The Collective Project: How to make eight plays in 12 days

Serena Haywood on the importance of talking and creating eight new plays in under two weeks.

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It takes a long time to write a play. You have to have the idea and hone it. Invent characters and build them out. Write the first draft. Write the second. And the third. Put it down for a month or two. Pick it back up again. Scrap half of it and starts again.

Or, if you’re The Pensive Federation, you could bring together a team of writers and actors who have never met before and work alchemy. That’s what the innovative company do with The Collective Project. In just 12 days their team creates eight new short plays. The result can currently be seen at the Tristan Bates Theatre.

We were, frankly, flabbergasted by the idea. So we asked Pensive Federation’s Serena Haywood to explain more:


Today we brought together our new company of writers and actors in the creative whirlwind of the Inspiration Session. Warm ups, speed writing and crisps.

We’ve done this now for five years, but this time it became clear that we needed to talk. We all sat down in a circle and reflected on 2016. Some of us had a great year but were ashamed to celebrate. Some were struggling professionally and financially. And one person had decided enough was enough and had officially started 2017 a month early.

We all agreed, whatever our politics, it felt as if the world had tipped on its axis. We worried that generally people seemed to be encased in echo chambers, unable to listen to each other let alone talk.  How could the arts and theatre help?

The Pensive Federation ethos is the extraordinary in the everyday, the magic in the mundane. Now, more than ever, we want to reflect these extraordinary times but on an uniquely personal level. How do people relate to each other when there has been so much shouting, fear and half-truths?

The stimulus for the first Collective Project five years ago was to have six actors on stage and challenge our writers to get groups of people communicating, really talking. Now more than ever this is crucial.

We bring writers together with actors they may not have previously worked with, and ask them to write specifically for them. This year we are excited to be working with writers including Conor Carroll (Old Vic New Voices, The Park Script Accelerator), Isabel Dixon (Theatre Manager at The Space, Burn Bright and Ugly Duck Theatres) and associate producer Jayne Edwards (Writer and performer, special mention Monologue Slam, October  2016) who is our first Penfedder to ‘do the triple’ by having previously acted and directed in other productions.

Our writers are not only searching for their own dramatic voice but that of the actor. Six actors is a really exciting number for writers, as they may be more used to writing for two to four people.

We use collective nouns, which form the title of the plays, to inspire the writers. This year’s titles include Scoop, Legion, Destruction and Worm. It’s a worm of robins, who knew? The director and Artistic Director Neil J Byden guide the writers to turn a creative explosion in a workshop into the beginnings of a play that is shaped and completed within seven days.

What we’re particularly excited about is an opportunity to tell a story not just with the plays, but over the entire evening. This is something that makes us unique as a new writing night. The literary team [Neil and I] will be gently guiding the plays so there is an arc for the evening.

We don’t know yet what our writers are going to come up with, but we are anticipating an evening where groups are driven apart and brought back together. This, we believe, is very important given the global context.

This is our fifth year. It has seen our premier play in Manchester (debut in Oldham Coliseum studio) and five star reviews for our first full length play, Square written by Will Howells. Next year starts with our Significant Other Festival at The Vaults, with an entirely new group of actors, writers and directors.

The Pensive Federation logo is a glass half full/half empty. It has been a fantastic year for us but a challenging world. Keeping the conversations going on and off stage is the only way forward and The Collective Project will be a fascinating exploration of this.

Plus… a worm of robins?!

The Collective Project runs at Tristan Bates Theatre from 13-17 December