Script readers are the unsung heroes of playwriting competitions. Bruntwood has three phases of reading before the longlist of 100 plays is chosen. In 2015 a committed crack team of 150 sifted through 1938 scripts. Eventually those 1938 were whittled down to a shortlist of ten. That’s all down to readers. Readers are the first people to get their hands on your labour of love, the thing you’ve slaved over for months, the thing that’s kept you up at night. They usually fit script reading around their own jobs and commitments. In short, they’re amazing. You want to excite them, from the word go.
So what are they looking for?
Well, I could blather on for paragraphs about what I think they want to see – but doesn’t it make sense to get it from the horse’s mouth? As part of prep for my online writing workshop for Bruntwood I decided to approach some script readers. I asked them a simple question: What makes your heart sing when reading a play for the first time? And what makes it sink? Here are some of their responses.
What makes your heart SING when reading a play for the first time?
An ear for dialogue that captures the nuances of how people really talk to each other.
When, from the very first page, you see that the writer has embraced the theatrical.
A strong opening five minutes – a new scenario, or a familiar scenario quickly turned on its head.
An original voice, one that is obviously coming straight from the writer.
Well-written female characters: why is that still so rare?
Humour; in life even the most dire circumstances are made bearable, and thus engaging, and easier to empathise with, through humour.
And what makes your heart SINK?
Reams of exposition in dialogue that feels hard to say.
Being hit over the head with ISSUES – I want to be told a STORY.
Misogyny or unconscious bias – so that’s man as hero, woman as wife / nurse / prostitute.
When writers fail to capture how difficult people find it to express themselves in real life.
When plays are written as if imagined for TV or film. I see more and more which resemble screenplays rather than theatre scripts.
When a writer tries to direct the play – dictating down to tiny detail how characters will look; overly detailed stage directions.
Lots to think about there. This is a list I refer back to often, as I embark on a new play or redrafting an existing one. It certainly doesn’t just apply to competition entries, but to plays in general. I hope this is helpful as you prepare to enter your play into the Bruntwood Prize!