Monday, September 03, 2007

Back from TAPS Continuing Drama Workshop

Spent Friday through Sunday in Cardiff for the TAPS [Training and Performence Showcase] continuing drama workshop. This was the Nations version, for emerging writers based in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but we had some English scribes as well, so it was an interesting mix of accents and voices. In advance of the workshop we had to write a one-page synopsis for a standalone 23-minute drama, featuring up to six characters. Sounds easy, right? Yes and no. All the scenes had to be interiors and had to be filmed on sets from the ITV soap Emmerdale.

Friday kicked off with registration, followed by a one-to-one session with a professional script editor, working through our synopsis. I was assigned to Alys Llywelyn-Hughes, who was extremely helpful. She felt I might be overloading my 23 minutes with material, and it wasn't clear whose story I was writing. We debated the merits of having one character as the protagonist, before settling on two other characters as a joint protagonist. Good stuff, and exactly the sort of feedback I was hoping to get from the workshop. A great start. Friday concluded with a panel session of the state of UK TV drama, particularly opportunities in Wales, followed by a welcome drink and handfuls of homework to read.

Saturday started with a session of the business of TV drama, hammering home a few truths. But the day was largely given over to sessions with veteran writer Bill Lyons, the self-proclaimed grumpy old man of soap. He took us through the complete life cycle of an Emmerdale episode he'd written. Then we were given an hour to write a 90 second scene for insertion into that episode. There were tight parameters on what sets and characters could be used, to simulate the experience of writers asked to provide fill-ins when an episode runs short. Finally, we were given more homework for Saturday night: material from the BBC daytime medical drama Doctors to read, and a 30-second pitch to prepare for the last day.

Sunday saw the 25 writers divided into two groups. My first 90 minutes were in the group with script editor Diane Culverhouse and Alys Llywelyn-Hughes, analysing a particular episode of Doctors and talking about the role of script editors. The rest of the morning was spent with Bill Lyons and Peter Edwards of ITV Wales supervising several actors playing out the scenes we'd written the previous night. Not all the scenes got acted, so I was happy to see mine up on its feet. It started well but ran out of gas towards the end. Still, a fascinating exercise in speed writing.

The afternoon was spent presenting pitches and fielding questions from Peter Edwards, Bill Lyons and TAPS executive director Jill Jame. Some were stunningly good, others not so much. Mine got an intentional laugh, so I took that as a good sign. I also got some telling questions from the panel about the tone of my piece, so that's something I'll have to keep an eye on when I write my script. All those on the workshop now have 17 days to write our 23-minute standalone dramas. The best ten will be chosen for mentoring by a script editor, before second drafts are written. Finally, the two best will be filmed by a professional in late November as showcase pieces with professional actors performing the scripts.

All in all, it was a fascinating weekend and I learned a lot. The exercises in speed writing and pitching pushed me out of my usual comfort zone, as will the September 20th deadline for submission of my standalone script. The workshop certainly hasn't dampened my urge to write continuing drama. A couple of people I spoke to felt it had pushed them the other way, but that's often just as useful. Better to discover in a weekend you don't want to do something than waste months chasing after a goal without realising you don't wish to attain it. Right, off to work on my five year plan and delve into my characters for the 23-minuter.

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