LUKE BARNES FINAL PLAY CHECKLIST BEFORE WE SEND OUT OMG THIS MOMENT IS SCARY AAAAHHHH
Disclaimer: This is all me. I don’t work for Bruntwood or the Royal Exchange. I’m just a writer who has done this a lot, failed and learned a lot, and sometimes got it right.
THAT FEELING OF NERVOUSNESS THAT WON’T GO AWAY AH IT’S SO ANNOYING (CHECKLIST PART ONE)
So yeah let’s acknowledge that it’s scary to put effort into something and try. Nothing good comes without putting something on the line and you’ve already done that. So well done. The hard bit is done. The terrible bit is over. The joy of writing is done. Go and have a Twix and bag of Monster Munch in ya PJs… Wait no. You have to send it first. But just before we do lets… Stand still a second.
Right now you’re probably feeling like “it’s not ready” or “general nerves”. That’s cool we’ll get to that but first just want to acknowledge two things:
- You feel something because you care and you’re not a robot.
- You have two voices in your head right now that are telling you two things….
- This will make you rich and famous and you’re the best writer in the world.
- This was a waste of time and why have you bothered nothing will come of this.
Both of these voices go through my head when ever I do anything so, to stop being paralysed in this moment of hesitation, we have to appease them. We do that by FINDING A RATIONAL ANSWER TO OUR HOPES AND FEARS.
But how do we do that in Art? Well… We be as prepared as we can be. And to do that… We go through our CHECKLIST!
CHECK LIST PART ONE: YOU
Ok so… Right… This is… Yeah this is a difficult one isn’t it. I don’t know who you are or what you’re feeling or well… really anything so I can only right from my experience of times I’ve done this. So this is going to be me sharing the misfortunes of my sharing of pieces… and some practical exercises that help us prepare as best we can. I hope it’s useful.
I’m really honest, I’ve never sent a script off and someone has told me it’s good. Ever. Nor has anyone I know personally. The truth is that best case scenario someone is going to say they like it but it needs work. GUARANTEED. So if we take this as the starting place… Then we expect that the likelihood is that someone isn’t going to write back and say CONGRATULATIONS YOUNG CHAMPION OF THE WORLD YOU HAVE WRITTEN A MASTERPIECE. Wow look. How freeing is that.
So then now we know we’re not expected to be perfect how do we know what we’re offering is “good” (hint; it isn’t and that’s a stupid mentality)… But before we get to that I’ll tell a quick story about a recent failure of mine that happened 5 days before I write this blog (lol). I spent a month working on a script (after, obviously, prep). I thought it was perfect. I was clinically awesome and I was ready to send it to the one person I trust to be honest with me and they said that not only is it not technically perfect but it, fundamentally, wasn’t me or any of the things that she or people who buy tickets to my shows, or watch my films, like about me. Or an inversion of that. Or yano.. something else.
My thoughts exactly handsome man in base ball cap. So naturally I threw a wobbly for a few days until I had the headspace to ask what that actually meant. When I did I relearnt a valuable lesson. This doesn’t have to be perfect… it doesn’t even really need to be well written. It just needs to be an expression of you.
There are people who can help make your play good. So don’t stress about perfection. Stress about this being YOU. NOW. This is the THING YOU WANT TO SEE FOR YOURSELF THAT DOESN’T YET EXIST.
CHECKLIST PART ONE
- Is this an expression of me?
If yes… We may progress. If no we have to ask why not and how we can fix that. If maybe then we need to make it MORE an expression of us. That could be making it funnier, more imaginative, more serious… More anything really. Anything that makes it feel like you.
- Is this actually something we’d like to see?
Same as above
Once you’re at YES twice we can move on to CHECK LIST PART TWO
CHECK LIST PART TWO: ANNOYING QUESTIONS THAT PEOPLE WILL ASK THAT IT’S ACTUALLY REALLY HELPFUL TO KNOW THE ANSWER TO
When you start to find people to do this play with they will ask questions so we need to be prepared to answer them. Answering these questions for ourselves helps us believe in the purpose of our play and WHY we’ve done it. Hopefully it’ll make us feel really confident in our choices and be like…
CHECK LIST PART TWO
- What is your personal relationship to the main theme?
This is usually our way into answering WHY HAVE YOU WRITTEN THIS MASTERPIECE? Really simply what’s our personal connection to it. It might be that you’ve written about Aliens because you feel detached from society… It might be you’ve written about cats because you think they’re better than people… It might be, simply, because it’s your life.
- Are you aware of how your perspective (your body, class, gender, class, ability, ethnicity) is relevant to main theme?
This is slightly more complex but RELAX. We just have to be aware that it does matter (for me at least) who tells what story. It just means being away of WHY we’ve done it. I, as a cis man, might write about the spectrum of gender, for example, because I think that the patriarchy that I exist in could free me and my friends from a lot of misery by accepting that. Or perhaps I might want to write about consent seeing as it’s 99% people like me that perpetrate assault. Or perhaps I might want to write about race because the white patriarchy imprisons loads of people in systems of oppression and nothing will change until people like me acknowledge it… You get the picture. We have to be aware of this body being aware of it’s political significance in why it’s speaking. Sounds heavy but it’s not. And honestly answering it will help you in being progressive, not being part of an establishment, and help people want to help you.
- Why now?
As an exercise try and find some evidence to suggest that this theme is URGENT to be talked about. I know it sounds naff and of you know why now but it’ll help make you feel like it’s urgent and it will help people buy into it further down the line.
- What do I want to happen in society as a result of talking about this theme via a play?
As Einstein (I think) said.. Every action has a reaction. So this play will do. For me (and this might not be true for you) it’s really important that we have an idea of what will happen as a result of this play being out there. It will tie in with all the above questions.
If we put it all together we might get something like….
I want to write about X because of X in my life. I know I am X but that’s important because my perspective means X. Right now X is happening so it’s super important to talk about it. AND if we do talk about maybe X will happen and the world will be better for it.
The hope is that if you can answer these questions it’ll put that “Why have I wasted my time doing this?” Voice to bed a bit. And we can be sure that we believe in the impetus behind our play before we press send. Which is the MOST important thing.
Ready? Great. Now we can do a REAL PRACTICAL CHECKLIST.
CHECK LIST THREE: PRACTICAL STUFF
Time for the nuts and bolts stuff. Once we know that this is a representation of us and we can say why it exists and what it does… We can do some practical questions. Like Bob the builder would… Or something…
…. Bob the builder GIF just exposed me as a millennial boomer or what ever and I’m here for it.
CHECK LIST THREE:
Narrative and structure
- Have I put my characters through a dramatic journey?
This is really about structure. Are my characters going on a journey that’s structured (see next page for help on structure)
- Are my characters always active?
Characters have to be doing something for drama to work. They have to be pursuing their goal. (Again see structure).
- Are my characters bold?
- Are my characters talking in a satisfying way (note this doesn’t necessarily mean “reality” just… satisfying). Do you like reading them? If not why not?
- Does this feel genuine? Either lived or well researched? What details could I put in that makes it feel like I really have got across I know this world and these people?
- Is it clear what I want to say in the play?
- Is this deffo not for tele or film?
STORY STRUCTURE CHEAT PAGE:
This may or may not be useful… This is traditional story structure. Ignore if not applicable but if it’s something you’re trying to work in these are the building blocks of it.
A character exists in a culture.
Something about the culture is causing the character to suffer.
Something happens which makes the character realise they need to do or get something to ease the suffering. (Show them what they can lose if they don’t).
They go on a journey to try and get or do this thing.
On this journey they come across obstacles which they either succeed or fail to overcome.
In their success or their failure they learn something about themselves (tragedy)
They fail to understand something about themselves which the audience now understands (Comedy)
There is a difference between what we want and what we need. That is what a character does or doesn’t understand)”
Ok… That’s check lists done. Only one thing left to do….
AN EXERCISE IN PAYING ATTENTION
When I was young(er) I was lucky enough to work with a director who said to me that the only things that ever really matter about Art are what you notice. I think it’s a really good thing to apply to our process of making sure it all works before we send off.
So the last exercise… Read it and read it and read it and read it…. Until I can’t any more. And every time just make a note of what I notice. It could be as simple as “this is a spelling mistake” or “I get bored here” or “feels like the character doesn’t…” WHATEVER. Just keep reading and make a note. Until you notice nothing any more…..
And then…. If you have time….
Put it away for a bit.
Then come back to it and repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Until you don’t notice anything.
Now that you’ve done that.. It’s time for the final moment.
BACK TO THE START
So we’re back to the start. Now we should be really clear that it’s a piece that represents us, the rational behind our play, the mechanics of it working, and we should be in a place where we don’t notice anything that feels like it takes us out of it any more… So now we know that this we can take a deep breath and…
Before we send a quick thought. If we’re honest with ourselves here and have answered all these questions. Then what ever happens next isn’t about us. It’s about taste or the world. And that’s fine. But we have put into the world something that, we think, needs to exist that didn’t before. And isn’t that amazing.
Monster Munch and Twix. Pyjamas. GO
Theatre; Freedom Project (Leeds Playhouse), Sad Club (National Theatre Connections), All We Ever Wanted Was Everything (Bush Theatre & Paines Plough with Middle Child), No One Will Tell Me When To Start A Revolution (Hampstead Theatre), Chapel Street (Bush Theatre), Bottleneck (Soho Theatre with HighTide), The Jumper Factory (Young Vic), Lost Boys (Unity with National Youth Theatre), Cinderella – A Wicked Mother F*cker of a Night Out (James Seabright & Not Too Tame), Katie Johnstone (The Orange Tree), The Saints (Nuffield Theatres, Southampton), Eistedfodd (HighTide), There Should Be Unicorns (Greenwich and London International Festival with Middle Child), Ten Storey Love Song (Hull Truck with Middle Child), Weekend Rockstars (Hull Truck with Middle Child), A Wondrous Place (Manchester Royal Exchange/ Northern Stage/ Unity/ Crucible, Sheffield), The Class (The Unicorn with NYT), and Loki and Betty (Almeida Theatre). TV; Minted In Manchester (Original Single for Channel 4). www.lukeedwardbarnes.com.