Thursday, December 18, 2008

Elements of Playwriting

Please read the chapter (handout) "What Makes a Play?"
Feel free to complete any of the journal exercises at the end of the chapter.

You should be familiar with the structure of plays.
All plays should have a beginning, middle, and end

All plays are written for the stage (not to just be read)

All plays are written in present tense (not past)

All plays are more powerful if they are tightly written. To be "tightly written" you should avoid using broad-sweeping plots, with many cinematic scene changes.

Plays should adhere to what are called the unitities:
1. The unity of time (plays should not span many years)
2. The unity of place (plays should concentrate action in one or few settings)
3. The unity of action (plays should limit their plots so they are not confusing)

All plays require conflict
Conflict should be balanced (in other words the struggle between protagonist and antagonist should be a fair fight)

Meaning in a play is tied to the action and conflict being presented on stage

All plays should be entertaining (and written to be performed)

All plays should communicate an idea (or belief about the human condition)

Plays are NOT movies. The best way to learn how to write scripts is to read them and see play productions whenever possible.

Full Length Play Project

Use your play scenario to begin your final project/exam for Playwriting. Your full length play should be full length. Excellent students (A+) should prepare to have a play that is about 60-80 pages. Other grades are reduced accordingly. Of course, the play should also be well written.

Please use the standard play script format. The full length play is due: Jan. 22 or 23 (the class before midterms or finals for this class).

Please begin writing your play over the break. There is no reading assignment during this time. Spend your extra time writing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Written around 1601, Twelfth Night is based on the short story "Of Apolonius and Silla", which in turn was based on another story. It is named after the Twelfth Night holiday of the Christmas season.

Twelfth Night marked the end of a winter festival. The Lord of Misrule (sort of the mascot for this the Easter Bunny or Santa) symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were high would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the twelfth night festival a cake containing a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would run the feast--be "king for a day." Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition can be traced back to pagan festivals, such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.

The Winter Solstice (December 21st) historically marked the first day of many winter festivals. The 12 nights following and including the solstice represent the 12 zodiac signs of the year - and the 12th Night (New Years Day) is a culmination and celebration of the winter festivals. Thus, Shakespeare's title refers to New Years Day.

Food and drink are the center of this celebration. A special alcoholic punch called wassail is consumed especially on Twelfth Night, but throughout Christmas time, especially in the UK. Around the world, special pastries, such as the tortell and king cake are baked on Twelfth Night, and eaten the following day for the Feast of the Epiphany celebrations.

What's the connection? Look for reversals (of fortune, as well as gender), drunken revelry (particularly Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek), and a general misrule or mayhem that occurs.

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is one of his most loved comedies. Many of his comedies rely on the mistaken identity shtick, as well as the cross-dressing shtick. These elements are taken from the Roman comedies and commedia traditions. Other shtick's or stereotypical characters include the pining lover, the wise fool, and the foolish master. In any case, there's mishaps, misrule, and bawdy drunkenness in this playful play. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Full Length Play Project - The Scenario

You are going to write a full-length play as a culmination and final writing assignment of this class (due in January). To prepare an idea and get you started, please create a working scenario for this project.

Your scenario should be modeled after the chapters given to you in previous handouts: Structure (part one) and Structure (part two) from Naked Playwriting by William Downs and Robin Russin. Follow the steps below to create your working scenario:

1. brainstorm premises or ideas for a play. Use your journal. Jot down ideas, topics, characters, plots, themes, settings, etc. that you will want to write about. Start with the prompt: "I want to write about..." and try to finish the sentence. You can be as sketchy or precise as you feel you need to be at this stage.

2. Decide on a style. Do you want to write a comedy, tragedy, drama? Do you want to be realistic, absurdist, expressionistic, epic, etc.? (We are going to be covering these styles in class.) Either way, you should plan your play as a full length play (full length one act, two-act, three-act, four-act, or five-act play).

3. When you have decided (or not decided at this stage--remember you can always change your mind), flesh out and write a working scenario. Your scenario should include the following information (to be turned in to me by Dec. 12). (by the way, feel free to write more than one scenario and get the advice of friends or teachers which one would be best...the more you do, I'll reward with extra credit).

4. For help, use the handout given to you as a model. For ideas, consider the plays we have (and will) read.

5. Your scenario needs to include:
a. a working title
b. a place
c. a setting (description of)
d. a time
e. a cast of characters. Each character should have a brief description or goal in mind.
f. a list of possible acts
g. a list of possible scenes
h. a breakdown of each scene (or act) and which characters are involved and what their action might be in that scene. (Please break your scenes or acts down into rough French scenes).

Remember that nothing is set in stone. Anything can change during the writing process. You will, however, need to have a plan to write a longer work.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf

Please check out Ntosake Shange's choreo-poetic full-length one-act play from the library.

Read the play for Monday, Dec. 8. Be prepared to discuss the play's theme, its style, its structure, and how it differs from the plays we have read so far. As you read, fill out an index card with questions about the text or play, observations you noted while reading the play text, or personal comments about the play text and/or language. Your index card should be turned in with your name on it on Dec. 8 at the beginning of class.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged)

Today we are going to watch the comedy The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged). As you watch, consider how individually, each scene is little more than a skit, but taken together, the comedy works as a united whole. This play is particularly popular. What may be some reasons why?

Structure: Creativity, Scenario & Writing - test

Thursday (Dec. 4) you will have a quiz on the homework reading, the chapter: "Structure, Part Two: Creativity, Scenario, and Writing" from the book Naked Playwriting by William Downs and Robin Russin.

The first part of the chapter can be broadened to include poetry and prose writing, not just playwrighting. For those of you who are consistently having trouble writing, this advice may help.

You should know the following from your reading:

What is creativity and how does it happen?
What is technique?
When should you be creative and when you should be critical?
How to avoid creative roadblock and other problems.
What "failure" is in writing.
What is the "scenario" and what's it good for?
How to title your play.
What is an act?
What is a scene?
What is a French scene?
What is the 3 act play?
What is the 2 act play?
What is the full-length One Act play?
What are short one-acts and 10 minute plays?
How to create your play's environment.
The thing that must not be named (theme).
Advice to writers about writing.

Additionally, you should review the meaning of the following terms:
Plot, character, diction (word choice), thought (theme), spectacle, music (song). The inciting incident (point of attack), the event, the dark moment, the major dramatic question, conflict, crises, complication, rising action, enlightenment (ephiphany), climax, catharsis, protagonist, antagonist, comedy, tragedy, drama, etc.

The Murky Middle (Even More Advice)

Aristotle wrote that stories should have a beginning, middle, and end. Middles can be difficult. You might have a smashing opening to a stor...