With each exciting new Mardi writing competition comes a Mardiworkshop at IdeasTap, designed to help you, writers and creators, to craft competition winning short stories, poetry and/or plays. A great number of members attended our two hour workshop on 3rd July 2014, during which we discussed the basic elements of playwriting; creating compelling opening lines, the importance of endings and how to capture your entire audience’s attention. We also addressed the universal struggles of a playwright and offered solutions for problems when it comes to getting all those ideas sparking around in your head down on paper.
See the below handout for tips and tricks on how to write a worthy one act play.
One Act Plays Workshop Handout
The one act play ebook brief will be followed by a linked acting and performance brief of some of the winning ebook brief scripts. Details to be announced shortly.
Guest blogger Simon Jay presents his tips on how to write One Act Plays…
“It wasn’t until I visited The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2011 that I truly understood what you could do with the form of ‘One Act One Voice’ plays. Due to the cost, resources and restrictions of getting to Edinburgh, most plays do concern one actor astride the stage for the allotted hour… and with 2000+ shows on the market, you’ve got to have something pretty special in the back-pocket if people are going to come. It wasn’t until I saw and enjoyed such work that it informed my process for the better. All the things I’d instinctively learnt up till that point I realized were ultimately redundant, yes there’s technical skill, but the way you can manipulate the form and throw out the rule-book, I’d never truly seen done well before, so my suggestion is to: unlearn everything you think you know about one-voice plays.
My second suggestion is to watch as many one-voice plays as possible, it doesn’t matter if they’re rubbish
Now reading them is all well and good and I’ll provide a list as the end, but I’d get out as much as possible and see stuff. The first play I saw at Edinburgh was Tuesday’s at Tesco’s about a Transgendered prostitute that looked after her ailing father, played by Simon Callow (this was translated from French) and it was a perfect example of a conflicted relationship played out through the voice of the oppressed party. This was slammed by the critics for the most-part, thinking Callow was miscast, and the script dull.
This is subjective, but It’s interesting to note, how much it antagonized them, especially The Daily Mail to see an older gay male actor, playing a younger transgendered prostitute, talking about the difficulties of domestic life, it gets under their skin and they don’t like it! Also it wasn’t made for a Daily Mail critic, they’ve got Jim Davidson for that…
The point is Tuesday’s was a sell-out despite its critical flogging, because it appealed to a direct audience, it was addressing people that were different, Transgendered people, sex-workers, people who have difficult relationships with an elderly and infirm parent – ultimately people who feel they’re not accepted by society. This is a large minority of course, and one that is underrepresented in theatre which brings be onto my next suggestion: write for groups of people, connect and engage with living, breathing real people.
Also with the above point, just because a play is about, for instance, Transgendered people, doesn’t mean its exclusive to that audience, it will of course attract people that are curious, interested and compelled by the ideas of the play anyway, but these allies are in shorter supply than for those the play directly addresses.
My penultimate point is that plays are to be performed not simply read.
Having read a lot of plays for script-reading jobs, something that comes up again and again, is that new writers, fret and fuss (and I’ve done it myself) about syntax, formatting and spacing, getting it all perfect on the page, making sure each scene direction is as perfectly described as possible etc. etc. sucking all the actual fluidity out of the piece – Never forget, that your play will always benefit by being loose, by having air to breathe new life into it by countless generations to come, who will employ new theatrical techniques not yet invented.
Your play will suffer if you write ‘this scene must use a speakerphone to deliver the speech’ when in the future they’ll have noise-rebounding holograms to do that – but none for you, you wanted the speakerphone! But seriously, keep the play in the form where a director/actor/producer can interpret it; It will mean it will get performed and made more – Don’t underestimate the talent of other creative people in the theatre world – The most exciting thing about writing plays is that there can be a million different versions of your piece.
The last thing I wanted to get out there into the blogosphere is you can do anything with a play – Don’t think that because it’s a live medium, or a medium that has to ‘be on a stage’, you can do a play where the actor is a tour-guide taking you through the streets of London, or you have to meet the actor in a café… or your One-Voice player might be mute or a mime artist, or a puppet-master. Perhaps your play is immersive, the audience could be part of it, active characters… there is simply no end to what you can do with the medium…. and innovation is always something that script-readers look for. I must add that this only works when the play needs it, or can only be delivered in this form, some writers think ‘oh yeah this can take place on a boat’ or ‘in somebodies car’ for a gimmick and it falls flat on its face (believe me, I know).
So I wish you all luck in your writing, just write something interesting, that will captivate the audience and you’ll be fine, I look forward to reading them and if you follow (or challenge/subvert) any of my suggestions I am sure it will stand you in good stead. Finally here is a short reading list of One-Voice one-act plays that show what you can do with the form.”
Note: Plays that are unpublished are followed by *. Google or get in contact with the playwright to see if you can obtain a copy/see their show.
Sarah Kane – 4.48 Psychosis
Kelly Jones – Dating Geoge Orwell*
Alan Bennett – Talking Heads
Joan Didion – A Year Of Magical Thinking
Robert Softley – If These Spasms Could Speak*
Samuel Beckett – Krapp’s Last Tape
La Johnjoseph – Boy In A Dress*
Berend McKenzie – NGGRFG*
Simon Jay, London based Theatre-maker, has learnt his craft by doing, a lengthy process of trail and error that is always ongoing. From the age of 8 his passion has been the creativity, frenetic energy, confidence and naivety it takes to translate an idea from paper to the stage. He has worked on everything from Shakespeare Adaptations to The Vagina Monologues, new writing at The Soho Theatre and The Young Vic to alternative Adult Pantomime; He is one of our judges for The One-Act Play Competition. Here he shares some ideas and things that have inspired him to write and create One-Act plays with one voice.
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