Bryan Delaney on working with the 2011 New Playwrights

Bryan Delaney on working with the 2011 New Playwrights

Maiden readings

Playwriting is mostly a private act. For months the playwright sits alone, the characters’ voices in her head, crafting the speeches, shaping the action. But the play itself is the most public of forms, embodied by actors in front of an audience. So, the moment when a playwright hears actors speak the lines of her play for the first time is hugely exciting. It’s at that point that the work takes its first step from the privacy of the writer’s mind to be shared among people.

In a rehearsal room on Abbey Street at the end of January, The playwrights on the Abbey Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme, 2011 heard their new plays read for the very first time in a week of developmental workshops – a core element of the NPP.

A company of seasoned actors is specially assembled for the week. Annabelle Comyn and Conall Morrison come on board to direct, and Abbey Literary Director, Aideen Howard and myself are present throughout. In advance of each workshop I meet with the writer and director. We set goals with the playwright to get the most from the day. The plays are at second draft stage, the playwrights anxious to see if what they’ve imagined and put on the page will ring true when delivered.

And, of course, it does. Within seconds each piece comes alive as the actors start reading. And for the first time in the life of each text, around a table cluttered with cups and scripts – the word is made flesh and the plays start to breathe.

The work is striking, vivid. All unique voices. There’s absurdity, cruelty, poetry, debate, lunacy, tension. There’s love, humour and badness. There’s heightened language, striking scenarios, ideas hopping off the page. Even at this early stage it’s already clear that each piece is the work of a genuine artist with a singular voice and talent.

I’ve been with some of these plays from their inception. I’ve seen them move from draft to draft. Each writer is different and I have a different relationship with each piece. As we work on the plays now in the room, I watch the writers and admire their attitude – listening, sifting, cutting, asking questions, probing the work for its strengths and flaws. They’re already hatching the new draft, plucking the good babies from the bathwater and tossing the bad ones gleefully out. But the form is demanding, the complexity of the task lost on nobody.

By Saturday evening the week’s work is done. A crop of new plays have had their maiden readings. The work has been forensically probed, analysed, put under pressure – a thorough dramaturgical stress test. For the playwrights it’s been an intense experience – overwhelming at times, but hugely instructive. Now it’s back to the desk for the rewrite.

This week is the highlight of my working year. The atmosphere is warm, collegiate. There’s admiration for the playwrights, support and gratitude for each play – ‘We desperately need our storytellers’, as one actor puts it. I’m reminded by each workshop what a privilege it is to be here at the birth of a new play. Long life to them all and God bless all who sail in them.

And here’s to the next draft.

Bryan Delaney, New Playwrights Programme Manager

The playwrights on the NPP 2011 are Neil Bristow, Amy Conroy, Clare Dwyer Hogg, Damian Kearney, Tara McKevitt and Lydia Prior.

Cast for the workshops: Malcolm Adams, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Eva Bartley, Cathy Belton, Andrew Bennett, Brian Bennett, Kate Brennan, Bosco Hogan, Barry McGovern, James Murphy, Caitríona Ní Mhurchú and Philip O’Sullivan.

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