Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Full Length Play Project

• At least 20 pages of script (this is the minimum, not the average or maximum).
• The 20 or more pages should be divided into at least two acts.
• Each act should rise to an appropriate climax (with the last act resolving the conflict)
• Your script should follow the proper playwriting format (if you don’t know what this is yet, see me immediately!)
• You must have at least two characters in your play.
• Remember you are writing for the stage, so the play should be able to be produced by a relatively poor theatre company
• Include stage directions, but consider that the audience will not know information unless it is told to them by the characters speaking.
• You must work alone on your play (working with partners, you should double the page limit; i.e. both of you are responsible for 20 pages or more).
• Proofread and correct your grammar before turning in your play.
• Include a title and a cast list (see rubric).

Due: Jan. 19

Expanding your script can be difficult, but it can also allow you to move in directions you didn’t think possible. A longer script is often more detailed, character driven and, therefore, ultimately more dramatic (lots of conflict!).

Some ways to increase your plot size:
• Add characters who want something (motivation moves action!)
• Consider what dramatic conflict happens before or after your original script if using an existing script (create a second draft, for example, and look for places to add detail)
• Add monologues which explore the history and important events in a character’s life
• Remember to include a few incidental beats (particularly at the beginning of the play or during actor’s quick changes). These beats are functional only, they often don't need to advance the plot, but help develop characterization.
• Examine your theme. Broaden and explore the idea of the play before you begin writing. It may be helpful to write the plot out in a summary before you expand to note where you are going. Look on the internet to see what other people have said about the theme or issue you are writing about.
• Include sub plots or smaller plots that echo or redefine your larger theme; for example in The Seagull, the theme of unrequited love (relationships that are one-sided) recurs not only in Constantine Treplieff's relationship with Nina, but is echoed in the relationships of Trigorin & Arkadina, Masha and Medviedenko, but also Paulina and Dorn.


Russian Playwright and short story writer, Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull is the first of what are generally considered to be his four major plays (The Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, The Cherry Orchard are the others). The Seagull was written in 1895 and produced in 1896. It dramatizes the romantic and artistic conflicts between four characters: the fading leading actress Irina Arkadina, her son the experimental playwright Constantine Treplieff, the ingĂ©nue Nina, and the author Trigorin.

Similar to Chekhov's other full-length plays, The Seagull relies upon an ensemble cast of fully-developed (and quirky) characters. In contrast to the melodrama of the mainstream theatre of the 19th century, actions (example: Constantin's suicide attempts) are not always shown onstage. Characters tend to speak in ways that skirt around issues rather than addressing them directly, a dramatic practice known as subtext. In fact, it is this failure to communicate that creates much of the conflict in Chekhov’s work.

The play alludes to Shakespeare's Hamlet. Arkadina and Treplieff quote lines from it before the play-within-a-play (and even the play-within-a-play is a device used in Hamlet!) Treplieff seeks to win his mother’s favor back from Trigorin, much as Hamlet tries to win Gertrude back from his uncle Claudius.

The opening night of the first production was a failure. “Vera Komissarzhevskaya, playing Nina, was so intimidated by the hostility of the audience that she lost her voice. Chekhov left the audience and spent the last two acts behind the scenes. When supporters wrote to him that the production later became a success, he assumed they were just trying to be kind.” When Constantin Stanislavski (a famous director and acting teacher) directed the Seagull in 1898 for the Moscow Art Theatre, the play was successful and well regarded. Stanislavski's production of The Seagull became "one of the greatest events in the history of Russian theatre and one of the greatest new developments in the history of world drama."

Here are a few clips:
The Three Sisters
The Cherry Orchard

The Seagull (the play scene - Ballet)
The Seagull (action figure theatre)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Steel Magnolias, Chekhov, and character

Your scenario is due today. Please make sure when you drop it in the "in-box" or "drop-box" that your name is on the file.

According to the handout on character (given to you last class), "Building a play is the act of writing a character study...the playwright discovers and creates the elements that makes a given character tick." (Downs & Russin, 112)

Effective drama is character initiated!

It may be helpful to you to deconstruct your character(s) before you write:

PHYSICAL: What does the character look like, what medical problems or health issues does the character have? What does the character wear? What is the age or sex of the character?

SOCIOLOGICAL: What are the character's relationships (family, friends, society, work, etc.), What is the character's nationality, upbringing, religion, culture, occupation, career, and financial situation?

PSYCHOLOGICAL: What are the character's superstitions, beliefs, talents, ambitions, disappointments, inhibitions, fears, personal tastes, morals, temperament, hobbies, etc.?

BACKGROUND: What was your character's childhood like, what was their education like, relationship with parents or family members? What was your character's greatest moment of happiness/sadness?

Remember: We get to know a character through characterization (or in other words: what a character says about themselves, what other characters say about the character--both these use dialogue! and what a character does or the actions the character performs, i.e. ACTING!) We don't get to know a character through STAGE DIRECTIONS!

After our short talk about Steel Magnolias, we will be getting the play "The Seagull" from the library. Please return "A Raisin in the Sun" and "Steel Magnolias" if you are finished with them.

After returning from the library, look here for some background information about Chekhov.

More information about The Seagull will be forthcoming.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Realistic Scenario, Act III, Raisin in the Sun

After our discussion of A Raisin in the Sun, we will continue to work on our scenarios (due Monday, Dec. 14). During first period, continue the realistic scenario (1-3 pages) for a FULL LENGTH play (more than one act). As always, your scenario (if you chose to write the entire play) may change any details you create now. The purpose of a scenario is to provide you with a detailed outline from which you may find writing a play easier. This exercise is effectively brainstorming (the first stage of the writing process).

2nd period please check out Steel Magnolias by Robert Harling. To inspire you, here's a trailer for the movie.

After watching the trailer, get into groups of 6 and read the play.

HOMEWORK: For interested students who have watched the first two acts of "A Raisin in the Sun" here are the links for the rest of the play/film:

Act III, Part 11
Act III, Part 12
Act III, Part 13
Act III, Part 14

Your COMPLETED scenario is due on Monday. Please finish reading Steel Magnolias.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Raisin in the Sun; Brainstorming Scenario #2 (Realism)

Realistic dramas deal with common, real-life issues. Again, most modern "tragedies" deal with economics (the lack of money that brings about the low point of the characters, for example A Raisin in the Sun & Death of a Salesman).

Alternatively, other important issues (at least in this play) might be: generation differences (older generations don't understand younger ones or vice versa...for example Driving Ms. Daisy, Fences), race/gender/sexual orientation/cultural differences, passion or unbridled desire (A Streetcar Named Desire; Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, For Colored Girls...) that leads to the disfunction or downfall of a character, family tragedy or psychological problems (Night Mother), or other social issues that often remain undiscussed or unexamined (Ibsen's work for its day including Hedda Gabler, A Doll's House, Ghosts, etc.)

With a partner, brainstorm some dramatic ideas or issues. Consider the plots you have read thus far in Contemporary Writers, Craft of Writing, Journalism, Reading & Writing for Self Discovery, or books you have read on your own. What were those books, plays, etc. about? Make a list of possible realistic themes.

Now put that aside and watch the first act of A Raisin in the Sun.

This film stars Sidney Poitier. He was the first African American actor to receive an Oscar for Best Actor and to sign his name in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. As our next class (Film Studies) will deal more with movies and influential actors, take a look at his history.

After watching Act I of A Raisin in the Sun brainstorm ideas for your next scenario. The perimeters of the scenario:

Your plot should encompass at least two acts.
Your plot can include as many scenes as you see fit to tell the story. It is always a good idea to consider where you break a scene. Breaking a scene relieves tension--in a play that can be catastrophic. Try to unify time, place, and action.
Your first act should lead to a high point or crisis for your characters, but leave the MDQ unresolved. Your second (or third act) should rise to a higher high point, but resolve the action.

HOMEWORK: Please continue watching Act II of A Raisin in the Sun for homework. We will watch Act III in class on Thursday. For eager students wishing to know more about the history and context of the play, look here.

Part 6: Act I, Scene 3 to Act II, Scene 1
Part 7: Act II, Scene 1
Part 8: Act II, Scene 1 to 2
Part 9: Act II, Scene 2
Part 10, Act II, Scene 2 to 3
Part II, Act II, Scene 3

Your realist scenario is due Monday, Dec. 14.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A note about realism & writing

Like Greek Tragedies, realistic contemporary plays are concerned with social issues (how and what to govern, how private life clashes with public, who is oppressing whom? examining philosophy and belief systems, the trouble of communication, etc.), questions of existence (what does my life mean?), and, in general, the problems of "slings and arrows" of our daily lives (which in contemporary life usually revolves around economics and money).

Since tragedy is a bit out dated, realism is often the preferred style of writing. For the writer this includes: writing about real situations, examining psychology of your characters (getting into their heads), and using dialogue to reflect how modern people talk.

Realism examines problems and assumes that solutions are possible. If your characters talk things out, take action to direct their own desires, wants, life, etc. to create change, create solutions for common problems in society and life, then you have come close to the spirit of realism.

Realist plays are also called "problem plays" for a reason. At their core, these plays present common human problems and we watch as the characters attempt to solve them.

Today, we will finish viewing Hedda Gabbler. Afterward, let's chat a bit about the play and what you noticed.

We will slink down to the library after our discussion to pick up our next play: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorainne Hansberry. More information about her will be posted above.

HOMEWORK: Please complete "A Raisin in the Sun"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Enough of comedy. After our test, please begin reading the handout on Tragedy and Realism. When we are all done, we will begin watching the movie stage production of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. Here's a copy of part of the script. Exceptional students will take a look and compare what we see on screen with what Ibsen wrote.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Unit Test - Wednesday, Dec. 2

If (and when) you complete your scenario (due today), please study for the unit test on Wednesday, Dec. 2.

You should know:
Absurdism (look over the notes and links for this; refer to your notes and the Rhinoceros handout)
Samuel Becket: Waiting for Godot, Happy Days, (Endgame)
Eugene Ionesco & Rhinoceros
The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged
William Shakespeare & the Comedy of Errors
The House of Blue Leaves & John Guare
Christopher Durang: (particularly: Death Comes to Us All Mary Agnes, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it All for You, The Actor's Nightmare, Titanic, 'dentity Crisis, The Life and Purpose of the Universe)
Commedia dell'Arte
The Event: (a uniquely significant moment in the character's lives)
The inciting incident (point of attack or turning point in the lives of a protagonist--the event that INVOLVES the protagonist and gets the story moving)
the major decision
Rising action
Dark Moment
Time lock
Moliere & French scenes
Place & setting

Full Length Scenario - Due today!

Today, your full length absurdist scenario is due. As mentioned below:

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--see below). You will notice that in a treatment or scenario, the author should suggest and plan out his/her plot. For our purposes, please include information about what the play is going to be about (a rough description). Do not panic. You do not have to have all the little details determined yet. You should, however, have a good idea what you want your play to be about.

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.

PLEASE NOTE: You are not necessarily going to write this play. You will have a final choice soon as to which script you'd like to complete.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

French Scenes & Moliere's Tartuffe

Rather than the lights going up or down and the playwright numbering scenes where action comes to a pinnacle of tension or resolves itself, a french scene is marked by the entrance of a new character on stage. It is quite helpful to actors and directors who need to keep track of which characters are on stage and when.

Moliere being French himself, used French scenes in his plays. Here's the script to Tartuffe, a very funny satirical farce. Those of you who like to read and enjoy reading plays (and want to enrich your lives with classical literature...there may be a few of you in the class) you are welcome to read this play. If you do (and write a short summary and criticism of the play) you will garner extra credit for this marking period. You can read the script from google books above. I've also added it to the link page for the time being.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christopher Durang Homework

Please read the following plays:

"'dentity Crisis"
"Death Comes to Us All, Mary Agnes"
"The Actor's Nightmare"
"Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You"

These plays, like the Nature and Purpose of the Universe are black comedies. They include many of the qualities that we know as absurdist.

A note about black or dark comedy:
Black comedy pokes fun at things that we shouldn't normally poke fun at. As you know, people often laugh at things that make them uncomfortable. People also can be jerks and laugh at other people's misfortunes. Watching people suffer (and being glad it's not you) is a type of catharsis--thus, black comedy can appeal to us. Often black comedy includes a good deal of satire, parody, farce, and absurdity.

Please complete a scenario (to be handed in at the end of class on Monday, Nov. 30). Be prepared to take a quiz on Christopher Durang's plays.

The Scenario & Christopher Durang

Today let's start by reading the play "The Nature and Purpose of The Universe"

When completed, we will either continue reading "'dentity Crisis" or working on an absurdist scenario.

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). You will notice that in a treatment or scenario, the author should suggest and plan out his/her plot. For our purposes, please include information about what the play is going to be about (a rough description).

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.

Please read the handout to help you set up your own scenario (and as a model).

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rhinoceros/Christopher Durang

After viewing Rhinoceros, please complete your answer sheet and turn in for participation credit.

Homework (due Monday, Nov. 23): Read pgs. 1-126 in Christopher Durang. This includes: "Mrs. Sorken" (which you read last year in class with me), "For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls" (a parody of Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie), "A Stye in the Eye" (a parody of Sam Shepherd's A Lie of the Mind), "Nina in the Morning", "Wanda's Visit", "Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room", "Book of Leviticus Show", and "Naomi in the Living Room". The first six of these are considered the full length play Durang, Durang.

In a paragraph or two to hand in discuss Durang's use of Absurdist theatrical style in these plays.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Christopher Durang - 27 Short Plays

During first period, please check out our next play compilation: Christopher Durang (27 Short Plays).

Information about playwright Christopher Durang can be found here on his website. Please take a moment to review his short biography and look around the website.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eugene Ionesco

Playwrights need to write about important topics. Many playwrights have deep philosophical beliefs and a need to explore difficult issues that common folk ignore or fail to notice. We often refer to this as artistic "vision."

Eugene Ionesco, one of the finest absurdist playwrights along with Samuel Beckett, wrote his masterpiece Rhinoceros in 1960.

At its heart, Rhinoceros is a play criticizing the fascist regime during WWII and how susceptible people are in "going along with" and conforming to the flow of public opinion, even if that opinion is dangerous or inhuman.

'Ionesco himself says, “I have been very much struck by what one might call the current of opinion, by its rapid evolution, its power of contagion, which is that of a real epidemic. People allow themselves suddenly to be invaded by a new religion, a doctrine, a fanaticism…. At such moments we witness a veritable mental mutation. I don’t know if you have noticed it, but when people no longer share your opinions, when you can no longer make yourself understood by them, one has the impression of being confronted with monsters—rhinos, for example. They have that mixture of candour and ferocity. They would kill you with the best of consciences.”

Ionesco's primary purpose in writing Rhinoceros was not simply to criticize the horrors of WWII and the crimes of the Nazis, but to explore the mentality of those who so easily succumbed to fascism. What was it that allowed them to rationalize away their free thought—to subvert their own free will? What traits in the individual allow him to be snowballed by general opinion? Why is it necessary to believe the same thing that everyone else believes? In the play, characters repeat ideas and theories they have heard others repeat. At first, everyone is horrified by the violent beasts, but once other people, especially authority figures, turn in the play, those remaining find it easier and easier to justify the metamorphosis. By the play’s end, even the violence and atrocity of the rhinos is being praised for its simplicity and beauty.' If this sort of thing can happen to a culture, what hope does humanity have in keeping its center? Ionesco started with a question--one that he explores through the dialogue of the play.

Rhinoceros is an absurdist play. It is existential and surreal more than fatalistic. Like Beckett, Ionesco relies heavily on symbolism. The rhinoceros' in the play are a symbol, and the way the characters relate to them, become them, and conform to their fashion is the underlying metaphor.

As you watch the film (starring Gene Wilder, Karen Black, and Zero Mostel) notice key elements of absurdist play form:

1. Characters are often threatened by an unknown outside force.
2. The world or diegesis of the play/film is unpredictable or lacks meaning which the characters must contend with.
3. There is often an element of horror or tragedy; characters are often in hopeless situations or trapped.
4. Dialogue is often playful, full of nonsense, repetition, or engages in silly wordplay or banter.
5. Plays are often funny, although theme is usually serious and symbolic. Absurdist theatre is often called "tragicomedy", having elements of broad humor and tragedy.
6. There is often a good deal of farce (mistaken identity, physical comedy, slapstick, sudden entrances and interruptions, etc.)
7. Theatre of the absurd often presents characters failing at something without suggesting a solution to the problem. Characters are often "losers" who cannot dig themselves out of the problems they find themselves in.
8. Characters are often unable to communicate with others (particularly about their feelings, desires, or needs).
9. Plot is often cyclical or repetitive.
10. Plots have a dreamlike or surreal quality to them, akin to nightmare. Plot events are often taken at face value; characters are unwilling or uninterested in examining "why?" something happens and instead react to "what" happens. Therefore plot is often lacking the cause. The effect is often stressed as being more important.

Homework: please begin reading Christopher Durang. He is an absurdist, but his work relies more heavily on parody, satire, and hilarity. In your journal, make a list of ideas or beliefs you have about the contemporary world and/or life.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Samuel Beckett & End Game & Happy Days

Perhaps one of the strangest play you are likely to see (there are several, actually) is Samuel Beckett's End Game.

The story involves Hamm, a blind old invalid unable to stand, and his servant Clov, who cannot sit down. They live by the sea in a tiny house. The dialogue suggests that there is nothing left outside—no sea, no sun, no clouds. The two mutually dependent characters have been fighting for years and continue to do so as the play progresses. Clov always wants to leave but never seems to be able (similar to the characters in Waiting for Godot). Also present on stage are Hamm's legless parents Nagg and Nell, who live in trash cans upstage who also bicker continuously or talk inanely.

"The English title is taken from the last part of a chess game, when there are very few pieces left. Beckett himself was known to be an avid chess player; the struggle of Hamm to accept the end can be compared to the refusal of novice players to admit defeat, whereas experts normally resign after a serious blunder or setback."

Endgame lacks action, in Beckett's typical absurdist style. Critics have compared this play with Shakespeare's Hamlet (the protagonist Hamm, for example, is thought to be a shortened version of the name).

The implication in the play is that the characters live in an unchanging, static state. Each day contains the actions and reactions of the day before, until each event takes on an almost ritualistic quality. It is made clear, through the text, that the characters have a past (most notably through Nagg and Nell who conjure up memories of tandem rides in the Ardennes). However, there is no indication that they may have a future. Even the death of Nell, which occurs towards the end of the play, is greeted with a lack of surprise." The play suggests the futility of life, and the random boredom, argument for argument sake, and the waste of human effort.

This scene occurs just after Clov has his opening soliloquy, then is joined by Hamm, who establishes the master/servant relationship between the two characters. Nell and Nagg will appear half-way through the scene to complete the company.

Here's the continuation of the scene. If you like what you're seeing, feel free to watch the rest of the show. Check the sidebar on Youtube to see the continuing scenes.

Another very strange play is Happy Days by Samuel Beckett. Here's the beginning of the play. The characters are Winnie and her husband Willie. The play is essentially a monologue. The theme is domestic life. See the handout script to read along with the actor.

Here's the rest of the play if you are interested in seeing it:
Part Two.
Part Three.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Waiting for Godot & Virtual Talent Show

Please complete your virtual talent show scripts by the end of period 1. Please see the previous post for details.

During second period, we will be traveling downstairs to pick up our next play: Waiting for Godot.

Here's a short interview and spotlight on the play performed on Broadway.

Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett is perhaps the best known absurdist play. Theatre critic Martin Esslin coined the term Theatre of the Absurd to characterize plays that dealt with the absurdity or meaninglessness of human life.

Please take a few notes about Theatre of the Absurd here (and look at the other hyperlinks above) and read the short handout on Absurdism.

For homework: Please finish reading Waiting for Godot. You should be able to apply what you have learned about playwriting to this play. Please look for the following in the text:
1. The time lock (how does time limit the action of the play?)
2. The trap (how does the playwright keep his characters trapped on stage?)
3. Off-stage action (what actions or events occur off-stage?)
4. Identify the major dramatic question (what do we, as the audience, want to know that keeps us watching?)
5. Interruption (how does Beckett delay gratification or resolution of conflict by interruption?)
6. Pick a character and identify his "dark moment."
7. Pick a character and identify his "enlightenment."
8. Discuss catharsis: what do you think Beckett's point is? How does he move or effect his audience?
9. Discuss meaning: what's this all about? Try to make sense of the initial metaphor working in this play.
10. Identify elements of absurdism in this play. (Use your notes about Absurdism)

Due Friday, Nov. 13.

NOTICE: You and your friends are invited to our first Coffeehouse Reading performance next week (Nov. 17 at 7:00). Please join the creative writing department for readings of original work, celebration of the written and spoken word, and, of course, coffee.

Playwrights get extra credit for attending and reading (or having their work read actors, for example.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Holiday Sketch & Virtual Theatre Talent Show

Your holiday sketch draft is due today. For help, see the prompts in the post for Nov. 4. The sketch should be proofread and in proper play script format.

Now for something completely different:

Ms. Schweppe from RIT has asked the Creative Writing department to help her with an animation project. If you've ever wanted to write for cartoons, (or get a connection to RIT's animation/film department) this is your big break!

What she needs: a script (2-5 pages) in a slightly different format from our play scripts (see below). The sample script in your packet will help you set up the format as well.

The theme is for a "talent show" - so jot down a few ideas or acts that come to mind when you think "talent show!" (be creative!)

Here's a link to help you come up with some more ideas:
America's Got Talent!
Here's Britain's Got Talent!

(You could probably parody this stuff...)

Additionally, here's a few animation samples from the professionals:
Duck Amuck (Chuck Jones)
Bugs Bunny (Square dance sequence)
South Park sample
Happy Tree Friends
2nd Grade Talent Show

The script (formatting):
You should have a title page with your name on it and the name of the sketch.
You should include a cast list (include non-speaking parts as well...anything that is animated should be listed as a character. See sample script for model.)
Do not worry about the lighting effects. These cues will be added later by the animators.
Use film terminology: FADE IN/FADE OUT, INT./EXT., Time of day and place should be written in CAPS.
All action and description should be written LEFT justified in concise, but descriptive sentences.
Scenes should be separated by #'s. Every new scene should be indicated. Every new SETTING should begin a new INT/EXT. description.
SFX and SOUND should be indicated. If you have ideas for music, include song title and artist in your description.
Dialogue (should be kept to a minimum) (Not including song lyrics which can be VO (voice overs))
Physical description should be detailed!
Dialogue should be indented to about 3".
Character Names should be CAPITALIZED and centered or about 2.5" - just keep it consistent.

Here's a few pictures of characters:

Here's a link to sample Visual Theatre clips.
Virtual Theatre clip.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Word About: Creativity

Whether you consider yourself a playwright, poet, fiction writer, journalist, or simply an artist, there are similar problems that arise when dealing with creating something from nothing.

In groups of 1 or 2, please read the article entitled: Structure: Part Two: Creativity, Scenario, and Writing. As you read, for participation credit, please answer these questions to hand in:

1. What's the difference between "Inspiration" and "Discipline"?
2. What, according to the author, is "Writer's Block"? What can a writer do to make it "go away"?
3. How can we, as artists, "prepare the soil" for our creative seed to prosper?
4. What's the difference between "Technique" and "Creativity"?
5. What are, according to the article, two solutions to deal with criticism and "creative roadblock"?
6. How does failure help a creative person?

Included in the packet is the tv script (not in proper format) for Monty Python's episode 8. After reading, you can check the episode out here:
Part 1
Part 2 (not available - use your reading skills)
part 3
Part 4

Comedy Sketches: Again, you will hopefully note the difference between writing a sketch and writing a play. The two are similar and are often mistaken for each other. The difference is really meaning and commentary about the human condition. Some sketches do this, but overall, this is the realm of the play: to discuss thought-provoking material.

Sketch exercise #2: Coming up in December the Improv Troupe will be doing a show for the holiday and we'd like to include student written sketches. Alone or with a partner, begin working on the following:

Write a series of short monologues or sketches for the Holiday Improv Show (only one is required, but feel free to write more if the fancy strikes you). Material should be PG or PG-13 only, please. Scripts draft due (next class).

1. Ideas for holiday themed sketches (sketch or monologue should be 1-3 pages, play script format):
• Fairy (or star…for those of you not British) on the Christmas tree monologue – scene version: all the decorations talking
• Toys in a toy box
• Reindeer pre-flight
• News Flash – Santa Claus Found Dead
• What really happened when Scrooge arrived at the Cratchits on Christmas Day
• A lineup of children or adults sitting on Santa’s lap – what is it they want?
• Frosty the snowman goes on a date

Brainstorm your own ideas!:

2. Pick a few holiday characters and run with it. Put them in situations. Remember that escalation, sane man/mad man, and lists are funny. Use one of these techniques to help you!

• The thirteenth reindeer
• The spirit of Hanukah versus Santa Claus versus Jesus versus Kwanza Guy versus an ancient druid
• Spotty the elf
• Mr. and Mrs. Claus
• Jack Frost
• Any of the 8 reindeer (Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, etc.)
• Susie Snowflake
• Scrooge
• The Grinch
• Ralphie (from the Christmas Story)
• Tom Turkey
• An overgrown elf (Will Farrell)
Brainstorm your own ideas!:

3. Choose a Christmas carol and rewrite the lyrics

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sketch & The House of Blue Leaves

Short Sketch - Writing Exercise

1) Choose a setting. Avoid common set-ups. Think creatively. Only set the sketch in one location. Adhere to the UNITY OF PLACE.
2) Don't make the sketch too long. 2-3 pages is a good length to start with (of course, in proper script format).
3) If you're trying to sell your material, don't put in anything too expensive like a helicopter. Most TV shows, films, and theatres are on a tight budget.
4) Three characters is more than enough for a short sketch. Don't write for a cast of thousands.
5) Work out loud. Say the lines as you write them. You need to hear what the material sounds like.
6) Think about what is happening visually as well as the words. Describe the physical action in detail where appropriate, but don't get bogged down with description. This is a play script, not a film script. Before you begin, it is often helpful to describe your characters and setting (so you don't have to do that later in the scene where it's awkward). What are the characters wearing? What do they look like. What are their names?

Types of Sketches

To help you get going, here's a few tried and tested comedy formats for sketches.
1) Escalation: Funny idea starts small and gets bigger and bigger, ending in chaos of ridiculous proportions. See Monty Python's Crunchy Frog sketch.
2) Lists: Sketches in which the bulk of the dialogue is a long list of funny items. The best example of this is "Cheese Shop" in Monty Python. (You can find all the Python sketches at Note this kind of sketch will be a little longer in length, due to the short list form.
3) Mad Man, Sane Man: This format speaks for itself, but don't go for obvious settings. Here's an example Self Defense Class.
Here's one that includes all the three types in one: Monty Python.

At the end of period 1, we will be getting a new play: John Guare's House of Blue Leaves. Please begin reading this play in groups of 3-4. Please complete this play for HOMEWORK and complete the assignment below in writing. Note that we will not have class until Wednesday of next week.

HOMEWORK (to turn in): As you read please try to notice the following techniques used by Guare. For each technique, explain how Guare uses it in the play (and what page you found the supporting information):
--The Time Lock. (pg. 83)
--The Trap. (pg. 84)
--Offstage Action (pg. 84-85)
--Answering a dramatic question with a dramatic question. (85)
--Interruption. (85)
--Foreshadowing. (86)

2. Farce relies on physical comedy, confusion, mistaken identity, and lots of action. Explain how Guare's play may be considered a "farce".

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Comedy of Errors

The Why and Wherefore:

Okay, so reading a Shakespearean comedy can be difficult. Many of the puns (play on words, using double meaning to confuse, or suggest innuendo) are difficult to decipher for a reader. That's often why it is better to SEE Shakespeare performed. Plays, after all, were meant to be SEEN, not read.

Still, we can learn a lot about writing a structured, well-balanced plot from the good ol' Bard himself. Here's a few highlights you should be aware of:

The Event: (a uniquely significant moment in the character's lives) The story that Egeon tells in the opening scene is significant. We need to know that the brothers were separated and that one brother (Antipholus of Syracuse) is LOOKING for his twin. As one of Shakespeare's early comedies, this is not done with the finesse his later comedies have. He's inexperienced at this point. But--he has provided a solid exposition and explained the boundaries from which the conflict will occur and confusion spread.

The inciting incident (point of attack or turning point in the lives of a protagonist--the event that INVOLVES the protagonist and gets the story moving), therefore, would also include Antipholus of Syracuse arriving in Ephesus. Shakespeare complicates the situation a bit by making sure that we know that if a Syracusian is found in Ephesus his money is forfeit (will be taken away), and that he may be put to death. For a merchant--this is a double whammy.

A major decision occurs in Act II when Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse agree to go with Adriana and her sister Luciana home to dinner. The major decision should always affect the plot and cause further complications or problems.

Rising action includes a variety of jokes and punches, misunderstandings, and down-right confusion as to the identity of the two sets of twins at any given moment. Dromio of Ephesus is beaten for having lost 1,000 marks, Antipholus of Ephesus is locked out of his house, Antipholus of Syracuse falls in love with Adriana's sister can see where this is going, I hope... Dromio of Syracuse finds himself married to an obese wife, Nell. Angelo the goldsmith comes to collect his fee, money changes hands for bail, a prostitute or courtesan enters to get her gold chain back, etc. etc. The point is that we increase the stakes at each turn of the plot. These problems are essential in drama. Situation should never stay static!

Our Dark Moment occurs at separate places for separate characters. This is okay. For Egeon, his dark moment occurs in the first scene! For others, like Antipholus of Ephesus: he is arrested and hauled away by the exorcist, Dr. Pinch. During a character's dark moment, he/she is at his/her lowest end. Things look grim with little hope of getting better.

The Enlightenment in this play arrives late in the 5th Act. The Abbess (really Egeon's wife and mother to the Antipholus twins) acts as a deus ex machina (not the best way to solve a problem), but at least we are aware that she and her husband were separated long ago by the shipwreck described in Act 1, Scene 1.

Shakespeare makes use of the time lock. Egeon must die by the end of the day. He provides no exit for Antipholus and Dromio once they make contact with Adriana (the Trap, see pg. 84 in your handout). Effectively, Shakespeare uses the unity of time and action. All events have to happen quickly, which helps create the humor in this farce.

And so what about seeing this play? Click below for links to the BBC production of the play:

Part 6: Act III, Scene 2
Part 7: Act IV
Part 8: Act IV
Part 9: End of Act IV
Part 10: Act V.
Part 11: End of Act V.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Comedy of Errors - Act I & 2

Together, if you'll allow it as a class, we will read Acts 1 & 2 of the Comedy of Errors.

Please read the handout on The Clean House for Tuesday's workshop and the field trip on Thursday. Also, please get the field trip and medical form filled out completely and turned in to me by next class. A student without this information will not be able to attend the field trip to Geva.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Comedy of Errors - Part 1 (Act I, Scene 1)

Take a look at the BBC's production of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors. Compare this to the San Francisco production.

With a neighbor, discuss how productions differ depending on time, space, money, medium (stage or screen), and director.

After 15 minutes, please log off of your computers and gather to begin reading The Comedy of Errors.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Commedia dell'Arte

Much of standard comedy (even contemporary comedy) comes from the stock character base of the Italian comedy called: Commedia dell'Arte. Please read about this form here. On the sidebar, please review the following character types, the use of masks, and costumes:

* Arlecchino was the most famous. He was an acrobat and a wit, childlike and amorous. He wore a cat–like mask and motley colored clothes and carried a bat or wooden sword.
* Brighella, Arlecchino's crony, was more roguish and sophisticated, a cowardly villain who would do anything for money.
* Il Capitano (the captain) was a caricature of the professional soldier—bold, swaggering, and cowardly.
* Il Dottore (the doctor) was a caricature of learning—pompous and fraudulent.
* Pantalone was a caricature of the Venetian merchant, rich and retired, mean and miserly, with a young wife or an adventurous daughter.
* Pedrolino was a white–faced, moon–struck dreamer and the forerunner of today's clown.
* Pulcinella, as seen in the English Punch and Judy shows, was a dwarfish humpback with a crooked nose, the cruel bachelor who chased pretty girls.
* Scarramuccia, dressed in black and carrying a pointed sword, was the Robin Hood of his day.
* The handsome Inamorato (the lover) went by many names. He wore no mask and had to be eloquent in order to speak the love declamations.
* The Inamorata was his female counterpart; Isabella Andreini was the most famous. Her servant, usually called Columbina, was the beloved of Harlequin. Witty, bright, and given to intrigue, she developed into such characters as Harlequine and Pierrette.
* La Ruffiana was an old woman, either the mother or a village gossip, who thwarted the lovers.
* Cantarina and Ballerina often took part in the comedy, but for the most part their job was to sing, dance, or play music.

Shakespeare - Comedy of Errors

Yes, it was bound to happen. Playwrights should be familiar with the playwright who is considered the "cornerstone" of Western Literature. We are going to read The Comedy of Errors by Shakespeare in class. It'll be okay.

Likely the most influential writer in all of English literature and certainly the most important playwright of the English Renaissance, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England.

Around 1590 he left his family behind and traveled to London to work as an actor and playwright. Public and critical success quickly followed, and Shakespeare eventually became the most popular playwright in England and part owner of the Globe Theater.

His career bridged the reigns of Elizabeth I (ruled 1558-1603) and James I (ruled 1603-1625). Wealthy and renowned, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, and died in 1616 at the age of fifty-two.

Shakespeare's works were collected and printed in various editions in the century following his death, and by the early eighteenth century his reputation as the greatest poet ever to write in English was well established.

The Comedy of Errors
is generally assumed to be one of Shakespeare's early plays, (perhaps even his very first) and its emphasis on slapstick over verbal humor (in contrast with later comedies) has led many critics to term it an "apprentice comedy." The exact date of composition is unknown: It was first performed on December 28, 1594, at the Gray's Inn Christmas Revels, to an audience that would have been largely composed of lawyers and law students.

As with many of his plays, Shakespeare drew on classical sources for the plot of The Comedy of Errors. The bare bones of the story are drawn from the Roman comedy Menaechmi, written by the ancient dramatist Plautus (c.254- 184 B.C.); The play also draws on a number of other sources--the lock-out scene, where Antipholus of Ephesus is locked out of his home for dinner, resembles a scene in another Plautine work, Amphitruo, in which a master is kept out of his own house while the God Jupiter impersonates him. The general tone of Comedy is drawn from Italian comedy of the period, the shrewish wife is a characteristic figure in English comedy, and a number of the ideas about marriage are drawn from early humanists like Erasmus of Rotterdam. The play has always been very popular with audiences, if somewhat less so with critics.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare - Abridged

After our unit test, please watch The Complete Works of William Shakespeare - Abridged. We will finish watching this play next class.

Please turn in your historical comedy if you have not already done so.

Homework: None.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Unit Test - Friday, Oct. 16

Our class is not meeting again until Friday, Oct. 16. Please read "You Can't Take It With You."

Additionally, the test will cover the following:

The plays: For Colored Girls...Rainbow is Enuf (Nzotake Shange)
Monster (Dael Orlandersmith)
Talking With (Jane Martin)
Psycho Beach Party; Vampire Lesbians of Sodom; Lady in Question; Red Scare on Sunset (Charles Busch)
You Can't Take It With You (Moss Hart & George S. Kaufman)

Play Vocabulary:
Types of comedy: Sentimental comedy; romantic comedy; farce; satire; black/dark comedy; absurdist comedy
Aristotle's six elements of plays: plot, character, diction (dialogue), thought (theme), spectacle, song/music
Conflict (pg. 58)
Truth (pg. 58)
Structural Unity (pg. 60)
Inciting Incident (pg. 65. pg. 66)
Major Dramatic Question (MDQ) (pg. 64-65, pg. 68)
Major decision (pg. 65/pg. 66-67)
The event (pg. 65)
The three C's: Conflict, crisis, complication (pg. 68-69)
Rising Action (pg. 69-70)
The dark moment/crisis (pg. 70)
Deus ex machina (Pg. 71)
Enlightenment (pg. 71)
Climax (pg. 72)
Catharsis (pg. 72-73)
Ten minute play format
One act plays
Cross-dressing and theatrical tradition
Beach films
Generating ideas for plays

You Can't Take It With You

Today, during 2nd period, we are getting the comedy "You Can't Take It With You". Please read this play for Friday as it will be used on your unit exam. Please check back to this post for additional information about the playwright and his connection to film.

Playwrighting Rubric

4 = Exemplary (A/A+): Play is written in correct (standard) playwriting format for actors/directors. Title is intriguing, symbolic, and/or original. Plot structure adheres to and enhances Aristotelian elements; Cause and effect is well done, logical and creative; conflict is intriguing and creative; the playwrights' message is universal and comments thoughtfully on the human condition; play has intriguing, original characters; setting is original and interesting, but also practical for theatrical space; stage directions are specific, producible, enhance the action of the play and do not get in the actor/reader's way; dialogue is original, compelling, appropriate for characters; characters have clear and appropriate motivation; there is a clear progression of conflict/events, leading to a dark moment (crisis), enlightenment, and climax for the protagonist; dialogue sounds natural; play follows the three unities of time, place, action (when appropriate); scenes are well developed, each ending with a climactic moment, constantly moving the plot forward; staging is creative, appropriate and play is clever and producible. Few minor grammar errors.

3 = Accomplished (B/B+): Play is written in standard publishing playwriting format, or format for actors/directors has a few mistakes. Title is appropriate, but may not be as clever or creative as 4 above. Plot is appropriate and uses several Aristotelian elements, but not to the same level as 4. Cause and effect is more or less appropriate for the situation; playwright has a message, but may not be as original or creative as 4. Setting is appropriate and practical, but not as clever or interesting as 4. Stage directions are used appropriately; dialogue is appropriate for verisimilitude of characters and setting; dialogue mostly sounds natural; play mostly follows unities, but may rely on one more than another; main characters have appropriate motivation, with some errors or lack of development; scenes are developed, but may not always progress the plot; staging is appropriate and producible, but not as clever as 4. Some minor grammar errors.

2 = Promising (C/C+): Play attempts standard playwriting format, but may have several errors. Title is present, but does not necessarily support theme, tone, or symbol. Plot borders on cliche or sentimentality; plot may lack some Aristotelian elements. Cause occurs without effect or there are errors in plotting; playwrights' message may be trite or melodramatic or over done; characters may be unoriginal, lacking motivation or development; setting is standard and largely uninteresting; dialogue sounds stilted or melodramatic, unreal; play does not always follow the unities; characters may lack motivation or play includes too many minor characters; scenes are sketchy or undeveloped, conflict is too easily resolved; scenes may not advance the plot; staging is awkward or expensive or cinematic; grammar errors distract the reader/actor.

1 = Beginning (D): Play is not in playwriting format. Title is absent or untitled. Play may be incomplete, plot and characters flat or undeveloped, or as a "2" but may also be late. Work is not up to 11th grade level or standards. Grammar mistakes and writing errors make reading difficult.

Complete Historical Comedy - Draft Due Today!

Your draft of the Historical Comedy project is due today. Please work on finishing the play. When you have completed the work, please send the file to my dropbox. Make sure your name is on the file please.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Charles Busch Test & Scene 3 of your Historical Comedy

Today on the index card, take until 8:25 to prepare a quick cheat-sheet for the upcoming test. You may want to include such things as character names, plot elements from the plays, and other details you feel you need to look up from our reading. If you enter class late or you do not check this blog at the beginning of class, you will not have sufficient time to complete this task.

When we take the quiz, you will be able to use YOUR card (not your neighbor's card) to help answer the two questions. This card should be turned in with your test booklet. Please answer the questions in complete sentences, using evidence from the text where appropriate to support your statements. It should be clear to me that you read and understood the play.

After taking the test, please turn in your essay booklet. You may proceed to completing your one-act historical comedy project. This first draft is due by the end of next class (Friday, Oct. 9). In your third scene you will want to reach a climax between your protagonist and antagonist. Your protagonist should either win or lose his/her overall goal and you should conclude the play. Again, your scene should be anywhere from 5-10 pages in script formatting.

HOMEWORK: Please read the rest of the handout "Structure, Part One: Story and Plot". Take notes on important vocabulary or concepts as you read.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Historical Comedy Project - Part II

Building on the first scene of your historical comedy project, write a second scene that either goes BEFORE or AFTER the events in your first scene. Feel free to either change the time period to show a connection between two distinct time periods, or feel free to write a previous or later scene building off of what you have already written.

Your second scene should develop main characters, increase dramatic tension by defining a theme or idea, and increase conflict. By the end of your second scene, a downfall or dark moment for your protagonist will help. Having an antagonist be responsible for this is a good idea. Remember the Empire Strikes Back! the best movies and plays have a dark moment or crisis that a major character (or all of the major characters) has to face. This is the character's lowest end and it is necessary to build a story up to its final climax.

In Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, for example, the dark moment comes in the form of gossip columnist Oatsie Carew, secretly Salizar the vampire hunter. The dark moment continues for the Succubus into the third scene, where we find out she has been reduced from stardom to charwoman.

Your second scene should also be the length of a 10-minute play. Try to build to 5-10 pages, script formatting. By the end of today's lesson, you should have scene 2 (and 1) completed.

For those of you who reach this goal, feel free to continue on to a 3rd scene (at least 5-10 pages in script formatting) where your protagonist and antagonist meet and their fates are decided.

Homework: Please finish reading either Red Scare on Sunset or The Lady in Question. You may, of course, also read The Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Perhaps there will be a quiz on one of these plays? Hint, hint.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Historical Comedy Project

Charles Busch often sets his plays in a variety of historical settings. While most of these are the 20th century, because of the distance from our own time period, these settings can be useful to create satire, parody, or burlesque. Click on these vocabulary words ("burlesque" particularly,) to learn about the word and term.

Brainstorm historical settings that you find interesting. From your list choose the one (or few) that you feel has the most creativity, the most relevance to our society today, or the one that most intrigues you.

Spend 10-15 minutes examining the internet for information about your historical period. Do this relatively quickly, but take notes and begin thinking of potential plots or significant events that happened at that place and time or people who lived during that time period. Use your notes and brainstorming to PLAN your story a bit before you just right in and write, then get stuck and bother your neighbor.

After your brainstorming period, decide on a few characters. Write brief descriptions of who these people might be. Start with the most interesting major character and work your way from there. Don't worry about incidental or minor characters yet.

Begin "Scene 1" - this should look and feel exactly like a 10-minute play. It should have a beginning, middle, and end all on its own. Write ONLY this first scene. We will work on other "scenes" next week. Try to complete Scene 1 today.

HOMEWORK: Please read either Red Scare on Sunset or The Lady in Question. Both of these comedies are set in a specific historical period. Pay close attention to how Busch creates his comedy. Recall what you know personally about the time period the play is set. Busch alludes to current events from these time periods. He also is a film buff, so the style he's often going for in his comedies comes from schlocky period films. You may try this technique out as well.

For example: If you set your scene in Rome, 24 A.D (C.E.) type in Ancient or Epic Roman films in Youtube and you'll see the sort of thing you might need.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom

Today in class after our quiz, we will be reading Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Please complete the play for homework. Disregard the homework below until the weekend.

For homework: please read either Red Scare on Sunset or The Lady in Question. You may, of course, read both plays if you'd like. Next class we will be working on a new play idea based on the comedies of Charles Busch.

A Few More Films to Help with Background

The film Sybil is alluded to in the script Psycho Beach Party. Sensational films like these became popular in the 1970's like the film Carrie. Both films were made in 1976.

Additionally, there is reference to Joan Crawford (as a model for Mrs. Forrest's character). Joan was a matinee idol that went on to ruin her career with silly horror films. One infamous film was William Castle's production of Strait Jacket (1964). Many gay audiences are familiar with the campy Mommie Dearest version of Crawford's life. All in all, Joan Crawford played an excellent femme fatale.

Combine this film with beach film trends and a dash of Sybil and Carrie and you get our beloved Psycho Beach Party.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Beach Movies

High School Musical is popular today, but teen films have rocked the entertainment world since the 50s.

"One of the first teen films ever was the 1955 classic ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ which tells the story of a rebellious teenager played by James Dean. He comes to a new town, hangs out with girls, doesn’t do what his parents tell him and stands up to bullies at school – what a hero!

It was the first time that films had ever portrayed young people in this way, and also the first time that society even admitted that young adults - i.e. ‘teenagers’, existed! For this reason it has been seen as a really culturally important film."

Popular films targeted at teen audiences continued to fill the wallets of film producers. In the early 60's this led to the popular beach party film.

Most films starred the same actors and actresses and the story lines were kept simple – usually revolving around couples trying to make the other jealous – sound familiar?

A typical story usually follows teens into their everyday lives, sometimes with characters breaking into song at the twinge of an angst ridden moment. Take a look at some of these links.

Beach Party film history.

Bikini Beach (1964) Original Trailer here.

Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)

Muscle Beach Party (1964)

Later, beach films began to combine the two biggest box-office teen film styles: the horror film and the beach film.

Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966)

Annette Funicello & Frankie Avalon (two big 50's/60's teenage stars)

Charles Busch is using this silly genre to entertain his modern audiences.

Charles Busch, Cross-dressing, and Comedy

Please take a look at Charles Busch's blog. He has placed a variety of play video clips here. Take a look at a few of these. His official website is located here.

Please watch a few video clips, read an interview or two with the author, and learn a little about his background. All this information can/should be recorded in your journal/notebook for later reference.

A note about cross-dressing and theatre:

Since theatre began, cross-dressing has been a common occurrence on the stage. As far back as ancient Greek theatre, male actors acted both male and female roles on stage. Later in pantomime, commedia dell'arte, and medieval theatre the tradition continued. Of course, Shakespeare and his contemporaries also used cross-dressing in Elizabethan theatre. Many of Shakespeare's funniest comedies use the trope of cross-dressing, for example: Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and even the Merchant of Venice.

Comedy in theatre:

There are various types of comedy found in theatre today.

Sentimental Comedy examines the tribulations and trials of common people worrying about common things, but it all works out in the end.

Romantic comedies are plays that revolve around relationships. Usually following the love archetype: boy (or girl) gets girl (or boy), boy (or girl) loses girl (or boy), boy (or girl) gets girl (or boy) in the end.

Farce includes fast-paced action, improbable situations, hyperbolic characters, and lots of entrances and exits to cause confusion and conflict.

Satirical plays (taken from the ancient Greek Satyr play form) poke fun at something in society or about human nature that needs to be examined or changed.

Black comedies poke fun at serious topics. These are often considered in 'bad taste' by sensitive, less cynical audience members. Black or 'dark' comedies usually don't end happily.

Absurdist comedies point out the futility of life, using nonsense and trivia to examine that the meaning of life is...well...meaningless. These plays are often metaphorical or symbolic.

There are others as well. We will examine many of these in the next few weeks.

10 - Minute Play/Psycho Beach Party

Please complete your 10 - minute play script. Proofread your work and either print out a copy or send the attachment to me in email:

2nd period we will be getting scripts from the library. Please get together with students who are done and begin reading Psycho Beach Party. Finish reading this play for homework. You should be able to identify the premise and explain how this play is a good example of the comic form.

HOMEWORK: Complete your 10-minute play, if not completed. Complete the reading of Psycho Beach Party.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

10 - Minute Play #1

We have an opportunity to have our original work performed by the senior acting class as part of their year-end project. However, they need a series of 10-minute plays. So let's give them a new one (and an old one, if you have a 10-minute play from last year...double your chances).

Take one of your premises that you wrote in your journal. Unify it (or shorten it to work within the 10-minute play format). You can unify your play by limiting the time, setting, and action. Remember that in 10-minute plays there should only be one major action for the protagonist to overcome. Of course, minor problems solved easily can be thrown in for good measure.

Remember the best plays revolve around the motivation of a protagonist. You want to avoid a premise that is solely character though, as characters need to want something-- a goal to achieve--but must have opposition or conflict. It is always this conflict that drives a play.

Other advice is to have a specific and workable setting (unless you are writing certain types of plays), that there is enough action that is performable, that the play includes a crisis and dark moment for your protagonist, that your play has a purpose or meaning that would appeal to a human audience (not just you). And that your play is plausible. It should feel true. Avoid cinematic writing. Keep your scenes long and talkative. Obey your unities!

Above all your script should communicate an idea.

1. Write a monologue play. Use your previous monologues and write a play that ties them together or expands on the action inherent in them.
2. Write a poetic play. Like For Colored Girls...Enuf use a narrative poem you have already written as a basis for your 10-minute play.
3. Use a short story you've written to create a play similar in structure to Monster.
4. Use your journal to capture an idea--work with it, then begin writing. See where the muse takes you.

Your play can be anywhere between 4 and 10 pages. Do not go over 10 pages if you can help it. After writing, go back and proofread (you are turning this in for possible production in a SOTA show, after all.) During your proofreading, add details and poetic devices to make your writing sound and effective. The play should be written in proper script format and include a cover page with your title, name, and contact information.

Due: Friday, September 25.

Homework: work on finishing this project and read the handout about comedy and 10-minute play format.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

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

Today we are going to read Ntozake Shange's choreo-poem and masterpiece For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

Please watch this short interview with the playwright. After viewing this video, please go to the library and pick up your script. Return any library books you owe (and are done with: for ex. Talking With)

We have been reading a series of plays where monologues play an important and powerful role in the storyline of the play. In fact, way, way, way back during the ancient Greek period (about the 5th century BCE), theatre performances began as long "choral" odes--essentially monologues where the chorus sang in what is called a dithyramb. After a while, the first actor: Thespis (actors are now called thespians) separated himself from the "chorus" and began to play various roles--and dialogue began!

When writing a play a playwright should have a purpose--a reason to write. A playwright should ask him/herself a variety of questions about his/her premise:

1. Does the play appeal to different races, genders, and regions? At its core all plays should invite a discussion about "what does it mean to be human?"

2. Why does/did the playwright want to write the play? Again this connects to having a purpose--a reason to write.

3. Is the play unique? With hundreds of thousands of plays written each year, only a few thousand are produced. Theatre is not attended as frequently as it once was. This puts considerable importance on the playwright to makes sure the play is creative/unique and offers a compelling story, interesting conflict and characters.

After you read "For Colored Girls...Enuf" please answer these questions:
1. What is the play's premise? Try to identify this in 1-2 sentences.
2. Does the play appeal to a wide audience? Explain why. Use evidence from the text.
3. What seems to be the reason Shange wrote her play?
4. Explain how the play is unique. What does Shange do in her writing or craft that sets this play apart from others? Of course, use textual evidence to support your opinion.

These questions are due next class: 9/23.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Please complete the play Monster. The previous post has links to an interview with Dael Orlandersmith (the playwright) and information about her.

In groups of 1-3 read the play. When you have finished reading, please answer the following questions (if you are in a group, please make sure all your names are on the paper you turn in.)

1. In a sentence or two write the premise of this play. Essentially, what is this play about?
2. Would you consider this play:
A. Relevant to society?
B. Interesting to see or watch?
C. Well written?
For each part, explain why you think one way or another. Support your opinion from the text.
3. Plays are about characters. Which character would you consider the protagonist? Which character(s) provide the conflict for this character? Which character(s) help develop the protagonist by giving us more information about him/her? Which character(s) help develop the theme of this play?

Dael Orlandersmith also wrote the play "Yellowman." Please take a look at two actors talking about their characters playing the lead female (Alma) and male role (Eugene).

HOMEWORK: Please complete 1-3 more PREMISES for a play in your journal. Each premise should be about a paragraph or so. To help you come up with some ideas, please take a look at the link on the side concerning the 36 dramatic situations. Try using these as a place to begin or from which to create new combinations.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Talking With/Premises/Monster

Please take about ten minutes and watch a professional/non-professional video from Talking With.

As you watch a monologue, consider whether or not the idea inherent in the script is represented the way you saw it in your head when you read the play. How are words given life on stage? What accounts for changes in the representation from script to performance?

After you've had a chance to review a monologue and think about the performance, be prepared to discuss Talking With in class.

When we finish our discussion, please spend the remaining time in period 1 to do the following:

1. Please take out the handout on "What On Earth Gave You That Idea?" (this is the article we used last week in class).
2. Read pages 6-8 on your own.
3. Spend the rest of period one creating a short paragraph stating (or "pitching") an idea for a play. Keep this pitch in your journal for now.
4. If you finish early, try writing another pitch or read pages 9-21 in the handout (this is homework, anyway.)

for HOMEWORK: please read pages 9-21 in the handout chapter "What on Earth Gave You That Idea?" If you didn't complete an idea for a play, do so for homework.

Period 2: In groups of 1-3 (a group of 4 is really two groups of two...) please read MONSTER by Dael Orlandersmith. You can read a short interview with her here. Complete Monster for homework, if you do not finish reading it during period 2.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Talking With... by Jane Martin

Today, we are going to check out Jane Martin's play Talking With from the library. After we return from checking out the script, get into groups of 1-3 and read the play.

As you read, answer the following questions (write them out to hand in by next class):

1. What did you think about the play? Did it surprise you or please you or frustrate you? Explain why you reacted to the play in this way.

2. What is the premise of "Talking With"? In a sentence or two, explain what you think the premise of the play is.

3. The "audience" for each character changes as the play continues. How does the author help a viewer or reader understand who the character in question is "talking with..."? Overall, by the end of the play, who do you think the playwright Jane Martin is "Talking with...?" Support your opinion.

4. Choose your favorite monologue from the bunch. Explain what you liked most about this monologue and then analyze its structure. (How does Martin move from a beginning to an end? What is the central conflict of the scene? How is character revealed?)

Please complete "Talking With" for homework, if you do not complete the play in class. The handwritten questions are due next class: 9/15.

Photobooth Monologue Exercise

Using the program "Photobooth", create 3 pictures of yourself in different moods (with different effects to symbolize each mood). You may wish to use the locations from the effects menu. If you need a new setting, use Google IMAGES, pick a place like Paris or London or Rome or Streetcorner or Farm, etc. and quickly choose a picture background by dragging the picture to your desktop, then dragging it onto the "drag background here" spaces.

Then, write a monologue in which you fictionalize yourself. Allow your character to move through the feelings, or express the three moods you created. You have 20 minutes for this exercise.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What on Earth Gave You That Idea? - collecting ideas for plays

In groups of 1-3, please read and take notes on the article "What on Earth Gave You That Idea?" (Handout). Please take turns reading paragraphs or divide the work up. You are responsible for knowing the entire article, however, so please read it. Stop when you get to the top of page 6 and the heading "Is the Idea Half-full or Half-Empty".

You should, after reading the article, be able to define the term: Premises, answer: What kinds of experience help us come up with ideas, Give a few examples where ideas come from, define philosophy, and explain how emotion helps guide a playwright. Keep these notes in your journal/notebook for a test later.

After reading pages 1-6 with your group, spend another few minutes discussing and listing ideas for plays. Ask yourself: Where can I get a few ideas? What can I write about? What am I passionate about? What would others like to see? Make a list of play ideas in your journal/notebook.

Then wait for further instructions.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Monologue #2 - Exercise

At the beginning of class, take a look at the link: "People's Pictures."

Pick a photograph of a person that you'd like to work with. I'd suggest you avoid famous people and animals for this exercise (for example, don't pick Pres. Obama) because your monologue will be harder to justify.

Take 10 minutes to write a short monologue for this "character." Make sure you do the following:
1. Copy the picture into a word document. Resize the picture so that it's small.
2. Name the character. Give the character a new name (even if the picture gives you the real name)
3. Give your character a setting, a goal, and pick an audience for him/her.
4. Try to recreate a unique voice for your character.
5. Proofread and print out after you have completed this project in 10 minutes. Make sure your name is attached and that you have followed the rules above.

You will be given participation credit for an acceptable length monologue. Your work, as always, should be up to 11th grade creative writing standards. Partial credit will be given to students who turn in work that is incomplete or below grade level. No credit will be given to students who do not follow directions or do not turn in a monologue at the end of the assignment.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Monologue Samples

You will need a piece of paper or your journal for this exercise. Please put your name on the paper (as you will be handing it in at the end of class).

Please view the following clip about how to write a monologue. Take notes of important tips. Copy and paste the URL into your web browser to play.

Here are a few monologue samples. Please watch and/or read each and write a short paragraph response noting the following (due at end of class):

A. Who is the character speaking?
B. Why is the character speaking?
C. To whom is the character speaking (the audience)?

Reading monologues:

1. Read Workout by Wendy Wasserstein (handout). Answer the 3 questions (who is the character, why is the character speaking, and to whom is the character speaking?) Turn to your neighbor when both of you have completed this portion of the exercise and share your answers.

2. Then alone, choose 3 monologues from the Monologue Database included on the link section of this blog. Answer the 3 questions for each monologue. Then move on to the next portion of this exercise:

With clip addresses, please copy and paste the URL address into your web browser.

Clips: (please be aware that content is meant for mature students. Please excuse the language and content of some of the monologues).

Finally, after reading and viewing these monologues, what questions, comments, or observations have you made about writing (and performing) monologues?

Please turn in the monologue responses as today's participation work.

If you finish early, please write a second monologue including what you've learned about writing monologues.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Writing Monologue Tips

"Some of the most famous and memorable moments in theatre history – moments including phrases like, “to be, or not to be” or “now is the winter of our discontent,” which are internationally renowned – are from dramatic monologues.

Since Shakespeare’s time, the dramatic monologue has grown and developed to have countless uses in the world of theatre (as outlined in the article, What is a Monologue?), but the general definition remains the same: a monologue is a speech, usually somewhat lengthy, delivered by a single actor in a play or film.

But how do you go about writing a powerful and effective monologue? What follows is a look at the crucial elements to consider when you are working on your next theatrical monologue, whether dramatic or comedic.

Keep Your Character’s Voice Distinct and Consistent

Since a monologue involves a single character speaking for an extended period of time, you need to make certain that your character’s voice is distinct to his or her personality, and that it remains consistent, not only throughout the monologue itself, but also from before the monologue, and continuing through the remainder of the play.

This is not to say that your character’s monologue cannot reflect a change in attitude. Your character, for example, may be incredibly kind to her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend to her face and then turn around and perform a monologue about how much she hates her. What the audience needs to know is that this shift is intentional. If your intentions as the playwright are not clear, your writing will come across as inconsistent and your audience will quickly lose interest.

Pay Attention to the Rhythm and Shape of Your Monologue

Even though a monologue may be only a short part of a much longer play, it needs to have a shape and rhythm of its own. A monologue in any form is a story, so like any story, it should have (generally) a beginning, middle, and end. When writing your monologue, consider where its high point, or climax, is, and always make sure that every line is helping the audience get to and from that point effectively.

Without shape, your monologue will probably make it seem as though your character is either ranting or rambling. Use concise language and selective editing to keep your monologue from becoming dull or seemingly pointless – losing your audience’s emotional investment, even for five minutes, could keep them at a distance for the remainder of the play.

Know Your Audience, Know Your Audience, Know Your Audience!

This is by far the most important element of writing any monologue, and cannot be reiterated enough times. As you are writing (and later revising) your monologues, make certain that you know who your audience is. The word “audience” in this case is not referring to the group of people who will sit and watch a production of your play. Rather, the “audience” of your monologue is the person (or people) to whom your character is speaking when they deliver each specific monologue.

Knowing who your character is speaking to will shape your monologue significantly. It will give your character a distinct voice (imagine, for example, how differently you would address your mother and your best friend), a distinct attitude, and will help your audiences in production to understand what your characters’ intentions are.

Imagining that your character is speaking to “the world” or “to society” is not good enough – next time you are working on a monologue, try to revise your work with a specific audience in mind for your character, even if it’s just an experiment, and note how much stronger the piece becomes."

--Andrea Beca

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Monologue #1 - Assignment

Last year, I made a point of explaining that to create an appropriate play script, a writer needs to consider 3 things:

1. Character
2. Place (setting)
3. Action

To create a situation for a character, a writer should know:
1. Who the character is and what the character wants
2. Where the character is physically
3. What the character is currently doing in that location or setting

Once these 3 questions are answered, the writer can COMPLICATE the dramatic situation by adding a simple "Oops", "But...!", or "Uh Oh!"

Example: Jane is a new playwriting student who wants to become famous. She has paid a lot of money to learn the craft of writing from a famous playwriting teacher whom she admires. She has just been asked by her teacher to explain why she wants to write plays in front of the entire class. Jane begins to tell her story to the rest of the class, but (Oops, but...!, Uh Oh) after a few minutes into her story she is noticing her classmates falling asleep and the teacher is looking annoyed with her. This motivates Jane to try another tactic.

Today, let's write a monologue. (Due: next class, Friday, September 4)

Create a character. Answer the 3 basic questions about your character, place, and action. Complicate the situation to make it dramatic.

Rules: Your monologue should only have one person talking (that's why it's a monologue!) and your monologue should reveal something unique or personal about your character. Your first draft should be no more than 2 pages (preferably one full page is great). The monologue should be written in standard play script format.

Please feel free to post questions here, or ask for help.

Assignment draft due: Friday, September 4

Monday, August 31, 2009

Playwriting Course Syllabus

Course Description:
During this course students will gain experience writing in the dramatic genre. This course focuses on writing for the stage while the second half of this course, *film studies, will focus on screen writing. Students will explore the dramatic genre by reading and viewing representative works by noted playwrights. These works will serve as a source of style and technique for the student in crafting his or her own writing and as a source of themes or issues to be explored. Students will workshop and revise their own plays. Ambitious students may have their final polished scripts produced in public readings. This year we will be working closely with SOTA’s Improv group to study skit and long-form improvisational writing.

Course Objectives:
• Students will gain a greater understanding of the requirements of the dramatic form
• Students will experience the role of the playwright in the collaborative art of theatre
• Students will write using the proper script format to create a variety of plays, scripts, short scenes and monologues
• Students will read, discuss, and analyze a variety of plays from established playwrights
• Students will read and act in staged readings of other students’ work
• Students will build writing skills in the areas of dialogue, characterization, plot, setting, etc.
• Students will experience the collaborative art of theatre with various Improv shows

Course Requirements:
• Participate in class assignments, readings and projects
• Keep a folder for handouts/work in progress/writing exercises
• Keep a writer’s portfolio of all completed and revised work
• Keep a playwriting journal or writing notebook for writing assignments and practices
• Communicate regularly and effectively with the teacher and peers
• Engage in the complete writing process
• Participate in writer’s workshops
• Attend school theatre and art/writing events
• Respect the rules and procedures of the school and classroom
• Read and write passionately, creatively and artistically!

Course Evaluation:
50% Portfolio, Journal, Writing assignments (scenes, monologues, plays, adaptations, journal, exercises, essays, etc.)
25% Test & Quizzes
25% Participation, attendance, effort, behavior, homework

Long Range Curriculum:
1st term: Introduction to playwriting; the one-act play form
2nd term: Development of the dramatic genre; the full length play form
3rd term: Full length play form (cont.); Improv Show featuring playwrights; final assessment

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New Academic Year!

Our new academic year will begin with Playwriting in room A239 on September 2. The course syllabus will be posted September 1. See you soon!

Monday, July 13, 2009

New Lab!

When you return to school in September we will have new equipment and editing software. Thank you to all who helped us nudge our agenda forward for the Creative Writing Department.

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...