MERRIE JOY WILLIAMS
(From Writing in Education, Issue No 72)
Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters, ed. Jennifer Tuckett, Oberon, £14.99, ISBN 9781783193240
Mandy Coe and Jean Sprackland, Our thoughts are bees: Writers Working with Schools, Wordplay, £10.00, ISBN 0954963407
Oh, the journey of the new-fangled writing teacher. You step out in faith, perhaps flounder at first. You wait for a book, then two come along at once! The first book – around for some time, though unknown to me until recently – is Our thoughts are bees, by Mandy Coe and Jean Sprackland, which covers much of the technical nuts and bolts involved in taking creative writing into schools. It locates projects inside such potentially abstract contexts as the English frameworks, the administrative demands of self-employment, and the organisational ecosystem at the heart of educational writing initiatives.
It’s been out a while, so some of the frameworks referenced may have evolved or been replaced; but this is true of most books by the time they get into print, anyway – and you could do worse than trace education’s shifting character through its recent historical arc. Writers who haven’t taught formally will find it useful, as will teachers learning to facilitate writing with confidence and freedom. Those of us with a background in both, are rarely equally adept at creativity, planning and delivery, so this book’s strengths are synthesis and structure: the reduction of potential blind spots in planning large-scale. I reintroduce it here because this and the second book would make a formidable pairing in any teacher-writer toolkit. At their most quintessential and complementary, one is writing exploring education, the other education exploring writing.
With its understated cover, Dramatic Writing Masterclasses, is a delightful exploration of the myriad ways creative writing can be learnt, taught and thought about. If it were a character, it would be the plain kid at the back of the class who writes haunting poetry, and who shows their shallow peers that substance on the inside is where beauty’s to be had. This paperback’s slightness might also betray the philosophical punch it packs, but these nine distinct classes about every aspect of playwriting from stimulus to stage – or radio, or TV, or film – carry an engrossing thread of palpable engagement from their expert originators.
Fin Kennedy details his ground-breaking and successful project with a London girl’s school, involving several mentee playwrights, each spawning their own offshoot. There is a pleasing balance between the practical and theoretical, the scale of preparation and the demands of production. Ola Animashawun re-examines some recent theatrical concepts, and rejuvenates an older one, inviting the reader to actively participate. Though these are principally live discussions, conducted before audiences then transferred onto the page, an endearing sense of intimacy is maintained. It’s a sheer privilege sharing Nina Steiger’s collection of case studies; different theatrical productions at different levels of development, looking to explore audience engagement in innovative, technical ways.
After reading, there will still be the work of creating and executing one’s own original projects, but perhaps with a vaster sense of adventure and vision. There is enough stimulus here, from some key industry thinkers; and Central Saint Martins’ MA in Dramatic Writing, from which this collection of masterclasses hails. This book’s strength is its diversity of approach; idiosyncratic lists of enquiries and discoveries, from which we are free to fashion our own dramatic adventures. And not just in drama as a genre, but that ubiquitous force across forms.
“Every time we come across alien phenomena, we explore it, we find its essential truth, and we assimilate it.” This is John Yorke’s exposition of ‘thesis, antithesis, and synthesis’ – the fundamental pattern, he says, of character and plot. But as a poet and fiction-writer who teaches creative writing, it could easily describe my approach to reading this book; principally about playwriting, yet about so much more than that.
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