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

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...