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.

Week Three and Four (by Philip Jones)

The writing game is a tough one to come too especially late in life. I rolled up at Central excited, but now three weeks in the doubts have set in and the uphill struggle ahead looks like a very massive mountain range. The Himalayas are coming to mind, in Kings Cross. Can this be right?

Revolution: we are coming to the end of the first drama writing module; the Alligator collaborative creative process has been enjoyable and very positive. A monologue on the theme of revolution.

‘First how do I go from one minute on the page to five!’ ‘Come on Amman that’s a tough challenge?’ Amman’s our co-tutor with Jennifer for the Alligator Club process,

‘You must be kidding?’ ‘No I’m not’. ‘Don’t worry, it will come’. And Amman was right. It did!

It’s been an amazing collaborative experience and first dip into the drama writing craft process. I think we all agree. Even if in some cases we’ve come to it kicking and screaming. Writers? Collaboration? That’s a paradox in itself. Writers usually like to work on their own, well don’t we? Us lonely souls.

Soon my one person monologue about control, new love, relationship breakdown and what freedom means to one individual was turning into a four person monologue. Great!

But then, I can only do that if I can re-cast the actors fro the other Revolution monologues, Oh no, it won’t work!

So back to the drawing board and re-write. A great new writerly experience, on the nursery slopes of drama writing, week four, four re-writes in the end in fact in the same number of weeks.

Eureka, I can do it, with one voice, but telling the story of all these voices going around in my characters head including her own, it works!

It’s there, but not quite, one more session to go and another pass and one more rewrite making it first person. But then in true dramatic style for us un-thespian, thespian egos, we are true to type, as the final bell tolls on the Revolution monologue writing, at last we have our own first revolt against the established order. Praise be for art mimicking life, mimicking art.

Godspeed colleagues for the second module: Radio, as we’ve chosen a tough mountain path, or field to furrow, whatever it might be?

But all believers whether writers or not must follow one thing, their own heart and passion for what they must do and aways: what all will be what will be.

Week Two (by Julie Zheng)

Structure in practice

 

In the second week we discussed structure and how to improve our monologues by adopting the techniques used in the Alligator Club by Amman Brar.

 

A week after reading David Edgar’s excellent book How a play works, we gathered again to learn about our next craft – structure. His book had given us an insight into audience, action, character and scenes, and now we were to take one of Aristotle’s theories from his Six Principles of Drama and try to structure a story about one of them. According to Aristotle: ‘every tragedy must have six parts, which parts determine its quality, namely, Plot, Character, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Song’ [1].

 

So after 2 hours of individual writing, we shared what we’ve written. I wrote a series of small scenes that focused on the new structure of Jo-ha-ku, the Japanese theatre play structure of “begin slowly, speed, up and end swiftly”. Some of the other students developed their play by adopting different time lapse, pan in/pan out, and urgency (a train is approaching for example), as well as end-start-reconnect. It was interesting to see how every individual added in their own voice in the development of their play, and how we are very different in the styles, voice and characters. But is there a general theory that we as writers could adopt to create a better play structure?

 

We debated over this structure.We discussed the examples in classical plays such as Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet. We had a really passionate discussion about different approaches. Jennifer encouraged us to explore different styles and to find our own approach to structure a story.

 

What are the other ways of approaching the “perfect” structure for our own story? Jennifer mentioned an interesting technique about patterns, we could use symbolic structure to better guide our creations. There are examples of progression everywhere that we can use, for example using the concept of Spring to Winter or a meal from starters to desserts.  Changing the time and place also helped us unleash our imagination.

 

I can’t wait to go back home to try out these different techniques and continue my search for that perfect structure.

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Poetics, Aristotle,

Week One (by NSR Khan)

WEEK 1: MA DRAMATIC WRITING at CSM Drama Centre by NSR Khan

You can’t remake the world
Without remaking yourself
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.

Extract from Ben Okri’s 1999 poem Mental Fight

I heard Ben Okri,  at the  2012 Edinburgh Book Festival,  speak about his collaborative work with an Edinburgh theatre company Lazzi. Together they had adapted his short story Comic Destiny for the stage. At the end of an emotive and evocative session he used an almost throw away phrase. I can’t remember the exact words but it was in effect life and writing and work is about looking for the possibilities, they are everywhere.

There is something about the UAL CSM Dramatic Writing MA which seems to capture that feeling.  The course takes the hope and determination you have as a professional or emerging writer and centres it in a practical and tangible context. It is like a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for writers. In our first week alone, we are introduced to so many “possibilities”  of where our work will take us, who we will work with, commissions we will be given- that there is an almost fantasy quality about what is on offer. Except these are real commissions, real opportunities to meet the leaders in the dramatic industries, real workshops with real inspirational successful playwrights, TV writers, animators, Principal’s of Drama Centre  UAL CSM (Jonathan Martin).

All this is offered in the first week of a course which is characterised by an “active engagement” with industry and a strong emphasis on peer learning and peer collaboration.  Bluntly put for any future applicant reading this:

(i)              you feel  that by the end of the course, your work  might actually put “food on the table”, make money and

(ii)            you will learn how to work collaboratively and supportively from Day 1. There is no hiding yourself away in a solitary garret to find your muse.

Jennifer Tuckett, our course leader has a deceptive manner.  She speaks with charm, animation and interest and yes sometimes quietly, but yes carries a big stick. Not one moment is wasted. There is no fat on this course. Every lean unit of time is used creatively. The first day’s Skills workshops focus on exercises to find the passion in your writing, what you really want, need to write about, not what you intellectually think you should be writing about.

These are not taught as academic theories. Within seconds of sitting in our first UAL seat we are writing new characters’ wants and needs. What I find interesting now, is that when I look through my notes of that week- there are scenes in there I do not remember writing; characters that I do not recognise.

Day 2 was a humbling introduction to Jennifer Tuckett’s work with her collaborative company, the Alligator Club, whose techniques have produced sell-out shows.

Collaboration is a great idea. But really?

We tend think there are rules of  writing craft which will guide us through a technical process. For me collaboration is really all about how you get on with people. Collaborative techniques for the theatre are surely lessons for life:

-know your strengths, offer them up to the group

-have the humility to know your weaknesses and listen to others

-but as Alligator Club rule 1 prescribes:

Everyone (including you) has their moment.

Our first Commission is a collaborative one. A piece to celebrate the 50th anniversary Drama Centre. We as a group choose Revolution as a theme.  We choose to believe in a world which can change, evolve. Where there are “unsuspected possibilities”.