Here is a series of writing exercises inspired by a recent workshop I attended. The activities are staged and ramp up to writing a ten minute play.
Exercise 1: Imagining the setting
Atmosphere is extremely important in theatre and setting the right atmosphere lets the writer breathe life into his/her work and world. In this activity, ask Ss to choose one of the following items and spend 2 to 3 minutes closing their eyes and imagining the space. They should explore the space fully in their mind in three dimensions. Then ask them to write about 50 words describing the setting:
- Abandoned lift
- Derelict building
- Psychiatric ward
- Deserted street
Exercise 2: Creating a character profile.
Now, it’s time to populate this world with people. To get Ss to start thinking about robust character development, ask them to think of a character that might belong in this setting. They should fill the gaps in the following statements to sketch out this character’s profile:
- I was born _______
- My first memories ______
- I remember my mother ________
- I have been to ________
- Since 7 ‘o clock this morning _______
- I love _______
- What interests me now is _______
- I cannot understand why _______
- I have been reading _______
- I wish _______
Exercise 3: Dialogue with strangers
Ask Ss to work with a partner. They should choose one setting from the two they have between them and create a dialogue in this setting between their two characters. However, pairs should write a single script in a turn-wise manner. For example, A writes a line for his character and passes the notebook to B who then writes a line for her character and passes it back to A. This interchange continues until the dialogue reaches a natural conclusion.
Exercise 4: Building out a dialogue
Ask Ss if they know what the word ‘conflict’ means. Elicit meaning beyond fighting and point out the role of conflict in a story. Ask Ss to work individually to describe a setting in one line; two characters A & B – who are they? Age? What do they do? Then write a short dialogue between A & B in this setting that involves conflict.
After you get some Ss to read out their dialogues, elicit how conflict makes stories richer and more interesting to listeners and readers.
Exercise 5: 10 minute play
Stage 1: Hand out chits of paper and ask Ss to write a full name on it as well as the person’s professions, likes & dislikes and hobbies. For example Neha Rodrigues, swimming instructor, likes movies & shopping, hates fast food & strong perfumes, loves solving jigsaw puzzles. They should write three character prompts each.
Collect all the chits into a pile. Now repeat this procedure with these prompts:
- Setting – should be quite specific – not just “room” but what kind of room and where it’s located.
- Prop – this is an inanimate object which is positioned on stage during the play.
- Object – this is an item which is referred to in the dialogue and may not be physically present on stage.
- Dialogue – A single line of dialogue.
Ask Ss to now pick one prompt from each of the piles except the character pile from which they should pick three chits. They should have some wacky ideas for creating a short original play. You may want to share a structure to help them write the 10 minute play.
Structure for 10 minute play:
- Word count: Around 15oo words
- Jump straight into the action – don’t spend time setting context. Think about who your characters are and what they want.
- Page 1 – 2: Set-up the world of the main character(s)
- Page 2 – 3: Something happens to throw their world out of balance
- Page 4 – 7: Your character struggles to restore order to her world
- Page 8: Just when your character is about to restore order, something happens to complicate matters.
- Page 9-10: Character either succeeds or fails in her attempt to restore order.
Maybe as a follow-on activity, Ss could get into small groups and select one of their plays to perform for the rest of the class. It could be a staged reading instead of an actual performance.