Let’s write a play: drama workshop with Helena Sheridan – 14 February 2018

It might have been Valentines night but that didn’t stop a good crowd of Ayr Writers’ Club from gathering at the Mercure Hotel to learn about writing scripts at a drama workshop led by club member, Helena Sheridan.

Helena is a talented and successful playwright who has won several Scottish Association of Writers drama script competitions and has had plays performed by theatre companies across Scotland.

Helena kicked off the evening by teaching us ten main points to consider when writing a stage play. First, she explained that every play needs a theme. Perhaps jealousy, revenge or a challenge? Next, she stressed that every plot must have conflict – that is a situation or problem which must be overcome.

Then we moved on to the subject of a play title, which Helena said some playwrights find the trickiest part of script writing. However, having a title at the beginning can be a good guide on what to write about. She suggested using a book of proverbs to kick-start title ideas, encouraging us to think outside the box.

Helena also explained the importance of a play’s running time, characters and their timelines, good characterisation through dialogue and the technique of the “aside” (when one or more characters move to the front of the stage to discuss something privately or share a secret with the audience). Lastly, she discussed, of course, the all important ending – be it happy or sad. Her advice was – don’t leave your audience wondering “what was that all about?” We should always tie all the threads of the plot together to make a satisfying conclusion.

Then it was time for us writers to write. Helena had set us a small exercise. Working in teams of four, we were given two Valentines themed song titles to spark ideas for the plot of a drama script. She reminded us to consider the setting, time (past, present, future), characters, running time of the play and if it would be suitable for stage, radio or television.

My group worked with The Winner Takes it All and River Deep, Mountain High and managed to come up with a very contemporary plot set at the side of the ice-rink at the Winter Olympics. Our characters – two ice dancing pairs – struggled with love and professional rivalry, leading to sabotage. Don’t expect to see this on the telly anytime soon!

We had lots of laughs as we heard the ideas from the other teams. These included a dark comedy involving a lady planning to electrocute her husband, a love triangle with two women trying to lose weight to win the affections of the same man, a workplace drama with a transgender character, a comedy set in a tattoo parlour about a unique skull tattoo, and lastly a thriller with a funny ending about a stowaway hiding on a boat.

After an enjoyable and educational evening, we all wrapped up in our coats and scarves to head home, eager to start writing our scripts for the Ayr Writers’ Club drama competition. Many thanks to Helena for sharing her knowledge and expertise.

Kirstin Brown

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