New Writing Masterclass with Alexi Kaye-Campbell

Tuyen Do – participant writer

Last Monday and Tuesday I was lucky enough to be able to take part in a masterclass with Alexi Kaye Campbell. I didn’t really know what to expect. All I knew was that I was stuck and having read and seen his work, I had a feeling that this class was going to help me out of my current predicament. By lunchtime Monday, I knew I was in the right place. That morning AKC spoke about his process openly and honestly, which then allowed the whole group to do the same. By mid-morning we were in the position to create something that came straight from the heart and it was bliss. Our first writing exercise was what AKC called ‘imperative words’. We were asked to write a monologue where we were saying something to someone that had to be said because this was our last chance to say it. It was a way of discovering our motor, our passion, and the seed of our play that was going to drive us all the way to the end. In the two days we carried on in search of the ‘germ’ of our play and in doing so, I started to see writing in a different way. I was enjoying the creative process and I felt inspired and energized from the experience. I learnt from the others in the group and felt supported by everyone there. It reminded me that sometimes you need to get out, get out of your own head, get out and see and be with people who you admire and know that you’re not alone. It was a great two days and I will carry what I learnt with me into my future work. Alexi was passionate, inspiring and generous and I thank him for his masterclass.

Sally Woodcock – participant writer

Alexi emphasized from the outset that his class was a purely subjective exercise and that there was no right or wrong way to write a play – he was just sharing with us what worked for him. And he really meant this (not all playwright-teachers do, I’ve learnt) which became apparent over the next two days, as we worked our way through his method which involved, in his words, digging around in the ‘soil’ of our own personal histories to find a story we absolutely had to tell: a ‘howl’.

This was a brave and honest approach – more than once, members of the group were taken by surprise with the strength of their own personal discoveries … he was in danger of conducting a class in playwriting-as-therapy! But we all kept our senses of humour and, thanks to Alexi’s humility and honesty, felt safe in the creative environment to explore the personal-through-political territory he guided us through.

The workshop was very well crafted and our ideas were handled with respect and encouragement. I came away with the kernel of a play I think I might just have to write. Which is more than I could have hoped for.

Em Hussain – participant writer

The terms ‘seed of a passionate play’ and ‘tilling the soil’ were used often in this Alexi Kaye Campbell new writing masterclass. But I can’t help thinking that these terms do not really do justice to Alexi’s insight and generosity. We, as writers, during the course of this masterclass, not only discovered these seeds, but were assisted in identifying exactly what that seed was. Tools shoved in our hands, we were pointed to the precise, fertile spot in our gardens that would enable our seeds to grow!

In using Alexi’s incisive exercises: the sharing of something personal (not factual) using the ‘imperative words’ where the stakes were dramatically raised, to five specific details of our characters – factual and internal – I had in my hand three dimensional characters, a dynamic situation and the visceral dialogue that would reveal what exactly my play is getting-at at a particular crucial moment. It usually takes me weeks of scribbling before I get to this stage! I was fired up and ready to roll with a new play. I would like to thank Alexi for his skill and generosity and the camaraderie within the group that provided those (usually illusive) right conditions for my germinating little seedling!

Jacob Hodgkinson – participant writer

Within each of us there is a drip, a slow drip of emotion that can manifest itself in any number of ways: in anger, in reticence, in love – during any circumstance, foreseen, unforeseen, lasting or short lived. Yet these emotions that we feel may come never come to realise their fullest potency without a direction; a focus. Something that we can ‘hang’ it on… And for many, that is a blessing. A Godsend.

However, for a writer, those emotions – those feelings, those ‘quiets’ – are what make us tick. But, further to that, what Alexi Kaye Campbell taught us over the course of his two day Masterclass, was that those feelings which lie deepest within us are probably the ones that we most want to talk about openly, to relay in story version. Naturally, those ‘stories’ are ones which, under normal circumstances, we would never tell for sake of entertainment, unless in a dire need to pass on fertile understanding and knowledge. Which, of course, we can’t circumnavigate as playwrights: we have an incorrigible urge to vent.

So, says Alexi Kaye Campbell, let’s write something that we desperately want to tell someone that we’ll never see again – whether it be wishful, required or something that is an obligation to our inner-self. Let’s throw ourselves in at the deep end. There needs to be something of Pride, Apology, Faith or something that has meaning to us. Something that speaks to us and other people: but it must come from the soil of our soul. And from there we set our sail.

We wrote and the emotions were vivid. It was smelt, seen and succumbed to by all: in our imaginations and within the room. But, as Alexi Kaye Campbell said, what was said or written in that room stays within that room. Like one of those holidays. Though less insalubrious – more redemptive.

And so we went on as a collective group of individuals joining together (as writing is often an extremely solitary existence) under the tutorage of the inordinately giving Alexi Kaye Campbell. What was learnt during that short, yet intense, two days cannot be replicated by anyone! I defy you to find a more charming, erudite and gracious tutor as that of Alexi Kaye Campbell.

Tamasha are by far and a way the most accommodating and far-seeking new writing and acting Theatre Company I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with – I wish them all the greatest success in the future and hope that I get the opportunity to work with them again. The entire experience was an absolute joy: something out of the ordinary.

My lasting thought is: Praise be to Tamasha and Alexi Kaye Campbell – let’s turn those taps a little further and turn the drips into streams!

Jocelyn Watson – participant writer

I came to the Alexi Kaye Campbell Tamasha masterclass with a play that I had almost written but was unclear as to whether it worked. What was really effective from the start was that Alexi encouraged each one of us to go deeper into the scream, into our subconscious, forgiving and telling. Alexi highlighted that any play is personal, about our desire to communicate and that inevitably we invest a lot of ourselves though the main protagonist is not us. Consequently I began to explore for myself how much of my central character was me and the soil that connected me to her and my needs to communicate. It was very illuminating and I was able to look at my play more critically and sensitively rather than intellectually. It was very powerful and I think Alexi was absolutely right in encouraging us to be more personal and to look at the friction of the play in greater detail.

Tom Fletcher – participant writer

In recent months I have learnt the conventional approach to film writing and film structure pretty much inside out, however I enjoy reading plays in my spare time and so many of them don’t follow the same rules at all and I had no idea in certain cases how playwrights went about developing their ideas into something they could begin writing. As I wish to write for theatre as well, I was looking out for a work shop with a writer of some calibre. So I therefore decided to apply.

The first thing that struck me was what a dedicated selection of writers that were on the course, more so than any previous course I had been on. That enthusiasm was more than matched by Alexi’s contagious passion for the theatre, which clarified and solidified the reasons that makes writing for the theatre so important and unique. Following on to the second day, we deconstructed his writing process and tried building a new play of our own in the same way. I came out of it with a great understanding of how playwrights develop the structure of their plays and much readier to write an accomplished work of theatre. I believed I hit on something while trying to analyse Apologia: films go from premise to story structure and fit the characters to suit the story, and playwrights develop the characters once they have decided on a premise, and then fit the structure around who they are. There is obviously much more to say than that but I believe that is a useful and fundamental way to understand the way the two crafts are conventionally approached.

I have found Alexi’s approach to writing to be massively important to my own development although doing it in reverse, so to speak, I believe works better for me. That is to say I take a situation that is totally fictional and find ways in which I, the writer, can empathise with it, as apposed to Alexi’s way of taking something that has effected him and building it outwards into a fictional story. He has taught me the importance of finding those parallels that make my writing personally relevant however.

Anh Chu – participant writer

It’s not easy to summarize the masterclass with Alexi Kaye Campbell at Tamasha, the way it’s difficult to adequately describe any transformative experience in the midst of it. As hard as it is to identify the germ of your play and what it is you’re actually trying to say.

Yes, we went through practical exercises. First we looked at imperative words – what is something one character must say to another? Then we looked at conflict – finding as much of it as possible, both between characters as well as within each character. We created an inner and outer CV for our characters. We discussed form. We worked on an elevator pitch of our play.

Each of us had to dig deep and ask the important questions – what is the seed of the play? Writing from a true and often raw place inside ourselves is terribly difficult – but that is the starting point and that’s why the play has to matter to the writer. With Alexi’s generosity and compassion, I came to realise I need to go to the darkest place within myself that I’d as yet just glossed over and for this I am very grateful. That dark place is where the richness lies.

As writers we must remember that the more specific we can get, the more universal a story becomes, the more the capacity to resonate with an audience. As playwrights, we must confront ourselves and use that information constructively and creatively in our work. Alexi told us to own up to parts of ourselves that are unattractive whilst remembering that although we can put ourselves in to our characters, they ultimately are not us. Playwriting can be a long, grueling and heart-rending process, but that is the norm. It is this outpouring that spills over the stage to make theatre such a visceral and profound experience the audience participates in. Commit to the work and dig. Dig until you hit paydirt. Then dig again.

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