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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.


The competition was open to all with an Orkney connection

The brief was to write a 5-25 minute play - any style, theme, or setting - using one of the selected Stromness Debating Society topics as the title or a line of the dialogue. List of debates hereCompetition rules here.

3 x £300 prizes. No entry fee.

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

Launch event

30 June, 4pm-6.30pm, Stromness Town Hall​

  • Announcement of winners

  • Sign up on the day to act or direct

  • Directing workshop with Gerda Stevenson

Final showcase event

1 November, Stromness Town Hall


The Judges

Graham Garson is the convenor of Stromness Drama Club and has been directing shows for them for three decades, including many prize-winners.

Gerda Stevenson is an award-winning writer, actor (trained at RADA), director, singer-songwriter, working in theatre, television, radio, film, and opera, throughout Britain and abroad. She is the founder of Stellar Quines, Scotland’s leading women’s theatre company. Her poetry, drama and prose have been widely published, staged, and broadcast. For the 2021 St Magnus Festival she directed a film adaptation of George Mackay Brown’s ‘The Storm Watchers’, called ‘astonishingly powerful’ by Joyce MacMillan.

Pam Beasant has lived in Orkney for four decades and is well-known on our literary scene, as the first George Mackay Brown Writing Fellow and the author of seven plays performed in Orkney, including A Hamnavoe Man, commissioned by the St Magnus International Festival and performed in Stromness in 2021, and Beneath the Flow, performed as part of the Scapa100 commemorations in 2019. She directed the Orkney Writers’ Course for the St Magnus International Festival (with co-tutor Jen Hadfield) from 2011 until 2017.


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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