‘The Writer is Dead: Long Live the Theatre-Maker’

 As new theatre writing continues to diversify, embracing spoken word, inter-disciplinary work, collaboration, immersive or site-specific theatre or solo writer-performers, should the playwright with the script in their hand wait in the wings, or move with the times. (David Lane)

Provocation written for South West New Writers Network meeting 21/10/11 Cheltenham.

I am a writer.

I am a writer and a spoken word performer I’ve made interdisciplinary work and collaborated and made immersive and site-specific work and performed as a solo writer-performer.

But the point is – I am a writer.
Most of us here are writers
We are writers
We are playwrights
We like to write plays
We like to read plays
Or do we prefer to watch plays?

We are playwrights, and we like to write plays and we like to watch plays.

We want to write plays….but we don’t want to write and write and write
and never see our work on a stage….

Because what we are writing is just the blueprint, the notation.
Finishing writing a play doesn’t mean the play has finished being made.

So we want to write, and we want to watch our plays in the theatre.
We like to go to the theatre
We write for the theatre – playwriting is theatre writing…
We are theatre writers
Are we theatre makers?

Do we make theatre or do we write theatre?
Is it possible to write theatre?
Perhaps it depends what we mean by writing.
What are the ways in which theatre is written…?

Can we write in our heads?
Of course we can, we all write in our heads.
Yesterday I wrote a poem in my head.
The writing happened inside, then I wrote it down,
but I have a niggling doubt…

I think the poem I wrote in my head was better than the poem I wrote down.

Before I wrote it down, in the process of writing it in my head I was also editing it in my head…embodying it in my imagination – if we can give the imagination a body…
I became a 10 yr old boy writing a letter.

But when I picked up my notebook, he disappeared, and I, the writer,
was left trying to remember him.

That’s the gap between the quickness of the imagination
and the lethargy of words on the page.
A bit like the gap between the precision of words on the page
and the interpretation of performers on a stage.
And then there’s the audience.

I’m interested in those gaps.

In those gaps, there’s room for collaboration and a different process of writing.

Writers can leave gaps open intentionally…to leave room for the theatre making…

Anyway…What is writing?

Writing is thinking, composing, developing, structuring, exploring, experimenting, playing…. with ideas, language, sound, forms, shapes, colours, images, maybe characters, maybe narratives.

We can do this in the moment of writing.
The word ‘writing’ describes a process.
We can write in our imaginations.
Can we write out loud?

Can we write in a studio, on our own, or with others?

This is still writing, still playwriting, or theatre writing, but the process is different.

It will be written down, maybe straight away, maybe later, it doesn’t really matter.

The process of composition, of writing…
happens not inside one head, not directly in conversation
with a page, but out loud, shared.

Do we want to write this way?

Maybe it invites the writer to think differently
about words, in the theatre,
and the processes of writing them.

Because words are not only to be spoken….and writing is not only about words.

A writer can write for a stage designer, for light, for dancers, for composers..

Do others want us to write this way – or will we….get in the way….?

Are we afraid that by writing with others, out loud, in an open space…
we could lose the right – the intellectual property rights…to what we write?

So we want to write, and we want to watch our plays in the theatre,
and we might want to do something in the space in between…
the space between our written words and a performance.

Is there room for a writer in that space in between?

There might be a room for a writer there.

There might be room for a writer in non ‘text based theatre’.

Do writers have a problem with non ‘text based theatre?’

Do we have a problem with our words not taking centre stage?

I don’t think we do, not if we are aware of this from the beginning.

We might enjoy writing theatre that is open to being something different….
something more than what we can imagine on our own.

I suggest that we don’t wait in the wings.
(If I had waited, I’d still be waiting.)

If we’re not getting commissioned…or not getting commissioned enough…

We might learn more from making our writing happen, from writing theatre, making theatre, in the middle of a process, perhaps not centre stage, but as a collaborator with distinct skills, we might learn more about writing from that, than we can learn at home by writing and writing and writing…

There’s a moment in my show, Opposition where I lead call and response with the audience.

I take a refrain from one of Tony Blair’s speeches: We are at our best when at our boldest. And teach it to the audience, and we chant: best, boldest, best. boldest.

Yesterday over breakfast, my partner asked: When are you at your best?
I replied ‘when I am boldest!’
He said, no really, I’m asking the question…When are you at your best?

I thought about it…answered: I am at my best when I am in a studio, making theatre.

He told me he thought I was going to say: When I am writing.

And I think that might be the point – I don’t make a distinction between the two.

4 thoughts on “‘The Writer is Dead: Long Live the Theatre-Maker’

  1. An actor can only speak, move and think while on stage. As a playwright I am mostly concerned with what a character is thinking, the sub-text. This dictates what a character would, or most importantly, would not say. This would also dictate an actor’s movement. A good director would allow the actor to develop his/her own sub-text and help refine movement. I have a couple of examples of text on my blog. I enjoyed your post.
    Don Corben-Smith

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