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.

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...