Self-censoring is banned during the early stages of scriptwriting. That was one of the primary lessons I had to learn as a first-time playwright. As an avid theatregoer from a young age, I described in my 50-word application for the Introduction to Playwriting series, how I effectively grew up in the audience exposed to a playwright’s creativity. However, I was yet to appreciate the finer workings of a playwright’s craft. Indeed, that is exactly what the internationally renowned playwright Christina Castling invited us to do in her five-week long workshop series. For those who were up to the task, the final week presented the daunting opportunity to stage a ten-minute Zoom play, or snippet of a larger work, with trained actors. This is one theatre-lover’s journey from a dream to reality.
Workshop One (A Playwright’s Community):
This provided the perfect opportunity to meet fellow playwrights, amongst them were an Edinburgh Fringe Festival play director, a member of our very own Durham University’s Film and Television Society, and a professional screenwriter. Before we could get to know each other, we were faced with a series of fast-paced, energetic icebreakers led by Christina, including the theme for the week: writing dialogue. We quickly forged a rewarding sense of community.
The dialogue ideas we were exposed to formed the basis for our homework (I know what you’re thinking…more homework, but this was the easy kind) – we simply had to listen to people talk. It became important to consider how meaning is communicated by the everyday words we use, the rhythm, and the grammar rules that are broken in the process.
Workshop Two (The Mystery):
Dialogue is the medium by which a character comes alive and so during this week Christina expertly introduced us to the traits, emotions and idiosyncrasies that shape a play’s central protagonist. With an air of mystery, we were asked to bring along ten postcard-sized pieces of paper and an object we could imbue with meaning. Their purpose became apparent when we were asked to consider our character’s backstories, interrogating ten key events in their lives on those no longer mysterious sheets, and imagine their meaningful possessions.
Workshop Three (No Pain, No Gain):
After coming to love our characters whom we had built from the ground up, Christina tragically informed us that sometimes it would be necessary to ‘kill your darlings’ for the greater good of the play. We also learnt that torturing our darlings would always be the harsh reality of a playwright’s job. This week, we had to come to terms with dramatic action as Christina taught us the inside knowledge of placing obstacles in a protagonist’s path to interfere with their desires.
Workshop Four (Wright versus Write):
This was the week I realised why the noun playwright is spelt differently to the verb playwriting. Cartwrights and wainwrights are responsible for crafting and shaping, as are playwrights who choose the journey we traverse with our audience. Christina, sharing the thoughts of other famous playwrights like Chekhov, told us of the importance of revealing information subtly whilst also in a constant interplay between providing background detail and hinting at the future.
Not only was the future of our characters essential but the future of our playwriting group was slowly dawning on us. Next week would be our last together, but it would also be our opportunity to showcase our work and have our words on the page brought to life by trained actors. Our nerves were at an all-time high in anticipation.
The actors conveyed the intrigue, sensitivity and playfulness of the scripts. The human condition was explored in all its different guises: the toxic versus the submissive, the egotistical versus the self-conscious and, most encouragingly of all, the bonds that bring us together. This was quite the feat to achieve over Zoom and is not only testament to the work that went into writing these scripts but to Christina’s invaluable help throughout.
The Durham Student Theatre’s Introduction to Playwriting, hosted by Christina Castling, will run for a second time in the autumn. If you are thinking of applying, I would thoroughly recommend it. Getting one step closer to being a playwright is an enthralling prospect and this course will equip you with the tools and the confidence to do just that!
Image: Christina Castling