The Water Prompt

During my days as Artistic Director of a theatre company focused on new work and emerging artists, we used to host an annual Lock-In: five teams comprised of a playwright, director, and two actors each creating, rehearsing and performing a play in 24 hours. Every year, the first challenge given to the teams was a ‘must use’ object. The year that object was water was my favorite by far.

050910154625The inclusion of water on stage is immediately theatrical. It can be sound. It can be illuminated with light. It can be used to define setting or boundaries. It can inform the actions of characters. It can be functional. It can be literal. It can be metaphorical. The possibilities are endless.

While water can provide an evocative setting in a book or make a great subject for a poem, the prompt below is focused on activating the power of water in a play. So, without further ado…


Writing Process: Inciting incident/Conflict, Idea Generator

Genres: Playwriting

In his 36 Assumptions About Playwriting, Jose Rivera wrote, “Write from all of your senses. Be prepared to design on the page: tell yourself exactly what you see, feel, hear, touch and taste in this world. Never leave design to chance, that includes the design of the cast.” Incorporating water onstage has the potential to activate any of these senses – for the characters, for the audience, or both.

The Prompt:

Physically incorporate water into your scene. You can incorporate it in any quantity, but the water must be a key player within the scene for the setting, conflict, and/or characters.

If you’re not quite sure where to begin, below are some questions to help you generate ideas. Try to come up with as many answers as you can for each question before moving on to the next.

  1. Where can water be found / in what ways is water contained?
  2. What are the different forms of water?
  3. What activities involve water / what actions can be done with water?
  4. What can water symbolize?
  5. Where wouldn’t you expect to find water / what wouldn’t you expect to contain water?
  6. What are some activities or actions you wouldn’t expect to involve water?

After you’ve answered all the questions, look over your list and circle any ideas that inspire you.  Pick one (or even two), and start a scene to incorporate it!

In 36 Assumptions About Playwriting, Jose Rivera also wrote, “In all your plays be sure to write at least one impossible thing. And don’t let your director talk you out of it.” As both a director and a playwright, bringing the impossible to life onstage is one of my favorite things.  So for my own playwriting experiment with this prompt, I chose one of my answers to question #6.  You can find an excerpt of the fruits of that experiment, Ripples, here.  I hope you enjoy reading it, and I hope you enjoy The Water Prompt.

Remember, whenever I post an activity, prompt, or guiding writing exercise in the Support For Writers section of my site, I will always write a blog post about the activity as well. That way, if you follow my blog you’ll always know when new exercises become available.  Feel free to comment or ask questions, or to let me know this prompt went for you!

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