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.

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...