Playwriting for Actors

Recently I have been exploring possible dramatic content as I develop “Down the Rabbit Hole” into a musical show. I realised that including a script will aid the storytelling and transitions between musical scenes. So, I grabbed my copy of Alice in Wonderland but quickly became puzzled about adapting and distilling this nonsensical yet fantastic story into dialogue and stage directions that a small ensemble could perform.

I started to research playwriting to see if I could find any books on this subject. Whilst I was googling, I came across an online short course hosted by RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) titled “Playwriting for Actors.” The five-day period focused on teaching the participants the basics of writing drama from the perspective of a trained actor because they know what it is like to play good parts and bad. It begs the question: What is the solution to bad roles? Write better ones. 

I was able to enrol on this course thanks to the financial support of my DYCP (Develop Your Creative Practise) grant from Arts Council England. And goodness, our teacher, Paul Sirett, did not squander a minute or a dime. Within the five days, I wrote independently and collaboratively scripts for theatre, feature film, radio, a one-person play, a TV Series Bible and a musical. I found it quite remarkable how much we managed to cover in such a short space of time. Paul led intricately planned exercises, which stealthily revealed playwriting techniques and theories as the tasks reached their culmination during our group reflections. This meant that we learnt through application. As a new playwright, I found this teaching method very freeing. It encouraged me not to over-sensor my writing and appreciate the process of writing drafts.

Our teacher Paul Sirett is an award-winning playwright, musician and dramaturg. His plays have been produced in London’s West End and theatres throughout the UK and worldwide. Despite his incredible resume, he was very approachable and was able to adapt his activities to suit our group’s diverse interests and abilities. I appreciated that he created an environment that allowed us to feel confident to share our writing out loud and sometimes sung! As a result, our group of international strangers are hoping to create a writer’s group so that we can continue to meet and share our scripts. This will definitely help me to hold myself accountable for my creative endeavours.

Here are some links to useful resources I discovered during the week:

If you would like to read some professional scripts, you can access TV, Radio and Film scripts (for free) via the BBC’s Writers Room: Script Library – Writersroom (bbc.co.uk). I found this visually very informative, as I could see how the different genres required different formatting and writing styles.

I particularly enjoyed reading the TV Show Bible explanation written by Studiobinder: How to Make a TV Show Bible [Series Bible Examples & PDF] — TV Writing (studiobinder.com). Whilst on this site, I discovered their Scriptwriting blog, where they explore famous movies and share their screenplays with analysis via their YouTube Channel. For example, here is their blog post on “Parasite” Parasite Screenplay PDF Download: Plot, Characters and Ending (studiobinder.com)

I am lucky to know a few writers through my blog and I’d love to hear if you know of any resources or books which I could read to help improve my writing.

47 thoughts on “Playwriting for Actors

  1. Love to help, Charlotte, but I’m entirely self-taught, and it took twenty years before I finally felt as if I knew what I was doing. I don’t think you can wait that long! But if you think you could learn anything from my experience, you have my email address and I’d be delighted to talk about my approaches if you wanted. Bear in mind, I write novels and essays, not stage formats, but that does involve building stories.

    1. Oh thank you so much Martin, I’ve got all the video editing to do this week and then I’ll start to write the linkages, as I also need to keep up with my singing practice every day and do some telesales! So any help is going to be appreciated I’ll e-mail you when I have something written down.
      Best wishes always,
      Charlotte

    1. I’ve wanted to do this for so long, I’ve just got to find the time and do some fund raising to get this off the ground but I’m determined and I’ll share it with you xx
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  2. If you want to stick to screenplays then I think the course you took will get you started. Now it is a matter of writing screenplays till you feel you’ve got it. There are hundreds of books on writing. Most are not worth reading. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoire of the Craft is about the best. I also believe Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing is also good. Best wishes.

    1. Thank you for your suggestions John, my brother loves Stephen King and Darren Shan. It seemed quite serendipitous that I thought how am I going to write the links I had no idea where to start and voila up popped this course.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  3. Fantastic Charlotte! You never fail to amaze me with all your achievements and never ending energy to keep raising the bar on your ambition. Well done my friend👏👏👏🥰😘

    1. Thank you Gill, remind me to tell you about the log and the frogs 🐸. Tom would love this course. Now I must get organised.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. Merci beaucoup mon ami, I have the imagination and ideas I just need to apply it now.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. Thank you Clare, it is certainly keeping me busy at the moment. Luckily the course was late afternoon and evening so I could get my other work done in the morning.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  4. You amaze me. Always on the lookout for new things to explore and develop. I don’t have many sources or any at all. Just a sentence by Clémenceau which I may have already told you? If not, I¡ll share.

    1. I just googled him, he said it is far easier to make war than peace! But I think the saying you refer to is ‘you must act as you breathe’. I also like this quote in his top 40 ‘Begin to free yourself at once by doing all that is possible with the means you have, and as you proceed in this spirit the way will open for you to do more. I trust that he is correct. Have a lovely week Brian.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. Those are good quotes. The one I refer to is seldom quoted. When not in governement, Clemenceau ran a newspaper. L’Aurore (where Zola wrote J’accuse). When Clémenceau hired a new journalist, he would say: “Young man”. (Not many women in journalism then.) “You are going to write in my paper. Write short sentences. Subject, verb, complement if need be. Use adjectives sparsely. Adjectives are interpretation. And if you feel like writing an adverb, call me.!”
        Believe it or not, this was part of my welcome speech to all my new executives in my firm. (Market research). And I hired 2/3 women, 1/3 men. 😉
        ‘Best.

    1. Thank you Derrick, I was wondering how I was going to link up all the clips that we want to perform in the show, and this screen writing course has given me the self-confidence that I can create this for myself. Which is great because I don’t have the budget to pay a professional to do it 😊.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  5. Learning is a lifelong journey which you illustrate so well, Charlotte. Having a group where you can share and critique your work is essential to both writers and play writers, as I well know from nearly 13 years writing. In one of my groups, a person learning play writing had us critique her work while sharing what she had learned about it – it’s not easy but I learned a lot. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

    1. Every year I set a target to learn at least one new skill or technique. I do enjoy group work and really miss the conservatoire environment to do more of that, so I have learnt to create my own groups online from practising German communication skills to taking a Pilates class in Italian to practise both at the same time, to this new group of play writers. As always I need another two hours each day 😆 .

      I met a friend today and he asked me what I was up to and I said “not much” (meaning not many performances), I started telling him about all my courses and plans and he just laughed out loud and said he wouldn’t like to be me when I actually think I’ve got a lot on💥.

      Best wishes always,
      Charlotte

    1. Thanks Trent, I’ve been buzzing with everything I’ve learnt and I’m about to get stuck into more writing this evening after my online German class. I might even discuss it with the group. I don’t think they usually get bonkers people like me on a course like that, to say my ideas are off the wall – hehe.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

      1. I love your enthusiasm. Are you talking your German class that doesn’t get many “bonkers” people? Maybe. But the script writing class, I’m sure people like you are exactly who they are looking for!

      2. I meant the new writing group, I’ve been in the German communication group for quite a while so they’re used to my off the wall conversations hehe.

  6. Charlotte , you never cease to amaze me.
    Striving to do well with everything you do.
    Good luck with down the rabbit hole, you certainly deserve it.. 🥰👏👏👏👏

    1. I’m so full of ideas I’ve been none stop today, I did my intense singing practice because I have a lesson tomorrow and well priorities, I’ve been thinking of video editing to that I can see the bits I need to link and write for but I need my Dad’s help cutting and pasting video clips. If you can think of any fundraising ideas let me know or local schools, activity centres, to you to put on the show. You will love the video its so funny and unusual and Zoe was magnificent and George of course!
      All my very best wishes
      Charlotte

    1. I remember. A robot like the people in the Matrix? That’s quite a coincidence because the child we created was a 3D printed ‘living’ person. I will study your link in more detail thanks 🙏. Have a lovely week ahead.
      Best wishes,
      Charlotte

    1. I have bitten off a lot Sheila, there is so much I want to do, I wrote five scripts last week, first time ever, such a lot of inspiration I wish I could do a course like this every week, it has added a new dimension to my studies.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  7. Charlotte, I love reading about all these new creative ventures you are developing. Your successes bring me great joy. You are kind, thoughtful, beautiful and very, very talented. There are no bounds to what you can, and will, achieve in your lifetime.

    I wish I could help with additional resources and books, but this is not something I am versed in. It sounds like you found what you needed to get started, and no doubt, you will continue to make leaps forward.

    Wishing you all the best!

    1. What a lovely, lovely message Lavinia. To bring joy is one of my key mantras each day. I am going to write that down on a post it note:
      There are no bounds to what you can,
      And will, achieve in my lifetime.
      I keep flitting from project to project, keeping on top of my singing and new material, doing my paid work and this on top, I just need to keep everything spinning and not drop a plate.
      Best wishes to you
      Charlotte x

  8. You inspire us all with the endless ideas of creation and determination ~ this is another incredible opportunity for you and further development of you and your creativity. Cheers to you.

    1. Thank you so much Randall. If someone takes away a cake I try to figure out how to make one for myself if you know what I mean. My industry has taken a battering, without having an agent trying to find work for me is a challenge right now. I never wallow but try to find a way through creatively. Cheers to you too.
      Best wishes
      Charlotte

  9. Dear Charlotte,

    OMG! You are writing. Yay!!!

    So, I have read around 250 scripts for film and television. I have worked on 50 productions, some of them TV series with multiple episodes. I have even written 3 screenplays and 1 TV series.
    However creative I am, turning my product into $$$ is another thing.
    Yes, I have worked in the film industry my entire career. I tried to pitch my ideas to directors and producers, but I always got this attitude “isn’t that cute, the Costume Designer wants to be a writer”.
    Also, it’s difficult to do anything w/o an agent.
    Also, usually before producers and directors read a script, they will want a “Pitch”. This is a separate beast.

    Never mind! Write, write, write.

    When I wanted to write a screenplay, many recommended – “”Screenplay” by Syd Field. It was first published in 1979 and has accolades from multiple generations of writers. The immediate benefit of this book is that it set the standard for all books that came after it. The title says it all. There are no frills in Screenplay.”

    I read it, and recommend it.

    Having said that, if you ever want to throw a screenplay by someone, I would be happy to read, critique and keep it secret. There are many projects I did not take on because the script was shi&!

    I know a good one from a bad one, through my experiences.
    That doesn’t mean that the story is bad. It just means it has not been explained in a fab way.

    I don’t know if you have ever seen my IMDB page? https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0566212/

    Okay, hope the WP glitch has cleared up, and you can comment on my blog, again! I was just the subject/person of a fab interview.

    Cheers!!! xoxo

    1. Great interview Resa, so interesting askimet wont let me comment on either blog. I must ask my Dad if it is my settings. I’m trying my best to fit everything in and need to start fundraising as you say that’s the biggie. I’ll e-mail you when I get some more solid ideas.
      Cheers and 🤗 Charlotte xoxo

      1. First, thank you about the interview. xxoo
        2- If your dad can’t figure the BS, do contact WordPress.
        They have fixed several things for me over the years.
        I’m here at your disposal.
        As far the Art Gowns go, I had a good head of steam built up for the new Art, in spite of Covid.
        Then when the whole Ukraine war happened, I fell into a slump.
        I’ve bucked up now (in spite),and am back sewing and creating.
        The band is playing tonight. I will draw Lala in blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukraine flag.
        I am 30% into the new Art Gown, and feel fortunate to be creating.
        Yours will be extra special!
        Sending all the best,
        xoxo Resa

      2. Resa, my Dad thinks it might be the browser or cookie settings, he said he’s going to try to make some time to look into it for me with the WordPress helpline.
        I know what you mean about the Ukraine war situation, for a while I thought I can’t post my normal smiley, stay positive, keep going messages when everything seems to bleak. Glad to hear the band is back to work and Lala’s dress design sounds wonderful. Yellow is one of my favourite colours, although as you know I do love rainbow 🌈.

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