Year One, Term Three

In term three, we started work on our Major Projects and explored Voice and Vision with our Master Ola Animashawun, had craft Masterclasses with our Master David Edgar, who created the UK’s first MA in Playwriting, and undertook a Lab project with the Bush Theatre and had our Taxi Tales show as part of London Writers Week.

Here are some final videos from our first year!

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And here are some short films which were made by MA Directing students and which introduced our summer project with the Bush Theatre (MA Dramatic Writing students Elizabeth Goeller, Max Sellers, Gretha Viana and Catherine Milne were also chosen to be showcased but didn’t have videos):

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Now onto our second year!

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Term Two – Lab Project Four (by Titilola Ige)

“I’ve always considered women to be people.”

There are a lot of young girls who attend drama workshops, go up for parts in school plays and who want to be actresses. These are the young girls who – if they do get acting roles – are dissatisfied by the type of roles they are given. Tonic Theatre and the National Youth Theatre came together and spoke with theatre leaders and drama teachers. What continually came up was the frustration of there not being enough roles for girls. Good, strong, action-packed, meaty roles. Not just the role of a girlfriend, little sister, friend or mean girl.

Lucy Kerble, the director of Tonic Theatre held sessions with a few of us MA Dramatic Writing and Foundation in Performance students. With her, we discussed possible reasons for why there seems to be few great acting roles for girls. We looked at a script written for girls and pulled it apart to see whether it was relevant, relatable and held longevity.

Tonic Theatre commissioned three playwrights to write plays that are written specifically for youth theatre groups and focused on large groups with a lot of female parts. This got me thinking about the theatre group that I run for young people. Any time we have run workshops, read plays and performed them – they have either been what myself has written for them, or plays where we have to adapt the male parts to fit them. Lucy’s workshop highlighted the important work that still needs to be done. As emerging writers we can write more parts for girls. We are able to give a platform to so many different types of groups of people that are being underrepresented. We can all do our part; do something to level the playing field.

American novelist George R.R. Martin was asked in an interview about writing strong female roles:

Interviewer: I noticed you write really well and really different. Where does that come from?

George R.R. Martin: You know… I’ve always considered women to be people.

Enough said.

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Term Two – Radio (by Alexis Han Holdren)

Our course leader Jennifer Tuckett began the Radio module of Unit One by having the class listen to and examine a variety of radio drama case studies. The examples ranged from narratives that resembled audio books with sound effects, to extended monologues supplemented with musical scores and soundscapes laden with thematic and synaesthetic meaning, to conceptual pieces that played with dramatic conventions (in one, children voiced elderly characters in a clever utilization of age subversion).

As someone who grew up in the U.S. (where the only accessible radio dramas are BBC imports on NPR), this was the perfect introduction to radio. Because my exposure to radio drama had been limited to nonexistent, it was really rewarding to engage with a new dramatic medium that I had previously dismissed as irrelevant simply because of ignorance, and see, or ‘hear’ rather, how creative and dramatically rewarding radio drama could be.

We then moved on to how to structure and write strong radio scripts. Key points esoteric to writing for radio included cultivating distinct character voices, folding visual details into action/narration/characterization, and the lucid delineation of scenes, imagery, and expositional information through both precise format and the careful incorporation of background noise, sound effects, and aural atmosphere. The main rule seemed to be: clarity is paramount, as much can be lost in the processing of a story, when one only has one sense (sound) to hold on to/digest the narrative.

Along with reading and listening to excerpts of successful radio scripts, we also watched videos that exhibited the process of recording a radio drama. This gave us a fascinating insight into both the production and business factions within the medium, while also providing more practical knowledge on how to formulate an effective and achievable script for radio.

Personally, I had never really considered writing for radio, but realized over the course of the module that my style might be well suited for the form. The medium is prime for writers who enjoy dialogue, which is probably my favourite aspect of dramatic writing, and those who enjoy experimenting with and exploring more streamlined and concentrated modes of drama.

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Term Two – Lab Project Three (by Margaret Perry)

Our collaboration with ENO was an exciting opportunity to peek into the world of writing for opera.

This consisted of two sessions, one with composer-librettist partnership Tansy Davis and Nick Drake and Natasha Freedman, the Head of ENO Bayliss, and a second session with a small company of singers and musicians.

In the first session, we heard about how Tansy and Nick collaborated to create Between Worlds, a modern opera about the events of 9/11. It was great to see the long piece of paper on which they drew the progression of the music and story from start to finish in an early brainstorming session – an idea that I plan to steal to apply to my own work! What they came up with was very evocative of the opera they created, the final product, and also of the creative process that got them there. It was interesting as well to note that collaboration from day one between composer and librettist is very rare – usually the librettist comes second to the composer and is brought on board later in the process, with the concept originating often almost solely from the composer. It would be much more exciting to work on an opera the way Tansy and Nick did. We also heard about the Jerwood Opera Writing Programme at Aldeburgh Music, which is a residency programme designed to bring inexperienced writers, musicians and composers together to create operas, moving away from the more traditional model of opera-making towards a more exciting collaborative process to create modern opera. At the end of this session, we were asked to submit a two-page libretto to ENO.

In the second session, four of these librettos were chosen – (mine, Rachel’s, Victoria’s and Cat’s) and the assembled singers and musicians along with Tansy and Nick improvised some musical scores for them! This was an amazing experience for me as it allowed me to see that the libretto I wrote for my opera was beginning to suggest the kind of music I had imagined for it in my head. It was great to see it on its feet. Our collaboration with ENO has really opened my eyes to the creative possibilities of opera. As a form of dramatic writing that is heightened, intense and very close to poetry, in my opinion, it really appeals to me as a genre. I hope to finish my opera, which is an adaptation of a book by Clarice Lispector called The Hour of The Star, at some point in the future.

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Term Two – Lab Project Two (by Aurelia Rosegger)

Unit One – Lab Two consisted of a project we did with Fin Kennedy called Taxi Tales. The part of the project we focused on was to create monologues for taxi drivers to perform to their passengers while driving them around. The idea was to have taxi drivers perform these to audience members being driven to the final performance of Taxi Tales which was to be written by playwright Ishy Din.

Throughout the second half of Unit One we met every week with Fin and a guest of his who was involved in the project. Apart from being very insightful and useful sessions with each of these masters, it was very interesting to meet people involved in the different aspects of the project.

We met Ishy first and discussed what was to be expected from us, how we would be exploring the theme of the British Pakistani community, particularly in Middlesbrough, and even some information about how Ishy moved from being a taxi driver to becoming a playwright. Ishy was great to work with because he gave us invaluable insight into what life is like for a taxi driver and the unique take he had on being part of two worlds. Ishy continued to work with us for the rest of the project.

We also met Boz Temple Morris (Holy Mountain) who offered to record the monologues we had written and that these would be read out by the taxi drivers and Evie Manning (Commonwealth) who was to help direct the project. With them we explored the idea of emotion, and where it is carried in the physical body as well as the physical aspects we needed to take into consideration when writing the pieces.

Finally, we also met the taxi drivers with whom we had a fun Q and A in order to help us with capturing their individual voices. This was a great session because apart from meeting three very helpful taxi drivers all of whom had very distinctive voices and outlooks on the world, we had the chance to discover what we were each most interested in, and explore our individual take on the topic.

The whole process, of course, involved a lot of work and research, all of which Fin did a very good job in taking us through. After all our first drafts were recorded, six of the second drafts were chosen to be part of the final show and which would be exhibited during London Writers Week at CSM.

It is safe to say that the whole project, apart from being a success, was very helpful in making us all look at voice and the development of a monologue (one of the most difficult forms of dramatic writing, in my opinion). Fin did an amazing job in making the lab both relatable and challenging for each of us, and I can only hope that future labs will be as instrumental as this one has been.

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Term Two – Philip Shelley, Writing for Television (by Gretha Viana)

From February to March MA Dramatic Writing had the pleasure to work alongside Philip Shelley who tasked us with developing ideas for a long-running drama series. Due to Philip’s  experience, having worked with several successful writers and producers, this suggested to me that our time with him was going to be precious.

It was the beginning of four exciting weeks in which he challenged us to find original angles to our stories. Each of us had to come up with a TV series idea and develop an outline which was discussed between all of us in class each week. This process allowed us to improve our outline session-by-session and improve the story’s structure, while also deepening the character’s journey.

Every week, our homework was to watch a different TV show. Philip’s intention in giving us this pleasant homework (probably the best we had so far) was to make us develop a critical eye when watching TV drama series. During this time we began to identify what makes a great story telling.  This exercise allowed us to discuss the premises of a strong narrative (with clear set ups and hooks) and analyse how to build a clear dramatic arch when writing a long-running story.

Another strong point of our time with Philip was that we were introduced to the business side of dramatic series world. The discussion did not remain in the traditional television channels, as we also looked at several projects developed for online network such as Amazon and Netflix. Philip made each of us research and create a list of independent production companies where we could potentially work with in the future. Then he asked us to choose one and explain why we would want to work with them. This challenge was a great opportunity for us, as emerging writers, to think ahead about pitching our own work and to make us aware of what’s new in drama series market.

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Term Two – Digital Media, BBC (by Alex Young)

‘Long time viewer, first time visitor’. As an enthusiastic watcher of all things Beeb, I was pleased, if a little surprised, to discover they had asked us over for a visit. After several opportunities for us as a group to become volunteer background actors in several scenes for the BBC project ‘The Last Hours of Laura K’, we were actually invited to the BBC itself to workshop what the team had so far, preview the website and give feedback for the production team. As would be expected, we all gathered at the doors long before the expected time, each of us rather excited to see what the day had in store for us. As a student writer interested in writing for television, I could not help feeling slightly intimidated by the lobby where we sat down, a large and impressive sign behind the welcome desk was there to remind me where I was whenever I became flustered. A brief cameo appearance from David Walliams walking through certainly added something to our short wait.

After we were bequeathed our official BBC guest passes, we were ushered through into the bubble of creativity that is the BBC conference room. We all filed in eagerly and we were greeted with smiles and a comfy seat, our eyes roaming the room to take in everything, the sofas, the ominously long conference table that was thankfully ignored during our time there, and the curtained off area with comfy chairs and benches that we gratefully claimed all around the room. After an enthusiastic welcoming, and a walk through what to expect, we were given the website information and log in codes to unveil the website in all its glory. The actual experience is hard for me to describe without some small amount of indulgence on behalf of the reader, as we caught glimpses of friends and colleagues from the course scattered through the background in several scenes, I felt a part of the project in a way I did not expect when we first heard of the Laura K project. As we browsed through locations and faces we knew, we were able to reminisce our days of filming with the crew, but also learn our way around the site which was an impressive database of information that actually suspends disbelief.

The way the project was shot, and the sheer amount of forethought that went into each day of filming (that itself was planned to the second), had guaranteed a well-produced and stream lined finished piece, even without the finishing touches. After an hour of free roaming and watching through the hour of film available, we were asked to give feedback which they listened to attentively and the atmosphere throughout was relaxed and collaborative. The day was over before I knew it, time flies when you’re having fun.

I hope we’re invited back.

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Term Two – BBC, Digital Media (by Dan Waldron)

 Hello gentle readers — welcome.

 Let me tell you about a great opportunity that we had this term. It involved:

– The BBC Writersroom (http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom),

– A newish venue for displaying digital content called The Space (http://www.thespace.org)

– And our MA course, the blog for which you find yourself on at this very moment.

 In connection with these organizations we were allowed the opportunity to be extras in a film/webseries/program/game/digital art piece that they were filming called “The Last Hours of Laura K” (www.thelasthoursoflaurak.com)

 The BBC Writersroom has been working over the last few years on creating a new dramatic/storytelling/gaming experience and what they came up with is “The Last Hours of Laura K”. In this murder mystery/detective story/drama, the main character, named Laura K (as you might have guessed) has been murdered. Following the murder a computer program is used to reconstruct the last 24 hours of Laura K’s life – using CCTV footage, camera phones, emails, video on Instagram, ex cetera — basically everything that your fingerprint touches online is pulled and reconstructed into a timeline of your daily life (but in this case Laura’s death). You, noble reader/viewer, can then watch this 24 hour long document — employing your online sleuthing skills and can be the one that cracks the case wide open and finds the murderer. ***Spoilers: It was me*** It actually wasn’t me, or was it? Log on and find out. Maybe it was? Maybe it wasn’t. I am not saying.

Our part in this project was to be extras in two scenes: a scene in at art gallery at Central Saint Martins and a scene at an underground club in Dalston. In this process we got to observe how a film set works – we saw the director directing, the producer producing, the actor acting, and the DOP… DOPing. This allowed us a fascinating insight into a world that some of us had yet to experience. We were able to learn how the roles interacted, who was in charge of what, and in the process we got to meet working professionals in their fields.

Additional info:

Art Gallery scene –

1 – You can find us between the hours 18:33-18:47.

2 – Non-alcoholic pear cider doesn’t taste great.

Dalston Club scene –

1 – You can find us between the hours of 00:58-02:12

2 – Nothing is as humbling as seeing yourself dancing and drinking beers on film where the character you are playing is just… you. 

This is Dan Waldron.

Signing off.

Thank you for your time.

I swear that I am probably not the killer – but you will never know – unless you watch.

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Term Two – Nina Steiger, Digital Media (by Jorge Hernandez Jimenez)

The lessons with Nina Steiger started, as much of our ruminations have for the last eight months, with the following question: Why do we tell stories? From the first ten minutes of the session we get the most clear-cut answers from what’s already evident: stories are a nascent ability which exists to help the individual to cope, exist and make sense of the world. Stories, we discuss with Nina, are products of highly intuitive thinking. If a story is not good enough, we drop out and —immediately— our attention goes elsewhere. The reason is because the brain releases oxytocin; a hypothalamus-controlled hormone is released when we are in the middle of a really good story. That is, there are neurochemical associations with extremely good narrations, sensations that are analogous to the warm feelings of a mother towards her child; the instant in which two lovers stare into each other’s eye and/or an acutely sweet and fierce orgasm. All of these are moments and/or instances of the most innate human activities commonly associated with oxytocin. So, chemically (demonstrated by the Harvard Business Review, as we learn with Nina) our social-creatures-brains love good stories. In fact, it’s not only extremely good narrations that our brains love receiving; ‘character-driven stories do consistently cause oxytocin synthesis’, according to Paul J. Zak of the HVB.

As writers of dramatic texts, we discuss as a group with Nina, we deal with stories that need to engage with an audience. That is, we have to get attention, sustain it, and —through empathy and myth— get the audience to engage. These are all key concepts that are considered. The only thing a writer needs is to conjure an imagined world; however, the imagined world will only work properly and will only be meaningful if it means something for someone else apart from the writer. To engage or not to engage is the key question. How do we get attention from humans that, very much like us, live now in a digital world and in a variety of digital spaces? How do we sustain the attention of all of these people that, again, like us, is not used to keep still and that wants more out of their attention? In a digital era, attention (and who holds it) is the true Holy Grail.

So, we ponder, it is a relation of writer/audience but also a relation of writer/story, story/audience and —I dare saying— story1/story2, being story1 what the writer understands of her own story and story2 what the audience get out of the story.

One of the biggest lessons we have learned in the digital era is that with the distribution of technology, the possibilities of making stories are also dispersed. The authorial figure is being distributed; that is, individuals do not hold the authorship; as it is, digital age brings us to a place of shared authority.

Authorship is not anymore held. Authorship is passed on and distributed. The verticality of the previous models of authorship is reconsidered and remodelled —and again, it’s not being remodelled by an individual, but by a community— when the digital inhabitants, us, reject our names and embrace our identities not as individuals but as groups capable of collective action and intelligence. As participants of “the internet” we are users of the authorship, we are not mere readers because every action alters the story. That is, as we exist as audiences in the digital spaces, our business is not anymore with individuality but with a thinking more akin to that of bees in hives.

How do we get the attention of an individual? We get it when we create a story. How do we sustain the attention of a group? By making the group participate within the story. What happens when a group participates with the creation of a story? We, then, are collaborating in the creation of a collective narrative. We are no longer authors looking at an audience from a position of privilege; we all become collaborators on the same level.

Nina shares with us examples of various forms of stories in different mediums. These mediums can be online forums, galleries, theatres, streets and phones. The stories that are told in these different and previously unseen forms can be measured with (for the sake of our analysis) in three variables: amount of technology involved, how much theatricality is involved and to what extent authorship is being distributed.

First case to consider is the company GREYWORLD. GREYWORLD is a group of artists that create art in public, often urban, spaces. Although the case study provides with various types of interactions, we see that most of their work deals with low amounts of technology and —for the most part— we see that the levels of playability (authorship) are quite low. What these guys are doing is pretty much enhance the interaction with the city by making the individual focus into certain details of the urban landscape.

The Stranglers is another example. The narrative here involves a love story and divides it into a vast amount of pieces. By distributing these pieces of the narration and making the user of the narrative you are making you audience literally “walk with you” as your story evolves. You read while you walk but, also, you “follow” people that have been there before. It is a physical version of a twitter narrative: you follow somebody to read his or her story. Although the text has multiple pathways, the theatricality and the authorship are quite fixated and are as well already defined from the moment you start walking. Participation exists but authorship is not being disputed and/or shared.

As writers, however, two primordial questions come up front in the debate of what should we be writing: a) What would be the best experience you could be a part of? ; b) What would you hate doing?

Nina proposes a list of ten digital-storytelling related parameters; these, however, could be considered as well as aesthetic lines for further guidance when creating something, anything, in a world where technology, digital interaction and mechanical reproduction are pervading every single narrative.

  • We know audience and we know audience knows digital. How can we use this to make a work more accessible to people?
  • What is digital and how does it fit with the live/analogue? In order to understand (explore/plunge into) you have to understand your own story as the digital audience will understand it.
  • There is a place for your skills in the market place. Story imaginers/tellers. There is a world out there that needs stories as much as they need technology.
  • Do not waste time on jargon. Urge us NOT to waste time. All we need to know is how the overhauled story is distributed in different platforms. Say what the story IS.
  • Zeitgeist. What is important today and what is important for you? Combine it.
  • Know how to explore things in terms of gradation and scale. Consider Public Vs. Private; Polemic Vs. Soap Opera; things that we control Vs. things out of control.
  • Why would we want to make it/produce it? There must be benefits:
  • Interactivity (which means the work should consider from its inception being multidimensional)
  • There are multiple points of access to the story (What makes the story/artifact more accessible?)
  • Aggregate audiences of different sectors into one community
  • Meaningful non-linearity
  • Meaningful linearity
  • Meaningful distribution of stakeholders and partners
  • Potential to generate enough buzz.
  • Meaningful audience authorship
  • What kind of stories fit into what platforms?
  1. a) Know when a story imposes itself into your life.
  2. b) What kind of stories work with the mechanics of what specific platform?
  • What is the best piece of theatre/narration/film you’ve ever seen?

What made it so incredible in terms of the platform it was using?

  • Am I engaging with the future of storytelling?

The only possible way to do this is by knowing and being certain of my unique point of view, my great gift, my Unique Selling Point. Hence, the main question for this point is: What is my unique gift?

This question may be daunting; however, you should not let that question daunt you. This question is both your guide and your lantern.

Finish by knowing that, whatever you create, must be overflowing with infinite kindness, it should be doing what is right, it should be saying what needs to be said. As a writer (artist [creator]) the only important thing is that you must be willing to be vulnerable, be honest and pragmatic

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Animation – Catherine Milne

As someone with a background in TV drama, I had assumed that animation would not be for me. How wrong I was! The sessions were really illuminating and blew apart any misconceptions I held.

Animation is a form that has more in common with impressionism and poetry than film and telly, it is such fertile ground for writers as it is where you can be truly imaginative without the constraints of making live action drama. Animation allows you to create drama without the actors, camera positions, even the laws of gravity. It was invigorating and challenging to be encouraged to think outside of the box and consider all sorts of subject matter. The more unexpected and unusual the better.

Many of the same storytelling rules apply in animation – the best films we watched in class often follow the ‘set-up, pay off and twist’ elements we have identified in most successful short films. But the strongest animations also seemed to have a clear character that wants something and is in some form of difficulty at getting their needs met, we called this ‘Want, Conflict, and Event’. They seemed to be mostly exceptional visual stories with very little dialogue, sometimes none at all, and the richest ones were incredibly cinematic and aesthetically stunning.

During class we discussed the industry side of things as well as the creative, and looked at the different companies that make animation, like Aardman, Pixar and Dreamworks. We discussed pathways into the industry, such as competitions, commissions, fellowships and festivals. We finished the module by writing our own 3-minute animations to be sent to the MA animation students at Central Saint Martins. I tried to animate a rather dark and personal story, which could benefit from the impressionistic style of animation that would be tricky to do justice in any other form. I’m really hoping to collaborate with someone on my idea. I feel quite passionately now that animation is a really exciting medium for any writer to consider creating new work without barriers and I wouldn’t have given it a second thought before doing the course.

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