360º Script Writing Festival

Tinderbox and BBC Northern Ireland collaborate to give aspiring writers free advice from January 22-24

Tinderbox Theatre Company has long been associated with producing drama by new writers in Northern Ireland, its commitment to breathing life into content outside of the established mainstream making it a pillar of the local arts scene.

Its annual 360º Script Writing Festival offers writers, both upcoming and established, the opportunity to meet, to discuss ideas and to network – and all for free.

Now into its sixth year, the festival, which takes place from January 22 – 25 in BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast, forms a central part of Tinderbox’s approach to dramaturgy, that exacting process of composing and creating material for the stage, from the genesis of an idea to the final curtain.

Beyond editing or writing a script – hardly insignificant elements in themselves – dramaturgy is the theatre-specific practice by which a story is moulded into a structured and consumable performance. For Hanna Slättne, Tinderbox’s resident dramaturg, it is an indispensable tool in any person’s development as a writer.

‘In the theatre, with its three dimensional element, the dramaturg works with and develops the skills around the writing,’ explains Slättne. ‘It’s about understanding how meanings are created and conveyed on stage. It’s not only the text but how it is presented in a space with light, sound and different actors. All those things coming together create the dramaturgy of a particular piece.’

Slättne believes that it is here where most dramatists will learn to hone their talents: ‘It is such an immediate situation.’ According Slättne, her role is one of support and guidance. ’I am there to help write the piece and make it as good for the stage as possible.’ It is not a rigid framework, however. The dramaturgy serves the writer’s concepts rather than the other way around.

‘It comes from the idea. You have to explore what is the core, what is the heart – the writer’s passion and preoccupation. How do we add structure and other elements so that the meaning comes across? The dramaturgy is shaped around those core ideas.'

It is a fascinating approach to the creation of new work, and one which has proven to be incredibly popular. The 360º Script Writing Festival affords its attendees the chance to interact with successful exponents of the craft including, amongst others, Holy Cross writer Terry Cafolla and local playwright, and Queen’s University Belfast academic, Jimmy McAleavey.

The festival will also provide workshops on script editing, writing and development alongside more pragmatic classes on the commissioning process. Slättne will also hold a session centred on her own particular discipline. There will even be room for ‘speed networking’.

‘The feedback has been quite phenomenal,’ says Slättne. ‘People come from England, the Republic and further abroad. It’s a unique event in the writing world.’ The interactions and contacts flowing from it are just as important as the workshops.

‘We read and are sent scripts that people from all around the country spend time and passion writing. This is a great opportunity to meet us, to put names to faces. But those people can then also understand the process of feedback, because we spend so much time saying no to people, which is hard.’

Slättne hopes that the instruction received at 360º will progress learning and development. With any luck, those who attend can reach the point where Tinderbox, and others, say yes. ‘The main response I get from writers every year is how utterly buzzed up they are and how they just go home and finish that script they couldn’t get finished.’

That such a comprehensive programme should be available free of charge is indicative of just how committed both Tinderbox and its partner, BBC Northern Ireland, remain to the development of local writing talent. Indeed, the involvement of the BBC speaks to something more practical.

Tinderbox’s remit is traditionally within theatre but it recognises the need for writers to be able to diversify. As far as 360º is concerned, the different mediums are all covered. In order to make a living as a scriptwriter, suggests Slättne, it is now essential to be au fait with screen, television and radio as well as theatre.

Her BBC colleague in this venture is senior script executive Sarah Stack. Stack welcomes the chance to assist writers by facilitating meetings with industry professionals. This in turn will help them ‘to grow their craft’. The diversity at the heart of the festival is a useful means, Stack believes, by which they can ‘explore different avenues. Some ideas might fit with some mediums better than others.’

According to Stack, the BBC is always looking for gifted writers. Events such as 360º promote both the fostering of connections and fresh angles, and she points to the excellent individuals with whom the BBC already works.

In the long term, however, Stack states that the BBC would seek to expand the pool from which it draws talent. In co-ordinating with Tinderbox she hopes those new to this world can ‘learn the skills to improve their writing'.

Slättne is keen to emphasise the beneficial nature of these events, even for those experienced in the various disciplines. ‘You never, ever stop learning,’ she argues. ‘I learn every year I go to 360º. But above all, I am inspired.’

360º Script Writing Festival runs in BBC Broadcasting House, Belfast from January 22 – 24. View the full programme and book tickets via the Tinderbox Theatre Company website.