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

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...