Why write a play? How do you write a play? And once written, how do you get it noticed, produced and presented on stage? All good questions – no easy answers. Here are some ideas I have gleaned from friends and famous playwrights alike.
Henrik Ibsen wrote, "Writing has… been to me like a bath from which I have risen feeling cleaner, healthier and freer."
OK, motivation and inspiration. And inspiration can come from anywhere.
Once upon a time, a friend and I were discussing the derth of parts in plays for mature women. Like us. Our community theatre clubs that we both belonged to (Surrey Little Theatre and Fraser Valley Gilbert Sullivan Society) offered few and far between parts for us – well, me, actually. My friend, Norma Rushton, was granted great gifts.
Anyway, our discussion included costuming. Somehow â€“ and without the aid of a glass of wine â€“ we thought that there ought to be a play about women and they should wear corsets. It took a few years, but Norma has gotten the play written! It is a wonderful journey of four women who get together annually for a one-week getaway to a cabin on an island. I am excited to see it produced and that, too, with the help of community theatre, may come true. It has been submitted to Mission Theatre to its one-act play writing festival. If it is chosen, it will be produced in the late spring. The name of the play is I Give You Each Other.
I mean, it is one thing to write a play, but eventually you do want that play to be seen on stage. Usually, a new play will be workshopped, perhaps with the aid of a dramaturg. Stephen Sondheim says, "The last collaborator is your audience…. When the audience comes in, it changes the temperature of what you’ve written. Things that seem to work well ("work" in a sense of, to effectively carry the story forward and be integral to the piece) suddenly become a little less relevant or a little less functional or a little overlong or a little overweight or a little whatever. And so you start reshaping from an audience."
Listen to Stephen. You need to write something the audience will like, understand, or whatever. Hey, if Sondheim can say whatever, then so can I. So, now that you have an idea of how to get started, here are some playwriting competitions you might want to consider – just in case the idea of writing a play has ever come up in your conversations with friends. You’d be surprised how often that can happen.
UBC Players’ Club, soon to be celebrating 100 years of existence, is accepting submissions for original short play proposals (10 to 40 minutes) in honour of the club’s centennial. Successful applicants will receive dramaturgical support and script workshops culminating in a full theatrical production in early 2016, as part of the club’s centennial celebration. For application details, visit ubcplayersclub. com/call-for-play-proposals-for-ubcpccentennial.
Theatre BC also has an annual playwriting competiton. This is has been the parent organization for community theatre across the province since 1932. It annually hosts Destination Mainstage, a competition for community theatre companies each July.
The 2015 Destination Mainstage Theatre Festival will be held in Kamloops, and is the largest provincial theatre festival of its kind in Canada. That is really impressive, and it is not professional. This is the grassroots, the amateurs, the volunteers. Locally, community theatre absolutely thrives with scores of clubs putting on excellent productions.
Theatre BC’s competition is open to original scripts of drama and comedy, either full-length or one-act. Deadline for entry is Dec. 31. Independent jurors will decide upon winners in each category, with a prize of $1,000 awarded for the chosen fulllength, $750 for the one-act and $500 for a script of special merit. Competition details are posted at Theatrebc.org/playwritingcompetition.
It takes courage to be a writer. You have to let your heart and soul seep into the words.
Tennessee Williams said, "I can’t expose a human weakness on the stage unless I know it through having it myself."
And that’s why we, the audience, will love a play: we can see truths about ourselves in an entertainment package. Hooray for the play.