Cover image for The crafty art of playmaking
The crafty art of playmaking
Ayckbourn, Alan, 1939-
Personal Author:
First Palgrave Macmillan edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

Physical Description:
xii, 173 pages ; 22 cm
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2053 .A95 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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For the first time, Alan Ayckbourn shares all of his tricks of the playwright's trade. From helpful hints on writing to tips on directing, the book provides a complete primer for the newcomer and a refresher for the more experienced. Written in Ayckbourn's signature style that combines humor, seriousness, and heady air of theatrical sophistication that Noel Coward would envy, "The Crafty Art of Playmaking "is a must-have for aspiring playwrights and students of drama.

Author Notes

Many American tourists who flock to the annual Ayckbourn offering in London's West End, think of Alan Ayckbourn as Great Britain's Neil Simon. The analogy holds true to the extent that the relationship between Ayckbourn's and Simon's plays illustrates the difference between British and American theater and audiences. Both writers capture the social machinations of middle-class characters in daily situations that are made compelling simply by the addition of clever but conventional plots, dramatic intrigues, twists, and discoveries.

However, where Simon's plays tend to evolve into a condition of broad pathos or comedy, luxuriating in bittersweet melodrama, Ayckbourn's offerings revel in ever increasing intricacy, sharply incisive verbal dueling, and a dark social resonance that sounds much greater depths than in Simon's drama.

Ayckbourn's scripts embody boggling challenges for directors and actors as well as audiences. Intimate Exchanges (1985), for example, a sequence of plays for ten characters played by only two actors, involves numerous moments when an actor chooses to send the script off on one of two alternative directions. The Norman Conquests (1975) typifies Ayckbourn's determination to squeeze as much as possible out of a dramatic construct. The trilogy's first play, Table Manners, offers a typical Ayckbourn scenario with family traumas played against each other in the constrained setting of a dining room. In the second and third plays, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden, the audience is exposed to simultaneous layers of action that occur in two other venues, the living room and garden, when characters are not onstage in the dining room. Each play makes sense on its own, but the trilogy taken as a whole embodies a vision of this family that is larger than the sum of the individual parts. Aychbourn has also been known for rather experimental staging. The Way Upstream (1982), for example, is set on and around a boat and requires flooding the stage.

Ayckbourn's later plays reflect a bleak vision of society. In Woman in Mind (1985) and Henceforward (1987), Aychbourn's characters have become increasingly complex, and he reveals himself as an intense social commentator. Other recent plays include It Could Be Any One of Us (1983), Man of the Moment (1990), and Body Language (1991).

Since the 1970s, Ayckbourn has written at least one play a season; the premieres are always at a small local theater that he runs in the resort town of Scarborough.


(Bowker Author Biography) Alan Ayckbourn is the author of more than fifty plays, many of which are available from Faber. He lives in England.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The author of 64 plays, Ayckbourn has garnered international acclaim as a writer-director and remains one of the most widely performed living playwrights. Now he throws a spotlight on his stagecraft secrets and insights in this slim but valuable handbook on how to write and direct plays. It's designed to chronologically carry readers from a play's inspiration and creation to auditions, read-throughs, rehearsals, previews and press night. Ayckbourn covers "obvious rules" such as "Never start a play without an idea" and "The best comedy springs from the utterly serious" and explicates his dicta with brief, occasionally humorous essays. For instance, his rule that "People in general are reluctant to reveal themselves" cues a three-page explanation: "We are most of us by nature secretive creatures... In making characters reveal themselves they must be given a cause, a motive. The classic, slight corny one is to get them drunk. Otherwise, they probably open up through desperation, or anger, or deliberately to hurt each other." The pages on directors and directing cover such areas as casting, lighting, costume and sound design, choreographers, tech rehearsals and dealing with producers and stars. In addition to inserting amusing anecdotes, Ayckbourn also shares relevant passages from his own plays, including Relatively Speaking, Just Between Ourselves, Taking Steps and Season's Greetings. Rather than taking an academic approach, Ayckbourn's stylish writing conveys a feeling that readers have been invited into a near-empty auditorium to witness a private rehearsal. This book, a polished gem of theater lore, concludes with an appendix listing Ayckbourn's plays. (May 19) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Ayckbourn has been an extremely prolific and popular playwright (he has had more than 60 plays produced), and in this slim volume he shares several decades of learned wisdom and acquired expertise. Some of the advice may seem a little too obvious ("Never start a play without an idea"), but for the most part his insights are amusing, thought-provoking, and helpful in turn. To illustrate his points, he draws on examples from his own plays, giving one a quick introduction to Ayckbourn as well as to playwriting. Of particular interest are his thoughts on directing, somewhat ironic as rule No. 43 is "Beware of the writer-director." Since most playwrights don't have the opportunity to direct their own work, Ayckbourn is unusual, and his experiences are well worth the price of the book. The overall tone is breezy, lighthearted, and fun. Since there are as many theories of good playwriting as writers, it's a pleasure to read one that at least brings a smile to one's face. For a far more serious and theoretical work (and one that stands in total contrast to Ayckbourn's), try Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing or Louis Catron's highly practical The Elements of Playwriting. Recommended for academic libraries with theater collections.-Susan L. Peters, Univ. of Texas, Galveston (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Alan Ayckbourn, the British playwright who has written (and often directed) a staggering 60 plays, offers practical advice in this straightforward, jargon-free, how-to handbook on playmaking. Using his own works for examples, Ayckbourn reveals his personal tricks of the trade in a concise and amusing text that illuminates the forms of drama and provides insights into the theatrical production process and the playwright's role in it. In doing so, Ayckbourn extends beyond his stated mission of revealing the art of playmaking; his notions will be as useful to playwrights, directors, and designers as it is to playgoers and play readers. The text ranges from a serious discussion of the differences and relative values of the comic and tragic forms (Ayckbourn makes an especially compelling argument for the worth of comedy) to insisting on the need for cast parties, tolerating drama critics, and handling actors and designers. Ayckbourn's lively and varied opinions spring from his vast practical experience as dramatist and director, and the result is a convincing dissection of the workings of the contemporary stage. ^BSumming Up: Essential. Beginning and seasoned practitioners; students of the stage; audience members. J. Fisher Wabash College

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
A brief historyp. xi
Comedy or drama?p. 3
The initial ideap. 6
Constructionp. 12
Timep. 20
Locationp. 28
Charactersp. 35
Final countdownp. 46
Dialoguep. 48
Tidying upp. 95
The director's rolep. 99
A sort of historyp. 100
The producerp. 104
The authorp. 109
Starsp. 114
Set designersp. 118
Costume designersp. 120
The lighting designerp. 122
The sound designerp. 123
Other expertsp. 124
Castingp. 126
Auditionsp. 129
Before the first rehearsalp. 133
The rehearsal periodp. 135
The first dayp. 136
Explorationp. 140
Early daysp. 142
As you proceedp. 147
Notesp. 149
Comedyp. 153
Later daysp. 155
The DSMp. 157
Technicalsp. 158
Dress rehearsalsp. 163
Previewsp. 164
Press nightp. 168
Afterwardsp. 169
Chronology of playsp. 171