Week Five (by Charlotte O’Leary)

Having recently arrived back from our day trip to Birmingham to see Caroline Jester’s latest production Europa at the Birmingham Rep, it was thrilling to have her in the Drama Centre teaching us her collaborative writing technique first hand.

Before Caroline’s arrival we had a glorious morning of researching the history and stories behind Kings Cross and the area. It has only recently been regenerated and it was fascinating to find the history behind the place. Everything from Boudicca being buried under platform 9 or 10 in Kings Cross to a primatorium (ie an ape house) in the local Scala building to the doodlebug bombs dropped during the war and the fire in 1987. Many of the students remembered Kings Cross for the clubs from the 1980 and 90s, and it was wonderful to have real life stories told about the place. We’re extremely lucky to have the Kings Cross Visitors Centre which provides a history of the place actually in the Granary building.

We brainstormed a number of ideas and stories we had, before being unleashed out into the open. We tootled off with our notebooks and went scouting for locations outside of the college, as well as watching people to try to get inspiration for our characters.

Caroline joined us after lunch and we tried out an exercise to see how our stories could link together. We all stood up with just one person sitting down who explained their story about the area, when another student felt their story could flow on from it they would sit down, the other person would stand up, and they would tell their story. As we grew more and more confident we moved faster and faster, some people sitting down several times as their story evolved. It was a very helpful technique and by the end of it I felt it would have made an interesting play just as it was – with us constantly standing up and sitting down, telling nuggets of stories that all interwove with each other.

Caroline then gave us an exercise to create our character, we had a list of questions to ask them so we very rapidly built up a complete person. These were then listed on the board, and we took a vote as to which ones we killed off so we had a smaller number to work with. It was rather exciting and very liberating to kill off someone you’d only just created.

Then we divided up into small teams and were shown a fantastic bit of technical writing kit called REPWrite. This is an online application where you create a play online, each writer is assigned a character and you can simultaneously write a play online so you don’t even have to be in the same room/building/town/country as the rest of the writers. Our task was to choose a location, decide which characters we liked the most, then work out what their want was at the beginning of the scene we would write using the new technology. We had a quick play with the REPWrite (we discovered it was a bit like internet dating, everyone too scared to write anything in case everyone else laughed) but once we got the hang of it we were ready try it out for real in next week’s class. We’re going to try writing our play with all the writers in different locations, and Caroline as our dramaturg online in Birmingham. We’re very excited to see whether it is possible to collaboratively write a play online without physically being able to interact with each other.

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