Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Playwriting - End of Marking Period

The due date for your Full Length Play is this Thursday, Jan. 22. I will be accepting scripts into next week (Monday, Jan. 26 - please put into my mailbox on the 2nd floor.) Scripts turned in AFTER that date will be considered LATE and points will be removed from the over all rubric score.

In addition, a short "quiz/test" will be given on Thursday dealing with The Piano Lesson. You should be familiar with the play's protagonist, antagonist, conflict, point of attack (inciting incident), theme, setting (including date), major/minor characters and their motivation, the protagonist's dark moment & enlightenment, the play's essential question, Aristotle's six elements of a play (plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle, song), the crisis, complications to the plot (rising action), the climax, catharsis, the structure of the play (2 act play), its ending (resolution), and know basic information about the author/playwright August Wilson. To be safe you should be familiar with some of the other playwrights and their work that we read this year: August Strindberg, Christopher Durang, Ntozake Shange, Anton Chekhov, William Shakespeare, Alfred Uhry, Charles Ludlum, Paula Vogel, Marsha Norman, George C. Wolfe, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

Today, please work on your full length plays (or, if you are writing only at home, complete the Piano Lesson).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

...And More Advice About Playwrighting

By this time you may have run into problems with your full-length play project. To reiterate, plays revolve around conflict. This is what moves a play. If your conflict has dried up, or you feel like your characters are floundering, consider a few pointers:

1. Fully develop your characters (especially your protagonist): add information about your character's physical qualities, their sociological connections (family, religion, beliefs, hopes, political views, occupation, career, financial situation, etc.), their state of mind or psychology (what are your characters talents, susperstitions, ambitions, disappointments, inhibitions, obsessions, morals, hobbies, phobias, etc.), and consider using a secret to propel your plot or reveal a sudden change of fortune. Secrets can come from childhood, educational background, people in the past, etc.

2. Actions speak volumes about your character. Put in some stage directions and action, if needed.

3. Characters in plays NEED to speak. If stuck, have a character rant.

4. Need more conflict? Most plays deal with the conflict between characters. A character generally A. has something important to say, but doesn't know how to say it or B. A character says something to another character, but this character doesn't listen or hear what is being said (subtext).

Hope this helps a bit!

The Piano Lesson

As you read The Piano Lesson examine the text and try to answer the questions posed below (no need to write them, you will be testing on this sort of thing next week):

The Piano Lesson concerns the struggle of two siblings over a family heirloom, a piano carved with images of their African ancestors and crafted their enslaved grandfather. The Piano itself becomes a symbol. As you read, try to figure out what the piano means.

As writers, our settings often have significant meaning. They contribute to the theme of the play, as well as hold significance, complicate plot, develop character, and create conflict. In the Piano Lesson, the setting is the Great Depression.

This setting serves as the historical backdrop to the play as well as black migration during this period from south to north. Such migration increased steadily until stabilizing in the 1930s and creating new black communities that would be devastated by the economic ruin. Wilson was inspired by Romare Bearden's painting "the Piano Lesson", seeing in its scene of a teacher and student an allegory for how African Americans must learn to negotiate their history. Critic Sandra Shannon stated that Wilson formulated two thematic questions to address in his work: "What do you do with your legacy, and how do you best put it to use?" (The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson, 146).

As you read, identify the motivation of each of the following characters. Be aware of how motivation creates complications, conflict, and characterization.

• Doaker
• Boy Willie
• Berniece
• Lymon
• Maretha
• Avery
• Wining Boy
• Grace

Acts usually end at a high point (or crisis). How does Wilson end his first act? How does an essential question linger in the minds of the audience? i.e. what will bring the audience back from the intermission ready for more? What questions have been left unanswered?

In a second act, characters are generally developed more. Additionally, there is usually a reversal of fortune (someone who is about to win his/her motive suddenly meets opposition that we might not have considered before…although clues to such an event can be found in the first act).

Find an example from the second act where we learn more about a character. How is this character developed further in the second act?

Find examples of a reversal of fortune in the second act. What clues were we given in Act I that suggests that this reversal was coming?

What is the protagonist's dark moment? What is the character's enlightenment? How does the enlightenment lead to the climax?

And then, finally, do you consider the ending pleasing, satisfactory, acceptable? How might you change the ending if you were writing the play?

Reminder: Full Play Project draft due Thursday, Jan. 22!Final exam: Thursday, Jan. 22!

August Wilson - American Playwright

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson (April 27, 1945 - October 2, 2005) is one of the most influential writers in American theater. His plays chronicle the tragedies and aspirations of African Americans during the 20th century.

August Wilson's is one of America's most celebrated dramatists. His writing earned him numerous awards, among them the Tony Award (1985), the New York Drama Critics Circle Award (1985) and the Pulitzer Prize for drama (1990). The Virginia Theater on Broadway in NYC was renamed the August Wilson Theater in his honor in 2005, and the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh was renamed the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in 2006.

The Pittsburgh Cycle of Plays:

In 10 separate plays, each covering a different decade of the 20th century, August Wilson explored the lives, dreams, triumphs and tragedies of African-American history and culture. Often called the "Pittsburgh Cycle," all but one of the plays is set in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh where August Wilson grew up.
August Wilson's cycle of plays, in order by the decade in which the play is set:

"Gem of the Ocean," 1904
"Joe Turner's Come and Gone," 1911
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," 1927
"The Piano Lesson," 1936
"Seven Guitars," 1948
"Fences," 1957-58 and 1963
"Two Trains Running," 1969
"Jitney," 1977
"King Hedley, II," 1985
"Radio Golf," 1997

August Wilson gained inspiration from African American artist, Romare Bearden. "When I [August Wilson] saw his [Bearden's] work, it was the first time that I had seen black life presented in all its richness, and I said, 'I want to do that -- I want my plays to be the equal of his canvases.'"

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Anton Chekhov's The Seagull

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 lady Irina Arkadina, her son the experimental playwright Constantin Treplyov, 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 (for 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 Treplyov quote lines from it before the play-within-a-play (and even the play-within-a-play is a device used in Hamlet!) Treplyov 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."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Full Length Play Project

Welcome back! 

Using your scenario, begin or continue writing your full length play. If you get stuck, remember to make sure you have a clear goal in mind for each of the characters in your scene. Always work toward the goal.

If you need to take a break, you may do so, but limit this to no more than 5 minutes. Procrastination is the deadly sin of the writer. Try to get back to writing as quickly as possible.

Next class we will continue examining other full length scripts. Today, just write.

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...