Every playwright I know is excited by the idea of a workshop, and I’m no different. Getting a script off of the page and into actors’ mouths is crucial for a play’s development. I’m currently lucky enough to be anticipating a week-long workshop at the University of Tulsa as the 2017 winner of WomenWorks. As I look forward to this workshop, I’m considering how best to prepare.
Here’s are a few guidelines I’m asking myself to follow:
- Write down–for yourself–what the play is about. Thematically, emotionally. Write down where the play started. I’m currently taking a seminar with Gary Garrison, who encourages us to be conscious of our intentions in each play we write. In a workshop setting, writing my intention before I dive into furious changes helps me remember why this piece is important and where its heart is.
- Develop a list of goals for the script. I want to know what I don’t know. What are my questions? For every declarative sentence on my list of goals, there are two questions that follow. These goals aren’t prescriptive–they’re expansive. For my process, I like to focus on 3-6 goals, so that there’s plenty to play with, but so that I can also hold them all in my head without having to check my list.
- Be ready for some goals to change. Look, if there’s a magical moment happening when an actor brings up a question that opens up a whole series of backstory… or a new scene… or a fresh character dynamic… I’ll keep my mind open to where that could go. One of the things that’s so exciting about theatre is the opportunity to see one’s work grow through fresh eyes.
- Take notes and listen. Instead of trying to sort through what feedback is useful and what is less so in the moment, I’ll keep a record of all that comes up in the workshop. It’ll be easier to decide what’s inspiring the next morning, rather than making snap decisions about usefulness in the moment. (Fortunately, there will be student scribes, so I’ll have a full set of notes without having to look away from the action for a second.)
- Play. If there’s anything I’ve learned so far as a playwright, it’s that letting myself play–write crazy, odd, tangential things, create whole new scenes on a whim, let a character make a life-changing decision–is both fun and often incredibly relevant to my process. I’m not talking about overhauling the base draft every day, but about experimenting, giving crazy things a shot and a full life before deciding which version serves the play better. And if you ever get lost? Just take out that paper you wrote on a few days back, and come back to what the play is about.
Fellow playwrights, directors, dramaturgs–I’d love to hear your own thoughts on what you hold on to as you enter a workshop.