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 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

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.

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.

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.

 

Future Project #1 PlayPen

Following their sell out showcase Town with No Traffic Wardens the next writers group project at Aberystwyth Arts Centre will be two evenings of 20 minute plays as script-in-hand rehearsed readings. PlayPen will take place in February 2012 on two consecutive Thursday evenings.

The deadlines for rehearsals drafts is 7th January and workshop drafts have to completed by 4th December.

The deadline for 1st drafts is 13th November.

As we have had two projects about subjects chosen for the group PlayPen is about letting your imagination run free and writing about any subject so other than no-longer than 20 minutes there are no rules. It can be on any subject, any style and have any number of characters. However having said there are  no rules then the first guidance I would offer is don’t make it difficult for yourself. 12 characters might be a little difficult if not impossible! However if you want to have 12 characters no-one is going to stop you.

Tips
1. Develop your characters – we’ve done lots of character development exercises so there is no excuses for underdeveloped characters.

2. Develop your structure – we’ve also done lots of exercises on structuring plays so think carefully about the structure of your play

3. Challenge yourself – if you’ve only written monologues before then write a dialogue, if you’ve only written static plays before try to write one with real physicality and movement, if you usually write short scenes then write longer ones, if you usually write comedy then try out that darker tone, if your last play had a male protagonist then write for a female protagonist

4. Show your voice – this is a rule free showcase so write what you’re passionate about, don’t write for others, don’t write for an imagined audience this is your chance to show-off your unique voice

5. Don’t write for a script-in-hand – this is a chance to write a one act play that can add to your portfolio and be sent to competitions so don’t just think about what will work as a script-in-hand

6. Think about your medium – this isn’t radio, film or TV this is theatre so write for theatre

7. See or read plays

8. See or read some more plays

9. See or read even more plays

10. Stop making excuses and get writing. The only way you will find out if that idea works is to get it written. If it doesn’t work then it will need rewriting. If it does work it will need re-writing. Then it will need some more re-writing. So basically the main thing you should be doing is writing.

Blog hopping

View a post from me on Kaite O’Reilly’s blog about setting up and running the Writing for Performance Group and Town with No Traffic Wardens.