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Stick Figure

Playwriting with Tom Wells #2: Character and Monologue

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By Tom Wells, associate artist

Hope everyone enjoyed last week’s writing tasks. This week we’re asking a bit more of you. By the end of this workshop, you’ll be ready to have a go at writing a monologue. A beautiful character portrait and a proper story. That’s the goal. But to give you something to get started with, I think it’s a good idea to do a bit of free writing. Like last week, I know, but it’s the best way I can come up with of shaking off things you’re preoccupied with and getting in the right headspace for making stuff up. So. Here goes:

Exercise One

A little reminder of the exercise: you get a word and then just write. And keep writing. Write any thoughts you have connected to that word and see where it takes you. Whatever comes into your head. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be in sentences, and it doesn’t matter if it ends up having nothing to do with the word you were given to begin with.

The important thing is to keep going. If you don’t know what to write, write about how you don’t know what to write and just see what follows on from that. Something interesting, something funny, something unexpected – anything’s fine. Time yourself doing it. For the first word, keep going for thirty seconds. The first word is: make. Write whatever comes into your head when you think of the word make.

Go.

For the second word, the challenge is to keep going for a minute. The second word is: good.

Go.
And keep going.

For the third word, the challenge is to keep going for two minutes. The third word is: stuff.

Go.
And keep going. And keep going. And stop.

Exercise Two

When I was growing up, my Mum often described stuff as ‘character-building’. Gale-force winds, maths, glandular fever. Things to experience so that afterwards you’re a better-rounded person, with funny stories to tell and a bit more empathy. I think it was good practice for being a playwright too. Character building is a big part of your job.

When you’re building a character it is useful to know as much about that character as you can – their daily lives, their memories, what they sound like and look like and the gestures they make when they’re talking, or not talking, their struggles, their hopes, their favourite phrases, their favourite socks, their childhood toys, their scars and how they got them, and (most importantly) their name.

Stick Figure

Self Portrait, 2020 by Jamie Potter

This next exercise is about getting to know a character. The sort of person who would say the thing that leapt out at you from your free writing, the thing you’ve written at the top of your piece of paper.

Draw a stick figure version of them. Give them a name, an age. And then write things about them in the space around the drawing. Just anything that comes to you. And label them with the information.

So, for example, if they have a wonky nose or a scar on their chin, write about it, about how they got it, if there’s a story, or what it means for them in the world, if they’re self-conscious about it when they meet new people, or if they’re proud of it maybe. If they’ve got a cardi they always wear, describe it. Or a gesture they always make, or a thing they always say. See if you can write down everything about that character you can think of.

Spend a good bit of time with them – ten minutes, say – getting to know them and writing down the interesting details of their lives. Have a good look at the portrait you’ve drawn of them. And then take this character into the next task.

Exercise Three

You’ve got your character, and spent a bit of time getting to know them. There’s two more things to mention at the start of this exercise.

The first is a straightforward story structure. There’s lots of different models for story structure, and all of them are good to follow and think about and find out about from different playwrights and plays and guides to writing. The one we’re going to base this task on has five different bits, as follows:

  1. A character wants something, and sets out to get it;
  2. Things go well – the character manages to get a bit nearer to the thing they want;
  3. Things start to go badly – the character comes up against obstacles, but keeps going;
  4. Things go very wrong for the character – it looks like the thing they wanted is out of reach, unachievable;
  5. Some kind of resolution: maybe the character gets the thing they wanted; maybe the character doesn’t, and has to give up; maybe they get something different, something they need.

This will hopefully help you to give a shape to your monologue.

The second thing to mention is choosing something your character wants. If we were all together in a workshop, we’d do a lucky dip and you’d all choose something from a bag without looking. But, since we’re not, here are a few of the items you might’ve picked:

  • a key
  • a phone
  • some chilli flakes
  • a pound coin
  • a box of juice
  • some painkillers
  • a screwdriver
  • a stamp
  • a condom
  • a safety pin
  • a Kitkat

Choose one of these things, and imagine a scenario where it is the most important thing your character needs. Then, using the story structure mentioned above for help, write a monologue. Imagine the character you built in Exercise Two sets out to get the thing you chose in Exercise Three.

Write it from the character’s point of view, in their voice and, to make it feel like it is happening as we see it, write it in the present tense. Don’t worry about getting it wrong, just try it. Give yourself fifteen minutes for this task. Once you’re done, read it through and feel a bit proud.

Homework

The monologues you end up writing for Exercise Three will probably be a mixture of brilliant bits and messy bits. It’s your first draft of your first go, under time pressure, with things that were out of your control, and you’re only just getting to know the character, just starting to hear their voice a bit. But hopefully now you’ve had a go with a quickly-made-up character and a lucky dip thing-they-want, you’ve got the skills to write something a bit more considered. If you fancy doing a bit of homework, this might be a good task:

Think about a character you’re really drawn to writing. Do a portrait of them – just a stick drawing, but labelled with their quirks and memories and appearance and gestures and phrases they use a lot. Spend a bit of time getting to know them. Try to hear the way they sound, the words and phrases they use, the rhythms of their speech.

Now think of the thing they want most, more than anything else, in the moment that your monologue will start. It might be something grand and abstract, like love, or justice, or freedom. It might be something a bit more everyday, like a yogurt. But make sure it comes from what you know about the character. And then, following the story structure given above as a guide, imagine the character setting out to try and get the thing they want the most in the world at that moment. What things might get in the way? Do they manage in the end? Have a go at writing this monologue.

Feel free to share your writing with us on social media: simply tag @middlechildhull on either Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Playwright Tom Wells

Playwriting with Tom Wells #1: Voice

By | Artist Development, Playwriting with Tom Wells

By Tom Wells, associate artist

This year’s not quite going to plan in terms of Middle Child’s Writers’ Group (and other things). We can’t meet up for workshops, but we thought a few of you might have a bit of time on your hands and feel like having a go at writing something. Fingers crossed some writing exercises might help.

The aim of our Writers’ Group, and these blog posts in its place for now, is to help you write your first play. Just a short one – 5-10 minutes – but hopefully if you enjoy it you’ll have some of the tools you need for tackling bigger projects. You’ll also have something to send in to future Out Loud scratch nights, organised by Middle Child and Silent Uproar for writers in Hull and East Yorkshire, which will happen once we can all sit in the same room again. The last one was magic – I’m really looking forward to the next.

There’ll be blog posts on: Voice; Character and Monologue; Dialogue and Scenes; Making Worlds (no biggie); and Planning. The exercises are ones I’ve picked up from doing workshops over the last few years. It’s important to say at the start: there’s no one way to write a play. These are just suggestions of things that might help: take what’s useful, ignore what isn’t. Getting things right is a process, not an event, and getting things wrong is just as important. It just means you’re trying stuff. Mostly the thing to do – I think, anyway – is have a go. It won’t be perfect, but it will exist.

So. Here goes.

Exercise One

Think it’s best to start with an exercise. Dive in head first, sort of thing. Free writing, to free you up a bit. The idea is this: you get a word and then just write. And keep writing. Write any thoughts you have connected to that word and see where it takes you. Whatever comes into your head. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be in sentences, and it doesn’t matter if it ends up having nothing to do with the word you were given to begin with. The important thing’s to keep going. You know, like life.

If you don’t know what to write, write about how you don’t know what to write and see what comes next. Time yourself doing it. For the first word, see if you can keep going for thirty seconds (you definitely can). The first word is: Free. Write whatever comes into your head when you think of the word Free.

Go.

For the second word, the challenge is to keep going for a minute. The second word is: Writing.

Go.
And keep going.

For the third word, the challenge is to keep going for two minutes. The third word is: Exercise.

Go.
And keep going. And keep going. And stop.

Now read over the three things you’ve written. They might not make sense, they might not be in sentences, and they might have nothing to do with the words you were given to begin with. But they will be full of interesting words and phrases and thoughts and ways of looking at things and patterns and rhythms that are uniquely yours. They are words that are channeled through your eyes and your way of seeing and thinking about and understanding the world. They’re the words that come out when you’re not trying too hard or overthinking stuff or pretending to be something you’re not, the raw material you’ll be working with as a playwright. They’re really special. They’re your voice.

Hummus on a plate

I did this exercise in the first writing workshop I ever went to. When we finished I looked at the scrappy stuff I’d written and felt a bit embarrassed. Proper writers wrote stuff about truth and justice and love and freedom, I thought. I’d done a joke about hummus. But gradually I saw that figuring out what your voice as a writer sounds like is really useful. It doesn’t limit you, but it can guide you a bit to people and subjects you can write about well, with spark and life and honesty and soul. You can still have characters who think about the big stuff, they just also think about dips.

So: have another look at what you’ve written. A proper look. Get a sense of the beginnings of your voice. Embrace it. And use it in exercise two.

Exercise Two

The second exercise is quite a lot like the first exercise, but instead of responding to a word, you are responding to a song. For the length of the song you just have to write. Keep writing. Whatever the song makes you think about, whatever comes into your head while you’re listening – write it down. Maybe it sparks a memory, maybe you just hate it, or it’s your favourite, maybe you’ve never heard it before and it makes you feel a bit far away from what the social distancing 34-year-olds of Mayfield Street are listening to on repeat on their Spotify – whatever your reactions, write them down. And keep going. For the whole song. See where it takes you. Somewhere interesting, I bet.

First song.

Second song.

Third song.

Now have a read of what you’ve written. It might not seem much for a workshop but that’s your voice in three different, unexpected contexts, getting more confident, more sure of what it is and what it sounds like. Which is a lot. Fingers crossed you’re getting a sense of the sort of writer you might be, the sort of worlds you feel comfy in or don’t feel comfy in and, on an unrelated note, the genius of Dolly Parton. Try it with other songs if it feels useful. There’s time. And it might find its way into the play you write.

Feel free to share your writing with us on social media: simply tag @middlechildhull on either Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Crisis funds available to Hull artists

By | Artist Development, News

If you are a freelance artist from Hull who has lost income because of the coronavirus outbreak, we are now making one-off grants of £200 available from the pot raised by our crowdfunding campaign.

Thanks to the kindness of the general public, we have now raised over £4,000, having smashed through our initial £2,000 target within 24 hours. We are now keeping it open and aim to raise £6,000, which will provide 20 artists with £200 each.

How to apply

Any artist from Hull, whether you work in theatre, dance, art, music or any other form, who has lost income through cancellations and shutdowns from venues, can ask for money, no questions asked. Simply email our artistic director, Paul Smith, to make a request.

We are offering grants on a first-come, first-served basis. GoFundMe lets us withdraw from the fund on a weekly basis, so we will let you know if we can help you and when to expect to receive the money.

Hull Artists Coronavirus Fund launches

By | Artist Development

The recent situation caused by the coronavirus has led to the closure of many venues, the cancellation of performances and exhibitions and a potentially devastating loss of income for many of those working in Hull’s creative sector. After an incredible few years for Hull’s art scene we think it’s time that we came together to show the freelancers who help to make this city so special just how much they mean to us, and help support them in difficult times.

That’s why we’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign via GoFundMe, to raise money to support those artists who have provided us with so much joy. A donation of any size can help to ensure that Hull’s artists survive this crisis and continue making world-class work long into the future.

For context, many freelancers are about to enter into a particularly challenging time. Many artists make their living either by performance in front of groups of people, working together in rehearsals rooms or, often, by having another job to help support work.

With the oncoming disruption brought to us via the coronavirus it’s important that we bear in mind that many artists are about to be unable to work due to the closure of theatres, television and film production and the many industries that employ artists when they’re making their art such as restaurants, bars, and events.

Inspired by Middle Child associate artist Luke Barnes and his Liverpool fundraiser , we are aiming to be able to provide a minimum of 10x £200 hardship funds for any artists that cannot work during this time. These will be distributed on a first come first served basis and there will be no questions asked. If you need it, you can have it and once it’s gone it’s gone. If we make more additional money in this instance then that will also be made available. The first will be available in a month’s time when we have a better idea of how it will impact us.

Please note that no money donated as part of this fundraiser will go to Middle Child, nor will any of the money raised be used to pay those employed by Middle Child. We are merely acting as hosts of the GoFundMe page and will not profit from it in any way.

Donate Now
Hull Covid-19 Mutual Aid

Support for theatre makers during the Covid-19 outbreak

By | Artist Development

We understand that the present time may be difficult to navigate for many theatre makers, especially those who are freelance, so we thought we’d try to help somewhat by sharing a list of useful resources, below.

HM Government

See the government website for official guidance on various aspects, including staying at home, travel advice and information for employers.

Arts Council England

ACE have announced their intent to compensate freelancers and individual artists for loss of earnings, as well as continue to fund NPOs and CPPs. More info will be made available in the next week or so as they confirm their plans. See their Twitter thread too.

Independent Theatre Council

The ITC are signposting people to information through their blog.

Equity briefing on financial support

The union has published a briefing to help people understand their rights to the different kinds of financial support available during the outbreak and how to claim them. This includes government benefits, plus info on people working on an Equity contract.

Exeunt Magazine

Exeunt are collating their own list, which includes some of the resources named here.

Mutual aid Facebook groups

For those of you based in Hull, our own Jamie has started a Facebook group to facilitate mutual aid in the city, connecting people able to offer support with those in need. There is also one in Beverley, set up by She Productions. If you are based further afield, here is a list of groups across the UK.

There is also a Facebook group specific to theatre makers.

#GigAid

Bryony Kimmings is looking to connect people who’ve lost earnings with those who can contribute some kind of financial support. Luke Barnes, a Middle Child associate artist, has set up a crowdfunder for Liverpool-based artists.

Edit on Tuesday 17 March: Inspired by Luke, we’ve created a similar crowdfunder for Hull artists.

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You may have seen us sharing our contingency plan on Twitter last week. This is already somewhat out of date, such is the speed at which things change, so we are no longer sharing that particular document.

However our emails and DMs are open if anybody would like to ask us any questions or share any concerns and we’ll help where possible.

We will also continue to share any useful info relating to theatre through our Twitter account.

Lots of love,
Middle Child
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Ellen Brammar

Ellen Brammar joins BBC Writersroom programme

By | Artist Development, News
Ellen Brammar

Middle Child founding company member Ellen Brammar has joined the BBC Writersroom Northern Voices programme for 2020 – and we couldn’t be more proud!

Ellen, who wrote I Hate Alone in 2017, joins 16 other exceptional writers on a year-long development programme to write for television, with expert masterclasses, pitching opportunities and introductions to the industry.

“In January I was delighted to find out that I had a place on the BBC Writersroom Northern Voices programme, where I’d have the opportunity to write my first TV treatment and speculative script,” said Ellen.

“On the first day, I arrived in Salford feeling exhausted (blame the baby and a stupidly early train), was handed a BBC lanyard (I’m a sucker for a lanyard) and firmly told to banish all thoughts of any imposter syndrome – I absolutely, probably, definitely shouldn’t be here. And then we cracked on!

“I’m loving it so far, there’s a lot to learn and I head home with my head aching at the end of the day, but in the best possible way. I’ve always fancied myself writing for TV so I’m doing my best to grab this excellent opportunity with both hands and learn as much as I can from the course. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.”

Ellen’s writing credits in theatre include I Hate Alone (2017) with Middle Child, Walk in the Park (2019) with Back to Ours, Ten (2019) with Hull Truck Theatre and Ordinary People (2016) with Middle Child and Leeds Playhouse. She is currently writing a new show for Middle Child, to be produced in 2021.

Ellen was also longlisted for the BBC Comedy Script Room in 2016 with Cultured and shortlisted in the same year for the CBBC sketch show, Class Dismissed.

Over the past year, Ellen has mostly had a baby attached to her boob and is now excited to get back to writing and seeing what her sleep-deprived brain can create.

Theatre Social Quiz Night

New social quiz night for Hull theatre makers

By | Artist Development
Theatre Social Quiz Night

Starting in April 2020 we’re launching our new Theatre Social Quiz Night: a chance for people working in theatre in Hull to socialise and meet others without any of the awkward staring-at-name-badges that usually comes with networking.

We’ll pull up some pews, stock a bar with beers and soft drinks and throw down some pub quiz questions for teams of four (max) to get stuck into. No team? We’ll find you one on the night!

We’ve also bought a MASSIVE trophy for the winning team to keep hold of each month. Like seriously big. 46 centimetres tall big. *audience ooh* We might even put ribbons on it.

So come join us, meet other theatre people in Hull and romp home to victory as quiz champions.

The first night takes place on Tuesday 7 April at 7pm, then will resume on the first Monday of every month. RSVP through Eventbrite, then pay £1 on the night if you’d like to play along.

Daniel Ward - Writers Guild Award winner - The Canary and the Crow

Five years in the making, Daniel Ward wins a Writers’ Guild Award

By | Artist Development
Daniel Ward - The Canary and the Crow

Daniel Ward in The Canary and the Crow at the Paines Plough Roundabout, 2019. Photo by The Other Richard.

Daniel Ward, has been named this year’s winner of the Writers’ Guild Award for Best Play for Young Audiences with his play, The Canary and the Crow.

Daniel collected the gong at a ceremony hosted in London last night by writer, comedian and actor Katy Brand.

The Canary and the Crow is a semi-autobiographical piece of grime-inspired gig theatre that tells the story of a working class black kid who’s accepted at a prestigious grammar school.

It premiered at Hull Truck Theatre in July 2019, with Daniel taking the lead role of The Bird.

It then toured to Latitude Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the Paines Plough Roundabout, where it also won the Brighton Fringe Award for Excellence and was nominated for a Total Theatre Award.

Daniel said: “It’s a massive honour to win this award and I couldn’t be more proud. I already feel like this play has been on a huge journey and I am so excited to be sharing it at the Arcola Theatre this month and later this year on tour with the bad bois Middle Child.

“This play means so much to me on a personal level. Part of the reason I wrote The Canary and the Crow was because, whilst I’ve always enjoyed the theatre, I felt there weren’t many stories that I could relate to.

“To have received this award and the recognition of my peers for a story that is about the lived experience of a young working class black man, is not lost on me. I’m grateful that this and other stories like it are being championed and excited for what the future of theatre holds.”

Daniel wrote The Canary and the Crow in 2014, later taking inspiration for its gig theatre form after seeing our production of Luke Barnes’ Weekend Rockstars.

After sending the script to Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, in 2017, Daniel was invited to workshop the script with the company in Hull for a week in 2018, as part of our artist development programme that year.

The same week-long residency also included Frankie Meredith’s 17, which went on to appear at London’s Vault Festival in 2019, produced by Wildcard Theatre.

After a scratch sharing of The Canary and the Crow at the end of the residency, Middle Child chose to take it further and in June 2019 rehearsals started in Hull.

Hull-based MC and producer Prez 96 joined the team for his first theatre project, co-composing with Middle Child associate artist James Frewer and also making his acting debut, alongside Laurie Jamieson and Rachel Barnes.

Prez 96 was later announced as the 2019 recipient of our Career Kickstarter Fund.

The Canary and the Crow is now about to embark on a tour throughout 2020, starting with a month-long run at London’s Arcola Theatre.

For all tour dates, including more to be announced, see the listing on our website.

Out Loud scratch night writers revealed

By | Artist Development

Middle Child and Silent Uproar are delighted to announce the four writers who have been selected for Out Loud, our upcoming scratch night for Hull playwrights.

Hannah Leek, Sarah Penney, Chris Pearson and Hannah Scorer will all see a 15 minute excerpt of their scripts performed on Friday 25th January at Middle Child’s rehearsal space, Darley’s, in front of a friendly, invited audience.

Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, and Silent Uproar artistic director, Alex Mitchell, will direct two plays each, featuring paid actors from Hull. Each writer will also receive £50. Out Loud is generously supported by Hull playwright, Richard Bean. 


Hannah Leek – Gryffindors Make Great Friends!

A one-woman show about a generation’s search for purpose and self-worth in a complicated world.

Chris Pearson – Have You Read the Gazette?

Before this, all Brenda had ever wanted from life was some happiness and maybe a new front door.   

Sarah Penney – Cold Cups of Tea 

Fee has lost her mam. Jackson’s losing Fee. This is about grief and deconstructing the life-works of Britney Spears.

Hannah Scorer – Can We Be Friends?

A duologue about what happens when a five-year-old who wants to meet her dad takes matters (and her mum’s phone) into her own hands. 


Sarah, Chris and Hannah Scorer have all previously participated in the Middle Child Writers’ Group, in association with Tom Wells.

We received 21 scripts in total, which were read and selected anonymously, and we would like to thank all of the talented writers who submitted scripts. 

Details for submitting scripts to the next Out Loud scratch night, which will take place in the spring, will be announced shortly. 

Subscribe to the Middle Child artist development mailing list or follow Middle Child and Silent Uproar on Twitter to be the first to hear more.

Annabel Streeton - RTYDS

Annabel Streeton to join Middle Child and Hull Truck Theatre on RTYDS placement

By | Artist Development
Annabel Streeton - RTYDS

Middle Child and Hull Truck Theatre are pleased to announce that we are working together to support a three-month Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS) placement in spring 2020.

Annabel Streeton, a University of Hull’s drama and theatre practice graduate, will assist both companies on a number of productions that will be performed in Hull and on tour. 

These include the touring version of Middle Child’s award-winning Edinburgh Festival Fringe show, The Canary and the Crow, and a new outdoor production that the company will present in Hull next year. 

Annabel will also assist in rehearsals for Hull Truck Theatre’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which will include a community cast of 90, as well as work on the theatre’s Grow Festival, for emerging artists in the region. 

Annabel said: “I’m really excited and grateful for this opportunity to work with Middle Child and Hull Truck Theatre over three months next year, two producing companies who I really admire. 

“Working on such varied shows as small scale gig theatre, to large scale outdoor productions and a classic told with a community cast will be invaluable and transformative. 

“I can’t wait to learn and grow as a director and bring these new skills and experiences to my own work in the future.”

Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, said: “Having met Annabel through the RTYDS Introduction to Directing programme we hosted earlier in the year, we are in no doubt that she is a director of exceptional promise. 

“Annabel combines a clarity of vision and purpose with passion and determination. We are thrilled to have her join the team for three months, and look forward to working alongside Hull Truck in giving her the support and opportunity necessary to growth as a young artist.”

Hull Truck Theatre associate director of creative learning and director of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Tom Saunders, said: “It’s really great to have Annabel on board for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As a member of our Box Office staff and a local creative she is already a familiar face so she’ll be a great addition to the team.

“RTYDS is a wonderful, nationally acclaimed scheme and we’re delighted to give this talented young director a chance to get their foot in the door. We at Hull Truck Theatre are committed to offering support and development for local artists, so this collaboration with Middle Child and RTYDS is a match made in heaven.”

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