Writing for theatre is very difficult. Trying to put living people in a very limited space, surrounded by a certain number of objects, requires a lot of quetions to ask and to answer to. Where is the scene set? What is on stage? What can you see? These are only some o the many.
As with fiction, writing a play requires a great, clear sense of space and place. Often, writing about the places you know better gives something special to your writing. Don’t force yourself not to write about your hometown – you have a great sense of place of the cities where you lived or grew up, the ones that mean something to you and will always be in your heart. These places are charged with your feelings for them and your knowledge of them.
But bringing these places on stage is another thing. Theatre makes you take the worlds in your head into a small space. A single space that you can build. The theatrical reality is completely different from filming a scene or describing a place in a novel. What is theatre? An audience watching a show? And what is on stage? To help us answering these questions, Professor Musgrave made us reflect on the place we had written about.
What could happen in that place? Which event could completely change the charge of that place?
A girl is with her group of friends. Then she suddenly disappears and she is sexually assaulted.
How that event could change the place?
Not only that place is connected to good memories for the girls. That event could make them realise that they need to start being more careful instead of just having fun and dance. A sort of “grow up!” warning… and eventually, epiphany.
List five details of the moments before the event occurs.
- There is a group of guys commenting the girls’ bodies
- Surf music
- Smoke of cigarette in the air
- People laughing, dogs loose
- Clash of bottles, scent of beer
Who are the characters involved in the event?
Antonio, the guy who hits on her and then tries to rape her. And Isabella, the girl.
List five details about one of them.
- Antonio wears a black and white striped t-shirt
- He is more or les 35 years old
- He smokes a good deal
- He is very confident
- He drinks whiskey
Where does the event occur? Give some details about the structure, the lights, the furniture. What can we see? What can we hear?
We are a bit far from the bar. We can still hear the music and see some lights from the left wing of the stage, and they indicate the presence of Surfer Joe. On the right wing there are two bushes. Very big. Isabella and Antonio walk on the grass before reaching the bushes.
Who is there?
Antonio is dragging Isabella. No one’s there except from them. The noise of the music and people from afar and the sound of the sea can be heard.
Write down a scene description.
Summer night. A tall man with a cigarette in his mouth is dragging a young woman towards some big bushes, which are not far from the bar. In the other hand, he has a whiskey glass. She stumbles on the grass. He does not look back at her when she does, which is often. Voices of people and the clash of bottles can be heard together with some surf music. He walks faster than her. When he’s quite close to the bushes, he throws his cigarette on the ground and then he does the same with his whiskey glass.
In theatre, characters can’t just tell you what they’re thinking or how they feel. You need them to show how they feel and what they think – for example, if a guy shifts on a chair, he’s probably expressing anxiety, he’s worrying about something. All we know in theatre is what we can see. So when you write a scene direction you should always use the present, as what’s happening is “live”. Everything is happening now, it has a cause and an effect. Theatre only exists in the moment.
Writing a scene is complicated. After this workshop, Professor Musgrave gave us to write a scene at the place we have analysed. He suggested some playwriting softwares, telling us that theatre is more free than telly/movie scripts on the format. TV and film need a very precise format, but a play can be up to you as a writer or to the publishing house. Final Cut is one of the best anyway.