NPP Graduates Blog

Our Graduate Playwrights on their process following the New Playwrights Programme

No One Has Ever Written a Play

Neil Sharpson
25 August, 2012

The second most important thing that I have ever learned about writing was from a man who’s name I cannot remember. Which is a bit of a pisser, quite frankly, because I repeat it a lot and after I do the first thing anyone ever says is “Who said that?” to which my answer of course is “I have no goddamn idea” which kind of ends proceedings on an anticlimactic note. Okay, not quite. I know who he was. He was my English lecturer in my first year of college. I remember that my class was in fact the last he would ever teach before retiring, and I remember that on his last day he stood before the auditorium and recited Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage (“Our revels now are ended.”) and we gave him a standing ovation because my God how could you not? I just cannot remember his name and it drives me crazy.

Anyway, what he said was this: “No one has ever written a play.”
This, you can be sure, was something of a shock to me as by that time I had thought that I had written quite a few (not good ones, but still) but he went on: “A writer may write a script. But a play is actors, performing a script, on a stage, in front of an audience. It is a very precise alchemical formula. If a play is being performed, and it is so terrible that the audience as one gets up and leaves in utter disgust, the second, the very second, the last audience member closes the door behind him, it has ceased to be a play and has become a rehearsal.” Of course, if the play really is that bad, more rehearsal is probably just what it needs. Kind of a self correcting system, there.

We call theatre a writer’s medium, and it certainly is when compared to, say, film. But I’ve recently tried my hand at writing comics for Atomic Diner (I’m doing a three issue arc of League of Volunteers, a superhero team book set in Emergency-era Ireland.) and it’s gotten me thinking that, really, there is no writer’s medium. I mean, there is no medium where the writer has complete control over the story. Even novels which are written by a single author will usually go through an editor who will suggest (or demand, depending on the author’s clout) changes to plot points, characters and sometimes even the title. There’s self published work I suppose, but most self-published novels I’ve read have only reinforced how important it can be to have someone other than the writer involved in the creative process. As writers, we’re only part of an equation, and I’m starting to think we’re not even the most important part. I’ve seen good actors save a bad script, raising mediocre material through sheer talent, passion and energy. But I’ve never seen a good script save bad actors.

That September Feeling

Lisa Tierney-Keogh
7 September, 2012

Lisa Tierney-Keogh Early September tends to set off a tiny panic clock in my head with that back-to school fear I still get every year. There is something to be said for a biological alarm, a reminder to stop the faffing around, and get back to work after summer, to get into a routine. I need this alarm. Think of those writers who declare proudly and boldly that they rise at 5am every morning, do some yoga, eat some berries with nuts and then do five hours of work. Well, I am not one of those writers.

At the tender, vulnerable stages of the beginning of play number eight, I am finally coming around to the realisation that every piece of theatre I write is done in my own particular brand of emergency style. I have no set pattern to writing a new play, no go-to ‘I’ll just do this and it’ll all fall into place’ system. For me, every play is another desperate attempt to spew something out that cannot stay inside me anymore. And no two play writing experiences are the same. I have tried and failed many times to set a plan and a schedule for writing my latest masterpiece. Weeks and weeks into the process, I’ll find the ‘schedule’ on a piece of paper and stick the shopping list for the week on the back and later lose it in the cereal aisle of the supermarket. I have learned, the hard way, that there is no magic formula, so secret method. There is only one way to write a play and that is to graft and redraft. Rinse and repeat. For me, that means there will be reams and reams of pages of what passes for my handwriting, as I try to find my way into the woods a new play. Mindless drivel, searing insight, endless facts, streams of thought, notes on themes, characters, plot, all in search of that ever elusive grande damme…what is it really about? Because if there is a point to playwriting, I think that’s it.

Right now, as of today, September 6th, I am on about page 38 of scrawling notes into a notepad. I will duck and dive, bob and weave like this until some day in the coming weeks, a character will finally enter stage left and say, “any chance you could go to script with this?” At that point, and only then, will I put down the tea and biscuits, and open up Final Draft and type those exciting two words, ‘scene one’. And then, all bets are off, it’s just me in an open playing field, making the game up as I go.

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