Category Archives: Original Content

LPB Members’ Monologue Competition: Winning entries

In the summer, we ran an online course for our members on How to Write a Monologue. We then invited participants to submit their monologues to us and promised to publish our favourite ones on the blog!

We received some fantastic entries which encapsulated  some vibrant characters with unique voices, so it was a difficult task to choose the ones we wanted to showcase. However, we managed to make our selection and we’ll be publishing them over the next few weeks…

This week’s selection: Blessed be the Peacemakers by Alison Rayner

Alison is a graphic designer and has returned to writing after a short film she wrote about a sweet seduction was shot in 2016. A slim volume of her short stories was published in conjunction with the film and ‘Pastry’ (13’, dir: Eduardo Barreto) is now doing the festival circuit and being televised through Eurochannel TV. Alison has written several spec feature screenplays and has recently completed her second full-length stage play.

Introduction:

‘Blessed Be The Peacemakers’ was written in response to a prompt, ‘She turned on the radio’, in a creative writing class and is set when radio was in its heyday. Already, before the Second World War and Churchill’s powerful speeches, Hitler was galvanising an inflicted German nation with his passionate broadcasts. The voice of a little girl was used to capture the innocence, curiosity and confusion that reflects not only the tension in her family but, equally, a nation in crisis. A winner in the themed 2018 Waterloo Festival writing competition, it was subsequently published in Bridge House Publishing’s e-anthology ‘To Be … To Become.’ This is the shorter, published version.

Blessed be the Peacemakers

By Alison Rayner

“I’m so excited! I can already hear the crowds cheer. I can’t wait.

My brother Hans is beside himself. He says our time is coming. He says this will be the start of everything he’s been preparing for. He said that last time, too. And the time before that.

Hans finished dinner early then left the table without even asking! He’s waiting for mother by the radio, but he’s still in his uniform instead of his pyjamas. Father seems angry. He doesn’t like seeing Hans get excited, but I do! He’s all wide-eyed and cheery and smiling and it’s much nicer when he’s like that and not being mean and nasty and pulling my hair or screaming at my boy friends if they don’t follow his orders. And worse. He even punched little Bertel last week. But I’ve seen the older boys do the same to him. And sometimes I hear Hans crying when he goes to bed. I don’t think soldiers are meant to cry. He asked me not to tell anyone and I promised I wouldn’t because he said he’ll take my teddy bear and pull his eyes out and I don’t want Teddy to suffer so it’s our secret even though I don’t want to have any secrets, especially not from mother and father.

Hans tells me he’s a good soldier and he won’t let the Fuhrer or the country or our family down. I don’t know. I don’t think he likes soldiering very much but he likes it when the little boys follow his orders. Yes, he likes that very much.

Hans is itching for mother to turn on the radio. We’re going to hear if we’ve won. I’m not sure what we’re winning, but Hans is already jubilant. I don’t understand why mother and father are so quiet. I think mother is secretly excited because she likes the Fuhrer… a lot. When father isn’t here, when he’s working late, and we hear the Fuhrer talking about what they stole from us and how he’s going to get it all back, she’s very happy. Me too. It’s like Abel at school when he takes our sweets. He’s a big bully. The Fuhrer says that we were bullied and they took all our sweets and he’s going to get them all back for us. And he will. He fixed the country and made it happy again because everyone was sad and poor and hungry and now we have lots of food and nice homes and good jobs and we have fun together like a big family that all thinks and feels the same and I like that feeling too.

I don’t know why father isn’t happy about that. He was angry after the squad leader came with the brown shirts for Hans. I was only little then, but I remember. Mother was pleased because Hans needed more shirts but now he only wears the brown shirts anyway. Hans has such a fine time, I don’t know why he cries about it. He marches and sings and fights and plays cowboys and I think it must be a lot of fun! When I join the League, I can march too. I’m really looking forward to that. We all sing in school. Exciting songs about our dear Motherland and our countrymen. Comrades that are our brothers and sisters even though we don’t know them at all. That makes me feel really special. But when father tells us to stop singing, I just feel sad.

Mother turns the radio on. There’s music. Hans stands to attention like he’s the conductor. Father fidgets. He doesn’t want to be here but he doesn’t want to miss out either. I look at father and I worry sometimes. Maybe he knows something no one else does. Hans ignores father now. He doesn’t believe in him anymore. But I do.

Oh, stop. Listen.

There’s a really long list of countries that are also listening in, just like us. It must be good news!

The crowds are so loud. It’s amazing. There are so many people! I get tingles. Then the Fuhrer speaks. Mother’s eyes twinkle and she smiles at me like I’m the most precious thing on earth.

It’s way past my bedtime and the Fuhrer talks a lot about things I don’t understand but mother tells me to be quiet and that I will understand when I’m older. It’s a very long speech and I’m very sleepy.

The crowd roars again and I jerk awake. Great news! Our stolen Sudetenland has been given back to us! The Fuhrer is so proud. We grow bigger and stronger every day and no one can make fun of us anymore. We are so blessed. We truly are the best people in the world.

The Fuhrer wants peace and happiness for all but he says that everyone else wants war. Why do people want war? I don’t understand. Even Hans wants war. I hear my parents argue at night about how they don’t want him to be a soldier and about him crying. I swear, I didn’t tell them that.

They whisper about the Eidleman’s, our old neighbours, going to America and us not having enough money to go there too but I don’t want to go because all my friends are here and the teacher told me they don’t even speak German there.

I know everything will be okay because the Fuhrer will protect us. He’s built a really big army and we’re very powerful now so we would beat everyone anyway.

Mother says don’t be silly, there won’t be a war. I trust her because she’s happy and positive and wise and I trust the Fuhrer because he’s working hard to make sure everyone feels blessed with the good fortune of our Motherland. But father says there will be a war, and soon, because people are just plain stupid. But he’s been saying that for years.”

If reading this gets you in the monologue writing mood, you can still access the course on our members’ site here. If you’re not a member yet, sign up here!

Adaptation, or what you will: Chloë Myerson from Monkhead Theatre on writing adaptations

Ever wanted to know more about writing an adaptation? We asked writer and co-founder of Monkhead Theatre,  Chloë Myerson, to reflect on her experience of working on adaptations and to share her tips with us…
Monkhead Theatre’s latest show, Collective Intelligence #1 The Interpretation of dreams, an adaptation of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, takes place at the Bunker Theatre on Monday 12 November. Book here

 

Sir Toby Belch is wearing a gold lamé doublet and matching hot pants, Elizabethan boots and a blonde 60s-style wig. Andrew Aguecheek has long stringy cornflake-coloured hair and wears a watermelon-stained white onesie with suspenders, his feet are bare and his mouth is always open. They stand on the side of the stage behind two microphones, drinking wine, making obscene puns and cracking jokes about French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent ‘Benalla’ scandal.

The audience, packed into the gorgeous, two-hundred-year-old baroque velvet shelving system that is the Comedie Française theatre in Paris, howls with laughter. But something else happens as well. They sit up, they shift their bodies just a little closer to the performers, they shuffle their buttocks as if they want to stand up, they take quick, tight breaths. You notice it most sharply with the kids and teenagers (this is a Sunday matinee).

The one in front of us swivels her tweeny bespectacled head around to the parent/ guardian next to her with a half-scandalised-half-delighted look that says ‘can they do this?!’ They react the same way when Andrew waggles his penis at Malvolio in fury, when Malvolio is trapped in a well with turds schlopping down on him from above, and when at the end of the play the walls behind the stage are literally pulled down.

These kids weren’t exactly bored for the rest of Thomas Ostermeier’s bombastic La Nuit Des Rois Ou Tout Ce Que Vous Voulez (Twelfth Night, or What You Will), but until these moments had perhaps forgotten something that we all forget most of the time.

There are no rules (in art).

We’re in a constant state of forgetting this. And when we are reminded of it, by a piece of great art, there’s a kind of physical feeling, isn’t there? I feel it in my chest, like a little motor’s just been switched on. Like I want to get up and run.

Hopefully, all good or great pieces of art perform this function in some way, but when it comes to adaptation, particularly of the serious classics, it becomes the whole point. For me, anyway.

My name’s Chloë, I’m a TV and theatre writer who (without thinking all that much about it) has come to specialise in adaptations. I’m currently developing a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park for Wall to Wall (Warner Bros.) and my theatre company Monkhead Theatre, which I co-run with director Nico Pimparé, does experimental versions of classic literature. We began last year with a full-length adaptation of Gogol’s unfinished novel Dead Souls and since then we’ve worked on site-specific pieces, setting Julius Caesar in an actual hip-hop festival stage-and-mosh-pit in Senegal and Hamlet in an abandoned suburban house in Paris. Now we’re back in London and although we’re in an actual theatre again, our latest venture – The Interpretation of Dreams – is by no means a more traditional adaptation.

 

Monkhead adapt a site-specific Hamlet in a house in Paris, September 2018. L-R:Thibault Matard (Barnardo)
Sean Hardy (Horatio), Thomas Peterson (Hamlet),, Kasper Klop (Marcellus), Nico Pimparé (Director)

As part of our new semi-regular rapid-response night Collective Intelligence, we’ve invited a range of writers, artists, musicians and performers to collaborate on a collective adaptation of Sigmund Freud’s seminal turn-of-the-century-text about the inner workings of our sleeping and waking brains. This involves bringing our 3 writers, 3 performers, 1 movement director and 1 sound & video artist together on a grey Wednesday to chat about psychoanalysis, dreams and fantasies and to run around improvising pieces at SET Dalston (thanks again, guys). Right now our creatives are all squirrelled away, working on their pieces (due in Friday!) which will be collated along with my material into a full-length show by us, in time for November the 12th.

So, what advice would I give them if they asked me what the four keys to a great adaptation are?

Well, that’s very specific, I’d say, but here they are:

1. Why this? Why now?

Our Collective Intelligence artists didn’t have much of a choice of material. But it’s true that, as corny as it sounds, the material often chooses you. Sometimes you pick an old book up off the floor outside your housemate’s room and read it and, instead of feeling like you’re in a cosy little 19th century drawing room, you feel like you’re suspended upside down at the highest bend of a rollercoaster, watching your own society below. It’s a feeling both exhilarating and worrying.

For instance, we were attracted to Gogol’s flaming satire Dead Souls partly because of how similar the subprime mortgage crisis that precipitated the crash of 2008 was to the protagonist’s task in the novel (collecting technically dead but legally ‘alive’ souls from idiotic landowners in order to fraudulently use them as collateral for a government loan). There seems to be something nauseatingly enduring about Capital’s ability to turn human beings into numbers and profit, and wedded to that was the fantastically specific story of Chichikov, the broke and insecure upper-lower-middle class nobody that pursues this wretched scheme.

And there comes the second key…

2. Embrace/ Incorporate problems.

At Monkhead we’re often attracted to texts that present both a clear modern analogue and a lot of contrast with our current world. Chichikov’s a specific character, formed by Russian society’s complicated relationship with the emerging middle class at the start of the 19th century. We wanted to explore that too. We let the modern world and the old world co-exist on our stage. Anachronisms and glitches abounded. Our characters dressed in 19th century clothes and used Skype and phones. On live video, they left the stage and chatted to the ‘real people’ in the pub below the theatre, asking about local landowners and plagues. We let the audience take it all in, without patronising them by trying to jam a round peg into a square hole for an hour and half. That’s probably a Beckett play…

3. Be Experimental.

People, some more politely than others, have asked what we mean when we call ourselves an ‘experimental theatre company’. One answer is that it associates our work with a certain school of theatre-makers (more German, less British, more multimedia, less text-based). But that’s only half-true. If you ask me what it really means I’d say just remembering that there are no rules, and seeing where that takes you. Letting the creative solution become the play.

We did this with our live video in Dead Souls, our collective creation in Dreams, and our use of two languages (French and Wolof) to represent the divide between politicians and plebeians in Julius Caesar. The great thing about having a classic text upon which to base your play (especially one written by someone long dead) is that you as the writer are freed up from the usual don’t-touch-my-fucking-script-you-don’t-understand! role and instead take on one similar to the actors and director – one of interpretation. Suddenly you’re free to tear things up and start again, in a way that’s so hard to do with your own work.

4. Think Like a Director.

It’s that separateness from the text that is so freeing, and it will also make you a better writer. There are many British playwrights decrying the German/ European style’s disregard for the sanctity of the text (including me, especially when I’m drunkenly arguing with my French co-Artistic Director, Nico). But it might be useful to think about what writers can learn from directors, or from performing a similar role themselves.

In our recent Hamlet et Le Spectre (Hamlet and The Ghost), I reconfigured the early scenes from Hamlet, smooshing together all the parts involving the ghost: Horatio and the soldiers on the battlements where it first appears, them telling Hamlet, and finally Hamlet confronting it. This became a single 20 minute play, set during the late/ early pitch-black hours of a suburban twenty-something house party. We had to come up with creative ways to glue the scenes together – Hamlet’s I.2 scene became an irate phone call with his mum, and the space between Hamlet being told about the ghost and seeing it for himself became an impromptu music jam featuring drums, guitar, piano, trumpet and megaphone.

Those parts were fun, but there’s a deeper satisfaction to making an adaptation really flow, and it’s not just about chopping. It’s the thrill that comes from holding the text’s heart, its problems and your own ideas in your head at the same time, and finding the magical points where they converge.

As I queue for the toilet at the Comedie Française (almost three hours, no interval, wtf), the old ladies behind me chat about the play. They aren’t sure it was suitable for kids, but their attitude seems generally tolerant and amused. They all agree it was thoroughly déjanté. Later I ask Nico what this word means. Crazy, he says, and goes on to tell me that a jante is the rim of a wheel, and déjanté means that the car has been going so fast and furious that the rims have spun completely off.

I certainly don’t believe that theatre should be all destruction and bombast. I don’t think Ostermeier does either. But I do think, in these specific times, that it might be important to make works of art in which things come violently apart. I like to do that with texts I love by old white men, but it could be anything.

There are no rules.

Chloë Myerson is a TV and theatre writer represented by The Agency  She co-founded Monkhead Theatre with Nico Pimparé in 2017 and their debut play Dead Souls received critical acclaim for its sold out run at Theatre N16. She now lives and works in Paris and London.

You can watch the trailer for Collective Intelligence #1 The Interpretation of Dreams below…

LPW Online Book Club: The Effect

The LPW Online Book Club is just one of the things you can access if you become a member! 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).

As a result of your feedback, we’ve changed the way we do book club, find out more here.

This month’s pick

For our November’s selection, we’re going to be reading The Effect by Lucy Prebble.

Why did we pick this?

We’ve done things a bit differently this time and November’s pick is a suggestion from one of our members! We’re really excited about discussing the play with as many of you as possible.

Here’s a bit more information about the play: 

The Effect is a clinical romance. Two young volunteers, Tristan and Connie, agree to take part in a clinical drug trial. Succumbing to the gravitational pull of attraction and love, however, Tristan and Connie manage to throw the trial off-course, much to the frustration of the clinicians involved. This funny, moving and perhaps surprisingly human play explores questions of sanity, neurology and the limits of medicine, alongside ideas of fate, loyalty and the inevitability of physical attraction.

How it works

All you need to do is read the play then head on over to our Members Facebook Group from the 15th of the month to join the discussion! Book club threads will be marked with the hashtag #bookclub, so it will be easy to find the discussion. Feel free to comment on existing threads or even start your own, the more discussion, the better!

Once the discussion is open  on our Facebook Group, it will stay there, so you can dip in and out throughout the rest of the month as much or as little as you like, whenever is convenient for you.

(Please note, to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t finished the play yet, any comments posted on our Facebook Group prior to 15th of each month will be deleted). 

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!)

The Effect by Lucy Prebble

Find out more and sign up to become a member here!

Image by AL Eyad via Flickr Commons

LPW Online Book Club: Look Back in Anger

The LPW Online Book Club is just one of the things you can access if you become a member! 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).

As a result of your feedback, we’ve changed the way we do book club, find out more here.

This month’s pick

For our September’s selection, we’re going to be reading Look Back in Anger John Osborne.

Why did we pick this?

Look Back in Anger is one of the big guns when it comes to British plays. Written in the 1950’s, it makes a strong comment on post-war Britain and marked a change in the direction of theatre at the time. It was also made into a popular film.

This is one of those plays that can be overlooked between the ‘classics’ and ‘contemporaries’ but every time you revisit it, you remember why it’s important. We’re really looking forward to the discussion that this one provokes.

How it works

All you need to do is read the play then head on over to our Members Facebook Group from the 15th of the month to join the discussion! Book club threads will be marked with the hashtag #bookclub, so it will be easy to find the discussion. Feel free to comment on existing threads or even start your own, the more discussion, the better!

Once the discussion is open  on our Facebook Group, it will stay there, so you can dip in and out throughout the rest of the month as much or as little as you like, whenever is convenient for you.

(Please note, to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t finished the play yet, any comments posted on our Facebook Group prior to 15th of each month will be deleted). 

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!)

Look Back in Anger (John Osborne)

Find out more and sign up to become a member here!

Image by University of Bristol via Flickr CC

 

Self-Producing: Tips for putting on a new writing night

Writer Samia Djilli shares her experiences of self-producing her own work, and looks into what it takes to create a night of new writing. 

Working in the arts is not an easy feat, especially for emerging artists. As an writer, you often have high expectations of yourself to wake up one day and create that one play that every theatre in town will be waiting to get their hands on. But something you quickly learn from working in the industry is that it isn’t always that simple.

When myself and my production company, Kine Productions, decided to put on a night of new writing, we were conscious that there would be a few variables to overcome. However with enough drive and dedication, self-producing can be one of the most rewarding ways to get your work on a stage. Here’s a few tips on how to do it and a few things to avoid along the way:

1. Work with others

Self-producing work by yourself is quite a daunting prospect, and in terms of budget, not always that plausible. Working with others is the most efficient way to go about putting your work on a stage.

One of the major pluses of working with others is that you’ll get to build a network of people around you and get their perspective on your work. As we all know, tunnel vision is a common side effect of being a writer but working with other creatives is a pretty good antidote.

Although it can be scary to put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to connect within your local community. Fear is one of the biggest things to hold us back but you’ll quickly find that there are plenty of people in the exact same situation as you. Not only that but you’ll get to learn new skills from those you work with and learn more about what you do and don’t enjoy as part of the process of self-producing.

2. Connect online

For a lot of people, the whole creative process of producing can seem alien. When I first started I felt way out of my depth. One thing that helped me was connecting online with theatre communities.

If you don’t know the first thing about putting on a night of new writing, contact your local theatre and ask them if you could come in and have a chat or even tweet them asking a few questions. It may sound simple but you’d be surprised how much clarity you can get simply through outreach alone.Don’t forget to use online resources. There are plenty of blogs, Twitter pages, webinars and Youtube videos all dedicated to educating you in the process of self-producing. With a bit of hunting around you’ll find the right avenue for you and start to build up your knowledge in no time.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

This one is a hard one and I’ve definitely felt the backlash of when things go wrong. The thing about theatre is that it’s not a solid structure; pieces are always falling off and you’ll find yourself in a constant state of rebuilding. But that is simply the nature of how it works.

The trick is to try and be ready for when things go wrong. It may be that an actor drops out last minute or a director gets sick, these things are all common and they get easier the bigger your network becomes.

It takes practice and I’m still trying to master it myself, but don’t be afraid to get back up if it all falls to the ground.

4. Utilize your resources

One of the biggest struggles in self-producing is, and will always be budget. Having to empty your pockets to get something on a stage is not the biggest highlight of the experience and is something I’ve learnt not to do.

It may seem a little implausible but putting a play on for next to nothing is somewhat doable if you have a good team of people around you. In my experience a good team means people that will come together to use their resources so no one goes home with their pockets hurting.

One of the key things is to know what you want from a production. If you want the show on for a week, crowd fund a year in advance. Or if you want it on for one night, contact a bunch of theatres and see if any of them have a space you can use for a discounted price. With enough get-go you can find a way to make it work. It just takes time and a lot of patience.

There are plenty of things you can do to self-produce but as cliché as it sounds you really have to love what you do in order for it to work. If you enjoy what you’re doing you’ll be more willing to put the work in and in my experience that’s the best way to succeed.

Kine Productions show Remote will debut at Theatre503 Monday 20 August 2018 

You can find tickets here.

How to write about your own experiences

Editor Jennifer Richards reflects on writing a play where the subject matter’s close to you heart, looking at how to look after yourself when delving into personal experience.

The ‘write what you know’ cliché is often tossed around in articles about learning to be a writer, but sometimes creating a play about a personal experience you went through isn’t as easy as just following the cliché.

When I was writing my play All In Your Head, it was the first time I had written about my own experience, reflecting on the OCD and depression I suffered with as a teenager. I discovered the hard way that reliving negative experiences can take a lot of energy, both physically and emotionally.

If you’re thinking of drawing on personal experience for your next play, here’s what I learnt about looking after yourself in the process:

1. Don’t be in the eye of the storm

There was no way I could have written about my mental health experience if I was still had OCD or depression. I needed to feel enough distance from the subject matter so that my emotions wouldn’t cloud my judgment as a writer.

Even if the story you’re writing is a representation of you, it’s important to remember that you are still writing a story. And you want it to be best story it can be.

That means you have to look at what you’ve written objectively, and decide if each piece of dialogue is really beneficial to the play.

I wrote a very emotional scene that included dialogue lifted straight from a conversation I had years ago with my dad. And though I remember this as a significant conversation in my life, when I read it back, I realised that it didn’t move the plot on and was unlikely to be of any interest to the audience. So I had to cut it.

Remember when you do have to cuts dialogue or even scenes, this doesn’t mean you’re rewriting what you went through.

2. Be as honest as you’re comfortable with

You can write something that’s based on your experience without ever telling anyone it is. Very few people in my life knew the extent to which I suffered with OCD and I was nervous about saying that the play was based on my experience, and opening myself up in this way.

You shouldn’t feel any pressure to share personal information if you don’t want to, it won’t make the story any worse or better if you do.

It was actually only after completing All In Your Head that I decided I wanted to tell people it was a reflection of the mental health conditions I used to have. I realised that, through that play, I want to open up the conversation around mental health and also wanted to be a part of this conversation myself.

That’s why I decided I was comfortable enough to share the truth behind the play, but there may be times in the future when I don’t want to share that something I’ve written is based on things I’ve been through – and both reactions are absolutely fine.

3. Take someone to see it

This point isn’t just about bringing someone you know to see your play as a way to drum up audience numbers (though it all helps!), it’s actually about ensuring you’re taking care of yourself.

Seeing experiences you lived through acted out on stage can be quite emotional, and it can also bring up memories you long thought you’d dealt with and moved on from.

Be prepared for this, and bring a close friend or family member to opening night who is aware that the play is personal to you, and will consider how you feel first and foremost before they talk about whether they liked the play.

Asking the director to come along to a few rehearsals is also a good way of dipping your toe in the water and gradually introducing yourself to seeing such a personal piece.

4.  Reviews don’t invalidate your experience

This is another reason that it’s important to have distance between yourself and what you’re writing about. No matter how much work you put into your show, unfortunately someone is bound to not like it. And if you see a negative review either in a publication or just on Twitter, it can feel like a reflection on you when the story on stage is your own.

Remind yourself that the person is commenting on the fictional account on stage, they are not commenting on what you went through, and they are definitely not invalidating your experiences. No matter what anyone says about your play, that shouldn’t change how you view yourself or what you’ve dealt with.

Ultimately, be kind to yourself. If you’re writing about something personal, you shouldn’t be punishing yourself if you’re struggling to finish a scene, or if you’re perhaps not in the position where you want to share the piece yet.

Taking care of yourself should always be a priority, which is something we’re sadly not taught enough about in the arts. But as long as you do this, writing about something personal can in fact be a cathartic, positive experience.

Though you may be making yourself more vulnerable, that vulnerability translates to authenticity on stage, helping audiences to connect with the piece more, which theatre is all about.

Jennifer Richards’s show ALL IN YOUR HEAD is running at the Faversham Fringe from August 26th to 28th.

 

 

LPW Online Book Club – A Raisin in the Sun

The LPW Online Book Club is just one of the things you can access if you become a member! 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).

As a result of your feedback, we’ve changed the way we do book club, find out more here.

This month’s pick

For our August selection, we’re going to be reading A Raisin In The Sun (Lorraine Hansberry)

Why did we pick this?

Set in Chicago, this play made its’ debut on Broadway in 1959. It might not be new , but the themes of race, class and family are just as relevant and moving today as when it was written.

There’s a real sense that the family in the play are trapped by circumstance: both economical and because of racial prejudice and the tension runs high throughout. However, there is also hope conveyed through the characters’ strong sense of ambition. If you’ve never read this one before, it really is worth a look!

How it works

All you need to do is read the play then head on over to our Members Facebook Group from the 15th of the month to join the discussion! Book club threads will be marked with the hashtag #bookclub, so it will be easy to find the discussion. Feel free to comment on existing threads or even start your own, the more discussion, the better!

Once the discussion is open  on our Facebook Group, it will stay there, so you can dip in and out throughout the rest of the month as much or as little as you like, whenever is convenient for you.

(Please note, to avoid spoilers for those who haven’t finished the play yet, any comments posted on our Facebook Group prior to 15th of each month will be deleted). 

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!)

 A Raisin In The Sun (Lorraine Hansberry)

Want to plan ahead?

Our next Book Club text will be: 

September: Look Back in Anger (John Osborne)

Find out more and sign up to become a member here!

Image courtesy of Danielle Closs via Flickr Commons 

LPB event: How to shape inspiration into an idea

Editor Jennifer Richards is recapping our practical workshop with  Kimberley Andrews at London Writers’ Week! Want to learn how to get your creative inspiration juices flowing? Read on… 

Getting excited about a story, and feeling like you just have to tell it, is a brilliant sensation. Feeling ideas bubbling up inside you, ready to spill onto the page.

But what about those times when you’re just staring at your computer (or typewriter if you’re old school), ready to write, and there’s not even a single spark of inspiration that’s coming to you?

Luckily Kimberley Andrews from London Playwrights’ Blog was on hand to help us all out with our creative inspiration during her workshop at London Writers’ Week.

She explained both how to get that first spark and, importantly, how to then shape it into an idea that can later become a story.

So here’s all her steps to help you banish that blank page and get back that wonderful feeling of having a story to tell:

1. Clear the cobwebs

Sometimes you just don’t feel like writing. Inspiration is refusing to strike, but a looming deadline means you really need to get on with it (*gulp*)

And that deadline is definitely not helping your stress levels. So in these moments, it’s good to get your brain into a different headspace; and doing a quick stream of consciousness scribble is a great way of doing that.

Starting her workshop this way, Kimberley got everyone’s creative juices flowing, with this simple exercise helping you let go of all the stresses that may have stopped you from feeling able to write.

After three minutes of scribbles, you’ll find your brain is in a different space and, hopefully, feeling a lot readier to write! It’s also a good idea to read back over your stream of consciousness and circle any ideas that may be of interest that you could return to later.

2. Let yourself experiment

Remember how you told stories as a child? Inventing crazy worlds and impossible scenarios that were never limited in how wild they could be? Do that again!

Kimberley got everyone to play the Consequences game, where each person in a group writes a different section of the story on one part of the paper, folding it as they go. Then when you open up the paper at the end, you’ve got a pretty bonkers story!

The great thing about doing this game is you feel completely free in what you’re writing, knowing it’s meant to be wacky, rather than worrying about creating an award-winning story.

Also the time pressure in a writing game is really useful, as it forces you to write anything down, not allowing you to procrastinate – which I’m guessing we’ve all been guilty of now and again?

See if you can get some friends, or family or your housemate to do a game of Consequences with you. And, if you’re home alone, why not try out the Headlines game Kimberley played with us next?

This game involves writing a bunch of themes down, like jealously or love, and cutting them all out into strips. Also print out a variety of news headlines, and then, pick one of the themes and one of the headlines (maybe pulling them out of a hat if you’re feeling adventurous!).

So have you got your theme and your headline?

Now try writing a play idea that could link both or, if that feels too difficult, maybe just try writing one line of dialogue or even a title of a play.

From Kimberley’s workshop, it was easy to see that even that smallest spark of an idea can light something much bigger if you give yourself some time to sit with the idea.

The best thing about the Headlines game is that it also pulls you out of your comfort zone as you’re forcing yourself to write about something you normally wouldn’t.

It sounds strange that constrictions could help improve your creativity, but it’s all about making your brain look at things differently.

3. Learn from others

No, this doesn’t mean directly stealing your ideas from others (wait, you’re telling me someone’s already done a film about two lovers aboard the Titanic? What?!).

It’s actually about finding ways to use another person’s creativity as a springboard for your own, without ripping off the Titanic (oops…)

During the workshop, we looked at film premises to see how they’re put together. We then used them to help us expand upon the stories we had already begun creating in the earlier games, by now making them into film premises.

Creating a film premise, or a book blurb, or a play text blurb, is a great step between having the initial idea and then actually writing the body of work. It doesn’t seem quite as daunting, but still helps you suss out the fundamental question of what the central conflict of your piece is about.

A film premise is essentially saying that “someone has to do something in order to…”, so have a go and fill that out for your idea.

Done it? Brilliant – onto the next stage!

4. Get feedback

After everyone had been silent, busy concentrating on creating their film premise, the room soon became full of chattering’s again as Kimberley got us all to pitch our films to each other.

We weren’t expecting to all get major film deals out of this (though how cool would it have been if Steven Spielberg was at our workshop?!), instead, it was just a great way of using feedback to shape our ideas even further.

By pitching to others, you have to zone in on what the heart of your piece is. You’re asking yourself what is the central idea in this story, why does it need to be told and, importantly, why does it need to told by you.

And, as well as helping you get to the heart of your story, chatting to others is a great way to soundboard ideas in general, if you’re not quite ready to do a film premise yet.

Whenever there’s something in one of my ideas that’s niggling away at me, making me feel like I can’t put it to page yet, I call my mum. I try explaining the idea to her, as that forces me to fill in the gaps my brain couldn’t work out. And whenever I finish chatting to her, I’ve always got a much more concrete story on my hands!

So, having started the workshop playing a children’s game, we had all left the session with a premise and a pitch.

Though the idea of waiting for creativity to strike and having your idea suddenly spill out of you sounds lovely, this is a bit of a romanticised idea of writing.

Sometimes you have to really work for the inspiration, and work even further to shape it into an idea. But when you’re playing children’s games, reading about your favourite films, and chatting to your friends, it honestly doesn’t really feel like work. And, best of all, you’re now ready to start writing the story!

LPB Event: How to take your story from stage to screen

Editor Jennifer Richards is recapping our practical workshop with  Freddie Machin at London Writers’ Week! Want to learn how to write for two different media? Read on…

“Nobody knows anything.”

Okay, so your workshop leader saying this is probably not how you want an event at London Writer’s Week to start, but it makes a lot more sense when it’s stage-writer turned screen-writer Freddie Machin quoting two-time Academy Award winner William Goldman.

Because even the people at the top of their field feel like they’re blagging it sometimes.  It’s about not letting ‘the fear’ stop you from trying something new, such as turning your stage play into a film.

And that’s exactly what the topic was of this London Writer’s Week event run by London Playwright’s Blog. And though Freddie may have said he doesn’t feel like the expert, I left the workshop excited to try a new form of writing I wasn’t used to, and knowing I had learnt some brilliant tips and tricks on how to put my best (screen-writer shaped) foot forward….

Wait! Hold up! I’m having major writer’s block!

Does turning your stage play into a film seem like jumping five, or five million, steps ahead? Let’s take a pause and go back to the initial ideas process. If you’re feeling stuck, it’s best to remember it’s all fun and games – quite literally!

At the workshop, Freddie got us to spark our imaginations by playing the ‘Anyone Who’ game. One person stands up in the middle and has to complete the ‘anyone who…’ sentence with something they’ve done, and whoever else in the room has also done it then has to stand up and they all have to swap seats – then it’s the turn of the last person standing and so on! For example, I might say anyone who writes blog posts while in their pyjamas (though *cough* I’m definitely not doing that right now *cough*)

After the game, everyone created a scenario from one of the ‘anyone who…’ sentences that were said, and this then became a scene with a set-up, complication and outcome. Suddenly, the room was buzzing with ideas!

And a lot of the participants found that the idea that came to them was something they never would have thought of if they’d just been staring at a blank page for hours.

Though you probably don’t have a whole room of people to play with when you’re writing, you can still do writing games on your own. Using images, free-writing, or even just picking up objects in your house and creating a scenario from that is a great way to spark that initial idea. Even if you think the idea isn’t that great, just write it down and see where it goes!

As Freddie told us: “You don’t have to have an idea for a story when you begin writing something. You can start from anywhere. And first ideas are always a bit raw and rough around the edges.”

And don’t let that pesky fear we were talking about earlier stop you. Freddie pointed out that: “The most important thing anyone should take away from a workshop is that you can write.”

So, considering that’s the most important thing, I could probably leave the piece here, but I think we should get onto tip number two…

But I don’t know what makes a great film great?

Pick your favourite film. Right now. Got it in your head? Now tell me what makes it a good story.

When Freddie did this with us, we realised how important relatability was – we always connect to the characters or the story in a really brilliant film. But maybe you come up with something different, though it most likely still links in with the idea of dramatic action.

Dramatic action means having conflict in your story; your character has to face obstacles and we get a sense of the character from how they respond to the conflict they face – as well as getting a gripping story!

That’s not too different from playwriting then, is it?

Storytelling is in everything really. Yes, plays and films, but also everyday things. We want to see dramatic action and the three act structure even when we watch a football game. No one wants their team to breeze to victory, we want to be on the edge of our seats, biting our nails as we watch them struggle against a brilliant team (and then we win, of course!)

You can even get dramatic action in the shortest of stories. Freddie got us all to watch the 2017 Waitrose Christmas advert. What initially seemed like your standard advert, once we started analysing it, then became a story full of tension, conflict, a climax, sub plot and character development – all in 90 sections!!

So the principles of storytelling may be similar in plays and films (and everything else), but Freddie noted that there was one distinct difference between writing in these two different media: the importance of structure.

Why does structure have to matter so much?

This is partly practical, as when you go into meetings about making a television series or a film, the big wigs will want to know structure and plot points down to a T, so these have to watertight, whereas you can be a bit more liberal when it comes to playwriting.

Here’s the typical film structure Freddie outlined:

ACT ONE

  • Routine; you see the character go about daily life as normal
  • Inciting incident; something happens that causes the paradigm to shift and the world will never be the same
  • Refuse the call to action; the protagonist refuses to do anything about the inciting incident
  • Point of no return; given circumstance forces the character to do something
  • Hero emerges; we find out which character will save us, usually meaning the protagonist has stepped up to the plate
  • ACT TWO; This act contains the sub-plots that lead to conflict in Act Three. Act Two doesn’t have a standardised structure, but the events in it have to happen for the crisis to take place later in the film

ACT THREE

  • Peak; everything is looking up and we think we’ve won
  • Crisis; the victory is snatched away from the protagonist
  • Climax; showdown, tension
  • Resolution; the payoff. However, some workshop participants pointed out that sometimes we don’t get the resolution, and the payoff comes in a slightly different form, such as the change in character relationships in the film Three Billboards. And Freddie added: “We are programmed to understand this structure of films, which gives us license to experiment with it sometimes, but this structure is the typical one.”

So I’ve written my stage play. But how do I change it into a screenplay?

Unfortunately it’s not a matter of just shifting around some of the dialogue. Freddie explained, “You need to work out what is at the heart of your story, what are you trying to say.” To do this, he gave the practical exercise of describing your play in eight words, then five and then one. A play needs to be broken down before we can build it back up into a film, which leads us onto the next tip…

What’s the biggest difference between playwriting and screenwriting?

It requires a change in thinking. Freddie noted: “If you’re writing for film, it’s predominately about images. Start thinking in pictures and not text.” Not concentrating on the words on the page may sound like an alienating thing for a writer (and it certainly did for me!), but Freddie’s explanation helped clarify it.

He described how the placement of scenes in a film is really the placement of images, which is why filmmaking is visual storytelling. If you look at the idea of the montage, you’re taking a neutral image and placing it next to another neutral image, and it’s only then that it creates meaning.

The example Hitchcock has talked about before is if you see the image of an old man smiling, it doesn’t mean anything; but if you then place it after an image of a girl in a bikini, the old man now becomes sleazy – we’ve learnt something important about our character without any words.

And adapting a play to screen is really about stripping away this dialogue. It’s a real shift in the brain to think in imagery and not verbally.

It was Freddie’s play Chicken that then got made into a film, with him also writing the screen play. And of his experience, he said: “My plays are very wordy and the film has hardly any words, you have to strip all the words away and tell the story visually; that’s the art of film making. Really, in beautiful storytelling, there needn’t be any words.”

This is where his points on structure and writing visually come together. He shared the advice his uncle, who is also a screenwriter, gave to him when he started adapting Chicken: “You have to write it so they can’t make it any other way.” This means your screenplay should be written in such a way that directors and producers can’t chop it up and move scenes around, as you’ve made it so the story needs certain images to be next to each other in to tell the story authentically.

So is it time to start writing my film?

Definitely! At it this workshop, it was fascinating to learn that these two different styles of writing require two very different parts of the brain. For plays, perfecting interesting dialogue is your most important role as a writer, and though structure is a part of the play-writing process, you can definitely take more risks with it.

But for films, you’re working in the world of images and need to look at how they slot and fit together, with the structure being vital – both to your audience, but also in terms of how you pitch it to those big wigs.

Looking back at the two scripts you’ve written, you should feel that your play would only work on stage, and your film needs to be shown at a cinema and in no other form. Use what’s different about the two mediums to your advantage.

Who knows, maybe you’ll soon find yourself blagging your way through the film industry as a two-time Academy Award winner who understands that nobody really does know anything.

Summer Sessions: Online Workshops from LPB this August!

When the sun comes out and the nights get longer, it’s easy for your writing to take a backseat – after all, who wants to be cooped up behind their laptop when they could be out enjoying some rare British sunshine? So, to help you keep up the writing momentum, we’ll be bringing you a series of online mini-workshops throughout August.

The workshops will be exclusively available for our members. If you’re not a member yet, read more here and you can sign up for around the price of a coffee per month.

Summer Session 1: Overcoming writers’ block

The sun is shining, the park (or pub!) is calling and every time you look at your laptop screen you see a terrifying empty void. Sound familiar? Then don’t miss this selection of tips and exercises to help you to overcome writers’ block and boost your creativity!

When: available from Friday 3 August 2018

Summer Session 2: How to write a monologue 

We’ve all seen the competitions asking for monologues but how do you know what to submit? In this session, we’ll explore what makes a great monologue, work through some inspirational exercises and get you writing some submission worthy speeches this summer!

When: available from Friday 17 August 2018

Summer Session 3: Promoting yourself as a writer

Before you go all ‘back-to-school’ and start prepping that big Autumn project, why not spend a bit of time thinking about how to get yourself noticed as a writer? In this session, we’ll look at the nitty gritty of self-promotion for writers including writing brilliant bios to what not to say on application forms.

When: available from Friday 31 August 2018

How to participate: to access the workshops, members simply need to visit the members site on or after the dates published below. The workshops will remain live during August and beyond – so don’t worry if you’re taking a break over the summer, you can pick them up whenever is convenient for you.