Talawa Firsts Guest Blog
Each year in early summer, Talawa Firsts, showcases the most dynamic, diverse new writing and performance shaping British theatre today.
Myah Jeffers (Talawa Firsts 2016) shares her experience of the Festival's Writing Workshop
As part of the festival, Talawa hosted a number of workshops for emerging artists, having kicked off with a writer’s workshop, delivered by Talawa’s Literary Associate Jane Fallowfield and Soho Theatre’s Education Producer Jules Haworth.
With budding playwrights from London and other parts of the country participating, the evening was filled with extracts of produced plays, writing exercises and advice on how to get the most out of your script.
"I’m a huge fan of writing workshops. I believe they’re imperative to any writer’s development and career - spaces to not only improve your craft, but to share knowledge with others."
This workshop was no exception, with themes of identity, coming of age, friendship and change all raised throughout the evening. The themes were intricately woven into the powerful scripts of Theresa Ikoko’s GIRLS and Tash Marshall’s HALF-BREED – which we had the opportunity to read, analyse and discuss.
GIRLS and HALF-BREED are two beautiful coming of age plays based in differing contexts, yet with a similar sense of urgency, endearing naivety and fierceness that burns throughout their respective stories.
We discussed what makes each piece theatrical and why each writer chose to start the play at that specific point of the story.
We found that theatricality can be identified in a range of things, including the intimacy of a solo performance and the ability to embody the fluidity of multiple characters, as in HALF BREED.
Some of the participants also thought that GIRLS evoked theatricality through the writer’s ability to create a compelling world despite the confined setting of the play, based in a small room where the three young girls reside.
Using these plays as reference points, we explored the different ways a protagonist can be introduced in a play.
In HALF-BREED, Tash introduced her protagonist Jaz, through the character of her best friend Brogan - a way of setting up the key themes of identity and change almost instantaneously. We identified that Theresa opens GIRLS with a typical ill-informed teenager conversation, instead of diving straight into the harsh reality of the lives of the girls who have been kidnapped by Nigeria’s Boko Haram.
Talawa Firsts Writing Workshop Participant
"... we are brought into their world, instantly humanising the characters, which makes the subject matter slightly easier to swallow."
Workshops where participants don’t necessarily know each other can be nerve wracking. There’s almost always an initial sense of hesitation to share writing, yet Jules and Jane easily dispelled these nerves by creating a safe space where sharing wasn’t imperative but voluntary and offering informed feedback. This resulted in a tide of poking hands indicating willingness to read their work following short bursts of freewriting.
The freewriting began with a timed response to a selection of words, helping us to reconnect with our respective writer’s voice. Following this, we wrote compelling narratives based off of objects and location cards placed in the middle of the room – Out of this exercise, pieces of writing were produced with comedic and poetic elements as well as a few that bore the seed of traditional plays.
Every piece of writing that was shared had a sense of urgency to it, evoking the same compelling nature of GIRLS and HALF-BREED.
Jane and Jules’ parting challenge was for everyone to flesh out their freewrites into a short script for submission to either Talawa's Script Reading Service or as a part of the application for SOHO Theatre’s Writer’s Lab.
A challenge I’m hoping many have accepted as I’m definitely looking forward to reading those gems!
About Myah Jeffers
Myah Jeffers is a Birmingham based English (BA) graduate, writer, theatre maker and performance artist. As a passionate advocate for art for social change, her present body of work explores social and political themes intended to provoke thought and challenge hegemonic ideologies through topics such as race, feminism, representation, mental health and sexuality.
She has created and presented work with Talawa Theatre Company, notably in Talawa Firsts 2016, and where she continues her association as a Script Reader. Myah also works with Birmingham REP, Theatre Royal Stratford East, mac Birmingham, The Roundhouse, Battersea Arts Centre and the BBC.
Talawa's history of nurturing and collaborating with outstanding writers like Roy Williams, Derek Walcott, Jackie Kay, Arinze Kene, Chinonyerem Odimba, Inua Ellams, and Malorie Blackman is well known.
Now, Talawa is developing the next generation of Black British writers such as Nicôle Lecky, Somalia Seaton, Theresa Ikoko, Natasha Marshall and Archie Maddocks.