Monday, 20 November 2017

A workshop to explore the archives

As part of the Explore your Archives week, Ceredigion Archives are running a response project asking people to respond the archives in any creative way the choose.

Ceredigion Archives holds over 500 years of history in a large room on the first floor of the library – if you haven’t visited already then I can definitely recommend it. It’s a wonderful place packed with stories. For a writer it is the equivalent of being a small child in a sweet shop.

People visit the archive for many reasons, predominantly searching for information about their family, often trying to unearth the family secret that a mother, grandmother, father has kept from them. Other reasons include trying to find the history of a property they have purchased, seeking advice on an old document they have found, working on a school or university project, wanting to explore the history of a building that is closing to commemorate it, or they have found the story of someone and wish to find out more.

This is a workshop designed around my working process to create and develop an idea.

Finding a way into a story at the archive is the starting point of this – it is likely you will be quickly drawn to an idea and also very likely you will find yourself distracted possibly in the distraction you will find a potential idea. It’s a journey just go along with it and have fun.

I have set myself the challenge of finding five real people, five places/ buildings, five periods of time and five imaginary characters who enter the archive. I intend to use each of these points as potential starting points and see what connects with me.

You can explore the archive catalogue on-line and also many items have been posted to the archive blog.

Exercise 1
Sit yourself in the archive room and look about you. Think about the years of history of Ceredigion that sit in boxes in the rooms. Think about the people over the year who have given material to the archive, wanting their family history stored and kept for future generations to look through. Take a look at the books around you, collections of local history and how to explore local history books. Take a look through the displays. The photographs of the local men and women who died in the 1st and 2nd World wars. Think about what you already know about Aberystwyth history, buildings that have intrigued, people whose stories have been mentioned to you. Make notes of any that come to mind. Do you have any particular interests or hobbies that might be a starting point? Talk to the archivists and ask them to tell you their favourite parts of the archive.

Take 10 minutes and just write as many words as possible that come to mind, write as fast as you can and don’t really think about it. Look about you – what words to you see. Write those down. Create a page filled with random words that you think about in the archive. Think about textures, sounds, colours, smells.

Exercise 2
Create five characters who enter the archive. Make these characters varied in age etc. Try to create things in the answers that make interesting opposition from the other characters
Write the name of the character, their age, are they male or female, where in the country are they from, what do they want to find in the archive, what five things are districting them as they look through the archive, think of a secret they have, what do they want in life, what do they need, what is stopping them from getting what they want or need.

Exercise 3
In this exercise we are looking to find 5 buildings and 5 real people of history.

Explore the on-line catalogue. Search for any buildings, places or people that come to mind.
For me the names that come to mind are the buildings Kings Hall (I was a student in 1990 when it was knocked down so I remember it and have long been fascinated by the years of incredible events that took place there), The Pier (another iconic building that fascinates me because of the years of visitors and I love that the starlings have made their home beneath it), Gogerddan (I live in Bow St and walk my dogs in the woods behind it), Nanteos (another crumbling estate with a fascinating history made even more fascinating by its new lease of life as a hotel) and  Rummers Wine Bar (for many years a customer but recently the revelation that it was once a theatre has become an obsession for me).

Search for any people that come to mind and also that might have emerged from the searches through places. Remember we are trying to find five real people and five real buildings. For me, my fascination with the history of Gogerddan and Nanteos has drawn me to Margaret Powell, Rosa Powell (the mention in the catalogue of unhappy marriage and divorce makes it irresistible), Marjorie Pryse but I am also keen to find the people who worked in those houses so I want to continue to search for more names. 

Once you have that list then ask for the boxes. This is the magical part, boxes to explore, images to look at, handwriting of people who lived many years ago, people’s thoughts, people’s interests.

It will lead you down other searches.

Exercise 4
What’s in the box?

The material in the archive is all in boxes. Material will appear tied up in string with bows like presents. The very action of opening notebooks knowing that it was written so many years ago and that many people will have visited the archive through the years to look through it as you do now is quite magical.

Type something random into the catalogue search and  find a random box to ask to look through. It could be a lost property list, it could be someone’s scrapbooks, it could be lists of ships in the harbour, it could be planning permission drawings, parish records. But every box offers inspiration, offers stories. Think of the person who wrote it, think of the person who lost the property. Why did someone write this? Who left it to the archive? Who has looked through this material before? Now just write, write random sentences and words, just write anything that comes to mind. Write dialogue. Write thoughts. Keep writing.

These exercises should results in the beginnings of many potential stories that could be told. We will need to form these into performance pieces. But more of that later for now just have fun finding stories.

Friday, 17 November 2017

The Explore Your Archive workshop

The Explore Your Archive workshop at Ceredigion Archives will be a practical exploration of the collections  and the creation of a response in any form to information in the archives. The workshop will be led by Sandra Bendelow and will offer an introductory session to the archives followed by a practical creative workshop and will take place on 8th November 7PM – 9:30PM. Participants will be supported in having their work performed or presented as part of an event on the evening of 23rd November  during Explore Your Archive week.

At Ceredigion Archives they have 500 years of Ceredigion history. A vast wealth of stories; lives, places, events, recorded in image and words.

A few chosen samples from the archive are available on the following link to give you a small taster of the incredible resource available to delve into

We are looking for creative responses in any form; visual art, film, performance art, music, poetry, prose, film, movement, song, photography, craft and dance and we will support collaborations of any art form. We also welcome participants to the workshop who would just like explore and be inspired creatively by the archive.

Sandra Bendelow is a writer and arts producer creating platforms for new writing and new writers. For several years she has been producing a cross-artform project Response Time; a performed response to art, space and environment at The Gas Gallery, and also at National Museum Wales Artes Mundi, Aber Arts Centre to Tim Shaw. She was selected by National Theatre Wales as an Emerging Producer and a mentoring producer.

She runs the PlayPen project for Aberystwyth Arts Centre which is supporting 7 writers to write full length plays and teaches scriptwriting courses at Aberystwyth University’s Lifelong Learning Department.

The workshop will take place at Ceredigion Archives which is housed on the first floor of Old Town Hall ( the same building as Aberystwyth Town Library ) . The event during Explore your Archive week will take place throughout the Library & Archives. 

Friday, 12 June 2015

Introduction to Playwriting Course

If you have a great idea for a theatre play but no idea how to get started then you might be interested in this course for beginners. A two day course Introduction to Playwriting.

The course will be taught by Sandra Bendelow and Branwen Davies.

Sandra Bendelow is a writer and arts producer. She is currently on seed commission to National Theatre Wales for her project Secret Never to Be Told. Recent credits include Poo Karma and Arctic Exploration for Agent 160 and One Hour and Forty Five Minutes for Dirty Protest at the Royal Court Theatre. She recently produced a new play To Kill a Machine by Aberystwyth playwright Catrin Fflur Huws about war time cryptanalyst Alan Turing which toured Wales and will be at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August

Branwen is a playwright who writes in Welsh and English. Recent credits include ‘Suffocate’ for Dirty Protest/National Theatre Wales, ‘Llond Bol’ for Agent 160, ‘Gwagle’ for Sherman Cymru/Theatr Genedlaethol and ‘Lost’ for Scriptography Productions. Branwen has recently completed a practise based PhD at the Theatre, Film and TV department at Aberystwyth University where she is currently a teaching fellow.

The course will be an intensive two days of workshops covering topics such as finding ideas, developing dramatic character, action, dialogue and structure.

Following the intensive two days each student will have the opportunity to develop and receive feedback on their own original script.

The course will take place on 19th and 20th June in the Old College. 

For more information and to book a place on Introduction to Playwriting

Friday, 3 October 2014

It's been a strange few years....

It’s been a strange few years. I wrote this little monologue for Dirty Protest Theatre Company and it was put on at the Royal Court, and then at Theatre Clwyd and then at Dirty, Gifted and Welsh. It was all beyond unbelievable.

John McGrath saw my little monologue One Hour and Forty Five Minutes and asked me to work on a seed commission. National Theatre Wales also nominated me for BBC Writersroom 10, I didn’t get in but just being nominated, by National Theatre Wales, was beyond unbelievable. I mean, seriously unbelievable. National Theatre Wales? Me? A seed commission?

I was also asked to join the all female playwright company Agent 160,  and my first short play for them will be presented this weekend as part of Fun Palaces at Wales Millennium Centre. I sat in rehearsals the other day, listening to words I’d written being performed by Llinos Mai, thinking - I wrote this, it’s good, it’s really funny. I love my job.

Then on the 12th October some scenes from my seed commission will be read at the 2nd Dirty Gifted and Welsh. Now last year at this event as one of the writers being presented by Dirty Protest, because mine had been on at the Royal Court, feeling a little dreamlike, I watched the pieces being presented by National Theatre Wales and I looked at the writers and I thought, that’s where I want to be next year. To repeat last year I said that’s where I want to be and this year I will be. I know! Unbelievable.  
It’s all just been beyond unbelievable – I spend a lot of time thinking I am going to wake up and the last two years has been a dream.  Seriously I don’t think ever since Tim Price phoned me up and I stood in my garden (the signal is shit in the house) and he told me my play in a bag piece was going to be on at the Royal Court it has stopped being anything other than surreal. But I guess that’s what it has to be like because you spend your life dreaming this dream of being a writer and working hard to achieve this dream. Writing and writing and writing. You get rejections, you get knocked back, you keep on writing and you keep on dreaming. Then you sit in the audience and watch your play at the Royal Court and it all just gets very surreal because you are living your dream.

But then now I’m sitting at my desk working trying to get the scenes ready for Dirty Gifted and Welsh. Yesterday I wrote a paragraph and then sat back and re-read it, I burst out laughing and kept laughing for a few minutes because I was looking at it thinking – that’s either utter brilliance or complete bollocks and I really don’t know which it is. That’s the thing with writing – every time you start something new you have to find new ways of doing things. I could just churn out the same old stuff, the things I’ve got comfortable with but where’s the fun in that – if I wanted to do the same thing every day I’d work in an office. Who the hell would choose to that when you can live the dream?

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Reasons why you shouldn't - and should go to see Flowers of the Dead Red Sea

I’m very excited today. I’m excited because tonight I’m going to watch Run Amok’s fourth production Flowers of the Dead Red Sea written by Ed Thomas which is being performed by Rhodri Brady and Matt Christmas. I’m excited because having seen two of their first three productions I am waiting with baited breath to see what this company are going to do next.

Now quite a lot of you are going to ask some questions after the first paragraph – Who are Run Amok? Who is Rhodri Brady? Who is Matt Christmas? Also worryingly a lot of people, even in Wales are going to say – who is Ed Thomas?

Let’s deal with the easy one – Ed Thomas is the co-creator, executive producer and writer of Hinterland. Yes that Hinterland, the one that everyone is talking about at the moment because it was filmed in Ceredigion and is ambitiously setting its sight to be the new Nordic- noir thriller. Who would have thought five years that Nordic noir thriller would be a genre?

I should state at this point that you shouldn’t go to see Flowers of the Dead Red Sea because you like Hinterland or Nordic noir thrillers, it is not Hinterland – there is no detective, no murder mystery – there is however two butchers in an extremely darkly comic and absurdist play.

Now long before Ed Thomas began to focus on television and film writing he was a playwright – he was a playwright in the 90’s in Wales, he created his own theatre company and then he gave up on theatre in Wales and headed to the safer world of television and film. You can’t really blame him – playwrights are ignored, playwrights are not produced, playwrights don’t have their voices nurtured – in Wales anyway. This genuinely is an extremely rare opportunity to see a play by Ed Thomas – it hasn’t been produced in over 20 years.

So Run Amok – who are they? Founded by Artistic Directors Izzy Rabey and Jonathan Patton – Run Amok has been on an impressive trajectory of performing ambitious, complex and challenging texts. They are a student company – a company of recent graduates, Jonathan is currently in London studying for an MA and Izzy is about to head to London to do an MA. Now though the ground is heavy with student companies in towns and cities with theatre departments, and those student companies walk through the ashes of student companies which have walked there before – from those ashes emerge the companies of the future. As far as I’m concerned that phrase emerging theatre – that’s where it’s from – it’s the companies that make it through those first few years of being a student company. I have absolutely no doubt that Run Amok are going to become one of the leading voices of Welsh theatre  - well they will be if we give them a reason to be, if we support them and nurture them. It is really hard being an emerging company in Wales, people don’t know the company, they dismiss them as yet another young student company. But Run Amok are different- they have one foot in London and one foot in Wales – though admittedly that foot is Izzy Rabey’s extremely rooted foot.

The foot in London is a good thing too because they have forced the work of a Welsh playwright into a theatre in London –  Welsh written and produced theatre is very rarely seen in London. Let’s face it it’s rarely seen in Wales. It is barely – if ever seen outside of Cardiff. Welsh theatre companies touring work – you can count them on one hand. Welsh companies touring work by Welsh writers – I’m really struggling now. Yes there are exceptions but as someone working and writing within the theatre industry in Wales – I really hope we can find our way to more than exceptions. But don’t go to watch Flowers of the Dead Red Sea because you want to support one of the exceptions – though that is a good reason to see it.

Run Amok are a company to be watched –not only in a watch a meteoric rise as you read reviews and articles about them over the next few years – but as an experience of live theatre. Live theatre which is guaranteed to make you laugh and think. Most importantly live theatre which will include performances from Rhodri Brady and Matt Christmas. This is the thing which excites me the most about going along tonight to see Flowers of The Dead Red Sea – I literally can’t wait to experience the chemistry between these two amazing performers. Performers who are new,  magically untrained and untarnished , and offer so much promise for exciting futures, put them together with the words of Ed Thomas , the direction of Izzy Rabey, scenographic design from Maisie Baynham and sound designed by Kyle Arrowsmith and you are absolutely guaranteed an amazing experience of emerging theatre at its very best.

Flowers of the Dead Red Sea by Ed Thomas, by Run Amok is at Aberystwyth Arts Centre 1st May, Rosemary Branch Theatre 8th and 9th May and Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Richard Burton Theatre 10th May. The Aberystwyth Arts Centre performance includes a post-show talk with Ed Thomas.

Ed Thomas wrote new monologues as trailers for the show which were filmed by Pete Telfor for Culture Colony which you can view on YouTube here
Joe and Mock 

Follow the company at and @TheatrRunAmok

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Dancing Words

For the last few months I have been producing a performed response project at the Gas Gallery in Aberystwyth. I have been participating as a writer and it’s been an interesting and educational experience.

Response Time includes performance makers from all disciplines ; performance artists, visual artists, installation, physical theatre, movement, dancers, storytellers . Response Time has thrown them all in together and put them all out of their comfort zones. Definitions of performance have never really had a place in Response Time with 48 hours to work people don’t really have time to define their work just to get on with it.

The idea of the project is to spend 48 hours responding to the art, space and environment and then pulling all the different responses into an hour or so of performance which we shared with an audience on the Sunday evening. During the week of the 4th – 12th April we extended the project to a week long response Replay Me Adleisio. The project received funding from Arts Council Wales which  allowed us to explore the model of the project over a longer period.

My role as a writer in Replay Me Adleisio was to work alongside choreographer Lara Ward and musician and composer Nick Jones to create words, movement and sound - working with 3 performers (Cet Haf, Gwion Llyr and Milly Jackdaw).

As a writer the project has put me so far out of my comfort zone at times it was terrifying – always exhilarating but terrifying no less.

Thinking about how I have worked over the six responses I recognise a journey I have been on as a writer. For the first two I stuck firmly with what I knew, I picked art and I created characters from it. I found myself drawn to the words in the gallery, the artists statements the titles of art and I looked for stories but as the projects have progressed I have found myself freeing myself from what I knew I could do easily and exploring what I didn’t know how to do.

All writers have processes, usually developed over a number of years, I know I have ways that I approach an idea. Exercises that I use to get an idea moving – develop characters, structure, themes. I have processes to develop the layers in a piece. I have processes to develop the different drafts. I have processes to explore the holes and plug them. I even have processes to develop the differences within each new piece. I know each new idea has to have a different way to explore its subject and style but I still explore those differences through an established process.

But what I found with Response Time was that none of it was any good to me. For the first few projects I produced something resembling my usual work but it was all work that was lacking. Some good dialogue, some interesting characters, some interesting situations but lacking. Somewhere around the third one I found myself doing something very different.

This wasn’t because I recognised the need for a new process, it was because I was starting to absorb other people’s processes. For me it has been the most useful part of being involved in Response Time as a writer has been watching how others work in particular the young and emerging artists like Vivian Ezugha , Hannah Pullen and James Baker – all of them young and inexperienced in performance an all of them from different disciplines but yet all of them producing amazing work every time they have participated because as young and emerging artists they have a refreshing lack of experience and respond and develop work with an admirable mixture of naivety and boldness. All of them threw themselves into the art, the moment, the response. It was watching them that made me want to rediscover that naivety and boldness of the youthful writer I once was. 

I usually spend a lot of time thinking about an idea – it is the most important part of my process is the days I spend walking around the woods with the dogs, gardening, cleaning, doing office work – all while my brain turns an idea over and over. Producing a 48 hour response does not give time for a considered response just an emotional response, moving forward with a gut response, an instinctive feeling. Then pushing everything I knew to one side and letting the words flow, not worrying about what the words were doing just letting them loose.

On the response project with Lara as curator I watched her direct pieces – pieces that were effectively short plays, and it was as though she made the words dance around the room. That was a thought that has stayed with me. I didn’t want to write plays for Response Time – I know how to do that already –for Response Time I wanted to see my words dance around a room.

For Replay Me Adleisio I wanted to see the words become music in the hands of Nick, not song – that’s very different –,  but music and I wanted my words to dance. Whether or not I achieved that doesn’t really matter, though I think it did, in fact not only that my words became a pathway for a parkour film and my words disrupted movement to become an improvisational piece.

I still love narrative plays and will be returning to writing one soon, and I’m looking forward to it, to get back into inciting incidents and mid-points but I am going to try to bring what I’ve learned in Response Time to my narrative play.  I will return to it thinking about dancing words and following my gut instincts because I know how much fun it is to be out of my comfort zone and back to being a naive and bold youthful writer whilst also knowing how much better it is to be that naive and bold youthful writer with the experience and knowledge of being a saggier and crinklier older writer.  

Friday, 25 October 2013

Writing course - creating characters and writing better dialogue

I will be running two workshops at Aberystwyth Arts Centre on Sunday 3rd November and Sunday 1st December 2pm – 5pm. Creative workshops in creating characters and writing dialogue for all forms of script writing and prose writing.

I’ve specifically chosen subjects which are constant queries from my writing for performance group. Basically whenever I ask what subjects do you want me to do exercises on, the answers are always character and dialogue – and no matter how many I do they always want more.

For me creating characters is at the heart of my writing process – for me everything begins with characters. I build the character developing their past, their flaws, their personal history, imagining the big moments in their lives and working through how those moments have impacted on them. Once the character starts to talk to me and a voice emerges then I know I’m ready to start writing – and because I know the character in such detail whatever problems I throw at them in the course of the play I know that their reactions and behaviour are real. I also find that through the process of developing character the plot and structure of the play will inevitably unfold – scenes, other characters will start to spring. But first, always first is character. Without the character it is just faceless people on stage spouting words.

Over the years I’ve built a mountain of exercises – my box of tools that help me get ideas for characters, develop characters, resolve problems through characters when something is not working.

When I read scripts I find that more often than not, the main problem is bad dialogue. Scriptwriters, prose writers – it doesn’t matter really. Dialogue needs to be just that – dialogue. Characters speaking to one another as they would speak, not how you want them to speak so you can push in a cheeky metaphor or say – look how clever I am with words. I don’t care about your metaphors, I don’t care how clever you are with words. All I’m going to think is – bad dialogue. Just thinking about that made me wince. Because that’s what happens, bad dialogue makes the listener, watcher, reader – wince. It jars. It reminds us it is fiction. It will stop an audience engaging and investing in your characters because they don’t believe they’re real.

I like dialogue, I like real dialogue, I want to hear characters speaking as they would really speak, not how a writer wants them to speak.  I want to hear characters with accents flowing through the patterns of how they speak. I want to hear characters speaking grammatically incorrect because that’s what they do! I don’t want to hear the voice of the writer, I want to hear the voice of the character. I also like how theatre writing allows us to play with dialogue, creating rhythms, patterns, music –characters not talking to one another but dancing. I want to hear noise and overcutting of dialogue that reflects the way we converse. I like poetic text, I like stylized text. But how do you marry the demands of a more poetic or fragmented style with the need for characters to speak realistically. These are subjects I’ve been exploring for years in my writing and again I’ve found exercises that help a writer to resolve these issues.

The workshop is for writers of all mediums – theatre, film, radio, television, digital writing and prose. The workshops will look at the difference and similarities in creating characters and writing dialogue for the different mediums and what we can learn about from the different mediums about creating characters and writing dialogue.

If you’re interested in more writing courses then please let me know and I can keep you informed of any new courses in the future.
More information about me, my work as a writer and theatre producer here
To book a place on the courses visit the Aberystwyth Arts Centre website