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About this book

Writing for theatre is a unique art form, different even from other kinds of scriptwriting. Making theatre is a truly collaborative process which can be a tricky aspect to grasp when starting out. This book will take you on a journey from the origins of theatre to what it means to write for the stage today. It includes a series of interviews with writers, directors and dramaturgs, all of whom are making theatre now, providing an unrivalled glimpse into the world of contemporary theatre making. Kim Wiltshire explores the foundations, traits and skills necessary for playwriting alongside the creative possibilities of writing theatre in the digital age. Each part of the book ends with a series of exercises which students of the craft can use to practise their art and stretch their creativity.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Introduction

Abstract
When I first considered writing a book about writing for theatre, my initial feeling was that, although I write plays, make theatre and teach script writing, I’m not really old enough or experienced enough or famous enough. This is because most books about writing or creating theatre, especially in the UK, are written by the grandees of theatre, usually late on in their careers when they can bestow their hard-won wisdom on us less experienced writers. And there is nothing at all wrong with these books; indeed I very much enjoy reading them (you can find a selection listed in the further reading section at the back of this book). I love finding out what Alan Ayckbourne, David Mamet, Peter Brook and David Edgar, to name but a few, have to say about their experiences of making theatre. Initially, I had no idea what I could possibly add to these wise words from people who were so practised in their craft and had such a wide range of knowledge. So, what changed my mind about writing a book?
Kim Wiltshire

Foundations

Frontmatter

1. A Brief History of Theatre for Playwrights

Abstract
Writing for theatre means being in the now, in the present, because theatre is in its very essence ephemeral. A performance happens live, at a particular time with a particular audience, and it will never happen that way again. Of course it can be recorded, filmed, written down and published, but part of the experience of live drama, the one thing that makes it different to all other forms of storytelling, is the shared experience of the audience linked to a particular performance — and that can never be recorded, at least not with current technology. In its story, theme and form, a new play will inevitably reflect the world around the playwright at the time of writing.
Kim Wiltshire

2. The Cultures of Writing for Theatre — Innovators

Abstract
In this chapter I am going to build on the history of theatre explored in Chapter 1 by looking at some specific playwrights who changed the way theatre worked, contextualising their innovations within their own time and thinking critically about how and why their innovations still matter. The choice of innovative writers is based upon those the interviewees mentioned as important to them. Of course, some have mentioned directors and dramaturgs, who you may also want to explore as further research, but as this is a book about writing for theatre, I have concentrated on theatre writers for this part.
Kim Wiltshire

3. Establishing Practice

Abstract
This chapter will explore what writing for theatre means in practice and why playwrights want to write for theatre — and yes, I am going to explore this area before I even begin to look at character, story, plot and dialogue. Why? Simply because any writer should be aware of the medium they are aiming to work in, and theatre can be a tricky one to get to grips with if you are not already a theatre geek, although I hope you are on your way to being one by now.
Kim Wiltshire

4. Becoming a Playwright

Abstract
In 1934 Dorothea Brande published Becoming a Writer. Her aim with this book was to focus on the practice of being a writer rather than produce a series of exercises or useful hints for technique and craft. It is an important and inspirational book, if now rather old-fashioned, that I would recommend to any writer, and in this chapter I am going to shamelessly emulate Brande. Through the insights of the interviewees, I will explore the traits and practice needed to work and create theatre as a playwright.
Kim Wiltshire

5. Building Blocks

Abstract
A theatre script, as Thorpe says, is an instruction manual or it can also be thought of as a blueprint or a map for the creative team. All of the playwright’s thoughts, stories and characters are interpreted through this document by a director, actors, designers and technicians, using the instructions given by the playwright; using the dialogue, actions and stage directions. For example, the playwright will never get to say: this is what the character looks like — because the actor may not look like that, for example, or the director may disagree with you, and as the writer, you may well not get a say in the casting anyway.
Kim Wiltshire

6. Foundational Exercises and Key Points

Abstract
Exercises are an important part of the writer’s process. No new piece of writing is ‘good’ or ‘great’ in its first draft form and all writers get stuck sometimes. Writers, like any other type of artist, need to practise. Great musicians practise their guitar, piano or saxophone every day. Great artists may pencil sketch the subject of their next painting or sculpture many times and from many different angles, or use photography or video to capture those likenesses before they launch into the work itself. And writing is no different. The playwright must practise writing, alongside critical reading of novels and poems and watching plays, TV shows and films, before launching into that first draft.
Kim Wiltshire

Backmatter

Speculations

Frontmatter

7. Exploring Possibilities

Abstract
The ‘death knell’ for theatre has often threatened to ring, and yet new theatre companies, new writing and new performances keep being brought to new audiences. Despite this being the age of the screen, the digital age of instant gratification through the Internet, as well as the Western world experiencing a range of austerity measures, with culture budgets continually being cut, theatre still manages to find a way to flourish and develop in new directions. This chapter will explore why theatre is still important to society, why we feel we still need theatre and how we keep theatre relevant. But first, it is useful to explore the types of theatre that currently exist and consider the help they can offer the emerging playwright.
Kim Wiltshire

8. Cultures of Writing for Theatre — Innovators

Abstract
In Part 1 I considered some great theatre innovators of the past, but when I asked interviewees who they thought of as innovators, quite a few of the names that came up were of people working in the now, with some of these being near the start of their careers. This means that some of the people discussed below may be unknown to you, which is a good thing since it gives you an opportunity to find out about work that is happening now, in this century, and work that is most relevant to you and the world you live in. And if someone mentioned here piques your interest, then please go and research their work, or even better go out and see it, and find out about their critical and theatrical beliefs. These innovators are relevant to you as a new playwright since you will be following quite closely in their footsteps and you should be able to find their work more easily, if not live then at least online.
Kim Wiltshire

9. Exploring Practice: Making Theatre in the Twenty-First Century

Abstract
Currently, there is a fairly traditional way of writing for theatre, with a clear process consisting of three stages:
1.
The playwright writes the play, either as a calling card script to send out or for commission.
 
2.
A dramaturg and/or director agrees to develop and/or produce the play.
 
3.
The play is presented to an audience in some form, whether as a read through, a scratch performance or full production, in collaboration with other theatre artists.
 
There is nothing wrong with this basic way of making theatre and since it has happened this way for many hundreds of years, why should we change it now? But in this digital age are we able to find new ways of making theatre?
Kim Wiltshire

10. New Voices, New Forms

Abstract
In this chapter I want to further explore some of the challenges the digital age presents for theatre and think about what writers can do to continue to innovate creatively and make new work that speaks to our current cultural world. For example, how can a writer subvert traditional theatre writing and ensure that theatre is constantly evolving in a culture that often says it knows what it likes and it likes what it knows? Where can new playwrights take the form? How can cultural and theatrical experimentation be supported? Here is what Radosavljevic (2013) suggests, through an exploration of the work of Ontroedrend Goed, Tim Crouch and Silviu Purcrete:
Despite generational, genealogical and cultural differences, all of these artists seem to have arrived at the idea that what was necessary in the first decade of the twenty-first century was for the proscenium arch to be removed and for the audience to be drawn into the inner workings of a theatre experience. (p. 4)
Whether this is still the case as we move into the second decade of the twenty-first century can be debated, but what is interesting in the work of these three very different artists is the ways in which they work with collaboration, whether that is with audiences, different artists and/or different art forms. Collaboration is a key theme of this book, so this chapter considers in more depth the ways new playwrights can bring their voice, a new voice, to theatre through innovative and exciting forms of collaboration.
Kim Wiltshire

11. Speculative Exercises and Key Points

Abstract
There are many ways of creating new theatre, with collaboration and interaction with other art forms being key. What follows is a series of exercises that can help the emerging playwright enter into a dialogue with the text, with the aim of pushing theatre writing in new directions and taking work out to a new audience. At the end of this chapter there is also a section on where to go for development opportunities, theatres who have a new writing remit and potential funding sources. Obviously this list will change constantly, so again it should be seen as a starting point for your own further research.
Kim Wiltshire

Backmatter

Additional information