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.

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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 Masters at Work

Oberon is delighted to bring you Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters which brings together for the first time the knowledge of professionals who have led the way in dramatic writing in the UK.
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.”
Taken from the introduction to the book, written by its Editor Jennifer Tuckett, this blog will introduce you to the new collection and what you can expect from it. 

9781783193240Drama Centre London is one of the UK’s best drama schools, having trained many of the most successful theatre and screen artists in the UK, and Central Saint Martins is one of the world’s leading colleges of art and design. The two organisations have recently come together to create the UK’s first MA in Dramatic Writing covering writing for theatre, film, television, radio and digital media.

As part of this new MA, we brought together ten people who have led the way in the training of dramatic writers in the UK. During the course’s first year, with these ten ‘Masters’, we ran The Year of Experimentation to investigate what dramatic writing training can be in the UK – the first time these top industry professionals had ever worked together and pooled their advice.

This book shares the results of this year with you via ten Masterclasses from our Year of Experimentation Festival – the culmination of our first year – and provides access for the first time to the leading industry training. Our ten Masters are:

  • Ola Animashawun, founder of the Royal Court Theatre’s Young Writers Programme
  • Stephen Jeffreys, Literary Associate at the Royal Court Theatre for eleven years and creator of Masterclasses which have led the way in Playwriting training in the UK
  • Caroline Jester, who has been Dramaturg at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, co-author of the book Playwriting Across the Curriculum and has pioneered collaborative and digital playwriting programmes worldwide
  • Fin Kennedy, winner of the first Fringe First award ever awarded to a schools production and co-Artistic Director of Tamasha Theatre Company
  • Kate Rowland, founder of BBC Writersroom
  • Philip Shelley, instigator of the Channel 4 screenwriting course
  • Nina Steiger, Associate Director at the Soho Theatre
  • Jennifer Tuckett, Course Leader for Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins’ new MA Dramatic Writing Course
  • Steve Winter, Director of the Kevin Spacey Foundation and co-creator of the Old Vic New Voices 24 Hour Plays and TS Eliot US/UK Exchange
  • John Yorke, creator of the BBC Writers Academy and former Head of Channel 4 Drama and Controller of BBC Drama Production

These ten Masterclasses offer a unique opportunity to learn from those creating and running the best dramatic writing training in the UK, whether you are a writer, student, teacher, arts professional or simply interested in writing.

jennifer-tuckett

Jennifer Tuckett

Many of these schemes receive thousands of applications a year but what these people teach or think about dramatic writing and why they created these programmes is often not publicly available. And if it’s not publicly available then how do you know what is being taught or thought about if you’re not a part of these schemes? And how do you become a part of these schemes if you don’t know what is being taught or thought about? It seemed to us this is a potentially vicious cycle that we wanted to address.

Each Masterclass includes an interview providing further insight into who these Masters are and additional tips. Some also include Q&As with or input from the audience from our Year of Experimentation Festival.

We do hope you’ll enjoy the book, and will use the Masterclasses to inspire your own writing.

Have your say in the future of dramatic writing in the UK by taking part in this survey, the results of which will be discussed at London Writers’ Week in summer 2017 – https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/dramaticwriting