Tag Archives: Writers’ Lab

Countdown 23 Days To Go

Stimuli: The lowdown#1

I think probably the most stressful thing about the 24-hr playwriting competition is integrating the Stimuli: all five of them in the order they have been released within the 24 hours.  Some people have jokingly accused me of being a sadist and some have earnestly reprimanded me for obstructing the writers’ train of thought with these ridiculous elements.  It does seem like a counter-creative idea – constantly putting obstacles in the writer’s way.  But I am a real advocate of the golden principle of “LIMITATION IS STIMULATION”.  I was introduced to this fabulous principle back in the early 90s when the Writers’ Laboratory brought in Noel Greig, a very experienced british playwright to conduct workshops for the labber (a short-form for Writers’ Lab members).  He told us that imagination is wonderful; but imagination unmanaged is a complete waste.  It was with him that I learnt the paradox of boundaries – it is only when we set boundaries around our imagination that we can push it to do amazing things.  If not, our imagination can literally run away from us.  So my ‘defence’ is that limitations makes us more creative and the 24-hour playwriting competition is all about creativity in writing a play.

Anyway, the whole idea of the stimuli came from an exercise that Greig gave the labbers to do which we all enjoyed thoroughly.  It was called “a letter to an alien” where we composed a letter to an alien using words other labbers have listed and in the order they has been listed.  I liked the exercise so much because it made us focus and made us work around the words so the words can work for us.  I took the idea and decided to arrange a time-released format for the 24-hr playwriting competition.  The reason was simple – we have 24 hours to kill so why not scatter it around rather than having all the stimuli released at one go?  I felt that this made the competition more exciting as there is always the challenge of taking new things on board.  Some participants loved it and some participants hated it – but on the whole, I think people enjoyed it (even if they hated it).

My general advice about stimuli is take it as if you’re going on a blind date: “no pressure no expectations”.  I think it’s only with that attitude that you become a lot more open and a lot more creative with it. 

All this sounds really tough but take it from me – it sounds a lot more difficult than it actually is.  I think one just needs to go with the flow.

I’ll go more into the stimuli in the next couple of blogs.

And on a completely unrelated note, I’d like to share with you a shot of some of the recent participants tees that the 24-hour competition has given out.  I kept them religiously because they have become little wearable mnemonics of those different 24-hours.

24-ht Tees 06-08

Robin Loon


Countdown 24 Days To Go

Hello everyone, I’m Robin Loon, one of the current Associate Directors of TheatreWorks and I am in charge of the Writers’ Laboratory. Just a bit of background on the 24-hour Play-writing competition. Back in 1996, as part of the then SPH Festival of New Writing, I started the 24-hour playwriting competition. The idea was adapted from a Canadian Theatre Company that runs similar writers’ retreat.

This year (2009), we’re going the Marina Barrage and we couldn’t be more excited. The view, the architecture and the overall environment – all of it is so inspiring. And I know it will be a lot of fun. I mean 24 hours in a space to write a play based on 5 stimuli integrated into the play in the order they are revealed, what could be more kick-ass than that?

I get asked often how and when I come up with the stimuli – and the truth of the matter is, I don’t really think about it until 2 – 3 days before the competition. The standard operating procedure is several tours of the competition venue to get inspiration for the non-specific stimuli but even that, I don’t really know what the non-specific stimuli will actually be. It’s risky, I know, but it keeps the competition exciting for me too.

I also get asked if I have a schema for composing stimuli – the answer is: NO. I try to make it as random as possible and honestly, I don’t have a theme or a central controlling idea. The secret is – for a few years, I literally come up with the stimuli hours before it is revealed. That can be quite stressful but it keeps me on my toes.

But there is a general pattern – the first stimulus is always the opening line of the play; and that will be followed by 2 specific and 2 non-specific stimuli.

Check in tomorrow when I’ll be talking a bit more on specific and non-specific stimuli.

Robin Loon