Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Writing for the theatre: The Traverse Fifty

A few months ago the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh launched a writing competition as part of its plans for celebrating 50 long years of producing bad-ass plays in that fair city. I have a long-standing love of theatre, and, coupled with one of my other long-held loves - writing - you probably wouldn't be too surprised to learn that I've got a dozen or so finished or nearly finished pieces of writing for the theatre kicking about in the darker regions of my filing cabinet.

I have always, always wanted to write something for the theatre (lots of somethings, really) and have come pretty close on a couple of occasions. But then, the timings never worked out or all the funding fell through at the last minute and so those scripts sit around while other projects take precedence.

When I saw the Traverse Fifty announcement, I thought it would be a great opportunity, should I wind up amongst the selected fifty, to not only produce a piece of writing for the theatre, but to learn as much as I could about theatrical writing over the course of the year-long attachment. The Traverse have concocted one of the most generous and genuinely exciting anniversary projects I've ever come across: 50 winning writers selected from among competition entries will all be attached to the theatre for the entire year, with a small number of writers from this larger pool given the opportunity to create full-length pieces for production the following year. In January, each of the 50 chosen writers will have their winning entries performed as read-throughs at the Traverse.  Brilliant, right? The other thing that I enjoyed about the submission process was that each play could be no more than 500 words. A play in 500 words? What fun! 

So I wrote a little something, tenuously related to the theme of "a play for Edinburgh", and sent it off to the wizards at the Traverse. I got an email last night (incidentally, while I working my first service in the kitchen of House of Wolf for Blanch & Shock) from the Traverse saying that, while I made it to the later stages of the selection and "demonstrated real craft and a compelling theatrical voice", I didn't make the cut.

Of course, I'm bummed to have missed out on such a wonderful opportunity and a chance to finally do some writing for the stage, but I was so busy during service last night that I literally didn't have the chance to feel even a twinge of disappointment. Also, the Traverse ran the competition so professionally that it's impossible to feel let down or cheesed off. For all people running competitions out there, a bit of courtesy, punctuality and kindness really does go a long way.

I don't usually put any kind of creative writing out in the public sphere because, well, I don't know why, really, but I thought I'd post my 500 word play about Edinburgh for the Traverse here because if I ever want to get a piece of writing for the theatre produced, I suppose it'll help if people know I want to do it...

Anyway, here's my 500 word play for Edinburgh. There are numbers at each line instead of character names as each of the 50 lines is intended to be read by a different actor.

London --> Edinburgh

1.    I don't have to get out of bed to see the sky in the morning. 
2.    Lying back, my head on the pillows, I can see London’s umbrella.
3.    It’s usually grey. But not today.
4.    Today, it’s just beautiful. So blue.
5.    An unreal blue; a blue only seen in cities.
6.    Or maybe, a blue like people who live in cities can only dream of.
7.    There're lots of things that people who live in cities can only dream of.  
8.    Last week, I went to a talk about cities at the London School of Economics.
9.    By 2050, the professor said, of 9 billion people on the planet,
10.  The majority will live in cities. I can't get my head around this.
11.  The thing no one ever tells you about cities
12.  Is that nothing much happens when you live in one.
13.  It only looks like things happen in cities, but
14.  Most days I wake up, look at the sky,
15.  Go to work, go to the shop, make dinner, go to bed.
16.  “Metro-boulot-dodo”, as the French say.
17.  Some days I'll watch a cooking programme on TV,
18.  Or catch an art exhibition in town.
19.  When you’ve lived in a city like London for a while,
20.  You become part of this weird hive mind.
21.  Things start to drive you crazy that never did before.
22.  Like, tourists walking too slowly on the tube.
23.  I kick the back of their shoes to get them moving.
24.  Why does it make me so angry?
25.  On the flip side, when people are screaming at each other
26.  Outside my windows - shouting like they're gonna kill each other
27.  I don't do anything other than press my face to the glass
28.  And look and listen and shake my head and go back to the TV.
29.  Because that's what cities are like. The people who do nice things,
30.  They're not locals. They don't understand the code of anonymity that brings us here.
31.  They say people come to cities for opportunities, but where else would we go?
32.  The internet means we're all born in cities now.
33.  What would my parents say if, after all that, I told them
34.  I want to go live in a little house outside of Edinburgh.
35.  To get away from these people, with their crazy ambitions,
36.  Their desires to be famous no matter what cost.
37.  These days, people don't even care what they're famous for.
38.  Used to be they wanted to write literary masterpieces,
39.  Symphonies so glorious people wept in dimmed auditoriums.
40.  Now, people just want to be on telly.
41.  Talking about other people on telly.
42.  That's why I'll leave London for Scotland.
43.  Today, from my window, I watched two men smash up
44.  A perfectly serviceable brick wall and put it together again.
45.  Why did they chip away at the old brick?
46.  Only to make new cement and pile up new bricks?
47.  I'm still trying to figure out the answers to my questions.
48.  This is what happens when you live in a city like London.
49.  There are always questions.
50.  And never any answers.

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