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Artist Development

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.

RTYDS - Annabel and Anna

Starting a directing placement in a pandemic

By | Artist Development

By Annabel Streeton

Hello, I’m Annabel Streeton and I’m about to start a three-month Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme (RTYDS) placement with Middle Child and Hull Truck Theatre. Right in the middle of a global pandemic. 

I am a University of Hull Drama and Theatre Practice graduate. During my time there I was given the opportunity to direct a few plays and absolutely fell in love with directing, through playing around with a script and creating new meanings or getting stuck into making a scene work. After graduating I decided to settle in Hull after briefly returning home to Essex, as I missed the city which is now my home. I fell in love with Hull and the art scene here, especially after living through 2017 and its first year as UK City of Culture. 

After coming back to Hull I met with Daniel Swift, who told me about his new theatre company, Concrete Youth, and his plans to develop shows for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. At the time I had never really heard of multi-sensory theatre, but loved the idea of forging a company which would be completely accessible to people who couldn’t usually go to the theatre. I am now associate director for Concrete Youth, where I will direct future shows, but I also plan to become a freelance director. 

For this placement I was originally meant to assist in rehearsals for Middle Child’s new show, which would have begun this week, and on the tour of The Canary and the Crow, as well as assist on the Grow Festival at Hull Truck Theatre in May. Sadly the pandemic has scuppered those plans, however RTYDS, Middle Child artistic director, Paul Smith, and Hull Truck Theatre associate director, Tom Saunders, have been able to put together an alternative programme, which I didn’t think would be possible.

I will still be able learn what I was hoping to, through a programme of workshops, discussions and activities: how to prepare for rehearsals as a director; the day-to-day runnings of a theatre company; learning rehearsal techniques that will enable a director to get the best out of actors; how to remount a show for a tour; how to direct shows with big community casts; and adapt well-known plays for stage, as well as new writing. It will just be through Zoom instead, including making use of the National Student Drama Festival’s impressive line-up of online workshops this week. I will also get to direct some of the Out Loud scratch night submissions, which will be broadcast on local radio, and work on my own project.

RTYDS - Annabel and Anna

Annabel (r) on the Introduction to Directing programme. Photo by Edmund Denning.

This will actually be my second experience of RTYDS and Middle Child, after taking part in their Introduction to Directing programme in early 2018. During that course, I was able to direct part of a script written by Jamie Potter, during his time with the Middle Child’s Writers’ Group with Tom Wells, about DJing, warehouse parties and mental health. I was lucky to be paired with Jamie as we share an interest in rave culture and gig theatre, and how these forms could tell a story in an interesting way, that might appeal to audiences who rarely experience theatre. 

We’ve already spent the past few months preparing a funding application to workshop his script further and my new RTYDS schedule has been shaped somewhat around this, so that I can apply new skills I pick up over the next few weeks to this script and our plans.

In the future I hope to become a freelance director that creates work to reach people who don’t go to the theatre on a regular basis and to tell stories through different media that are relevant to today. Where I am now is still very much at the beginning stage of learning about how to direct and what makes a good director. After this I hope that I will learn the skills and gain insight into being a successful director that produces good quality work. 

I am so grateful that I can still do this placement despite recent events. I’m eager to start and learn everything I can about directing, from the rehearsal room to the day-to-day runnings of a theatre company, and I can’t thank RTYDS, Middle Child and Hull Truck Theatre enough for still making this possible.

Rehearsal Room

Zoom Q&As with the Middle Child team and artists

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 are pleased to announce a small series of open floor Q&As throughout April.

The following sessions will take place on Zoom, featuring 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.

To use 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.

Running a Theatre Company

Thu 9 April, 2.30-3.30pm

So, how do you run a theatre company? From starting as a group of graduates to managing an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation, with the Middle Child core team:

Paul Smith – Artistic director
Rozzy Knox – Executive director (maternity cover)
Jamie Potter – Audience development manager
Emily Anderton – General and production manager

Meeting ID: 150 821 313
Password: 097217

Update: please note the meeting IDs and passwords below have all changed as of Tuesday 14 April.

Being an Actor

Wed 15 April, 2.30-3.30pm

How do you prepare for rehearsals? Should you have an agent? What’s the best route for training? Any questions asked, to a cast of actors with varied experience and backgrounds.

Meeting ID: 824-3530-9585
Password: 751846

Page to Stage

Thu 16 April, 2.30-3.30pm

How do you bring a script to life? This AMA is a chance to ask about any part of the creative process, from dramaturgy to choreography and directing to design and stage management, with:

Paul Smith – Director
Maureen Lennon – Writer and associate director
Bethany Wells – Designer
Danni Harris – Deputy stage manager
Tor Copeland – Stage manager
Ryan Harston – Choreographer and movement director

Meeting ID: 873-2303-6572
Password: 621393

Sound and Music

Thu 30 Apr, 2.30-3.30pm

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

Meeting ID: 834-6837-3973
Password: 400972

Introduction to Theatre Marketing

Fri 17 April, 2-4pm

A quickstart guide to promoting your work, from defining your target audience and developing your brand, to creating content and approaching the press, with audience development manager, Jamie Potter.

This session is aimed at Hull-based companies and individuals who find themselves tasked with reaching an audience, but who don’t have a background in marketing or PR.

Book via Eventbrite.

Coming soon…

We will also be running a separate online workshop on theatre photography, date to be confirmed. Follow us on Twitter or sign up to our artist development mailing list to stay up-to-date.

North Star Project

Get help applying for emergency funding with the North Star project

By | Artist Development
North Star Project

We are pleased to announce that Middle Child are taking part in a new initiative, started by New Diorama Theatre, to support artists applying for emergency funding to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

The North Star Project brings together a collection of 30 nationwide theatres and companies, that will offer a suite of advice, guidance and support to ensure artists have the insight to apply for all the financial support they’re entitled to in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, ensuring they shape their ask in a way that makes the most impact.

Artists can sign up now to a specialist mailing list, which will keep subscribers informed of more information about the project as it is pulled together.

The list of participating organisations:

Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle
Arts at the Old Fire Station, Oxford
Barbican Theatre, Plymouth
Birmingham Hippodrome
Brighton Dome and Festival
Bristol Old Vic
Camden People’s Theatre, London
Diverse City, Dorset
Everyman & Playhouse, Liverpool
Exeter Northcott
Farnham Maltings
In Good Company Network, Midlands
Jerwood Arts
Middle Child, Hull
National Theatre
New Diorama Theatre, London
Nottingham Playhouse
Pleasance, London
Polka Theatre, London
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford
Scene & Heard, London
Shubbak Festival, London
SlungLow, Leeds
Tangled Feet, South East
The Lowry, Salford
The Place, Bedford
The Spring, Havant
Theatre Royal Plymouth
Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

Stick Figure

Playwriting with Tom Wells #2: Character and Monologue

By | Artist Development, Playwriting with Tom Wells

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.

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