Thursday, December 16, 2010

Projects & Contests

Today, please continue to write your 10-minute play script, or your one-act play script, or your full length play script.

Please complete Charles Busch's play critique and The Piano Lesson critique. Today, we will also pick up Fences by August Wilson. This play is NOT due yet, but for those of you who need a head start or want a more leisurely reading pace, you will have the script to do just that. Eventually, we will write a critique of the play, but for now in lab please complete The Piano Lesson/Charles Busch's play and work on the script.


Gannon, Geva, Lelia Tupper, Rochester AIDS Coalition, Scholastic Writing Awards, and Sokol contests are in. These contests run into January and February. In every case, you have work that COULD be submitted with excellent chances of winning. Instructions and details about each contest are on the front bookcase. You may work on entering these contests for extra credit.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Please work to complete your play evaluation/critiques. See previous post for details. I would like to have these before you go on your winter break--also so that you have minimal responsibility and work due for this class.

Use the time today in lab to complete your project work: writing historical 10-minute, one-act, or full length plays script drafts, and complete your play critique for one of Charles Busch's plays AND/OR complete a play critique of August Wilson's The Piano Lesson.

Students who have completed The Piano Lesson and are ready to pick up August Wilson's Fences, may do so today or Thursday.

For those of you who would like, please watch this interview with August Wilson (with Bill Moyer) The interview was conducted in 1988 (before any of you were born). Note the issues being discussed. Times have changed, but times have also stayed the same.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Play Projects

Please work on the following today:

1. A 10-minute historical play; a one-act historical play; a full-length historical play. Conduct research as appropriate, but don't spend too much time in lab researching at this point. Get your ideas together (see previous notes)and begin writing.

2. A theatre review for one of the plays in Charles Busch's collection & a theatre review for The Piano Lesson. Each review should be about 5 paragraphs.

Instead of discussing the PRODUCTION, you are reviewing the TEXT/SCRIPT. For example: instead of special effects, tech, and set--write about the setting, the stage directions, and how easily or difficult the play could be staged. What kind of theater would be needed to stage the production, for instance, and explain your reason.

Alternatively, instead of the ACTING, discuss character. Instead of DIRECTION, discuss theme. Otherwise, the handout I gave you can be helpful in focusing your response. Look at the THEATRE REVIEWS and material POSTED BELOW! Yes, actually read a few sample models to get the gist.

None of these projects are due yet, but if the class as a whole is not working in the lab, the assignments will be due very soon as I assume you are done.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Playwriting Advice

Once you have settled on a subject or setting, remember to do the following:

1. Find a premise. What is your play going to be about? Why would people want to pay to see it? Try to write your premise in 1-2 sentences BEFORE you begin writing. What is it you want to tell the world!?
2. Decide on the form. Is your play tight enough to be contained in a 10-minute play, a one-act play, or a full length play? Do you have one central action or two or three or four or five?
3. Consider your set and theatrical convention. How is the play going to LOOK on stage? What might a director or actor have to do to make sure your idea comes alive?
4. Spend some time on character. Who is your protagonist(s), and how is the protagonist an antagonist to another character; how is the antagonist a foil or reflection of your protagonist? Remember that most characters don't think themselves as bad people. Everyone has their own motivation. Give your characters motivation.
5. Choose minor characters carefully. Only include characters that help move the play's plot forward. Incidental characters can and should be removed if possible. Otherwise, consider double-casting roles.
6. Characters move from a position of need vs. desire. They want things that they don't need and need things they don't realize they need. This causes internal conflict and makes your characters more interesting.
7. Don't kill a character on stage unless you're writing a comedy.
8. Much of the conflict in contemporary plays is the fact that human beings don't listen to one another. We cannot effectively communicate. While your characters have a NEED TO SPEAK, they are not always listening or understanding one another.
9. Consolidate sets and time as much as possible. If 3 scenes happen in the same place, for example, within a few minutes of each other, condense the time and setting and keep the action in one place at one time. Audiences hate sitting in the dark with nothing to do while a set is changed or actors change costume!
10. Make sure your play script is in play format. Proofread and consider adding detail and imagery to make your writing pop!

Projects & August Wilson

Today, please work on the following projects:

A. Complete and hand in the brainstorming sheet from last class. This should take you less than 20 minutes if you have not completed the assignment yet.

B. Begin working on your play project(s) (see last post for details)

C. Please read one of the plays in Charles Busch's collection of plays (see previous posts): Red Scare on Sunset, The Lady in Question, Psycho Beach Party, or the Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Complete a theater critique of the play. See the previous post for details on how to write a critique.

D. Begin researching and reading The Piano Lesson by August Wilson. Information about August Wilson can be found here.

As a play project, Wilson wanted to track the progress and examine central issues African Americans had to deal with in the 20th century. Each of his plays takes place in a particular decade from the 1900's to the 1990's. Effectively, this is similar to your assignment regarding a historical period.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reminders: Coffee House

There is a coffeehouse this Wednesday at 7:00 in the Ensemble Theatre. This is a free event. If you go and read one of your poems or short stories, you will get extra credit for this class.

Also: please remember to read the previous posts. The homework (reading one other Charles Busch play) should be done. You may select any of the remaining plays to fulfill this requirement. You will be asked to write a critique of this play.

A play critique is made up of the following parts: a summary of the play and a reaction or analysis of its social worth.

Here's an example about how to write a critique.
And some examples/models: New York Times Theater Critiques.

Here's some advice when writing a critique.
Here's an outline concerning how to write the critique. You should replace the ACTING paragraph with CHARACTERS since you are not watching the play.

The Historical 10-Minute Play, One Act, or Full Length 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. Know these for the upcoming test.

Our next playwright (August Wilson) will also use historical periods for his plays.

Please begin the writing activity below:

Writing Activity:
Brainstorm historical settings that you find interesting.
From your list select the one (or few--yes, you can combine time periods as you need to) that you feel has the most creativity, the most relevance to our society today, or the one that most intrigues you.

Spend some time 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. Fill out the notesheet for participation credit. Hand in at the end of class.

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.

Marking period 3 Project:
Decide on the scope of your play. If you think you have enough material for a one act (equivalent to two ten-minute plays), then decide to write a one-act play. If you feel you have two separate ideas OR you feel the idea you have for your play is smaller in scope, choose to write two ten-minute plays. Each play will count as your marking period grade. Finally, for those of you who would like an "A" for this marking period (some restrictions apply), you may choose to write a FULL LENGTH play. This is like two one-act plays, 4 10-minute plays, (or around 40 pages or more). By the way, yes, you can opt to write 2 one-act plays or 4 10-minute plays instead of one FULL LENGTH play.

Beach Party Films & Psycho Beach Party

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.

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.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Charles Busch, Crossdressing, & 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. Please take the next 15 minutes to view this material.

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.

HOMEWORK: Please choose 1 play by Charles Busch from the collection. Read this play. Be prepared to summarize and critique it (instructions forthcoming). You may choose any of the following: Psycho Beach Party, The Lady in Question, Red Scare on Sunset, or the Tale of the Allergist's Wife.

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...