Playwrighting Top Tips: Part Two

In this part two of our Top Tips mini-series, Philip Shelley, who founded the Channel 4 screenwriting course, chats about the artistic side and the business side of a writer’s life. This series is inspired by the book Dramatic Writing Masterclasses, and we’re grateful to Philip Shelley and to Jennifer Tuckett for their help with this blog.

What do you believe writers need to know about script editing and writing in general?

Philip Shelley: This is what I’m going to talk about in my Masterclass. There are so many different areas to writing. I think there’s the whole craft side of it but there’s also the business side of it, which isn’t talked about so much in this environment. I think it’s very important.

The business side is something I’ve learnt a lot from doing the Channel 4 course as we have a huge number of entries and it is very hard to get onto the course. Inevitably, when we choose the twelve writers we choose, we love their scripts. Their scripts are fantastic but some writers do better off the back of the course than other writers.

That’s generally not to do with their talent because they’re all incredibly talented writers. It’s more to do with how they run their careers as a business, how they conduct themselves as a business, how much research they do about work they want to do, how much television they watch and how they get on working with script editors, producers and directors in quite a pressured environment.

If you could give one piece of advice to a writer, what would be the one thing you’d say?

Philip Shelley: Probably just “be persistent and be determined”. That’s two things. You’ve just got to stick at it really because you only need one person to like your work. If you write a script and it’s rejected by fifteen people and one person takes it on, that’s all you need. You do get a lot of knock-backs. That’s one of the things on the Channel 4 course we learn about writing. When you’re working with a script editor for the first time and you’re not used to that, it’s hard. We ask a lot of questions that writers don’t want to be asked about their work. Some people thrive in that environment and some people find it difficult.

Philip Shelley

In any production, if you’re working on a show that’s in production, it’s difficult because there are very tight deadlines that you can’t miss. The script has to be to a certain quality by a certain time and there’s no way round that. It is tough but you need to have sufficient passion for the craft and for writing that you can ride those bumps and enjoy the process. I think the best writers do it because they love writing. It’s a question of making sure you enjoy it.

You can find more information on Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters HERE.
You can read part one of our Top Tips series HERE.

Playwrighting Top Tips: Part One

Last month, Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters was published, providing access to the leading industry writing training for the first time.
This blog is the first in a series of ‘Tops Tips’ inspired by the book that we’ll be bringing you over the next few months. Part one comes from Fin Kennedy, Artistic Director of Tamasha theatre and founder of Schoolwrights.

Fin Kennedy: It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be one of the ten ‘Masters’. The combination of giving free reign to industry tutors to set vocational tasks alongside academic rigour is unique, while being able to research and develop with students new creative forms in a ‘Lab’ format each and every year is of real practical value to our company. I am delighted that some of this learning is being disseminated further with this book.

 

Can you tell us more about your dramatic writing teaching?

Fin Kennedy: I’m currently putting plans in place for the writers’ group that I’ve started in-house at Tamasha. There will be craft-based training about different aspects of playwriting, but I also want to start to train that group up as artist-producers able to take responsibility for curating, project-managing and particularly fundraising for their own projects.

It’s been a bugbear of mine over the last ten to twelve years that the traditional relationship between writers and organisations renders writers essentially passive. We’re almost entirely excluded from the infrastructure of theatre-making, which is weird given that everything starts with us. We’re where the ideas come from. We decide whose lives are worth putting a frame around.

Outside of the odd residency programme, you don’t get writers running theatre companies. You’re always freelance. You wait for the phone to ring. You wait to somehow come to a literary manager’s attention. When you do get a commission you’re told what the play you’re writing is or ought to be and sent away to write some drafts on your own. It’s disempowering. My experience started with the knockback I got for How To Disappear being rejected by every theatre in London, and having to fall back on my own resources and go “Actually, I can’t make a living out of play commissions, how else am I going to use my skills?” I think writers’ skills are applicable in lots of different contexts, but particularly in a community context. That’s something I’m passionate about training other writers up to do.

Fin Kennedy, photo by Phil Adams

What do you believe writers need to know about working in schools?

Fin Kennedy: I do a whole module on this. Amanda Stewart Fisher is an academic at Central School of Speech & Drama who writes a lot about community applied drama and she talks about the writer in residence role in the community context as being a temporary, shamanistic role. What she means by that is that it’s not about you. When you get a commission from one of the big companies like Soho or the Royal Court, it is about you and your voice and your vision and your name in lights. It’s not like that when you go into schools. This is not only because it’s less glamorous and there is not the same infrastructure but also because the close-up work that you’ll do is very collaborative.

You might have a group of young people for whom you are the workshop leader as well as the writer and gatherer of the material. That involves a channelling kind of process where you’re trying to capture their voices, their concerns, their worldviews and spirit and energy. Then you take all the fragmentary material that they’ll generate with you in sessions, take it away, give it your professional polish but hand it back to them in a form that they’ll recognise.

It’s self-effacing in that respect. I enjoy that process and I enjoy taking myself out of myself. I think it’s made me a better artist – it’s broadened my palate about the kinds of worlds and experiences I can write about with legitimacy. It’s about keeping a stake in real life. It’s easy when you’re a fulltime freelance writer to be holed up in your home/office/garret pontificating about how the world works without actually taking an active part in it.

I’ve not had a ‘proper job’, in terms of being at the office every day from nine to five, for a long time. I’ve got one now with Tamasha but before that I hadn’t had one for ten years and it’s easy to shed a lot of stimulus and experience that way. So I think it’s important for writers to use their skills in a very worldly way.

Thanks to Fin Kennedy and Jennifer Tuckett for their contributions to this blog. For more Top Tips, follow this blog over the coming weeks and months, and pick up a copy of Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters

The Student Guide to Playwriting

Jennifer Tuckett is Course Leader for Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martin’s new MA Dramatic Writing. Previously, she founded the UK’s first formally industry partnered MA in Playwriting and last year was a finalist for the Women of the Future Arts and Culture Award.
We asked Jennifer to write a piece for our blog about a new playwriting competition and accompanying book which she’s helped spearhead, and explain how you can get involved. 

scene 1I’m really delighted to be asked to write a blog about The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting.

Jennifer Tuckett

Jennifer Tuckett

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting is the first in a new competition series from the Bush Theatre, Oberon Books, the MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins and Writers at Work Productions and has now launched at thestudentguidetowriting.com

We’re really excited about the competition series, which we hope will provide access for the first time to the leading dramatic writing training coming out of the industry.

Writers can enter from schools, universities, or elsewhere (as we want to encourage anyone to be a student of playwriting) or teachers can teach the lesson plans in class.

All you have to do is follow the lesson plans then send your work in. Five winners will then be chosen to attend a bootcamp on playwriting at Central Saint Martins, see their work showcased at London Writers Week and the lesson plans and winning work will then be published by Oberon Books!

An outline of the first competition’s shape and contents can be found below:

10 leading professionals have now committed to writing lesson plans as part of The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting, to provide access to their training.

The lesson plans will be published via the website www.thestudentguidetowriting.com

Lesson plans will be released from January to March 2016 and will be:

Lesson Plan One: Starting Out – Rob Drummer, Associate Dramaturg, Bush Theatre

Lesson Plan Two: Ideas – Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s world famous young writers programme

John Yorke

John Yorke

Lesson Plan Three: Structure – John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers Academy, one of the most influential writing training programmes in the industry in recent years, and author of the best selling book on storytelling Into the Woods

Lesson Plan Four: Scenes – Jennifer Tuckett, Course Leader of MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins

Lesson Plan Five: Characterisation – Rebecca Lenkiewicz, playwright and mentor from the Bush Theatre

Finn Kennedy

Finn Kennedy

Lesson Plan Six: Dialogue – Fin Kennedy, founder of Schoolwrights and Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company

Lesson Plan Seven: Theatricality – Steve Winter, co-founder of the Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays and TS Eliot Exchange and Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation

Lesson Plan Eight: Rewriting – Caroline Jester, former Dramaturg at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and author of Playwriting Across the Curriculum

Lesson Plan Nine: Staging Your Work – Caroline Horton, writer, director, actor and mentor from the Bush Theatre

Lesson Plan Ten: Final Advice – Lucy Kerbel – founder of Tonic Theatre and creator of Platform

Students and their teachers can follow the lesson plans to build up a play week by week.

At the end of the project the lesson plans and winning work will be published by Oberon Books to provide a book for use by students and teachers in schools and Universities across the UK to improve dramatic writing training the UK and provide permanent access to the leading training.

Please note there are four categories of winner: a schools category, a college and University category, an emerging writer category and anyone (two prizes will be awarded in this category) as the competition wants to recognize and encourage anyone to be a student of playwriting.

Rob Drummer BUSH

Rob Drummer

Associate Dramaturg at the Bush Theatre Rob Drummer said: “We’re delighted to be partnering The Student Guide to Writing which forms part of our efforts to inspire and develop playwrights from a diverse range of backgrounds and to engage audiences nationally in new theatre writing.”

Senior Editor at Oberon Books George Spender, said: “All of us at Oberon are thrilled to be a part of this extremely exciting project that will no doubt have a tremendous influence on the next generation of writers and theatre makers.”

Jennifer Tuckett

Jennifer Tuckett

Course Leader of MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins Jennifer Tuckett said: “The Student Guide to Writing is a new series designed to provide access to the best dramatic writing training in the UK. Teachers can use the lesson plans in classes or students can follow the lesson plans on their own. The winning student work will be published along with the lessons in a book published by Oberon Books as a permanent legacy of the project. We are thrilled about the partnership between Central Saint Martins, the Bush Theatre and Oberon Books on competition one, all of whom are leading the way in the UK.”

For further information please see www.thestudentguidetowriting.com

As part of the new partnership with Oberon Books, there will also be a second book for writers for theatre, film, television, radio and digital media offering more advanced advice from the industry across all forms of dramatic writing and offering access to the leading training coming out of the industry in all forms of dramatic writing for the first time: http://oberonbooks.com/creative-writing/dramatic-writing

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