Is student playwriting anything more than a self-indulgence?

By Sanya Marthur 

I pose the question to Christine Keogan, a student doing her MA in Medieval and Renaissance literature at Durham. She managed a group called ‘The Humor Code’ back in the United States, which wrote and performed sketch comedy. She says, “Just because we have classic literature doesn’t mean that people [should] stop writing. We are contributing to the literary world, so why would we stop contributing to theatre?”

Christine suggests another reason is that with practice and commitment, one might finally yield the work that will perhaps eventually be considered a ‘classic’. Shakespeare wasn’t necessarily considered the undisputed greatest playwright during Elizabethan era; it was a judgement made by his readers in retrospect. Moreover, practising creativity yields results beyond the finished product itself. Trying to express oneself originally is becoming increasingly difficult in a world where it seems ‘everything has been done before’.

Diwa Shah, also a student of Durham University (MA Creative Writing), says her time in India has revealed to her the impact of theatre in a contemporary form. “Classics are great but they are also history; that has already happened,” she says. “It is contemporary writing that allows us to bring social and political issues to the audience in a fresh format. What the students write is able to convey more contemporary and significant ideas.”

Student plays are where aspiring writers can fully experiment without any kind of pressure, learn, fail, understand and experience the rush of seeing your creation come to life – a feeling that is much less pronounced when recreating someone else’s work. But more than that, Diwa says, as she parts with me, theatre is about “breaking stereotypes, bringing out new forms and creating new ideas”. While the students grow more confident in their skills, vitally new and stimulating ideas are expressed to the audience through entertainment. At the end of the day, student theatre is where all the action is.

Illustration: Katie Butler

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