Photo by  Stuart Chalmers
Photo by Stuart Chalmers

Playwriting: Making Words Come to Life

Last semester, I had the opportunity to take a playwriting course that was taught by Larry Loebell. In that class, Larry encouraged us to take risks with our writing and to not be afraid of the drafting process. A major part of the class was hearing our scripts read aloud and then making adjustments and revisions as needed.

As a theatre major, I hope that one day I’ll work in the theatre world outside of school. For many, this chance doesn’t come along until post-graduation. This February though, I had the chance to have one of my plays produced at a community theater.

Aftershock Entertainment is a community theater that was formed to foster new works in the South Jersey area. The company typically performs musicals and only in the summer. This year, however, they announced that they would be producing an evening of songs and scenes for Valentine’s Day.

Taking what I learned in class, I decided to write a short play and email it to the producer. It wasn’t long before I had received an email saying that my play was going to be produced. From there, I began to apply what I learned about the revision process and made changes to the script. Not being in New Jersey at the time that the play was being rehearsed made it difficult for me to understand what needed to change. Luckily, the director and I were in constant communication about what was working in the rehearsals and what was not. This allowed me the opportunity to revise and tailor the piece to the demands of the production.

One of the challenges of the production was the short rehearsal process. Most shows rehearse for about a month or so before the performance; this production was only given about two weeks of rehearsal time. The tight timeline meant that any and all revisions that I needed to make had to be done quickly so the actors could memorize the changes.

In the end, I’m glad that I was able to put my work out there. The process was quite a learning experience for me. If it wasn’t for what I learned in my playwriting class, I don’t think I would have had the courage to present my work to the public.

10 Tips for Young Playwrights

  1. Start anywhere. Don’t be afraid of just starting with the first thing that comes to your mind. You can shape it and fix it later.
  2. Follow your instincts. Impulses are good. They are what drive our creativity. Follow them wherever they lead you.
  3. Take the time to discover the world of your characters. While plot points may be what you start with, it’s important to understand where these characters live.
  4. Find people to read the script aloud. Unlike writing a short story or essay, these words are brought to life by actors. They only way to know what works and what does not work is to hear it read aloud. This will give you a sense of how the scene flows and what word choices may be slowing down the scene in places where you intended it to pick up.
  5. Don’t be afraid of editing and revising. While you may feel very attached to a line, you may need to cut it if it doesn’t move things forward.
  6. Read the newspaper. You’ll find many interesting ideas for characters in the obituaries. It’s a great way to formulate ideas.
  7. Write a list of what you want to accomplish in your life. These are very real human desires. It could be helpful to return to these when creating characters. Remember, these characters are real people. They don’t live on the page.
  8. Remember that writing is a process. Things take time. If you try to force yourself to write, you may find yourself hitting walls. This is okay. It’s normal. Allow things to come naturally.
  9. Write every day. Even if you are not writing whole scenes every day, it’s helpful to write a little bit every day. It’ll keep your mind sharp and help you not run into road blocks later on.
  10. Trust yourself. You know what you’re doing. You know what you want to say. Don’t be afraid to say it. The more you restrain yourself, the harder it’ll be to write. Trust yourself and just start writing.

Photo by Stuart Chalmers