• Writing for the stage is a particular skill
• It may draw on qualities of other kind of writing, but is it’s own category
• The writer creates a script
•Not a novel, it is a text which is in some ways incomplete or unachieved and
requires the intervention of the presence of an audience and actors
•Lays out how the performance is going to be built
•“the bones” “the skeleton” upon which the cast puts its flesh onto, brings it to
Writing For Theatre
• A narrative without narration
• There is a particular kind of storytelling, it takes place in an “eternal present”, the
narrative has to be embodied, it has to be taken on by actors
• Eternal Present- Wilder
• A blueprint for performance
• -Some would argue the script is simply material, just words, language, a
speech, and is material to be worked like any other material in the play.
Equal to the music, actors, lighting- A more recent, modern way of
thinking about a script
• The dominant idea has been that the script is this thing that organizes
what is going to happen on stage
WRIGHT from OE wryhta: worker, a craftsperson, a maker of material things
• Playwrights were the first to be honored
Decades later they acknowledge awards for writers
• The individual ownership of a work was not significant because it was seen belonging
to something greater
•We don’t know the names of “the cycle plays” because the event was of greater
importance than the name of the author
(Exam Question) What Kinds of Theatre were historically at work, the economic
dynamics at work
-Difference between courtly theatre and market theatre
-Commedia was market? With time, the script begins to take on the life of its own as a commodity
Commodity= an article, an object, a good as opposed to a service
Has EXCHANGE value, not only use value
Scripts start to become commodities, they can be bought or sold.
The medieval cycle plays belong to the city, but an elizabethan playwright could
sell to competing companies.
Playwrights got a flat fee, unless you were a shareholder like Shakespeare.
It was quite unusual for a play to have 20 performances. So you might not get anything
at all if your show only lasts 2 nights.
France was the first to implement “fee per performance”
the writer is now beginning to profit from his success
The idea that a playwright could sell his work to the highest bidder and his association
with the theatre led to generalization of prostitution.
You were seen as some kind of whore if you were selling your work that way.
There were these aristocratic notion as to how it should be. Women had it even
worse because she was earning a living from her work by selling it off.
In the 19th century, playwrights may have suffered
economically they were alright, but artistically they were not held in high regard
often they would see a play abroad and “translated” (basically re written to suit
the location they were writing for)
So they turned up heaps and heaps of derivative work
People began to think, it’s not just “mindless fluff”, but can also be a serious art form
that asks questions and has meaning to some people
We can think of shaw, strindberg, ibsen
Ibsen made most of his living selling copies of his books. Perhaps because the
publishing industry was more willing to entertain.
• This is a change from the elizabethan
How do playwrights work/ How have they worked?
• Many playwrights wrote with a theatre or actor in mind, a company • Shakespeare had worked with a particular group of actors, was an actor so know what
it was like to be an actor. He wrote for a particular group of actors. So there is a
difference between his clowns.
• Will Kempe (clown) - Had his own show and toured for a long time, was hugely
famous. So Shakespeare wrote plays that suited Will Kempe.
• Will leaves the company at one point and the clowns changed. Not quite as
goofy, they become a little more melancholy, a little more musical. He is
replaced by armen, and he writes work more suitable for him. Less silly.
• Moliere had a company of actors, he wrote to their strengths.
• Jane Wagner (contemporary example)
• Caroyl Churchill wrote closely with a company of actors.
Theatre vs. Film
• You can’t do the same things in the same way in the theatre. Example: if you write in a
script that an actor has gone to make tea offstage; what does the audience do while
the playwright is offstage?
• Tennesse Williams felt that most of what he learned was through osmosis: he felt that
it was through his studying at school, what he learned was mostly from on stage and
backstage. A strong sense of what the theatre could do visually.
“The worst thing that can happen is you get back what you asked for”
-The idea has not grown
It is more likely that you will network into a company, and then your work will be
You may or may not be consulted who is the cast or designers.
You may not may be assigned to work with a dramaturge (someone who works
alongside a playwright