Studying the MLitt in Playwriting and Screenwriting

Creative Writing has thrived at St Andrews since Douglas Dunn set up the MLitt degree in 1993. In 2015, a new MLitt in Playwriting and Screenwriting was inaugurated by Zinnie Harris and Oliver Emanuel to enhance and develop the University’s already impressive reputation for writing excellence.

The aim of the programme is to provide intensive critical and creative study in writing for stage, radio and screen with an emphasis on best practice in recent and contemporary writing, and to encourage the development of students' original work. Applicants should be adept at academic study as well as their own writing, and will be taught by professional playwrights and screenwriters who are familiar with the problems, pressures and pleasures of writing.

Students may choose to convert their degree to the MFA and study for a second year (assuming that they have achieved satisfactory progress in the MLitt coursework).

What you'll study

Students undertake a compulsory module in Research Skills for Creative Writers and two further core modules in playwriting and screenwriting. The MLitt concludes with the submission of a dissertation, which takes the form of original writing.

You will study with Professor Zinnie Harris and Oliver Emanuel. The programme is designed as a gateway to working in the industry, whether students intend to write for stage, radio or the screen. In addition to excellent teaching from two award-winning and international writers, emphasis is put on networking and learning from real experience in the rehearsal room. Teaching takes place in the Byre Theatre, a professional working theatre at the heart of St Andrews and its cultural life – the only course that is run within such a unique setting.

In recent years, students have been taken to rehearsals at the National Theatre of Scotland, the Citizens Theatre, the Traverse Theatre and to recording at BBC Maida Vale. Additionally, Joe Douglas (acting Artistic Director of Dundee Rep), David Greig (Artistic Director of the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh), Kirsty Williams (BBC Radio Drama) and Stephen Greenhorn (screenwriter – Sunshine on Leith and River City) have worked with students, providing insights and tips from their years of professional experience. The connections students made will stand them in good stead as they go forward to write professionally.

Students are trained in how to read a script and make a script report so they can go on and offer this as a skill to a theatre. Additionally, any scripts of excellence written by students are routinely passed to the Traverse Theatre, where the School has an association. 

The focus of the first semester is playwriting. A selection of the best contemporary plays is used as a tool for learning as well as discussion of the current theatre scene. Teaching time is divided into character work, visual storytelling, structure, dialogue and the internal architecture of a play. In addition, every week there is a two-hour dramaturgy session where students’ own work is read aloud and critiqued by the group. The assessed submissions through the semester are designed to allow students to hone and develop the fundamental skill of playwriting whilst developing their unique voice as a playwright.

In the second semester, the idea of the voice and what a play can and should be saying, is built upon. Working with Oliver Emanuel, students explore work for younger audiences and writing for radio, working on synopses and how to make an approach to a theatre or TV or film company before turning to screenwriting for the second half of the semester. Here, Zinnie Harris leads workshops on how successful screenwriters use viewpoint to create an intimacy with their characters, and how screenwriters work with symbols and myth. Students also explore TV thriller-writing, as well as adaptation from novel to screen. The semester culminates in a final written submission of a 30-minute screenplay adapted from a short story.

The MLitt in Playwriting and Screenwriting has been running for two years and has received excellent feedback from both cohorts of writers, one of whom won the David MacLennan Prize 2017 and had her play produced as part of A Play, A Pie, and A Pint at Oran Mor (Glasgow). All alumni are expected to go on with their writing in the professional world.

Dissertation

The MLitt concludes with the submission of a dissertation, which takes the form of an extended piece of original writing. If their performance has been satisfactory in the taught component of the course, students will submit this creative dissertation over the summer; it will consist of a 45-minute play or screenplay (approximately 8000 to 10,000 words). One-to-one supervision will be also available during this period.

Contact

School of English
Castle House
The Scores
St Andrews
KY16 9AL

Phone: +44 (0)1334 46 2668
Email: pgeng@st-andrews.ac.uk

English website

Why choose St Andrews?

The School of English at St Andrews is ranked the best English department in Scotland (according to the Guardian University Guide 2020).

The School does not make any formal distinction between academic and creative staff; many staff publish both academic and creative work, and also teach in both contexts. This means that Creative Writing has found a natural home in the University as an academic discipline, and the School encourages students to use its research environment as a means of pursuing their dedication to their craft.

The School of English also believes that knowledge is best imparted by those working in the same discipline and at the highest level: all the School's writers have national and international reputations, and are regarded as leaders in their individual fields. All are dedicated teachers with a passion for their art.

In addition, the ancient town of St Andrews – with its pristine beaches, castles and historic buildings, its constantly changing seascapes and cloudscapes – is simply a beautiful and inspiring place for any writer to work.

Student testimonials

"Studying for the MLitt in Creative Writing: Writing for Performance in St Andrews is a fantastic experience. The school of English offers great facilities to postgraduates. The study space in 66 North Street is a very useful resource always providing a comfortable and stimulating environment. Additionally, Writing for Performance modules are taught in the Byre Theatre which gives the students an opportunity to experience what it means to work in a professional theatre.

However, in my opinion, this course’s best asset is its teaching. Zinnie Harris and Oliver Emanuel are both very successful and prolific playwrights with a vast knowledge of both the craft of writing for performance and the entertainment industry. This permits them to deliver a very high standard of teaching while understanding the challenges facing young writers and being able to always provide useful insight. Additionally, we were also delighted to host a variated range of visiting speakers which included theatre critic Mark Brown and radio producer Kristy Williams. We also had the incredible opportunity to have our scripts read and developed by professional actors and directed by the artistic director of The Citizens’ Theatre, Dominic Hill and the artistic director of The Traverse Theatre, Orla O'Loughlin during development days.

Overall, taking this course has made a huge impact on my writing skills as well as on my confidence as a writer. The amount of teaching hours, time for writing, and workshops is well balanced and gave me the opportunity to learn the craft while giving me the time to explore my own writing."

Alice Casagrande Moretti - 2017


"The Writing for Performance MLitt course at St. Andrews is a fantastic introduction to the playwriting and screenwriting industry. Oliver and Zinnie both offer constant support and feedback on new writing, going out of their way to bring out the best in their students. Support from tutors who are very much part of the industry itself is something that sets this course apart from the others. The opportunity to meet professional screenwriters, playwrights and directors has given me an insight into the industry that cannot be attained from simply studying in the classroom.

All students had the opportunity to develop their work with a professional director and actors, an invaluable day teaching us not only how to better assess our own work but also how new writing is developed within the industry. The course has benefitted my own work immensely. Oliver and Zinnie are extremely passionate about the arts and this certainly influences their teaching- encouraging students not only to keep writing but also to see theatre and to be wholly immersed in the Scottish arts scene. Their enthusiasm and incredible work ethic certainly transfers to their students and it is something I will be eternally grateful for."

Clare Horrigan - 2017

"The writing for performance strand of the MLitt in Creative Writing at St Andrews was the best choice for me. Being taught by two professional script writers, each with their own skills and successes in radio, stage and screen writing, was not only a privilege but offered huge and genuine insight into the career path I plan to embark on when I graduate. 

The intimate class size and theatre setting for tutorials (which take pace in the university-owned St Andrews theatre, The Byre) create a sense that you're fully immersed in the world of drama already. It doesn't feel like a typical Masters but a specialist course. Seriously good value for the year (especially when compared to other creative writing courses at universities across the UK).

Zinnie and Olly are dedicated to nurturing their students' strengths in writing and as a result gave us extra time in one-on-one tutorials each semester, as well as regular email contact and invites to see their plays being produced across the UK. 

All in all, a fantastic experience. And that's not to mention how lovely and unique St Andrews is as a wee Scottish town."

Lauren Hepburn - 2016


"It’s hard to overstate how crucial this year studying writing for performance has been in the development of my playwriting skills. From the very first session, our tutors have been supportive and challenging in equal measure, encouraging us to cultivate a disciplined approach to our writing which will serve us well when we transition into a professional environment. The syllabus examines a spectrum of plays for stage, radio, young people and screen, showcasing techniques that we experimented with in our own work and fostering a strong understanding of the writer’s craft across several creative arenas. We were also lucky to attend rehearsals to witness a playwright at work and enjoyed visits from other industry practitioners.

It has been a privilege to study under such experienced writers; the enthusiasm that our tutors show for their profession is utterly inspiring. All in all, it has been an energising, immersive and transformative year, and the future feels very bright indeed."

Anita Joseph - 2016