A Short Excerpt: The Life of a Playwriting Student

Written by Alex Colle

I was a pretty streaky writer for a long time. My problem was not writer’s block. My problem was having an inspiration to write.

Stageplay dialogue for 20% of my mark? That’s an inspiration.

I have a really good idea in my head? That’s not an inspiration.

Friend asks for a favour? Inspiration.

I’m bored and have nothing else to do? Nope.

This blog post? Yes.

The point is, although I love to write creatively, I was never confident enough to pick up a pencil – or open a laptop – and create an interesting piece of literature. I was under the impression that what I would write would be mediocre, and that there was no point in making something that was not going to find any success.

Boy, was I ever wrong. Playwriting at York taught me that.

The classes are rather small; my year features only eleven playwrights and four dramaturgs.

And herein lies the first question: What the hell is a dramaturg?

Simply put, a dramaturg works with the playwright in the development and research of a piece. Dramaturgs ask you questions. They challenge you. They advise you. They are brutally honest with you, and it’s for your own good, buddy.

They read every piece of work that you ever write for this class; every scrapped idea, every draft, every final.

Working with them, with other playwrights, and with our professor, the development has been phenomenal. Watching my classmates grow as people and as writers over the last year has been inspiring, to say the least. We love to challenge each other. We love to get inspired and put our best foot – or pencil – forward.

It all starts with monodramas. The character is the central idea of thought. Why is the character speaking here? Why is the character speaking now? How can you show what they are feeling and not tell how they are feeling? All of these questions need to be central while writing your monodrama.

And if you fail in doing so, that’s the magic. Writing is re-writing. First drafts are first drafts for a reason. Second drafts improve on that. Third drafts are even better. Twelfth draft? Why not?

After a while it becomes second nature to receive feedback – no matter how overwhelming – and to improve. Move on. And keep moving further and further until BAM. You have a character. A three-dimensional, fully-developed, deeply interesting character. A character that you wish you could have met in real life. It’s a great feeling.

This summer I wrote a play. It wasn’t for marks. It wasn’t for a favour. It wasn’t because I was bored.

It was because I could. And I always could. The one thing I had been missing for years was so simple, so fleeting, and so delicate: confidence.

And this is the most important thing I have taken from Playwriting at York.

What could I achieve if I knew I could not fail?

There’s no such thing as failure when writing. Just more drafts.

Alex is a fourth-year Theatre major and English minor at York University. He specializes in Playwriting and Devised Theatre. He strongly urges you to go see The Ashley Plays: Mother Tongues on October 23rd, 2016 at 12:45pm in the CFT!

The Ashley Plays: Mother Tongues – written by the playwrights and developed by the dramaturgs of the Theatre Department’s 4290 Playwriting & New Play Dramaturgy class – is an annual performance cycle of site-specific monodramas. Each piece is thematically linked, relates to the site in which it takes place, involves a character named Ashley, and includes a language representative of the playwright’s cultural heritage.

Check it out here!