Want to write plays? Read our guide to courses in the UK and beyond
Some playwrights are entirely self-taught, educating themselves through the work of others and books, as well as trial and error. Other writers have reaped the benefits of playwriting courses. Samantha Marsden looks at a selection of the many available courses at theatres, educational institutions and online
Location: Online and across the UK
The National Theatre offers a free playwriting course that can be accessed via iTunes. This course consists of videos and writing exercises and is a solid foundation for those who would like to write their first play. All the classes are delivered by successful playwrights, including David Hare, Matt Charman, John Hodge and Mike Leigh. The course is provided by National Theatre Learning 2012 and is updated regularly with new content on playwriting.
The National Theatre also runs an annual playwriting programme for 14 to 19-year-olds called New Views. Every year, hundreds of students from across the UK learn about playwriting from some of the finest writers in the industry and write their own 30-minute plays. One play is then selected to be produced at the NT with a professional
cast and crew, alongside rehearsed readings of the shortlisted plays.
Alice Schofield, New Views winner 2018, says: “The New Views programme gave me, and many others, the structure to create something to be proud of. Then, seeing my play rehearsed in the National Theatre Studio and eventually performed at the Dorfman Theatre was completely surreal and awe-inspiring. I cannot thank the amazing actors, creative team and production team enough for their beautiful work, and I am so grateful to the Learning Department for creating such a widely beneficial and inclusive programme.”
The Royal Court runs practical writers’ groups for about 100 writers a year, typically led by professional playwrights. Deputy literary manager Louise Stephens explains: “We build groups around what playwrights tell us has been useful to them, drawing in writers of potential from every background and experience. In all groups, writers engage with other writers’ work to support and challenge one another.”
Ellie Kendrick, whose play Hole runs at the Royal Court this autumn, says: “There is no way I would have been able to write anything more than 10 or 20 pages without these groups. The structure is great, because it supports you through creating a play from start to finish, giving you deadlines to work towards, teaching you how to structure your writing process. The opportunity to meet weekly with fellow writers and discuss our work is crucial to the process and very motivating. In short – I have had a really enjoyable and stimulating few months.”
Masterclass is an online learning platform with classes taught by world experts in many different subjects. David Mamet, the American playwright, film director, screenwriter and novelist, delivers a masterclass in dramatic writing. Mamet’s class is taught through 26 videos, with downloadable workbooks and supplement materials. The Pulitzer-winning playwright teaches the student through his process of turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. The course is suitable for beginners and more advanced playwrights.
Central offers postgraduate courses in writing for stage and broadcast media. Both the MA and MFA courses provide the opportunity for students to explore their ‘voice’, to develop confidence in their own writing and to understand the different media contexts within which they might work as a professional scriptwriter. Katherine Soper, who graduated from the programme in 2014, found success with her play Wish List, which won the Bruntwood Prize and The Stage Debut Award for best writer.
The play premiered at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester before transferring to London’s Royal Court. She says of the course: “It’s safe to say that without Central’s support I would never have written Wish List. Having that year gave me the space to experiment with my writing without feeling exposed, and helped me be disciplined about elements like plot structure and dramatic action that I’d previously found difficult to navigate on my own.”
This playwrights’ programme explores the fundamentals of playwriting through a series of fortnightly workshops led by the New Works team, visiting writers, directors and other practitioners. The group receives a reading list, with access to an extensive script library and between workshops there are theatre visits (with free tickets to all in-house productions). Each writer submits the first draft of a full-length play. The second term focuses on the redrafting process and each writer receives one-to-one dramaturgical support in addition to discussing their work within the group sessions.
Also on offer is the Young Writers’ Programme – a strand of Young Everyman Playhouse – offering 18 to 25-year-olds the opportunity to attend weekly playwriting workshops with the New Works team, professional playwrights and industry professionals. Students write a full-length play for the stage with dramaturgical support from the New Works team, collaborating with other YEP strands to create new work and events.
Location: Online or New York
This 10-week playwriting course can be taken in New York or online and starts on October 2. Students learn about the craft of dramatic writing, how to write for the stage, and how to market their work. Whether the student seeks to write one-act or full-length plays or musicals, Gotham Writers claims it will “show you how to write plays that draw the big applause”.
Teacher Kalle Macrides, a former student, explains: “The instructor’s skills as a writer and experience as a theatre professional greatly contributed to the success of the course; in addition to advice on craftsmanship, he illuminated the position of theatre when considering the production of a new work. This insight is invaluable to a greener playwright aspiring to have a first piece produced.”