Ask the Expert
answers from Stefan Escreet on New Writing
Stefan is Associate Director at Theatre by the Lake in Keswick where he has directed many productions and developed new writing work. He has already directed at the New Vic in Stoke, Watford Palace Theatre and the Brewery in Kendal. Stefan has also worked as a BBC Radio Drama Producer in Manchester and continues to work as a freelance radio drama producer. Prior to this he was a professional actor, appearing in fifty productions in theatres across the country.
I want to write a stage play but I don’t know where to start. Can you give me any advice?
If I met you, face to face, my first question would be ‘What has made you want to write one?’. If you’ve been inspired by seeing someone else’s play, get the script (and other scripts by them) and read them – to see how they are put together on the page and how they have been interpreted in the production you saw (because it’s all about collaborating with other people!). If you’re burning to say something about the world, I’d ask you to find ways of making this affect the lives of characters you know well or can get to know well. And also to think about including characters with the opposite or very different attitudes or behaviours. I’d encourage you to stop worrying about where to start and just get writing – because you are going to re-write it anyway! To get you thinking about the practicalities of playwriting there will probably be a writers group near you to join and I can also recommend the services of North West Playwrights.
What do you think makes a script stand out from the others?
Aha! The million dollar question! Scripts that excite me make me do some work – they aren’t telling me everything. They have characters I care about (even if they drive me up the wall e.g. Coleman and Valene in ‘The Lonesome West’). They make me think about something in a way that hadn’t occurred to me before.
What is the best way to approach Theatre by the Lake with a new, unperformed and unpublished script?
We have no dedicated Literary Department or staff. We currently do not have the resources to deal with unsolicited scripts in a satisfactory way for the writers or the theatre. So we do not currently accept unsolicited scripts. We take recommendations from agents, from North West Playwrights and from work that we see – so if we’ve seen some of your writing in, say, the 24:7 Festival we can start a conversation that might include reading your new, unperformed and unpublished script.
I’m interested in the decisions a director makes when approaching a play and what influence a director has on the overall production. Can you tell me a bit about your experience of this?
I have worked on several plays where I have doubled as dramaturg and director. This has worked ok (you’d have to talk to the writers to find out just how ‘ok’). My impression is that a dramaturg can be a critical friend to the writer early in the process to help the writer realise what they are trying to create or say. Later the director will have (needs to have) an interpretation of that play that they will push through when making all the practical decisions about how to put the play on. There can be a tension between these two roles. Part of the excitement and thrill and risk for a writer must be in seeing how their work will be interpreted – how their baby is brought up. We all hope this will be a joy and source of pride.
Of course, baby might turn out bad. I blame the parents.
I’ve written a couple of plays and would like to write a radio play. Are there major differences between writing for the two media?
Yes – putting aside what they have in common (gripping story, engaging characters, fresh ideas), on radio you need to constantly make it clear for the listener who we are with, where we are. We are such visual creatures that a lot of that comes naturally on stage. You’re a new writer to radio and therefore you’re best chance of commission is for the Radio 4 Afternoon Play slot. Slot. Slot. That’s 44 minutes of play. For a particular audience (albeit an eclectic bunch). You need to get familiar with the format and use it rather than let it rule you. The Writersroom website shows you example radio scripts – read them to get a feel for the differences.