September 2, 2013 by Sian Rowland
One of my goals this year was to spend more time on creative endeavours. An advantage of being freelance is the flexibility of working hours and having time when I’m not always busy (I think actors call it ‘resting’). I’m lucky that writing is now part of my work as I write educational materials for various people but the creative beast in me needs regular feeding. So this summer I embarked on a new project- I wrote a comedy script for a competition.
This isn’t quite as out of the blue as it sounds. My first love is children’s fiction which I’ve been slogging away for ages with some limited success. I broadened my horizons with some short stories for adults (as opposed to adult short stories) a while back and since joining the fabulous Original Writers at the Battersea Arts Centre I have been challenged -and have challenged myself- to try new genres and hone my ‘voice’ and writing style. Blogging has also helped enormously with this.
I won’t write here about the entire process of writing the script suffice to say that as a newbie I’ve read hundreds of comedy scripts studying formatting, style and structure. I’ve watched all my favourite comedies again with a technician’s eye full of awe at their ingenuity. I’ve read blogs and interviews and watched behind the scenes films and listened to podcasts. I had invaluable advice from my best school buddy and now writer-extraordinaire Richard Dinnick. I spent nights awake worrying about whether it was funny enough and scribbled in my notebook in random places. I even had to jot down notes when an idea occurred to me while watching a gig. In a pub. In the dark. I spent one Friday evening alternately wrestling with the final scene and writing blurbs for courses while my business partner redesigned our website.
Then, according to all the advice, I needed to have a read-through. I needed people around a table who would read the parts in character so I could see if it made sense, held together and was- final hurdle- actually funny. I worried and worried about this. At 30 minutes it was too long for my writing group session and I didn’t have time to read it over the course of several meetings as by this time I only had a couple of days before the competition deadline. It took me ages to figure out the formatting style for a televisual comedy and it would be tricky for anyone without experience to wade through a cold reading. Time ticked on.
Then I mentioned my predicament to a choir buddy who is a retired actor and agent. Without blinking she said she’d gather together some professional actors to do a round-table reading. How many would I need? My initial reaction was to stare like the village idiot squeaking, ‘why? How? Me? Why would they? Why would you? But I’m an amateur!’ my second thought was that I really should finish writing the damn thing. When my friend emailed to say that an evening had been set and gave me the names I went straight to Google and looked them up and then spent a sleepless night in a cold sweat wondering why such high-calibre professionals would want to spend an evening of their precious time reading my script. Of course it was mostly to do with the high esteem in which they hold my friend but who was I to look a thespian gift-horse in the mouth?
I’ve done plenty of acting in my time. My degree is in English and Drama but I’ve never spent time around professional actors. I was as much a fish out of water as Michael Gove in a staff room. When I hang out with my education friends our conversation contains words and phrases like, ‘due The Phonecall,’ ‘twilights and briefings,’ ‘FFT or Raiseonline?’ ‘target-setting,’ ‘APP’ and ‘how are you spending your pupil premium?’
Suddenly I was listening to, ‘who are you with?’ ‘Vanessa is the only one who could play that part,’ ‘I’ve been up for it three times’ and ‘he just dried.’ It was fascinating. I wiped my sweating palms on my trousers and smiled like a chump.
I handed out the scripts- carefully typed, formatted and fastened with Acco clips- and highlighters and gave everyone their parts which they duly marked up in highlighter pens. Wine was poured, character traits explained and we were off.
They were brilliant and utterly professional. They took their parts and ran with them. Considering it was a cold reading they read with aplomb and style. I read the stage directions and they got it immediately- years of reading and performing evident. I enjoyed it hugely and am still rather overwhelmed by the whole event.
Afterwards they were extremely complimentary about my script and I was able to submit it to the competition feeling just a little bit more confident that it wasn’t quite ready yet for cutting up and recycling as a telephone pad. I have no idea what the outcome will be but I’ve had so much fun writing it and I know I’ll be dining out on tales of that evening for many years to come.
************** October update: Well I was longlisted and reached the top twenty out of 140 entries and placed on the ‘Ones to watch’ Funny Women list. The judges said:
‘The judges noted that your script premise is excellent and very original.The judges commented that your script was very amusing and that the various characters were well established and well-written.We do hope that you keep writing; you have real potential and originality, as shown by the fact that you made the “Ones to Watch” list.’
THEN a local theatre company said they’d like to perform my script as a rehearsed reading as part of Wimbledon Bookfest at Wimbledon Theatre Studios with a professional director and actors. Thrilled! Blog post coming soon.