Writing for ….

Playpen Illustration by Boz Groden

Playpen. Illustration by Boz Groden

Playpen, the latest showcase of work from the Writing for Performance Group took place over two nights on the 1st and 7th February. The short one act plays that had been kicked out into the air over the tables of the recording studio where we meet where presented before an audience. An audience that consisted not just of family and friends but of genuine paying audience members.  An audience for script-in-hand readings is an interesting one, it is always evident that many of the audience are writers themselves and guaging the success on the evenings often lies in how many of the audience ask about joining the group. After both nights of Playpen I was inundated with interest.

Performance nights always fill me with fear and exhileration in equal measures, the nerves of seeing my own play presented tend to over whelm along with the pressure of my producer role, working to see that the other writers are happy with watching their plays and ensuring that all production aspects are handled. An evening when I have to help the writers as their plays are handed over to the director and the performers and become something beyond what we see on the page.

As writers we write often alone, filling pages with our words and the images in our heads but as writers for performance then the play must make the tricky transition beyond the life we see for it and it has to live beyond our heads. Sometime that life can falter and it is impossible to know how it will emerge until it does. Experience makes it easier to envisage that transition but still it is dependent on factors beyond our control, within the space, under the performance lights, moved by the director and the performers and most importantly that engagement with the audience. Does the play that we see live in the eyes and minds of the audience, does it engage their hearts, does it make them laugh, does it connect with them?

It was beyond doubt the most successful showcase, it is exhilarating to see the standard of writing rise from earlier showcases there is no doubt that since May 2011 when the group was formed, the writers have become writers for performance. As writers in Aberystwyth we are in the extremely lucky position of having the support of not only the arts centre and it’s staff but a community that is filled with talented, enthusiastic and extremely generous creatives. Many writers spend years writing for the page without seeing their work performed, sending plays to over subscribed competitions or trying to get through the doors of under funded writing programmes. In Aberystwyth we have a creative community that has allowed us to present three showcases of work and we are extremely grateful to all the performers and directors for their part in making us all into writers for performance.

Playpen Writer Profile: Christopher T.Harris

Christopher T. Harris‘s works include for the Drama Association of Wales, Great Mundane (Adjudicator’s Award, DAW Festival 2010); For the National Eisteddfod, The Fallen Night (Best Production and Best Actor under 25 Awards) and From Now On ; Pine Heads at the Youth Council of Chepstow (Available through Lulu Publishing) and Foul West (Broadway’s Society). His new play Walk on Mars will be performed at the Aberystwyth Art’s Centre under the Open Platform Project on March 7th. His play Sick follows three University friends who meet for a night of drink and laughter before their student lives draw to a close.

What is your play, Sick, about?
Mainly, I think it’s about the prejudices that we have for one another, and how defensive we can become in such a precarious subject. That, and of course, the influence of alcohol-culture.
How did you get the idea?
I was interested in creating a monumental event that changes the lives and perceptions of every character within it. At the same time, I wanted to write about a class of person that fascinated me; students.

What was your favourite thing about writing the play?
The dialogue rolled off of the tongue so easily. These are people I already know and talk to every single day.

What do you think were the challenges of writing this play?
Allowing the tension to rise and rise within each spoken word…for such a short play, this was a challenge. A tension had to be established from the very first line.

What were the challenges of writing a one-act play?
It takes a whole play to show a character arc…how do you do that in twenty minutes?

How did you create the characters?
By tapping into those types of people portrayed in the play in real life, then creating representations of them on the stage.

What writing tips would you offer to someone interested in writing for theatre?
Write what you know. Places

What difference has the writing group made to you as a writer?
Sometimes you can forget the basics. I found the basics. ‘Sick’ taught me how to find character’s voices much more easily. I’m now satisfied.

Christopher T. Harris’s play Sick will be performed on Thursday 7th February.

PlayPen Writer Profile: Julie Grady Thomas

Julie Grady Thomas performing her debut stand-up comedy as part of Crash Test Dymis the new Aberystwyth performance scratch night.

Julie Grady Thomas performing her debut stand-up comedy as part of Crash Test Dymis the new Aberystwyth performance scratch night.

Julie Grady Thomas’s previous writing experience is in journalism and screenwriting. She joined the Writing for Performance Group in the summer of 2012 and wrote for theatre for the first time for Town with No Traffic Wardens. Her short play Cookhouse is her second play. Julie also made her debut stand-up comedy performance as part of the new scratch night Crash Night Dymis in November 2012. She was studying for an MA in Screenwriting at Aberystwyth University but her studies are currently on hold after she found the fictional story she had created for PlayPen turning into fact. Whilst her play is performed on Thursday 7th February she will be in the US awaiting news of a student visa that will allow her to return to her home, her studies, her husband and her dog.

Tell me what your play, Cookhouse, is about?
My play is a snapshot of what deportation really looks like in modern Britain.

Tell me how you got the idea?
Being an immigrant myself, I was quite inspired by the shift in UK immigration regulation this past summer, which is in direct violation of the European convention on human rights.

How close to fact is the play?
Oddly enough, it wasn’t close when I started writing. Of course, I am American and my husband is British, but no, we didn’t have immigration issues at that time, nor are we that we that pithy.

Julie Grady Thomas and her husband Patrick at Newcastle Airport ahead of her flight back to the US

Julie Grady Thomas and her husband Patrick at Newcastle Airport ahead of her flight back to the US

How did you feel when you found out that the fiction in your play had turned into fact and you had to leave the country?
I thought I had a superpower. I thought if what I wrote could come true, then why am I writing about immigration? I should be writing about winning an Oscar or the lottery for that matter. But, in all seriousness, the fiction in my play is fact for a lot of other people, which is hugely unfair and that’s beyond an understatement. Presently, I’m writing to you from an airport because I’m on my way back to America. Luckily for me, I’m a current student, so I should be able to apply for a student visa when I get home. That way I can continue my studies at Aberystwyth University and be with my husband (and my dog) in the house that we own. That’s the funny thing; the UK doesn’t care that we own a home or that we aren’t on benefits or that we live in a place where most salaries aren’t above the requirement. They don’t even care how much money I make. It’s all up to my husband, my keeper. We’ve dodged the proverbial bullet for now, but in nine months I could very well be back on a plane without him again.

How do you feel about the changing immigration regulations?
Immigration regulations change constantly. I cannot overstate that enough. However, I am not a number or a statistic. I am a person and my life is very real. What people tend to forget is that immigrants aren’t a faceless mass. We are individuals. When these regulations change, when the higher-ups create policy without thought, it affects lives—actual human lives. Was I given bad advice? You betcha. I could have gone to the US during the break, had Christmas with my family and not missed a single class. I’ll be starting this semester at a major loss, but I do hope to keep writing and keep in touch with my professors and the department whilst I’m away. They have been nothing if not supportive. But I’m lucky. I’m young. I have no children. I’m from a Western nation. There are people who are going back to hostile environments, to poverty, to oppression. And I can assure you, these people, these immigrants, they don’t want to live off off anyone, they just want to live.

What other things are you working on writing wise at the moment?
Right now, I’m working on an independent feature, Broken Boys. It’s coming-of-age film that follows the unlikely coupling of two gay teens, an estate kid and a brilliant student. It’s all about first love and what a gorgeous mess it can be; the raw power it has over us, the hurt it can create, the cuts, the scars, the beauty.

Julie Grady Thomas’s play Cookhouse will be performed on Thursday 7th February at Aberystwyth Arts Centre 7.45PM as part of the PlayPen showcase of 20 minute plays from the Aberystwyth Art Centre’s Writing for Performance Group. Further information on all plays being presented as part of the PlayPen project is here.

PlayPen Writers Profile: Branwen Davies

Branwen Davies

Branwen Davies

Branwen Davies is a second year PhD  student in the Theatre, Film and Television Department at Aberystwyth University.  Branwen writes in Welsh and English. She is a founder member of ‘Agent 160 Theatre Company’  and Welsh language theatre company ‘Torri Gair’ and has written for Sherman Cymru, Dirty Protest, Undeb Theatre Company  and Sgript Cymru. She co-wrote ‘The Exquisite Corpse’ for True Fiction Theatre Company which was performed at the Millenium Centre Cardiff, The Edinburgh Festival and Southwark Playhouse. She also co-wrote the Welsh language play ‘Dominos’ for Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru. She is currently under commission with Living Pictures and Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru  to write a play that will be performed at Sherman Cymru in September 2013. Her play for Playpen Genki? is about being in limbo trying to make sense of it all.

What is your play Genki? about?
The play is about returning from an adventure abroad and adjusting, readjusting and trying to make sense of the experience that know feels a million miles away in more than one sense.

How did you get the idea for Genki?
I wrote the play as a response to returning to Wales after living and working in Japan. I was overwhelmed and unsure where I belonged and what I should do with myself.

What did you most enjoy about writing Genki?
Writing it was carthartic. It was fun to revisit people, places, memories and experiences that put a smile on my face whilst in Japan.

What were the challenges of writing Genki?
The challenges were that it was perhaps too personal to me. It might have been a beneficial excersise for me but was there a story for an audience? Would it entertain? Would it make sense? It is trilingular and I wanted to convey a realistic image and experience of Japan without falling to stereotypes. I wanted the piece also to convey my confusion hence it’s structure and game play and randomness! The challenges were thinking ahead. Where would this play go next if I was to develop it further.

For Beginnings and Town with No Traffic Wardens the writing group were set themes and restrictions. What was the difference writing without these?
No rules and no limitations enables you to explore and experiment and have fun. I beleive that anything should and could happen in the theatre and writers should convey that in their writing. Writing for theatre should be different from writing for TV. Theatre should be different from TV. I  don’t want to go to the theatre to see a soap opera on stage.

How did you create the characters?
Characters were a mixture of me – warts and all and an amalgamation of people I met in Japan and the various encounters, experiences and opinions I came across.

What writing tips would you offer someone interested in writing for theatre?
When writing for theatre think theatre! Watch plays. Read plays. There are no limits. Write!

What difference has being part of the writing group made to you?
The writers group has made me more open to share my work and respond to other people’s work. It is important to have a safe place to experiment and try things out and to have people whose opinions and feedback you trust and respect.

Branwen Davies play Genki? will be performed on Thursday 7th February as part of the PlayPen project. Further information is available here.

Script Sessions Spring Writing Competition – call for submissions

The Script Sessions is looking for four original 15-minute stage plays, each taking inspiration from the following quotation:
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana – Life of Reason)
Each play must be written with multiple timescales – stories from different time periods, cultures, worlds, places and spaces that are told in parallel. You may have as many characters as you like but only four actors are allocated per company. Successful writers will attend a Script Sessions development workshop and will then have a week to re‐write and develop the work before it is handed over to the director and actors. Each play will be rehearsed and performed by professional actors who will perform off book with two three-hour rehearsals to take the script from page to stage. The scripts will be performed at the Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton on 29 March at 8pm. The audience will vote for the winning script.
All writers must be available for the following dates:
Script development: 7-10pm, 27 and 28 February
Rehearsals: weeks beginning 11 and 18 March (tbc)

£50 prize
Please send entries (and a contact telephone number) to: thescriptsessions@gmail.com

Submissions deadline: 5pm, 20 February
Selected scripts will be announced by 23 February.

Thanks to the Writes Guild for highlighting this opportunity