will be running courses in the spring for complete beginners; more details here.

I finished a play!

I finished writing my play and sent it to a few people to get some feedback. I felt euphoria at having a completed script swiftly followed by the fear of what other people would have to say about it. There was no need for the fear because the feedback I got was all kind and lovely. I obviously choose well when I was deciding on the people to send my brand new script to because they all said nice things about it and were very encouraging and supportive! It was great to hear what other people saw in the script and that feed into the next draft.

The other really helpful thing was hearing it read by actors. The characters came into themselves more and it was really good to hear the actors’ thoughts on their characters and where they saw inconsistencies or confusion around the characters behaviour. Letting the play exist somewhere other than my computer screen was like re-potting a plant. The plant grow quickly to fill the bigger pot and the play got bigger and better.

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In Protest Of…

Wednesday was the Collaborations launch night and while I was delighted to finally get my hands on the programme, it was also really interesting talking to people about the show and hearing other peoples reactions to the subject matter. My show is about protest and I spent a lot of time at the launch waving my protest sign! I’m starting to look forward to sharing the show with an audience at the end of February. Tickets are on sale now from the Smock Alley website.

And you still have one more day to donate to the crowd-finding campaign for eternal gratitude, rewards and general good vibes.

My play has now moved on to the rehearsal stage and seeing it becoming more than just words on the page is very exciting.

I’m writing a play!

collaborations15I’m writing a play. I will try not to bore on about my process because no one wants to hear about that, as Hayley Campbell succinctly pointed out in “Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel Is Going”. (And if you feel as strongly as she does, feel free to skip to the end and just donate the funding campaign!) I’m writing a play because last year I applied to the Collaborations Festival with an idea and a few pages of script. Of course when I sent off my application I hoped that they would like it, I wanted it to be accepted; and yet when I got the email to say it was going to be part of the festival, I was terrified. Now I actually have to make this happen. It’s not just a nice idea anymore, it was something that I really have to do.

This will be the first time something I’ve written will be staged and I’m excited to have the opportunity. I’ve written little bits for devised performances but it was usually something that was improv-ed during rehearsals and I just wrote it down later. I’ve studied playwriting, in college and with the Open University and the Gaiety School of Acting, and I have written a few short plays that never got off the page. This is the first time that something I’ve sat down and made-up in my head will be performed in front of a paying audience by people who aren’t me. I’m trying not to think about it too much because when I do, it seems like an absolutely stupid, ridiculous idea.

At Theatre Forum’s “Tell A Good Story” event before Christmas, Gavin Kostick talked about Dublin Oldschool and working with its writer Emmet Kirwan. As it was a Show in a Bag show, Gavin had regular meetings with him as the show came into being. He talked about how Emmet would come in week after week with a small handful of pages which were the first five minutes of the play. He was working and reworking the beginning to get it just right, and once he got that right, the rest of the script came very quickly. I can’t do that. I need to drag myself through the first draft and try to get some sort of ending before I can see the shape of the play. I’ve decided this is because of my previous life as a computer programmer. You have to finish the programme or at least finish the chunk of code before you can run it and see if it works. It seems that I write the same way.

I slowly, slowly got through the first draft. This took a surprisingly long time considering the script is only twenty minutes long. I tend to write too much. I will say the same things three times, just to make sure the reader knows exactly what I mean. It’s not hard to reach a word count like this but it can be very difficult to move things forward. Needless to say, with my habit of over-explaining things, I am terrible at sub-text. If it manage to sneak into the script, it’s almost certainly there accidentally and I will probably ruin it as soon as I notice it by making sure everyone notices it too. I’m basically a terrible writer. I mean, I write really terrible first drafts. Then I start again at the beginning and edit them. I make them a bit less wordy, flesh out the bits I skipped over the first time around and put in the things that I only figured out when I was nearly at the end.

Now I have a script that I’m pretty happy with it. I think it does what I want it to, I’m just not sure if it does it particularly well. I need to hear it out loud. I need to know if it makes sense to other people. Writing a play on my own made me really miss devising. Making theatre is less fun without other people to bounce ideas off. I feel like the whole thing would be better if other people were contributing to it. This might be because of the type of show it is, but I think it’s my brain as well. I am looking forward to working with other brains when I start workshopping and rehearsing the script.

The Collaborations programme will be launched on the 22th of January and I will share all the details of where and when you can see my play then.

Help fund the festival:
In the meantime, the festival is running a crowd-funding campaign with some very nice festival-related rewards. If you’d like to check it out and maybe donate a few euros, you can do that here.

Of course, please don’t donate the money that you need for food or bus fare but if you are doing Dry January and would like to donate the price of a night out, that would be very nice. There will be a nice festival reward for Future You in February. And if you don’t have any spare cash, maybe you could share the campaign with your wealthier friends!

Update of scratch nights

After writing the piece on scratch nights last week, I only just found out that the Abbey are doing a couple of scratch nights of new writing this month. The first was last Tuesday and the second is at 8pm tonight. Apoligises for the late notice, but if you see this in time – it sounds like a very interesting evening:

The cast of ‘The Waste Ground Party’ will read works-in-progress from Darren Murphy, Elena Bolster, Jesse Weaver, John McManus, Lisa Carroll, Darren Donohue, Eugene O’Hare, Damian Kearney and a well-known special guest playwright, all directed by Resident Assistant Director Maisie Lee.

Peacock Scratch Nights are an opportunity for playwrights to try out ideas and get instant feedback. For audiences, they offer a sneak preview of up-and-coming work and the opportunity to support new artists and emerging talent.

More info here: Peacock Scratch nights

Also Fringe have announced dates and deadlines for the next Fringe Fuse. It will be on Monday 15th December at 7pm. To apply email emma@fringefest.com with a short description of what you would like to present and why you’d like to show it (min 250, max 600 words). The deadline for applications is Friday 28th November at 6pm.

Mark Ravenhill in conversation

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Royal Irish Academy when Mark Ravenhill came to speak in Dublin last month. The event was organised by Dublin Theatre Festival and Theatre Forum and the interview is now available on YouTube. Ravenhill was very open about his own career and the challenges facing artists today. He also gave some great tips on playwriting.

He recently wrote a libretto for the Norwegian National Opera (and admits that he had to ask the stupid question and make sure he wasn’t expected to write it in Norwegian) and says that in opera, the writing has to be pared back – “every single vowel sound has to earn its right to be there”. Looking back on his own plays afterwards, he felt they were over-written because he’d got into the habit of interrogating every word in the text.

He also talks about working with the RSC on a version of Brecht’s A Life of Galileo. The very start of the play deals with the tension between the art of science and doing work to pay the rent. This is a topic that has interested and agitated Ravenhill in the past, as seen in his speech at the opening of last year’s Edinburgh Festival. He talks about how the arts are valued economically, and the different ways that artists have to justify themselves to governments and other funding bodies. He recognises that the cost of being a human being has gone up year after year, making it more difficult to take time to make work that you might not get paid for.

Talking about his own career, he says that he is best known as a playwright because it is what people pay him to do. At the beginning of his career he wrote things because he wanted something to perform or direct himself. He says he would like to do more directing, but does feel that he’s very good at it, mostly because he hasn’t done it enough. Directing is something that you have to be allowed to do, you need resources to get good at it. Writing, on the other hand, you can do on your own at the kitchen table.

His advice to playwrights included the idea of writing the first draft very quickly, as if you were improvising on the page. He also said to write about things that you don’t have the answer to. He says that Brecht gives his characters great ethical choices. He criticises post-modernism because it does away with ethics, and a sense of good or bad, right or wrong. We have an ethical responsibility to attempt to make connections. It’s too bleak to say nothing is connected and everything is random.

Dr. Emilie Pine is a great interviewer and there’s some good questions from the audience at the end. Definitely worth a watch if you have an hour to fill over the long weekend!

Festival applications

Even though we’re still in the depths of winter and even summer seems a long way off, application deadlines for the Dublin Theatre Festival and the Dublin Fringe Festival are already looming.

Play On
Dublin Theatre Festival are looking for Play On participants again this year. The programme lasts from March to October and is for both new playwrights and playwrights who have had professional productions of their work staged. Successful applicants will work towards a public reading of their work as part of the Festival next October.

The deadline is this Friday, February 15 but they only accept hard-copies so get them in the post by Wednesday! More information here.

Fringe applications
The deadline for this year’s Fringe Festival is March 8 and as usual there is loads of information about everything you need to know on the Fringe website. They are also running a Pre-Application Workshop tomorrow at 6pm in Fringe HQ.

Show in a Bag
Fishamble, ITI and Fringe are running Show in a Bag again this year, unsurprisingly since it has been a great success over the last few years with shows picking up a number of Fringe awards and nominations and also having long, successful, touring lives after the Fringe. The deadline for this year’s Show in a Bag applications is March 1 and there is an information session tomorrow at 7.30pm, also in Fringe HQ. The application form and more information about how to apply is available on the Fringe website.

Irish translations of Russian literature

Last term I had a class on Irish Playwrights Since the 60s and for my final essay, I wrote about Irish translations of Russian literature. There’s been quite a few of them! Lots of Chekhov – Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness both translated Three Sisters, Frank McGuinness also translated Uncle Vanya and Thomas Kilroy moved The Seagull from provincial Russia to the West of Ireland – and a few novels have been adapted for the stage as well – most recently Tom Murphy’s Last Days of the Reluctant Tyrant and Enda Walsh’s Delirium. My essay didn’t really say anything new about all this, just that it happens a lot, with various amounts of success and for lots of different reasons.

Roddy Doyle’s The Government Inspector, currently running at the Abbey, is yet another example of an Irish version of a Russian play. They’re everywhere! (I had a mild hiccup in my research – for about three weeks I was convinced Ibsen was Russian, probably because it suited my topic – there are lots of translations of Ibsen plays. He’s actually Norwegian.) The Government Inspector looks like a fun adaptation and I am going to try and see it before I head back to Galway in January.

I really enjoyed the Irish Playwrights since the 60s class. Each week we were assigned a playwright and could read any play by that person. Then everyone would present their play to the rest of the class and we would discuss them individually and as a body of work. I came across playwrights I had never heard of and was exposed to a huge range of plays over the twelve week term. It was great to talk about the plays and heard other people’s opinions on them. It was a very laid back, chatty sort of a class. It also gave me a great grounding in Irish playwrights which is one of the things I felt I missed out on by doing my degree in England. Reading so many plays was also really helpful for the playwriting class that I also took this term. The two classes feed into each other by forcing me to look at the plays both as a reader and a writer and I found that really useful.