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.
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.