Tag Archives: drama

Seven things I’ve learned about playwriting by Jackie Daly

This week I am very happy to welcome fellow writer, Jackie Daly, to talk about play writing… Catch Jackie’s plays at: https://goo.gl/SjRICb  in Windsor, 6th, 7th, 8th October 2016 & in Scarborough: https://goo.gl/MHdRnj   5th November 2016
From here on in, it’s Jackie talking

jacsheadshotThanks, Kate, for inviting me to write this guest blog. It’s been a fruitful experience, reflecting on what I’ve learned about writing plays. I’ve always loved writing. For years my focus was short stories, poems, and blogs. Whenever I had time or inspiration I’d scribble something new, in a meandering kind of way.

In 2013, I wrote my first script and something clicked. It felt like I’d found a home, writing-wise. Since then I’ve written 9 one-act stage plays, 3 short screenplays, 1 audio play, and I’ve written, narrated and co-produced 5 short films. I’m one of three winners of the Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing, a long-listed playwright for Old Vic 12, a FUSE playwright with Sheffield Crucible, and member of Playwrights One development programme at West Yorkshire Playhouse. I’ve had four plays produced by Windsor Fringe, Beach Hut Theatre Company and Stephen Joseph theatre with Scarborough libraries. Seven scripts have had rehearsed readings and development through Stephen Joseph theatre, Script Yorkshire, and Springboard Scriptwriters. I’m a partner in SubSeaTV, an award-winning wildlife filmmaking team, and I’ve won and placed in two short screenplay competitions.

So what I have learned since I wrote my first script? Well, a lot. It’s been a roller coaster of highs and lows, successes and failures. Tears have flowed for rejections as well as celebrations. I’ve dug deep into my reserves of courage and think I hit the bottom a few times. But perhaps my courage barrel gets deeper the more I dig…

I’m not going to attempt to cover how to write a play. I’m still learning and there are many experts who’ve written helpful guides to playwriting (I’ve included a few links below). Instead, let me take you on a wander through my deepest, hardest, and most joyful lessons.

Here are seven things I’ve learned about playwriting.

It’s all about story structure
Even the most experimental plays have a beginning, middle, and end. Without structure, stories can’t provide audiences with the things they expect and deserve: order from chaos, new insight into the world, or the opportunity to walk in another’s shoes then return to their own lives with fresh eyes.

I’ve learned that story structure is hard to do well, but it’s not optional. Without structure, my stories fall over. With it, my stories can fly. I highly recommend John Yorke’s Into the Woods for further reading.

Playwriting is collaborative
The script is a blueprint that invites creative contribution – from directors, actors, designers, technical teams, and composers. There’s a natural and healthy tension between creative control and collaboration.

I’ve learned when I write in a way that communicates my vision yet leaves space for others’ imagination, the best version of an idea has the chance to bubble up. All my scripts include notes that help express my vision for the piece along with this statement: “actors are welcome to ignore these notes.”

“Scriptwriting is not about the words on the page…it’s about mapping behaviour”
I borrow this quote from the brilliant playwright Simon Stephens. When I heard him say this, my gut flipped with the truth of it. It’s easy to get seduced by wordsmithing (I did – I still do) but I’ve learned the real work of a playwright is not crafting pretty sentences; it’s exploring what it means to be human – mapping behaviour. Take a character. What does she want? What’s stopping her getting it? What does she do to get what she wants? To whom? What are the consequences? How does she handle these consequences? Then what does she do? And so on…

It’s all about serving actors – with great characters, dialogue, subtext, and action
The way playwrights map behaviour is through dialogue and stage directions. What is said? More importantly, what is not said? I’ve learned that actors will find the subtext and leak truth to the audience through their body language, tone of voice, or just a glance. Great playwriting leaves bags of space for brilliant actors to do their work.

Finish it. Get it on its feet
Neil Gaiman said, “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”

So true. One of the reasons I’ve learned so much since 2013 is that I’ve written, finished, and produced lots of short pieces. Each piece has taught me something new, just by getting it over the line. Putting the script into actors’ hands and watching an audience respond has taught me even more. I reckon at least 50% of my learning happens after a piece of work is finished. I used to rob myself of this learning by not finishing projects.

Writing plays is a vehicle for my own growth and development
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that writing stories makes me a better person. As I create characters, plonk them into challenging situations, ramp up the tension and see what they do, I imagine myself in these situations too. I understand other views of the world a bit better. Stories are one of the places where empathy can be born.

To quote Seth Godin (blog 30/7/16), “Empathy is difficult. If you believed what he believes, you’d do precisely what he’s doing. Think about that for a second. People act based on the way they see the world… Understanding someone else’s story is hard… but it’s worth the effort.”

So after all that, what’s the seventh thing I’ve learnt?
Write another play. There’s always more for me to learn

Guides to playwriting

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting (10 lesson plans written by industry experts): http://thestudentguidetowriting.com/the-lesson-plans/

Bruntwood prize writing resources: http://www.writeaplay.co.uk/writing-resources/

Story structure: http://www.johnyorkestory.com/thebook/

Simon Stephens on how playwriting’s not about words (watch from 38:43): http://www.writeaplay.co.uk/live-online-workshop-simon-stephens/

Seth Godin’s blog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/07/empathy-is-difficult.html

Jackie has recently created a new website. Find out more about her work here: www.jackiedaly.com



Cultural Break: re-writing Shakespeare

There’s been a lot said about the playwright William Shakespeare in recent months because in April it was four hundred years since his death. He is frequently pronounced the greatest writer in English and his legacy is undoubtedly enduring. His plays are still performed around the world and are on many a reading list for literature students.

Why is the appeal of his work so long-lasting? There must be many reasons, out of which I would pull two. Firstly, his stories feel universal because they tap into collective narratives which are central to our common humanity. To say he nicked all his plot-lines would probably be disingenuous, but it is telling that they have found echoes in stories which have been told and re-told in languages and countries around the globe (pun intended). Love, hate, grief, treachery, honour, lies, truth, memory are shared throughout peoples, they cross borders. Not to mention, political shenanigans. Does anyone else in the UK look at the current manoeuvres in government and the political parties, and think of the many twists of the knife in Shakespeare’s plays?

The second reason I would propose, is that Shakespeare allowed his own emotional landscape to shape his writing. Yes, it all feels like it is about kings and queens and battles and love affairs made complex by misunderstandings and misrepresentations. But knowing a little of Shakespeare’s life – and I know only a miniscule measure of the small amount which can be verified – the development of his plays follows aspects of his personal life. The death of his child, for instance, ushers in his tragedies. In his last play, The Tempest, the magician gives up his powers.

One of the documentaries about Shakespeare which I saw of late, was BBC4’s ‘Arena: all the world’s a screen’ which I saw on the 24th of April this year. It charts the way Shakespeare has been depicted on screen and I was particularly struck by the non-US/UK adaptions and translations. One specifically, Haider, an Indian film (Vishal Bhardwaj, 2014) where a revolutionary in Kashmir adapts the speech in Hamlet:

‘UN Council resolution number 47 of 1948, Article Two of the Geneva Convention and Article 370 of the Indian Constitution raises the question. Do we exist or do we not?…’

This Saturday, the 16th July, in Scarborough, we are lucky to have further modern interpretations of the universal themes of Shakespeare’s plays. The Beach Hut Theatre Company is presenting Natural Shocks at the central library between 10am and 2pm (a free event). Nine local writers have created short plays and a musical performance piece using a scene from Shakespeare as inspiration. Artistic Co-Director, Beach Hut Theatre Company, Ali Watt explains:

‘I think Shakespeare continues to inspire writers because, in his plays, he usually highlights how emotion informs on and shapes the everyday actions people take. Anger. Despair. Love. These are the emotions that are often key drivers in creating dramatic plot and character. The current culture may have shifted significantly since Shakespeare’s day but writers will continue to want to explore political ambition (Macbeth), unrequited love (Twelfth Night) or depression and madness (King Lear).   Reference to the work of Shakespeare will always provide a ‘touchstone’ for finding the way.’

The writers are drawn from a broad spectrum of local talent, including those with national recognition. A play by Jackie Daly has recently been selected as one of three winners of the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing. She says of her contribution to Natural Shocks, ‘It was a creative challenge to write a new play inspired by a scene from Twelfth Night. Olivia and Viola are fantastic characters with so much drama going on between them. It was fun to imagine them into a contemporary situation and let the sparks fly’

This is an opportunity to see Shakespeare re-imagined for the 21st century and to enjoy work from some formidable local talent. Plus it’s FREE. Not to be missed.

More information from: https://www.facebook.com/Beach-Hut-Theatre-Company-43292254078/