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Playwriting becoming central to Gibraltar’s theatrical output

Julian Felice (centre) on stage performing ‘Fade to Light’ which won best play at the Gibraltar Drama Festival in 2021. Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

Literature Week begins today, with local and international writers delivering talks daily on their books and projects. In this article Julian Felice gives an insight into his views about local literature and his upcoming workshop as part of Literature Week.

Local play-writing is in a really good place at the moment. There are about half a dozen active playwrights in Gibraltar who do not only write plays, but who also create opportunities for them to be staged, while a few of them are also taking their work beyond our shores.

These playwrights are not just writing about Gibraltarian issues - and there is nothing wrong with that - but are also exploring different angles to develop their writing further. In the last ten Drama Festivals, the Best Play trophy has been won by an original play eight times (seven of these written by Gibraltarians) and our younger actors are very used to performing original work. Although a quick look at the programme for this year’s Literary Week will show you that play-writing is still not given the prominence of other forms of writing, it is fast becoming something central to Gibraltar’s theatrical output.

And, of course, young people need to be at the heart of this. Children love to tell stories; they also like to engage in role-play and pretend to be someone else, and writing plays gives them the opportunity to explore both. Play-writing is also writing in its barest sense - it is not supported by narrative prose or stream of consciousness but is purely about using dialogue to create characters, develop relationships, forge conflict, and explore subtext. This can be daunting, but also strangely freeing. Understanding play-writing can help young people to appreciate basic ingredients of story-telling - conflict, reversal, delimitation - which can helpfully feed into other forms of writing. Most importantly, however, writing for the stage also helps us to understand the human condition, revealing, as it does, a set of desires driven by our most basic needs. And, of course, anything that helps young people to use their imagination is to be commended.

My session at Gibraltar Literature Week will see me working with young children from the primary sector. We will be looking at the basic ingredients of story-telling and I will be using various exercises to help them to identify potential for stories. These exercises are not too dissimilar from work that I have carried out with various theatre companies as part of their dramaturgical activity and will hopefully encourage these youngsters to find their theatrical voices. Who knows - maybe in some years it will be their work that we will watch on the local stage.

Parents and carers play a role in helping young people find these voices too. Expose your children to stories. Many parents panic that their children do not like to read, but you can also find excellent story-telling in film, television, and, yes, even in YouTube videos. What is important is that they are engaging with work that shows imagination and creativity. Take them to the theatre - it does not have to be ‘Wicked’ - there are other plays! But a young person exposed to stories is more likely to become a storyteller themselves, and God knows the world needs many more of them.

Julian Felice’s play ‘The Blue Whale’ will be performed at The Space in London from February 23 to 25, with discounted tickets for Gibraltar ID card holders available on: www.space.org.uk

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