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So... How do you write a Christmas show?

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Whilst Katie and Simon were in the middle of a very in-depth, very secretive writing intensive for our next Christmas show, '5 Children and It', our intrepid interviewer managed to sneak in to ask our writers about their totally top-secret process for writing the best Christmas shows ever.

What have you been up to lately?


But writing like we've never written before! Because this year, we have had all the amazing ideas, characters, designs, compositions and fragments of dialogue that were created by workshop participants. So it has been such a joy!

Any time we have hit a bit of a block or found that we weren't quite sure which way to take a scene or a character in, we've been able to return to all that material gathered directly from our potential audiences, and it has given us a little nudge in the right direction. Even just having the memories of those workshops fresh in our minds has helped because when

we are making up a comedy sequence, or writing a little back and forth, or even developing the five characters, we've got the hundreds of children that we've recently met right at the front of our minds.

The workshops allowed us to test what really made the kids laugh, and also we found out what they were into and what they were all excited about at the moment. As they had nothing filtering their imagination in the workshop, they were able to come up with the most wonderful ideas that we'd never have thought of in a hundred years! So it has been just a brilliant way to keep our audience in mind as we write.

What does a day of scriptwriting look like?

Well, a usual day starts with coffee and a big ranty debrief about our mornings so far (school runs/family dramas etc etc). And then one of us will open up a laptop, and we just dive in. We write until we get bored of ourselves, and then one of us might show a little

youtube clip of something that we've found inspiring or tell a silly story, and then we crack back on. Some days we really fly, others are just graft, and we hate everything we're making, but it's all part of the process.

This year, though, we're going to have the real treat of Shaday Barrowes-Bayewunmi coming to join us, bringing all her wonderful spoken word expertise, and that is so exciting. New voices and new rhythms are so important to Quirk, and we can't wait to get started with Shaday!

What's your process for script writing? Especially as a team.

This is our 7th (I think?!) show together, and I think we have quite a fluid system now that we're not even conscious of.

Once we have the idea for the show, we will generally have a lot of broad conversations about where we might like to go with a particular story. This can be a very different starting point every year. Some years we have an image in mind that we build a story from (the island of Puffin Island was in our minds before the story grew) or a moment in history (like Ernie & The Sea of Ice, or Mary The Pigeon) or an existing story. We always then start the process with some kind of R&D, inviting our performers, composer, designer and movement director into a space to play with early material. Then Simon and I hole up in a room a few days a week for two months or so, wrestling the show into shape.

I (Katie) am a big broad structure person, focusing on the shape of the whole piece and character arcs etc, whereas Simon is much more details focussed, drilling into exact moments, dialogue and sequences. So I think that makes us quite a good team?! We've found that two creative angles are better than one. Sometimes our approaches to forming and writing a scene are quite different, but when combined and refined, the results end up being much better and much more fun than what we would have come up with on our own.

I'm famous for my 'little bits of paper' process- writing sections or ideas out on separate pieces that can be moved around and added to. We then

start an online document and write out the vague beats of the show, and the broad

details, before passing through the show over and over, refining sections and throwing whole bits out that no longer support the narrative as we learn more about our story and the characters. There's this moment that you don't even notice happening, where the show starts to take over, and you're both then just serving this thing that has a bit of a life of its own. Once you're at that point, you both have such a living, breathing knowledge of what the show is and where it's headed, and choices start being easier to make.

It's cliched, but the ending is always the hardest. We always know how we want the ending to feel and usually have a good vague idea of it from the off, but the details of how we get there take a while. Once we've done all those passes through for a few weeks, we start running through it with a different angle in mind- we might pass through it for music to see how it's balanced or where the opportunities are. We will pass through it following each character in turn, to make sure they have a satisfying arc. And we will also be having design conversations throughout this whole process- we are always writing with the question, but how? ticking away in the back of our minds. Towards the end of our process, Simon and I start writing a bit more separately. We will often both have a go at a little scene, or an unwritten fragment and then do 'show and tell'. Some of our best scenes come about as a result of us combining our favourite parts of each other into something new. But we're also not precious- we are happy to lob out our own ideas and fully embrace the other's if it serves the heart of the show. By the time it gets to the stage, neither of us has any idea whose idea is whose!

What's your favourite line or moment from the show so far?

Look. I'm not going to give anything away, but we do seem to be trying to source a fire extinguisher for a particularly ridiculous moment in the show, so... watch this space. It's gonna be a chaotic one!

As we left our writers to focus on coming up with the craziest, wackiest ideas they could think of, all we could think was...

What are they doing with a fire extinguisher!?!

Tickets to the show are available to buy here if you want to see what Katie, Simon, and Shaday come up with! And feel free to post in the comments here or on our social media what you're looking forward to the most!

Written and published by Hallow!

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