Students on the MA Shakespeare and Creativity programme had the opportunity to take part in a playwriting workshop with the RSC. Emma writes about her experience at the workshop.

As part of the University of Birmingham’s collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company, we were treated to a writing workshop with award-winning writer Brad Birch.

Free-writing session

The day was split into two sections. The morning session was a general writing workshop open to all College of Arts and Law Postgraduate Taught students. During this part of the session we looked more generally at how you can build ideas as a playwright through different writing exercises. Brad took us through an exercise where we were encouraged to think about the different key moments on our life and explore how our own experiences can be used to build characters in a believable way.

I found the free writing exercises particularly useful as it gave me freedom to write about what I wanted to explore, whilst still having parameters. During the free writing, we were encouraged to write for five minutes, with a focus on the future, about something you hate, something you have hope for and something that frightens you. Initially, hearing we would be writing for 15 minutes felt very daunting but I found myself getting lost in the task and wanting to continue writing on these topics. It also felt very cathartic to be able to put these feelings onto paper knowing that no one would see it.

We then looked at the three act play, ‘Far Away’ by Caryl Churchill. After reading aloud as a group, we discussed what type of questions Churchill might have thought about when writing it. This was useful as it allowed us to think critically about what we should be exploring in our own writing and how much detail we should go into.

MA Shakespeare and Creativity student Emma

Shakespeare session

The afternoon session was only open to Shakespeare and Creativity students, allowing us to use Brad’s expertise as a playwright to support us with our upcoming project. As an ensemble we are looking at how we can restage Shakespeare’s ‘Troilus and Cressida’ through the lens of Helen. Brad asked some important questions we had not yet thought of, e.g. ‘Why does Helen need to tell this story now?’. This helped us to get into the nitty gritty of what we actually wanted to be saying with our play.

Again, Brad took us through some different writing exercises that helped us to explore the character of Helen further. We did three different list writing exercises where we had to come up with 50 things that Helen could remember, 20 things Helen believes in and 10 things Helen is afraid of. This exercises helped us to develop a depth of knowledge about her so when she is presented to an audience so comes across as a character who has lived a real life. Brad reminded us that humans are full of irrational behaviours so to enjoy the different contradictions that we may have found in these lists.

Brad then worked with us looking at traditional five act plays and what we expect to see within each act. This was helpful as it made us think about the different character/story arcs we expect to see when during a play.

What I learnt from the sessions

The biggest piece of advice that I will take away from the session is that ‘you don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it written,’ and I think this is a fantastic mindset to have in the initial stages of writing.