Four weeks in October, four new script drafts

in Sweden, pic by Nikki Kennedy

Here are four new things and a bit of thinking.

I’ve been in Sweden for the last six weeks, mostly hanging in Linköping while Bec is in residence at Linköping University. This is one of those rare periods where I don’t have any pressing project admin, and was able to turn my attention to some actual writing.

In the final accounting, after subtracting a fortnight of work in Stockholm, I had four weeks, and the first thing I did was to strip my wishlist down to four main projects. That’s still a lot – too many for real deep focus or ticking off big achievements, but that’s where I’m at – I need to develop some new works up to the next phase.

In professional terms, I need some new work ready to take to potential partners and venues. I’d thought I was there already earlier this year – I’d done some R&D and writing for each of them, but not enough – I needed to really inhabit them, and go deeper. How can you get someone excited about an idea if you don’t have the material to really bring them into it?

(At the same time, I’m not disobeying the Glyn Roberts Stop Writing Plays rule: I may have drafted versions of these works or written detailed treatments, but these projects are still open for a director or creative partner to come onboard and shape with me from the ground up.)

So four projects, one week per project. If you get granular about it (which I did), that’s five days per project (life gets in the way). If you’re a bit of a mess, focus-wise (which I am), you can only really rely on a few good hours writing each day. Maybe three, with some extra hours around it for reading, note-taking, editing. Six hours a day if you’re lucky. So maybe 30 hours per project?

What I did:

Kill Climate Deniers
Rewrites. Griffin is producing this in March, but the script I submitted for the award was last heavily edited in late 2015. A fair bit has happened in politics since then. I was strongly tempted to leave all the political references as they are and stage it as a period piece (can Griffin afford to dress all the actors in 2015-era costumes?), but instead I dove back in, and in particular, refashioned the meta-thread that weaves through the script.

Editing is one of my weakest muscles as a playwright. Or, I should say, editing outside of a rehearsal room. I come from a devised theatre background where so much of the script development comes from seeing the actors and directors moving on the floor. It’s an incredible resource when you’re fixing and reworking a script, and I always feel a bit helpless without it. So this was tough, but good.


Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands?
At the other end of the spectrum: a new script for Sipat Lawin. This is a very different creation – the job here is to make a scaffolding to take to Sipat for a devising process. I wanted to produce scene descriptions, character profiles, a plot, and a series of setpieces to play with on the floor. The challenge here is the balance between creating something rich enough for the team to inhabit, and leaving space for them to effectively manifest the work as they see fit.

This is especially important when the work is about the Philippines, where I am definitively not an expert. It’s a pulp action saga about a kidnapped Filipino popstar, loaded with Pinoy pop songs – but which songs? and how does it play out? – all has to come from Sipat. So this was a case of careful restraint, holding myself back from shading in too many details or making limiting decisions.

End Science Now
I was really excited about this one, I wanted to write it up as a full draft, but I restrained myself: instead I hacked out the plot in detail, wrote a scene by scene treatment that marked out almost all the key dialogue and activity I imagine.

This is a much bigger picture story for me, a spy thriller in which a young military graduate goes undercover as a sociologist in order to BRING DOWN SCIENCE ITSELF. Building a narrative with so many moving parts, that provides a rough window into earth system science while also being a satisfying potboiler, is a new challenge. The most frustrating thing was laying all the groundwork to be ready to start drafting, and then holding off. But I need backing to mark this happen; a smart director, a good dramaturg, a context to write for. So we pause, for now.

44 Sex Acts In One Week
I’ll be going into a short development with Anthea Williams for this at Battersea Arts Centre next week. That show – created in response to pics by Sarah Walker – originally emerged from my attempt at writing a rom-com. I realised that in order to make the work with Sarah and Anthea in good conscience, I need to have done due diligence by the original idea and go back to that rom-com, write the best version of it that I can.

So I went back to that draft, pulled it apart, zeroed in on the characters, reordered the plot, and then rewrote the script more or less from scratch. A good rewrite, completed for no-one but myself. And now I have a romantic comedy. It’s weirdly straight – as in, it’s heteronormative af and it plays within the rules of the genre. So I now have a script that feels normal. Which feels weird. But that’s satisfying, in its way.

So now I’m back in London for a month. Right back into the thick of things with Coney, which is exhilerating and satisfying. And four new word documents on my hard drive.