Playmaker Mandy Constance talks about the most recent session and the importance of stage directions...
The living room of a cottage. Oxfordshire. Winter sunlight seeps through a window upstage left, it strikes a small table downstage centre. On the table, surrounded by tinsel and discarded wrapping paper sits a tin of Christmas chocolates. A woman (of indeterminate age) approaches the tin with purpose. She looks at the chocolates for one last time, picks up the lid of the tin and closes it firmly.
The third session of Playhouse Playmaker and I was eager to cast off the Christmas Quality Street and get back to playmaking! I was also dying to find out what everyone else had been up to with their plays. Being a naturally nosy person, the updating of the Playmaker Dropbox is like another Christmas present, as I’m always excited to discover what has happened to the characters my fellow playmakers have introduced me to. I’m beginning to know and care about them all now; it’s like having my own personal DVD box sets.
This week we were looking at stage directions and how they not only serve the director and actors with information about the setting and characters, but also give an indication of the writers’ voice. It was eye opening and entirely fascinating. We read extracts from An Inspector Calls, The Price, A Raisin In the Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire and Footfalls. We were hearing - it seemed for the first time- the writer’s tone and attitude coming through the stage directions before any of the characters had even spoken.
It was also interesting to discuss how Samuel Beckett was fiercely protective over his stage directions, never wanting them to be altered a jot. I have to admit that I’m in the Beckett camp on this one. If I have spent time conjuring up scenes for my characters to inhabit, I care about how they’re presented. If a writer is specific about what is in the scene and it is part of their vision and the rhythm of their play, why shouldn’t we take them seriously? We take the dialogue ‘as read’, why not the stage directions?
We then spent some time thinking about how to use stage directions to tell our own stories in interesting and evocative ways. This really helped me focus on what I would want to see on stage in the play that I am writing, but more than that - it reminded me how precious time and space is and how we should choose not just our characters’ words, but our own (writers’) words with special care.
We read through the next instalment of the plays after lunch and had a chance to give feedback to each other. This is always nerve-racking, but also such a thrill to have your words read out, knowing that the people reading them for you genuinely care about helping you to develop what you’ve written.
Following the week’s session, we met at The Bush Theatre the following Thursday to watch Pink Mist by Owen Sheers (Directed by John Retallack and George Mann). This was a truly inspiring lyrical play, beautifully written, expertly performed and meticulously directed. It wasted not a drop. The stage was bare save two props, but it filled the space completely with sound, light and movement. The fusion of these elements was impressive and completely engaging. It was a story about war with hard hitting imagery and a profound sadness, but I found myself smiling a lot at just how beautiful it all was.
‘Ah, so that’s how it’s’ done!’ I thought, ‘I’d better get back to that drawing board!’
A study in a cottage. Oxfordshire. Present day. A woman (of indeterminate age) sits at a small cluttered desk down stage left, typing onto a laptop. The room is full of inspirational junk and useless ornaments. Books tumble out of bookshelves as if half–read or ready to leap into service. She types furiously for 20 seconds and then stops. She looks up, and around the room as if searching for an idea that is playing hide and seek with her mind. Her face registers a thought, and her eyes narrow as she tries to capture it. Absent-mindedly she lets her hand wander to the left of the desk and to an open tin of Christmas chocolates.