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Divyesh Vijayakar profiles Rage's 'Young Writers Workshop' held in November at Manori


Some people think writers are a solitary lot. But I know I’ve always been a different sort. I need people around for me to write. I need to bounce ideas off people to help me in the process. No wonder I work in advertising (apart from working in Theatre…as an actor, mind you!)

Having never written a play before, I decided to attend the YOUNG WRITERS WORKSHOP which was brought to Mumbai by RAGE PRODUCTIONS, along with TINDERBOX CONSULTANTS, WALES and MERCURY COLCHESTER THEATRE on the 22nd of November. Now the Rajit Kapur-Rahul Da Cunha- Shernaz Patel-led Rage Productions has been the torchbearer for new Indian writing for the stage for over a decade, especially with their highly successful WRITERS BLOC festival which is entering its third year this January. They along with Tinderbox decided to do a new workshop for young writers, as a precursor to their production of Farhad Sorabjee’s HARD PLACES, which is to be performed in mid-2012.

Held in a quaint shack in Manori, in North Mumbai, I found myself sitting with 14-odd young writers, from different backgrounds and schools of thought. The workshop was led by Rebecca Gould (Lead Practitioner, Education, Royal Shakespeare Company), Chris White (script adviser, Hampstead Theatre) and Gari Jones (Educationist, Mercury Theatre, Colchester), and these three maestros gave us a taste of what we as young writers can do when we set out to write plays. Rajit Kapur and Shernaz Patel were the facilitators, making sure the workshop goes off ok, and we’re fed well.

We started with some theatre exercises to warm up the mind and body (yes!), then went on to work on Shakespeare’s KING LEAR! The play about how an old king gives into the false praise given by his elder daughters, and shuns the true love shown by his youngest, which ends up in his downfall, was divided into 10 bits, and each group was asked to perform these bits, with NO WORDS! Then as the process continued, we added lines to the performances that we saw, and thus realized how words can suddenly bring the scene alive, can be used to enhance it, and can also carry the story forward, into the audience’s minds.

After breaking for lunch, we came to the six-word story format, popularized by Hemingway’s classic: “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never worn.” There was a fun exercise where we were all asked to come up with six-word stories, which proved hilarious results…I felt like an ad man again, since this is what I’m generally asked to do…for a living!

Rebecca introduced us to different dramatic structures and how practitioners have imbibed it, modified it, and made their own headway into what defines a ‘play’. Chris told us about how Farhad Sorabjee’s piece, Hard Places has a lot of differing themes, which are relevant not just in the play’s universe, but in terms of everyday life. Gari being an actor as well as a writer, harped on themes such as what defines the ‘line’ for an actor, about how an actor can make the lines his own, by understanding the theme and nature of the text, and how important that is, for a performance to be a whole!

Next, writers were broken up into pairs, and were asked to share a personal story, something that might be embarrassing or scary but will always remain memorable. Now once you’ve heard your partner’s story, you’ve got to retell the same story, referring to the partner in third person. Also, a twist was added to this exercise, by asking the participants to add a NEW character in the story, and tell the same story through this point of view. The idea here is to show how a different viewpoint can bring the same story in front of an audience with a different dynamic altogether.

And with these viewpoints in mind, we were finally entrusted our assignments. Since this workshop is an ongoing process, we writers are supposed to come up with stories based around the theme of the main play, which is HARD PLACES. To summarize, it is the story of a border post between two countries, and the story of a mother, trying to reunite with her children, on two sides of the border. Thus we’ve been told to delve into our selves, and come up with a short 12-min piece, related to the theme of BORDERS in our lives- could be physical, metaphysical, emotional, any ones! Some of these pieces will be selected and will be performed as platforms, before the main production of Hard Places. A unique concept is that writers from England who’ve already been part of a similar Young Writers Workshop will get to bring their pieces to India as well, thus completing the cross-cultural exchange.

Seemed like a tough cookie for someone like me, who’s tried, and failed miserably at attempts to write a play. But the workshop really helped me understand what playwriting is about, how I need to start looking at a text, what is drama, what is real, how sometimes lines and dialogues flow from characters rather than the writers’ head. And yes as I write this, my mind is racing, and on a separate word doc, the story of the play I’m trying to come up with, is being written. Once that’s done, I’ll send it in, and Rage and Tinderbox will be able to tell me if I’m on the right track, yet.

Rage brings to you Writers Bloc 3- this January-- 12 Original plays that have been through the Writers Bloc Workshop process will be staged first at Prithvi, then at the NCPA,! So as I set out to write my first play, I’d love every one of you to come and be a part of the new plays that young writers from all over the country are bringing to the Indian Stage! Let’s celebrate New Indian Playwriting in 2012!!!