All posts by Sam Sedgman

How to stage a reading of your work to improve your writing

Readings are a vital part of the playwright’s toolkit and a key stage in developing your work from page to stage. With #WrAP having come to an end last week, this guest post from Sam Sedgman is about getting that all important feedback on a work-in-progress.

As writers, we can spend far too much time in our own heads. When you’ve been working on a play for a long time, it’s very easy to lose track of it, or to build up great big misconceptions about how other people might respond to it.

In both cases, it’s healthy to give your script some fresh air and invite other people to listen to it so you can learn from their opinions – and readings are one of the best ways of doing that.

But before you jump into arranging a reading, look at what stage your script is at. If you think it needs major work, you might want to share a copy with a trusted friend or a fellow writer first.

But, if your script is finished and you’ve redrafted it two or three times (or ten…), and if the idea of it gives you even a little flutter of pride, it’s probably time to share it. Exciting!

When it comes to staging a reading, here are the important questions to ask yourself:

What do I want to know?

What  kind of feedback are you after? Is there a particular character you think needs more attention? A scene which you feel needs work? Are you concerned about the pacing of the plot, or the balance of opinions you’ve given to your characters?

Write down the big concerns you have with your script – the big ones and the small ones – and work them up into a list of questions. This is your mission statement: the things your reading is going to help you answer.

What will I do with the feedback?

Some writers love a deadline, and others hate them. But when it comes to readings, they’re necessary. You need to know what you’re going to do once you find the answers to all those questions you worked out above.

Maybe you’re working towards a writing deadline, or planning on submitting this script to a competition. And, if you’re not, you might want to think about setting yourself a different kind of target to ensure you keep up the momentum after all your readers have gone home.

It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the advice you get after a reading and to just push the script into a drawer. This can sometimes be healthy, but only if you’ve made an appointment with yourself to come back and sit down with the script properly after you’ve had a breather.

So try and schedule some writing time in your diary, working back from the next draft deadline you choose to set – and remember, an achievable deadline is a lot more useful than an ambitious one!

Who’s reading?

Don’t worry too much about finding professional actors to read your script. The goal of a reading isn’t to put on a top quality show with great performances, but rather to let the text speak for itself.

Find some friends who know how to read aloud. And resist the temptation to join the cast and read it aloud yourself. Sure, you know the play inside out, but you’ll be so focused on reading that you won’t be able to focus on listening.

A reading is about paying attention to how your script sounds when placed in the hands of real people who don’t see it like you do. If you must, read stage directions – but it’s better to put these in the hands of someone else too.

Remember to send everyone you invite to read a copy of the script well in advance, explaining who you’d like them to read. But try and avoid telling them how to read the part, the aim is that your script makes that clear by itself.

Who’s listening? 

It’s good to invite some people not to read, but to listen. As they won’t be thinking about their lines, and instead will hear the script as a whole.

But this reading isn’t about promoting your work, so don’t try and make the audience too large. Eight to twelve people – including the readers – is probably about the right size. It’s large enough to invite a variety of opinions, but small enough to be able to hold a focused conversation with the group.

And when inviting people, think about who will give you useful feedback. This could be a fellow writer, an insightful friend, a colleague well-versed in pop culture, someone who works in the theatre industry, or just someone you trust deeply to give you the unvarnished truth.  Aim for variety.

And don’t worry too much about collecting together an audience stuffed with theatrical credentials. If you’re lucky enough to have a phone book full of actors and agents, then good for you – but remember that their insider’s view may be radically different to the general public who will end up being your show’s audience.

You could even invite your mother. I bet she has lots to say.

Where is it?

 All you really need is a quiet room that can comfortably seat a dozen or so people. But while it’s tempting to suggest your living room, it’s worth trying to hire a space in the centre of town.

Chances are it will make it easier for everyone to travel to, as well as giving the event a sense of formality that will make your participants take it more seriously. Several venues hire spaces from as little as £10 per hour so, if you can afford it, it’ll be money well spent.

How should I interact with my readers?

Remember that everyone you’re inviting is doing you a favour, so be as cordial and welcoming as possible. Invite them well in advance, with a personal message, explaining why you’d like them in particular to be there.

Be sure to follow-up nearer the time, and help them with directions to the venue if they need them. Arrive early. Bring water, and snacks. Be understanding if your guests drop out at the last minute. And thank everyone – before the reading starts, after it’s finished, and later, in person, when you follow-up.

Remember they’re donating their time to help you and it’s always important to appreciate that.

Where do I begin?

Make sure you supply every reader with one copy of the script, with one left over for you to mark up as you read along.

Welcome everyone before you start, and be sure to introduce the play a little. Don’t give a lecture – a few brief points will do: what it’s about, where it’s set, and who the main characters are.

Tell people how long you expect it to last (a minute per A4 page is a good guide) and if you’ll be taking breaks in the middle. Then note down the time, start a recording device if you’re using one, and start reading.

As you read, have your key questions in mind. Read along with the script, and circle anything that pops out to you – both good and bad.

It’s important to note down the stuff that worked well, as well as the stuff that didn’t, so that when you read back over the script later you’re not confronted with just negatives.

Note down laughs, good pacing, and lines that sound good in the actors mouths, as well as parts that are slow, confusing, or fall flat. When you’re done, remember to note down the time again. This scribbled on script will become your best friend when the re-drafting process begins!

How do I move the conversation into being about feedback?

Now comes the important part. Tell your readers and audience the concerns you had with the script which led you to arrange the reading.

Once you’re done with your list of questions, open the floor up to anything your audience might want to add. And though it’s easier to get swept up in the conversation, remember to write all this down!

But what if they don’t like it?

In the face of criticism, resist the temptation to justify yourself or to contradict the group. Don’t get proud or defensive. Take note of what everyone has to say, and then go home to consider it.

You don’t have to act on every suggestion or criticism that you collect, but you do have to consider them before you disregard them.

Use your instincts. If you feel one reader completely misunderstood the character they said they didn’t like, you might choose to ignore that feedback. But if three people felt the same way, then perhaps that character needs some work.

When do I follow up?

Try to follow-up with your guests the day after the reading. Ask them directly if there’s anything extra they’d like to share.

Some people might not have felt comfortable sharing their thoughts in a public group, but an email is the perfect way for them to reflect and collect their thoughts.

And finally…

Asking people to read your work aloud can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it’s an invaluable tool in giving your writing the energy it needs to take it to the next level.

And don’t forget to keep the writing date you made with yourself. Gather all your feedback around you, and go through your annotated script (and your audio recording if you made one) and get to work.

And when you’ve finished your next draft, you just might be ready to share it with the public…

15 Christmas and holiday gift ideas for writers: the best presents for UK playwrights

Writers are tough to find gifts for – who can say what’s going on in our muddled heads when we’re tucked away in the corner typing out a masterpiece? With the festive season fast approaching, we wanted to share some of our favourite writing tools with you which we think make perfect presents – whether you’re buying for someone you love, treating yourself, or preparing to knuckle down with a new year’s resolution to finally crack that project you’ve been meaning to work on.

We’ve provided links to everything we’ve recommended here using the Amazon Affiliates scheme. This means that if you buy anything from this list after clicking through our links, we’ll get a small percentage of the sale to help us keep running the blog, and it won’t cost you anything extra. So if you do end up buying any of our gift ideas, we’d really appreciate it if you clicked through from here first. Thanks!

Without further ado, here are our hand-picked gifts for the London playwright:

1 – A Writer’s Book of Days

“Write every day” – never has a piece of advice been so easy to say and so hard to follow. Thankfully Judy Reeves’ book has an endless supply of encouragement, inspiration and short reflective essays to keep your imagination sharp and help you turn up to your daily appointment with the page. It has notes on everything from establishing a routine to coping with loss, how to tell the truth and how to structure a killer sentence. Among its most useful features are writing prompts for every day of the year, but really what makes this book great is Reeves’ wonderful comforting voice, which makes me feel like I can write anything. No writer should be without it. (£16.99 / £13.51 Kindle Edition)

2 – A Guide to Quiet London

As most London playwrights know, this city can be your best friend or your worst enemy. There’s nowhere quite as full of inspiration or distraction – but it’s easy to get lost in the noise. Siobhan Wall’s lovely book offers dozens of unexpected retreats from our city’s busy streets, perfect for writers looking to curl up with their notebook, read something, have a civilised conversation, or just relax and watch the world go by. (£9.98 / £6.17 Kindle edition)

3 – Final Draft Writing Software  

Our Director for LPB swears by Final Draft for writing plays and screenplays.  The wide range of templates and formatting options are a guarantee of producing a professional-looking script, and features like keystroke options, autofill character names, and scene reports can be a huge time saver during the writing process.  A bit of a splurge, but a treat well worth having! (£138.55)

4 – The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2016

A staple of every serious writer’s bookshelf, this vital book has everything you need to get a piece of writing finished, and get it noticed. Covering all disciplines of writing from playwriting to illustration, its pages are packed with essays and articles from experts, but the real meat of this book is in its list of over 4,500 industry names to help you get your work, and yourself, some attention.  They’ve also recently launched a guide targeted specifically at playwrights (Playwriting: A Writers & Artists Companion, £14.99), which could create a lovely set for an emerging writer. (£13.60 / £11.69 Kindle edition)

5 – Wearable Shakespeare (Jewellery and Cufflinks)

There’s something a bit magical about having a bit of Shakespeare at the cuffs (for the gents) or dangling above one’s décolletage (for the ladies).  Perfect for those who love timeless romance as much as they love a well-constructed piece of verse. (Cufflinks £21.99; Necklace £48)

6 – Fancy pens

No craftsman can be taken seriously without the right tools. And no writer’s toolkit is complete without a decent set of pens. It’s so easy to reach for the cheap biros collecting at the bottom of your bag, but there’s no greater delight than using a pen which makes writing feel smooth and weightless, rather than a wonky chore being superseded by the iPhone. We’re particularly partial to Cross (who has sponsored a playwriting competition in addition to making beautiful writing instruments), and you can’t go wrong with options like their Century II fountain pen (£28.60), or their classic ballpoint you can have engraved with a message of your choice. (£29.95)

7 – The Writer’s Block

We all get stuck sometimes. You can’t imagine what happens in the next scene, or a character won’t do what you tell them. But that’s okay: the Writer’s Block is here to help. Shaped like an actual block, its 672 pages are packed full of unexpected prompts, pictures, challenges and facts to kick-start your stuttering script again. Reach for the block whenever you’re stuck: flip it open to a random page and let inspiration strike. (£6.99)

8 – Fiasco: role-playing game

Writing can be a lonely business, so here’s a way to experiment with storytelling and have fun with your friends at the same time. A far cry from Dungeons & Dragons, Fiasco is a colourful role-playing game for up to 5 people which helps you plot and act out your own two-act screwball adventure in about two hours. Full of shock twists, wacky characters and peals of laughter, it’s the most sociable creative writing class you’ll ever have. (£17.86)

9- External Hard Drive

Not the sexiest gift, but vital for anyone who needs to back up their laptop. And unless you want your life’s work to be destroyed by a spilled glass of water, that’s definitely you. There are some fantastic deals out there at the moment – here’s 2 TB worth of storage for just £65 (or you can go wild with the 4 TB option if you’re feeling a little crazy). There are options for every storage size and/or budget – but please, please, whatever you use, remember to back up your work. (2TB for £65, 4TB for £129.99)

10 – Fancy notebooks

Tastes differ when it comes to notebooks: some like them flat and cheap, some leather-bound and embossed, some tiny, some huge. But the important thing is that you have one. When you have that awesome idea when you’re out on the go, you must write it down or it’ll be gone for good. So treat yourself: whether it’s a cheap and comfortable exercise book (£2.99), a lovely lined moleskine (£10.09), or something glamorous and sophisticated (£24.00), get yourself a notebook and never lose a bright idea again.

11 – The Pomodoro Technique illustrated with Pomodoro timer

You will always be busy. No matter how much you pare down your life, there will always be a panoply of worthy distractions out there competing with your writing time. So learn how to be busy. There are a host of time management techniques out there, but one I’ve found particularly useful to help me fit my writing around everything else in my life is the Pomodoro technique. Put simply, it’s a way of focusing on one task for 25 minute intervals, forcing yourself to take a short break, and repeating. The Illustrated Guide can teach you all the nuances of the technique in less than a day, and the Pomodoro timer is a kitsch accompaniment to keep track of your efforts. It’s genuinely changed how I write for the better, and I’d recommend it to anyone who struggles with feeling far too busy to write. (£13.31 / £12.64 Kindle Edition; Timer £2.95)

12 – Script Consulting

Typewriter at this awwwweome stationary shop at Brunswick
Sometimes experiences can be even more valuable than things. As you may be aware, over here at the London Playwrights’ Workshop we’ve recently introduced a Script Consulting service, which gives targeted, personalised feedback and a written report to help develop a script in progress.  If your loved one is a minimalist or could benefit from an outside eye, this could be a thoughtful way to help them get ready for the competitions opening for submissions early in 2016. (£150)

13 – Kindle or eReader 

We know to some folks this is heresy, but if you’re someone who reads loads of scripts or books, being able to store hundreds on one tiny device can save loads in printing costs and future osteopath fees (from lugging all those heavy volumes around). Plus, nightlight reading options are fantastic for those night owls – without annoying their bedtime companions. (£59.99)

14 – Noise Cancelling Headphones

For writers who don’t have the luxury of a private space to work or who just enjoy being set up in their favourite cafe with a cuppa, noise cancelling headphones (or noise isolating) headphones can be a new best friend. There are options to suit a range of budgets, from these over-ear Philips Headphones (£35), to sleek and modern in-ear buds (£99), to high-end Sennheisers that – no joke – come with a ‘smart remote’ (£250). A friend working on a PhD also raves about ear defenders – that’s right, no music, just jackhammer-grade noise protection (£5.99). One of these is bound to do the trick, and provide all the mood music (or quiet) a writer could ask for.

15 – Into The Woods by John Yorke

Structure is an ongoing challenge for most playwrights, and this book provides a fascinating grounding in how to construct a story so readers can’t turn away. Combining how-to tips with helpful examples, this title demystifies the story-making process.  This is one of those staples you’ll find yourself turning to time and again – the writer’s version of the gift that keeps on giving. (£6.99 / £5.49 Kindle edition)

Happy Holidays from London Playwrights’ Blog! Here’s to all the writing yet to come…

Don’t Kill Your Darlings: Writing in a Relationship

Image by Calvin YC via Flickr Commons
Image by Calvin YC via Flickr Commons

When I was single, writing was easy. I kept my own schedule and I wrote when I wanted. My room was my own: I had a desk in the corner, though I preferred writing in bed, and I would have writing binges deep into the small hours or across big swaths of time at the weekend.

But then I met someone. Tall guy, lovely eyes, big beaming smile. I wanted to spend all my time with him. I went out with him, I stayed in with him, and suddenly all of that alone time I’d been used to before became a much more precious commodity. When I did have it, I was usually exhausted, and wanted to spend it conked out in bed watching Gilmore Girls. (Great dialogue; don’t judge). Getting time at the keyboard became harder and harder, and I noticed my writing starting to suffer.

I tried to handle this by saying no to things – no, I don’t want to go for a walk in the park. No, I don’t want to hear that band play at the warehouse party. No, I don’t want to come for a curry on Brick Lane. But I wasn’t very good at it. When I said no to things, it just made us both disappointed. And unhappy. And that’s no way to live life in your early twenties, so I went back to saying yes again. I was happier, but no more productive. I kept telling myself I’d do something about it, but I never did.

And then I moved in with him. And all of a sudden, everything was different. He was there all the time. My room was not my own any more: I couldn’t stay up until 4 in the morning writing a script, and there was always someone in the house with me: someone I always wanted to spend time with. Love does terrible things to your self-control. Writing became the ultimate antisocial activity, and I lost all my momentum: I stalled completely. I had a full-time job and a full-time grown-up relationship, and my writing was slipping away from me.

As Simon Stephens said, if you want to be a writer, you have to actually… you know, write sometimes. I can’t put my finger on what made me get my arse in gear and pull myself out of the slump, but I realised that the shape of my life had changed – and that if I wanted to stay a writer, my writing would have to find a way to change too.

I committed to taking writing seriously again, and I tried to write every day, because I read somewhere that you should. This sounded like a lot of work, but it turned out it was a lot like jumping into a cold pool: terrifying before you do it, but fine once you’re swimming lengths. The trouble, I found, when I looked through my diary, was finding the time to put those hours in at all.

I decided to use the thing that had almost killed my writing to try and revive it: my schedule. Back as a shift-working MA student singleton, my diary moved in fits and starts, and I was free to binge at the keyboard freely and randomly. But that’s no longer true. I have a schedule and so does my boyfriend, and so I had to find a way to create sacrosanct writing time that fitted around both of them.

I decided to target the mornings. My boyfriend is a musician, and works sporadic hours, but he’s often out late on a gig and sleeps later than I do. I started waking up earlier to grab some time in the next room while he’s still sleeping, quietly eating breakfast and whispering my dialogue out loud for an hour or so every morning before I head off to work. I try and block out at least one evening a week, too, and I mark this out in my calendar as far in advance as I can so that he and I both have fair warning.

Scheduling around one another works well, but sometimes you just have to leave your other half alone to spend time with your writing – it’s your life’s other full time relationship. And I know this kind of thing can cause rifts.

As a musician, my other half is a creative type himself, so he understands how this works, even if his process is completely different – louder, for a start, and much more sociable. But the fact that he knows what it’s like to write something, to shut yourself away and try and conjure something from nothing, is a big help in empathising. And that empathy is what I’m most grateful for. If the person you love doesn’t understand or won’t support your writing, then that’s a serious problem no amount of scheduling will overcome.

The reality is that it will probably feel much worse for you abandoning your other half of an evening than it will for them – you’re the one making Sophie’s Choice between them and the page, and they’re the one who gets to watch telly while you work. But you have to be brutal about your writing, otherwise it will never happen. Brutal to yourself, and sometimes to your partner. Your life is going to go through many shifts in shape and size over the years, and you have to help your writing through them – even if it means spending a little less time with a person you love.

How to train yourself to write every morning

Image: Tamas Debrei
Image: Tamas Debrei

Trying to fit regular writing time into your life can be a really daunting task. Some of us are lucky enough to have the flexibility to write whenever we want, but for most people, long term commitments like work, family and relationships can make regular time at the keyboard difficult to get a handle on. And it’s often the first thing to go when you’re going through a period of stress. Writing is like a muscle: the more you practise, the easier it gets. And without regular practise, your writing’s unlikely to get better.

A little while ago I went through a really dry period where my writing pretty much ground to a halt. I’d taken on a new job, moved in with someone, and lost a lot of the usual rhythms that led me to write. I’d tried kidding myself that it would just happen: that one of these days I’d be less busy, that I would find the time to sit at my desk and start typing merrily away, but I never did.

I realised the only way that I was going to get my writing mojo back was by beating myself into shape with a writing schedule. I needed to hardwire writing time into my life – and after taking a look at my weekly routine, I realised that reclaiming my mornings would be the best way to go about it. I thought if I carved out some time before work, I could get back into writing properly.

But how to do it? I had grown used to late nights and lie-ins, and the thought of rising early to fit in an hour or so before work filled me with a groggy-headed dread. But in practice, it wasn’t so bad at all – as long as I followed a few rules I set for myself.

Everyone has their own of working, but these are my top tips for making early morning writing a sustainable part of your routine:

Don’t wake up too early. We all need to sleep. Margaret Thatcher may have been able to make it through on only 4 hours a night, but needing 8 is much more normal. Don’t skimp: you’ll get exhausted, make yourself ill, and your writing will suffer. Take a careful look at your schedule and set a realistic wake-up time – and know what time you should be going to sleep. It’s better to have 20 minutes of writing time on a full night’s sleep than an hour without.

Don’t write on an empty stomach. The last thing you want is to ruin your writing time with a growling tummy. Roll straight out of bed and into the kitchen to make yourself a simple breakfast while your mind wakes up. Take time to eat it properly, too. Don’t try to eat and write – far too messy. Read the paper, check Facebook or listen to music – but then be ready to go straight to the keyboard as soon as you’re finished.

Do it in your pyjamas. Write first, wash later. Whenever I get ready for work, all the little tasks have a funny way of expanding to fit the time available. Leave yourself enough time to get ready once you’ve finished writing, but prioritise your time at the page. If you’re late, be late because you had an amazing writing session, not because you spent too long in the shower.

Find a place to do it. Don’t improvise; take this seriously. Whether it’s at a desk or curled up on a sofa, find yourself a writing nook and make sure you show up there every time. It’ll help you stick to the habit. Try to avoid the bed, as this can interfere with your sleep hygiene – yes that’s a real thing – which can have negative effects on your sleep, and your writing.

Make sure you’re ready to go the night before. Lay out your books, your pens, your computer, and unclutter your writing nook so you can just walk in and get started. Unf**k Your Habitat have great tips for keeping your work area tidy. Make sure you have what you need for your quick breakfast, too.

Don’t put any pressure on yourself. Don’t set a word count; don’t set a goal. All you’re trying to do is show up at the page and write. You don’t need the stress of deadlines getting in your way. Some days you will do really well, and other days it will be like pulling teeth – so don’t beat yourself up about the inevitable dry spells.

Make sure you’re stocked with inspiration. If you like working from writing prompts, make sure you have some lined up to get you going. If you get stuck and find yourself casting around for an idea, make sure you’ve got some nice books or images to hand. If you’re going to be doing something else, like editing a scene or developing a character, make sure you’ve decided what it is before you show up. You don’t want to waste time trying to work out what you should be doing.

Have a backup plan. Sometimes you will have bad days where you can’t write anything. You might be ill, you might be knackered, your laptop might die. Or there might be no reason at all. It happens. But when it does, try to use that time in another constructive way – maybe read something inspiring, go back over an old draft, brainstorm a character, or even just doodle something to get your mind moving.

Know when not to do it. Don’t be too hardcore about this. Good writing doesn’t come from working yourself into the ground. If you’re unwell, if you’re exhausted, if you’re stressed by something major happening in your life, don’t feel awful about taking a morning off to steal some sleep or do something else you really have to get done. If I’m having a hard week at work, I normally take Thursday morning off and have a lie-in instead. That extra hour of sleep helps me make it through the week – and one good Friday morning is better than two mornings of exhausted rubbish. Just make sure you’re not making excuses to let yourself slack off.

Be prepared to get better. At first, just waking up and typing the date may well be challenging enough for you. But the more you practice writing, the better you’ll get at it – so be prepared to move on. You may start to find automatic writing boring – see this as a good thing, as it means you should be trying something more challenging. Try more demanding exercises, or start working on project that means something to you.

Don’t pretend this is everything. Writing for short, sustained periods in the morning is a great way to revitalise your writing life, but it can’t replace the proper commitment of longer amounts of time spent at the keyboard. Block out a regular evening once a week to do more of the heavy lifting, think about taking the occasional writing holiday for a few days running, or just fit in a few hours once a week wherever you can. Whatever you do, you’ll find your morning routine leaves you feeling better prepared, your mind clearer, and your writing sharper.

10 great places to read plays in London

You can’t be a good writer if you’re not a good reader. But buying scripts can get expensive, and staying in touch with the best new writing can become a serious drain on your bank balance. Thankfully, this city has a great many opportunities for the curious reader looking for some inspiration. Here are our top tips for ways to read more plays than you can handle, most of them for free:

1. The British Library.

A no-brainer. As a deposit library, the BL has access to copies of every book ever published in the UK, plays included. Just order the texts you want to read from their online catalogue, and a few hours later they’ll be waiting for you at the service desk.

The British Library. Image by Steve Cadman.
The British Library. Image by Steve Cadman.

You have to get a Reader’s Pass to use the Library, which is free, but requires you to justify why you need to use their resources. If you’re interested in researching a topic related to your job or studies, this will usually do. Getting a pass can seem a little daunting, but the staff are friendly and if you can get one it’s absolutely worth the effort.

You won’t be able to take books home, but with reading rooms as beautiful as this you won’t want to. Plus, it’s open late on weeknights, so you can go after work for some quality study time.

2. City of Westminster Reference Library

If you can’t get into the British Library, you might want to try this West End library as an alternative. They specialise in the performing arts, and the collection includes an extensive collection of classic play texts, as well as up-to-date copies of all the major contact directories for agents, theatres and production companies. Membership is free to anyone who lives in the UK. Plus, they have a Sherlock Holmes collection. It’s win-win.

3. The National Theatre Archive

Snuggled up to The Old Vic in Waterloo is the National Theatre Studio, where the UK’s largest theatre develops its new projects and meticulously archives its old ones. You’ll need to make an appointment to access the archive, but it’s free and open to anyone. As well as reading a production’s prompt script, you can peek at the margin annotations, browse the designers’ sketches, and sometimes even watch recordings of final performances. Well worth it if you want to study a particular play in depth.

4. Become a script reader

New writing theatres are desperate for people to help them churn through their stacks of unsolicited script submissions. Drop their literary department a line and ask if they’re looking for any readers. A lot of the scripts you’ll get won’t be much good, but some of them will – and you shouldn’t underestimate what you can learn from your peers’ work, both good and bad. This is a great way to expose yourself to the coal face of new writing, and keep an eye on contemporary trends. Plus, you’ll get first hand experience of how a literary department works, and possibly make some great contacts.

5. The Shakespeare Readers’ Society

Meeting once a month in the basement of an occult bookshop in Bloomsbury, the Shakespeare Readers’ Society celebrate the joy of reading the bard’s work out loud. Parts are doled out on a sign-up sheet, but whether you’re a lead part or a cameo, there’s nothing like getting your head back into the classics and hearing some of the best work ever written being read aloud. When it’s over, pop £3 into the room hire tin and retire to the pub across the road to discuss the play.

6. Reading Groups

If the classics aren’t your thing, you can always try one of London’s many other established play-reading groups. One of the best is the Actors & Writers’ Forum, who meet once a fortnight at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios for rehearsed readings of new plays and a subsequent Q&A. It’ll cost you £5 on the door, or there’s a membership scheme for £10 a year, which also allows you to submit your own scripts for a possible reading. But if this doesn’t take your fancy, scour for an alternative, or use it to start one in your own neighbourhood. If you like hearing work read aloud, this is a great way to see what some of your fellow writers are getting up to, and possibly make some new friends.

7. Bush Theatre Café

Bush Theatre Cafe

Curl up with a cappuccino and browse the Bush Theatre’s wall of play texts – it’s not a huge collection but in the comfy surrounds of the old Shepherd’s Bush Library it’s a great place to kill some time before catching the evening show.

8. BBC Writers’ Room Script Library

Download copies of some of the BBC’s best comedy and drama scripts absolutely free. Yes, it’s not theatre, but don’t be a snob – you can still learn an awful lot about structure, character and style from these top-notch scripts: especially their collection of radio plays.

9. Drama School Libraries

If you can’t find what you’re looking for at a public library, you might want to try London’s many drama schools, which stock a whopping number of modern and classic plays. Some require you to pay a fee, like RADA, and some won’t let the public in at all – but access is usually free to staff, students and alumni – and if you know someone with a card it’s well worth asking if they’ll borrow something for you.

10. Samuel French Bookshop

Image: Secret London
Image: Secret London

We’re not suggesting you spend all day here reading plays from cover to cover, but browsing a bookshop can be a great way to get the flavour of different writers’ work, to contrast a few different styles and make an informed purchase of a text you’ll want to read in more depth later. Samuel French has a more extensive collection of plays than almost any bookshop in London – but the National Theatre and Royal Court bookshops are also worth a punt.


What’s your favourite place to read plays in London? Recommend something for us in the comments and we’ll go and check it out.