Category Archives: Inspiration

Free tickets to book launch/showcase of Student Guide to Writing competition winners

The Bush Theatre, MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins, Writers at Work Productions and Oberon Books have announced the book launch and showcase of the winning student and emerging writers’ work from “The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting” competition.

The book launch and showcase of winning work will take place at the Bush Theatre on 9 May 2017 at 2pm.

Free tickets can be booked here

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting competition ran last year in a partnership between the afore-mentioned organisations to provide access to the leading playwriting training coming out the industry for the first time.

Lesson plans were written by those leading the way in playwriting industry training including lesson plans on Getting Started by Rob Drummer, at the time dramaturg at the Bush Theatre and now artistic director of Boundless Theatre, Ideas by Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s young writers programme, Structure by John Yorke, founder of the BBC Writers Academy, Dialogue by Fin Kennedy, founder of Schoolwrights and Artistic Director of Tamasha theatre company, Staging Your Work by writer actress and producer Caroline Horton, and Final Advice on the business side of being a writer by Lucy Kerbel, founder of Tonic Theatre.

Student and emerging writer winners were also selected as a result of the competition to have their work showcased as some of the best student and emerging writers in the UK.

The event will also include an In Conversation discussion on why the competition was run and advice for student and emerging writers from Stewart Pringle, associate dramaturg at the Bush Theatre, George Spender, senior editor at Oberon Books, and Jennifer Tuckett, course leader of MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins and director of Writers at Work Productions.
Source: Direct contact

 

UK-wide workshops and talks to get you ready for Verity Bargate Award (Free-£30)

The Verity Bargate Award, one of the biggest UK playwriting competitions, is holding a series of workshops around the country with leading playwrights to share their top tips as you get your play ready to enter the contest.

Workshops in London: £30 workshops at the Soho Theatre run from 15 April 15-15 June 2017. To book for the workshops with James Graham, Charlotte Josephine, Inua Ellams, Phoebe Eclair-Powell & Theresa Ikoko or Vinay Patel Click here

Do you live outside London? The VBA is offering  free 30 minute talks with Q&A sessions at workshops around the country at the following venues:

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Wed 12 Apr, 6pm

Liverpool Playhouse and Everyman
Tue 18 Apr, 5pm

The Royal Exchange, Manchester
Wed 19 Apr, 6pm

The Abbey, Dublin
Sat 29 Apr, 2pm

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Sat 29 Apr, 3pm

Live Theatre, Newcastle Sat 6 May, 1pm

Theatre Royal, Plymouth
Sat 13 May,11am

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 2pm, Saturday 13 May

For details about these workshops click here.

About the Verity Bargate Award: The Verity Bargate Award winner receives £7000 in respect of an exclusive option for Soho Theatre to produce the play.

The award was established in 1982 to honour Soho Theatre’s co-founder and is presented biennially to an artist resident in the UK or Ireland with fewer than three professional productions.

The prestigious biennial Award seeks stand out inspiring new writing talent with past winners including Vicky Jones and Matt Charman.

Writers may submit one unproduced, unpublished full-length play (not shorter than 70 minutes). There is no restriction to subject matter. Musicals and other forms of theatre are welcome but will only be judged on the text submitted.

This year the award is sponsored by production company Character 7 and one writer will be offered the opportunity to develop their storytelling skills for TV drama. The Character 7 prize will be a separate agreement between Character 7 and the chosen writer.

The following are not eligible: playwrights with three or more professional productions to their credit (defined as those produced under ITC/TMA/WGGB contracts), plays commissioned by Soho Theatre, previous Verity Bargate Award winners and plays that have already been considered by Soho Theatre’s literary department. Submitted plays must be unencumbered and available.

What to submit: The play must have a title page with the author’s name, address, email address and telephone number. In addition, writers must include a CV including listing of all works written/produced, when and where. Plays will only be accepted by email, in a PDF format, other formats cannot be accepted. Soho is not able to consider any other supporting material including music, video, or images.

How To Apply: Please email your submission to vba@sohotheatre.com

Deadline: 5 July 2017 at 12pm

Source: The Soho Theatre Website

Get inspired with Royal Court’s playwrights podcast

Gets inspired by the Royal Court’s Playwrights’ Podcasts which come to an end in February 2017.

Playwright Simon Stevens has been talking to 12  of our most important playwrights about their careers, lives and ambitions since December. He said:  “I have had conversations with some of the most exciting playwrights in the country. It has been a real honour. Our conversations have been rangy and lengthy and detailed and fun. I’ve asked them about their careers and their lives, their ambitions and their work. I think, collectively, they offer an extraordinary insight into how playwrights work in the UK today. I am thrilled that these conversations will be aired over the next few months.”

Podcast release schedule:

Anya Reiss – Friday 10 February

Robert Holman – Friday 17 February

Tanika Gupta – Friday 24 February

Source: Playwriting UK/Twitter RT Simon Stephens

Taking matters into her own hands: Tamara von Werthern on putting women’s voices onstage 

After noticing that her plays were getting programed by female producers, playwright Tamara von Werthern wondered if she could help make opportunities for other underrepresented playwrights. In this guest post, she shares her journey into founding Fizzy Sherbet and creating new opportunities for women writers.

2016 was a bit of a shit year in many respects, but for me, it was surprisingly productive. After concentrating on developing my full-length play almost exclusively for several years, I decided to write and send out some new short plays parallel to my efforts. My youngest child had started nursery in January which gave me three hours each week to write. And somehow, by sending things to every opportunity going, I managed to have five different new short plays performed or staged as readings throughout the year. It was such a joy to turn up at a venue, sit in the audience, and watch my play unfold without having lifted a finger to put it there (apart from clicking ‘send’ of course).

A funny thing I had noticed was that all the producers, programmers and directors, who had picked my plays and decided to include them, were women. I wondered if it had something to do with my subject matters, with the predominantly female casts, or maybe the fact that the female experience, whatever that may be, is quite central to my work. It might have been a coincidence, but I was intrigued.

Being exposed through my work at Nick Hern Books to Tonic Theatre (we publish Lucy Kerbel as well as her excellent Platform series of plays with large female casts), I was also keenly aware of the imbalance of female vs male playwrights in the UK. Just under a third of writers of original work for the stage produced are female (according to the latest British Theatre Repertoire Report), and the gender disparity gets worse the higher up you go, so that in the West End there is the lowest percentage of female writers represented on stage.

But then it dawned on me that while I have been lamenting the fact that I have it harder to get my plays on than my male colleagues (statistically speaking), I was also in a really good position to be part of changing this trend. It’s easier than you might think to take matters into your own hands.

Fizzy Sherbet, a new writing initiative exclusively for women writers was born when I mentioned the idea to the mother of one of my children’s friends, Olivia Trench, over a coffee/playdate. Olivia happens to also be Drama Development Executive at Eleven Film, and her enthusiastic encouragement (as well as her offer to share the reading!) brought the idea a step closer to reality.

Both Olivia and I read a lot of plays in our respective jobs and we felt confident that we would be able to pull it off together. When Lily McLeish, who is a wonderful theatre director and a passionate advocate of gender equality in the theatre came on board, we started to get even more excited. Lily has experience of directing as Katie Mitchell’s associate in large venues (she most recently worked with her on Cleansed at the National Theatre), and as an accomplished director in her own right. Lily and I have been working together for a while now, and I know that she is excellent on text work, so I thought – this is shaping up pretty good! This also gave us a great grounding to begin approaching potential venues.

When we were then offered the Hackney Attic, a lovely cabaret-style venue above the Hackney Picturehouse, where one of my shorts was shown in 2015, as a venue, there was no holding back. We launched Fizzy Sherbet with a Facebook page, and were amazed by the response. Not only did the plays pour in and we received over 200 submissions, but they were also accompanied by messages of gratitude, expressions of delight at the existence of a new initiative supporting this cause and offers of friendship all around.

It was all rather heart-warming and encouraging. And what a treasure trove we had opened!

We read plays on space travel, on scientific discoveries, on the Iranian revolution; plays set in supermarkets, in the sky, under the surface of a lake. We read plays that were heartbreakingly sad and ones that made us laugh out loud. Plays about porn and about dying parents. Political plays, personal plays and plays that were both. The characters included every age, gender definition and even characters from the animal kingdom. It was an enriching and eye-opening experience. Every time we had put the kids to bed, brewed some coffee and opened our laptops, there was a tingle of excitement at what we would discover this time.

When we had first discussed how we wanted to run Fizzy Sherbet, our concern went beyond female playwrights, to the related issue of gender inequality on stage. We wanted to encourage the creation of more interesting, varied and gratifying parts for women to play. When we counted up the characters of the plays we read we found that across the board two thirds of characters were women and one third men.

We were very excited and and hugely encouraged to discover that in this case an exclusively female group of playwrights without any steering in regards of subject matter, delivered a great variety of writing but with a clear natural predominance of female characters. This made us wonder: could the predominance of male characters on our stages might simply be led back to the fact that currently there are more male playwrights being performed in the UK than female?

In our case, simply supporting female writers was indeed part of the solution.

Fizzy Sherbet took place at Hackney Attic on 24th January at 7.30. see: https://www.picturehouses.com/cinema/Hackney_Picturehouse/film/fizzy-sherbet-plays

 

Get inspired by the Royal Court’s podcasts with top playwrights

Gets inspired by the Royal Court’s Playwrights’ Podcasts over Christmas and into the new year.

You can hear Dennis Kelly and Joe Penhall on Friday 23 December,  Polly Stenham on Friday 30 December and  David Hare on Friday 6 January 2017.

Playwright Simon Stevens talks to 12  of them  about their careers, lives and ambitions:

“I have had conversations with some of the most exciting playwrights in the country. It has been a real honour. Our conversations have been rangy and lengthy and detailed and fun. I’ve asked them about their careers and their lives, their ambitions and their work. I think, collectively, they offer an extraordinary insight into how playwrights work in the UK today. I am thrilled that these conversations will be aired over the next few months.”

Podcast release schedule:

Enda Walsh – Friday 9 December 2016

April De Angelis – Friday 16 December 2016

Dennis Kelly & Joe Penhall – Friday 23 December 2016

Polly Stenham – Friday 30 December 2016

David Hare – Friday 6 January 2017

Rachel De-lahay – Friday 13 January 2017

Alistair McDowall – Friday 20 January 2017

Lucy Prebble – Friday 27 January 2017

Anthony Neilson – Friday 3 February

Anya Reiss – Friday 10 February

Robert Holman – Friday 17 February

Tanika Gupta – Friday 24 February

 

Source: Playwriting UK/Twitter RT Simon Stephens

Read original drafts of trailblazing playwrights published free online by British Library

The British Library’s Discovering Literature website will launch in March 2017, providing a chance to read the original drafts of trailblazing playwrights for free online – and perhaps get inspired.

Manuscripts from JB Priestley, Joan Littlewood and Shelagh Delaney will be published free of charge on the British Library website Discovering Literature site from March 2017 – alongside more than 100 other items from its 20th century drama collections, including Terence Rattigan scripts.

Other items include original drafts of plays, reports and correspondence from the Lord Chamberlain’s office, costume and set designs, and letters and photographs. There will also be newly commissioned articles written by theatre figures, including Michael Billington.

The library said: “This array of rich content will offer new insights into the creative lives of these trailblazing playwrights for a new generation.”

They will be made available as high-resolution images.

Discovering Literature is a free-to-use website that gives A-level students and teachers, as well as literature fans, access to content, including collections relating to Shakespeare.

Source: Playwriting UK retweeted The Stage’s article regarding the British Library’s exhibition.

Pursued By A Bear: “I finished my play. What do I do now?”

Pursued By A Bear is our weekly advice column with playwright Adam Taylor.  He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.

“I feel like a marathon runner who has just ran a 10000 MILES and in search for water, but has just been informed water no longer exists; I thirst for hope. So please, HELP ME! Forgive me if that did not make any sense.

I have just finished my first full-length play, I have spent months on end editing and proof-reading the damn thing. I truly believe it is ready to be read and performed. I have submitted the play to some Theatre Companies; however as expected I have either not received a reply or have been told my beloved play is sh*t (in the most formal and polite way). So the question that is continuously running around my mind like Usain Bolt on steroids is, WHAT DO I DO NOW THAT I HAVE FINISHED MY PLAY? 

There are only so many theatres I can submit my play to, as submission windows are only open once in a purple-moon. So do I just wait until a theatre company wants to produce my play?

 I live in the most deadest, culture-less (if that’s a word) place ever that has only ONE theatre, and which chooses to only play pantomimes. Okay, I might be exaggerating, but you get my point? There’s no writing opportunities here in Milton Keynes.

Do I produce the play myself? Which I have thought about doing, however I am apprehensive to because I don’t know ANY like minded artists who work in the realm of Theatre. (Yeah that’s right I’m Billy-no-Mates). Also, If I’m going to produce my play for the first time, I want it to be amazing and not mediocre, and I feel like in order to succeed in doing so I need the right backing, if that makes sense?

You know, I read about so many playwrights who have worked with successful Theatres who have become residential playwrights, and have won numerous awards etc. But one thing they never do is detail (in depth) how these playwrights succeed in doing those things. 

If you would be so kind to advise me on what to do next Guru.”

This is the multi-million pound question – what to do when you’ve put your heart and soul into a play and slaved over it for months/years/decades on end, only to find no one wants to put it on?

It’s a horrible place to find yourself, and it’s probably small consolation, but I’m sure most playwrights have been where you are at some point.

It’s like walking through the Channel Tunnel.

You’ve been stumbling through total darkness for what seems like forever, constantly tripping and falling on your face as the lack of light tricks you into thinking you can see a Starbucks up ahead, and you finally reach the end of that horrific journey, emerging into glorious sunshine, drinking in fresh oxygen like a drunk hobo with a stolen pack of alcohol hand rub from A&E, only to realise you’re in France.

You can’t speak the language and no one likes you.

You just want to give up. I don’t blame you. Writing can be a lonely and thankless vocation. It can seem like you’ve done everything all the successful people did yet you’ve still got nothing to show for it.

Why them and not you?

I don’t really know. There could be a million reasons why a theatre turns down a play – it’s not long enough, it’s not short enough, it’s too controversial, it’s not controversial enough, they did a similar play last month, they don’t do this sort of play, there are too many characters, there are too many sets, you used the C word, you didn’t use the C word, it’s too political, it’s not political, it’s not funny, it’s too funny… I could go on forever.

Every theatre has its own preferences when it comes to the plays they put on. And these aren’t even fixed; they change from month to month or even week to week, depending on any number of factors. It’s impossible to predict if someone will love or hate your work. It’s impossible to predict whether it’s exactly what an artistic director is looking for or it’s everything he despises.

And even if you absolutely nail it – you write a play of the perfect length about the perfect topic with the perfect amount of bad language and the perfect number of perfectly flawed characters – someone else may still have done it slightly more perfectly that month and just beaten you to it.

So the bad news is there’s no way of knowing what you could have done better.

Let me tell you the good news:

Actually, there isn’t any really.

It sucks. That’s all I’ve got.

You want to be a writer, this is what you have to deal with. It’s not unusual for writers to go through years of rejection before they finally get a break and one of their plays is successful.

You mentioned in your question that other writers never give up the details on how they made it to the top – from what I’ve heard, there’s no big secret.

They persevered.

Rejection isn’t a one-time thing, it’s a continuous process that constantly eats away at your soul.

If you love writing enough to keep writing and keep submitting plays to theatres with only negative responses (or no response at all) you should keep doing it.

Let this rejected play serve as motivational fuel for your stubborn creative fire. Tell yourself; “Maybe they didn’t like this one, maybe they won’t like the next one or the one after that, but one of these days they’ll like one of them and then this will have all been worth it.”

If you really want to be successful the first thing you need to do is develop a thick skin. Let the rejection wash over you and forge forever onwards.

I appreciate the fact it totally sucks, it would be a lot nicer and we’d all be a lot happier if there was a place for every play we wrote. But there isn’t. There are a limited number of seats at the table, and half the people who get a place still only get a mouthful before they’re kicked off by the next ravenous writer.

Every playwright I know has come up against the same brick wall and asked the same question; “Why her and not me?”

If I had the answer I’d have a play on at the National and you’d have all heard of me (outside of this blog).

Of course, I’m aware this hasn’t been a very positive or encouraging answer so far. You were probably hoping for something more helpful.

My main piece of advice is to keep going. When your work is rejected it’s easy to take it personally and let it affect your work. The best thing to do is put all the feedback to one side for a few months.

I know it feels like you’ve been mauled by a particularly angry bear, but when the wounds are healed and you’re able to once again drag yourself along the ground on your belly, you can escape your icy exile like Leonardo DiCaprio and continue your arduous journey through the snowy wilderness to avenge your pain upon your tormentors.

Put this play completely out of your mind and start writing something new in the meantime. In a few months this rejection will feel like an old scar that’s long since stopped hurting and you’ll be able to objectively evaluate the feedback and maybe make some revisions to the script.

Don’t give up on the play. Most successful plays go through a ton of rewrites and edits. This is no different. When you come back to it you may see a way to improve it that just isn’t visible to you right now, and that could be the one tweak that makes it a masterpiece.

For now, forget the entire thing and write a new play. Always be writing. That’s how you improve.

And even if the same theatres reject your next play and the play after that, each time there’s more chance they’ll remember you and start to pay attention.

It’s important to also explore other avenues; full-length plays aren’t the only way to skin a cat. Enter competitions, write short plays, attend writers’ nights, work as a reader, get an internship, make a sex tape, fake your own death. Do anything and everything you can to get noticed.

I agree there probably aren’t a lot of writing opportunities in Milton Keynes – unless you’re writing a coffee table book about roundabouts. I did learn to ski in the Snozone there though, so that’s pretty cool.

On the other hand, London Midland trains go direct from Euston to Milton Keynes. I happen to know this because I’ve picked my drunk-ass brother up from Milton Keynes more than a few times after he’s fallen asleep on said train and sailed right past Watford. But that’s another particularly bitter story for another day.

My point is that London isn’t a million miles away. This goes for all aspiring playwrights out there – don’t feel restricted to your hometown. I don’t think people should feel forced to move to London in order to succeed, but there’s a reason so many artists do it; the capital is the capital. There are more theatres and more opportunities here.

You don’t have to move here but if you can visit every so often and attend a writers’ night or go to a workshop you’ll meet some people. Then all you need to do is exchange emails and keep in touch.

And that’s the final point I’ll make; network, network, network. The more people you know, the more people you can share your work with and the more likely something will come of it.

Don’t get demoralised or assume it’s not meant to be. Thousands of others have made that mistake before you, and they aren’t successful writers.

The successful writers are the ones who kept slogging away at it. If you want to be one of them, that’s what you need to do.

Have a question or problem you’d like to send in?  Email advice@londonplaywrightsblog.com and keep your eyes peeled to see if the answer turns up on our site!

(DISCLAIMER: If you send us a question, you’re giving us permission to publish it!  Be sure to indicate what name you’d like us to use as a sign-off when we publish your column, and a just a heads up that we reserve the right to edit submissions for length if needed.)

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via CC license

Pursued By A Bear: “My partner hates it when I write”

Pursued By A Bear is our weekly advice column with playwright Adam Taylor.  He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.

“I’m purposefully not saying what gender I am, because I don’t want this to be about that. Thanks for understanding. I feel like my partner really hates it when I write. They don’t say this directly, but they find excuses to interrupt me. They ask stupid questions or start talking to me. Or schedule things during time I’ve booked to write. Maybe this is because of issues with one of their parents, who actually was quite a successful writer and wasn’t around a lot. I’m not like that, it’s mostly for fun, but it’s still important to me. I don’t want to hurt my partner, who is great in every other way. How do I get them to be more supportive of my desire to write?”

I feel for you. It can be really difficult to find time to write these days, modern life is just so busy. We spend most of our time at work, then we have to do the chores, wash, watch Judge Judy, spend a few hours arguing about Taylor Swift with strangers on Youtube comment boards, and sleep.

When we do have that precious little bit of spare time to do what we want, it’s understandable that our friends, family and partners want to spend time with us. After all, their lives are likely just as busy as ours.

It can easily feel like the world (or just your partner) is against you when there’s never any time to write. I often think my friends and family are trying to sabotage my creative efforts because whenever I put time aside to do something creative I seem to get a phone call or someone pops round or the football’s on or it’s someone’s birthday or a wedding or someone’s in the hospital or the car breaks down or whatever.

In reality we should count ourselves lucky, there are plenty of lonely people in the world who would love someone to disturb their silence and drag them out of the house. The fact someone wants to spend time with you is a blessing, even if it sometimes feels like a bit of a pain, or at least a disruption.

And don’t forget, having a writing career and having a life are not mutually exclusive. Life informs art, so a bit of social activity from time to time is actually essential – it sparks ideas and gives you more to write about. Here’s where I shamelessly plug this previous post about balancing writing with life.

That said, when you have lofty artistic goals you do need time, and often silence, to work. I wonder if anyone’s ever done a study to determine what percentage of artists, writers and performers were single when they first became successful? It would definitely make for interesting reading.

I know in my case I had a lot more free time before I got married. I don’t even know how it happened, it’s like my wedding ring sucked me into an alternate dimension where the days are half as long but there’s twice as much to do.

Obviously I’m joking (not really but my wife might be reading).

What’s my solution to this?

I don’t really have one at the moment. All I can manage is snatching odd moments when no one’s around. She’ll go to visit her mum or to the shops or out with friends at the weekend, and I’ll get a few hours’ work in. Sometimes I’ll sneak off while she’s making dinner and do a cheeky half an hour, but I have to make up for this by washing the dishes at least.

This is making my wife seem like a bit of a tyrant, which she totally isn’t. She just likes to spend time with me, and I feel the same way. But I also like to spend time writing and making music, and they’re pretty solitary pursuits.

There’s no easy way around this issue. If you feel your partner is genuinely trying to stop you from writing I’d say you need to discuss this with them. Frustrations can easily build up until you find the relationship has become too much work, and it doesn’t seem like you’re unhappy with him/her so I’m guessing you want to avoid that.

Your partner’s frequent interruptions might be annoying to you, but try to consider the situation from their side as well; they have limited time to spend with you, maybe they’re out all day at a job they hate, and when they finally get home all excited to see you, you’d prefer to sit in silence in front of a computer.

Have the conversation. Try to find out why your writing might be an issue. It’s not a one-way street, relationships require compromise. If you want to spend time alone writing make sure you allow some time to do something together to make up for that. Also, make sure your partner understands when you want a bit of quiet time and why. Explain what you’re working on, get him/her invested in your story. If you can get them hooked into the plot they’ll want to know how it ends and even see it up on stage.

Pitch the play to your significant other. If nothing else this will be great practice for when you need to do it professionally. Get them on board with what you’re doing, discuss plot points and character development. Be careful not to overdo this though, always show an interest in what they’re doing as well. No one likes a broken record.

Explain how important the writing is to you. Make this very clear, and be honest. You said in your question you write mostly for fun. That’s absolutely fine but if you’re describing it that way to your partner they might be thinking it’s not that serious so you won’t mind being interrupted. Let your partner know that although you’re not aiming to be the next Tennessee Williams, you do value your writing as a creative outlet or therapy session or just a way to unwind.

My only other suggestion would be to encourage your partner to find a hobby. This could be anything, from learning a language to indoor skydiving. Whatever it is, they’ll have something to do once or twice a week which gets them out of your hair. You’ll also have more to talk about when you are together. And sometimes they’ll want to get away from you to do their thing which will balance out the times when the shoe’s on the other foot.

It sounds as though there could also be some insecurity on your partner’s part resulting from a writing parent. It’s sad if your partner’s harbouring some resentment towards a distant parent, but it’s unfair of them to reflect that onto you. I’m not a psychologist but my instinct would be to reassure your partner about your ambitions. Talk to them about your work and get them involved where you can. They need to know the writing isn’t more important to you than they are.

Unfortunately there’s no easy way around this, all of us have different ambitions and desires, we enjoy different things and we all have our own expectations. It can be difficult to balance writing, whether doing it professionally or as a hobby, with our personal lives. I think it comes down to compromise and balance. You have to be willing to give and take.

Always be considerate of your partner and make sure they understand you expect the same in return.

Have a question or problem you’d like to send in?  Email advice@londonplaywrightsblog.com and keep your eyes peeled to see if the answer turns up on our site!

(DISCLAIMER: If you send us a question, you’re giving us permission to publish it!  Be sure to indicate what name you’d like us to use as a sign-off when we publish your column, and a just a heads up that we reserve the right to edit submissions for length if needed.)

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via CC license

Pursued By A Bear: “Should I write short plays or full length?”

Pursued By A Bear is our weekly advice column with playwright Adam Taylor.  He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.

“I see a lot of competitions asking for short plays. But it seems like theatres only put on full length plays. Should I write short plays (because it’s faster and fits in my working schedule easier), or am I better off trying to write a full length play and putting my energy here instead?”

This is quite the conundrum. Competitions are almost invariably asking for short plays, yet theatres always want full length pieces. What’s a playwright to do?

It’s worth thinking about why competition organisers tend to prefer short plays. Here are some reasons that occurred to me:

  1. Short plays are less labour intensive for the organisers; they take less time to read, so the organisers can read more of them and have a higher chance of discovering a gem
  2. Short plays are less labour intensive for playwrights; we’re more likely to take a punt on a ten minute play about a random topic, so the competition organisers will receive more entries than if they asked for an hour-long piece
  3. Several short plays can be combined in a single evening, giving coveted exposure to several playwrights, thus making the competition more appealing, and allowing the organisers to establish relationships with more of us
  4. It’s easier (arguably) to write a well-formed short play than a full-length, so the quality of work the organisers receive will generally be higher
  5. Short plays generally have fewer locations and characters, making them easier to cast and stage on a budget.

You may not agree with all of these, and they certainly don’t hold up in every situation, but I suspect it’s a bit of a numbers game with competitions. The organisers want to maximise the number of quality entries they can read, and subsequently the number of promising writers they get to meet.

For argument’s sake look at it this way; in one hour they can read ten short plays, or one full-length.

But how does writing short plays benefit us as writers?

First of all, it’s great practice. With a short play you need to tell a cohesive and engaging story within a limited timeframe. There’s no room for waffle, there’s little scope for spewing forth grand ideas, there’s just enough space for a good story. Writing plays is, first and foremost, the art of telling good stories.

You can write a whole bunch of short plays in the time it takes to write one full-length. This gives you the opportunity to develop the skill of telling powerful stories. I always find the restriction of telling a story in ten minutes forces me to focus on exactly what I need to say, and nothing more. All extraneous dialogue will be cut, every tenuously linked subplot is scrapped and the characters are kept to the barest minimum because there’s no room for extra development.

I won’t say it’s less challenging than writing a full-length, but writing a short play is definitely a different sort of challenge. Once you start writing longer pieces you’ll realise your storytelling skills and understanding of structure have to be absolutely on point or you’ll get lost. Writing a full-length means you have far more creative leeway, you have the scope to go anywhere and let your story twist and turn to your heart’s content. You can also go a lot deeper into complex issues in a long play.

A full-length play also needs to tell a coherent story, it needs to feel like a single piece of writing, it has to gel from beginning to end. This is a whole new challenge, and it requires the kind of storytelling instincts you can develop writing short plays.

Of course, writing short plays isn’t the only way to develop great storytelling skills. I’m sure there are a ton of writers out there who jumped directly into the full-length arena and kept slogging away until they slayed that particular beast.

However, I will say writing short plays is possibly less painful, and I think it’s probably a faster route. I’ve spent months working on a full-length before realising I had no idea what I was writing about. That’s a pretty crushing experience. The reason that happened to me was because I didn’t have a very well developed sense of what makes a good story at that time.

I’ve been in exactly the same situation writing short plays, but I’ve probably only wasted a week or so on each aborted endeavour. This allows me to take more risks and be a lot more experimental without losing a lot of time.

So you can write more short plays – great, but theatres want full-lengths don’t they?

Not necessarily always. Most of the competitions you’re talking about are run by or with a theatre. As I pointed out above, a lot of theatres want to meet playwrights. Short play competitions are a way for them to make contact with talented writers.

There’s nothing stopping you from writing a full-length play and sending it out to every theatre in the land. However, it will probably go to the bottom of a large pile of unsolicited scripts, so your odds aren’t great. Unless you know someone at the theatre. How do you get to know someone at the theatre?

Stalking is always an option. You could chloroform them and tie them up in your basement until they agree to read your play. Kidnap their prize-winning labradoodle and hold it hostage with a rehearsed reading as ransom. Disguise yourself as their nanny a la Mrs Doubtfire and tell them all about this great new playwright you stumbled across.

But all of those suggestions are clearly insane and highly likely to result in prison time. Or at the very least, community service. So don’t try them. And if you do try them, don’t tell anyone you got the idea from me.

You’re far more likely to be successful if you just send in a worthy entry to their short play competition. I would definitely recommend this route, and just to help you out (and shamelessly plug the column), here’s another blog post about deciding which competitions to enter.

Once you’ve entered a few short play competitions and made a bit of noise, you’re in a much better position to send a full-length to your new contacts. Your script is no longer unsolicited, you’re a known entity. They liked your short play so they’ll probably give your full-length debut a look on the strength of that existing relationship.

I’m not trying to sell the short play route to you as a shortcut or a back-door to success. It isn’t. You’ll still have to work really bloody hard and drag the most intriguing and spellbinding stories possible from the depths of your brain. I do think it gives you an advantage in the numbers game though. You can build up a bit of a rep, get your plays in front of a few audiences and theatrical gatekeepers, and make valuable contacts within the industry.

You’ll also be able to develop your storytelling talent while concentrating your efforts on specific goals and experimenting with different styles of theatre.

Don’t forget, the people putting on short play competitions want to meet playwrights. You want to be a playwright, which means you want to meet them. Invest a little time in writing short plays for worthwhile competitions and you could find it does a lot for your career.

At the very worst you’ll have written more, which is the only surefire way to improve.

A short play can also be a great way to explore whether an idea’s strong enough to carry a full-length play. Write it as a ten minute piece, get the bare bones of the story down, see how it plays, and then decide whether you want to invest the time in making it full-length. Think of it like a testing ground whereby you try plays out to see which one has the most potential.

The ultimate answer to your question is to do both. Full-length plays are the dream for most of us, you don’t really get into the Playwrights Hall of Fame without at least a few notable plays of length under your belt. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore short plays. Writing concisely is a great skill to have, and not every idea merits a two-hour epic. Some stories work best in ten minutes.

I find the odd short play increasingly satisfying to write. They can be a lot of fun and also give a more immediate reward than the months or years it takes to write a good full-length. Plus, as you say, short plays are a lot easier to fit into a busy schedule, so you can use them to keep your skills sharp when you don’t have the time to commit to a large project.

Have a question or problem you’d like to send in?  Email advice@londonplaywrightsblog.com and keep your eyes peeled to see if the answer turns up on our site!

(DISCLAIMER: If you send us a question, you’re giving us permission to publish it!  Be sure to indicate what name you’d like us to use as a sign-off when we publish your column, and a just a heads up that we reserve the right to edit submissions for length if needed.)

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via CC license

Pursued By A Bear: “My fringe show failed. What next?

Pursued By A Bear is our weekly advice column with playwright Adam Taylor.  He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.

“Hi Adam. So I finally took the leap to put my show on in the fringe. (I won’t say what or where, and I guess I just have to hope you won’t google me.) I cleaned out my savings account and used nearly all of my holiday time to make it happen. I’d been working on the play for years and I really believed in it. But if I’m being honest, it was a total flop. The critics (at least the ones who came) hated it, and the industry people I invited won’t write back to my emails. I saw some of my family at a wedding over the weekend, and they were making jokes about it. I laughed it off, but honestly, I’m gutted. And broke. I thought this was going to be my big break (naive, I know), but it seems like it was all a big mistake. I still want to be a writer, but I used up all my resources, and don’t know if I’d have the heart to try again. Where do I go from here?”

I’ll start with a great quote from Albert Einstein; “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Whether Einstein said this or not (because I’m never quite convinced with these online quotes), the sentiment remains perfect.

Failure is part of the learning process. Wanting to succeed at something doesn’t necessarily affect your failure rate. However, it does affect how likely you are to keep trying after a failure. If you really want to be a writer you shouldn’t let this setback stop you.

Einstein himself struggled to gain initial momentum in his career as a physicist, working as a patent clerk for two years after graduating because he couldn’t secure a teaching post. He didn’t give up though, and of course eventually went on to become one of the most influential people to ever live through his revolutionary work in physics. He also now holds the dubious honour of having more inspirational internet quotes falsely attributed to him than anyone else in human history.

The short answer to your question is simple; carry on. Put this play behind you and start writing something new. Get back on the horse. And do it today.

I don’t care if what you write is pure nonsense, just make it fun. Start writing whatever comes into your head if you don’t have any ideas lined up. You don’t have to use what you write, it doesn’t have to be good, you just need to enjoy it. Put the last one out of your mind and have fun writing for a while.

It doesn’t feel like it now, but in time you’ll get over your disappointment. Once you start to get a bit of distance and the emotions have died down, I’d suggest going back to the unsuccessful play. Pretend it was written by someone else and imagine yourself as an audience member. Analyse that shit. Try to figure out why it didn’t work.

Was the message you were trying to get across strong enough? Were your characters unique? Were their motivations believable? Was the plot original? Was the dialogue engaging? Were their dull moments? Did the story keep moving forward?

Ask yourself all of the above questions and try to pinpoint exactly where you went wrong, in your opinion. If you spot a gaping plot hole or a dull character which is dragging the whole thing down you might be tempted to start rewriting it instantly. Don’t do it; put the play away in a drawer and come back to it in a year if you still think you have something important to say on the topic.

I honestly think sometimes we set out to write plays which require skills we don’t yet have. If an idea is vital but you haven’t managed to do it justice you might not be ready for it. Put it to one side until you’ve got another couple of plays under your belt then come back to it. I’m always surprised how easily I can spot problems when I revisit an unfinished draft from a few years ago.

A key piece of advice I’ll give is not to dwell on the critics’ reviews or remarks you overheard from audience members. It’s sometimes difficult to let that shit go, but you really have to, it will never do you any good. Some of it may be constructive criticism, but coming from strangers it’s very difficult to separate the helpful stuff from the throwaway comments.

Remember, a lot of critics tend to use hyperbole in negative reviews for effect. They want their reviews to read well, and saying “I was a little bit bored in the middle,” isn’t as interesting as saying “I desperately wanted to gouge my eyes out with a Peanut M&M.”

At least that’s what I always tell myself.

I wouldn’t worry too much about your family members laughing either. If the play really went down that badly you need to understand it’s probably awkward for them too. I’d say it’s better to all have a laugh about it than have them shower you with embarrassing sympathy and pats-on-the-back. Or even worse, watch them do their absolute best to avoid talking about it altogether.

I once had a chat with a friend after a show of mine she clearly hated, and in a misguided attempt to say something nice all she could come up with was; “I really liked it, yeah, the part with the – that was great, well done you. And the actors did so well remembering all those lines. Had a great burger before the show too, so that was nice. You look like you need a drink, I’ll get the drinks in.”

I would have honestly preferred if she’d said; “Well that was a pile of shit.” That would have nicely cleared the air and we could have moved on knowing our friendship was based on mutual honesty and respect and I wouldn’t have had to delete her from Facebook or piss through her letterbox or disconnect the brake cables on her car.

In all seriousness though, you can’t murder everyone who hates your work (however satisfying it might be). Putting a play out in the public domain inevitably opens you up to all kinds of feedback; positive, negative and indifferent. This is something you’ll have to learn to accept/ignore eventually. It’s probably better to learn that lesson early on than have it come as a big shock once you’ve got used to people saying nice things about you.

The other half of your question concerns using up all your resources taking the show to the Fringe. I don’t want to trivialise this, but in my experience it’s easier to recover financially than emotionally after an experience like this.

Pragmatically speaking, you managed to gather the funds for this show so there’s no reason why you can’t do it again. You said you used up all your savings and holiday, which tells me you probably have a job. The next Fringe is almost a year away so start saving again if that’s what you want to do.

My suggestion would be to learn as much as you can from this experience. If you’re not happy with the amount of money you lost on this show look into other sources of funding next time. Speaking from experience, taking a show to Edinburgh is expensive and exhausting. With your next show it would be worth trying to test it somewhere closer to home, even if just for a single performance, before going up to the Fringe. Once you have a script start looking for opportunities, however small, and see how the play works.

A test run will give you the chance to see how it plays in front of an audience. You’ll then be able to fine-tune things before going to the Fringe.

Another option is to approach producers or companies with your script. If they decide to put the play on they’ll do a lot of the work in terms of securing funding and organising all the logistical aspects, leaving you to stick to the writing and continue honing your craft.

Self-producing can be a fantastic way to showcase your work as an unknown writer. At the same time, it requires a huge amount of self-belief, organisation and a thick skin. Not everyone is cut out to do everything, ask yourself honestly if you’d be better off taking a back-seat once the writing is done.

Audiences are unpredictable, artistic merit is subjective. Putting all your resources into an untested show at the Fringe was a big gamble. This time around it didn’t pay off. Learn from the experience and do things differently next time. You’ll become a stronger writer, and a stronger person.

 

Have a question or problem you’d like to send in?  Email advice@londonplaywrightsblog.com and keep your eyes peeled to see if the answer turns up on our site!

(DISCLAIMER: If you send us a question, you’re giving us permission to publish it!  Be sure to indicate what name you’d like us to use as a sign-off when we publish your column, and a just a heads up that we reserve the right to edit submissions for length if needed.)

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via CC license