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.

October Meeting

In the October session we welcomed two new members to the group and talked through all the projects coming up in the future including the deadlines for plays.

Playpen project – Deadline for 1st drafts 13th November. Further info here https://writingforperformancegroup.wordpress.com/2012/07/04/future-project-1-playpen/

Writing for Radio project Deadline for 1st drafts February. Further info here https://writingforperformancegroup.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/future-projects-2-writing-for-radio-drama/

We then did an exercise. We each created two character names, first our least favourite name for a person and second our favourite name. We then gave away one of those names to someone else in the group. We then created characters based on these names. We then gave away one of the characters to someone in the group.

We then created a setting and imagined these two characters meeting for the first time. We wrote 20 lines of dialogue between these characters. We then thought about what happened just before and what happened just after this initial meeting. We then created three main key story points – what is the inciting incident that kicks the play off, what is the mid-point of the play and what is the end scene or obligatory scene.

Novembers session is the deadline for first drafts of plays for Playpen – by first drafts this could be a very rough draft, maybe just beginning. However full drafts ready for workshop need to be completed by 4th  December ready for read through in the December writing group session and  there will be a workshop session on December.

Rehearsals for Playpen will be taking place in January so final drafts for rehearsals to be complete by 7th January.

The Playpen project is a very difficult one to produce with at least 8 if not more, 20 minute plays being produced over two nights, each needing a director and a cast and all being rehearsed separately so the sooner you have the idea drafted and ready to go the easier you make it for the producer, the director and the cast.

Interested in writing for radio?

Aberystwyth Arts Centre has invited two leading playwrights Alan Harris and Dan Rebellato to Aberystwyth to lead radio writing masterclasses. The masterclasses will take place on Sunday 21st October and Sunday 11th November.

Alan Harris is a playwright and new writing tutor who teaches the advance writing programme at Sherman Cymru. His radio plays include “The Gold Farmer” which was nominated for the Imison Award. He has worked extensively with companies including Pentabus, Hijinx Theatre, Sherman Cymru and Paines Plough. His play “A Good Night out in the Valleys” launched the new National Theatre Wales in 2010.

Dan Reballato is a playwright and Professor of Contemporary Theatre at Royal Holloway.  He has written extensively for radio including “My Life is a Series of People saying Goodbye” and includes adaptations of “Gogol’s Dead Souls” and “Girlfriend in a Coma” .  He has been shortlisted twice for a Sony Award for radio writing. His plays for theatre include “Chekov in Hell”, “Mile End” and “Here’s what I did with my Body”.

Gill Ogden, Head of Performing Arts at Aberystwyth Arts Centre said, ‘Aberystwyth Arts Centre is extremely thrilled to have writers of the calibre of Alan Harris and Dan Reballato teaching as part of its creative writing programme. This is a great opportunity for local writers with some experience  or those interested in taking it up for the first time.’

Alan Harris Masterclass – Sunday October 21st 2- 5pm £15

Dan Rebellato Masterclass – Sunday November 11th 2-5pm £15

The classes are taking place in partnership with Aberystwyth University department of Theatre, Film and TV Studies with the support of Literature Wales.

Book through the Arts Centre box office 01970 623232 /www.aber.ac.uk/artscentre or in person prior to the workshop days.

The town with too many rats

The group has now decided that though Town with No Traffic Wardens will not go on to be developed but instead the group will again look to write a project about Aberystwyth. This does not mean that the plays, sketches and scenes from TWNTW are dead. These could be developed into individual plays, characters could be resurrected, settings could be transplanted. Maybe Chardonnay has gone on to find her perfect job, maybe the traffic warden and the angry restaurant supply man have got married, maybe the OCD supermarket manager has finally succeeded in getting a supermarket in town.

Over the next few months in the background whilst we work on Playpen and the radio project we’ll continue to explore how to write a project for Aberystwyth.

We’ve discussed the potential to create a set of characters collectively alongside an overall story but then each member of the group is then asked to take responsibility for part of the story which would inevitably mean that everyone writes for characters created by another writer which could be problematic. However it could also be an interesting challenge.

We have also discussed finding an existing story such as Dylan Thomas’s Under Milkwood or the Pied Piper to create a base on which to build a story about Aberystwyth.

Over the next few months I’ll be asking each member of the group to lead the group in exercises about developing the Rats project. Basically to approach  the development process in the way you feel would be the most productive and focusing on whichever area you feel would be the most effective maybe character, structure, adaptation, research, stories. These exercises will be aimed at finding the subject matter and the approach.

In thinking about what we can use as stimuli and starting points the group were asked to make suggestions in the following categories,
Settings – favourite and least favourite places in Aberystwyth
Characters – who are the characters you see out and about in Aberystwyth
Ideas – political changes, things that could impact Aberystwyth
Phrases – sentences, a line of dialogue, an overheard sentence
Visual Images – an image that might combine a setting and a character, or a character doing something,

These are what the group came up with. Can you think of anymore?
SETTINGS
bridge in PwllCrwn woods, bridge next to Rummers, national library, footpath next to TA, corner in the Ship and Castle, look-out at the Castle, bench on top of the Castle, bench in the train station, folk music night at Coopers, under the Pier, the road leading to Welsh Books Council,
PHRASES
small world, secret places, you don’t do that in Aberystwyth, who wears heels in Aberystwyth, end of the road, does nobody tell them to use soap, who does she think she is?, where the mountains meet the sea, impossible to leave whichever way you try, nutters always drift West – it’s something to do with the leylines, the last resort, how young do they look?, six degrees? You must be joking it’s not even a U-grade or a GCSE in separation, I mean the sea just goes on and on and on, backwards, it’s like living in a bubble, hard to cry out for help, where did you go to school?
IDEAS
end of the world, the western end of the western world, settlers, an epidemic of rats,
CHARACTERS
Campus bingo players, spew boy, talkative porters, taxi driver, Rabbi, hells angels, hairdresser, 4 wet people from Birmingham, photographer who gets everywhere, old lady in a florescent bonnet, man who spouts nothing in particular, woman in mobility scooter with sheep, fat goth/thin goth lesbian couple, someone on crutches, scrawny looking people with dogs who look like pipe cleaners, well upholstered women of a certain age, Kimberley with big thighs & big knockers, pompous students, drowned boy,
IMAGES
driftwood, a man in a hedge,

As an exercise select two characters, a setting then either a phrase, an image or an idea. Give yourself five minutes. Create a scene from these elements. Give yourself 30 minutes. Create the scene before and the scene after. Re-write the whole thing.

Writers on tour

As part of the ongoing development of the Town with No… project, or Rats as it’s
new working title will be, and in an attempt to get everyone writing for the
Playpen and radio projects, the group will be going out into Aberystwyth for
some special one-off events looking for writing stimuli in some very exciting
locations in town.  Details will be revealed at the next meeting on Tuesday October 9th.

To Kill a Machine Fund-a-Performance-Night

In November the very first Scriptography Productions Fund-a-Performance-Night will be taking place to raise funds for the presentation of To Kill A Machine by Catrin Fflur Huws.

As part of that night we will be presenting a few short plays, Catrin has set the theme of these plays as a play that must include the Alan Turing quote “we can see only a short distance ahead but we can see that there is plenty to be done”.

The play should have no more than two actors either two men, two women or a man and a woman and should be no longer than 10 minutes. If you want to take part then get writing.

Events and Deadlines

This week,  Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker at Aberystwyth Arts Centre

Writing for Radio Masterclass with Alan Harris Sunday 21st October

Writing for Radio Masterclass with Dan Rebellato Sunday 11th November

Playpen project – Deadline for 1st drafts 13th November. Further info here

Writing for Radio project Deadline for 1st drafts February. Further info here

September Meeting

At the September meeting of the group Branwen Davies talked the group through a few development projects in which she has participated.. One asked the writers to give their favourite and least favourite names. The actors involved were then asked to use the names to create the character. The writers then developed pieces using these characters.

An interesting approach because it would invariably produce extremely nice or nasty characters. For me as a writer I know that naming a character is often difficult and often change once a character is further down the line of development. It’s also an interesting approach to creating a stimuli – to be handed a character effectively created by someone else.

Branwen also talked about the recent Sherman Swingers project in which each writer selected through a system of keys; a space, a set of performers (sometimes one performer sometimes more) an object and a director. The writer was then sent into the space to write so that the space and object became the stimuli for the writing with the very tight restriction of 3 minutes. After an evening locked into the space the piece was then rehearsed and presented to the audience who were asked to move from one to the other seeing the piece in the space in which it was written.

This gives us a few approaches; space, objects and characters as stimuli. Can you think of other ways of creating stimuli for writing? What do you use as stimuli in your writing?

Branwen also talked about her writing process usually she just starts to write, characters don’t have names, she doesn’t plan out structure she just writes. What is your writing process? What works, doesn’t work for you? If you were asked to give advice to a beginning writer what would be the five tips that you would give them?

As an exercise why not try using these stimuli to generate a new play. Think of your favourite and least favourite name for a person. Tell a friend, partner or random stranger the name and let them tell you what that character is like. Now give yourself 5 minutes, let these two characters meet for the first time or for a significant meeting and write 20 lines of dialogue. Now give yourself 30 minutes and write a scene of what happens before and what happens after. Then go back and re-write the whole thing. That took no more than an hour so no excuses for not doing it.

As another exercise why not try using a space as stimuli. Go to a place in Aberystwyth – a place you either hate or love or a place you have never been to before. Sit in the space. Give yourself five minutes and write as fast as you can words, phrases, sentences that come to find. Now create either 1, 2 or 3 characters using your favourite way to create a character. Think about what could happen in your space with those characters. Now give yourself 5 minutes and write 20 lines of dialogue. Now take 30 minutes and write a scene before the one you just wrote and one after. Now rewrite the whole thing.

So you’ve done both these exercises they should have taken you no more than two hours and you have two new short plays.

For the next writing group please can everyone bring at least one piece of work to share in the group either an idea to pitch or a draft of a short play currently being written for Playpen, radio project.

OR the exercise above responding to stimuli of space or character

OR take the Alan Turing – Catrin Fflur Huws challenge

OR do the Rats exercise

As always group members can and are positively encouraged to bring any work currently being written for a reading or for feedback. If it’s longer than 15 minutes then please send it out in advance to give people time to read them in time for the next meeting on 9th October.

August Writing Group write up

In the August meeting of the Writing for Performance Group we looked at two scripts from the group; a short play by Tony Jones and the beginning of a play from Sandra Bendelow.

If anyone who didn’t make it along to the group wants to read and pass on any comments to the writers then feel free to do so. It is always useful to have more comments but more importantly reading others scripts and thinking about what works and what doesn’t will ALWAYS make you a better writer.

One member of the group, Catrin Fflur Huws, also shared two ideas, first a pitch for a new short play and secondly an idea that is part of the re-write of a play which involves a major piece of re-structuring. In addition Catrin has since shared the latest draft of her play To Kill A Machine. Please do take the time to read and we will talk a little more about the latest draft in the next meeting of the writing group. If you’re not sure you have time, or feel hesitant about sharing your views then please see above comment.

We discussed Town with No Traffic Wardens and whether we should or shouldn’t take the play forward for further development. After lots of discussion it was agreed that we should do a similar project which could include characters from Town with No Traffic Warden but we’ll find a new subject relevant to Aberystwyth. It was suggested that we could possibly use an existing story or play as base on which to adapt. It was also agreed that we would approach the writing of the play from a more collaborative perspective from the very start. We will begin to look at how we will approach this very soon but in the meantime everyone needs to get ideas and suggestions for the core idea for this play to the group as soon as possible. We need to think big initially, an idea that is relevant to Aberystwyth whilst having a universality to it too. Also everyone needs to think of plays or stories that could possibly be used as an underlying format for the play we write together. This play will be the project for the group in October/November next year.

We then did the following writing exercise, this should be done as automatic writing, don’t think about it just write. Give yourself the time pressure even if you do it alone. You can go back to it afterwards, tidy it up or develop it. But stick to the time constraint.

Take 5 minutes to write down as many words, phrases, sentences that you can think of when you hear the phrase – After the Party

Give yourself ten minutes and create two characters, one at a time, five minutes each, using the following questions, answer each question with a sentence or two only.

What is their name?

What is their physiology? (age, build, looks etc)

What is their sociology? (job, money, where do you live, marital status, family class, etc)

What is their psychology? (what are their concerns, fears, interests, passions, character flaws/strengths etc)

What is their flaw? What is stopping them getting what they want? (internal)

What is their goal? What does the character want? (internal)

Once you’ve created the two characters answer the following for both characters taking five minutes

Where are they?

What are they carrying?

What was the darkest dream they had last night?

What would they like to do to the other character?

Now take ten minutes and write twenty lines of dialogue, very fast, beginning a scene in which your characters meet. Write very fast – write the very first thing your brain throws up, even if it’s rude or boring or rubbish. A physical character-action counts as a line of dialogue.

For the next session – look at your scene again. Identify the moments where your character has acted, in some way. Where they’ve slagged off the other character, where they’ve retreated, where they’ve counter-attacked, where they’ve moved in for a reconciliation, where they’ve gone in for the kill.

Return to that first moment of decisive action. List four alternative things the character could have done. Instead of hitting him, could she smear his glasses up his face or kiss his eyelids.

The next meeting of the writing for performance group will take place on Tuesday 11th September in the RECORDING STUDIO. Please bring along anything that you want to be read, or send out in advance any work that you’d like the group to discuss.

Please try to bring along something whether it’s a re-worked version of the exercise we did last week, a piece of writing you are working on or an idea you would like to talk through.

Please remember to think about Town with No…..which we’ll call it until it gets a name and bring along any suggestions.

The deadlines for radio plays and the PlayPen project are getting closer, just a few months away, so if you haven’t come up with an idea yet GET THINKING. Then get writing and then write some more.

Remember a writer WRITES.

The writing exercises were from rewriter by Paul Chitlik and the Bruntwood playwriting site by Ben Musgrave.

After the Party is the theme of the next ScriptSlam at Sherman Cymru the deadline is 19th September further details are here.