Writing Drama with Coast to Coast Theatre

by Ananya Bhattacharya

The workshop ‘Writing Drama’ on Saturday 4th July was an opportunity to chat about drama with professionals, understand one’s favourite productions in new ways, and to learn about and experiment with dramatic techniques, styles and devices.  Rohan Gotobed and Molly Farley, from Norwich-based theatre company Coast to Coast, discussed the dramatic devices of closed vs open space and time and the genre of verbatim theatre.

Some quick warm-up exercises ensured everyone felt at home in the virtual space – an important technique for engaging participants, I find, online as much as in real-life workshops. In the first half of the workshop, Rohan introduced the concept of closed and open space and time, and various plays and theatre productions were discussed as examples of the use of these. For example, Waiting for Godot was mentioned as using closed space and open time, while An Inspector Calls was established as distinctive for its use of closed space and closed time – meaning that it focuses on one single setting as events unfold in real time. This invited new ways of thinking about writing drama – for example, by engaging with the unique possibility of ‘closed time’ opened up by the timeframe of theatre, in contrast to novels, other than simply thinking of characters and plotlines – an ideal way in for the less well-versed amongst us.

Image © Coast to Coast Theatre Company

The second half of the workshop, led by Molly and focused on verbatim theatre, was more geared towards attendees experimenting. Attendees were asked to come up with a scenario from our own experience and consider how it would fit into the conventions of verbatim theatre – i.e. plays constructed from the precise words used by interviewees on specific topics. We made notes or recorded our own voices describing these events, giving us a sense of how a direct, authentic perspective could be used within verbatim theatre. Both parts of the workshop were highly accessible regardless of attendees’ previous experience and encouraged attendees to try their hand at writing drama, demonstrating how one could start from somewhere as simple as a personal story or straightforward dramatic concept. The workshop ultimately broke down the barriers around writing drama, which is often seen as inaccessible and exclusively for those with a drama background.

Holding the workshop on Zoom inevitably meant interaction among the attendees was reduced; most attendees, myself included, chose to keep our cameras off, reluctant to show our dishevelled morning hair to strangers. However, this also provided a welcome solitude to reflect creatively and develop one’s own ideas for writing. As with YNAF more widely – which is arguably also the case with many other organisations that have shifted their activities online in this period – the lack of a physical venue allowed people to come together to attend these workshops from all corners of the globe if they so wished, expanding the reach of YNAF far beyond its usual East of England audience.

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