How to write a show in 5 steps

Image by Whisperwolf

Hi everyone,

The moment of truth has come. I’ve explored picking a theme each week. I’ve explored being irreverent and self-deprecating and I’ve explored being profound. AND I’M BORED WITH THEM ALL. I have been deliberating with much angst over what I’m going to write about each week and I have finally decided, after a stroke of genius, after a lightening bolt of inspiration, after a cataclysmic earth-shattering epiphany, to write about my week.

Novel, isn’t it? That’s actually what I’m supposed to be doing, but I had started to feel that if nothing extraordinary was happening then what was the point in writing? But I guess none of us have extraordinary weeks all the time. Even Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare and Napolean must have had plenty of weeks where they slept in till midday, had some tea and did the crossword. They probably had plenty of weeks where they talked about mindless gossip and innocuous events. In fact I think Oscar Wilde made a career out of it. And sure, then they went on to lead an entire nation into battle or become Gods in the cannon of English literature but they definitely, without a doubt, must have had some weeks of sitting around drinking beer and lamenting the rising cost of petrol. Steam. Wheels?

My housemate said something the other day that put it all in perspective. It was in the context of some research I had been doing for a new show. “Forget about writing a biography,” she said. “No-one, not even the most brilliant people had an interesting life from start to finish. But there are interesting parts. They’re the ones you can use.” I felt liberated by this piece of advice, not only in the context of writing but in regards to feeling the need to have a fascinating life of my own, constantly. It means that today I can do yoga, read the paper and not feel guilty, because tomorrow I’ll write 52 plays and conquer a nation.

So what have I been doing? Writing a new show. This is the third one I’ve started this year (follow-through is a bit of a problem for me because I get bored easily), but this one is ABSOLUTELY going to happen. It’s the one I’m most excited about. It’s the same excitement I felt when I started writing the other show back in January, and the other one back in July, and… shit. Just kidding, I am extremely inspired by this project because I’m taking an entirely new approach. The other night I felt this sudden urge to start investigating old female movie stars. I know, how out of left field, right? How utterly unrelated! But I quickly became engrossed in the subject and began obsessionally trawling the internet for information about female comedians, writers and actors from the early 20th century. While I was scanning the seventeen Wikipedia pages open on my computer, my aforementioned housemate walked past. She has been devising and performing her own work for the past ten years and is somewhat of a guru on the matter. “Adriane!” I shouted, “I need you to give me a ten-point plan on how to write a show!” I was being flippant, but she grabbed two glasses and a bottle of red and proceeded to do just that. These were a few of her tips.

  1. Don’t try to be original. Nothing is original. But you can find your own originality in the way you put the story together.
  2. Give yourself a few hours to let your mind wander through information and don’t be afraid to go off on complete tangents. You never know what might link up.
  3. When you have a few ideas, get people in to improvise scenes with you. Collaboration is a gift.
  4. No-one has an interesting life from start to finish. But you can write a show “inspired by” the lives of certain people.
  5. When you have a basic shape, consider the themes. What is this story essentially about? You want to establish a backbone to refer to when you’re putting together the final script.

What a revelation! I felt such freedom as I scribbled it all down. You mean I don’t have to have it all figured out before I start writing? You mean if there is a piece of the puzzle missing, I don’t have to abort the whole project and abandon my career and become a sandwich maker? HOORAY! Of course this way of working might not suit everyone; some people need strong parameters and prefer to map out the whole narrative like a well-oiled machine and then insert the dialogue. Personally I find that about as creative as doing my tax, but whatever floats your boat. I’m going to play with these techniques and see what comes of it.

I’m also doing a three day Gaulier workshop starting tomorrow and am hoping this work will assist my ability to devise theatre. Philippe Gaulier is a French acting teacher who runs a clowning school in Paris and many actors flock to work with him all year around. The workshop is being taken by the extraordinary “Dr Brown,” an ex-student who has developed quite a reputation for himself as a wonderful actor/writer/comedian. Don’t worry, I’m not going to devise an abstract mime show and make you come and watch me run around like Marcel Marceau in pantaloons. But I love learning, and any chance to explore new ways of working I’ll jump at.

So to finish, I am going to write again each week. Sometimes it will be interesting and sometimes it will be a kitchen sink drama, without the drama, but that’s OK. It will all balance out in the end.

Kate Walder

Kate is a 2008 graduate of the BA Music Theatre course from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). During her time at the academy she played the role of Linda in Blood Brothers, The Young Wife in Hello Again, Marguerita in West Side Story and featured in the ensemble of Sweeney Todd and Oklahoma!, for which she was Dance Captain. After moving to London in 2009 Kate played the role of Clio in La Dispute at the Soho Theatre and subsequently at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Since returning to Sydney, Kate has written and performed her one-woman show Coffee with Kate: the Cabaret at the 2010 inaugural Sydney Fringe Festival, a show based on a series of weekly columns she wrote for She is currently co-writing a new show with a fellow WAAPA graduate which will premiere later in the year.

Kate Walder

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