Nease O'Callaghan talks about how the Playmakers have grown as writers and how this has impacted her own work...
When thinking back to our introductory meeting in September, it seems like only a few weeks ago. Then I discover I've managed to build the foundations of a play in that time and I realise how long it has been.
Our March session was the last before the Easter writing break. Up until now, we have explored various elements related to the craft of playwriting, from dialogue and rhythm, to stage directions and structure. We've also drawn upon a rich variety of texts by renowned playwrights. As well as this, we have survived the trepidation of having our work read aloud, and, consequently, received feedback from the group. In this session, however, it was evident that the emphasis was shifting from more relaxed discussion and reading, to focused conversations on how best to present our work to prospective readers as well as for rehearsal scenarios.
Thus, we deviated from the usual routine. Instead of discussing craft and carrying out writing exercises in the morning, we dove straight into reading each other’s scripts. Initially, we each brought in ten pages per session; however, we now arrive with up to twenty pages. Although this necessitates longer reading time, it illustrates the breadth of work being completed each month and the hunger we all feel for response and feedback.
With six scripts to get through (we were down one writer due to illness), the day was a busy one of reading, ruminating and conversing. While we work on our scripts individually, the group has journeyed together from initial ideas to the moment in which our plays are beginning to take shape. As such, the various characters and scenarios have become familiar, making discussions all the more fruitful - we are able to understand a scene in the context of the larger work. As our work becomes more complex, and our discussions more nuanced, time-keeping can be a struggle; it is therefore precisely enforced, to ensure we do not cut anyone’s time short, though we always push for more time to probe, more time to discuss.
It is the fact that there can never be enough time that makes this programme so unique. I mean this in the sense that we have become chatterboxes – we will keep talking about craft, what shows we’ve seen and loved, seen and disliked, and, of course, each other’s work until we are sent home at the end of the day. To me, this is why the Playhouse provides such a supportive space. It is a place to explore, to experiment, to make mistakes and learn from them … a milieu in which we are given permission to "fail better", as Beckett famously recommended.
My own project has led me into unknown territories. My new play is my first departure from the well-made play structure (my first for young audiences also), as well my first foray into the use of a chorus. The scope of the programme encouraged me to think laterally about what kind of work I wanted to create. And by the end of my hour, my notebook was brimming with questions and thoughts offered by the group – the sum of which will keep me diligent as I craft the first draft next month.
Our day finishes with tickets to the production in the main stage of the Playhouse. This month, the show was Thomas Noone’s dance adaptation of Medea. Euripides’ original play is one of my favourites, and so I was curious to see how it would be imagined through dance. Throughout the performance, I was captivated by the dancers’ ability to conjure intimacy and conflict in Medea’s and Jason’s relationship. Though obviously more pronounced in dance than in naturalistic drama, the piece reminded me of ways in which I, as a playwright, can portray relationships through variations of movement.
We have no session next month; instead, we will be writing frantically in preparation for our first draft deadline at the end of April. So, the next time we all meet at the Playhouse will be early May – by which time, I hope the city will be in the full bloom of summer, and we will not be so reliant on cough medicine and coats. Until then, it’s back to London to scribble away and make what is now a messy collection of notes, flashcards and scrappy scenes, into a legible draft!
… Wish me luck!