A zoom of one's own

9 April 2020

'Brilliant and captivating', Lydia Kendall-McDougall reviews April de Angelis' virtual playwriting workshop

I was both excited and sceptical about joining the ‘Write a Scene’ online workshop with April de Angelis as part of the festival; after hours of very confusing online seminars for my university course, I wasn’t sure how much I’d be able to get out of this from a virtual distance. I was proved wrong. The workshop was brilliantly delivered and very captivating, and it is clear that de Angelis is an expert at her craft. I felt I was learning from the best. 

I’m very new to creative writing. Having studied plays as part of my English Literature course for three years, I feel much more acquainted with the analysis of a play than the writing of one. This was the perfect workshop to attend, offering me a mixture of approaches, both writing and a focus on analysis which made it less intimidating to me. De Angelis focused the workshop around a scene from My Brilliant Friend, written by herself and based on the book of the same name, which is centred around the two female protagonists meeting for the first time. This allowed for an in-depth discussion of themes such as power, femininity and childhood, and the ways in which these are enacted through dialogue, action, pause, and setting, to name a few. De Angelis stressed the idea of a scene as a tool for serving a situation, as a journey, through which we must ask ourselves: where does it begin and end? What is the discovery? What is the change? Where does the audience come into play?

In the casual setting of de Angelis’s office, the scene written out on a whiteboard, it was perhaps ironically more accessible than if the workshop had taken place in person. As someone who is quite self-conscious about creative writing, this workshop and the way it was delivered by de Angelis was the least intimidating or threatening environment possible. She delivered her ideas in a casual, conversational, often humorous way which – despite the one-sided nature of Zoom – felt more like a discussion than a lecture. With a few anecdotes here and there about her own time working with the director on this play, it was a window into the world of theatre I haven’t experienced in this way before. She made references to the form of drama itself, and how important history is in how we view a play. The stress placed on historical significance widened the discussion outside of just the scene itself, which to me was incredibly helpful and allowed for opportunities for wider thought. She also referenced other plays, describing our scene as a ‘Faustain journey’ which again provided more intertextual context and gave opportunity for ideas to expand across theatre. 

There was also some discussion about being a playwright as well as studying the scene. De Angelis stressed that ‘you have to learn it when you’re young’, celebrating the fact that we were taking part in the workshop and eager to start now, which was incredibly encouraging as well as motivational. The intimidating world of being a potential playwright became a set of skills that would become second-nature with practice, and that could be continuously built upon as you learn. The workshop concluded with her underlining that the approach to scene-writing is the same as putting a mirror to ourselves; as a playwright you have to ‘poke at yourself’, she told us, and ask yourself who you are, what you are like, and what you think. She told us to be prepared to look at the scene as a challenge to ourselves and our own ideas. This sounds like an exciting challenge to me.

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Photograph: Beatrice Debney