Sheffield Theatres Writer’s Group Showcase

An excerpt from my new play Mothership was read on Sheffield Crucible’s main stage on Thursday 4th April, bringing my year-long adventure with Sheffield Theatres Writer’s Group to its grand finale.

Brilliant actors Rachael Wooding and Johanne Murdock breathed life into my characters, with direction by Oliver O’Shea.

Sitting in the audience with friends, fellow creatives, and invited industry guests was a dream made real. I poured my heart into writing Mothership and it was a joy and privilege to share my words with their first audience.

Photo credit: John Tomlinson

While the showcase was a finale, it also feels like a new beginning, a springboard. Since Thursday, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned and where I want to take my writing next.

So what did I learn through the Writer’s Group?

Simply, I am transformed as a writer.

To help express the scope of my learning, let me start by describing the programme. Six writers were invited onto the group. Ruby Clarke designed and ran the programme for Sheffield Theatres new work department. Playwright Chris Bush mentored us through six months of workshops, providing feedback on initial pitches and early drafts of our plays. The workshops were a glorious feast of inspiration and expertise from Chris Bush, Kate Wasserberg, Alistair McDowall, Chris Thompson, and Charley Miles. We were given three deadlines in November, January, and March, and received constructive notes from Ruby on every draft of our new plays. The depth of support was magnificent. My fellow writers inspired me with their talent and encouraged me with their friendship.

I could tell you what I learned about structure, story, character, dialogue, form, etc., but these are technical craft elements you can read about elsewhere with ease.

The deepest transformation happened for me because, with the support of the writer’s group, I was able to try and fail, explore and learn, pick myself up and try again.

The first standout experience of this happened four workshops in. I’d pitched my play the month before and received great feedback from Chris, Ruby, and my fellow writers. I was buzzing to get some pages written. The way Mothership arrived in my imagination was unusual. Initially, I got the theme and a powerful emotion that drove my research, then I got the structure of the play, across three separate lifetimes. The characters were last to turn up. So I forced it. I started writing before I knew who my characters were. And I got it so wrong. I took 22 pages of not-the-play-I-was-burning-to-write to a writer’s group meeting for feedback. The group were so kind and pointed out the positives in what I’d written, but one insightful note and wise question from Chris Bush showed me how I had gone up a blind alley.

So I chucked the lot.

For about three weeks, I panicked. Flailed around. Wrote into the void. Begged my imagination to start drawing better pictures. And then one day, sitting inside a caravan in Cornwall, missing a day’s scuba diving to write, my characters finally walked into my imagination and the dam burst. I realised what I was avoiding, the thing I was most afraid to face. I realised the true play I had to write, and I began writing it.

The second standout experience happened between drafts 1 and 2. I got my notes from Ruby and knew I had to dig deeper. I contacted two friends and brilliant actors, Kate Woodward-Hay and Rae Yaldren, and invited them to help me workshop the play. We read the first draft aloud then exploded the characters with improvisation and devising exercises. At one point, we were all moved to tears as we stumbled upon a deep emotional truth between the two main characters. This workshop transformed my play, my writing process, and deepened my love of making work in collaboration with other artists.

And now I have a new play. Mothership is not perfect, it undoubtedly needs more development, but I think it’s my best play so far. I’m proud of it and I’m proud of how much I’ve grown as a writer while I was getting it down on the page.

So thank you, Sheffield Theatres.

Thank you for believing in the six of us, for investing in us, and giving us the space to try, fail, and try again. Thank you for celebrating our achievements with Thursday’s wonderful showcase. A supported space like this is rare and precious for emerging writers.

So what’s next? Which stage will this springboard bounce me towards?

I’m hatching ambitious plans and have a few irons in the fire, but I don’t know yet which way my luck will fall.

What I know for sure is that I can try harder, fail better, and dig deeper than ever before. I’m excited about what my shovel might strike as I continue to dig.

2 thoughts on “Sheffield Theatres Writer’s Group Showcase”

  1. Gorgeous sharing of your journey and your learnings Jackie. I get that the past year of such great support will serve the arc of your creations moving forward. Being able to be in the void more and enjoy the magic of your collaborative experiments. Onwards & Upwards!

  2. Hi Jackie, congratulations on your latest milestone. So good to read that you´re still going strong and building on your craft. May good things and sweet surprises come to you. All the best. Jackie J.

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