söndag 18 augusti 2019

Dramaslam? What’s that?

On Thursday I took part in a Dramaslam arranged by Labbet at Svenska Teatern in Helsinki, as part of the city wide Night of the Arts. Like it sounds, dramaslam is a riff on poetry slam, but there’s no competitive element to it. Basically it involves the playwright reading from their own unperformed play (sometimes even unfinished play) until the gong sounds and then they stop. The idea is to read everything on the page, stage directions, characters names and lines. The MC gives the audience a short introduction to the story and a bit of context (where in the play the writer is reading from, what’s happened just before, who the main characters are, etc) based on the particular play. I’ve taken part in slams where you’ve had 5 minutes to read and ones where you’ve had 10 minutes to read. The point is that you have to read the whole time. If you get through the pages you’ve prepared before the time is up you go back and start again from the beginning. When the gong sounds you stop, even if you’re in the middle of a sentence.

Me and the gong mid-slam. Photo: Harriet Eriksson
At the Dramaslam I read out bits of a play that I’ve been working on as part of my 12-month grant from Svenska Kulturfonden. It doesn’t have a title, or even really a working title (it’s had several working titles but they’ve all been wrong, so I’m back to “Working title” being the working title). In many ways the play is very different from the kind of plays I’ve written up until now. It does have scenes but they’re more like quick snapshots interspersed among passages that are more narration than dramatic action or dialogue. It has characters (lots of them actually) but they’re more representations of a community, sketches perhaps, than traditional realistic characters. The fact that it’s such a different script (for me) is the main reason I chose to read from it, rather than from any other unperformed script in my desk drawer. The play is still in its first versions and I’d been thinking about changes (let’s be honest – cuts) that needed to be made in the second half. So, the Dramaslam was an excellent reason to do some very hard and rough cutting in the second half and see what that left me with. It turns out it was the right thing to do and helped me get my head around how to rewrite the whole second part.   

Since I’m not an actor I always feel self-conscious reading my own lines for other people. What I’ve come to realise over the years is that “performing” the parts when you’re reading at a Dramaslam doesn’t necessarily make it a better experience for the people listening. That insight has taken the pressure of “acting out the parts” off me and has given me something very concrete to focus on (which helps with the nerves): Just speak the words slowly and clearly. The audience will do the rest.  

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