How to write a Theatre play (because confusion sucks)

Writing for theatre is completely different to writing for the screen or for radio (which I’ll hopefully do in my next blog). Theatre, the way I got taught how to do theatre in my University course, is quite interesting to see how to change the style from screen to stage. This will explain how you lay it out and hopefully help you to write a theatre play of your own.

STEP 1: THE STAGE DIRECTIONS

This part of the script is what guides the Actors round the stage. When formatting this in Microsoft Word (that’s the easiest program to use to get the format we’re needed to do for it, as well as Radio) in the Times New Roman font with size twelve, we need to put the stage directions in italics. This will help those reading it later to tell the difference between the spoken lines and the stage directions. When we write the stage directions and we write the character’s name, we must remember to get it out of italics and into CAPS LOCK. You may think there’s no point doing that, but it’s so the Actors in those roles know which scenes they’re in, what their actions are and who they are interacting with on the stage. Always remember to make sure you write in which side of the stage you want the characters to enter and exit from.

The stage is set like this: Back of the stage (upstage), front of the stage (downstage), middle of the stage (centre stage), left of the stage (stage left) and right of the stage (stage right). If you wanted an actor to enter from the back on the right side, you would write CHARACTER NAME enters from upstage right. REMEMBER the directions the Actors walk around from is from their point of view looking out from the stage, rather than watching the stage from seating.

STAGE 2: THE CHARACTERS’ LINES

This bit can be a little tricky to figure out, but I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it (it took me a while too, so don’t worry). The characters’ names for their speeches needs to be in caps lock like this: CATHY:

The reason it has that format is so whoever reads your script can identify whose line is whose and so the Actor knows which of the lines they need to learn. It’s good fun when you get the swing of it. Now, to lay that out in Word, you need to get the ruler out in the document on the top (it’s in the VIEW section at the top). When it appears, it looks like it has a sand timer at a zero mark. You need to move just the bottom half of that sand timer to the mark between two and three. When that’s set up all you need to do is type the character name (like the above example) and then press the button above the CAPS LOCK button (looks like two arrows pointing opposite directions with a line at the tip of the arrowhead, as picture below). This button will move the cursor (flashing line on your document) to be under the mark between two and three from the ruler. Then you can type your lines freely. To make sure the lines stay together, just press the tabs button until it’s all neatly in the right place.

Tabs key

STAGE 3: ACTUALLY WRITING THE PLAY

This bit is actually quite fun. There’s no mass of forward planning like screen has. You just have the idea of what you want your play to be about and you write your socks off. It doesn’t matter really whether it’s a short sketch, a short play or a seriously long play. As long as it comes to a natural ending and makes some sort of sense, or maybe just gets the audience to think about something long and hard afterwards, then you have a play that can be written. The page is about maybe just over a minute per page, which is different to the screen’s one minute per page and radio’s less than a minute per page. Just make sure you get the layout sorted and it will be a great start for your theatre play.

I hope this breakdown of the theatre play helps you to write your own. It may take a while to write, but trust me, it’s definitely worth it.

Love,

Abbie Allen

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