We’re just about to embark on the fifteenth term of WriteForTheStage playwriting courses. Yes - 15! It hardly seems possible.
Over the years, we’ve helped develop the work of over a hundred playwrights. Not all of them are still writing play writing, but most of them are still writing in one way or another. As well as plays, our playwriting courses have sparked off novels, anthologies of poetry, encouraged others to go into teaching for themselves, and gone onto successful careers in producing, copywriting, and public speaking.
Of course, we don’t claim credit for all of those - our participants are from diverse backgrounds - but most people find our ways of extracting inspiration from the every day a very useful starting point for future work.
Because the WriteForTheStage courses are all about discovery.
We actively encourage people to start the courses with no fixed ideas, because we ”mine the imagination” and find what we want to explore. We discover what we want to say.
Writing has got to be an act of discovery...I write to discover what I’m thinking about. - Edward Albee
Through a series of exercises (borrowed from the late, great Tony Craze’s amazing playwriting guide, Write a Theatre Script in 25 Days (& 10 Hours)), we discover theme, character, and develop a 3-dimensional world that embodies a problem.
And it’s through the discovery of the Problem of the World that we explore; allowing possibilities to emerge until we hone those variables into a protagonist with an objective and an antagonist trying to stop them from getting it; driven and guided by a tangible theme.
This is the basis of all of the courses.
We explore in Intro (creating a script of up to ten pages), then we readdress and question in Advanced and Progressing.
The aim of the Intro course is to write the first ten pages of a script.
We focus on the first ten pages because that‘s as far a reader gets when you send your script away for competitions. The initial ten-page sift is where many great playwrights falter - they fail to get the reader past the opening pages; making the dynamic, explosive pages 25-70 a bit redundant.
We focus those first ten pages on action; not exposition. We don’t set up the world - the world already exists. Any necessary exposition (or set-up information) comes through action - the audience learn about the world and the characters through what they do; not through what they tell us.
A script, full of action, makes for an active audience: they ask “why”, “what”, “who” - and by asking those questions, they get drawn into the action with which we’re presenting them.
We concentrate our efforts on active dialogue: when a character speaks, they’re doing something to the other characters; they pursue their objectives through what they say. And what they say is a strategy in getting what they want.
We apply dramatic questions to guide the tension, and we place obstacles and curve-balls in the way to mix things up a little.
We introduce structure - 3-act structure. Even though you’re only writing the first ten pages, we think it‘s important that you know where it’s going to go. So we explore 3-act structure from the perspective of character want and need, all emerging because of the Problem of the World.
And everything connects together.
The Intro course is by no means basic. It’s a comprehensive starting point and a firm foundation with which to continue.
Sue Womersley completed the Intro course and went on to the Progressing Summer School. She told us about how she found the teaching:
The Advanced course is due to begin on Wednesday 16th October (so next week if you’re reading this on the week of publication).
If you feel that you already have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of playwriting, then you might be ready to jump straight into Advanced (or Progressing). Or anyone who has completed the Intro course and already has their ten pages are welcome to join.
In Advanced, we delve more thoroughly into structure. We explore subplot and its relationship with the falling action, and we hone the journey of the protagonist.
We apply deeper focus and scrutiny on character objective, voice, and strategy, and we explore The Total Narrative. We consider the circularity of narrative and we break down the story to help us find our way from page ten through to the very tricky part: finding an ending.
We develop a critical voice. We apply questions to our own work so that we can apply questions to other people’s work; so that we can understand what we’re seeing.
The aim of the ten-week course is to develop our ten pages into a script of up to sixty pages.
The Progressing course is the newest addition to our playwriting courses, but it’s been particularly popular.
The focus in the Progressing course is reading each other’s work; WritersLab style. But we also do character studies and exercises to flesh out who our characters are and what they really want. We explore the Problem of the World by applying questions and we test our characters to reveal new light about themselves.
Some of the best work at Development Week is now coming from the Progressing course. That’s not to say, of course, that the work from Advanced and Intro aren’t great, but - by nature - the participants of the Progressing course have had more time with their characters, developing and honing the work until it becomes more vital, full of tension, and active from start to finish.
The next term of Progressing will be starting next week - Tuesday, 15th Oct, 6-8pm. All writers are welcome if they have a piece they want to develop - you don’t have to have completed the previous courses.
AND you don’t have to be local to Manchester - all of our courses are now taught online, meaning that you can join regardless of your physical location.
All of our courses are now taught online in a fully-interactive video conferencing environment. It works very well and gives everyone an opportunity to share their work, to view live presentations, and discuss.
And it’s all from the comfort of your armchair.
David Chriscole has completed many of our courses and tells us about how he finds the online learning environment:
Development Week 13
We hosted seven new pieces of playwriting from the Intro, Advanced, and Progressing courses at Development Week 13. Our work made up almost 70% of the entire programme (if my maths are correct).
Development Week 13 was the best-attended event we’ve run so far. We had 80% full houses throughout the week, and the writers got tons of useful feedback to help with the development of their work.
At least five of the pieces read at Development Week are going into production in 2020. And hopefully the majority of those will be joining us at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival. That’s really exciting. And I feel hugely privileged to have observed the development of those pieces from the very spark of an idea, emerging into a script that’s getting ready to find a paying audience.
Viaduct Theatre Stockport
One of our long-term participants, Maureen O’Neill, has just announced that she will be opening a theatre venue - Viaduct Theatre - in Stockport.
She’s on the lookout for new work, so visit their website for more details about how to get involved in bringing new theatre to the people of Stockport.
And watch this space - Complicity will be coming to a stage near you very soon!
For more info about our courses, click here. Bookings are still open for Advanced and Progressing (and Intro if you get in quick!!!).
Listen to The WriteForTheStage Podcast for free tips and tutorials.