On Saturday 1st December 2007 the CAPITAL Centre hosted a Writing for Performance Study Day, at which a group of students were able to work with two professional playwrights and two university academics in a series of workshops designed to give a practical insight into the process of writing for performance.
Djanet Sears is a Canadian playwright, actor and director. Her plays include Afrika Solo, The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God and Harlem Duet, the latter of which has received numerous awards. Earlier this year she spent two months working with the RSC on their production of Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad. She is the founder of Obsidian Theatre, a company that specialises in African and Caribbean Canadian drama, and is a professor at the University of Toronto.
Meredydd Barker is a Welsh playwright who works in both Welsh and English. His plays include The Rabbit, which he has also adapted into a screenplay for Hurricane Films, Buzz and Acqua Nero. He is currently working on a new commission for Theatre Clwyd, Two Princes.
11am-12.30pm Djanet and Meredydd will talk about process, projects, and theatre collaborations and the location of their voices inside particular cultures.
12.30 -3.30pm Participants will be in two groups for a practical hands-on workshop session. Each group will be led by a playwright and an academic, and the session will include a free working lunch. The playwrights will set up an instant writing project allowing you to work on new material, develop your own ideas or explore the playwrights’ drafts.
3.30-4.30pm A roundtable discussion on writing for performance.
MA student Anna Lea attended the study day:
How does writing for the stage differ from any other form? What is the difference between a writer and a wrighter? How do you start to write for the stage and how do you continue? Playwrights Djanet Sears and Meredydd Barker set out to answer these questions, and to inspire students to find their own voice in the medium.
They come to the form of playwriting with unique perspectives and backgrounds. Meredydd, certain that he could write better plays than those he was seeing, set about writing them and shortly proved himself right. Djanet began writing as a form of complaint against the fact that the kind of people she knew were not seen on stage; the kind of stories she wanted to hear were not being told. Each playwright has taken their own stance, inspired by their own cultures and determined to write plays that gave voice to what was absent in their respective theatres.
Their frank discussion of when and how they started writing evolved into a practical examination of their craft as artists. Djanet rooted herself firmly in her own inner terrain, and suggested that others do so too, by simply being aware of what is uniquely your own; to dig deeply and render well. Meredydd was also proactive, enforcing the writer’s power as their own audience during the first draft. To answer to no one during this stage is vital. He also stressed the unique power writers possess throughout the creative process – in summary: “Pen and paper. Game on.”
The students split into two groups for the afternoon workshops. Meredydd compared a first and final draft of a scene from his latest play, ‘Two Princes’, while Djanet explored the use of dreams for rich material. Both playwrights used their personal approach and distinctive voices to inspire fresh perspectives on the writing process. The impact on the students was clear, leading to lively debate at the end of the day about current theatre, and the space for new voices. Personally, I was able to reconsider my perception of theatre, especially writing for performance, and felt a sense of freedom from the idea that perhaps that many new writers have; that writing for theatre relies on a voice so distinctive and assured that it is unattainable. Through discussing the practicalities of writing, and learning to rely on one’s own vision of the world, I found a new confidence in writing for performance. My first play owes much to the supportive atmosphere of that day, and to Djanet and Meredyyd. Their views on writing and contemporary theatre are confident and persuasive, and they maintain that there is room for many more voices than those we are hearing. Game on.