25 days to write a play - Unheard voices

I’ve got 25 days to write a play – it’ll be the first piece of proper writing I’ll ever have completed in my adult life. And it’s for the Royal Court – yikes!

On the 19th of May, 16 of us climbed up to the Rehearsal Room which was to become a hotbed of discussion every Thursday. We had been selected for the Royal Court’s Unheard Voices programme on the basis of our 10-page submissions. Over 11 weeks, we did writing exercises and chewed over various aspects of playwriting with a focus on Starting Points, Dramatic Action, Scene Structure & Genre. Potentially dry sounding theory stuff but all active components of playwriting, designing the blue-print for the show.

As an actor, once you’ve auditioned and happily landed the job, the world of the play has been drawn up within those pages for you – all the necessary characters exist, relationships have been thought through and dialogue parred down to express intentions. Whether it’s a 3-act structure, 1 set-real time or multi-set open time are just some of the crucial decisions the playwright’s made in order to best tell the story. The choice of settings, stage directions and how plotlines intertwine are other considerations the playwright has made.
The playwright’s mapped out the characters’ journeys and had to play them all in his/her head. As an actor, your focus is only really on your part, inhabiting the role and bringing it to life. So the next time you’re in a rehearsal room, spare a thought for the disheveled writer sitting in the corner who has had to confront the terror of the blank page.

For one of our sessions, we had actors in to read our work and I discovered that there is nothing more nerve-wrecking than waiting to hear your words spoken aloud for the first time and worrying about whether lines or scenes work. There is also nothing more exhilarating, when actors commit to your work, making the words fly off the page, becoming music to a playwright’s ears. As an actor, it is your gift to them, that you can provide such pleasure.

Remember that the nature of writing is a largely solitary act. The playwright’s been wrestling with all manner of issues and although your feedback is welcome, do try to make it constructive. In creating the world of the play, the writer is presenting the inner-workings of his/her mind – be gentle, writing can be much more exposing & revealing than acting. Hearing comments such as ‘I don’t get it’, ‘I don’t like him/her’, ‘My character wouldn’t say that’ can be quite painful. Playwriting is, I’ve learnt over the 11 weeks, extremely hard. As actors, we tend to be quite critical of shows or plays we’ve read without realising the difficulty of crafting an interesting play which keeps an audience engaged. So try to empathise with what the playwright’s trying to convey, help him/her find a better way to close the gap between intention and end result.

Think about what you can fill in between the lines, what has been left unsaid – so much of communication is non-verbal. Does your character really mean what he/she is saying? What is he/she trying to do with their words? Deflect, wound, charm, challenge,.. you get the idea. Excavate the lines, try to make that unpolished gem of a script sparkle – your playwright will love you forever.

And if you do meet ones who are in the midst of writing and have crawled out of their shells momentarily for some social contact, try to be kind. If they ramble a little when you ask them what their play is about, it’s because they are still in the process of exploring what they want to say. When his/her play is launched into production and the playwright’s moment of glory sails in, he/she will have veto over who comes onboard – designer, director and more importantly, actors.

Right, enough procrastination, I’ve got a play to write.

Written by Tina Chiang