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The LPW Online Book Club is our latest initiative, exclusive for our members.
Not a member yet? Well, if you want a jump start for your writing for the price of a cup of coffee, what are you waiting for? Sign up here today! (Want more reasons to join and a bit more info? Read this).
This month’s pick
For our May selection, we are going to be reading A Doll’s House by Henrick Ibsen.
Why did we pick this?
First performed in 1879, this play caused quite a stir at the time. The play is set in Norway and is about the life of a married woman, who is trapped by the male-dominated world she inhabits. Questioning the place of women in society was pretty forward thinking for the time and initial performances of the play caused controversy. That said, the play went on to become very popular and the issues it raises are still just as relevant in the world today.
We think this this play will spark interesting discussion and it’s also a great example of the traditional three-act play structure.
How does it work?
All you need to do is read the play and come on over to our Members Facebook Group to join the discussion! Book club threads will be marked with the hashtag #bookclub, so it will be easy to find the discussion.
When does it start?
Discussion will start on Wednesday 30 May at 7.30pm. Don’t worry if you haven’t finished the play by then, we’ll be starting at the beginning with our discussion, so there will still be a lot that you can get out of it.
However, we can’t be held liable for any spoilers, so if this is something that will bother you, probably best to finish the play before the book club starts.
We’ll be leaving the discussion on the play open on the Facebook Group, so if there’s a question or a topic you want to explore with a group of writers, this is the perfect opportunity.
Need a copy?
If you need to buy a copy, you can do so at the link below. (And if you buy through this Amazon Affiliate link, a small portion of the sale will go towards supporting LPW – at NO extra charge to you!)
In this guest post, writer Naomi Westerman discusses problems with privilege within the theatre industry and how becoming a playwright isn’t a simple as picking up a pen.
The first time I stepped foot in the Royal Court Theatre was five years ago. That was the same year I met Simon Stephens, which was the first time I’d met a working playwright, making it the first time I’d realised ‘playwright’ was a job people could do for a living, despite it not being the 16th century.
Better writers than me have spoken out recently about the difficulties of earning a living from theatre, and the dirty secret that most ‘successful’ playwrights have alternative sources of income. It’s important stuff, but the debate about privilege has to go further.
When I wrote my first play, Tortoise, I had no ambition to be a playwright and limited experience of theatre. I wrote it simply because I had a burning need to tell that particular story, about the experiences of being a woman in the NHS mental health care system.
I sent the first draft to a small regional theatre, and to my naive amazement they rang me up and offered actual cash money to produce it as part of a festival. I promptly went onto google and invited every theatre I could find (I guess I did have some hidden ambition after all), to a flood of replies saying, “Lovely… let us know if it comes to London.”
So I self-financed a one-off showcase in London, and stepped out from behind the curtain (hey I was self-funding; I had to save on actor fees) to find a completely packed house.
The next day I woke to over 20 emails and voicemails from literary managers and agents, offering meetings, places on writer’s groups, rehearsed readings, showcases, scratches, “development opportunities”, chances to get to know them… everything, in short, except for actual production offers.
Though I was thrilled to have a sell-out show, making money is sadly still no a guarantee. And even now several productions and years later, when a major theatre asked me to extend a short play I’d written to full-length, they expressed this with a keen but non-contractual and unpaid interest.
With these productions behind me, I’m definitely not a new writer anymore. In fact, as someone who didn’t start writing professionally till 30, I’m practically an OAP in an industry obsessed with youth and newness.
And it’s this obsession for newness and discovering ‘raw talent’ that’s made finding my path as a playwright more difficult. I was surprised when someone asked if I’d sent Tortoise to the Royal Court. I assumed any major theatre would laugh at the hubris of an inexperienced wannabe assuming their first script might be Major Theatre-worthy.
I was raised to work hard, study hard, and work my way up from the bottom. This meant I decided to write small plays and put them on at fringe festivals, so I could learn to walk before I tried to run.
Four years later and I’ve still never submitted a script to the Court nor any other major theatre. Maybe it’s low self-esteem but I just don’t think I’m ready.
Not long ago I was in a meeting with the literary manager of a major theatre, who told me, “The ideal X Theatre play is a brilliant play by someone who’s never written a word before, and maybe never been to the theatre.”
Half of me thinks, God I wish I’d known that. I wish I hadn’t wasted my newness. But the other half thinks, bollocks to that! We’ve been indoctrinated by Mozart documentaries and TV talent shows into thinking genius springs unbidden from an underground source, and that passion and the right sob story trump hard work and dedication.
I’m not denying that writing talent exists, but regardless of any innate gift, only watching and learning and DOING will teach you the skills of structure and stagecraft.
And more than anything writers have to find their own path and that takes time and the space to make mistakes – something that the ‘newness’ obsession often prevents.
I’ve seen first time writers of undeniable talent thrust into the spotlight before they were ready, plays of great potential but little polish re-written by more experienced directors desperate to show the world their shiny new toy. Plays that achieve stunning success (then everyone acts shocked when the second play fails to live up to expectations).
This fetishisation of ‘raw’ talent is problematic. Even the current debates about privilege often focus on money and downplay or ignore things like access, education, and ability status.
Eight million adults in the UK are functionally illiterate. People who speak English as a second language have to work twice as hard. Ditto people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, those living in poverty or coping with trauma. And that’s making the assumption that these people (me included) even know about, and have access to, theatre in the first place.
There’s also a danger that “raw talent” is conflated with a very specific and potentially tokenistic style of theatre. As a disabled, queer, mixed-ethnicity, former homeless, high school dropout (and a diversity box ticker’s dream!)
I’ve had people trying to push me into writing “issue” plays: “disabled” plays; “queer” plays; “Jewish” plays; and even working class plays despite not being working class. But that’s not what I want to write, and it’s not something I could write.
I like to write dark comedies, and sci-fi, and surrealist nonsense. I like to play with concepts of language and time. I studied anthropology, linguistics, gender studies, and neuroscience over the course of gaining my multiple degrees (are you changing your mind about my level of privilege, yet?), and God help me I’m going to use it. Middle class white men are allowed to write anything they like. When are the rest of us going to be allowed that freedom?
And the truth is these ‘issues’ theatres are so keen for me to write about can’t be contained to a 90 minute play. I don’t like talking about my health but disability is not an abstract diversity-questionnaire concept, or something that can be access’d away (suffice to say I’ve spent five days this month in an NHS cardiac unit, and attended a press night with wires sticking out of my torso, which probably would have made for a wryly amusing and self-effacingly glamorous Instagram post. But in reality you can’t write when you’re seriously unwell. You just can’t).
I was also harassed and groped by a famous man, then told earnestly and with the best will in the world by a woman, who you’d think was successful enough not to need to play handmaiden, that if I ever told anyone I’d destroy my career. I didn’t listen, and I still don’t know to what degree she was right.
Since these setbacks I have yet to start another new play and the more I learn about playwriting the more of a mountain it feels like to write one, let alone guide it to the stage.
The expectation of ‘raw talent’ makes it difficult to give yourself breathing room as a writer, particularly when others have decided what type of writer they want you to be (here comes that diversity tick box again…) That, coupled with a need to make money, means the dream we’re sold of being a laid back, go-where-the-creativity-takes-you type of writer may simply be just that: a dream.
You may have seen the opportunity to have your work staged at the Little Pieces of Gold scratch night pop up here on LPB every few months. The AD of that brilliant company is Suzette Coon, who chatted to Editor Jennifer Richards about putting on this new writing night.
Q & A With Suzette Coon
JR: Why did you decide to create the LPOG new writing nights?
SC: I set up LPOG in 2010 . At that time there weren’t nearly as many new writing nights as there are now so it was a really welcomed platform for emerging writers.
It was and remains a chance for writers to get their plays in front of an audience and develop a network of directors & performers with whom they could continue to collaborate with.
Now of course there are lots of great new writing opportunities ,which is as it should be because, without them, it would be virtually impossible for most emerging writers to get their work staged. It’s possible for them to stage their own work but the advantage of an established new writing event such as ours is that we have a solid track record and reputation in the industry for discovering talented playwrights from around the UK.
JR: With so many submissions, how do you decide which ones to have performed? Are you looking for certain criteria?
SC: We receive on average about 400 plays per submission window from writers all over the UK. From that we usually make a shortlist of around 20.
Shortlisting can often be tricky. I’ve just run a workshop about writing the short play at the Actors Centre and participants were really keen to know, as most writers are, how we choose which ones to stage.
Mostly it’s my gut reaction to a read that makes me choose. However, I may also see something in a play that I know will appeal to others, which is why I will shortlist it for our directing team to then make the final choices.
Plays that stand out might tackle a topic or theme that we haven’t seen addressed before, or they might address a familiar theme but in a fresh or unusual way.
Good short plays are hard to write. I guess they’re a bit like a poem – there is a powerful core and the playwright has found the perfect form for the content. Crucially I’d advise: never try to second guess what people want. Write about what bothers you, what keeps you awake at night, what would make you desperately sad or angry if you never wrote about it.
JR: With the recent discussion about how playwrights make a living, it was raised about producers profiting off new writing nights where the writers aren’t paid. But you explained on Twitter that this isn’t the case, would you mind expanding on this misconception further?
SC: In my experience it’s impossible to profit from new writing nights. Venues don’t come cheap, especially a good London fringe venue. After venue hire, there is the cost of tech, back-stage help, insurance, printing & publicity. You cover your expenses and that’s it.
However, making a profit isn’t the objective – facilitating new work and giving it a platform is. For emerging writers that’s essential – as it is for more established writers who want to keep getting work in front of an audience.
There will always be people who feel that unless writers, performers, directors, creatives get paid then they shouldn’t make work full stop. This is misguided and perpetuates the already elitist nature of the theatre industry in which only those with money can afford to put on a show.
New creatives are using these events to get noticed and more established creatives still want an outlet for their work even if they’re not making a living from it
JR: Why do you think new writing nights are so important?
SC: Lots of reasons – finding your writer’s voice; tackling self-criticism and lack of confidence by getting your work in front of people; honing writing skills by collaborating with directors and performers and getting in a room with them to play and experiment.
Most importantly, if you don’t come from a writing or theatrical background, and if you don’t have that experience from drama school or university, then you may feel unentitled to your writing ambitions or remote from the industry.
Theatre can feel like a closed shop but it should be an opportunity to get as many worlds on stage as possible. Representation is key and these kinds of events make that feel more doable.
JR: What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about setting up their own scratch night, or just producing new work in general?
SC: Know why you are doing it. For example, if you’re a group of actors who are setting up an event in order to perform then obviously your long term goal is very different from a producer whose objective is to promote the playwright and perhaps follow on with a producing career.
If it’s your long term goal is to be a producer then decide what type of work you want to be involved with because it’s stressful, a financial risk, and a long, hard slog.
If you’re starting with new writing nights then follow your gut in terms of the writers you want to have a relationship with and have a good network of people whom who you like and trust to work with.
Editor Jennifer Richards looks at what happens when faced with a list of opportunities and deadlines you’re panicking you won’t make…
One of the brilliant things playwriting has over other forms of writing is how much more accessible it is. Being such a community-based media means there are always directors/writers/producers/actors searching for collaborators. You can see just from quickly scrolling through LPB weekly round-up how many opportunities there are for playwrights.
Of course not all these opportunities are suitable for everyone, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get what you apply for, but there’s an encouragement of new writing in theatre that, to me, feels much stronger than in other media.
But sometimes seeing all these opportunities come up can be pretty overwhelming. And I’ve definitely found myself staring at the weekly-round up, with the deadlines jumping out at me and making me panic that I’m not going to write something in time to apply. Which stops me from writing anything. Then I don’t go for any of the opportunities.
Deadlines and opportunities should be motivational tools, rather than something we use to beat ourselves up. When I first started applying for new writing nights, what I really needed was for someone to tell me it’s okay to miss an opportunity. In fact, it’s healthy.
As I’m sure is the case with many of you, I have a job outside of playwriting that limits how much time I can spend writing. It doesn’t make me any less of a writer because I don’t apply for every brilliant opportunity that’s posted. Or if I even take a break from writing every now and again when my creativity’s a bit lacking.
I’ve found it’s better to find a few opportunities that really excite me and put more effort focusing on those, producing a script that I’ve taken time over and just given myself some room to breathe when writing it. It’s not good for my writing, or for my mental health, to push myself to meet every deadline and apply for everything.
On LPB, we love listing as many opportunities on here as possible, but not to guilt you into thinking you need to apply for everything, because otherwise you’re just wasting all these great opportunities. We do it to show you what amazing things are out there, and we want to give you the chance to decide what’s most suited to you and your work – which took me a while to figure out!
By all means, find opportunities that excite you and go for those, but don’t burn yourself (and your creativity) out. It’s rare to be told not to go for opportunities, but the importance is in deciding which opportunities to invest your time and your energy in rather than spreading yourself and your work too thin. Both your writing and your mental health will thank you for it.
In this guest post, Samia Djilli arms us with the tools we need when faced with friends and relatives questioning your creative degree (or even job!). Good luck everyone!
Hopefully over Bank Holiday weekend, you got the chance to get together family and friends. Some maybe you’d not seen in a while, which is why you can forgive them when they ask a million questions, wanting to know every little thing about you – including the whole purpose of your degree and what exactly you plan to do with it…
This can lead to some quite silly questions, and in all honesty, we ALL tend to ask stupid questions (pity the doctor in the family who spends their holiday meal hearing about people’s ingrown toenails, or the person whose job is dubbed ‘boring’ and gets ignored entirely).
That said, writers do tend to encounter some pretty outrageous misconceptions, especially when it comes to studying creative writing – here’s the ones I’ve come across and how I’ve dealt with them, without making it so that Aunt Sarah refuses to speak to me at the next family meal.
1- “It’s just writing about sunshine and flowers then?”
I remember when I started my degree, about twenty people must have asked me if I loved writing about sunshine and flowers. And coupled that with a pandering look and sarcastic tone.
Perhaps this is a female-oriented thing as my male peers would only ever get asked if they wanted to write science-fiction or War stories, but the questionmakes no sense.
Sure, if you felt so inclined, you could write about sunshine and flowers while studying a Creative Writing degree, but I’m afraid that’s not all you’re going to have to do.
Like any degree, you’ll have a million things to do at once, and they won’t simply consist of writing stories about pretty things. Depending on what you choose to focus on, you’re time will most likely be spent on theory and how to perfect your narrative form.
Even if you do choose to write about sunshine and flowers, you’ll spend a vast amount of time on a 3,000 word critical commentary detailing the cultural, social and literary concepts behind your writing.
My response? Well if Aunt Sarah really wants, I’m happy to read out my critical commentary at the dinner table…. What was that? No? You’re not too bothered anymore?
2. “So, you just…write stories all day?”
Picture me sitting at the dinner tale, having just explained about the critical commentary, and then I get asked this (*insert eye roll here*).
A Creative Writing degree does exactly what it says on the tin: it teaches you how to write creatively. This consists of journalism, playwriting, screenwriting, copywriting, non-fiction, poetry and more.
You’re pushed to write in every way possible, and to perfect that writing at a professional level. It’s also important to note that for every piece of creative work you have to submit, an accompanying theoretical essay is mandatory!
But, I can’t fault the relatives on this one – we do, of course, also write stories, so I’m happy just to nod politely at this question! And, instead, I’ll just save my breathe for what’s coming next…
3. “You don’t actually do anything…”
One of the greatest myths that comes along with any creative degree is that it’s a degree for those who don’t really want to do any work. In my opinion it’s the opposite way round.
It sounds all a bit cheesy but you’ll actually find the most dedicated people studying a creative degree as everyone there is trying to perfect what they’re creating. I know, it can sound very pretentious, but really, people aren’t sitting around all day, wearing berets, drinking overpriced coffee, and discussing Brecht.
Instead, they’re working on original ideas and using their degree as a way to deliver those ideas in the best way possible. If I had wanted to do a Creative Writing degree because you think it’s easy, I’d have been better off buying a beret and a pumpkin spice latte. (Hold on a second… is that why everyone always buys me berets for Christmas??)
Regardless, I believe a proactive defence is best with this one: wear as many berets as possible and if time, grow out a moustache to really fit that ‘hipster artist’ image.
4. “Do you even learn anything?”
This is of a similar vein, but often people, no matter how much work you tell them you’re doing, seem to think that you don’t actually learn anything on a Creative Writing degree.
Of course this is dependent on where you study and how many independent work hours you put in, but if those things are all well and good, you’ll come out of it with a breadth of knowledge that you didn’t previously have.
Before I started my degree I didn’t know what a screenplay was or how you structured one but, at the end of it, I felt confident enough to send my work to industry professionals.
I also now have faith that even if they don’t like my ideas, they will be able to tell from my writing that I know what I’m doing.
Of course, if you already know how to structure a screenplay, write a novel, and put together a decent piece of editorial, then maybe my relatives are right, a Creative Writing degree isn’t the route to go down.
It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all option but, for me, doing a Creative Writing degree was the best thing to do, and ironically I think my relatives would actually find it really fascinating too!
Maybe I should’ve asked my lecturer for a ‘Bring Your Parents to Uni’ day…
5. “You’ll never find a job!”
So hands up who’s got this one before? And I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a fear I also had before starting my course. It’s also something that echoed throughout the entirety of my degree. The main worry is that no matter how many skills you gain, none of them will equip you to get a job that can pay the bills.
Depending on how much like Scrooge you’re feeling, you can point out that this doesn’t really differ from degree to degree, and there are plenty of people who study Maths, Science, Law (essentially what you’re relatives wanted you to study), and are in the same predicament of not finding a job post-graduating.
There are also so many extraneous variables that come into play here like social-class, disposable income, health, location and more. In my opinion, if you put yourself out there, you’ll find something – it just (like anything) takes a healthy amount of persistence.
So it’s probably best just to tell your family that you’re working hard and you’ll find something you love soon enough (even if you have to say it through gritted teeth…).
6. “Do you think you’ll become an overnight success then?”
It’s actually pretty lovely relatives think I could become the next J.K Rowling, but even the people that seem like an overnight success, have actually spent years working on their stories and scripts before they see the light.
And J.K Rowling is a perfect example of this and is definitely someone to bring up if/when you get asked this.
Of course, I am in no way saying that you can’t become an overnight success and it’s better to go into your degree as you would go into anything: with hope. But hard work is what will pay off in the end (if you can stomach the cliche!)
One thing you’ll find out in a Creative Writing degree is what part of the industry your writing connects with most strongly. When I started my degree, I was convinced I wanted to write novels, yet I came out of it realising that playwriting and screenwriting are my strong points.
Once you’ve realised what you should focus your attention on, you’ll start to figure out an action-plan that can lead you to be satisfied within your creative career. You may not necessarily be an overnight success, but you’ll have the skills and the mind-set to get you where you need to go, and that’s the most important thing.
In fact, it’s much more important than any blank stares or patronising questions you’ll have to face at your next family reunion. Yes, I want to be a playwright, and yes, I chose to study Creative Writing.
Just like any other degree, a lot of time, effort and money goes into it. And, as much as we chastise our relatives for asking the wrong questions, at least we get asked about J.K Rowling rather than ingrown toenails, so maybe us writers don’t have it so bad after all!
In this guest post, Joanne Fitzgerald discusses the steps she took to produce her own script, and the lessons she learnt along the way.
In September 2017, the long list for the Bruntwood prize was released, and I remember the feeling of disbelief when I spotted my play Her Not Him. I double-checked. I triple-checked. But there it was.
It was an amazing feeling after spending the best part of 2 years working on the script in various guises, sending it into different competitions, getting friends to read it, reworking, tweaking, redrafting, until it was shaped enough that I felt ready to share it.
But a long-listing was no guarantee that it would ever see the light of day. If I wanted it performed I was going to have to organise it myself and take on the producer role.
Perhaps you’re itching to see your script brought to life and are considering taking on the producer role. For all you potential first-time producers, here’s my guide on how it canbe done:
1. Arrange a workshop
First things first I had to test the script out. What I needed was a director and actors to get it on its feet and figure out how to tell the story physically.
I was very lucky to have been an actor for a brief spell and, through actor friends, I met my director, Amy Lawrence. We then went through the process of casting (using Mandy.com), while I also organised some rehearsal space and a venue.
For this, I used a site called www.rehearsalspacefinder.com that lists places by price and location, but there are plenty of other options worth exploring – schools, church halls and pub function rooms can all be workable and cheaper options.
Hearing actors read the text gave me the opportunity to adapt wording, edit scenes that went on too long, and add in new and interesting details based on discussions in the room.
But this time in the rehearsal room isn’t just about reading the script, it’s also the chance to play games, improvise backstories, and build a structure together, which leads us nicely onto…
2. Building a Team
I found most of our cast and crew through a combination of friends, recommendations from friends, Facebook groups, and mandy.com.
When creating this team, it’s important to be clear on what people’s roles are and make sure you each understand your own responsibilities.
This sounds very obvious but I had never worked with a professional producer so I didn’t really know what a good one was supposed to do, I just assumed it was a bit of everything.
I had also never worked with a stage manager or a set designer so I had to figure out what those roles were and trust those people to do their job. The key to that is to always communicate rather than assume.
And ask questions, even if you’re worried you’ll look stupid – pride in this context is a waste of time. It’s better to speak up and get a better understanding of what’s needed.
Also, if you value your sanity, don’t take everything on yourself. Build up a team of people you like working with, who are good at what they do and trust them to do their best – and they will.
3. Find a venue
So one of the useful things about doing a workshop is holding an informal showcase at the end to show what you’ve come up with. In our case, after a week’s work we had a decent 40 minutes to present.
I wrote to a list of theatres and production companies, inviting artistic directors, literary departments and programmers to come and see our piece and give us a little feedback on its potential to be programmed at their venues.
According to the law of averages, I invited people from about 30 different theatres in London, and 3 turned up. But they gave brilliant feedback!
I would also encourage scouring Twitter for opportunities that come up as it was a call-out for scripts from female writers that led us to getting a slot at Theatre503.
So, by the end of that workshop on the 15th December, I was armed with pages of notes and feedback, a new ending to write, and a week-long run at Theatre503 secured for the end of January.
4. Plan Plan Plan
I’m a project manager, so planning is my forte which, luckily, comes in handy for producing. Here’s my step-by-step breakdown for the built up to opening night…
6 weeks to go: I think this is the minimum point at which you should have a cast and director hired and meeting for the first time to do a readthrough, and a venue booked. It gives you, the writer, some time to tweak the script based on readthrough feedback and/or things you hear that make you cringe – before you start rehearsal properly; giving the cast enough time to learn any changes.
4 weeks to go (or earlier): Start of marketing blitz (at this point all reviewers and industry invites should also be sent)
2 weeks to go: Rehearsals. Ideally, these would be longer than 2 weeks, but this is a point where it would be helpful to do a run in front of someone who can give you a bit of feedback ahead of performance
1 week to go: Agree the Get In plan – who’s doing what, how long have you got to set up lights, sound, set, props & do a tech run/cue to cue with the actors
And before you know it, it’s showtime!
5. Be in control of performance week
In terms of the week where the actual performance(s) is/are happening, it needs to include the following:
Opening night (when things will probably go wrong but it will all come together somehow)
Press night (invite reviewers but not to opening night if you can help it, give the show some time to settle)
Last night (let yourself enjoy it and recognise what you’ve accomplished)
Get out (pitch in, don’t just leave it to the stage manager!)
Write your thank you’s (you’ll have invited all your friends and family and colleagues and taxi drivers and literally anyone you meet in the run up – thank them for their support!)
I learned that for all my plans, things will inevitably go wrong. They just will. On Her Not Him we had at least one crisis a day in the 2-week lead-up to performance.
Set didn’t arrive on time, rehearsal room being evacuated, get-in times and people’s availability changing, flooring being the wrong size, actors getting sick – you name it.
And all you want to do is cry and retreat or shout and swear; but you can’t do any of that because none of it will help. You may have the moments of despair in the loo but then you quickly wash your face and move on because people are looking to you for some kind of leadership.
And actually it is in those panicky moments that some of the most creative solutions can be pulled out of nowhere and save the day.
6. Time to market it
Having a media campaign planned out in advance really helps. Amy, my director, and I came up with a list of things to post every day on Facebook and Twitter in the month running up to the show.
Posts included discussing the themes of the play, how the production was progressing, photos of cast and crew, promoting the theatre, and pushing ticket sales.
Prepare log lines, synopses and summaries that fit into a max of 120 characters. These can be used on socials/websites/email but also the all-important one liner is needed for every person you meet to entice them to come and see it.
As one PR person told us: ‘That can be said in time it takes for your listener to knock back their drink and make their excuses.’
7. Make sure your team are okay
Make sure actors are happy and calm and given enough time for arriving, warming up, getting to do make-up and into costume, and have a bit of dressing-room gossip.
The last thing you need is actor that are stressed or nervous going on stage. But this goes for everyone else too – your director, your stage manager, the box office and the ushers.
Check in with people and hear how they’re doing, how they think it’s going and listen to them. You also want everyone to feel that they can approach you with any issues and know that they will be heard.
Don’t bring any production woes to them, they don’t need hear it. You might be a stress-bunny in private but you’re the captain of the ship, and they’ll take their cues from you on behaviours; if you’re respectful and professional, they will be too.
8. Remember reviews aren’t gospel!
Don’t take reviews personally. I cried when I read the first few that weren’t stellar and took it as a personal failure that the show hadn’t been received with glowing praise and theatres fighting to bring us to Edinburgh.
As producer you need to consider the piece critically, and assess reviews for feedback that might help to improve the piece or that you can learn from for the next production.
And, as much as you might want to avoid reading them, it is the producer’s job to scan the reviews for any useable quotes to put into your marketing, so try to look at them from a purely functional perspective.
9. Next Steps
As soon as the first performance is over everyone asks: ‘What next?’
It would have been useful to have a clearer plan so that when this was asked, I could have said something specific and taken advantage of post-show enthusiasm to ask for donations or other support.
But I think the important lesson I learned was to be positive about the future. Now that I’ve done it, I can do it again. I know to expect things to go wrong, and that it’s okay if not everyone loves the piece.
I’ve worked with some brilliant people and did what I set out to do – get my first play performed.
Editor Jennifer Richards is happy to hold her hands hands up and start this piece by acknowledging the irony in writing an advice column about why you shouldn’t listen to advice columns… Hopefully, by the end, we’ll have figured our way out of that Catch 22*
I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was five, when I first wrote a short story about best friends living under a tree (riveting I know). Since then, I’ve trolled through all the articles giving all the best advice in how to make this dream come true. In fact, I read so many of these articles, I managed to scare myself off from writing.
Because I didn’t have the time to write every day, or the energy to get up an hour before school/work to write, or the ability to keep a diary, or even to remember to carry a notepad with me wherever I go… And I thought if I can’t even follow these simple tips writers are giving me, what kind of writer am I? It’s better off not to try.
But advice columns aren’t gospel. You could follow every piece of advice ever given on how to be a successful playwright, and still find yourself no further along in your career. It’s unlikely that someone else’s writing rules are going to be the exact fit for you. Because writing is a creative profession, and there’s no one way, and definitely no right way, to ‘be a writer’.
I became so obsessed with the idea of writing every day so I would ‘be a writer’, I started working on a story in my phone notes every morning on the bus ride to work. Then my phone broke.
And because I had been squeezing in writing when I really wasn’t concentrating on it, I hadn’t had the chance to back up what I had been doodling down on my phone. So the story was gone.
Though, truth be told, the terrible plot I had been writing about an alien with a pet demon dog probably wasn’t worth saving… I produce much better work when I have creativity strike, rather than forcing it into a bus ride and subsequently inducing travel sickness.
But you might be someone who loves writing a bit every day, or maybe you set aside one day a month that you dedicate completely to writing, or perhaps you only write every couple of months. Whatever you do, and whichever way you go about it, you’re still a writer. You don’t need to jump through hoops, particularly hoops someone else has set up, to prove this.
Don’t get me wrong, learning tips and tricks from writers you admire is a brilliant thing. I’ve learnt so much from playwrights I love and have had the fortune to work with, meet, or read their advice, but it’s about how you apply their advice to your own way of writing, rather than just following their advice blindly.
I so desperately wanted to be the writer who gets each scene perfect before moving onto the next, as that’s what one of my favourite playwrights said they did in an advice piece, but I just don’t work that way. And trying to force myself to write like that meant my productivity levels just stopped.
I work best by writing a terrible first draft without letting myself do any edits before going back through it again and basically creating a whole new script. That certain piece of advice just hadn’t been applicable to the way I write, and that didn’t mean my way, or her way, was wrong. Instead of doing it scene-by-scene as she suggested, I moulded the advice to fit my writing style, and used her tips on polishing scenes once I’d finished my whole first draft.
And, the truth is, you can only read so many advice columns before it stops becoming advice, and is just another form of procrastination scaring you off from writing (though, of course, you should definitely finish reading this one…)
Playwrights sharing tips and tricks are a lovely way of offering support, not something you should use to berate yourself, believing that you must be writing ‘wrong’ just because you don’t write every day or keep a diary. Write how you want. Write when you want. Write once a day. Write once a month. Write once a year. Keep a diary. Don’t. Whatever you do or whichever way you do it, you’ll still a writer. Now, stop reading advice columns and get to it.
Female writers using male pseudonyms is viewed as common practise, the so-called Brontë effect. But could the trend now be swinging the other way?In this piece, Editor Jennifer Richards looks at why some male playwrights have been adopting female pen names when entering competitions.
There is a notable historical tradition of women writing under men’s names, or adopting gender neutral pseudonyms like J.K. Rowling or Harper Lee. Why? Because they couldn’t get their work published, produced, read or otherwise taken seriously. It seems like an accepted route for female writers who want to be heard, but in the past few years, something strange has been happening – men are submitting as women.
Let’s look at some stats…
Of the 2015 top ten and winners of the Bruntwood Prize, all the male playwrights listed used either a female or gender neutral pseudonym.
In 2017, the winner of the Bruntwood Prize, Timothy X Attack used ‘Asdfgh J’ as his name – you couldn’t assign a gender to this, but it’s also not exactly a ‘name’.
A similar trend of male playwrights not using male names was also seen in 2016’s radio thriller competition by Sussex Playwrights; almost half of the 31 male playwrights submitted under a female or gender neutral name.
As theatres are facing pressure to be more diverse, perhaps this has led male writers to believe that they will be in with a better chance if they submit under a female name, which could explain the use of female pseudonyms.
So… Do male playwrights believe in the ‘diversity card’?
When I posed this to Chris Campbell, Literary Manger of Royal Court, he responded: “Unquestionably there is the view out there that men think they would be looked on more favourably if they were female.”
He did add that it in his experience, it was a small number of men who use female pseudonyms, and “of those men, there are ones who may just feel more comfortable for writing from what they think is from a female perspective, which I kind of understand. But out of that small number there are also those who do believe we are trying to fill out some kind of quota.”
“I have had people genuinely say to me: ‘I suppose if I was a 20-year-old girl, it would be very different.”
The fact that the men selected as winners of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize were all using female names might support that view. But Chris points out that: “The importance of the name on the cover is widely exaggerated, perhaps unconsciously, by writers.”
Chris continued, voicing his frustration that white male writers could think they would be looked on less favourably: “I do think if you are a writer and a piece of work is not being taken up, you’ll look for any conceivable reason other than the obvious one [that your work isn’t good enough.] For a long time, white men did not have another reason and now they do, and they can find that comforting.”
This must mean female playwrights are doing well then?
The fact that some men believe they are at a disadvantage seems ironic considering the 2017 review of playwriting by arts and culture blogger Victoria Sadler.
Sadler found that of the six leading theatres in London, five had less than half of their plays written by solo female playwrights. Which is exactly the same as she found the year before – so two thumbs up for progress then…
For 2017, her findings included The Old Vic with a female to male playwright ratio of 0:5 and The National Theatre with just 1:3, and Salomé was the only work by a female playwright to be performed on the Olivier stage. Just last year, the Hampstead Theatre came under fire for their failure to programme a single woman writer in their mainstage season. (An imbalance which it seems they are working to correct in their upcoming programming.)
So it would definitely seem unusual to think you are more likely to succeed if you go under a female name. Maybe there’s more to it than just wanting to play the ‘diversity card’.
The value of pseudonyms – a new identity?
Philippa Hammond, Chair of Sussex Playwrights (who ran the radio thriller competition mentioned above), thinks men could be using female pseudonyms for a different reason.
“Rather than ‘pretending to be female’, the male writers are asking the judges to look at the writing not the writer.”
“Sussex Playwrights need playwrights to use pseudonyms because some of the entries to the competition are members or otherwise known to the committee. This way only I know entirely who wrote what and the committee aren’t swayed by friendships/prejudices/preconceptions etc.”
This idea of taking the writer’s identity out of the play by using a pseudonym (male or female) is shared by James Fitz, who was one of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize winners for his play Parliament Square – with his entry going under the female (and funny) pseudonym ‘Penelope Pitstop’.
“It’s very rare to be able to strip your play of you. I get quite obsessed of trying to take myself out of the play. Being able to choose your pseudonym and mask yourself was great.”
When I questioned why he had picked a female pseudonym rather than a male one, he said: “I chose it because I thought it was funny and I guess it was a bit unconscious in choosing a different gender, and just choosing something that felt very different to my normal identity.”
The pseudonym problem
Chris Campbell describes Bruntwood as a “wonderful thing”, but criticises the use of pseudonyms. As Literary Manger of the Royal Court, he wouldn’t see value in playwrights submitting to him under pseudonyms.
“Bruntwood fetishes this anonymity thing and I don’t think that’s right – they probably already know who it’s by or can find out immediately by googling it.”
“I really don’t think in the end it’s much of a help.”
It’s quality that shines
The Royal Court was the only theatre in Sadler’s review that had a higher ratio of female to male playwrights. When I mentioned that a lot of excuses are given for not programming female playwrights, Campbell dismissed this, saying it’s simple: “How do you programme more female playwrights? Get more female playwrights on – full stop.”
“People will then learn from example. If we get to the point where the idea of a playwright doesn’t conjure up a guy name Dave, and instead perhaps someone called Polly, then maybe we’re doing the right thing.”
Perhaps some men, on hearing statements like this, incorrectly interpret that as meaning they are at a disadvantage, and turn to using female identities to try and help. But all the people involved in this piece pointed out how quality was much more important than whatever name was on the paper, which doesn’t actually bear any weight.
Do pseudonyms even have a place in playwriting?
So though some playwrights like James Fritz may crave the freedom that taking on a new identity enables, pseudonyms seem to be fairly redundant. If a theatre or theatre company require a script to be anonymous, then perhaps it is better to use a playwright’s initials or simply just call them all ‘anonymous’.
With pseudonyms, the issue isn’t with the idea that you may want to take on a new identity. But if you’re adopting one, it’s worth asking yourself why you’re taking on that particular identity, and is it for the right reasons?
There may be a call for more diversity in theatre, but Sadler’s review certainly paints a bleak picture about little, or in fact no, progress being made in helping to put the work of female playwrights on stage.
Perhaps, the Papatango Prize and the (soon to close) Theatre503 award have got it right in asking applicants to submit scripts without any name on them, rather than under a pseudonym.
It shouldn’t be the name on the script the mater, but the story you’re telling. And that raises an entirely different question of what we define as an important story, or ‘quality’ storytelling, but that a conversation for another post…
Getting your script finished sometimes seems like an impossible task, but it’s a brilliant feeling when you’ve got a completed draft staring back at you. Yet the big question is: what do I do now? In this piece, Kimberley Andrews shares all the options you and your wonderful new script have…
You’ve done it! You’ve finally got to the end of your script! Perhaps you took part in #WrAP2018 and wrote the whole thing in January or maybe you’ve been working on it for what seems like all eternity.
Either way, there are few things more satisfying in life then ceremoniously typing out the phrase ‘The End’ as you hit the milestone of finishing your play. (Wahoo!)
But then what, hey? Once the initial jubilation of getting your play finished wears off, it’s easy to feel daunted by the possibilities of what you should be doing with it. And whilst there’s plenty of information out there on actually writing the script, there are no hard and fast rules about what to do next.
With that in mind, here are our top 10 tips for what to do once you’ve finished your play:
1. Step away from it
That’s it step. away. from. the. laptop. This might seem counterproductive since you’re feeling all buzzy about getting your play finished, but taking a break can help give you a perspective on where you want to go with it – or what needs editing.
It doesn’t have to be a long break, especially if you’re working towards a submission deadline, but reading a book, catching up with friends or just zoning out in front of some trashy TV puts some distance between you and your play and helps you to see things with fresh eyes.
2. Redraft it
This might sound obvious but don’t even think about doing anything with your play until you’ve redrafted it (and for professional opportunities, we’d recommend sending nothing earlier than your third draft).
Tackle the big stuff first, otherwise you’ll find yourself spending weeks tinkering with commas and minor details instead of grappling with the important stuff.
(Also, watch this space for a LPW online redrafting course that will be available to our members soon).
3. Get some feedback
Once you feel you’ve made all the edits you can, it’s worth getting some feedback to get another perspective. At this stage, try asking someone you know (and trust will be honest with you) to have a read of your play and to tell you what they think of it.
Unfortunately, most literary departments don’t offer feedback to writers and many don’t accept re-submissions, so you’ll be wasting an opportunity to submit to them later if you send in an early draft.
If you’re stuck for someone to read your play, you could consider our script consulting service or why not put a shout out on Facebook and do a script swap with another writer?
4. Polish it
Once your play has been suitably redrafted, it’s a good idea to go through it with a fine toothed comb and polish it to perfection.
While you’re busy with the creative stuff, it’s easy to forget small details such as formatting, page numbers and grammar; but these things are so important.
It might sound cheesy, but you are also presenting yourself when you send off a script, and you want to put your best foot forward.
You also want to make sure your play is as easy for a rushed literary manager to read as possible – so checking formatting details is doubly important.
You can find some great information on formatting your script on BBC Writersroom but the biggest tip we can give you is to be consistent!
5. Workshop it
Workshopping your play can be a really valuable way to test run it before you show it to an audience.
During a workshop, you’ll benefit from seeing your play up on it’s feet and you can also get actors to improvise around any problematic areas in your script.
Essentially, all you need for a workshop is some actors, a space and your script (a director is helpful too, particularly if you don’t fancy leading the workshop yourself).
The downside of this is that it can be costly and seem like an extravagance if you don’t know whether the play will be performed.
A good alternative to a workshop is to join a writers group (or start your own!) where you can have your work read out and discussed – you might even all be able to club together for some workshop sessions with actors.
6. Organise a reading
There’s nothing quite like seeing your play up on stage and in the absence of a fully staged performance, a reading is the next best thing.
Invite the right people and who knows, your play might get picked up for a production.
And you can find out more about putting on a reading in Sam Sedgman’spiece here.
7. Pitch it
Once you’ve got a script that you’d eventually like to see the light of day, it’s a good idea to start thinking about how you’ll pitch it to other people.
Pitches come in all different shapes and sizes: from the few sentences you write in an introductory email, to a full one-page outline, to the blurb on a flyer, and even to a conversation with a potential producer.
Also, spending some time trying summarise your idea is a great way to flag up any holes in your plot that you might need to revisit before you start submitting.
Write a few different variations of your pitch for different situations and do practice verbal pitches in the mirror (or to another human!) – the last thing you want to do when someone says ‘tell me out your play’ is answer with a giant ‘errrrr…..’. Awkward.
8. Send it to theatres
The obvious choice of things to do with a finished play is to send it out to some theatres or apply for opportunities you’ve found on our website.
A common mistake is to send your play out to anyone and everyone, especially since you can do so by email these days and don’t have to shell out for hard copies!
Do your research and target the theatres you’d really like to work with first; it might be that you get a snippet of feedback and decide to redraft before sending it out to anyone else – or you never know, you might even get produced at your dream venue.
If you’re not sure which theatre is the best fit for your piece, look out for our members’ resource coming soon that will give you some advice on this one…
9. Produce it yourself
Producing it yourself might sound like the most daunting of these options but it’s a sure fire way to get your work on stage – and that’s why you wrote it, right?
It also needn’t be as scary as you think – you don’t need to hire out the National or tour the whole country with it; you can hire a small venue and work on shoestring budget.
There’s no doubt that self-producing is hard work but it’s definitely one of the most empowering things you can do as an aspiring playwright.
10. Leave it in drawer
This one sounds ridiculous but probably slightly tempting when faced with the gargantuan task of getting your play out there.
That said, there are instances when leaving it in a (probably metaphorical) drawer and getting on with your life isn’t such a bad thing.
Perhaps you wrote this play just to master the craft of playwriting; perhaps writing this play just provided a springboard for something bigger and better, or maybe you just don’t connect with the idea anymore.
There is no shame in recognising when it’s time to draw a line under something and move on – and nothing is wasted when you are developing and learning your craft anyway.
Just don’t let the reason you leave the play in a drawer be that you’re scared of the unknown or don’t feel you’re good enough. You’ve come this far, and you’ve already realised a huge goal by writing a play.
This is just the beginning!
Featured image by We Heart It via Flickr Commons CC License