a play-in-progress

by Kim Morrissey

playwright's note: November 25, 2002

"with brave people the work is first, and the fee second."
John Ruskin, Lecture on "Work"
Camberwell Working Men's Institute, 1860's

I wrote my play Dora : A Case of Hysteria (London: Nick Hern Books, 1994) in 1985 and then rewrote it, working with director Steve Gregg (Wheatland Theatre). We used a series of workshop readings set up by the Saskatchewan Playwrights Centre in 1985-86, over the course of nine months, ending in a staged reading, dramaturged by Ken Gass.  The first professional production of the play was directed by Steve Gregg at Wheatland Theatre (March 1987). Steve gave me one of the best pieces of advice for writing satire and black comedy: 'Go for the joke and let the tragedy take care of itself.' I found the process so satisfying that I have workshopped my plays the same way ever since. For the Mrs. Ruskin project, we have scheduled a series of workshops over a year, working closely with Amy Oliver (Effie Ruskin) and Michael Yale (John Ruskin) and director Jacqui Somerville, with additional help from the Theatre Metropolis company of actors.

Playwrights often pretend a final script is a first draft which sprang from their heads perfectly formed, with not a word changed. A 'first draft' is usually just the first draft people see, and it is important that academics, fellow playwrights, commissioning artistic directors, publishers and granting bodies understand how nebulous (and unpromising) the early stages of a project can be. This website records a complete documentation of the creation of a play. The first draft is the first draft, and the drafts are posted as they are written. I have made the various drafts of Mrs. Ruskin freely available for use as an educational resource to help people understand the process which is involved in the development of a play. (Please note: all drafts are fully protected by copyright. The final version of the play will be published by Aark Books, London, England. The production copyscript is available from Playwrights Guild of Canada).

history of the project

actors involved in the workshops

(please note: all drafts are protected by copyright)
© Kim Morrissey, 2003-2008, ongoing)

first, catch your playwright

DRAFT TWELVE (2008) (refocussing the play on Mrs. Ruskin)

Draft Eleven (March 2004)

PRODUCTION: Draft Ten. Final changes during production (September 2003)
PRODUCTION: Draft Nine. Final revisions in rehearsal (18.08.2003 to 25.08.2003)

Draft Eight (draft at the start of rehearsals) (18.08.2003)

Draft Seven (17.08.2003)

STAGE FOUR: Draft Six (12.08.2003)
Draft Five workshop (17.06.2003)

STAGE THREE: Draft Four: two day workshop and public reading  (June 2-3 2003)
(7 pm June 3d,  2003 invited reading at Canada House)

Draft Three workshop (23.04.2003)
STAGE TWO: Draft Two workshop (18.02.2003)
STAGE ONE: Draft One (26.11.2002)

"The Order of Release 1746", oil on canvas, 103 x 74 cm, 1852-1853, Effie Ruskin (née Gray, later Millais) as model, The Tate Gallery, London

In The Beginning .... First, catch your playwright....

First Step: Amy and Mike, Artistic Directors of Theatre Metropolis contacted me through my union, Playwrights Union of Canada. They liked my published plays and wanted to meet me. We met for lunch and several bottles of wine in a murky, basement wine bar near Embankment, and I gave them a long list of Canadian plays, other than mine (amongst them, Maureen Hunter's plays, Sally Clark's, George F. Walker's wonderful The Art of War) that they should read and consider producing. Amy has glorious long red hair, just right to play Lizzie Siddal in my play Clever As Paint. Unfortunately for Theatre Metropolis, Clever as Paint was done at the Hen & Chickens in 1995 (with Sharon Broadie) and had just been just done again by the Cornwall Theatre Collective in 1998 (with Helen Speed).

I liked Amy and Mike; they seemed clever, compassionate and funny and I liked their politics. I also liked that they bought the first round. Unfortunately, they wanted to produce plays that hadn't already been produced in London and the only plays of mine which haven't been produced in London are children's plays. I offer them Raisins and Almonds, my adaptation of Fredelle Bruser Maynard's memoir of growing up Jewish on the prairies. trying to sell it to them as a multi-cultural experience. Multi-cultural or not, they were polite, but firm - they don't do children's plays.

Second Step: Amy invites me to see a play with her at the Battersea Arts Centre in a week's time. We agree to meet in the cafe. Rushing over to Battersea, I realize that I spent several hours with Mike and Amy several days ago in a very dark wine bar, and I think 'Oh no! I know all the plays they like, but I can't remember what either of them look like.' A striking woman with glorious long red hair sits for twenty minutes in the Battersea Arts Club cafe, smiling in a friendly way, whenever she catches my eye, before she comes over to introduce herself. She does this graciously, pretending she hasn't recognized me either.

I decide, at that point, that if she is a good actor, I would like to work with her, since she clearly has the patience to work with me. We see the play and agree on the things we liked and didn't like about it and discuss theatrical solutions. We also discuss possible historical subjects for a play and I promise to do some preliminary rooting around, to see if any of the subjects interest me dramatically. Amy invites me to a reading of three political plays from South America, which Theatre Metropolis is staging at the Latchmere Theatre, Battersea.

Third Step: May 2002. After the performance of the political readings, Amy, Mike and I agree about the subject of the play (Effie Ruskin). They agree to my terms: a standard contract with Playwrights Union of Canada for the Production, with the subsidiary rights and distribution rights clauses crossed out (all rights, including copyright, belong to me). Although I will welcome their suggestions during workshops and will be available for rewrites up to the end of the first week of rehearsals leading to their production, after that, the script will be considered the final version and they must have permission to change anything (even a word) in the script.

Since small theatre's fortunes are variable, we agree that they will try to seek funding through arts grants, but that we are doing it as a labour of love, so we will continue the project whether we are funded or not. I will give them first offer of production and credit for workshopping the play when the book is published. We discuss possible directors for the project. Amy and Michael go off to rehearse their production of Monsieur D'Eon at the Southwark Playhouse and I go off to do six months of research.

Fourth Step: September 2002. First meeting with the actors and director, to review the first draft of the first scene and have a general chat about structure and themes. We meet in the very gloomy cafe in the crypt, in St-Martin's-in-the-Field. Amy waves as I come in. Jacqui Somerville wants to work on the project, and I'm delighted - she is exactly the director I would choose, if I had a choice. I ask her if she has a problem with the character of a small child in an adult play, she encourages me to write whatever I like.

Fifth Step: November 2002. Since Michael Petrasek from Playwrights Union of Canada is in town (and staying with us), Amy and Mike take me to a series of readings of Canadian pieces at the Soho Theatre. I don't recognize Imogen Stubbs, taking part in a reading of a play by John Mighton, even though I spent a day rewriting at the taping when she played Siddal in Clever As Paint ( BBC Radio 4); Amy finds this reassuring.

Workshop Schedule

Stage One (first draft, November 2002) A cold-reading of the work-in-progress, with a quick edit and then a second read-through and discussion. After six months of research, the structure of the play should be in place, with scenes which may not be in order but which I feel are essential to the play's thematic progress. At this stage, I want to use historically accurate language, details and chronology whenever possible (noting carefully things that are obscure or awkward, so that those problems can be considered in the second draft. The use of their own language is important, to get a sense of their voice. These phrases may not be used in the final version of the play, but they reveal the sorts of speech rhythms and mind sets of various characters. The reading should give a sense of the various character's relationships to other characters in the play and will suggest other solutions to expositional problems.

Stage Two (second draft, February 18, 2003) The draft should be a rewriting and extension of the play after the read-through, ignoring the historical accuracy, for the moment, with more attention to psychological accuracy of the characters. The work should be about 2/3 the length it will eventually be. The workshop will be a one-day workshop, with attention to plot development and character consistency. The language for characters may not be quite right, but there is a sense, in this workshop, of what the character may or may not say, and a general feel for each character which can be carried through to the next workshop. The play should be about half its length, or more, if possible..

Stage Three (fourth draft, 2003) The draft is the result of re-reading source books, and making sure the dramatic, psychological and historical references are accurate, especially for characters surrounding the title character (every character is the hero of her/his own story, whether others see it that way or not). At this point there should have been as many rewrites as there are characters in the play - to be sure that each character is psychologically rounded and that characterizing dialogue is consistent. In this instance, it is the 'major' characters who aren't quite right, because the focus is on the other characters.

There will also be an emphasis on narrative: what's the story? The play should be at least half or 3/4 length and include at least a draft of the second act as well as the first, so that you can see where the dramatic shape of the piece is working (and, more importantly, where it is not). This is an in-depth director-led workshop, followed by a staged reading (scripts in hand) to an invited audience, with a discussion following the performance.

Stage Four (final workshop). This final workshop brings the piece back to its dramatic roots, sub-ordinating the characters to the story the play tells. Every word and every phrase must be characterizing and considered and every action must mean something. There is an emphasis on motivation.

Production Stage:
(leading to the opening night) The first week of rehearsals also includes one week of further rewrites. At the end of that week, I will have what I will consider a finished script, for this production. At this point, I won't see the play again until the opening night, unless asked and no further changes should be made to the script, without my permission. This allows the actors and director to get on with their job and gives them the confidence that I have done mine.

première : Warehouse Theatre, East Croydon UK  September  12th - October 5, 2003

Changes Arising From the Production

Six Months on (27.03.2004)


PLEASE NOTE: this site is a free educational resource, set up to share the creative process of play-creation. This is not the last draft of the play and should not be performed.  Kim Morrissey's play, Mrs. Ruskin, will be published by Aark Books, London UK, and a copyscript of the play, suitable for production,  will be available from Playwrights Guild of Canada.

MRS RUSKIN by Kim Morrissey. Caution: this play is fully protected under the copyright laws of Canada and all other countries of The Copyright Union, and is subject to royalty. Those interested in production rights are requested to apply to Playwrights Guild of Canada, 54 Wolseley Street, 2nd Floor, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. telephone (416) 703-0201; fax (416) 703-0059. e-mail:

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