MA Playwriting / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course description

Our MA Playwriting course is an intensive one-year programme designed to provide a genuine gateway into a writing career in the theatre and performance industries.

Like our successful MA Screenwriting course, the MA Playwriting is taught by practitioners and is vocationally-oriented and industry-focused.

Over the course of the year, you will work with leading industry practitioners to develop your playwriting, pitching and dramaturgical skills. You will learn about and develop skills in writing for performance across a diverse range of contexts, genres and themes.

By the end of the course, you will have developed at least one full-length stage play, a collection of one-act dramas, a full-length festival play and at least one play that adapts elements of a classic text to engage with a contemporary context.

You will have access to individual career guidance and training in how to navigate entry-level writing work in the theatre and performance industries. The course features regular speakers from the industry, including returning alumni who have established successful careers as writers, dramaturgs and producers.

In Semester 1, you will study the basics of playwriting as a craft, with a focus on form and structure. This will include engaging with plays in textual form and in live performance, and the study of plot/story, character, genre, scene development, monologue and dialogue, dramatic action, beginnings, endings, features of staging and audience relationship.

You will study a diverse range of new and historical works, including historical plays that have brought about innovations in dramatic form and structure, as well as new writing staged in Britain and further afield in recent years.

In the second semester, we turn to industry-oriented study, focusing on developing new pieces for festival contexts, and on the skills and resiliencies needed to sustain a living in playwriting.

There will be an industry day based at our studio theatre on campus, with talks from directors, agents, producers, publishers, literary officers and writers.

Special features

Learn from the professionals

You will work with a range of artists, including playwright and screenwriter Tim Price , playwrights Chloë Moss and Anders Lustgarten , and will also be able to access Jeanette Winterson 's weekly seminar for new writers.

The Centre for New Writing has a strong track record of creative writing, and we have one of the leading Drama departments in the UK.

Benefit from a dynamic theatre scene

You will have an opportunity to work as part of an active body of student theatre-makers, performers and producers.

We have long-term relationships with theatres in Manchester, including the Royal Exchange and Contact.

Develop a variety of skills

Two Semester 2 course units - The Festival Play and The Working Playwright - will give you the opportunity to apply essential skills to alternative writing contexts and opportunities.

These units will help you develop your awareness of the employment environments for new writers, and equip you with the know-how to navigate these challenges.

Industry focus

The industry-facing content of Semester 2 is complemented by an industry day based at our on-campus studio theatre, with talks from directors, agents, producers, publishers, literary officers and writers.

Teaching and learning

The course runs over two 12-week semesters, during which you will take part in seminars and writing workshops that engage with the best of contemporary new performance writing. Our 'writer's room' ethos helps to establish an environment that encourages collaboration, experimentation, sharing ideas and risk-taking.

We intend to keep learning as specific to individual needs as possible, and study groups are intentionally small in scale. You are taught through mixture of theatre visits, seminar tasks, interactive exercises and group discussion.

We aim to schedule classes over the course of two consecutive dates to allow for writing development time and seminar preparation in between contact.

In-class time is supported by regular individual tutorials to discuss written work and overall development. You will receive ongoing feedback from course tutors both verbally, in one-to-one sessions, and in writing.

Tutors will offer written and oral feedback on workshop drafts and summative feedback on portfolios and all other written work.

All students will be assigned an academic advisor. You will meet individually with your advisor at least twice each semester. The first meeting will take place in Week 1 of the first semester.

You will be assigned a supervisor for the dissertation and will have at least three individual meetings with your supervisor in May and June. Supervisors will read and comment (orally and in writing) on drafts of the dissertation.

Most units run one day per week over 12 weeks, and there are variations in the number of class hours per teaching day depending on the course/week (ie two to five hours).

As a general rule, a 30-credit course unit includes 300 learning hours, which can be roughly divided into a third in classes or class-related work, a third in independent study and a third in preparation of assignments.

Coursework and assessment

You will be assessed using a variety of methods, including the submission of plays and pitches. See individual course unit details for specific assessment information for each unit.

Course unit details

The MA is made up of five components, adding up to 180 credits in total. You will take two course units in Semester 1, and two units plus the dissertation in Semester 2.

Semester 1

  • Playwriting and form (30 credits)

This unit will cover the relationship between form and content when writing a play.

You will engage with the popular conventions to be found in naturalism, melodrama, farce, verbatim, postdramatic and experimental forms.

Assessment: A one-act play in development (20 pages), and a piece of reflective writing.

Playwriting and structure (30 credits)

This unit will cover the conventions of structure that are useful to consider when writing a play.

We will focus specifically on a five-act structure and will identify the fundamental building blocks for dramatic playwriting.

Assessment: A one-act play in development (20 pages), and a piece of reflective writing.

Semester 2

  • The Festival Play (30 credits)

This unit will focus on the development of plays at festivals of new work, including Edinburgh Festival and Manchester International Festival, as well as smaller-scale events.

The necessary restrictions for new plays in a festival context mean that the unit will be focused on produce-ability, a key challenge for new playwrights. 

Assessment: Full-length play (45-50 pages) + accompanying pitch for a specific festival context.

  • The Working Playwright (30 credits)

This unit will explore power on and off stage, as well as within the theatre industry.

We will interrogate both power between characters and big questions around politics, finance and the environment in order to expand your understanding of the frames within which drama takes place, and sharpen your ability to write driving, meaningful plays.

We will also learn how to discuss, debate and disagree with one another in a mutually respectful but fruitful manner.

You will also learn about practical issues like pitching, working with a dramaturg/producer, working to a commission, professional identity and voice, publicity and promotion, and a host of others.

Assessment: A play that adapts elements of a classic text to a modern-day context (20 pages).

  • Dissertation (60 credits)

This unit is focused on the development and writing of a full-length play, with the theme and form to be decided by the student.

The unit is delivered by a series of writing workshops and one-to-one supervision with course tutors.

Assessment: A full-length play.

Course unit list

The course unit details given below are subject to change, and are the latest example of the curriculum available on this course of study.

TitleCodeCredit ratingMandatory/optional
Dissertation (Playwriting) DRAM72000 60 Mandatory
Playwriting: Forms DRAM72111 30 Mandatory
Playwriting: Structures DRAM72211 30 Mandatory
The Festival Play DRAM72312 30 Mandatory
The Working Playwright DRAM72412 30 Mandatory

Facilities

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester.
The Royal Exchange is one of several theatres in Manchester.

The Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama boasts state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, including the John Thaw Studio Theatre, the Cosmo Rodewald Concert Hall, and the specialist subject collections of the Lenagan Library.

Staff and students benefit from the outstanding resources provided by the University of Manchester Library, which is the largest university library in Britain outside Oxford and Cambridge, with more than four million printed books and manuscripts, over 41,000 electronic journals and 500,000 electronic books, as well as several hundred databases.

The historic John Rylands Library, on Deansgate, houses the University's special collections and archives, which include historically significant theatre and film resources.

The city of Manchester is the country's third most-visited city after London and Edinburgh. The birthplace of the industrial revolution and now the main headquarters of the BBC, the city continues to build on its rich heritage in the arts through assets such as the iconic multi-arts venue HOME and the biennial Manchester International Festival.

The University campus is home to one of the most innovative theatres for young people operating nationally, Contact Theatre, and the nearby city centre features the leading producing theatre in the North, The Royal Exchange Theatre, with its innovative in-the-round stage design.

Manchester's vibrant theatre scene is supported by energetic producing theatres in the nearby towns of Bolton and Oldham, as well as a rich and diverse fringe scene supported by a network of fringe venues, including the renowned Kings Arms in Salford, Hope Mill in Ancoats and The Edge in Chorlton, among others.

Disability support

Practical support and advice for current students and applicants is available from the Disability Advisory and Support Service. Email: dass@manchester.ac.uk