Paines Plough Workshop

Picture courtesy of pixel2013

On Saturday 2nd March 2019 I attended a workshop delivered by Paines Plough's joint artistic director George Perrin. George led a full day's workshop on playwrighting. It was informative, satisfying and well delivered. It was a mixture of lecture, videos, co-working and writing to prompts. 

I arrived in Bath after several days with a cold. I hadn't slept well but was determined to attend. We were at the top floor of The Theatre Royal, in their rehearsal space. It has great views over the city. George gave a history of the company and explained how the focus of their tenure has been to get new writers work performed. To meet this objective, they created a lean system designed to produce a dozen new plays a year. They put the faith in the writer.

Although based in London, Paines Plough doesn't have its own venue and looks to partner with others. They've had national tours as well as showing their plays at the Old Vic. They were set up in 1974 as a response to the repetory theatres which were felt to be exclusive. They have their million pound Roundabout, the world’s first pop-up, plug-and-play theatre. I've attended shows inside at the last two Edinburgh fringe festivals. It can be assembled in 2 days with an allen key. It's a great in-the-round space.

George explained that of the dozen plays they produce a year, about one comes through by an unsolicitored submission. They receive over 500 a year. He considers plays in terms of scale:

  1. Small scale. No props and 1-2 actors. These are suitable for schools, libraries
  2. Mid scale. A few actors, limited props and no scenery. Roundabout. 
  3. Large scale. Several actors, props, scenery and requires a more conventional theatre space. Old Vic, Plymouth.

He then spoke about something that really interested him - plays that include the audience as a participant. His main example was Every Brilliant Thing which also gives a good overview of the company. In EBT, the audience get to participate in different ways, mainly as characters in the story. But what is also clear when performed in the Roundabout is that they take on the shape of a support group. We thought then about other events where the audience could represent groups of people: a comedy gig, live music event, sporting events. In fact, Roundabout was inspired by the gladatorial-style sporting venues we have today.

If you think about an event, it has a structure to it. It's complex, sure, but we are familiar with the flow: hand over tickets, have bag checked, put coat in cloakroom, buy drink, find our seats, chat, lights go down and the comedian comes on stage, she performs, we laugh and the night ends. The structure can provide a great framework for a play. In essence, these staged events are similar to the format of a story. 

Some other quick tips:

  • Have a change of plot/emotion every 3/4 of a page
  • Use short lines (
    • Get information in on where they are (there's no set, remember)
    • Can improv with somone else, a line each - leads to surprises
  • Get a laugh within first 2 pages