Robert Smythe Playwriting Intensive

Hello to you all!

Some people have asked about what they should bring, how to prepare, etc. Here are the simple answers:

This class is for writing and about writing. It is not about acting or directing or anything else. We’ll be writing. Focusing on telling stories. Trying to understand how to tell a certain kind of story in a certain way. In the 30 hours or so that we have together, we will only be able to scratch the surface.

As far as what stories you want to tell: if you already have an idea you want to explore, or something in progress, great. You could work with those ideas. If you have no idea of what you’re going to do, great! You’re all taken care of. There would be no point in taking this class if you did all the work ahead of time.

I suggest you focus on your own creature comforts (like coffee and decent pens)–the things you feel you’ll need to be able to concentrate on having a great experience. I can say that this won’t be what you’re expecting, so relax and let it happen. You’ll be fine.

1) You will be writing. A lot. I prefer that you do this without a computer, for several reasons, not least of which is that thinking with pen in hand is so much more… thoughtful. It is also more conducive to looking around and seeing the world, including your fellow writers. An upraised screen puts a barrier between you and everyone else, so let’s not use them. You may, however, want to use a computer at home for assignments (yes, there are those) to make them a bit easier.

2) As you will be writing on paper, you will want to bring some. If your writing tends to run downhill, you might want lined paper: no one will think the less of you for it. I find I cannot write on anything other than 14″ yellow legal pads. But that is me.

3) You will want to bring something to hold your paper(s) together: a folder, a notebook. I strongly suggest you invest in one of the larger Moleskin notebooks, which are around 5 x 8″. Not only do they announce that you are a Writer, they are good reminders to yourself that you indeed, are a writer. They are handy for toting down to the beach, or pulling out of your pocket when you get an idea. An idea not written down is lost: you will not remember it later, I promise you. And the Moleskin is so much handier to have on one’s person at all times than the large loose-leaf binder. So you might want to have two sources of paper.

4) Bring pens. Pens that you like, that you LOVE to write with. Nothing is worse than trying to work with the pen you scrounged from a motel somewhere. Please don’t ask me to lend you a pen. I mean, really?

5) You’ll need something to lean on. We’ll be inside but you might want to move around, even outside, and you’ll need a writing surface. A clipboard, a slab of oak felled by lightning: anything on which you can lean and write neatly. The cardboard backing on pads of paper tends to give out after a while. At times, others will be reading what you’ve written. Out loud. (yes, they will. Get over it.) Writing neatly is important so they don’t stumble over your words and give new, unintended meaning to what you’ve written.

6) Coffee. You might want coffee. Even a thermos of coffee.

That’s about it.

Oh. I asked previous participants to write to you with their advice for getting the most out of our time together. This is what they sent:

“Allow yourself to write freely and openly. Put as much as you can out on the table, to make the most of the opportunity for feedback from the teacher and your peers.”

“I had a project I was working on which helped a lot… and it appeared that most others did too. I think that having a project in motion was very helpful… I would encourage people with a project in motion (especially a long one) take the class. It might be useful for others without a project to… come up with something.”

“Be prepared to kill many, many darlings.”

“Find a pen that you really enjoy using.”

“Do your homework before you arrive. Remind yourself of what you think story means, start thinking about narrative, and take stock of your writing practices before you arrive. Be prepared and primed to move.”

“Worry less about agreeing/disagreeing with Robert’s ideas and more about working with them. The time frame is so short and the concepts (to me) radical, that it is easy to get mired in whether you “agree” with what he is saying, rather than using the time to experiment with the concepts.”

“Invest in your own work and in the work of those in the class. I found the most rewarding moments were when I bonded with classmates.”

“Remember Robert’s model for critique: it is not easy to adopt, but it is valuable both in the class and for life.”

“Don’t just do the assignments: take good notes. You will need them as you think back on the class.”

“Be immediately bold. Breaking the ice artistically is difficult, but it enlivens the room and frees you to take the risks you are there to take.”

“Be prepared to work. Be prepared to do homework. Be prepared to be challenged. Be prepared to challenge yourself. Be prepared to laugh. Be prepared to see yourself grow. Be prepared to indulge every moment.”

“Don’t let anxiety prevent you from taking a risk in this non-threatening environment.”

If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to email me, and if you’re brave, copy the whole group of people so your excellent question and my excellent answer get seen by everyone.

Or, if you’re shy, just email me.

Or call me: 267-240-3679.

I’m very much looking forward to meeting and working with you all.

ROBERT SMYTHE is the founder of the Playwriting Program of the International Puppetry Conference at the Tony-winning O’Neill Theater Center. Named “Best Professor” by Philadelphia Magazine in 2010, he was a University Fellow at Temple University where he received his MFA in Playwrighting. His ground-breaking application of narrative theory to puppetry, “Reading a Puppet Show: Understanding the Three-Dimensional Narrative,” was published in The Routledge Companion to Puppetry and Material Performance (2015); his work on motor contagion was published in Acta Psychologica.
An acclaimed theater artist, Smythe is the recipient of Guggenheim, Pew, NEA, and six Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fellowships. He has won six Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater in areas ranging from education to choreography. The founder of Mum Puppettheatre, his work, according to Philadelphia City Paper, “sparked the theater renaissance that continues to this day.” As Mum’s Artistic Director for 23 years, he wrote, directed and performed over 20 original productions using puppets, masks, and human actors in Philadelphia and on tour on four continents. His 2010 collaboration with the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, “l’Histoire du Soldat,” for the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts won the 2011 Barrymore Award for Outstanding Collaboration.
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