by Erica Berman, author of No Wake (2017 WI Wrights New Play Festival)
Hello, new writers, wherever you are!
As a creative and expressive kid, I was always writing and had stacks of legal pads full of stories that poured out of my adolescent brain. The need to tell stories is a human one and I believe that for people of all ages, writing is good for the imagination, a means of self-expression, and a way to introduce new and/or urgent ideas and viewpoints.
I began my formal playwriting training as an undergrad and have most recently been the supervisor and producer of the Young Playwrights Program at CTM (where I am the Director of Education). For the last four years, I have had the great privilege of hiring and working with many talented writers who teach the craft of playwriting to high school students. I also have the joy of reading many first drafts of teen writers and, along with the Education team, offer insight and feedback.
As an educator who is also always learning, I want to share some advice that I picked up from people far wiser than me. I especially want to share this those who have always wanted to write but didn’t know where to start or writers who haven’t written in a long time. No Wake was the first full-length play I had written in over 9 years. This process has reminded me that it's never too late to take a risk, create new art, and reconnect with a part of yourself that you haven't visited in awhile!
1) READ (and see) many different types of theater
This is good advice for the human experience, but especially for playwrights! To experience and analyze the structure, character development, and dialogue of many different styles of plays can truly inform you about how to approach your own work and help you to refine what you like and what you don’t like in a script.
2) WRITE (before you have time to judge yourself)
I was fortunate to sit in on a workshop let by distinguished playwright A. Rey Pamatmat who (after asking what a group of high school students hated about bad theater) encouraged the group to purposely “write their worst” and bring every bad idea to light. Even though everyone did a fantastic job of writing some comically awful scenes, there was a nugget of potential or a fascinating moment in each one. As writers, we need to get every bad idea or “plot bunny” (google that!) out on paper so we can mine the good stuff.
3) HEAR your play out loud
Plays belong on their feet and not on the page. Hearing the play out loud will inform you in a way reading the piece in a vacuum can’t. You will hear when actors struggle with phrasing, when the pacing lags, or when everything seems to click. I have been to first read throughs for both an established playwright as well as for a first-time, teenaged writer and both have learned from this process in equal measure!
4) EDIT your work (that’s what it’s all about)
Completing a first draft is pure elation. Editing (at least for me) is the most frustrating, but the most necessary aspect of writing. Louis Brandeis said, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting” and this is true! After you hear the play out loud, the real work begins. Stick with it, even when you feel like you’ve lost your way or doubt yourself. The answers are in the characters and the structure you have created. Trust yourself, and…
5) FIND your “squad”
I am fortunate enough to have several playwright friends and mentors. These fantastic artists know what the process is like from soup (first draft) to nuts (submitting completed works to festivals). These relationships are mutually beneficial as you will receive productive, honest feedback and hopefully, you can return the favor when they are looking for that feedback as well!
Also, once you have a workable draft, work with artists who believe in your talents and are dedicated to bringing your vision to life. The incredible team at Forward Theater are dedicated to playwrights and if you are fortunate enough to work with artists like them, you are in very good shape.