HighTide Playwright Workshop with Jack Lowe
Back in February, I won a brief with Ideastap to attend a playwriting workshop led by Jack Lowe on behalf of HighTide Festival Theatre, a “powerhouse of new writing” according to The Observer. There were six workshops across the UK between December and February.
Twenty-five writers were chosen to attend on of the 12 workshops. Out of those three hundred writers, twenty-five would be chosen, based on their samples, to attend an intensive bootcamp led by director Will Wrightson and Steven Atkinson, HighTide’s Artistic Director.
With Bristol being the closest city, I was chosen to attend one of two workshops at the Bristol Old Vic. I wasn’t chosen to attend the bootcamp, however, it was the first time I’d ever won an Ideastap brief and I was excited but nervous. I had no idea what the levels of the other playwrights would be. I hadn’t even finished a draft of a full length play by that point but I wasn’t a total newbie as a scriptwriter either.
It was an interesting day but it flew by far too quickly. I met some interesting people, whom I stupidly forgot to take any contact details from, and was introduced to plays that I had never heard off.
We had a quick introduction to the Bristol Old Vic with Sharon Clark, the Literary Producer, and gained brief insight into the types of plays the Bristol Old Vic tend to produce. We were also informed that they would be running a variety of playwriting workshops over the course of the next year.
All in all, it was definitely worth the trip to Bristol even though I didn’t progress to the bootcamp. It’s just a shame that Ideastap won’t be around to help writers find these opportunities in the future.
Here are my notes from the workshop:
1) FINDING YOUR VOICE AS A WRITER
Jack’s first point focused on our developing our voices as writers. He said that our past, present and future all have an effect on us in the present. We choose to expose ourselves to certain things because we’re aiming towards a specific future goal. How we do that varies however. Everyday we are choosing to receive certain information. Whether that be from the newspapers we read, the people we follow on social media, the people we’re friends with or the places we hang out. These small, almost inconsequential decisions reflect our future selves – or the people we want to be.
We also choose to shut ourselves away from viewpoints. I did it recently with the Independent. I used to follow them on Facebook, however, the day came when I realised that they were posting scaremongering articles that I didn’t want to see on a daily basis. I chose not to read their POV the same as I choose not the indulge UKIP’s ideologies or refuse to so much as look at a tabloid.
TIPS AND INTERESTING POINTS
- A playwright’s work is investigating peoples childhoods and using objects to trigger memories and words (such as our call histories).
- We are our own instruments. Our childhoods, memories, experiences inform EVERYTHING we write.
- When starting a new play, look back at past work and double check that you’re not writing the same play.
- Contact a theatre and read their publishing history to identify the types of plays they have chosen in the past.
- To get the creativity flowing, use pinterest – Good to be exposed to as many different visual stimulae as possible when writing a new play – and write in unusual places.
- If possible, have actors read through your work. Privately or aloud in a table read setting.
- Don’t redraft, rewrite.
- Finish the play. No matter what.
- Always be prepared to answer why.
- If you think you’re bring loud and brash, make it bigger. Work is never going to be as big and electric as it is in your head.
- Invest in going to spaces/theatres to see what they do and how they work before submitting work to companies.
2) CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
At this point, we really started to work through exercises. The first of which involved building a profile to create an unusual character.
We were divided into groups and told to come up with five things to match a name, age, place of origin, place of residence, family, vocation, personal situation or point of entry. Once we had 5 written down for each category, Jack went around the groups and we had to choose one of our answers at random to create a character profile. The result: very unusual characters. One of our characters had taken his girlfriend to Paris for Valentine’s Day and he ended up alone on a bridge covered in lovers’ locks.
Next Jack emptied someone’s back onto the floor. The content of someone’s bag is a good way to start sketching their character. It’s good method to deal with writer’s block because it provides you with a visual reference and helps in building 3D characters because you end up analysing their daily lives and small ticks.
TIPS AND INTERESTING POINTS
- Keep turning the character on it’s head. Not in the development stages of the play but when devising for the stage.
- If you’re going to steal, choose to do it. It has to be an active decision if it really works in your play.
- Represent the unrepresented – there are so many voices in the UK which are not represented.
- Choose the most interesting option for characters.
- Choose to write in habits that hook in actors.
- Choose a vernacular – the type of language that the characters use. Idiomatic observations. (Families don’t speak the same).
- Choose an interesting theatre space.
- Choose to speak to at least one person you haven’t spoken to before – ask people in from outside theatre community.
3) DEVELOPING PERSONAL DRAMATURGICAL APPROACH
This part aimed to look at structure in terms of Aristotle’s theories and the types of story/journeys of character/types of play. Jack used the below diagram to explain the different types of structure and it’s effects on theatre.
SINGLE SPACE & TIME
- People bring a lot of stuff into the space which increases the pressure.
- Action of stage more about ideas and gestures.
- Such as The Mercy seat by Neil LaBute.
SINGLE SPACE, MULTIPLE TIMES
- Draconian – it amplifies and pays more attention to the changes especially in character.
- Used in the Cherry Orchard for example.
SINGLE SPACE, MULTIPLE TIME
- Truth comes into debate. The audience is barring witness and the narrator could be unreliable.
- Journalistic in style
- increased urgency.
- Used in Posh by Laura Wade.
MULTIPLE SPACE & TIME
- Feels like you experience the entire world.
- Collision of realities
- Sense of the epic.
- Examples would be Earthquakes in London and The Events by David Grieg.