Artist Development

A collage of the nine associate writers

Next Up: Meet our new associate writers

By | Artist Development, News, Uncategorised
A collage of the nine associate writers

In May 2020 we invited writers across the country to submit their scripts to us, so that we could meet writers we had no previous relationship with and get to know some of them better. 

We are now delighted to announce the nine writers who join us as our new associate writers for the next two years: Deborah Acheampong, Natasha Brown, Gillian Greer, Tabby Lamb, Eva Lily, Sarah Middleton, Jessy Roberts, Emilie Robson and Sid Sagar. 

Each writer will benefit from:

  • A £1,000 payment for the writers’ involvement in our Next Up programme, to support attendance at workshops and readings, geared around the development of a new idea.
  • Participation in a number of writing masterclasses, led by world-class playwrights.
  • A day working on a piece of their writing with a cast of actors and Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, to hear it brought to life and to spend some time getting to know each other creatively. 
  • The possibility of writing a piece for Out Loud, our scratch night, in association with Silent Uproar.
  • Regular online meetings with the Middle Child artistic team and the other associated writers, to develop an idea to be considered for future programming.

Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, said: “Championing new voices is a key part of what we do, from our writers’ group and scratch night, to our producing of new work, such as Daniel Ward’s George Devine Award-winning The Canary and the Crow

“This new programme will build meaningful relationships with even more artists and offer genuine support that we are confident will lead to full commissions in the future.

“For a long time we’ve been searching for a better way to get to know writers between first meeting and full commissions and we’re excited that this new programme represents a vital change for how we build lasting collaborations.

“I’m really excited that within our inaugural associate writers we have a really diverse and exciting range of artists, from a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, who will form a key part of our work for years to come. 

“The ongoing success of Daniel Ward’s brilliant first play, The Canary and the Crow, proves the importance of companies like ours for supporting new ideas and we can’t wait to get started creating the future with this incredible group of writers.”

Deborah Acheampong

“I’m totally looking forward to working as an associate writer for Middle Child, a company that’s edgy, bold and urgent. I love that! As a playwright, I’ve got a thing for stories that are deeply personal; angry, sad, happy, anxious, whatever it may be. Basically, things that grapple with what it means to be human. And in working with Middle Child, I hope that I’ll gain more confidence in exploring that; that I won’t feel afraid to express myself, to write something great or something terrible, all in the aim of becoming a better playwright.”

Deborah first got into theatre when she watched the most boring play ever. It was about the ups and downs in the life of an average couple, so, at first glance, she thought there couldn’t be anything truly remarkable in it. But after leaving, she realised that she had actually watched something that resonated with her, and with the audience, in a way that she hadn’t seen before. Soon she realised that what is most relatable is the most profound. So, she combined her love of the Big Topics; religion, sociology, feminism and politics, and realised that she could use the lives of average people as an accessible way of discussing those themes.

Deborah Acheampong

Natasha Brown

“I’m so excited to be an associated writer at Middle Child theatre. Having the opportunity to develop my practice as a theatremaker with a company that puts accessibility at the forefront of its mission is a privilege. I’m a huge fan of their work and the stories they tell. I can’t wait to skillshare with the other associated writers and to have a space to explore and play with some burning gig theatre ideas. After 2020, I’ve got quite a lot to scream and shout about!”  

Natasha Brown is an actor, writer, theatremaker and facilitator based in London. Her work interrogates power, identity and community. She has been part of the Soho Writers’ Lab, the Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers’ Group and the Soho Accelerate programme. Her debut play I AM [NOT] KANYE WEST received rave reviews when it ran at the Bunker Theatre in March 2020. Her previous work also includes TORCH (Boundless Theatre) and Contradictions (Bush Theatre). As a facilitator, she has created workshops for schools, community groups, artists and young people, most recently working with the Yard Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East, the Donmar Warehouse and Clean Break. 

Gillian Greer

“It’s incredibly exciting to be joining the Middle Child family as an associate writer. I have such admiration for the company, their work and their spirit and I’m looking forward to being inspired by them and exploring how to integrate live music into my style and storytelling in particular.”

Gillian is a playwright and dramaturg from Dublin who has seen her work performed in the Abbey in Dublin, the Traverse in Edinburgh and all manner of London fringe venues. Her debut play Petals was nominated for the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2015, and a radio adaptation won the Celtic Media Award for Radio Drama in 2020. Her second play Meat ran at Theatre503 to critical acclaim in early 2020, just before the world ended. As a dramaturg, she has worked at the National Theatre, VAULT Festival, Clean Break Theatre Company, the Mercury Theatre and many more. She is currently the literary manager of the Soho Theatre.

Tabby Lamb

“I am so excited to be part of the Middle Child family, as their shows are always exactly what I look for in theatre: fun, loud and politically sound. I’m looking forward to learning more about how they collaborate interdisciplinarily, especially when it comes to music. At the start of 2020 I promised myself I wouldn’t make any work that centred queer trauma, and would focus on radical acts of queer joy, so I’m looking forward to working with Middle Child to create some fantastic, complex, but ultimately joyous Trans characters.”

Tabby Lamb is a non-binary writer and performer based in East London and a graduate of Dartington College of Arts. Equally inspired by Carly Rae Jepson and Tennessee Williams, they strive to tell stories that explore the intersections between popular culture and politics. Their debut solo show Since U Been Gone, which Tabby wrote and performed, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019, after previewing at the Gate Theatre. The show was spectacularly received by audiences and garnered a glowing 4* write up from the Guardian who called the play “bold, honest and swollen with love”. They were part of the Soho Theatre Writers Lab and the LGBTQ Arts Review #RaisingOurVoices scheme for queer and trans writers, and are currently one of Oxford Playhouse’s Playhouse Playmakers. Tabby is also  currently under commission at the Unicorn Theatre, The Place, 45North & Pentabus Theatre. Alongside their passion for writing, Tabby is a facilitator and runs creative arts projects for young people from the LGBTQ+ community.

Tabby Lamb

Eva Lily

“I am so thrilled and excited to be joining Middle Child’s writing programme. As well as being able to learn from some other fantastic artists and writers, I would like to use this opportunity and space to experiment more within my work and embrace more surreal elements and styles. Recently, I’ve been interested in the concept of ‘story ownership’, particularly in relation to female narratives and so I hope to expand on this further in the work I develop with Middle Child.”

Eva wrote her first play, Bright, while studying English at the University of Exeter. After graduating with a first, she was a member of the Royal Court’s Introduction to Playwriting Course. In 2018, Eva co-founded Eve & Sea Productions and co-wrote their debut show Salmon which has since enjoyed sell out successes and received 4- star reviews. Performances include: Poltimore Festival; Drayton Arms Theatre; Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2019); tour of the South West and a week at Vault Festival in February 2020. Eva’s other previous works include Of Love Letters and Suicide Notes (Exeter Phoenix and Waterloo East Theatre) and The Reply (White Bear Theatre). 

Sarah Middleton

“I’m so happy to be taking part in the programme, and feel really lucky to have been selected. As I’m at the beginning of my journey as a writer, I’m most looking forward to getting stuck into the craft of playwriting. Working alongside a company as dynamic as Middle Child is a dream come true – and I’m hoping to take the opportunity with both hands, whilst exploring female-led narratives about women on missions who talk a bit too much and love snacks. I’m particularly wanting to work on a new idea involving each of these features, plus darts, karaoke and mullets. Can’t wait.”

Sarah Middleton is a theatre-maker and writer originally from Derby. Since 2011 she has worked as an actor, including work at Hull Truck Theatre, Royal Exchange Manchester, Orange Tree and National Theatre. Since 2018 she has been writing alongside acting. Sarah’s writing so far centres around coming-of- age stories and has largely been for and with young audiences. She is particularly interested in writing stories that put women centre-stage, and characters who are adventurous, driven and funny. Sarah’s plays have involved a teenager entering the world hobby-horse championship, a puppet who wants to become a real boy, and two teenagers who take over a barn in the Peak District to stage an enormous climate change protest. In 2019 Sarah was commissioned by Nottingham Playhouse to write an adaptation of Pinocchio for children aged 3-8, which played in the Neville Studio and toured to local schools. Sarah is currently writing and co-producing SHEWOLVES – a new play for young people – along with director Hannah Stone. SHEWOLVES is currently being workshopped with young people in the midlands and will soon go into an R&D, kindly funded by Arts Council England.

Jessy Roberts

“I am over the moon to be working with Middle Child as an associate writer, it’s been such a break in the clouds in 2020. I can’t wait to meet everyone, get to know them and their work, and develop my writing whilst being supported by such a cool company. My work is collage-y and gig theatre-y and angr-y and explores contemporary feminist issues and big questions. I’m excited by the universe and our place within it, and how we can explore that on stage in a theatrical, magical, audience-centric way.” 

Jessy is a theatre maker, playwright and director. She studied Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance at the University of York, and is completing an MA in Directing at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. She is the Artistic Director of Teastain Theatre, Intern Director for the Rondo Theatre, and a script reader for various organisations. Recent credits as a writer, director and assistant director include: When They Go Low (the egg/Bath Theatre Academy), Messy Eaters (Teastain Theatre/SLAP Festival/York Theatre Royal), Constellations (TakeOver Festival/York Theatre Royal), Wild Thyme and Heather (Teastain Theatre/TakeOver Festival/York Theatre Royal), Lovely Special Best and Most Important (TakeOver Festival/York Theatre Royal), Horseshoes for Hand Grenades (Eric Loren/East Riding Theatre) and One Giant Leap for June (Open Barn Productions).

Jessy Roberts

Emilie Robson

“I am absolutely elated to be invited to join Middle Child as an associate writer. I cannot wait to begin working alongside their accomplished team, developing my voice and style and elevating my practice through this program. My writing typically places women at the centre of the narrative and endeavours to explore ‘little’, everyday stories but hopefully, in a bold and unique way. I hope to write theatre that makes full use of the medium, bends its boundaries and allows the audience to see and hear themselves on stage.” 

Originally from South Shields, Emilie Robson has spent the last ten years in Scotland, writing and performing in a mix of both Geordie and Scots. In 2018 she received the Scottish Arts Club’s ‘Bright Spark’ Award for Moonlight on Leith, a Dylan Thomas inspired love letter to Leith, co-written by Laila Noble. The play went on to be named runner up at Theatre Uncut’s Political Playwriting Award ceremony in 2019. She recently received a masters with distinction in Theatre Studies from the University of Glasgow. 

Sid Sagar

“I’m so excited and grateful to be part of Middle Child’s inaugural associate writers scheme. As an emerging creative in an uncertain time, it means a lot when an organisation actively seeks to develop, enrich and empower new voices. I can’t wait to learn from and contribute to masterclasses, workshops and conversations with the artistic team. I’m passionate about celebrating the comedy, drama and complexity of marginalised voices, and the associated writers scheme is the ideal platform from which to build on my interests and find new ways to make theatre truly accessible and relevant for all.” 

Sid is a London-based actor, writer and facilitator. He grew up abroad and has lived in England since the age of eight. He studied at the University of Bristol and trained with the National Youth Theatre, Identity School of Acting and the Writers’ Lab at Soho Theatre. As an actor, he regularly works on stage and screen. As a writer, his short plays have been produced at various venues in London, including Southwark Playhouse, Theatre503 and Rich Mix. His short play, Disruption, was commissioned by Small Truth Theatre for the Kensington Karavan Festival in 2019. His first full length play, Dark Faces in the Night, was shortlisted for the Finborough Theatre’s ETPEP Award and was one of the winners of Rose Theatre Kingston’s inaugural New Writing Festival. He was selected for The Mono Box’s PLAYSTART scheme in 2018 and his short play, Papa, was published by Oberon Books. He’s currently developing an ACE-funded audio drama, a commission for The Mono Box’s Reset the Stage series, a monologue for London Bubble’s Young Theatre Makers Programme, and a co-written sitcom with SLAM Films.

Sid Sagar

Out Loud scratch night heads to Freedom Festival

By | Artist Development, Events

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

Niall Ransome and Hannah Scorer will both have excerpts of their work brought to life in one-off video recordings, to be made available on the Freedom Festival website next weekend.

Niall Ransome’s Alligators is about a young girl living on a council estate who is caught trying to steal who an old woman’s house and is sentenced to look after her a few times a week.

Hannah Scorer’s Can We Be Friends? is about a five-year-old who wants to meet her dad and takes matters (and her mum’s phone) into her own hands.

See these exciting new pieces of work-in-progress on the Freedom Festival website from 4-6 September.

Out Loud is kindly supported by the Split Infinitive Trust

Send us your script during May

By | Artist Development

Middle Child are once again inviting script submissions as we look to form relationships with new writers over the next few years.

We are keen to meet writers who have an interest in the socio-political function of theatre and who are interested in making work which reaches beyond the usual theatre crowd. While music is a key component of our work, it does not need to be present in your script. See our past work to get an idea of our ‘style’ and interests.

Specifically, we are interested in reading full-length plays from UK-based new writers, who’ve had no more than one full-length production, and who are:

  • Female, trans and non-binary and/or;
  • People of colour and/or;
  • Identify as working class.

You do not need to write something original for this submission window: existing scripts, including those that you may have submitted to other companies, venues and competitions, are welcome.

We are not looking to commission new plays through this call, but to start relationships with new writers instead, so that we can get to know you and your work better and work out how we might collaborate in the future.

How to submit your script

Please send your full scripts to We will be accepting submissions from Monday 4 May until 10am on Monday 1 June.

We will respond to everybody who submits a script by Tuesday 4 August. However as a small team we cannot guarantee detailed feedback on each piece of writing.

Writers announced for Out Loud scratch night, on BBC Radio Humberside

By | Artist Development

Middle Child and Silent Uproar are delighted to announce the four writers who will feature in the second edition of Out Loud, our scratch night for Hull playwrights, which will now take place on BBC Radio Humberside’s Culture Night show.

Jade Franks, Eva Gaynor-Smith, Lotty Loveridge and Matt Sutton will all hear their scripts brought to life over the radio by professional actors in two separate episodes, on Thursday 7 and Thursday 14 May.

Jade Franks – 🙂

She wonders what’s worse: her brother being missing, the possibility that he is dead, or the fact her mum will only talk to the audience about it?

Lotty Loveridge – Bucket Head

Bucket Head is a story about Daisy and how she develops an eating disorder; how she becomes consumed by an invisible force that only she can feel.

Eva Gaynor-Smith – The Spaces We Are Loved In

Is it easier to order takeaway than come out as queer? Adele is juggling her identity, grief and her love of voguing in a space that finally feels like home – so why can’t she share who she really is?

Matt Sutton – Ships

A hopeful man and a hopeful woman meet on a quiet Monday night.

The scratch night was originally scheduled to take place at Hull Truck Theatre on Saturday 9 May, but due to the coronavirus pandemic this had to be cancelled.

Thanks to Joe Hakim and the Culture Night team at BBC Radio Humberside, the scripts have now been recorded by actors isolating together in Hull, for broadcast over the radio.

They include two directed over Zoom by Middle Child and Hull Truck Theatre’s placement assistant director, Annabel Streeton

Each writer also receives £50. Out Loud is generously supported by Hull playwright, Richard Bean. 

The scripts will be broadcast from 8pm on Thursday 7 May and Thursday 14 May on BBC Radio Humberside, available on DAB, digital TV, online and 95.9 FM. 

We received 15 scripts in total, which were read and selected anonymously, and we would like to thank all of the writers who submitted work. 

Details for the next scratch night, which will take place in the summer, 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.

£6,500 raised for Hull artists affected by coronavirus

By | Artist Development

We are absolutely delighted to announce that our crowdfunding campaign, to support Hull artists who’ve lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic, has hit its target of £6,300.

In total, as of Monday 27 April, members of the public have generously donated £6,500 to our crisis fund, inspired by Luke Barnes’ initiative in Liverpool.

After fees are paid to GoFundMe, we will be able to support nearly 30 freelance artists with one-off, £200 grants at a time when income has disappeared, following the closure of venues, exhibitions and festivals.

The crowdfunder was launched in March, shortly before the nation went into lockdown, to support the freelancers who help to make Hull so special. We can’t thank you enough for getting behind this campaign, no matter how big or small your contribution.

Zoom Q&A

More Zoom Q&As with Middle Child announced for May

By | Artist Development

We may not be able to create theatre in-person at the moment, but we are able to continue to support artists over the internet. So after the success of our first series of Zoom Q&As we’re happy to announce further dates and topics throughout May.

The following feature Middle Child staff and artists we were due to work with this month. All sessions are free, but we would appreciate any donations, no matter how small, to our Hull Artists Coronavirus Fund.

All of the Q&As are run as webinars, so only the panel will be visible on video. They will also be livestreamed on our Facebook page.

To join us on Zoom you will need a laptop or mobile phone with a microphone and webcam, plus the Zoom app, but you do not need an account. You can then join a meeting using the meeting ID and password for each Q&A, listed below.

Sound and Music

Thu 30 Apr, 2.30-3.30pm (BST)

What goes into creating music and designing sound for theatre? With:

James Frewer – Composer and musical director
Beats Bus – Composers and performers
Owen Crouch – Sound designer

Link: Opens in the Zoom app
Meeting ID: 834-6837-3973
Password: 400972

The Business of Making Theatre

Thu 7 May, 11.30am-12.30pm (BST)

What’s the relationship between the artistic and business sides of running a theatre company? How can they support each other? Covering budgeting, cashflow, fundraising and making ends meet. 

Paul Smith – Artistic director
Rozzy Knox – Executive director (maternity cover)

Link: Opens in the Zoom app
Webinar ID: 846-2475-8573
Password: 078962


Thu 14 May, 2.30-3.30pm (BST)

What is the dark art of dramaturgy? How does drama unfold on stage and how do you go about composing it? Artistic director Paul Smith will take us through his dramaturgy checklist, to help you ask the right questions when conceiving and redrafting work.

Paul Smith – Artistic director
Matthew May – Artistic associate

Meeting ID: 824-3530-9585
Password: 751846

Link: Opens in the Zoom app
Webinar ID: 879-4101-5121
Password: 558374

Making and Performing Gig Theatre

Thu 21 May, 2.30-3.30pm (BST)

Join the cast of the award-winning The Canary and the Crow, which also includes writer Daniel Ward and co-composer Prez 96, for a Q&A about creating gig theatre, from writing the text and composing the music and bringing it to life on stage with an audience.

Daniel Ward – writer and performer
Prez 96 – co-composer and performer
Rachel Barnes – performer
Laurie Jamieson – performer

Link: Opens in the Zoom app
Webinar ID: 851-7978-1939
Password: 660834

Writing Semi-Autobiographical Theatre

Thu 28 May, 2.30-3.30pm (BST)

Writers’ Guild Award winner and writer of The Canary and the Crow, Daniel Ward, answers your questions on the process of telling elements of your life story on stage. 

Link: Opens in the Zoom app
Webinar ID: 842-1382-6904
Password: 177062

Playwriting with Tom Wells #5: Planning

By | Artist Development, Playwriting with Tom Wells

By Tom Wells, associate artist

This is the fifth and final playwriting blog. I’d like to say I’ve saved the best til last, but I worry that’d be a fib. Planning doesn’t sound very exciting, because it isn’t. It is important though, and really helpful – if you put a bit of work in before you start writing you’ll save yourself lots of time once you get going, or get stuck. A good plan will mean you’ve properly thought about the story you want to tell in your play and the way you want to tell it. You can still leave room for surprises and unexpected bits – it’s absolutely fine, and fun, to adjust things as you go along – but hopefully you’ll find it reassuring for your idea to have a loose shape before you start. I do, anyway.

Exercise One

For this exercise, the challenge is to write a plan for your play which fits with the model we’ve been using to think about story structure, below. Think of the play you’re hoping to write. If it’s your first go at writing a play, aim for between five and ten minutes. Try to think how the story you’re trying to tell in your play would fit with the five bits of the structure. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the answers yet – it’s just as useful to know which parts need a bit of extra thinking about. Spend ten minutes thinking of and writing down a very loose plan which fits these five story beats:

  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.

It’s important to say: just because the plan focuses on the story of one character doesn’t mean you can only have one character in your play. It’s really possible that the main character needs to get the thing they want from another character, or their mate goes along to help them and accidentally gets in the way a bit (I have often been this friend). It’s good to focus on the main story you’ll be telling in your play though, and that probably means focusing, for now, on the journey of one character.

Exercise Two

This is a bit of good old-fashioned character building, as we did in week two. A reminder of the exercise: for each character in your play, draw a stick figure version of them. Give them names and ages. And then write things about them in the space around the drawing. Just anything that comes to you. Label them with the information. See if you can write down everything about that character you can think of. Spend a good bit of time with each character, getting to know them and writing down the interesting details of their lives. Let yourself be a bit surprised with some of the things you figure out about them. Enjoy it. See the best in them. Then take them with you into the next exercise.

Exercise Three

This will seem very familiar from last week’s post, but it’s also really useful. So: think about the world of the play. Imagine it on stage. Draw a plan of it from above. Label it with specific details.

Think about how a character might enter or leave the space and write these down. Think about the furniture or landscape, stories attached to them, or memories. Write these down too. Label it with details which add colour and life to the world. Think about some of the stories which have happened in the space, and write them on the plan. Think about the characters who belong there, and add them in too. Start to build a sense of the world of a play which might happen there. Fill the space with life, if you can.

Now, take a minute to look at your rough plan, your character sketches, and the world you’ve put together for your play. You’ve got everything you need to get going. Here’s a couple of things to think about as you’re cracking on.

H and Marcus Aurelius
H and Marcus Aurelius

The first is a bit of practical advice about putting scenes together, if the play you’re writing has more than one scene. I read something once that said in a comic, the space between two frames or images is called the gutter. In order to make sure the story is moving forward something always needs to happen in the gutter, so that by the next drawing the story has moved on and the reader has to fill in the gaps a bit, build the story themselves. They can feel the energy of that forward momentum, which makes them feel part of the story.

The same thing needs to happen in the gap between scenes in a play. The best way I’ve heard of doing this is to start each scene as late as you can, so the audience has a bit of catching up to do, a bit of figuring out from the very beginning, and then finish the scene as early as you can, so the audience is left with loose ends and questions that can only be answered in scenes that come later. Arrive late, get out early, which as an introvert is also a good strategy for parties.

Rather than telling a whole story in a scene, a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, make sure that the scene has just two of these – either a middle and an end, so the audience is watching the action unfold and, at the same time, figuring out what’s just happened, or how the characters got there; or a beginning and a middle, so the audience is left to wonder what the outcome of the scene is, something which can be answered in a later scene. Put a few of these together, different choices for each scene, and you will have an energetic, forward-moving structure for your play.

The second is a quote I like: ‘it loved to happen’. For the past ten years, I thought this was a quote by H from Steps, but a quick Google has shown it’s actually attributed to the ex-Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Not to worry. I think it’s a really lovely thing to think about while you’re planning your play and writing your first draft. Write something only you could, the characters and stories you think are important, the play you want to see in the world. Write something that just flipping loves to happen. I think it’ll feel magic when it does

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

Annabel Streeton

Getting to grips with dramaturgy – Annabel Streeton

By | Artist Development

By Annabel Streeton, assistant director (placement)

I’ve really been enjoying my Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS) placement at Middle Child during the lockdown, as it’s allowed me to engage with like-minded people that at another time may not have been possible. So far, speaking with Middle Child artistic director Paul Smith and Hull Truck Theatre associate director Tom Saunders and picking their brains has especially helped. The various Zoom Q&A meetings and workshops have boosted my knowledge by soaking up loads of information from people with various experiences, from different roles in theatre making.

One topic that comes up a lot in conversation is how to approach a play before rehearsals from a dramaturgical point of view. I was aware of dramaturgy – the composition of a play – but hadn’t ever properly explored it before. Speaking with the likes of Paul and Tom has given me an insight in how to interpret plays, finding and exploring questions that will provoke the writer to create the best work that’s still their artistic vision.

In a discussion with Middle Child artistic associate Matthew May, I learnt more about literary departments in theatre and wrote some play reports on first drafts. These are write-ups on  whether you liked the play and if the company could potentially stage it, then pass it on for another company member to read it through. These exercises have been really useful in understanding how to approach a script when considering form, context and structure. 

The conversation around the reports highlighted the difference between being a play reader – someone who analyses the text – and someone who reads plays for leisure. One really important point that has stuck with me this week is having an honest response to work: it’s OK to read a section and not understand it.

These exercises on dramaturgy have fit well with the Zoom Q&A sessions that Middle Child have been running over the past week, especially the ’Page to Stage’ chat on the process of preparing a script for staging. A lot of important questions were raised that I wouldn’t have considered. These have opened up my eyes to preparing a script for the rehearsal process and future development, which will be really useful for my own project: a piece of gig theatre about warehouse parties and women in electronic music.

Alongside getting to grips with dramaturgy, I’ve also been getting to grips with running a company, thanks to some 1:1 chats with the Middle Child core team. It’s been really useful to discuss the wide responsibilities, such as the general manager. I now have a much better understanding of what goes into the day-to-day running of a theatre company and how this relates specifically to the directing role. 

Finally my second week finished with the chance to direct a scratch piece from Middle Child and Silent Uproar’s Out Loud programme, via Zoom, with members of The Roaring Girls. It was a piece that was recorded for voice only and will be broadcast on local radio next month. I took a different approach and only asked questions so we could all discover the piece together. I had so much fun doing it and felt really relaxed, while Paul was there to give me feedback. It’s awesome that work is still being produced in this lockdown from so many companies across the UK and I’m loving that there’s loads of online plays to get stuck into from the comfort of your own bedroom.

Padlocks on a fence

Playwriting with Tom Wells #4: Making Worlds

By | Artist Development, Playwriting with Tom Wells

By Tom Wells, associate artist

I’m really regretting calling Post Number Four “Making Worlds” – it sounds quite up itself, my apologies – but it’s the best way I could think of summing up the next couple of exercises. Two exercises that show how important making worlds is to making plays, and two different ways you might try doing it. Fingers crossed the exercises are good and useful and make up for the grandness of the title.

Everyone is different, obvs – there’s no one way to write a play, #NotAllPlaywrights – but I find having a really solid sense of place can be very helpful when you’re first thinking of an idea. If you have a good knowledge of where the play is happening, the world it’s happening in, then your story ideas and characters, everything that goes on in the play and the people it happens to, will have a sense of truth and authenticity. Sometimes a play’s setting can even help you find the outcome of the story – some things feel like they could only happen in Hull, or Coventry, or Newcastle. If the world of the play feels robust, the audience finds it easier to trust the playwright and lose themselves a bit. So I think the best thing to do is just have a go.

Exercise One

For the first exercise, have a look at the photographs below (click to expand). Pick one which intrigues you, and try to plan a play which could happen in the world of the photograph or thereabouts. Think about the people who would feel at home in that world, or very much not at home in that world, and write the things that might happen to them. If it’s useful, use the five-part structure plan mentioned in Workshop Two as a guide for the shape of the story.

These are the photographs. They’re only from my phone though, so if you’d rather use a different one please go for it, perhaps from a magazine that you have to hand, or one of those photo books that live under coffee tables. Spend a few minutes just looking at the image you’ve chosen, and imagining the world that it is part of, the people who are part of that world and the stories they are living. Plan the play you’d write, inspired by the photograph. Give yourself ten minutes.

Hopefully this exercise gave you a bit of freedom, a spark to think of when you’re making something new. A world you hadn’t thought of making until now. Sometimes it’s good to take a surprise bit of inspiration and run with it, fill it with details and characters and what you know of life. But sometimes it’s also really helpful to look with fresh eyes at the places you know really well, to properly examine the rooms and spaces and worlds you know inside out. This is what I’d like to suggest for Exercise Two.

First though, a little story:

A few Saturdays ago, I moved my mat into the bedroom ready to do my morning pilates. I know, what a knob, but I have to do pilates twice a day cos it helps with my balance: I have MS, so I’m a bit more wobbly than most people. I get embarrassed doing it in front of people though – I really am quite wobbly – and if I’d stayed in the lounge I’d have been in full view of the lads up a ladder painting my next door neighbours’ window frames. So I went into the bedroom, shut the door, put a podcast on and fully engaged my core.

The bedroom’s very ordinary-looking. It’s got a bed, a bookcase, a window, a radiator, and a picture of some jellyfish my cousin Ellie painted. The walls are the same magnolia as absolutely every rented flat in the United Kingdom. But it’s worth mentioning at this point: my landlord is not an expert at practical things. I suspect he might’ve cut a few corners, so sometimes stuff goes wrong. For example, there’s a damp patch on the wall above the fridge that looks like Gary Lineker. If the people in the flat upstairs turn their shower up too high, my light fitting leaks. And once it turned out my loo had been accidentally plumbed into the hot water system. I found out cos the flush got stuck, and the toilet started steaming. The man who came to mend it couldn’t believe it. He asked if it would be OK to make a video for everyone back at the depot. And then Middle Child put it on YouTube.

I didn’t think about any of this though. I was concentrating on my pelvic tilt. Then I heard the post arrive.

Normally I’d just carry on with my exercises, but I was waiting for a letter from my neurologist. A few weeks earlier I’d had an MRI scan to find out if the treatment I was on for my MS was working. I hadn’t heard back yet. It’d been long enough to get a bit anxious about it so I was checking the post each day. I got up, went to the door, turned the handle. Nothing happened. Tried again. Still nothing. One more time. Nope.

The handle was broken, wasn’t opening the door any more. So I was stuck. The only other way in or out of the room was the window. It was quite high up though, especially for a fairly wobbly man, and I didn’t really want to end up locked out of my house, stood on the pavement in my bare feet, my pants and a t-shirt that said in big, friendly letters, ‘Hull’. I didn’t really know what to do, so I didn’t do anything. Finished my pilates, finished the podcast – it was Sue Perkins interviewing Mary Berry, she’s had a very interesting life – and tried the door again.

Still nothing. The door wouldn’t open, and now my phone battery was down to eight per cent. I realised I’d better ring my Mum and Dad. I hoped I’d get through to my Mum, who is quite calm in a crisis, rather than my Dad, who isn’t. In the end, I just got through to the answerphone. I left a message, doing my best to sound normal and not mentioning I’d been trapped in my bedroom for a good hour and a half at this point. Five minutes later my Dad rang back, panicking.

They came as quickly as they could. I’d bolted the front door the night before, so the spare key didn’t work. The only way in was through the window. They put their stepladder on their side, and I put a chair on my side. Neither was quite high enough. With a lot more agility than any of us realised he had, my Dad climbed in. It was a bit touch and go at one point – he got sort of stranded in the middle, and either the window or my Dad made quite a funny noise. But eventually, he was in. My Mum passed him a screwdriver and he managed to take the door handle off and let us both out. He didn’t make a big thing out of it or act heroic or anything. He just did it. That’s dads.

I went to open the front door, let my Mum in and picked up the post. There was a letter from the hospital. It said my MRI results had shown new and active lesions on my brain, so my treatment wasn’t working. I’d need to have another scan in three months to see if there was more new damage and figure out what to do next. I tried to style it out by boiling the kettle for cups of tea but still ended up sobbing a bit. My Mum and Dad did too. We had a hug, decided it wasn’t the end of the world, then drank our tea.


Exercise Two

I had quite a lot of time to think while I was trapped in my bedroom and I couldn’t help noticing that it would be quite a good world for a play. There were two possible entrances for characters, both of which had obstacles to using them – the door (stuck shut) and the window (slightly higher up than most stepladders). There was something the protagonist wanted (first to check the post, then to get out of the room). There was a hero (my Dad). And the world was really recognisable (just an ordinary bedroom) but also characterful (the flat had a history of dodgy maintenance issues). Basically, it had it all. It made me wonder if looking for interesting worlds to write about is a bit unnecessary. The worlds we know best and maybe take for granted can sometimes be just as interesting.

For this exercise, look at the spaces and places, the worlds you know really well. The rooms or outside spaces that are so familiar you never really think about them. Pick one, and imagine it on stage. Draw a plan of it from above. Label it with specific details. Think about how a character might enter or leave the space and write these down. Think about the furniture or landscape, stories attached to them, or memories. Write these down too. Label it with details which add colour and life to the world. Think about some of the stories which have happened in the space, and write them on the plan. Think about the characters who belong there, and add them in too. Start to build a sense of the world of a play which might happen there. Fill the space with life, if you can.

This is a really exciting part of writing a play, I think – making the world, thinking what might be in it, which characters might belong there, the stories and the histories they bring with them. Don’t worry if you can’t think of everything, just fill in the details as much as you can. Let yourself be a bit surprised sometimes. Give it plenty of time. And then looks at it. Soak it in a bit. Start to feel at home in it. Fingers crossed it’s a good place to set your first play. We’ll look at planning this next week.

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

Saucepan from Wikimedia Commons

Playwriting with Tom Wells #3: Dialogue and Scenes

By | Artist Development, Playwriting with Tom Wells, Uncategorised

By Tom Wells, associate artist

This week’s topics are Dialogue and Scenes. We’ll have a look at the way people talk to each other in real life, the way characters talk to each other on stage, and the way this can be shaped into a scene that feels sparky, energetic and alive. We’ll start gently, though, with a bit of Gogglebox.

Exercise One

Here is a clip of Giles and Mary from Gogglebox, talking about Clapping for Carers:

And here is a transcript of their conversation:

Mary shows Giles a film clip on her phone.

GILES: If I had known that I was allowed to bang a saucepan with a spoon, I would’ve definitely got a sauce-

Mary laughs.

Mary I would’ve loved to bang a saucepan.

Mary is crying a bit. She takes her glasses off, wipes her eyes.

MARY: Joseph said it was very moving.

GILES: Yeah, now, steady Mary. Steady.

MARY: It was.

GILES: Don’t… At this stage of the day don’t get upset. But if I’d known I was allowed to bang a spoon, Mary –

Mary blinks.

– against a, a copper pan, I would, just like Bez, there’s something very satisfy –

Mary laughs.

– satisfying about doing that. Especially if someone else is doing it at the other end of the village.

MARY: Yeah, yeah well we’ll do that next week, it’s going to be every week apparently.

GILES: Is it?

MARY: Yeah I think so.

GILES: What every week a…? Mary.

Mary sobs.

MARY: Yes.


The first exercise is to have a go at doing this yourself. Record a conversation, a real-life conversation, just a short exchange (ten lines or so) between two people, and do your best to write it down accurately. Don’t be tempted to correct it or change it to make it clearer or to give it different grammar. Just write it exactly as you hear it. If you don’t have a way of recording people at home then try doing it with a clip from Gogglebox. There’s lots to choose from on their Twitter feed.

This will take a while, but it’s really worth doing. Listen to the exchange a number of times as you go along. Pause it and restart it. Do your best to record all the little details of their speech.

Once you’ve finished, have a read. Look closely at it. Look at the pauses, the repetitions, the strange punctuation, the rhythms and the music of it, the way mistakes and mispronunciations – and silence, things unsaid – add a warmth and depth of meaning to real-life speech. Those are the things we are doing and hearing all the time, they’re the things that make dialogue feel alive and characters feel truthful when they speak. They’re the things to bear in mind when you’re writing dialogue of your own.

Exercise Two

The idea behind this exercise is to understand the difference between two people speaking to each other in real life and two people speaking in a dramatic scene. In real life, two people talking can be funny or truthful or to the point or beautifully observed, but it can often feel as if nothing is actually happening. Two people talk, but everything stays the same. Dialogue between characters on stage is quite different to this. It’s most interesting if it’s active, if it feels like there’s something at stake or something might change, if one of the characters wants something, and the other character can help them get it or get in their way. It’s useful to have a go at writing this.

So, to begin with, we’ll revisit the lucky dip objects from last week. Pick one of these:

  • 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

and give it to Character A. Imagine it is the thing that Character B needs more than anything at this moment. Have a go at writing the dialogue between the two characters as Character B tries to get the thing from Character A. Think about the sort of strategies which Character B might use to try and get it. Write an exchange where they have three separate gos. You can give them names if it makes things easier. Don’t overthink it though. Just have a go. Spend about ten minutes writing it. And, once you’re done, have a read of it.

It’s just a quick exercise, and the truth is it might not be a very realistic set-up (it’s not often a person will try three different ways of convincing someone to give them a safety pin). But hopefully, in its simple way, it shows you some of the differences between talking, which passes the time, and dialogue, which is always trying to make stuff happen. Hopefully you’ve started to feel the need for dialogue to be an active thing, to have the potential for changing the situation between characters on stage. Fingers crossed that’ll be helpful in this week’s last exercise.


Exercise Three

This exercise is about balance. The first thing to think about is to crafting a scene that feels alive and exciting for people to watch, with one character trying to get something from the other, while things keep getting in their way, like you did in Exercise Two. The second thing to think about is making sure the characters speak in authentic-sounding, believable dialogue, a bit like the detailed real-life transcripts you made in Exercise One. It’s worth spending a bit of time on balancing these two things. Once you crack it the writing properly sings.

Think of two characters you’re interested in writing. Think about something one character might want from the other. It might be as simple as a Kitkat, like the lucky dip objects, but it might also be something that can’t be held in their hand – forgiveness, for example, or to be listened to, or to be left alone, or a kiss. Think about the things stopping them or getting in their way. They might be obstacles caused by the other character or the outside world, but they can also come from within – it’s a very human and recognisable thing for a character to be their own worst enemy, because of stubbornness or shyness, hotheadedness or self-doubt.

Now you have a sense of the workings of the scene and who the characters are, spend a bit of time thinking about the way the characters speak to one another. Do they find it easy? Are they a bit hesitant, or do they overshare? Are they scared to ask for the thing, worrying about potential conflict? Are they a bit demanding, quick to argue, not very good at keeping calm? Do they avoid talking about the things they really want to talk about? Do they miss out words, or get them wrong, or lose momentum so their sentences trail off? Do they speak before thinking, lash out a bit, interrupt each other? What else do they do alongside talking? Picture the situation in your head.

Now, have a go at writing the scene. It doesn’t have to be long. Show one character trying to get the thing they want from the other. Try to make the dialogue sound truthful and authentic. By the end of the scene, even if it is a tiny thing, something should have changed. Compare it to the transcript you wrote of a real-life conversation. You will start to get a sense in your own writing of what it is that makes a scene dramatic.

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