I was in UCD and was heavily involved in Dramsoc. Towards the end of 2006 I really wanted to write my first full length play. I had a story in my mind about two brothers who were very different but come to realise that due to their upbringing and environment they had much more in common than they thought. It was sort of an 'odd-couple' style comedy crossed with an edgy crime element influenced by Mark O'Rowe's play 'Howie the Rookie'.
It's amazing how much O'Rowe influenced my writing (and still does). Being from Tallaght too, reading his plays really helped me gain the confidence to write characters who spoke in my accent!
In fact, I always imagined the brothers in my play being a bit like Colin Farrell and Cillian Murphy's characters in Mark's film Intermission (my fav Irish Movie by the way) but if they were brothers.
What I knew
I knew the characters were called SKIN and FROG based on nicknames of two of my Uncles. I knew the whole play would take place in their flat. A run down beat up flat. I knew SKIN had been away for 5 years and nobody knew where. I knew that FROG had just split up from his long term girlfriend and had dropped out of college but because he was the first in the family to ever go he still had notions about himself even though he was stuck working in the local 'Superthingy'. I knew there was money involved and that they somehow had to switch positions.
And I also knew the title of the play. At the time The Arctic Monkeys first album Whatever People Say I am, that's what I"m not was massive and the song 'A Certain Romance' really hit with me.
At the time I was really interested in the fact that it had taken me 18 years to realise I had an 'accent'. It was only when I went to UCD that this became apparent to me. People weren't necessarily negative towards me but certainly a few people made comments about the area I was from.
I obviously took exception as I grew up in a wonderful and safe place. It certainly wasn't the Tallaght that some people imagined. But still, the attitudes of and about these so called 'working class' or 'disadvantaged areas' from both the inside and out became something I thought about a good deal. I wanted to explore it.
The 'Certain Romance' attached to this fascinated me in my early twenties and so basically long story short I nicked the title 'cos I liked the song and it fit with what I thought I wanted to say! Alrigh'?
But where to start? And what the hell made a play?
I could always write dialogue and I had several of SKIN and FROG's interactions written but I didn't know where to begin or what would make it theatrical. Exposition too is that horrible hurdle playwrights starting out need to learn to jump!
Then I discovered TRUE WEST by Sam Shepard.
I was reading play after play as I had become obsessed with acting through Dramsoc and I hit upon this play in the library one day. It's funny to think back to your first discovery of these great playwrights. You somehow think you are the only person to know about Pinter and Beckett and Murphy.
Anyway. Here was this play... about two brothers (AUSTIN and LEE)... set in their Mother's house and they are total opposites but they have a kind of role reversal in the play and it turns out they ain't so different in their natures after all and all these other themes that I was really into.... AUSTIN and LEE like SKIN and FROG were two sides of the one coin and looking back maybe that's what I was really writing about. Me. And the idea that I was living in two very different worlds between home and my college life. 21 year olds eh?
Anyway, TRUE WEST... I just loved it!
So then I did something as an experiment. I won't say it will work for everybody who is trying to write a play for the first time and not everyone will be so lucky as I was in finding a play that has such a similar set up as the one you're trying to write but this is definitely a useful exercise and if you're a first time Playwright then a two hander in one setting is always a great place to start. In fact, they are my favourite type of plays anyway even to this day, hence FROM EDEN.
I took a good long look at the first scene of TRUE WEST... Even the first page or so... Here it is. Have a quick read and I'll meet you on the other side.
Act 1, Scene I
LEE: So, Mom took off for Alaska, huh?
LEE: Sorta' left you in charge.
AUSTIN: Well, she knew I was coming down here so she offered me the place.
LEE: You keepin' the plants watered?
LEE: Keepin' the sink clean? She don't like even a single tea leaf in the sink ya' know.
AUSTIN: (trying to concentrate on writing) Yeah, I know.
LEE: She gonna' be up there a long time?
AUSTIN: I don't know.
LEE: Kinda' nice for you, huh? Whole place to yourself.
AUSTIN: Yeah, it's great.
LEE: Ya' got crickets anyway. Tons a' crickets out there. (looks around kitchen) Ya' got groceries? Coffee?
AUSTIN: (looking up from writing) What?
LEE: You got coffee?
LEE: At's good. (short pause) Real coffee? From the bean?
AUSTIN: Yeah. You want some?
LEE: Naw. I brought some uh--(motions to beer)
AUSTIN: Help yourself to whatever's--(motions to refrigerator)
LEE: I will. Don't worry about me. I'm not the one to worry about.
There ya go. Nothing too mad or explainy. What I did was, I wrote out the first scene of the play word for word EXCEPT I made the characters from Dublin. So all of a sudden...
LEE: So Mom took off for Alaska, huh?
SKIN: So the aul' one headed off for the country, wha'?
And so on and so forth. No before you have me up for plagiarism remember this was just an experiment. What it gave me though was a huge appreciation for AND a lot more understanding of what is not said!
It was what was happening in-between those lines and in those pauses and silences and looks etc that the relationship was working and the drama was really happening.
I learned a lot about how to plant seeds without being Dr. Exposition and to be honest after a few lines the characters just took off on their own journey anyway.
I would say give it a go. Find a play you like. Preferably one set in a different country to your own and copy while applying the voices to your accent/dialect. It doesn't need to be AND probably shouldn't be a play you are going to write but try it just as an exercise. Call your characters A and B and pay close attention to the mechanics of it. How the playwright uses dialogue to set up later events, explain things you need to know in subtle ways, how dialogue is used as a weapon, when it's the truth and when it's lies.
I found it very helpful and I'll be honest I kept the first line which was a straight rip off... or as I call it an 'Erinization' and I'm sure it being my first play that there's influences in there I totally couldn't see and probably still don't looking back on it. So thank you Mr. Shepard and Mr. O'Rowe anyway as I'm very much aware of youzzizer influence.
A CERTAIN ROMANCE went on to represent UCD Dramsoc at the Irish Student Drama Awards in Belfast in 2007. It received loads of nominations in all sorts of categories but took home the ISDA Award for 'Best Original Script'. SKIN was played by Nick Hynes and FROG was played by Finbarr Doyle.
It then went on to be a 'Druid Debut' with Druid Theatre Company at the Galway Arts Festival in 2008. The rehearsed reading was directed by Mikel Murfi. SKIN was played by Ronan Leahy and FROG was played by Brian Gleeson.
TRUE WEST remains one of my favourite plays and I would love to be in a production of it in the near future... if any producers happen to read this!