Setting the stage | Vicki-Ann Cremona

The Maltese play-writing tradition is undergoing a crisis, with the Arts Council revealing how submissions to the annual Francis Ebejer Award proving to be consistently sub-par. Vicki-Ann Cremona hopes to change that with an upcoming Scriptwriting for Theatre course.

Vicki-Ann Cremona. Photo by Alexandra Pace
Vicki-Ann Cremona. Photo by Alexandra Pace

Did you have a specific vision of the course when you were first offered to organise it? What were the key things that you thought needed tackling from the outset?

Yes I did. I had a very sad experience when I was ambassador in Paris, and France had the EU presidency. One of its initiatives was to publish a play from each EU country. I offered several Maltese plays and the organisers kept turning them down because they were too ‘amateur’. The judges for the Francis Ebejer Prize have also often found plays not to be of the right standard. I think we have great talent in Malta, but it needs to shift from amateur to professional. I am particularly happy to be collaborating with the Arts Council Malta and with St James Cavalier because it is a genuine collective effort at raising standards and providing concrete measures for people to become more professional. 

How would you describe the contemporary scene of Maltese drama, particularly the plays written in Maltese? Do you see any significant historical development from the past?

Of course there is an evolution from the past; theatre moves (or should move) with the times it emerges from. After the Maltese language was officially recognised, plays were initially written as a complement to other forms of literature. Authors were not really playwrights, but rather novelists or essayists. Today, Maltese playwrights are addressing contemporary realities, using a theatrical form and not trying to adapt it. However, some have not been provided with training which could help them enhance their work and render it ‘marketable’ abroad. I would like to see that achieved, and will feel very proud to watch plays by Maltese artists being acted in other European languages and beyond!

How do you feel about the fact that submissions to the Francis Ebejer Prize turned out to be of a consistently low quality? What do you think has led to this?

Some of the texts showed little understanding of the fact that theatre requires a completely different approach to writing; an unoriginal approach to the way subjects are tackled; not enough sense or knowledge of playwriting skills; weak plots; weak characters. Some submissions are of a low quality because writers have not adopted a more professional approach. I believe writing skills can be acquired and perfected especially when someone has inspiration, ideas, a keen sense of observation and knowledge of how the theatre actually works. The characters are not characters in a book, they have to be given life through the work of actors and a director. The author needs to be aware of their needs. I have had the wonderful opportunity to see great authors, such as Arthur Miller, work with actors on a script. It is a very special experience. 

Given that the guest lecturers don’t speak Maltese and aren't familiar with the local scene, how do you hope to make the sessions as relevant as possible to the local scene, and to the concerns of local playwrights?

One of the lecturers does not write in English, he is Macedonian. What is being transmitted is a series of skills and techniques; the work and interaction with the students will be the means to create relevance. Students can in fact, write in Maltese if they so wish.

What do you hope the tangible benefits of the sessions will ultimately be?

I hope that these sessions will provide new directions for persons aspiring to write for the theatre, or wanting to take their writing to a more professional level. I hope it will lay the ground for a new type of writing, which is more at par with current European playwriting standards. Ultimately, I hope to see many Maltese playwrights being performed and printed internationally.

About the course

Lectures will be delivered by Goran Stefanovski, Fraser Grace and Cathy Crabb, in collaboration with the School of Performing Arts at the University of Malta and St James Cavalier, Centre of Creativity.

The course will be held at the University of Malta and at St James Cavalier. New and established scriptwriters are encouraged to apply. Courses will be delivered in English but scripts will be produced in Maltese and in English. Deadline for applications is October 14.

The course will consist of three weekend workshops: November 28-30, January 9-11 and March 6-8. Courses will be held at 18:00 to 20:00 on Fridays, 10:00 to 17:00 on Saturdays and Sundays. The course fee is €120.

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