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Playhouse Playmaker - on structure and progress

Playhouse Playmaker - on structure and progress
posted 11 Dec 2017

Mezze Eade (Participation Director) and Padraic Wlash (Playmaker participant) give us a quick update on how Playhouse Playmaker is going this year....

October brought fresh winds and fresh minds to our writers-on-attachment programme, Playhouse Playmaker.  Day one, which in the midst of panto seems such a long time ago, felt like the first day of a creative retreat you’ve been looking forward to for a very long time; plenty of nerves from imagining that everyone else will be the next Lucy Prebble or Martin McDonagh, but plenty of joy from discovering likeminded people who share your passion and who will challenge and support you in this creative endeavour.  Day two (a mysterious and misty November), also contained some foggy thinking; had the right themes been chosen? Will these characters embark on an interesting journey? And am I being too theatrical?  As we approach day three with greater anticipation than Christmas, you can see why I’m not a writer but gain much joy from supporting John Retallack and this year’s writers: Julian Armistead, Doug Crossley, Jodi Gray, Sorcha Kurian-Walsh, Nick O’Dwyer, Rowan Padmore and Padraic Walsh.
- Mezze Eade, Participation Director

A theatrical roundup…

It sounds like everyone had a busy month since our first session. We kicked things off with quick reviews of plays we’d seen over the past four weeks. Shows by Paines Plough, Simon Stephens (times two), David Ireland, JT Rogers, Elizabeth Kuti, Mike Bartlett, Jean-Pierre Baro, Rita Kalnejais, David Elridge, Stewart Pringle and more. That’s not counting the shows that some of us walked out of (cough) or got talked out of attending just before show time (cough). The End of Hope, David Ireland’s strange and short two-hander at the Soho, got the biggest reviews.  

Some thoughts on story structure…

We then spent the morning talking about the unkillable subject of structure in storytelling. John had put together a great blow-by-blow of the classic Robert McKee-style Three Acts. Along with some successful examples that don’t conform. A recent play at the Oxford Playhouse, Things I Know To Be True, fell into this second category. Whether that play is built by different principles or just badly built is the rub. Duncan McMillian’s excellent People, Place and Things was mapped precisely onto the classic three act. We then all weighted in on our own personal relationship with story structure – as an idea and as an applied skill. All of us – bad sign? – pushed against it. With some seeing it as nothing more than another secret handshake for the old boy’s network.  

Personally – since you asked – I think your tried-and-true three-act structure, no matter which guru is selling it, is a diagnostic tool, rather than a creative tool. You can review a script and see where the momentum or focus falters, but it’s very difficult to write with McKee’s “Story” at your elbow, like a concordance. Story instinct needs to be developed more than story theory needs to be understood, perhaps.  

A brief aside about lunch…

Lunch from the market was less greasy that last month’s lunch from the market, but still mainly made of grease. Julian and I found the best coffee place in Oxford afterwards though (Society Café Oxford, your search is over). These informal chinwags are as important as the formal discussions I think.

And a sense of collective progress…

After lunch, we spent 30 mins on each of our ideas. Everyone was in a different place. Some had notes and questions around themes and forms, some had rough outlines and some had written exploratory scenes – or even the first scene of their play. A lot of us had our resolve tested over the month. It sounds like I had been through a typical rollercoaster in working on my idea, abandoning my idea, working on a second idea and then going back to the first idea with a radical new take! In my 30 mins I chatted about both ideas and used the group as a sounding board to help decide which one to pursue. I got the impression everyone found his or her slot equally as helpful. Sometimes being forced to briefly, clearly explain your idea to a second person is as useful as anything they might say back. Teachers learn more than their students, as they say.

Let’s see if we all change our mind again next month!
- Padraic Walsh, Playhouse Playmaker

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