At some point during the post-show discussion following Scribble’s rehearsed reading at the Traverse someone asks me a very clear and concise question about the play’s narrative structure and I offer them in a return an incredibly vague, long and unhelpful answer. I can hear the words “neuro-diverse dramaturgies” tripping out of mouth and before I can pick them up I realise I’ve dived head long into that murky space of realising you don’t know what the words you are saying actually mean…yet.
Now, taken with a pinch of salt given how retrospective this all is – you can make anything up if you think about it hard enough – I think I know what I meant…
Dramaturgy is about structures and relations. So in the context of writing Scribble dramaturgy is about the structure of the play, at the levels of narrative, theme and concept, as well as thinking about how it works in the room, how it relates to an audience, how it relates to a wider context.
As a playwright I have never been particularly concerned with stories. I’m much more excited by telling them. I think any story can be interesting if told well, and any story can be tedious if told badly, and so that directs my focus. I initially leant into dramaturgy – and got swallowed by it – from this impulse.
Throughout the mentoring programme at Playwrights’ Studio Scotland I started to centre around the idea that, much like people with different bodies move differently, people with different brains might think differently too. At the time I was quite heavily researching disability art, specifically contemporary dance, for a speculative PhD application. Within that body of work, artists like Robert Softley and Claire Cunningham were pretty inspirational – challenging my expectations about what I expected from bodies and their movements.
Now, everyone has a different body and everyone a different brain, but the degree to which some are considered different, diverse or outside of a perceived norm varies considerably. This is why it is true that everyone has mental health but that there is still a difference between the experience of ill mental health and having a cognitive disorder. That difference might not be hard and fast all the time, might not be always easy to put into words, and is something perhaps best left to those with a greater deal of knowledge and training than me to debate.
Thinking about my own mental health at least, which I struggle to make claims about now, but at the time seemed to involve some “a-typical thought patterns”, to be disordered, I was curious to think about how different thought patterns, different ways of thinking, might be represented dramaturgically – how different types of stories might be told. Thinking about my tendency to obsess - to loop, repeat and come back - I sought to write a piece of work that itself was always looping, repeating and coming back to itself at the levels of its structure, and its relation to its audience.
I was not concerned with raising awareness, about telling my story, but instead offering an artistic response that might in some way be expansive and useful, a piece of work that might gesture towards something beyond stories with beginnings, middles and ends. I wanted to use the lens through which I understood the world as a dramaturgical strategy, and similar to the artists mentioned above, challenge audience expectations about what they expect from a story.
That’s a pretty big claim though, which Scribble inevitably falls short of. But that’s what I was thinking about when I wrote it, and when those words tumbled out my mouth six months ago.