Before joining John’s class I felt, as an actor, I possessed a fairly solid understanding of theatre, but over the course of a year spent in his company my eyes were well and truly opened; new writers, new ideas, a new appreciation of the rhythm and poetry at the heart of great writing and a newfound joy in the undying potency of live theatre.
Combining practical exercises and energizing discussions on plays and playwrights, John’s classes are the best possible way I can think of to discover who you are as a writer and what it is you want to write about. Even now, a year after completing his course, when I sit down to work John stands at my shoulder, his voice gently questioning or encouraging, his penetrating insight daunting yet inspiring.
Since completing John’s course I have gone on to have my first full length play premiered at the Traverse Theatre, a play that will also receive its US premiere in 2017, I’ve also been working with Playwrights Studio Scotland and joined the BBC Writersroom. All this is down to John, and not just his teaching, but his continued support long after the course had finished. He was a tutor, I now consider him both a tutor and a friend. He is rigorous, precise, unrelenting, and his standards are very, very high. Yet for all his gifts of insight, intellect and intuition I think for me it’s his generosity that stands the tallest. He wants you to do well, he wills you to do well, and his commitment to your vision, through the course and beyond, will be unwavering and indefatigable.
Taking up my place on the 2011/12 John Burgess Playwriting Course was possibly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. John gave me the tools I needed in order to write well while also allowing me to develop my own unique writing voice. His passion for new writing and commitment to the development of new writers is unending and spending a year in his company was invaluable.
In July 2012, myself and fellow-classmate Denise Keane both won scholarships to study on a dramatic writing course as part of the International Summer School at the University of the Arts, Berlin. There we had the opportunity to work with Verity Bargate award-winning playwright David Spencer and I remember very well the first thing David ever said to me – ‘John taught me everything I know.’
Since finishing John’s course I’ve continued to progress as a writer. I’m currently finishing my fourth full length play and have been longlisted for the Bruntwood Prize. I was invited to write for the 40th Miniaturists event at the Arcola Theatre in April 2013, I’ve had two short plays performed by Script Sessions at the Courtyard Theatre and the New Britannia Theatre. I’ve recently landed my first seed commission by winning first prize in A Play for the Nation’s Youth. This was a national playwriting competition run jointly by Salisbury Playhouse, Nick Hern Books, Out of Joint and BBC Writersroom.
None of this could have happened without John’s help.
John guides you, inspires you, challenges you, pushes you, believes in you and helps you believe in yourself. He continues to be a mentor long after the course ends and has been instrumental in getting me started as a writer. Whatever successes I garner along the way I will owe to him. I am absolutely certain of that.
I joined John’s course when I had just turned 23, during the pandemic. I had been writing for a while but had only staged one monologue that I’d written, being too embarrassed by the majority of my writing. I had a lot of discarded drafts of plays and half-formed ideas and I applied to John’s course on the off chance that I would be accepted and would receive some much needed guidance.
The course changed my life more than any educational experience I have ever had. John is a brilliant tutor and has the most precise and refined taste of anyone I know in theatre. The demands of the course are uncompromising but achievable and I got over many of my blocks in the first few months, as we had to write homework scenes once a week.
We all produced a lot of work on the course: a short play, a radio play and two longer plays. I was awarded ACE funding to direct the first of the longer plays at the Bomb Factory Art Foundation in September 2021. This was the high point of my work in theatre so far and the first time I have received a standing ovation. When I began the course, I saw myself as an aspiring director; now I want to write and direct my own work. I think this was an ambition I always secretly nurtured but the course has given me the confidence to express it and to attempt it.
John’s approach is resolutely theatrical and rooted in his vital experience as a director. We were never allowed to forget that we were writing words that would be spoken in real time, by real people, for a real audience. I became a much more adept editor as well as writer because of John’s teaching and the clarity with which he expresses and explains his opinions. He is an extremely generous mentor and friend and I recommend this course to anyone even vaguely interested in playwriting.
The John Burgess Playwriting Course works. Before my year with John was over I had won a playwriting bursary to Berlin, to work with fearless British playwright David Spencer, (July 2012, University of the Arts, Berlin) and had a play accepted for production with the Miniaturists (‘Belarus’, Miniaturists 37, Arcola Theatre, October 2012). And my short play ‘Crack’ (rehearsed reading, January 2013) won me a year’s attachment with the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, as part of their ‘Traverse 50’.
I know that none of this would have happened without John’s unique toolkit of exercises and techniques, combined with his precise, instinctive guidance, honesty, good humour and occasional ‘beastliness’ (his word). He combines an extraordinary knowledge of world drama with a musician’s ear for rhythm, tone, atmosphere and feeling. He is the best teacher you will ever have, and he is an artist in the truest sense.
My greatest wish now is to write something that he might like enough to direct, so that I can give it to him as a present, to say ‘thank you’.
Joining the John Burgess Playwriting Course was possibly the key factor enabling me to start a career in theatre. John’s course focuses on equipping playwrights with a toolbox of playwriting techniques. It emphasises the nuts and bolts of playwriting, which when you are first starting out, are essential. John’s enthusiasm for new writing, his knowledge of the history of theatre, his humour and honesty continue to influence me every time I sit down to write.
In the 6 months since completing John’s course I have received my first commission (Boundless Theatre). I also won the BOLD Playwrights Prize, and was shortlisted for the Theatre503 International Playwriting Prize. I am currently organising a national tour for a new show of mine. All of these plays were written as part of, or immediately after the course.
Most importantly, John’s support does not end with the completion of the course. John continues to read my work, and it is his keen eye for detail, rhythm, and imagery that drives me to do better. I cannot recommend the John Burgess Playwriting Course enough.
I came to playwriting from a background in contemporary art, though I have always written. Following a conversation with a producer friend I sent some scenes to John and was fortunate enough to gain a place on his inaugural London-based course. It was a brilliant experience. The breadth of John’s knowledge and his take on the possibilities of theatre provided a real immersion and awakening. The rigor of his teaching method, subtly structured and eminently practical, made every session challenging and enlightening. Equally, John’s warmth, sensitivity and intellect have helped me to grow in confidence and discover my own theatrical writing voice. Although we only attended for two hours a week, the process of learning, practice and development through in-class writing, homework, reading, seeing and discussing as many plays as possible, made for an all pervasive experience throughout the year.
Following the course I have been selected for the Traverse Fifty – one of fifty emerging writers chosen from over 600 applications to be on attachment to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. This new writing project forms part of their fiftieth anniversary celebrations.
It is a great opportunity and one that John’s support and encouragement has fully prepared me to make the most of. It was amazing to see my short play performed on the Traverse stage early in 2013.
I was part of John Burgess’s playwriting cohort of 2020/21, and it was a lifesaver during that uncertain year. I am an actress who loves reading and would like to write more. John is a great teacher and mentor. There is so much written these days about ‘storytelling’ which I often find intimidating and generalised; John is all about the words and the action, about what happens and is said onstage. And these are tools you can learn. My handling of dialogue was much improved by the course; I feel more confident and enjoy the process of writing a scene more than before. His knowledge of plays is exhaustive and he’s unstintingly generous with all that he thinks and knows. And yet he has an open-mindedness which allows for different ideas and beliefs. I found our discussion of what we’d seen and read each week as enjoyable as the writing itself. If you love theatre, you’ll love John’s course. If you like it but feel you don’t know enough about it or lack confidence, you’ll be invited into a rich and inclusive community, and encouraged to experiment and have fun.
The John Burgess Playwriting Course is the single best decision I’ve made in my writing career. The breadth and range of the classes is vast. From the ancient Greeks to the latest show in Theatre 503, John is always showing what works, why it works and how we writers can use it. As a student I was shown the infinite ways a line, scene or whole piece could be altered and deepened.
Each week we would have to present our work using a particular tool or technique. Producing work week after week was not only invaluable to the craft of writing but to my own confidence in showing it to others. Producing work, listening to that of others and discussing the theatre week in week out made John’s course something I always looked forward to.
The one-to-one sessions during the year are incredibly helpful but even more so John’s continued advice and support after the course has finished. He is the first person I will send a new work to, knowing I’ll always receive considered, generous and encouraging feedback.
For me, the workshops with John involved an inspiring bringing together of so many elements of my working life, that my path was radically changed afterwards.
I had acted, taught, directed and facilitated, but my literary degree sat heavily on my shoulders and I had not been able to overcome the fear of writing. Of course, having spoken to other writers, I realise now that this is quite common, but at the time the achievement of writing a play by myself felt quite out of reach.
I’m so thankful that I met John, who deploys his deep knowledge of all kinds of plays with sensitive intelligence to help each writer to find their own current and swim with it.
John’s practical knowledge of what will and won’t work on stage, so sound because of his long experience as literary manager and director, underpins all his teaching. There is no teaching of a formula – writers discover what it is that makes their own writing interesting, what they are interested in, by exploring their own responses to given material.
The sessions are highly focussed and can be rigorous, but are also invigorating and warm.
John loves the theatre, and his willingness to be surprised, thrilled, by a play, a scene, a sentence, even a word in the right place, is infectious. He fights for the cause of good writing – and will champion a writer’s work through to performance if he possibly can.
His production of my play The Cage was just beautiful and I will always thank him for it.
John’s course was a turning point in my life. A marketer by profession, I had always wanted to write creatively, but was now in my thirties and beginning to feel it was now or never. Although writing daily and attending workshops and courses, I hadn’t found a properly intelligent and comprehensive course to take me up to professional level. Here, at last, was the answer.
I think John’s intellect, knowledge of, and passion for, plays are extra-ordinary. I couldn’t wait for each session. Here was a hand-picked group of talented writers that were going places: mature, serious in their ambition and with proper life experience that’s the stuff of drama. I believe John is an exceptional tutor and mentor. At once challenging, inspiring and practical, I found that John has the astonishing ability to hone in on even the subtlest of creative difficulties and gently help me to solve them.
Motivated by John, I was delighted to complete several pieces during the course. Even more so when John forwarded them to his contacts with his recommendation. As a result I was thrilled to receive my first playwriting commission: by Y Touring, the theatre in education arm of the YMCA. In short, John’s course has been my spring board into the professional world of playwriting.
John Burgess’s classes help you to look at words themselves in a new way. He provides all the mental tools of a writer’s trade – and sharpens to a fine edge the ones you already have. Most importantly, there are no crass formulae for by-the-numbers scriptwriting – everything is geared to developing your own creativity and finding your own voice.
His experience, patience, and sense of humour are invaluable teaching tools. Thanks to his expert tuition and vast array of contacts, I have had a play performed on BBC Radio 4 and made invaluable contacts of my own for my future writing career. I can’t recommend his courses highly enough.
As a veteran of many creative writing courses including an MA, this is the only one that actually teaches you HOW to write. It’s worth every penny. My writing has improved beyond recognition since attending the John’s group and I have no reservations in recommending this course to anyone who is serious about improving their craft and who wants to work professionally as a playwright.
I was a member of John Burgess’s writers’ group at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton from 2005 to 2007 where John’s teachings provided me with an invaluable insight into the technical aspects of playwriting and to the world of theatre. He taught me about all aspects of playwriting, including structure, style, rhythm and tempo and perhaps most importantly of all, how to write in my own voice. John motivated me and my fellow students to attain the high standards he set for us all. As a result of John’s tuition, I have had several plays published and performed both in the UK and abroad.
I was writing with less and less confidence and with words I didn’t feel I owned… But in JB’s class you had to get behind your words, listen, learn to trust yourself, to work your voice… For me it was like a fresh start. JB then championed my work and helped me gain my first BBC Radio 4 commission. Since working with John I have now had 3 radio commissions and 3 new writing commissions.
I came to the course from a mid-career standpoint rather than as a new writer. I have been a writer all my life (as well as working in the theatre) and although I started out writing radio (for BBC Radio 4) and stage plays I had become, for the last ten years, almost solely employed writing for pre-school children’s television. Although this is a medium that I love, I felt that I would like to try and write for adults again. I was very worried that I would never again be able to write anything longer than the eight minutes which was my usual commission.
I found the course exhilarating, scary, fascinating and often very funny. It was fantastic to read all the plays that John gave us and told us about and it was great to hear the other writer’s work in the class. In my experience writing classes are often very serious but John’s class wasn’t like that. There was a lot a comedy, both written and read, and we laughed a lot.
We had to actually write in each lesson which was very nerve-racking and then read out our homework each week. Some things worked, some things didn’t but it gave me the freedom to just write, not for money, not for a commission, just because I could. Also, almost contrary to this, it also gave me great discipline of actually having to come up with something to read out each fortnight.
As well as the homework, in the first year, I also wrote a short play and the following year, a radio play. Now I have almost finished my full length stage play (96 pages) which has taken me almost a year. At first I just wanted to get over the hurdle of writing such a long piece and probably my first draft wasn’t great but with John’s brilliantly clever notes and encouragement, I hope I am nearly there now.
More than a year after I left the course, the other day when I felt devoid of inspiration, I decided to look through all the homeworks from the course and am now working on a new play based on one.
For me, John’s course has been fantastic and very inspirational. The radio play I wrote has been very well received by my agent and several producers. But perhaps more importantly I have discovered that, through the course, I am still able to write plays. I now have newly found confidence as well as several scripts to prove it.
Having decided to go back to my love of playwriting from a career in marketing, I was extremely pleased to get a place on The Nuffield Theatre Writers Group with John Burgess.
I am constantly in awe of John’s knowledge of New Writing in our theatres, and found every session with him in Southampton switched a little light on somewhere in my brain.
I had what I thought were the necessary skills for writing a play, but having been taken right back to the very basics with John, I soon realised there was far more to crafting a play than I thought.
With John’s insightful guidance I have now developed my own voice and have a plethora of techniques to use in my new found professional career as a playwright.
Needless to say my writing has gone from strength to strength and with John behind me, challenging me, supporting me, and promoting me and my work, I know I will be forever in his debt and will achieve my professional play writing goals.