Mastering Writing and Creativity

With Stephen Sewell and Sue Woolfe

A full-time hybrid course (onsite and/or online) delivered by Actors Centre Australia and taught by two of Australia’s leading writing teachers.

Stephen Sewell and Sue Woolfe are two of Australia’s major educators and pioneers in creative arts. In this course they will deliver a wealth of knowledge and a toolkit for aspiring writers, in order to extract the very best of students’ creative mindsets to write and develop stories. Stephen and Sue will provide insight into contemporary creative practices as well as access to industry leaders in theatre, television, film and digital platforms. Their teaching approach is aimed at cultivating the creativity of the individual writer, helping them identify and hone their skills to those appropriate to the field they wish to enter, and through an engagement with contemporary philosophy and cultural studies to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to their work as writers.

As the course is designed to be taught online or in person simultaneously, we have opened applications for online applicants in Singapore, Malaysia, London, New York, Toronto, and Auckland.

4 Terms, 8 Weeks Each
Actors Centre Australia, Leichhardt NSW and Online
Tuition Fee
$15, 000
July 04 2022
July 2022 - June 2023
Singapore, Malaysia, London, Toronto, New York, Auckland

Mastering Writing and Creativity is a 4 term, 32 week program, beginning on Monday July 4 with a two-week introduction to the creativity theory undergirding the course. This will be followed by an introductory period, being broken into two strands, creativity and scriptwriting, to be delivered through two weekly lectures/seminars  with one subsequent hour long seminar to allow discussion of the issues raised in the earlier lecture.

Dr. Sue Woolfe will continue with the creativity stream, while Dr. Stephen Sewell will begin the scriptwriting course in the third week, with this being aimed at providing writers with the tools to pursue a career in stage, screen, television; and/or digital and gaming. The course will conclude with a presentation of the writer’s work.

Stephen is one of Australia’s most celebrated and experienced writers. He has won great popular and critical acclaim as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist, as well as directing for both theatre and film over a career that has spanned 30 years. Stephen chaired the Australian National Playwrights Centre for a number of years, is the recipient of numerous awards and his work has been performed in most major Australian theatres and in New Zealand, the US, the UK and Europe.

Stephen is best known for his film and theatre work, including his AFI Award winning screen adaptation of The Boys, his role as script editor on the feature film Chopper and his numerous plays such as The Blind Giant is Dancing, It Just Stopped and the highly awarded Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America: A Drama in 30 Scenes.

Stephen’s work also includes his novelisation of the film Animal Kingdom and his film Scenario, an artificially intelligent 360 degree 3D cinematic work premiered at the 2011 Sydney Film Festival. Most recently he has worked closely with director and producer Jim Sharman on works such as Three Furies: scenes from the life of Francis Bacon and Andy X, an interactive musical about Andy Warhol. Stephen has just completed his film directorial debut Embedded.

He was appointed Head of Writing for Performance at NIDA in January 2013.

Stephen’s awards include: 1985 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for The Blind Giant is Dancing; 1989 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards for Hate; 1998 AFI Award for Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Source and 1999 FCCA Award for Best Screenplay – Adapted for The Boys;2004 Australian National Playwrights’ Centre Award; 2004 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Myth, Propaganda and Disaster in Nazi Germany and Contemporary America; 2004 AWGIE Award; and 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Louis Esson Prize for Drama.

BREAKING NEWS!! Sue Woolfe’s first two novels have had the honour of being put on the coveted Australian Literary Heritage List as key works in Australia’s literary heritage:

Sue Woolfe is the author of five mainstream-published works of fiction, including the acclaimed best-selling, internationally translated Leaning Towards Infinity, which won Australia’s distinguished prize, the Christina Stead Award, for the year it was published, as well as the Asia Pacific Region section of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was shortlisted for the Tip Tree prize in the US. It was short-listed for almost every major Australian prize. It was translated into French, Italian, and Dutch, and in 1999 was named by US/Australian novelist Jack Dann as one of the most important books of the century. Her first novel, Painted Woman was also nominated for the Commonwealth Prize, and was runner- up in the Australian Bicentennial Award in the year of publication.

It was republished several times, including in France in 2007 where it was published in translation. She has adapted both novels for ABC radio, for the professional stage, and Leaning Towards Infinity has been optioned for a film in the US. Both are now available from Untapped as print and as ebooks.Her third novel, The Secret Cure, (publisher UWA) is currently being adapted for an opera, with one of its songs by composer Wendy Suiter already acclaimed.

Her fourth novel, The Oldest Song in the World was published 2012 by Harper Collins in Australia and New Zealand, and is now available as an ebook. Her latest book is a collection of short stories published by Simon and Schuster, Do You Love Me or What?

Until recently Sue Woolfe taught Creative Writing at Sydney University, but after doing a Doctorate at UTS in creativity and neuroscience, she now teaches what neuroscience knows about creativity to playwrights at NIDA in NSW and to composers in The School of Music, ANU. She has co-authored, to acclaim, Making Stories: How Ten Australian Novels Were Written (Allen and Unwin 1991) and as solo author: The Mystery of the Cleaning Lady: a Novelist looks at Neuroscience and Creativity (UWA 2007), and more recently, as a video course commissioned by

And most nights, she dances Tango, Argentinian style.

Stage weekly breakdown:

  1. Introduction – why do we write? What is being revealed? The psychology and politics of story: who gets to talk and what can they talk about? Repression and its overcoming as a central theatrical concept. Theatre production models. The director, the actor, other theatre workers. The role and responsibility of the writer; the writer in the rehearsal room. Formatting and layout of the play script page; general introduction to terms – the stage, what is it? Act, scene, character, action, dialogue; conflict. Three act; five act structures. The discovery method of writing – word association; writers’ block; dealing with writers’ block – writing in circles, repression in the creative process, it’ s relationship to political repression. Rules and conventions – what are they and when and how can we subvert them? The philosophy of writing as something to be developed and articulated by the writer as an individual/social project.
  2. Foundations of the western tradition. Origins of theatre in ritual. Elements of drama (Aristotle) – Plato vs Aristotle. Aristotle’s poetics.
    1. Plot · 2. Character 1· 3. Theme · 4. Language · 5. Rhythm · 6. Spectacle – noting that for Aristotle,
    Character is subservient to plot, perhaps reflecting the Greek view of fate and destiny – the character serves the plot (with a note on the relationship between this and contemporary genre writing) – comedy, tragedy – protagonist, antagonist – the dramatic motor – pity and fear. Catharsis as physical and health giving process. Introduce Hegel’ s view which sees the Greeks as seeing tragedy not in the defeat of good by evil, but in the irreconcilable conflict between two goods. Conflict as central to drama.
  3. Hamlet and the advent of modernity, where character steps forward to dominate plot – the move from fate to freedom. Renaissance humanism and Montaigne as philosophical inspiration of Shakespeare. The psychological focus of contemporary storytelling. Story now not primarily seen as a way of exploring the tragedy of (irreconcilable) ideas but as a way of understanding character and motivation, with plot arising from the actions of characters, not the other way around. The discovery of the unconscious – a brief detour to Lacan’ s account of the unconscious: inter, intra and trans-subjectivity and their significance to dramatic texts. Text and subtext; plot and subplot. The question of freedom and responsibility, with all this leading to…
  4. Contemporary storytelling, as now dominated by the Hollywood paradigm – the three act, 8 reel structure – need, lack, desire – what Lacan can tell us about fantasy and agency – storytelling as fantasy and fantasising – the stage as Freud’ s “ other scene”
    • The two dimensions of fantasy: the desire and the excessive horror lurking inside it. Fantasy and the death drive. Repetition – encore! Contemporary storytelling as ideology
    • Star wars – the problem is first and foremost a problem of character, not a problem of structure or exploitation – can storytelling ever be anything but ideology? The different types of drama reflecting the different types of society and psychic structures – slave economy and ancient Greek drama; Elizabethan mercantilism and Shakespearean drama contemporary styles of drama addressing different (and often competitive) social sectors within a massively complicated and contradictory global economic (dis)order. Who does the cultural economy serve? And while the Hollywood model, and its more or less explicit ideology (dirty harry, fast and furious, marvel universe etc.) dominates, it is internally sterile and so open to disruption. But from where…?
  5. Contradiction, Hegel and the 3 act structure. The Hegelian dialectic and the centrality of contradiction, whereby any concept or idea, pursued long enough (e.g., through the second act development) contradicts itself through the crisis (the all is lost moment) and sublates into another state. Thesis, antithesis, sublation. The challenge of Hegel to Aristotle. Can an action ever be complete— no— but inevitably turns into something else (and a new contradiction) — and has the stage been supplanted by long form television addressing the (impossible) problem? (Hegel says yes, until the subject recognises its own freedom) contradiction as Aristotelian reversal. The fluidity of the signifier; metaphor and metonymy in drama. The battery of signifiers. Poetry and the seat of meaning. The rise of mystery within the scientific ethos. The written unconscious and the unconscious as the discourse of the other. Is the key to the theatrical experience the phenomenon of trans-subjectivity? Where does writing come from and what does the experience of being “the secretary of the unconscious” really mean? 1st draft, second draft, third draft – the rhythm of the writing process – what is happening as we progress? Writing as wish fulfillment and whose wish fulfillment is it? The indulgence of the voyeur and the pervert? What is the jouissance promised by theatre and who is our writing for? Cleaning the instrument and listening to the zeitgeist. Writers don’t need to solve problems, just be brave enough to identify dilemmas.
  6. Is conflict (contradiction—remember, protagonist/antagonist) the only motor? Feminine scripture. Subverting the masculine from the inside out. Delouse and the rhizome— no direct contradiction, more an avoidance, a change of subject, the feminine not-all (past out) frustrating the masculine insistence. Storytelling in a larger context – social storytelling – stories within families. Who are the tellers of the tales? Should we be consoling our audience or disrupting them? Is contemporary storytelling part of the problem? Can the new stories be told using the old techniques? The creative writer as analyst disrupting the fantasies the audience is consoling itself with: we are good, we are honorable, we are truth tellers, we are not guilty, etc. and— most tragically— our lives have meaning— in order to confront them with the reality of their own freedom. Is freedom the central theme of creative writing? A new taxonomy of drama…
  7. The well-made play and summary of results: the stage serves a deep social need to find group identity through the ritualised enactment of social experience. the audience learns who it is by watching fantasised representations of itself deal successfully with a jointly experienced anxiety, that is, an anxiety characterising the society (the mirror phase). White guilt, for example. Contemporary society is rampant with anxiety as the contradictions become more obvious, and so a fertile ground for theatrical representation. At the same time, there is a strong impulse to deal with these experiences by repression. The challenge of the present is to find a way around these repressions, and the tools. We have to do that are the kinds of tools we use ourselves to understand our own writing process
  8. Read through of scripts – 20 hours – 4 hours/day

Film weekly breakdown:

  1. Introduction. Film as a product and producer of urban culture within an industrial context – the new (industrial) storytelling (Lumiere brothers first film, women workers leaving the factory gates, 1895; interestingly, the first porn film was produced in 1896 and was an adaptation from a popular theatrical pantomime). The evolution of film storytelling. The applicability of stage conventions to film. The rise and eclipse of film by television, the product of sub-urbanisation. Film and the poetic – imagistic words replaced by images. Meaning located in the juxtaposition of images. Formatting the screenplay. Differences between film and stage. The nature of time and space in film – Newtonian conventions supplanted by Einstein as part of a broader philosophical revolution. The power and poverty of the image— are there really things that cannot be said? What is language? What is film language? Film as an art, as a business, and as an industry; the producer, the film production process and the role of the writer. Writer as contractor. If art is about one unconscious communicating with another’s, whose unconscious is being communicated through film? Can film really be called an art? Power within film structures. Protecting yourself. Adaptation. Why adapt? How to adapt?
  2. Recap of Hollywood storytelling as it evolved – 3 act structure; central character with weakness pursues goal and contests antagonist from the position of that weakness till they recognise the weakness (midpoint decision) and begin to deal effectively with the problem, leading to the transition from the want story to the need story. Climax as the explicit statement of the central character’s desire. What is the dramatic question again? What’s a beat? The role of spectacle in contemporary film making. The affinity of Hollywood with Aristotle. Introduction to contemporary conventions (as suggested by Linda Aronson) based on their treatment of time: 2 big categories: those without time jumps and those with time jumps, with these being further divided into: ensemble films, broken down into films without time jumps: tandem narrative, multiple protagonist; double journeys, hybrid; and films with time jumps, with these being flashback and consecutive narratives. The decay of film as it has shifted emphasis to spectacle and the auteur theory, driving writers into television – one of the great motors of television’ s renaissance).
  3. More detailed account of the characteristics and suitability to story of each: first parallel narrative type dealing with social-political type stories: tandem narrative e.g. lantana, Nashville – same theme, different stories – need for overarching story to contextualise individual stories.
  4. Second: multiple protagonist – American Beauty, Saving Private Ryan – same team, same adventure, suitable for siege type stories, or stories where a group of people undertake a joint effort, journey.
  5. Third: double journey narrative – Brokeback Mountain, finding nemo – two lives in Parallel; and fourth: hybrid form, combining elements from the two major approaches (21 grams, babel); films with time jumps: flashback.
  6. Consecutive stories (Run Lola Run) and game-logic films (Jumanji, Source Code).
  7. Pitching the film: logline, one paragraph, one pager, synopsis, concept document, and treatment – use of image in film documents.
  8. Readthrough of scripts – 20 hours.


Christmas break

Television & streaming – the writers room

  1. Introduction: the writers room and its roles – showrunner/note taker – how to take notes; what a showrunner does. Developing and nurturing the idea; writers’ room etiquette – the need for collaboration— how to collaborate? Who owns the idea; copyright; contracts?
  2. Television storytelling – the long form allowing more exploration of character and story within an extended story world. Writers are broken up into two teams. Each team member then pitches an idea suitable for a 5 part treatment, with each part between 40 and 60 minutes in length. The ideas are discussed and voted on for development.
  3. Each team is then tasked with developing the idea. Each member of the team takes turns as note-taker, with the lecturer taking the position of the showrunner/producer. 1st task: story world, characters; problem(s) – the use of a white board.
  4. 2nd task – overall story arc and individual character story arcs
  5. 3rd task – breaking the story down into 5 one-hour long episodes
  6. 4th task – writing and designing the bible
  7. Identifying production companies and pitching
  8. Read-throughs of 3rd draft.

Digital & immersive gaming

  1. The opportunities opening in the digital and live gaming fields. Interactive storytelling – replacing actors with real people – Augusto Boal/Paulo Friere – exploding the paradigm. Who owns story? Brecht and Lehrstück – the theatricalisation of the world; playing roles. Digital reality as a way of exploring possibilities and change. The opportunities of the meta verse (also see gaming/film/television interaction – https://industrialscripts. Com/video-game-logic/).
  2. Regroup into two (new) teams and begin to adapt the products of term 3 to a digital and an immersive action gaming format by stripping them down to the story, and seeing how to reimagine them in two quite different forms.
  3. What’s the difference between a theatrical and a gaming approach? How to map from Aristotle to Zuckerberg? What is the three act structure in a game? Peripeteia (reversal)? Anagnorisis (our true nature)? How to keep the players/actors interested/engaged? What is being “sold”? An experience? A ride? An insight? Is the drive of storytelling to make it more real? What is the real in gaming environments? The difference between identifying with a character and identically being that character.
  4. The role of fantasy in digital and immersive storytelling – the alternate povs on fantasy. How uniform are fantasies and how can this uniformity be used to subvert and alter character? Are these new storytelling techniques powerful enough to literally change people, and what are the ethics of that? Is this already happening through the gaming world? How fantasy teaches desire.
  5. Writing and collating the concept document.
  6. Pitching the game – the Australian industry and possibilities for self-generating digital and immersive games.
  7. Story as meaning making – traversing the fantasy and new stories making a new world.
  8. Rehearsal week in prep
  9. Final presentations: June 26 – July 7

Contact Info

Forum Performance Precinct,
Ground Level, Italian Forum,
30A/23 Norton street,
Leichhardt, NSW, 2040

+61 2 9310 4077

PO Box 361, Leichhardt NSW 2040

RTO Code: 45065

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