Working with Nina Steiger

Nina Steiger is Associate Director at Soho Theatre, which currently has an open submission for the Verity Bargate Award. If you are a writer, go the website and look for the upcoming writing workshops. Nina Steiger will be running a few, and it will be worth your time and money.

In this post I’m going to reproduce a few questions that Nina posed in our classes, to give an idea of the ways we have been encouraged to think about our own work.

I’ll start here:

Nina asked the question: what are your own poetics as a writer? It’s worth thinking a bit about your own concerns, preoccupations, and dramaturgy. Write these down on a piece of paper. Draw a circle around it. This is your core as a writer. Now draw another circle around your core, and call this your influences. Think about your influences, whether literary, socio-economic, education, peer groups, family, politics – whatever they may be. Make a circle for each influence, with the most important nearest the core poetics, until you have satisfied yourself you are aware of all the influences wrapped around you. Now spend some time thinking of an idea you have as a writer. What makes it in to the personal poetics? How does it get there? How does it change? Where has it come from? What is peculiar about this lens to you as a writer? Does it permeate through several layers? Does it change as a result of this? Finally decide, what makes it in to the poetics?

Unanswerable Questions

Nina challenged us to think about Unanswerable Questions – from these provocations we can identify a good premise from which to write. Try this for yourself, make a list of questions that have no answer. Once you have found the question that provokes you the most, you have a theme. Be careful to make sure the question is unanswerable, but not intangible. My question for this exercise, which Nina said was good, was ‘what’s really happening?’ Asking these questions was a part of trying to identify what makes a good play, what gets us on the top of our game, and has resonance and power.

The work with Nina was about unpicking our process, getting some ideas about what makes us tick as writers. We spent time thinking about where ideas come from, keeping the mystery, what we put ‘in the box’ and what we do when we unpack the box, how we can be our own source material, ‘tapping the bruise’, how to generate feeling from feeling, levels of story, truthfulness, personal subtext, fresh perspectives, connecting moments of our history to the story, the universal and the specific.

This blog represents a very narrow tranche of the work we did with Nina, but I hope it gives an idea of the way Nina provokes a writer to go deeper into their process, and to bring out those themes in the work that are specific, truthful, and also universal.