Thursday, 15 October 2015

There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block! at Theatre Ontario's Summer Theatre Intensive

By Joan Burrows

Fourth in a series of posts from participants at this year’s Summer Theatre Intensive

After taking two other playwriting courses with Maja Ardal, I knew that this one would be both creative and beneficial for me. As an instructor, Maja is both endearing and a great task master!

We began each day with physical warm-ups to stimulate blood flow not just to our bodies but especially to our brains. Then Maja introduced  silent writing exercises for ten or twenty or thirty minutes or longer. Sometimes the writing was done immediately in the classroom, sometimes we were free to leave the room and find quiet places on campus to write in solitude. All the writing was shared each day so that we could hear each other’s work and Maja’s always positive critique of what had been written.

Our writing exercises took various forms
—descriptive passages for sense awareness; character dialogue; interior and spoken monologues; topical stories as a source for playwriting; scene building. We wrote both in and out of class time. Sometimes Maja would interrupt our quiet writing with an imposition of something or someone which now had to be added to the scene. One of my favourite exercises was writing silently with a partner where we passed the computer screen back and forth and built an entire scene without saying a word to each other but by reading and responding only in our characters’ dialogue. All of these exercises allowed us to build a final scene which we were able to write, edit, print and hear others read aloud as a first draft. For many of the participants, this was the first time they had ever gone through this process. The writing was amazing!

Each day, Maja built a list of playwriting “isms” on the board for us to consider as we started or finished reading our writing assignments. It was fascinating to watch the board fill up over the course or the week. Here is what I’m taking from Maja Ardal as I continue on my playwriting journey—“Be Brave! Speak the unspeakable!” and also, “Your play is an agreement with the audience that trouble is happening right now and plot is the evolution (not imposition) of how people deal with the trouble in the play!”

It was a very creative and fun week. I personally came away with several ideas to develop into scene work and met fantastic writers!

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