Monday, 26 September 2016

WYPH Blackthorn playwrighting workshop - 17 September

I attended this workshop a couple of weekends ago run by Charley Miles, Yorkshire writer of the play Blackthorn.

There were eleven attendees at the workshop, two men and nine women and it began with Charley informing us about Summer Sublets which runs for two weeks in August.  This requires a short outline of what you would like to do writing-wise and hers was a re-draft of a play.  WYPH also have the Playwrights One course twice a year run by Jacqui Honess-Martin, Literary Associate on a Wednesday night for two hours for eight weeks.  This deals with the basics, dialogue, narrative and structure and at the end of eight weeks, attendees submit a scene for feedback.  To apply, check the website:

We then took part in Questions and Facts, where someone reads the play script and when a fact is mentioned you bang on the table, and when a question occurs you say ding.  This helps you to see how to put information into a scene without exposition.

Following this, Charley recommended that when a writer looks at a scene, to rewrite it in the opposite sphere too, i.e. out/inside spaces as it can make it a lot more powerful.  She feels your theme can be big, but tell it in a small way and that there is not much point putting stage directions in as directors/actors don't always follow them - do not tell actors how to feel in them, you should be able to infer from what is written/dialogue.  A lot of the parts should have a sense of ownership of the piece, learn to let this go. Charley puts everything into the first draft and then editing is when you take huge swathes out that helped you to build it, but you don't actually need, in the piece.

Use the viewpoints exercise: she had only two weeks to rehearse and they used the actors on a grid, so only allowed on those lines, then can stop/start, speed, diagonals etc. until they are kinetically responding to each other.  Then the characters have shared sense of language/space.

On her January residency, Charley wrote the play, it was programmed in April and casted in July, though she did have one day with actors in the January residency.

You should work out what your characters' want/need is as it is always present but it changes scene by scene and overall - use this in every scene and for over-arching themes. 

We then worked out what the fe/male characters want and need in Blackthorn, who has the power in the scene shared and then how to grow a character organically so that a natural story will occur.  Start with a conversation, let it brew before you get a plot.  Hilary Mantell calls it 'growing a tale' in her essay on how to write, grow it rather than write it.  After this, find the focus/through line, i.e. the point of your play.  What is the question that your play is trying to answer. You don't have to answer it, but each scene is building towards trying to answer it.  In Blackthorn it is 'what does belonging mean when neither you, nor the person, nor the place, remain the same?'

Charley always starts with characters - try and develop them.  She then shared some pictures from Google (or we could use a character we were already working on) and asked us to write using the 'hot seating game' with the following questions:

How old are they?  Where did they grow up?  Do they still live here now?  Where is it they call home now?  Is your character married/single/divorced or too young for all that?  What is your characters' guilty pleasure?  Do they have any siblings?  What does your character think of their Dad?  Has your character ever been in love and if so, who and when?  When did they lose their virginity?  What makes them laugh out loud?  What is their greatest fear and who would they tell it to?  It's Saturday night, what's your character doing?  It's Wednesday night, what's your character doing?  What kind of toothpaste do they use?  What do they sound like, favourite phrase?  Birthmark/scar and if so, how did they get it?  What do they look like at all?  When did they leave school and what was their favourite subject?  Your characters' greatest regret and joy?  Name/nickname?  What do they want?  What do they need?

When you have done this, what surprised/occurred to you?  We then took part in some free association writing, which is giving a writer a stimuli and then writing non-stop for a certain amount of time.  At the workshop it went like this: for one minute, write on something you found in those questions, for two minutes, write about a relationship your character has had with someone and for three minutes, think about your characters' home, what does this mean to them?

To finish the session Charley mentioned about scratch nights which take place four times a year (they are for free every three months) but you have to provide your own actors.  There is one in Furnace for the next two weeks, featuring rehearsed readings etc.  Submissions also open for scripts in November and April for those writers born, raised and/or living in Yorkshire.  She also recommended checking out the BBC Writers Room, Live Theatre in Newcastle (10 minute plays), Matt Miller - Leeds Pub Theatre and Slung Low live performances of radio plays.

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