How does a playwright write a play right? (or ‘My first play!’)

I’d never written a play before and I had no idea if I could. I certainly didn’t know if I could write a play where you can’t specify anyone’s gender. Nonetheless, a couple of weeks ago we went to see the “Christmas Celebration Box” by Cast Iron Theatre which featured my first attempt to usurp The Bard as the greatest poet that ever lived. Or at least write something that wasn’t  complete trash. The idea was that local writers wrote short plays on the theme of Christmas that were “unwrapped” on the night and performed without having previously seen. Thus it had to be non-gender specific as you didn’t know which actor would be reading which part. I immediately made it more difficult for myself by having one of them be Her Royal Highness, The Queen.

I had to do quite a bit of research (I’m using the term “research” to make “googling the phrase ‘play template’” sound more fancy) and eventually found a few different styles of setting out a play from American and English colleges. I settled on one that made sense to me and had a layout style that meant it should have been about a minute per page. The plays had to be about 8 minutes, for two actors and with a Christmas theme. I brainstormed a lot of Christmas ideas and settled on the idea of a man (or woman) on his (or her) own at Christmas and talking back to the TV which was showing the Queen’s Christmas Message (or King’s Christmas Message. Actually, no, I decided it had to be the Queen. If it was a male actor, he’d have to just play it for laughs.) This idea was melded with the idea of the Christmas office party and references to Christmas movies to create the final piece. After lots of rewrites to get the plot and character working, it ended up being a rather complex two-hander play of just under eight pages (or, as the maths fans among you will have worked out, eight minutes).

My mood on the day of the performance was the same as my mood on the day of The Box performance: I was convinced that I’d written a load of rubbish. I hadn’t looked at the script since I sent it off. But I dimly remembered the complexity. I’d added an explanation for the actors at the start to say that one of them would be playing many parts (who were really one part) and the other would end up breaking the fourth wall and interacting with the audience at the end.

On the night of the show, Kerry and I toddled down to the Dukebox Theatre and got our tickets. Oh well. I’d just have to hide in the dark at the back.

I got a free ticket as one of the writers. ‘Sweet venues’? Sweet discount, more like!

There were four actors in the cast, two men and two women, who were put in pairings before a script was drawn at random. Of course, this meant I had no idea when mine was coming up. I just sat back and enjoyed the other plays. The scripts were really good, but what impressed me even more were the actors and their ability to breathe life into them on first reading.

Eventually mine came up. I knew it was mine because Andy Allen, who was the director and also one of the actors in the next piece,  had to explain to the other actor how it all worked and that she would be playing many parts (who were really one part). I giggled a bit and shrunk down in my seat.

However, it all seemed to go very well. As with the other plays, they really managed to breathe life into it and the audience seemed to follow it even if the actors were a bit overwhelmed.  When the ‘reveal’ came at the end, Andy spotted me at the back and said “I think that’s supposed to be his work colleague, isn’t it?” and the audience, thinking he was asking all of us, responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

“Oh, well I’m glad someone’s following it,” said Andy, getting laughs.

I was full of pride at this point. The audience response felt like a great validation that what i had written was… good?  I was very pleased that the work I’d put in to make everything flow and make sense had paid off. Though I did notice a few errant “his”s had crept in to what was nearly a non-gender-specific script and it ran to ten or eleven minutes rather than eight.

I feel I’m probably under-selling it, though. It was bloody brilliant, mate! Kerry heaped praise on me and after the show we all trooped off to the bar and drank far too much.

Well, why not? It’s Christmas!

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