Friday, 12 June 2015

Introduction to Playwriting Course

If you have a great idea for a theatre play but no idea how to get started then you might be interested in this course for beginners. A two day course Introduction to Playwriting.

The course will be taught by Sandra Bendelow and Branwen Davies.

Sandra Bendelow is a writer and arts producer. She is currently on seed commission to National Theatre Wales for her project Secret Never to Be Told. Recent credits include Poo Karma and Arctic Exploration for Agent 160 and One Hour and Forty Five Minutes for Dirty Protest at the Royal Court Theatre. She recently produced a new play To Kill a Machine by Aberystwyth playwright Catrin Fflur Huws about war time cryptanalyst Alan Turing which toured Wales and will be at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August

Branwen is a playwright who writes in Welsh and English. Recent credits include ‘Suffocate’ for Dirty Protest/National Theatre Wales, ‘Llond Bol’ for Agent 160, ‘Gwagle’ for Sherman Cymru/Theatr Genedlaethol and ‘Lost’ for Scriptography Productions. Branwen has recently completed a practise based PhD at the Theatre, Film and TV department at Aberystwyth University where she is currently a teaching fellow.

The course will be an intensive two days of workshops covering topics such as finding ideas, developing dramatic character, action, dialogue and structure.

Following the intensive two days each student will have the opportunity to develop and receive feedback on their own original script.

The course will take place on 19th and 20th June in the Old College. 

For more information and to book a place on Introduction to Playwriting

Friday, 3 October 2014

It's been a strange few years....

It’s been a strange few years. I wrote this little monologue for Dirty Protest Theatre Company and it was put on at the Royal Court, and then at Theatre Clwyd and then at Dirty, Gifted and Welsh. It was all beyond unbelievable.

John McGrath saw my little monologue One Hour and Forty Five Minutes and asked me to work on a seed commission. National Theatre Wales also nominated me for BBC Writersroom 10, I didn’t get in but just being nominated, by National Theatre Wales, was beyond unbelievable. I mean, seriously unbelievable. National Theatre Wales? Me? A seed commission?

I was also asked to join the all female playwright company Agent 160,  and my first short play for them will be presented this weekend as part of Fun Palaces at Wales Millennium Centre. I sat in rehearsals the other day, listening to words I’d written being performed by Llinos Mai, thinking - I wrote this, it’s good, it’s really funny. I love my job.

Then on the 12th October some scenes from my seed commission will be read at the 2nd Dirty Gifted and Welsh. Now last year at this event as one of the writers being presented by Dirty Protest, because mine had been on at the Royal Court, feeling a little dreamlike, I watched the pieces being presented by National Theatre Wales and I looked at the writers and I thought, that’s where I want to be next year. To repeat last year I said that’s where I want to be and this year I will be. I know! Unbelievable.  
It’s all just been beyond unbelievable – I spend a lot of time thinking I am going to wake up and the last two years has been a dream.  Seriously I don’t think ever since Tim Price phoned me up and I stood in my garden (the signal is shit in the house) and he told me my play in a bag piece was going to be on at the Royal Court it has stopped being anything other than surreal. But I guess that’s what it has to be like because you spend your life dreaming this dream of being a writer and working hard to achieve this dream. Writing and writing and writing. You get rejections, you get knocked back, you keep on writing and you keep on dreaming. Then you sit in the audience and watch your play at the Royal Court and it all just gets very surreal because you are living your dream.

But then now I’m sitting at my desk working trying to get the scenes ready for Dirty Gifted and Welsh. Yesterday I wrote a paragraph and then sat back and re-read it, I burst out laughing and kept laughing for a few minutes because I was looking at it thinking – that’s either utter brilliance or complete bollocks and I really don’t know which it is. That’s the thing with writing – every time you start something new you have to find new ways of doing things. I could just churn out the same old stuff, the things I’ve got comfortable with but where’s the fun in that – if I wanted to do the same thing every day I’d work in an office. Who the hell would choose to that when you can live the dream?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Reasons why you shouldn't - and should go to see Flowers of the Dead Red Sea

I’m very excited today. I’m excited because tonight I’m going to watch Run Amok’s fourth production Flowers of the Dead Red Sea written by Ed Thomas which is being performed by Rhodri Brady and Matt Christmas. I’m excited because having seen two of their first three productions I am waiting with baited breath to see what this company are going to do next.

Now quite a lot of you are going to ask some questions after the first paragraph – Who are Run Amok? Who is Rhodri Brady? Who is Matt Christmas? Also worryingly a lot of people, even in Wales are going to say – who is Ed Thomas?

Let’s deal with the easy one – Ed Thomas is the co-creator, executive producer and writer of Hinterland. Yes that Hinterland, the one that everyone is talking about at the moment because it was filmed in Ceredigion and is ambitiously setting its sight to be the new Nordic- noir thriller. Who would have thought five years that Nordic noir thriller would be a genre?

I should state at this point that you shouldn’t go to see Flowers of the Dead Red Sea because you like Hinterland or Nordic noir thrillers, it is not Hinterland – there is no detective, no murder mystery – there is however two butchers in an extremely darkly comic and absurdist play.

Now long before Ed Thomas began to focus on television and film writing he was a playwright – he was a playwright in the 90’s in Wales, he created his own theatre company and then he gave up on theatre in Wales and headed to the safer world of television and film. You can’t really blame him – playwrights are ignored, playwrights are not produced, playwrights don’t have their voices nurtured – in Wales anyway. This genuinely is an extremely rare opportunity to see a play by Ed Thomas – it hasn’t been produced in over 20 years.

So Run Amok – who are they? Founded by Artistic Directors Izzy Rabey and Jonathan Patton – Run Amok has been on an impressive trajectory of performing ambitious, complex and challenging texts. They are a student company – a company of recent graduates, Jonathan is currently in London studying for an MA and Izzy is about to head to London to do an MA. Now though the ground is heavy with student companies in towns and cities with theatre departments, and those student companies walk through the ashes of student companies which have walked there before – from those ashes emerge the companies of the future. As far as I’m concerned that phrase emerging theatre – that’s where it’s from – it’s the companies that make it through those first few years of being a student company. I have absolutely no doubt that Run Amok are going to become one of the leading voices of Welsh theatre  - well they will be if we give them a reason to be, if we support them and nurture them. It is really hard being an emerging company in Wales, people don’t know the company, they dismiss them as yet another young student company. But Run Amok are different- they have one foot in London and one foot in Wales – though admittedly that foot is Izzy Rabey’s extremely rooted foot.

The foot in London is a good thing too because they have forced the work of a Welsh playwright into a theatre in London –  Welsh written and produced theatre is very rarely seen in London. Let’s face it it’s rarely seen in Wales. It is barely – if ever seen outside of Cardiff. Welsh theatre companies touring work – you can count them on one hand. Welsh companies touring work by Welsh writers – I’m really struggling now. Yes there are exceptions but as someone working and writing within the theatre industry in Wales – I really hope we can find our way to more than exceptions. But don’t go to watch Flowers of the Dead Red Sea because you want to support one of the exceptions – though that is a good reason to see it.

Run Amok are a company to be watched –not only in a watch a meteoric rise as you read reviews and articles about them over the next few years – but as an experience of live theatre. Live theatre which is guaranteed to make you laugh and think. Most importantly live theatre which will include performances from Rhodri Brady and Matt Christmas. This is the thing which excites me the most about going along tonight to see Flowers of The Dead Red Sea – I literally can’t wait to experience the chemistry between these two amazing performers. Performers who are new,  magically untrained and untarnished , and offer so much promise for exciting futures, put them together with the words of Ed Thomas , the direction of Izzy Rabey, scenographic design from Maisie Baynham and sound designed by Kyle Arrowsmith and you are absolutely guaranteed an amazing experience of emerging theatre at its very best.

Flowers of the Dead Red Sea by Ed Thomas, by Run Amok is at Aberystwyth Arts Centre 1st May, Rosemary Branch Theatre 8th and 9th May and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Richard Burton Theatre 10th May. The Aberystwyth Arts Centre performance includes a post-show talk with Ed Thomas.

Ed Thomas wrote new monologues as trailers for the show which were filmed by Pete Telfor for Culture Colony which you can view on YouTube here
Joe and Mock 

Follow the company at and @TheatrRunAmok

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Dancing Words

For the last few months I have been producing a performed response project at the Gas Gallery in Aberystwyth. I have been participating as a writer and it’s been an interesting and educational experience.

Response Time includes performance makers from all disciplines ; performance artists, visual artists, installation, physical theatre, movement, dancers, storytellers . Response Time has thrown them all in together and put them all out of their comfort zones. Definitions of performance have never really had a place in Response Time with 48 hours to work people don’t really have time to define their work just to get on with it.

The idea of the project is to spend 48 hours responding to the art, space and environment and then pulling all the different responses into an hour or so of performance which we shared with an audience on the Sunday evening. During the week of the 4th – 12th April we extended the project to a week long response Replay Me Adleisio. The project received funding from Arts Council Wales which  allowed us to explore the model of the project over a longer period.

My role as a writer in Replay Me Adleisio was to work alongside choreographer Lara Ward and musician and composer Nick Jones to create words, movement and sound - working with 3 performers (Cet Haf, Gwion Llyr and Milly Jackdaw).

As a writer the project has put me so far out of my comfort zone at times it was terrifying – always exhilarating but terrifying no less.

Thinking about how I have worked over the six responses I recognise a journey I have been on as a writer. For the first two I stuck firmly with what I knew, I picked art and I created characters from it. I found myself drawn to the words in the gallery, the artists statements the titles of art and I looked for stories but as the projects have progressed I have found myself freeing myself from what I knew I could do easily and exploring what I didn’t know how to do.

All writers have processes, usually developed over a number of years, I know I have ways that I approach an idea. Exercises that I use to get an idea moving – develop characters, structure, themes. I have processes to develop the layers in a piece. I have processes to develop the different drafts. I have processes to explore the holes and plug them. I even have processes to develop the differences within each new piece. I know each new idea has to have a different way to explore its subject and style but I still explore those differences through an established process.

But what I found with Response Time was that none of it was any good to me. For the first few projects I produced something resembling my usual work but it was all work that was lacking. Some good dialogue, some interesting characters, some interesting situations but lacking. Somewhere around the third one I found myself doing something very different.

This wasn’t because I recognised the need for a new process, it was because I was starting to absorb other people’s processes. For me it has been the most useful part of being involved in Response Time as a writer has been watching how others work in particular the young and emerging artists like Vivian Ezugha , Hannah Pullen and James Baker – all of them young and inexperienced in performance an all of them from different disciplines but yet all of them producing amazing work every time they have participated because as young and emerging artists they have a refreshing lack of experience and respond and develop work with an admirable mixture of naivety and boldness. All of them threw themselves into the art, the moment, the response. It was watching them that made me want to rediscover that naivety and boldness of the youthful writer I once was. 

I usually spend a lot of time thinking about an idea – it is the most important part of my process is the days I spend walking around the woods with the dogs, gardening, cleaning, doing office work – all while my brain turns an idea over and over. Producing a 48 hour response does not give time for a considered response just an emotional response, moving forward with a gut response, an instinctive feeling. Then pushing everything I knew to one side and letting the words flow, not worrying about what the words were doing just letting them loose.

On the response project with Lara as curator I watched her direct pieces – pieces that were effectively short plays, and it was as though she made the words dance around the room. That was a thought that has stayed with me. I didn’t want to write plays for Response Time – I know how to do that already –for Response Time I wanted to see my words dance around a room.

For Replay Me Adleisio I wanted to see the words become music in the hands of Nick, not song – that’s very different –,  but music and I wanted my words to dance. Whether or not I achieved that doesn’t really matter, though I think it did, in fact not only that my words became a pathway for a parkour film and my words disrupted movement to become an improvisational piece.

I still love narrative plays and will be returning to writing one soon, and I’m looking forward to it, to get back into inciting incidents and mid-points but I am going to try to bring what I’ve learned in Response Time to my narrative play.  I will return to it thinking about dancing words and following my gut instincts because I know how much fun it is to be out of my comfort zone and back to being a naive and bold youthful writer whilst also knowing how much better it is to be that naive and bold youthful writer with the experience and knowledge of being a saggier and crinklier older writer.  

Friday, 25 October 2013

Writing course - creating characters and writing better dialogue

I will be running two workshops at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Sunday 3rd November and Sunday 1st December 2pm – 5pm. Creative workshops in creating characters and writing dialogue for all forms of script writing and prose writing.

I’ve specifically chosen subjects which are constant queries from my writing for performance group. Basically whenever I ask what subjects do you want me to do exercises on, the answers are always character and dialogue – and no matter how many I do they always want more.

For me creating characters is at the heart of my writing process – for me everything begins with characters. I build the character developing their past, their flaws, their personal history, imagining the big moments in their lives and working through how those moments have impacted on them. Once the character starts to talk to me and a voice emerges then I know I’m ready to start writing – and because I know the character in such detail whatever problems I throw at them in the course of the play I know that their reactions and behaviour are real. I also find that through the process of developing character the plot and structure of the play will inevitably unfold – scenes, other characters will start to spring. But first, always first is character. Without the character it is just faceless people on stage spouting words.

Over the years I’ve built a mountain of exercises – my box of tools that help me get ideas for characters, develop characters, resolve problems through characters when something is not working.

When I read scripts I find that more often than not, the main problem is bad dialogue. Scriptwriters, prose writers – it doesn’t matter really. Dialogue needs to be just that – dialogue. Characters speaking to one another as they would speak, not how you want them to speak so you can push in a cheeky metaphor or say – look how clever I am with words. I don’t care about your metaphors, I don’t care how clever you are with words. All I’m going to think is – bad dialogue. Just thinking about that made me wince. Because that’s what happens, bad dialogue makes the listener, watcher, reader – wince. It jars. It reminds us it is fiction. It will stop an audience engaging and investing in your characters because they don’t believe they’re real.

I like dialogue, I like real dialogue, I want to hear characters speaking as they would really speak, not how a writer wants them to speak.  I want to hear characters with accents flowing through the patterns of how they speak. I want to hear characters speaking grammatically incorrect because that’s what they do! I don’t want to hear the voice of the writer, I want to hear the voice of the character. I also like how theatre writing allows us to play with dialogue, creating rhythms, patterns, music –characters not talking to one another but dancing. I want to hear noise and overcutting of dialogue that reflects the way we converse. I like poetic text, I like stylized text. But how do you marry the demands of a more poetic or fragmented style with the need for characters to speak realistically. These are subjects I’ve been exploring for years in my writing and again I’ve found exercises that help a writer to resolve these issues.

The workshop is for writers of all mediums – theatre, film, radio, television, digital writing and prose. The workshops will look at the difference and similarities in creating characters and writing dialogue for the different mediums and what we can learn about from the different mediums about creating characters and writing dialogue.

If you’re interested in more writing courses then please let me know and I can keep you informed of any new courses in the future.
More information about me, my work as a writer and theatre producer here
To book a place on the courses visit the Aberystwyth Arts Centre website

Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Cursed by Sandra Bendelow. Image by Boz Groden
Cursed is an interesting one, a short play produced for the EarCandy project, an audio drama project from a web platform.

It was a really exciting project to be involved in, 13 writers exploring audio-drama, learning what works and doesn't by writing, recording and then presenting the plays. And also very importantly having the plays available so that anyone, anywhere can listen to them - for free.

But Cursed as a short audio drama was created from frustration. A story I'd wanted to tell but hadn't been able to find a way to tell it. It had been bugging me for a really long time. The story of the Bells of Santiago which I'd discovered on one of though random journeys on the web. You know the ones where you click a link and then click another, drawn along a pathway by interesting stories until there it was the Bells of Santiago.

Now bearing in mind that one of my writing obsessions is how objects become imbued with the history around them, a story about a set of bells that hung from a tower in a church in Santiago until a fire which killed over 2,000 killed destroyed the church in which they hung, at which point the bells were transported to the Gower to hang in a church for several hundred years before someone realised their origins and shipped them back to Santiago - yes that's a story which is going to interest me.

Izzy Rabey recording Cursed
It's a story about a horrible tragedy, fire and bells, so it always seemed to be a radio play.

I took the idea to a writing workshop with Kaite O'Reilly and used it as a base for writing exercises, imagining myself as the bell, voiceless, thousands of miles from my home, haunted by a memory of thousands of people screaming when they burned to death.

And yet still I couldn't find the way to tell the story. I still haven't. It's still there waiting for me to find a way in. I'm almost there but it's not quite there yet.

But in the meantime as I tried to think of an idea for a short audio play, the story of the bell came to me and I found myself creating a version of it, drawing some of the elements from it - Swansea, a church fire and then drawing some elements from one of my other writing obsessions - magic.

And so here it is a play about a girl and a bell, both cursed by a tragedy.

The bell magnificiently played by Robert Harper and the girl and every other character played by the amazing Izzy Rabey.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Getting the balance right

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a writer recently, mainly because I haven’t been doing much writing. I’ve been doing all the other things I do alongside my work as a writer producing, digital marketing workshops, running writing groups and of course when the mortgage gets too demanding and other projects aren’t lining up quite right to fill the bank account on designated days then I pretty much do any part-time job to hand which will fit around everything else in my life.

Earlier in the summer I worked in a cafe, at the moment I’m cleaning.
I used to have a full-time, decent wage earning type job and it was nice to not worry about bills about it was very difficult to manage production work and writing alongside it. I was made redundant - I had a choice to make and it seemed an opportunity to take a leap which I did. Mainly it’s been going really well with the things I do to sustain my writing - several creative projects heading in the direction of funding, more bookings for digital marketing workshops. As for my writing I’ve had a short play produced at the Royal Court. I’ll say that again because I like saying it. I’ve had a short play produced at the Royal Court.

My short play One Hour and Forty Five Minutes, written for Dirty Protest as part of their plays-in-a-bag project, was selected to be presented as at Royal Court’s Surprise Theatre.
I said it three times but who’s counting.

It was presented again at Theatr Clwyd’s Picnic Plays. It’s says on the website I’m an up-and-coming writer.
As most up and coming writers and more established writers know it’s difficult to earn a living from writing and I’m one of very many who find themselves needing to supplement their incomes. As I wander round town covered in bleach stained clothes at the moment I do find myself feeling the need to remind other people I’m a writer though I don’t need to remind myself.

The thing I know is that the decent wage earning type job I did for eight years may well have paid the bills easily but in eight years the job itself created exactly four ideas for scripts. Four – in eight years. Not a very good success rate really. All the other scripts I wrote in those years came from elsewhere – the magic box of ideas!
My play One Hour and Forty five Minutes was inspired by three months working in a cafe, and working in the cafe for three months gave me at least three other ideas for scripts and endless research on characters.  My play, produced at the Royal Court (okay four times) would not have been written had I not been working in the cafe. The idea germinated from a day of wandering about with a bag of sharpened knives.

My work as a cleaner has made me resurrect an old short play which featured a cleaner and it was a nice little idea but do you know what has made it burst back into life and become a sharper more focused idea? Working as a cleaner.
As I clean rooms imbued with the lives that have been lived in them and move abandoned belongings my head fills with fleshed out characters because they have houses, rooms to walk around, belongings to leave behind. I do workshops about creating characters and working as a cleaner has given me a new character building exercise – think about your character packing up to leave a house, think about them looking about them in an empty house, what do they think about, what are the memories of the home filling their mind as they switch the lights off, what belongings do they choose to throw into a black bin bag rather than take them with them, why don’t they want to take those belongings, what memories make them what to bin the belongings rather than keep them. Answer those few questions and I bet you have a fully fleshed out character.

I’m not really sure what advice I’m trying to give. A writer writes, that goes without saying. But also a writer feeds off everything around them. Everything is a source of inspiration, everything is a scratched note in a notebook waiting to find it’s way into a story. And if you're doing a job to sustain you while you work you really need to ensure the job is something that feeds not only your stomach but your writing. People talk about life/work balances but we're writers so the most important thing or us to check is our writing/life/work balance.
As new students start their courses at the university I see their eager faces filled with dreams of acting, writing, directing – as I walk passed them on the street covered in the dirt of their houses – and I hope their dreams come true but it’s likely their dream will take a little work, and a little work on the side. Many of them will abandon their dreams or drift from them towards careers they'll get the balance wrong and it can be really difficult to get the balance back once you start to sway. But it’s important to keep dreaming and keep doing whatever you need to do to keep the dream alive and give you enough hours to pursue it. And I think I’m not really advising anyone I’m just writing this for myself to remind myself it’s okay, two years ago I was an emerging writer, now I’m up and coming.