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Stromness Drama Club and Rachael McGill present

Stromness Plays

A festival of new theatre writing inspired by the topics of the Stromness Debating Society (1953-2012)

Supported by a Scottish Society of Playwrights SSP@50 Fellowship funded by Creative Scotland

Scroll down for full entry instructions and playwriting FAQs.

Competition open to all with an Orkney connection

Write a 5-25 minute play: any style, theme, or setting - just use one of the selected Stromness Debating Society topics as the title or a line of the dialogue! List of debates here.

3 x £300 prizes. No entry fee.

Selected writers will have their play staged in a rehearsed reading by SDC.

Under-18s and over-18s judged separately, young people's ages taken into account.

Deadline 31 May.

Free playwriting workshops

24 March, 11am -1pm - Stromness Library (young people)

24 March, 2pm -4.30pm - Stromness Library

26th March, 7pm -9.30pm - St Magnus Centre

To book your place email

Showcase event

1 November, Stromness Town Hall

Opportunities for directing and acting too!


Entry Instructions

How to enter

Click on the yellow button to access a short entry form. You'll be asked to complete your contact details then upload your script as a Word or PDF file.

The script should not have your name or any other information that identifies you on it.

Entries will be accepted until midnight on 31 May.

If you have any problems using the online form email

Script guidance

  • Length: The script should have a running time of between 5 and 25 minutes. This could be anything between approximately 700 and 5,000 words. Don’t worry if your script is a little over or under this word count.

  • Stromness Debating Society theme: The play should contain, either as its title or as a line spoken by one of the characters, the title of a Stromness Debating Society debate, as listed here. You don’t have to use the exact wording of the debate title as long as it’s recognisably the same theme. Your play does not need to have this as its overall theme and it should be a play, not a debate!

  • Subject matter: There are no other restrictions on genre, style or subject matter. Plays don't need to be about or set in Orkney.

  • Cast: No more than 8 actors and no less than 2 (no monologues - we want to explore theatrical dialogue).

  • Technical specifications: Plays selected will be presented as staged readings. This means there are no technical restrictions, but your script will work best if it either relies little on technical effects or if these are clearly explained in stage directions so the audience can imagine them.

  • Language: The play must be written in the English language, which includes any of its dialects, such as Orcadian.

  • Layout: Scripts must be typewritten and sent as electronic files using the entry form. Any script layout is fine as long as it's clear which character is speaking and what is a stage direction rather than character speech.

  • Play eligibility: Plays must be the work of the person/s submitting, and be original, unpublished and professionally unperformed (this means the play has not been performed by a professional company paid at Equity rates). Scripts must not be under option by any theatre or production company.

  • Copyright: By submitting a script to this competition, the playwright (and his or her co-authors if relevant) confirms that it is exclusively their own work. The play must not contain any material that is owned or has been created by another person/s. Writers of plays chosen for performance keep the copyright to their plays.

Writer eligibility

  • Orkney connection: The competition is open to anyone resident in Orkney or with a close connection to Orkney (such as birth, family, previous residency or regular visits/work here).

  • Age: There is no age limit. Children and young people entering the competition may submit scripts themselves, with an adult’s permission if they’re under 16, or scripts may be submitted on their behalf by a parent or guardian.

  • Writing experience: There is no minimum or maximum level of experience required to enter.

  • Multiple entries: You may submit more than one play using the same entry form if you wish.

  • Co-authors: We’re happy to accept co-authored work. The entry form is submitted by one person and gives the option for them to name their co-writer/s.

  • Other competitions: You may submit your script to other competitions, theatres or third parties during this period. If it is successful elsewhere, please let us know immediately.

Judging and prizes

  • The names of the judges will be announced in April.

  • Plays will be judged on their plot/narrative structure, depiction of characters and their voices, creativity and originality and whether the story they tell is best suited to being a short play.

  • All plays will be judged anonymously, and the judges will not know who has entered. Entries from under 18s and over 18s will be judged separately. The age of entrants under 18 will be taken into consideration.

  • The decisions of the judges are final and no correspondence will be entered into.

  • Up to three winners of the competition will receive £300 (one BACS or cheque payment within one month of the winner being announced).

  • If a co-authored work wins a prize, prize money will be divided equally between the authors.

  • Up to three winners of the competition will have their play performed by Stromness Drama Club at a rehearsed reading at Stromness Town Hall on the evening of 1 November 2024.

  • A selected number of other entrants will also have their play performed by Stromness Drama Club at a rehearsed reading at Stromness Town Hall on the evening of 1 November 2024.

  • The prizes are as stated and no alternatives can be offered.

  • Writers of winning scripts and scripts chosen for performance will be notified by email. The winners will be announced on June 29th 2024.

  • Feedback on scripts can be provided on request and will be given within one month of the close of the competition. Feedback is given in good faith and does not constitute correspondence.

  • Writers of winning scripts may be required to participate in promotional activities, for example providing quotes and photographs for media use.

  • The organisers reserve the right to withhold the prizes, amend the rules or cancel the competition in whole or part if they consider it necessary or if the standard of entries justifies this.

  • Any lobbying of the judges or anyone else involved with the administration of the competition will lead to automatic disqualification from the competition.

These entry instructions form the terms and conditions of the competition. By entering, you agree to these terms and conditions.


Where should I start?

Although we’re using abstract ideas as prompts here, in the form of the debating society themes, you should choose the one that interests you then immediately move away from the abstract. Start either with a character or a relationship between characters, or an event or events that intrigues or amuses you. We're not looking for plays that re-create debates but stories about people.

How do I think in theatrical scenes?

Plays are made up of scenes, which you can think of as the most important moments in a story involving people and the actions they take. For everything you want to write, ask yourself, 'What's the scene?' It's not what people are thinking or what we're thinking of them, but something important they say or do in the moment. If your play is more about private thoughts, maybe you should be writing a short story or poem, What theatre does best is show us things happening in front of our faces. By thinking in scenes you cut to the chase and show us only the interesting parts. We don't need to know what happened in between.

How do I know if the story I’m thinking of is worth telling?

Are the characters believable and recognisable (even if we don’t like them, though it probably helps if we like at least one of them, or parts of some of them)?

Is there some mystery, conflict or surprise in it?

Is it a story only you can show us in the way you're going to show it?

How do I keep my audience interested?

I’m glad you asked - it’s the most important thing! Never forget you're not writing for your own amusement but for other people, who might be sitting on uncomfortable chairs, might be hungry, might need the toilet. There are different ways of communicating with them, depending on the style of your piece, It might be by writing dialogue that we recognise, that perhaps makes us laugh, that perhaps reminds us of things we've said or heard others say. It might be by giving us unusual language that makes us think and make new connections. It will usually involve giving us intriguing, unpredictable situations and characters we find believable. 

How do I make my characters voices sound real?

The first thing is that they don’t have to sound real unless the style of your play is realist – you could also write a play where the characters speak poetically or in a way that is all their own. The second thing is that even the most ‘realist’ depictions of people talking (think of soap operas) don’t have dialogue that’s anything like how people actually speak – they cut out all the rambling and small-talk people usually engage in and make them speak in a much more direct way, to further the plot. That said, if you are aiming for realistic dialogue, the best thing to do is listen to people you know, in real life or inside your head, and copy them.

How much information about staging and acting should I put in the script?

As little as possible. A play only begins with the script – the directors and actors add their interpretations and the writer shouldn’t try to control these too much. Only give the information that’s needed to make sense of the plot. Avoid directions on how lines are to be said and don’t assume the actors will use the tone you have in your mind when they say them. In a staged reading, your stage directions will be read out – all the more reason to have as few as possible, so that what the characters say can speak for itself.

Is writing a short play different from writing a long play?

You should think of a short play not as a scene from a full-length play but as a full-length play in its own right, just a mini one. It should tell a whole story with a beginning, middle and end. Because it’s small, though, your story will be smaller. It probably won’t have subplots, and will focus on fewer people and events. One way to create a well-formed small play is to plan as if you’re writing a longer one and then strip things down more and more, focussing just on the essentials or what is the most dramatic.


If you have other burning questions, get in touch – I can try to answer them and add them to the FAQ.

FAQs on writing a short play

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