Dramatic Form: How do we build a play?

If you were hoping to join us for our latest Like the Clappers meeting on dramatic form, you’re too late. The curtain is down, we’ve finished that act, we’re in the bar afterwards discussing the acting and how comfortable the seating was. But just in case you couldn’t join us here’s a bit about what we did.

On Monday last week we came together in a pub in Clapham to discuss how we put stories together. What is their shape, structure and form? Are there any commonalities between good stories and if so, what are they? What is the secret ingredient to great storytelling?

I’m happy to say we’ve solved it and got the perfect formula for the perfect play, story, film whatever. Well sort of, we all kind of agreed on certain things we all find ourselves tending towards. We all knew about the elusive quality we were all talking about, but thankfully some of the magic remained frustratingly close – but just out of reach. So what did we mean?

We began by discussing STRUCTURE and FORM their similarities, their differences and when they overlap. We compared it to design and architecture – there was an analogy based around buildings and scaffolding and we decided that form was the overall shape of things whereas structure could be seen as the building blocks. Now, we are not saying that this is the definitive definition of these things, just that in this discussion this was the way we found it useful to define and understand these. And it was the endeavour not the definition that was most useful here I feel.

We touched on dramatic time, how chronology and order of events affects things. We discussed our own approaches to writing, dramaturgy and directing, whether we had formulas or approaches to writing scenes or stories based on these ideas. One piece of advice was to begin with a joke, advice that I think should always be taken on board.

We looked at the seven story types. Although more specifically we looked at the size of the book that I have on the seven story types which is more like a breeze block than a book and decided we had got all we wanted from the front cover (I will one day read this book I’m sure of it). We also talked about the three act structure. Now this is where we all really seemed to agree. And despite our best efforts and our desires against it, it seems to be the thing that keeps drawing us back.

The three act structure explained

The three act structure explained

It should be said we weren’t all slaves to it, and by no means go out looking for it. But often find that the more we refine and redraft our work the more it seems to resemble this shape. Some members have been experimenting with being more formal in their approach to writing and have been really enjoying it. Setting out with free writing and afterwards structuring and shaping it into a conventional story shape.

We also discussed plays and stories that play with this, change it and pull it around. Plays that make us think they’re going to use this and then send us in different directions. Plays that we think are not going to be the Three Act Structure and end up being. We also discussed the idea of the prologue and how, actually, sometimes we really like knowing exactly what’s going to happen and just want to see how it’ll all pan out.

We also began a discussion on what freedom a director has in the process and how much they’re allowed to interoperate and move things. However before long this became a discussion about stage directions and my right to ignore them. A discussion that is ongoing and I feel will continue for some time…

Finally we had a reading from Joseph Skelton’s radio play The Druid’s Horse, we didn’t quite get the full effect of this due to what seemed like the world table tennis finals going on not far away. But what we heard we liked and it is currently being recorded and will be available online soon. When it’s uploaded we’ll send the link.

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the evening and what I think we should all be aiming for when telling stories. Finding that elusive moment that one of our members had when getting to the climatic moment in a brilliant play. She didn’t know whether to ‘cry, laugh or be sick’. If we can twist our audiences into that predicament I think we’re well on the way!



The Forgotten Medium

I know that it’s 2015, I know the Internet is everywhere and it’s all about Twitter and Facebook and blogs(!) and all that. But I’ve just got to say it. I bloody love the radio!

I listening to the wireless all the time, much more than I watch TV and miles more than going the cinema. And the king of all radio, in my eyes, is BBC Radio 4. Now I’m aware that by saying that it puts me in an audience demographic that my bank account and accent cannot back up – but please do give it a try! Granted there’s some dross, but steer away from The Archers and you’ll have a great time.

A highlight of my day, every day,  is listening to Front Row. It’s half an hour of theatre, art, books, music and all things cultural and it’s bloody fantastic. It could maybe be a bit wider reaching in terms of its coverage, but it includes work from across the whole country and does include some fringe theatres. I learn about things that I would have no idea about otherwise and am consistently inspired to make my own work because of quotes from the show. One of my favorouite recently was something a critic (and filmmaker) had been told once, that ‘you were very idealistic ever expecting films to change people’s opinion, all they did was reconfirm their prejudices’, I mean discuss…

They have daily, and Saturday drama’s which are radio plays often adapted from stage, or from literary works. The authors range from Agatha Christie to Iris Murdoch and the theatre is wide ranging, I recently listened to Tamasha’s My Name is… Which I missed when it was last performed.

The comedy is also well worth a listen. Many people had their first big break on Radio 4 including The Mighty Boosh and Chris Morris. And many people are still continuing their very successful careers on it. There is generally a more equal gender balence than on TV panel shows and the satire and synacisim of Jeremy Hardy is worth your license fee alone.
Now I should say I really listen live, I pick and choose what to watch and usually listen via iplayer or podcasts. But this is the future after all. I urge you all to give it a go. If you listen online and don’t like something it’s the easiest thing in the world to turn it off and find something new.

I get so much joy, entertainment and cultural provacation from listening to the radio I want to share it. So next time you’ve got some time, or you’re making dinner or whatever, leave the tele off, open the radio iplayer app and give Front Row a try.


The Dreaded D Word

So far we have had two monthly meetings. They’ve been really well attended and we’ve had some very interesting discussion about writing. How to write, what might help us o write and what might stop us (We will be publishing some helpful tips on here soon). But it has felt somewhat like we were ignoring the elephant in the room. This particular tusked paceyaderm came in the shape of dramaturgy.

We can (and have) looked up formal definitions of the word but these are more often than not unhelpful. Because It’s not that we don’t know what dramaturgy is. It’s just that we’re not convinced that the dramaturgy I am talking about is necessarily the dramaturgy you are talking about.

We’ve decided to bite the bullet and tackle this problem head on.  As such we’ve decided to dedicate our next meeting to discuss what it is, all the different forms it might take. How it can be useful and why we believe it is such an important part of the writing process.

Thanks, thanks everyone…

Now I don’t normally go in for this sort of thing. But being a proud employee of the Young Vic building I wanted to see the appreciation they rightly deserve, and I ended up watching the whole of ITV coverage of the Olivier awards ceremony.

There was a lot of people thanking themselves for being great and having the best friends. But there were a few standout moments for me.
One massive highlight was David Lan’s (artistic director of the Young Vic) acceptance speech (for A View From The Bridge – best revival), he said

‘I travel quite a lot and wherever I go, I meet people who say to me “Oh you’re David Lan, I hear you run the best theatre in London.” And I say, London is one of the great capital cities of the world. I’m perfectly happy to say I run the best theatre in Waterloo.’

And looking at the number of awards the Young Vic won, it would be hard to argue against it! Not to mention all the excellent work they do that is maybe not as obvious on the surface.

But a couple of other people actually made acceptance speeches that I thought meant something more the usual self congratulation and said something useful.

Sticking with the Young Vic theme, I really liked the sentiment of Mark Strong’s acceptance speech for best actor for his part in A View From the Bridge. As well as all the usual thanks he said that what amazed him about this show was:

‘The young people that came to see it who all wanted to talk about what they were seeing […] all wanted to discuss what the characters were doing on stage, why they were doing it, whether they they agreed with them, how they felt about what they were doing, who they trusted. And that made me realise that thousands of years have gone by and we still have this thing called live theatre; and the reason is that we need to be able to compare ourselves to what we’re seeing up there, judge ourselves as human beings, decide what’s right, what’s wrong, who we are, why we’re here. That’s the point of theatre.’

Also Ray Davies of The Kinks receiving an award for his outstanding achievement in music award shared this bit of advice

‘I think when you write songs you write about people. I know we’ve got fancy dramatists and amazing people here. But without people we have no plays, we have no films. And people are the source of my material. So the next time you’re sitting in a park somewhere and you see someone like me, looking at you, don’t phone the police.’

So keep staring, keep challenging audiences, and keep comparing yourselves to them up there.

The whole of the awards ceremony is available on ITV Player just click here to watch it, if you can put up with all the adverts, and see the relevant minutes below:

David Lan – 7:09
Mark Strong – 22:40
Ray Davies 1:23:15

Ding ding, round 1

I know we’ve been very quiet on here. But trust me we’ve been very busy behind the scenes. As you will have seen from our Twitter (@ClappersTheatre) but just in case you’ve not been seeing the goings on I’ll bring you up to speed.

Firstly, the collective has been swelling. We’ve now got writers, directors, dramaturgs, actors, producers, comedians and some who are a combination of these. Forefront of our aims is to incorporate ideas from all and get a clearer sense of why you need Like the Clappers.

But by way of an introduction the engine room is mainly me, Michael Beigel and Lee Anderson. You’ll get to know us better as we go on, but enough about us, what have we been doing?

We had a meet and greet last week and had a great turnout with really interesting discussions. We outlined some of the difficulties we face, how we can help with that and began drafting ideas for a manifesto.

In this last week I know there have been at least two occasions where Clapperers (that’s the official title) have been to new writing events with others. And myself and Lee have had a ‘thrash it out meeting’ where we got to grips with exactly how this is all gonna work.

Now, obviously we have only got a first draft, and those of you who know my views on drafting know that means there’s still a long way to go. But just to share some of what we’re thinking Like the Clappers will provide:

  • Monthly meetings with a practical focus on new writing and dramaturgy practices
  • A network of theatre proffesionals to develop working relationships with
  • A place to share information, opportunities and skills within the collective
  • Social trips to all things theatre (and maybe beyond)

And much, much more that I’m incapable of explaining properly right now.

So please do keep an eye on our Twitter. Let us know if you want to come to our next meeting (we’ll be announcing the date and content very soon). And generally keep us in the loop.

We’ll try and keep a shorter time between blogs next time!

So here we are!

This is my first blog for Like the Clappers – our new theatre collective. What is it? What do we want to do? Why even bother? I’ll endeavour to explain!
I’ve decided that I want to work more with new writing, using my skills as a director and a dramaturg. The drafting and development stage of scriptwriting can often feel like a luxury rather than a crucial stage of the process – and we want to help with that.
We want to work with writers, directors, actors, designers and audiences to take stories from page to stage – with a focus on all the many steps between them. Writing can be a very solitary act so our aim is to give writers the opportunity to hear, discuss and develop their work before it’s forced in front of an audience. Getting input from other creatives we want to help to develop scripts all the way from a spark of an idea through their many drafts and incantations until it’s a fully bound, warm from the printer final draft – for now.
We want writers who are willing to graft, actors brimming with ideas, directors, dramaturgs, designers and producers keen to stir it all up and us all to come out with a story to tell.
If you want in then get in touch, I want to hear from you. Whatever your experience and whatever you want your level of involvement to be. I want to know what you want from us and I want to find a way for us to do that for you.
Expect difficult conversations about whether jokes are funny enough.
Expect to hear opinions and advice from many different sources, and be ready to give it.
Expect to hear a lot more from us.
And expect us to go Like The Clappers.

Follow us here: @clapperstheatre
Message me, get in touch.