ABSTRACT

Playwriting offers a practical guide to the creation of text for live performance. It contains a wealth of exercises for amateur and professional playwrights. Usable in a range of contexts, the book works as:

  • a step-by-step guide to the creation of an individual play
  • a handy resource for a teacher or workshop leader
  • a stimulus for the group-devised play.

The result of Noël Greig's thirty years' experience as a playwright, actor, director and teacher, Playwriting is the ideal handbook for anyone who engages with playwriting and is ultimately concerned with creating a story and bringing it to life on the stage.

chapter 1|1 pages

Getting going and warming up

Actors begin rehearsals with a physical and vocal warm-up. This helps them to clear the body and the mind of daily distractions and tensions, focus them on the space they are in and prepare them for the task in hand. Writers also need strategies to clear themselves of the clutter and access the open channel

chapter |2 pages

Exercise 1 Going for a walk

Participants: All groups, individual (10–30 minutes)

part |1 pages

Part three – thinking about your life

chapter |6 pages

Exercise 5 Count and write

Participants: All groups, individual (2 minutes)

chapter |1 pages

Exercise 15 Today my hand

Participants: Primary (1–3 minutes)

chapter |9 pages

Exercise 16 Inside–outside Part one

Participants: Primary (3–6 minutes)

chapter |1 pages

Exercise 23 Celebrating the name

Participants: All groups (10–15 minutes)

chapter |7 pages

FINDING THE STORY Exercise 24 Everyday stories

Definition of ‘story’: ‘in the every day sense, any narrative or tale recount- ing a series of events’. A good test of good story is to see if it can be ‘boiled down’ to the essence of what it recounts. Some examples: Two young people from warring families fall in love, everything is against them, their attempts to make it right fail, they die Participants: Individual (24 hours)
ByRomeo and Juliet:

chapter |11 pages

Exercise 29 Place-association dialogue

Participants: All groups, individual (5–8 minutes)

chapter |3 pages

Exercise 38 Writing is . . .

Participants: All groups, individual (1 minute) Participants: All groups, individual (3–5 minutes)

chapter 2|1 pages

Theme

ByThe subject matter of a play can be described in terms of its action: ‘two young people in Verona defy their families and bring about their own deaths’ (Romeo and Juliet). The theme or themes are described in more abstract terms and deal with large universal concerns regarding our human- ity: love, revenge, duty, tribal loyalties, etc. (Romeo and Juliet). They can

chapter |3 pages

SETTING THE AGENDA Exercise 42 Opening scenes and theme Part one

ByExposition at the head of the play alerts the audience as to what to expect in terms of story. Similarly, from the outset the themes of the play are suggested, hinted at and alluded to. You are setting the agenda for what is to come. Participant: All groups, individual

chapter 3|1 pages

Issue

ByTheatre that tackles specific contemporary social or political issues – with the aim of leading to or encouraging some type of change – has very deep roots around the world. It takes many forms and is found in many contexts. In India I have seen companies of actors working in the bastis (shanty towns), playing to hundreds of people and raising questions about matters that directly relate

chapter |9 pages

TACKLING THE ISSUE Exercise 43 The context of the project

In the following work we will look at how a seemingly most limiting learning-area can be the stimulus for an original work for performance in the educational context. You can use it in a number of ways: As a stimulus for writing a play of your own. As a stimulus for writing a play as a group, e.g., your class. Participants: All groups, individual Fiction 1. The commission

chapter |3 pages

Exercise 54 Questions leading to questions

Participants: All groups, individual

chapter 4|26 pages

Building a character

In Chapter 1 we looked at ways in which fictional characters can be developed from material that is instantly available to us in daily life. We began to look at the components of what we mean by ‘character’: inner- and outer-life, personal history, characteristics, etc. Now we will create a fully rounded character, whose story will contain the seeds of a full dramatic narrative.

chapter 5|1 pages

Finding the story 87

As we have begun to discover, a story is an artificially constructed sequence of events that are rooted in the actions of the main character(s), or prota- meaning ‘combatant’. So our protagonist is our ‘first combatant’, the one
Bygonist(s), a term we will be using from now on. The word is from the Greek protagonistes, which is made up of protos, meaning ‘first’ and agonistes,

chapter |1 pages

CHANGE

ByChange happens all the time in a story. We have already dipped into the Major Turning Point and how that crucially affects the turn of events for the journey of the protagonist. As we shall see, every moment of a play is about change, and it happens on any number of levels. Change operates at all levels of human experience: the inner changes

chapter |5 pages

Exercise 74 The empty room

Participants: All groups, individual (10–30 minutes)

chapter |2 pages

Exercise 77 Reading a newspaper Part one

Participants: All groups

chapter |5 pages

Part three

Participants: All groups

chapter |8 pages

Exercise 79 Exposition – the world of the play

Participants: All groups, individual

chapter |9 pages

Exercise 84 The conflict between the conscious and the unconscious

Participants: All groups, individual

part |2 pages

Part three – story model and issue

chapter 6|2 pages

Location

If you are an individual writer or a collaborative/devising group writing for a conventional theatre-performance, you will be thinking about the loca- tion(s) that the story takes place in. There are many opinions about how much information and detail the writer needs to supply for the director, designer, lighting designer and sound-artist in order to realise the physical

chapter |10 pages

LOCATION AS CHARACTER Exercise 89 A declaration of love

Location and setting spell out certain ‘rules’, or conventions of behaviour, that will operate on the characters, just as they do in life. If I wish I do it. Participants: All groups, individual

chapter 7|1 pages

The individual voice

The quote is not from a play, but is the opening line from a story by the

chapter |1 pages

LANGUAGE AS MUSIC

We have already talked about how any good actor will instinctively take logue are fresh and original. They will be interested in plot, character- development, etc., but their actor’s imagination will be primarily engaged with the words you have chosen for them to speak. You may be writing in

chapter |8 pages

Exercise 94 The placing of the word

Participants: All groups, individual

chapter |8 pages

Exercise 97 Letter to the Alien

Participants: All groups (30–60 minutes)

chapter |1 pages

Exercise 100 Speech patterns Part one

Participants: All groups, individual

chapter |3 pages

Part two – speech patterns

Participants: All groups, individual

chapter |2 pages

Exercise 104 Street, pub, playground

Participants: All groups, individual (15–20 minutes)

chapter |2 pages

Exercise 105 Levels of articulation

Participants: All groups, individual

chapter 8|2 pages

Second draft

ByYou now have your story, your characters and a first draft of your play. You have also begun to realise the themes you are working with, and you have gained confidence in the use of your own individual or collective voices as dramatic poets and storytellers. This is the moment when you will go right back to the start and see what is useful, what is redundant and what needs

chapter |1 pages

Exercise 109 The protagonist Part one

chapter |8 pages

Exercise 114 Events as change

chapter |1 pages

Exercise 118 Attack, retreat, stand ground Part one

Examples 118.1

chapter |1 pages

Exercise 119 Actioning the text Part one

Example 119.1

chapter |4 pages

Exercise 120 The essence of the play

Participants: All groups, individual

chapter |3 pages

Exercise 122 If

chapter |6 pages

Exercise 127 Pushing the boundaries

chapter |5 pages

Exercise 130 Re-telling the tale

chapter |1 pages

THE HAIKU

Finally, here is an exercise that you can use at any stage of the writing process, but which is particularly useful when you are working on draft two. This is when – as we have seen – you want to be clear on the follow- ing points: what is the scene, act or play really about, really saying, really doing? What is the heart and essence of it?

chapter |2 pages

Exercise 131

Example 131.1

chapter 9|5 pages

Performance projects

Much of the work in this book can feed into the creation of large-scale performance projects and devised work: school, college, community, etc. Exercises 11–13 can for example, as we have seen, culminate with the pre- sentation of group-written poems. These could be developed further, with the addition of music, movement, costume, etc. I have seen material from

chapter |2 pages

Appendix A: Adapting the work to the context

When I first started leading writing workshops, I had had no formal training as a teacher, mentor or workshop-leader. All I knew was – through having worked for years as actor, director and playwright – that there were certain useful underlying principles as to ‘how stories are made’, and that these

chapter |2 pages

Appendix B: Leading the process

This book is for the individual writer and for groups engaged with creating texts for performance. It is also for people who are leading the writing process, be it the teacher in the class, the workshop leader, the individual writer’s mentor, the visiting tutor, the one-to-one dramaturge, or the

chapter |1 pages

WORKING AS A GROUP A METHOD FOR STRUCTURED FEEDBACK

Unless we are engaging in a group activity that has clear traditions, strict rules and an enemy (football, the army), we have a bit of a tendency to find collaborative work problematic. That is a generalisation of course, but . . . . Having observed and led many groups of people who have come together in a creative context, I note that there is a certain urge to push

chapter |2 pages

REVEAL YOURSELF

I have talked a little about the role of the teacher/mentor/workshop leader and what that has meant to me in my work as a theatre practitioner. What I have not mentioned fully, though have alluded to, is my belief that a cru- cial aspect of teaching is to include some appropriate level of revealing of yourself to those you are leading.