PlayPen Writers Profile: Sandra Bendelow

Sandra Bendelow

Sandra Bendelow

Sandra Bendelow has written two adaptations, Odyssey and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, both for Fallen Angel Theatre Co. In 2012 she progressed to the 3nd Round of the Red Planet Prize -one of the biggest TV Writing competitions in the UK and she was selected for the Ty Newydd Mentoring project with Kaite O’Reilly. She was selected for the Aberystwyth Arts Centre and Sherman Cymru Spread the Word Emerging Writers scheme. Sandra set up and runs the Writing for Performance Group for Aberystwyth Arts Centre and is the Producer for Scriptography Productions. Her play, Split, is about a couple with a damaged relationship returning to a flood damaged house.

What is your play about?
It is about the moment when a woman who has tolerated a bad relationship can’t tolerate it any more.

How did you get the idea?
I know a few people from Talybont who were affected by the flood and everything about that day and everything since that day is such a huge story that I’ve felt I couldn’t not write about it really. So many things stuck in my head. The suddenness of the river bursting. The furniture and possessions all heaped in piles outside the houses. The changing nature of the river from something that ran by people’s houses and was admired and loved to something that was so destructive. People living in holiday cottages for months and what it must be like to live in that temporary situation for such a long time. The pictures of the houses with shelves of things that were still exactly where they were before but covered with a layer of mud. Then returning to a home when it’s been gutted and rebuilt and you have to make it into a home but most of those possessions and belongings that make it your home have gone. With this play though someone mentioned split floorboards to me and the idea just flowed out.

What was your favourite thing about writing the play?
I really like writing about dysfunctional relationships, it’s great to find different ways to reflect how people speak to one another when they’re hiding things, when they’re pretending.

What do you think were the challenges of writing this play?
I have two characters in one room for twenty minutes. The challenge was to have a constantly changing conversation with different dynamics moving their relationship all the time.

What were the challenges of writing a one-act play?
I have always struggled with short plays. I find it difficult to tell a story in 5 minutes, or ten minutes or 20 minutes. I want an hour or 6 hours. It’s been a real challenge and one that I’ve had to face whilst writing for the group. In fact after writing two short pieces for beginnings and the Town, 20 minutes seemed so much easier.

How did you create the characters?
I wanted to surprise the audience with revelations about the characters, to have the audience make decisions about them and then subvert that expectation so it was about creating a surface level character then stripping back to reveal something else whilst keepint the characters believable.

What writing tips would you offer to someone interested in writing for theatre?
Writing for theatre, film, tv, radio is not about writing for the page. It’s for performance. You have to think about the writing moving from your head to the page but then it has to moving around and working in a space. Think about how people really talk, think about what people really do in crisis moments. Mostly though you have to just keep writing. The only way you learn is to get the words down, make mistakes, learn by writing and rewriting, learn by having pieces that don’t work and making them work. Very importantly though find your voice, write about the things you want to write about, not the things you think you should write about, not the things that other people would be writing. Writing is hard and it’s a challenge. That’s what so good about it. It shouldn’t be easy.

What difference has the writing group made to you as a writer?
It offers support, it offers a chance to hear your words read out away from the page. It offers deadlines of showcases. It offers a chance to speak to people who are like you, who understand you, who are struggling like you to be a writer. It’s also really good fun and has proved to be a great place to meet new friends.

Sandra Bendelow’s play Split will be presented as part of the PlayPen project on Friday 1st February. A full list of all plays being presented as part of Playpen on 1st and 7th February is available here

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PlayPen Writers Profile: Julie Bainbridge

Julie Bainbridge

Julie Bainbridge

Julie Bainbridge is an MA Scriptwriting student at Bath Spa University. After living in Greece for many years she recently completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature and Creative Writing in South Wales. In 2009 she was selected for a National Theatre playwriting project and her play Sons of War was directed by NT director Lisa Spirling at Venue Cymru, Llandudno. In 2011, Black Boots and Petticoats was produced by Cilgwyn Theatre Company and more recently she has been mentored by the playwright and dramaturg Kaite O’Reilly. Julie also writes poetry and is currently working on an anthology to be published in 2014.

Tell me what your play, Zoo, is about?
This is a play about how three women, each with breast cancer, respond to their diagnosis.

How did you get the idea?
I was interested in exploring how the response, by many women to breast cancer, is defined and shaped by the male influences in their lives. I find it intriguing that in an era of equality and gender enlightenment, women, when confronted by breast cancer,  tend to think more about the impact it will have on the men in their lives, rather than considering the impact on themselves. This isn’t intended as a feminist work; rather as an exploration of the decisions women make about their own lives when faced with a potentially terminal diagnosis.

What was your favourite thing about writing the play?
I particularly enjoyed writing the distinct voices of the three women; getting inside their heads; understanding their priorities and the reasons for their choices.

What do you think were the challenges of writing this play?
When a play comprises of monologues there is a danger that the piece may become static. The challenge is to capture and maintain the audience’s interest in the characters; to ensure the monologues weave a spell of enchantment. As a writer, I want my audience to recognise and identify with the women in this play and leave the theatre thinking about what influences the important choices we make in life

What were the challenges of writing a one-act play?
Well, for a start, there are so many definitions of a one-act play. This can sometimes be intimidating for a writer.  I think you have to be true to your story – it’s as long as it takes you to get to the end of your story. Sometimes you won’t know the structure or form until you reach the end.

For the last two showcases, Beginnings and Town with No Traffic Wardens, a theme or subject was given, how different was it writing without rules and limitations?
There are pros and cons for un-themed writing briefs. It can be quite liberating to have the freedom to write about whatever you want. But usually, writers have so many ideas teeming through their heads, it would be unusual to be unable to adapt an idea to a theme or brief.

How did you create the characters?
My characters generally begin as people I observe or meet.  People watching and snooping offer a wealth of material. When a strong character begins to emerge, I live with them for a while; get to know them; listen to what they have to say; listen to their voice. Then capture it on the page.

What writing tips would you offer to someone interested in writing for theatre?
Get to know your craft. It’s hard. It’s competitive. Don’t waste time trying to get there by trial and error. And it’s true what they say, once you know the rules, then you can bend them. Oh… and you need to have something to say.

What difference has the writing group made to you as a writer?
Belonging to a writing group gives you the opportunity to receive valuable, honest feedback from people who understand the craft. It can force you to face up to what you tried to sweep under the carpet, out of sight. It’s hard to hide anything from another writer!

Julie Bainbridge’s play Zoo, will be performed on Friday 1st February. Information on booking tickets is available here

PlayPen Writers Profile: Tom Wentworth

Tom Wentworth

Tom Wentworth

Tom Wentworth has recently written for Sherman Cymru (Advanced Writers Programme) and Dirty Protest. He has a radio sitcom in development, has been mentored by Kaite O’Reilly and his poetry has been published widely on topics as diverse as carpets to Shropshire Butterflies. He also writes a column for Able Magazine and is a regular reviewer for Disability Arts Online. When not writing he lives in Cardiff and works for the BBC. His play for radio Sitting In follows Barry and Garry who are mounting a silent sit-in but what exactly are they protesting about and can they keep quiet about it?

 Tell me what your play is about?
‘Sitting In’ is a radio sitcom about two wannabee protestors Barry and Gary. They both work as Market Researchers but after Barry achieves fame during an impromptu protest to save the local swimming pool, by posing on an inflatable banana, they decide to become professional protestors. But are they really cut out for the job?

How did you get the idea?
I was writing this at the time when Occupy was all over the headlines, although I’d wanted to write about potestors for a long time and have had several failed attempts at writing very dramatic pieces about them. But then I wondered if they idea might work better as a comedy and so, prompted by the encouragement of radio producer Liz Anstee, I began to write Sitting In.

What was your favourite thing about writing the play?
Everything! This piece has been through a great many drafts and a great many ideas have been thrown at it but throughtout this the characters of Barry and Gary have always been there in mind. They really have been like friends to me over the last year!

What do you think were the challenges of writing this play?
Keeping the action in one physical space. This is a decision that I made early on when planning the series – that each episode would take place in one totally different environment, i.e. forming the ‘protest’ for that week. Also, writing jokes is hard and tiring so I really hope you find at least some of it funny!

What were the challenges of writing a one-act play?
I find the form extremely liberating. I like the time constraint of having to tell something succinctly. Of course there are times when I’d love not to have to cut my favourite joke because of time but afterwards you realise it really was for the best.

Playpen was about writing without rules and limitations?
For me this gives me a unique chance to hear my words out loud in front of an audience before it goes into a recording studio, with a subject matter I wouldn’t have been able to showcase this work.

How did you create the characters?
This was the strangest thing, Barry and Gary both appeared almost immediately in my mind. I later wrote quite detailed life portraits for them (most of which I will never use) but because they are series characters I needed them to have a life outside of the small section of life we see. Also, because they are slightly larger than life and ‘cartoonish’ they have been enormous fun to play with on the page – and I’m not done yet!

What writing tips would you offer to someone interested in writing for theatre?
Don’t follow my example of writing a radio piece! See as much theatre as you can and read as many plays as possible too. Then write, write, write!

Tom Wentworth’s play will be performed on Friday 1st February. Information on booking tickets is available here

PlayPen Writers Profile: Carmel George

Carmel George

Carmel George

Carmel George is a performer and director who has turned her hand to playwrighting. Her first full length play, I’m on the Train first showcased at the Open Platform at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 2010 and toured to small venues in Mid/North Wales and Pegasus Theatre, Oxford in 2011. Carmel was selected for the Sherman Cymru Spread The Word scheme. Her play, Not Quite Yet, is about the unpredictability of grief.

What is your play is about?
The play is about the way that grief can turn a person’s world on it’s head and cause them to behave in extraordinary ways.

How did you get the idea?
Inspired in part, by a true story.  It’s been inside me for a while now and it feels good to have released it onto the page and stage.

What was your favourite thing about writing the play?
Realising and idea I’d had for a year or two.

What do you think were the challenges of writing this play?
Divorcing it as much as possible from the true story; whilst retaining its essence.

What were the challenges of writing a one-act play?
Telling a convincing story within a tight framework.

For the last two showcases Beginnings and Town with No Traffic Wardens a theme or subject was given to you, how different was it writing without rules and limitations?
I enjoyed the freedom of exploring my own ideas.

How did you create the characters?
The main character was based on fact; the other two characters just fell into place and were based on human observation

What writing tips would you offer to someone interested in writing for theatre?
Watch as much theatre as possible and read plays by playwrights whose themes interest you.
And, of course, persevere and don’t be too deterred by other peoples’ opinion of your work. Trust your own judgement.

What difference has the writing group made to you as a writer?
It has helped to keep me motivated and offers an encouraging environment to try out ideas.

Carmel George’s play will be performed on Friday 1st February. Information on booking tickets is available here

PlayPen Writers Profile: Catrin Fflur Huws

Catrin Fflur Huws

Catrin Fflur Huws

Catrin Fflur Huws has written for Castaway Community Theatre since 2008. Catrin was selected for the Sherman Cymru Spread The Word scheme for emerging writers in English language and is currently on the Sherman Cymru Gair Ar Led for emerging writers scheme in Welsh language. Her first full length play about Alan Turing, To Kill the Machine, was produced by Scriptography Productions, it premiered at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in 2012 and toured to Swansea and Cardiff.

What is your play The Rock about?
Unlikely friendships. Prejudice. A toad and a grasshopper. It’s about different things to different people.

How did you get the idea?
Desperation. I have to write something by tomorrow. There’s this….grasshopper, and it just grew from there.

What was your favourite thing about writing the play?
Writing a children’s story using adult language. Subverting the “there are two animals who become friends despite their differences” trope from children’s books, and putting it into grown-up  (ok sweary) words.

What do you think were the challenges of writing this play?
The story arc. What is it that makes Toad change his attitude?

What were the challenges of writing a one-act play?
Trying to keep everything to one location without it getting stagnant.

For the last two showcases Beginnings and Town with No Traffic Wardens a theme or subject was given to you, how different was it writing without rules and limitations?
Good fun. A learning experience. Particularly because it has shown me “you can write about anything in the world you like” and I still write the familiar. It’s taught me that I need to be braver, that I need to confront harder stuff in terms of characterisation. Maybe even my own weaknesses and failings asa person, and write them into characters that I might or might not like very much.

How did you create the characters?
I don’t subscribe to the “find out everything about them” school of writing. Start with one word. Toad. Name a character trait of a toad. Irascible. What conflicts with irascible? Chirpy. Start writing that conflict. The characters will develop from there. You’ll get to know them as you write.

What writing tips would you offer to someone interested in writing for theatre?
Have something to say. It will be awful. As you write it, you’ll be battling with that ‘Oh God this is awful’ feeling. Keep writing through the naff dialogue and the non-existent plot and your personal  point of view. Then when you’ve written it, recognise why it’s awful. Rewrite it. Better. After you’ve written it, at least you know what you want to say. You can start writing the play properly now. It will probably still be awful. Learn the rules. Properly. Don’t say ‘but this is how I felt. I actually had this conversation.’ I don’t care. Nobody’s interested. People go to the theatre in order to be entertained. Tell your story not how you want to tell it but according to how it works in theatre. If there’s no ice cream point at the end of act 2, people aren’t going to come back for the second half even if what you’re saying really happened. Copy Shakespeare. Copy the Greeks. Copy any play you consider to be any good. Then when you know the rules. Break them. Subvert people’s expectations. But do it well. People aren’t going to be impressed if they don’t know that you’re subverting their expectations.

What difference has the writing group made to you as a writer?
It’s given me the kick up the backside to actually write stuff. You can’t be theoretically a writer. You can’t sit in your house thinking about being a writer.’ Be a writer if that’s what you want to be. Otherwise do the world a favour and save some paper. Having a reason to write makes you be a writer. Do you have any idea how much of a fool you’ll feel if you go to a writing gorup and say “well I haven’t actually written anything. I’m waiting for the muse to strike me. I’ll just be a non-writing member of a writing group.” Maybe you have your own motivation for writing – in which case you’re very lucky. I need a kick in the pants or I sit there dithering. Just say ‘fuck it’ and write something. Something awful is a start. You can make awful better. And you need people to tell you it’s awful. Otherwise you can sit there being very pleased with your twenty pages of nonsense.

Catrin Fflur Huws play for Playpen is The Rock it about a grasshopper and a toad who decide that a rock isn’t big enough for both of them. It will be performed on Friday 1st February. Information on booking tickets is available here

Pitching

Each week I will be posting an exercise to get everyone writing.

So the first exercise for January is Pitching.

Pitching is a term used in TV and film though increasingly it is referred to in radio and theatre in fact any medium. In the real world  it is a highly pressurised few minutes when a writer is given the opportunity to “sell” a project. As a writer you need to be able to sell your ideas to get commissions or get people involved in your project but also you need to be able to sell your idea to yourself too.

Putting yourself in the position of pitching your idea is a useful exercise to put yourself through. Telling people about your ideas or practising telling people about your ideas forces a half-built idea, shadowy characters, loose images to form into something more concrete. As you talk through the idea you will find the flaws, you will sense when you lose a persons interest as their eyes glaze over. Something that seemed genius swirling around in your head becomes banal, pointless, obvious when you have to explain it to someone and you realise that your idea needs more work.

Practise pitching – talk out loud about the idea as though you are talking to someone. Pitch to anyone at the slightlest opportunity – friends, colleagues. Next time someone asks you what you do – tell them you’re a writer then pitch your idea.

For this exercise I want you to imagine a theatre director or company has asked you about your latest play. How would you sell the idea to them? Explain to them why they should commission your play.  Practise your pitch verbally and then write it down.

A few things to think about when you think about your pitch are the following;

Who are the main characters?
What is the basic outline of story and plot?
What is the structure?
What are the themes of the play?
What is the style of the play?
What does your main character want?
What is stopping them getting what they want?
How will the world of the play be changed by them getting or not getting what they want?
What is the play about?
What is the central question of the play?
Why do you want to write it?
Why is it important to write this play now?
What do you want your audience to take from it?

And this exercise is as useful at the start of writing a play as it is during and at the end.