Okay, so this seems an obvious first step – but it’s crucial and is the only bit you have any real control over. Putting pen to paper is sometimes the hardest thing to do. How do you wrestle with all the ideas in your head and get them down into one comprehensible narrative? How do you structure it? What if … it is really bad?
Some would-be playwrights seek help in getting creative answers to these questions through creative writing courses where they are taught how to write for the theatre. Others are brave enough to get started on their own, without external support. Writers’ groups are brilliant if you need some guidance or encouragement to write your play.
I was accepted into the [Royal Court’s ‘Introduction to Playwriting’] group and each week, over a ten-week period, I met with a teacher and ten other aspiring playwrights. We read plays and talked about character, plot and structure. I learnt so much from them about how other people write; sometimes it confirmed that the way I was doing things was okay, but far more often it challenged me to try and approach things in different ways.
One of the greatest things that a writers’ group can give you is a deadline. If you’re not in a writers’ group, I’d recommend finding other external deadlines, whether they’re playwriting awards or theatre submissions windows. Whatever it is, find a deadline (with a realistic timeframe) so that there is somewhere you have to send a finished play to (no matter what state it’s in).
Which brings us neatly onto our next step …
Once you’ve written your play, it’s time to share it. Send it in for submissions windows, to literary departments, to ‘scratch nights’. Send it far and wide.
You learn so much about what needs to change in your play when you’re collaborating and when you hear it read by actors. The redrafting carried out on [my play] The High Table during the rehearsed reading process was an instrumental step towards it eventually being staged.
The important thing about sharing your work is it increases your chances of it getting staged. Someone might bite. Here’s what to do if they do.
After the Bush Theatre read The High Table, I went in to speak to them and they gave me some great notes, most of which I agreed with, and then they said they’d be really interested in reading the next draft. This was my shot so, I turned the next draft around in a matter of days. I wanted to show them that I could take notes and come back on things if necessary, but ultimately be easy to work with and reliable in submitting drafts.
They liked the next draft and organised an internal reading of the play. After that, there was a lot of waiting around, a lot of anxiety, doubt. But eventually they said they wanted to programme it. Elation, happy screams and tears of joy ensued … and the rest is history.
It feels like it had a lot to do with luck. But, looking back, I realise that you can certainly help to create your luck by: 1) writing a play that’s true to your artistic voice; 2) sharing it far and wide and getting feedback to develop it; and if a theatre shows interest in it, 3) doing your very best to prove that you can deliver.
Temi Wilkey is an actor and playwright. Her theatre credits include the National, RSC and Manchester Royal Exchange. She was a member of the Royal Court’s Young Writers’ Group in 2017. Her debut play, The High Table, was produced at the Bush Theatre, London, in Lynette Linton's debut season in early 2020. She is writing on Season 3 of Sex Education for Netflix.