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What Moonlight Teaches Us About The Importance Of Creative Writing Training

27/02/2017 13:24 GMT | Updated 27/02/2017 13:24 GMT

Tarell McCraney, the writer of the play which is the basis of the film Moonlight which was last night's Oscar winner for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay amongst other awards, was in the year above me at Yale, where we were both studying for an MFA in Playwriting at Yale School of Drama.

What Tarell's success means for me is the importance of what creative writing training can do - I remember watching Tarell's second year play directed by my friend Tea Alagic (a Yale School of Drama MFA student director at the time) come to life via that collaboration and then the success of it transferring with its student cast and director to the Public Theater and the development of Tarell's The Brother/Sister play trilogy which he wrote at Yale.

Eight years since graduating from Yale School of Drama, both Tarell and I are now heads of dramatic writing departments - Tarell is the new Chair of Playwriting at Yale School of Drama, where we both studied, and I am the Course Leader for the new MA Dramatic Writing at Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins - Drama Centre London at Central Saint Martins was highlighted last year and this year as one of the places Oscar winners are most likely to have trained in the UK.

I'm inspired by this as I hope it is testament to the importance of creative writing training - upon his appointment, Tarell said: "New plays sit at the heart of training in the Yale School of Drama community. The vision, scope, and execution of the play spawn countless collaborations and inquiries into the personal imagination of the artists who make up the community, while also addressing complicated questions we face in the world today. This return to Yale marks a need in myself to advocate for these collaborators and their voices, but also to wrestle alongside them with the perplexing and powerful quandaries of the day."

Yale School of Drama also was the home of much of August Wilson's 10 play cycle, one of the most significant works of the contemporary American theatre.

For me, Yale gave me, coming from a single parent home which wasn't connected to the arts, the chance to consider that I could be a writer.

Since graduating, I've spent the last 8 years working on bringing and developing my beginnings of thinking about training at Yale to the UK.

In particular, at Central Saint Martins on the new MA Dramatic Writing which is the college's first ever creative writing degree and which I am the first course leader of, we have just published our first book "Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters".

This book provides access for the first time to the leading dramatic writing training coming out of the UK industry, most of which has never been published before. Contributors include Ola Animashawun, who founded the Royal Court Theatre's world famous young writers programme, Philip Shelley, instigator of the Channel 4 screenwriting course, Kate Rowland, founder of BBC Writersroom, the BBC's new writing department, John Yorke, founder of the BBC Writers Academy, which trained a generation of screenwriters and was one of television's most influential training programmes for writers, and others.

The book is part of a new partnership with Oberon Books, one of the UK's leading performing arts publishers, to provide access to the training being used on top industry writing training programmes, and will be followed up by in depth guides written by the industry on each form of dramatic writing with lesson plans for use by teachers, students and emerging writers.

Why do this? Well, after Yale, I joined a university as a lecturer which recruited students from the most deprived 1% of the UK. Zero students were studying playwriting when I arrived. The students told me that the arts were a place they couldn't be a part of (one student described it as "it seemed like people who worked in the arts were aliens from another planet").

In the first year of playwriting module I set up, 8 students registered, two of which got placements at a leading theatre. In the second year, 40 students signed up then 80 in year three then we established the UK's first formally industry partnered MA in playwriting with 50% of the course taught by three of the region's leading theatres.

The students told me the change was about them understanding the industry and feeling the industry was now accessible via the industry teaching and partnerships on the course.

Similarly, at Central Saint Martins, we have seen student numbers rise from 7 to 22 to 35 to 40 students over the four years of the course, with many students going on to secure immediate work and success as writers following the course.

Our book, and my thinking, was inspired by this trajectory.

Also it was also inspired by my belief that, if we can make our training stronger and more accessible, we can help anyone feel that they can become a writer - and if writing is about reflecting on who we were, who we are, and who we can be, it seems to me that it is important anyone feels they can contribute to this career path and the voices who are heard via this career.

Thinking about Moonlight last night, it seems to me that Tarell is testament to what we can learn from the US and the importance of and power of creative writing training and what it can do and what it can become.

With the cancellation of the A level in creative writing in the UK and EBACC not containing creative subjects, now more than ever it seems important to encourage this development of our writing training, if the voices who are heard via our writing are going to reflect the diversity of the voices in the world.

For more information on "Dramatic Writing Masterclasses: Key Advice from the Industry Masters", please go to: https://oberonbooks.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/the-masters-at-work/

For more information on BACC for the Future, the campaign against EBACC not containing creative subjects and the potential harm this will do to subjects like writer training in the UK, please go to: http://www.baccforthefuture.com/

To take part in a survey on what the future of dramatic writing training needs to be, the results of which will be reported at this year's London Writers' Week, please go to: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/dramaticwriting