The first morning of Playmaker 2019 at Oxford Playhouse. Playmaker brings together a group of emerging playwrights (seven this time), to develop a play over a year, under the guidance of playwright and director John Retallack and participation director Mezze Eade.
The more I write, the more I realise the importance of community for writers. It’s not just about support; the instant you imagine others reading your words you begin to write for an audience and not yourself.
I know one of my fellow playwrights already; Zena Forster, Oxford based like myself. The rest are new faces. Abigail Walton is also from Oxford, Sami Ibrahim, Adam Foster and Verity Healey are London based and Corina O’Beirne has travelled from Brighton to be with us this morning. Also joining us is resident director at the Playhouse, Samson Hawkins. Everyone here loves theatre; that is immediately apparent. I struggle to keep up as I scribble down the names of plays my fellow writers recommend.
John sweeps into the Playhouse foyer and ushers us warmly upstairs with a voice made for reaching the back row of a theatre. In the glamorous Lucy W Room, we gather around a table covered with script extracts. John has brought several openings of well-known modern plays for us to read aloud and discuss.
As a playwright how do you invite your audience into the world of your play? Or do you invite them at all? Perhaps, like in Cock by Mike Barlett, you throw your audience right in the middle of rapid, brutal dialogue and wait for them to catch up? Or maybe you confront your audience- like Effie in Iphegenia in Splott by Gary Owen-with accusatory, unapologetic monologue? Oslo by J.T. Roberts begins like a fourth wall drama, until the character of Mona turns and speaks directly to the audience in an aside. Her breaking of the fourth wall deflates the intense political atmosphere and she becomes the audience’s ally. When we break for lunch my brain is fizzing with ideas. I can’t wait to take a stab at my own play’s beginning.
After lunch we present our own ideas to the group; the larval beginnings of plays we will spend the next year writing. Seven worlds stretch out before us; the bawdy slapstick of Punch and Judy, a collision of cultures in an airport holding cell, an intense female relationship spanning 80s and 90s Britain, a magical reunion in the midst of war torn Lebanon, my own Irish ghost story encompassing three generations of one family, a would be artist, reluctant revolutionary and a white supremacist shut away from the world in a caravan and a meditation on death and endings.
Our homework for the next session is to be playful; John urges us to write quickly and enjoy playing with form. He suggests we write monologues or choral sections that may never make it into the show. Starting a new project can feel intimidating and the freedom to play takes that pressure away.
We finish the day with scrummy pizzas from The White Rabbit Pub next door to the Playhouse. Judging by my cohorts’ glazed expressions, they are as saturated with information as I am. Our ideas will shift and evolve along the way, characters will show themselves, plotlines become clearer, but for now, this hazy first glimpse of seven bold beginnings is thrilling.
Rachel Mae Brady