Today I took a workshop on scripting dialogue with the Level 2 Theatre Arts students. In the past we haven't looking at this aspect of theatre making with a great deal of rigour and, instead, tend to present a model of devised theatre or physical storytelling. This year though, with the new validation, we've created more opportunities for our students to structure and write scripts for performance.
In part this is a response to some of the poorer practices of devised theatre which have in the past led to the creation of unworthily dull work, often compromised by a coalition of opinions in the planning stage and made ever more bland by the desire not to offend or upset anybody. The final work is often sentimental, cliched and lacking in bite.
It's also a response to a realisation that Dramatic structure isn't, necessarily part of the students DNA, regardless of how well read they are, how often they go to the theatre, how many Hollywood movies they've seen or how many computer games they've played.
I wonder if in the Stanislavski obsessed world of actor training, where the moment to moment psychological impulses of the character are the paramount focus of the actor's work, we've some ignored the idea that even the most naturalistic of plays works to a patterned plot, which draws the audience into it's world. Actors are taught much about identifying super objectives, but less about the architecture of the play as a whole.
So where do we begin? Do we start by stepping back to look at the structures of plays or do we take a magnifying glass and begin to examine the nuts and bolts. Pedagogically both approaches seem to have merit. I decided, however, to get some material down first so we began with some scripting.
The students seemed to enjoy the chance to create dialogue, putting contrasting agendas and ideas on stage in front of their peers. We focused on short scenes in the main - a minute or less.
One of the most interesting moments came after lunch in a short scene put together by Grace and Kelly. The pair played sisters. Grace's character has rushed home with excited news that her boyfriend, David, had just proposed. The problem is that a fortnight ago Kelly's character, having split up with her boyfriend, had, in a tired and emotional way, ended up sleeping with David.
In many ways the clash of agendas is an obvious one, played out many times over in TV soaps. Most of the students followed the traditional convention and created a scene that climaxed and ended at the moment of revelation. Kelly and Grace, however, tried something different and began the scene with the revelation, enabling us to hopelessly watch the fallout. It was a far more rewarding choice, particularly when Kelly began to defend David and attack her, apparently wronged sister.
Refusing to accept the convention, whilst working within a plot structure that an audience can follow is a crafty skill. It was good to see some brave exploration of what might be possible so early in our module.
Mark is the Academic Director of the Drama Programmes at St Mary's University in Twickenham. He has worked internationally as a theatre director and educator for the past 15 years, focused mostly on youth, community, and conflict resolution work.
As a lecturer Mark taught at Goldsmiths College, Coventry University and was Head of Performing Arts at Canterbury College prior to joining St Mary’s in 2006.
His Professional directing credits include Henry V (One of US?) and Valhalla for RSC Education; The Wind in the Willows, Jack Cade, The Red, Red Robin for Sevenoaks Playhouse; Tender Souls, The Quality of Mercy and Playhouse Creatures for the Ambassadors Theatre group.
Mark is a director of subVERSE Theatre company for whom has directed fringe premieres of Chief, Dinnertime and OxfamC**t at Theatre 503.
Site specific work includes Purka and Shadow on Icelandic volcanoes and Novocento with students from the University of Genoa.