THOUGHTS ON PLAYWRITING DURING COVID
Playwrighting is like diving into a very deep pool of water. Everything else is shut out. It takes layers of thinking as you’re writing not just from the point of view of the character in the play, but how it could be performed. You’re thinking of the story, the journey, the practical playing of it, scene changes, even suggested tech requirements (images, sound effects). A play script is not the communication to the audience, it is the communication to the actor and director - unlike a book, or article which is the direct medium between author and audience.
In a book the reader’s imagination creates images from the written word. In a play script, the audience only experiences the script when they see it performed live, and not before. And then they are experiencing the actors (and director’s) interpretation of the script. The word ‘beat’ can be a vital note. In that pause the actor can do so much to convey his inner thoughts, his circumstances etc without saying a word. It’s all in the playing.
So, back to the deep pool of water. Any intense script writing requires blocked time with guaranteed (as much as possible) no interruptions. One bright light coming out of Covid lockdown and the subsequent cancellations of my shows is the reduction in distractions.
A typical day prior to Covid – was me dipping my toe in the water then I’d hear - “Mum, I can’t find my grey shirt”. My toe comes out the water. I go find the shirt. On the way back I notice the washing machines needs emptying. I do that. The phone rings, I answer it. I go back to my laptop, dip my toe in the water again. Maybe I even jump in. But I’m in the shallows. The phone rings again and so on. That pattern has been the norm for me for so many years. But no more.
Now, it is different. I have so much time to dive as deeply as I want to go. Swim around in the murky water - write creatively. Of course the next step is hearing it out loud. I liken a play script to sheet music. The musician plays the notes on the page so the audience can hear it, but it initially goes through levels of work before it is performed to an audience.
The workshopping of a playscript can be intense but is always brilliant process to be part of. You ‘perform’ the lines, tweak them if necessary, ‘perform’ then again, go back read the whole scene – and so it goes on - checking the peaks, the reveals, the emotional shifts, the plot - make sense. One eye is on the minutiae of the word, the gesture and the other is on the bigger journey.
I have learnt through Covid that Zoom is my new best friend for script development. What a fantastic help this has proved to be. We share the document, I edit, everyone can see the edits as we go, the actors can see each other and we can immediately read the updates and tweak if necessary. Now we just have to wait for restrictions to lift to go to the next stage of play development - actually rehearsing the script together, live. Cannot wait.
Out of all this I have learnt that if I am to be serious about developing my practice of playwrighting – once restrictions are lifted, I must change HOW I write. Distractions mean loss of focus and it takes a lot of energy trying to get back to where I was - gathering up all my thoughts, images, places I was in. I usually end up somewhere else. I’d encourage anyone serious about writing to do same. Seems obvious but I’ve managed to delude myself for many years that I can write creatively and also deal with interruptions. I can’t. But that’s ok. I get it now.