Writing for Performance

I’ve spent the weekend at a page-to-stage workshop at The Point & The Berry Theatre, led by professional playwright, TV and film screenwriter, Simon Eden. Seven writers (including two under 18s) had to come prepared to write and share their work with the group.  Sharing your work in a group situation can be challenging for writers new to writing for performance.  All that is so personal to you, namely your writing, suddenly has to be put out there for others to comment upon.  It’s nerve-wracking enough if you’re used to working in this way, which I am, fortunately so that I can’t imagine what it must be like for the younger writers.  But to their credit, both Anna and Caitlin seemed to take the process very much in their stride.

We were very lucky with our team members and facilitators, which included Rob Iliffe, Drama Development Officer at The Point & The Berry Theatre and Sean Tyler (Writers’ Hub Co-ordinator).  On the Saturday of the workshop we writers gave a brief introduction to the script that we’d pitched for the workshop that got us selected.  But after that we were sent away for the rest of the day to write.  And I can tell you, that the time just flew by! Although we had the rest of the evening to write when we got home, we had to submit our scripts by 9am on the Sunday morning.

While some of the group were working into the small hours, polishing and refining their scripts, I, for once, had decided to wait until the next day for the input of the director, Daniel Hill (Drama Development Manager at The Point and Berry Theatre) and the actors, who were going to be playing the parts of Vivian and Kingsley in my play, The Beach.

Although I studied drama at university and go to the theatre on a regular basis, this is the first time I have ever written for the stage.  Even when writing screenplays I do have a tendency to struggle with the geography of a scene.  And it was very apparent to me that the geography of a scene on stage is even more important.  I am still working at writing clearer stage directions, as at one point I have my characters in a clearing in a jungle and the next minute they’re walking down a road.  The only problem, as Simon quite rightly pointed out was that I hadn’t added in any stage directions to get the two characters from one place to another.  Of course, if this was a screenplay, I would simply cut to a new scene.  You can do that in a play, for sure, by the use of house lights fading down and coming up again, but as there’d been no emotional change in the scene I decided to stick with just the once scene.

Whether this was a wise decision or not will be evident at the Tuesday night, 12th March performance in front of the audience at The Berry Theatre.

Another headache I’d created for Daniel, who is having to direct this piece, and for Anna and David who are playing the roles, is that I have my actors walking along a road – which on stage, for this particular performance with minimal technical facilities, is a bit of a challenge! And then there’s another part of the same scene, where Vivian and Kingsley have to climb into a vehicle and be driven along a road.

I had one last opportunity this morning, prior to the actors going into rehearsal, to tweak the script a bit. But after that, my part of the process is over and in a process of true collaboration, I hand my work over to the director and performers.  If my instructions weren’t clear enough that will be my fault and my fault alone.  And this will be abundantly clear on Tuesday night as I watch the performance with the best critics of all, a paying audience.

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