Monday, October 31, 2011

Adaptation Project

Brainstorming: take a minute or two to think about short stories you have read and enjoyed. Write down at least one title or author whose work you liked. Share with the class. You have five minutes to ask other students what their favorite stories are. If you also like that story, note it in your journal/notebook with the name of the person who also liked that story, then return to your seat.

Many playwrights (and filmmakers) rely on short fiction for their material. Short fiction can make excellent stage or film material, as there is not as much to cut as in novel length text. Audiences are more willing to watch a well-known story, as opposed to the new work of an unknown writer. Either way, a writer can learn a lot about story structure and writing by adapting a published or polished piece of writing. Adapting our own short stories or poem cycles can be an excellent and empowering task as well.
1. Adapt a favorite short story (or poem) into a one-act play. Length is determined by the story you pick but should be at least 5 pages and no more than 20.
2. You may use one of your own short stories, or you may pick any famous or published short story.
3. You are free to change location, consolidate settings, events, and characters to fit the limitations and structure of plays. When adapting, it is customary to cut and edit various details that wouldn't work on stage. Try using plot techniques like the time lock, the trap, Sarcey's Principle of Offstage Action, and the Unities to narrow your focus (otherwise you'll end up with a thousand scenes and a hundred pages of script).
4. You may also dip into film studies and write a film script for your preference. Please check the film script format here and make sure you are writing in proper film script format.
5. Please give credit to the original author. If you are the original author, attach a copy of the original story with the play script.
6. You may work with up to one other writer for this project. You can, of course, work alone as well.
Here are a few websites with short stories to consider for brainstorming ideas.

The Short Story Library: American Literature
Edgar Allan Poe stories
Short Stories

Example: The Tell Tale Heart (Edgar Allen Poe, starring Vincent Price) (monologue play)
Santaland Diaries (David Sedaris, from the stage production)
The Lottery (Shirley Jackson, part one)
Thank You, Mam (Langston Hughes, clip) 
A Perfect Day for Bananafish (J.D. Salinger)
Lamb To the Slaughter (Roald Dahl, from Alfred Hitchcock Presents) 

By the end of class today, you should have 1. picked a story and 2. begun to work on the adaptation.

HOMEWORK: Continue working on your play script. Plan on completing by the end of the week.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Playwriting 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.

10 Minute Script Due

Today, please complete your 10-minute play script. Before you turn in your work, please make sure your format is correct and remove any non-essential dialogue (particularly ums, and wells, and so on). Reduce your sentence structure to avoid overusing compound and complex sentences. Simple sentences are more direct. Proofread and correct mistakes in grammar and punctuation.

Finished early? Get started on our next assignment:
1. Adapt a favorite short story (or poem) into a one-act play. Length is determined by the story you pick but should be at least 5 pages and no more than 20.
2. You may use one of your own short stories, or you may pick any famous or published short story.
3. You are free to change location, consolidate settings, events, and characters to fit the limitations and structure of plays. When adapting, it is customary to cut and edit various details that wouldn't work on stage. Try using plot techniques like the time lock, the trap, Sarcey's Principle of Offstage Action, and the Unities to narrow your focus (otherwise you'll end up with a thousand scenes and a hundred pages of script).

Here are a few websites with short stories to consider for brainstorming ideas.

The Short Story Library: American Literature
Edgar Allan Poe stories
Short Stories

HOMEWORK: Please read The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs for Halloween. Here's a preview.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

10 Minute Play (writing) & Formula

After our quiz today, please continue working on your 10-minute play draft. This is due Friday. Please use the time in lab for what it is designed for: writing. If I see the majority of you off task, I assume your work is done and I'll slide deadlines earlier.

If you have finished already, feel free to write a second play draft for extra credit. The more plays you write, the more experience you receive and the more options you have when sending work to contests and submitting plays to theaters.

HOMEWORK: Please read the article on Structure: Story & Plot and answer the 10 questions for Friday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

George S. Kaufman Play/Musical Scenes

George S. Kaufman & some 10-Minute Play Advice

Please read about George S. Kaufman. Please look at his biographical information and read about the Algonquin Round Table, the 1920's, The Marx Brothers, The Gershwins, and Moss Hart. Answer the questions to be handed in by the end of class.

George S. Kaufman is best known for his Marx Brothers comedies, but also the famous You Can't Take it With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner. Here's one of his 10-minute plays: "If Men Played Cards As Women Do." It can be found on page 423. Please read it alone or with a group of 4. Then get ready to write today.

The 10 minute play has gained quite a bit of respect over the last few decades. Starting as a theater gimmick and festival curtain risers, the 10 minute play can usually be produced with little or no budget, a theater can produce several new playwrights in an evening, and the plays are short (lacking the attention span one needs when seeing Shakespeare)--which appeals to a contemporary audience.

You will need a premise: the organizing theme or idea that defines everything in the play. A good premise will indicate an interesting inciting incident to help you start off your drama with some effective action or conflict, and will carry you through to the end of your play. The things to remember about 10-minute plays is that they are similar to short stories:
  • They have a premise
  • They have a dramatic situation (setting, characters in action, & a complication)
  • They have a beginning, middle, and end
  • They have a tight structure (most never change scene or setting)
  • They are at most 10 pages long.
  • There are usually fewer than four characters. Often two or three at most.
  • The beginning of the play starts at a very early POINT OF ATTACK.
  • By the end of the first page or the top of the second the argument or conflict has been presented.
  • The play usually has only one conflict and one plot line.
  • There is not much exposition. By the middle of the first page, exposition has been stated.
  • The end of the play falls very close to the climax. Only a few lines are devoted to resolution.
  • Most plays deal with the exceptionally brief, but powerful moment in a character's life.
Take ideas from your journal, reading, or handouts, or your own memory & imagination; check the 38 dramatic situations for help (see link page to the side) if you can't think of anything.

If you are focused, you should be able to write a 10-minute play in 80 minutes or less.

Forum response for Trifles is due today. Please complete.

HOMEWORK: Complete forum post. Read "Here We Are" and "The Still Alarm." Expect a quiz on the two Kaufman plays and Parker's play next class.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

10-Minute Play Draft & Sample Plays

A - Task ONE. Today, please get into groups of 3-4 to read "Einstein & the Angels", "Esla & Frinz Go Partying", and "Deer Play", three 10-minute plays. Each play has a beginning, middle, end--just like Aristotle said they should, and the characters and situations are creative. This is not the same old, same old blabbing with tired and typical characters. As you read, note how the playwrights use character, situation, and build plot--all within a few pages.

After reading each of these plays, discuss with your group 1. 3 things you noticed, observed, or had questions about the play, 2 things you learned about playwriting, and 1 thing you would have changed had you written the script. Write your comments on the sheet provided to hand in for participation credit.

B - Task TWO. Alone, go back to your seats and prepare to write your 10 minute play draft. Review play script format, if you need to (see links and previous assignments). Use any of the brainstorming activities of the past few classes, along with your character designs from September (your journal) and look for interesting choices. Create a play that is imaginative, but takes into consideration the form of stage writing and the constraints. Your play is short (5-8 pages) and should focus on one main conflict or idea.

If you get stuck or need a break from writing, watch these videos for advice on playwriting. Watch them, even if you finish your play. They have some good advice that will help you succeed.
Video #1: Top Tips
Video #2: Status Quo
Video #3: Building a Plot
Video #4: Formatting a play script (optional viewing, for those who don't understand the form)
HOMEWORK: Please read Trifles by Susan Glaspell. Post a response to the forum by next class (Monday, Oct. 24) in which you examine the status quo; identify the major dramatic question and whether or not you felt the playwright kept your attention. If she did, how did she do it? If she didn't, why not--what would you have changed? and finally, pick one of the characters and discuss how this character is utilized by the playwright in the play. What is the author's purpose for this character? How does the character help develop plot, conflict, or theme?

If you get lost or need assistance understanding anything in the script or its characters, look here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cleaning House a Bit: An Important Note

We are entering the second marking period. By the end of this marking period you will have completed various 10-minute and one-act plays, read widely in contemporary theater, and learned more about crafting scripts for the stage.

Sadly people are not reading the required articles. Only a handful of you are reading anything on your own. Can't happen, folks! I'm going to have to give you more homework this marking period until I can trust that you are completing the assignments and can ease off the busy work.

Some students refuse to write responses and commentary to the forum. This marking period, we will get a little tougher. Please take this class seriously. You are required to complete the assignments in a timely fashion, with thought, and where needed, a lot of creativity. Fall back on those techniques we taught you. Writing is a process. You get stuck--unstick yourself. Not sure how? Ask.

For those of you who are trying your best, please note that I am aware of this. I thank you for putting your time and energy into learning the craft of playwriting. Hopefully, you are getting something out of the experience. Keep up the good work and effort!

Today's class, please complete the following:

1. Read the article about Commedia Dell'Arte.
Please note that there are three pages to this article.  Read them all, then go to step #2.

2. Take the in-class test (see handout) and turn it in by the end of class for participation credit.

3. When you have completed your test and turned it in, please go back to the brainstorming activities and do them (see post Oct. 7 and Oct. 14). When you have completed these brainstorming activities, you will be asked to use your brainstorming ideas to create a 10-minute script (5-8 pages in play script format). You can find play script format on the link section of this blog. Please review the format carefully.

4. If you haven't done so yet, please complete your forum question concerning Charles Busch. See post, Oct. 13 homework. If you do not finish this in class, it is homework. You are already late if you did not post and your homework will count as only partial credit (original assignment was due Monday by 11:59 p.m.). Please make a habit of completing your homework and keeping on track with assignments.

HOMEWORK: Finish any plays you want to read in the Charles Busch collection. Next class we will be reading other plays for homework. Clear your schedule. Put math and science and social studies and foreign language on hold for a moment and focus on your major, please. Focus on your academics in those academic periods, not during our classes.

Extra credit: Those of you IN or going to 39 Steps can gain extra credit. Here's how:
1. If you are a viewer: review and critique the play. You should know about Aristotle and what he said a play should have to be well written. You should have learned about premise, the major dramatic question, theme, plot, character development, creativity and the Unities.  Comment on the play production. What worked on stage; what surprised you; what did you like and not like--but apply what you know--using the vocabulary of theater to express it. Write your critique on the forum. Get extra credit.
2. If you are in the show: talk about your experience. What was it like getting cast in the show, rehearsing, being directed, putting the play up on stage, wearing the costumes, what was it like back stage, what did you think about your fellow actors, director, stage crew, stage manager, producer, etc. What did you like and dislike about the process of being in a play. What did you have trouble with? What worked or came easy to you? What have you learned about writing plays by acting in this one? Write your reflection on the forum. Get extra credit.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Gathering more ideas

Try one of these exercises:

1. Choose a historical figure and one of the types of comedy. Mash the two things together. Perhaps King Tut is going out on his first date with his sister? or Shakespeare finds himself trapped in an absurdist situation. Pick a historical character, choose a genre and think about the possibilities!

2. Create characters based on old Commedia Dell'Arte or pantomime plays (see below), but update them for today's contemporary audience.

3. Play around with the idea of cross-dressing. Consider the types of comedy. Come up with situations and reasons why a girl dresses like a guy or a guy dresses like a girl.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Comedy & Charles Busch

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.

PLEASE READ: An article 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. Post your response on our forum (see question posted on the forum). 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. Due Monday, Oct. 17 at 11:59.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Today you will be taking the PSAT during our class periods.

HOMEWORK: Please select one of Charles Busch's plays (not Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, as we will complete our reading of this in class.) Be prepared to write a response essay on the forum for the play script you have chosen to complete. 

Friday, October 7, 2011


Plays often start with a conviction, a belief, or some issue that a playwright wants to expose, examine, or discuss. In the plays we have read, such themes as suicide, HIV, dying, racism, self-deprecation, aging, dating, feminism, etc. have been used.

In order to begin your journey into writing plays, take a moment to brainstorm some ideas:

  • If you were going to die tomorrow, and this play includes your last words to the human race, what MUST you say before you go? Make a list of things you HAVE to say to the world.
  • Make a list of common, ordinary settings. Make a list of uncommon or unusual settings.
  • Jot down time periods that interest you. Choose a time period other than our contemporary period.
  • Make a list of secrets that people you don't know have. Assume a good friend told you these secrets. What are the secrets?
  • Make a list of relatively well known stories, poems, books, or films that you hated (or loved) enough to poke fun at.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Baltimore Waltz & David Ives

Today we will complete Baltimore Waltz. Please post a response to the forum about this play by Thursday, Oct. 6 at (11:59).

HOMEWORK: As above; please complete your reading of David Ives' plays and post to the forum as well by Thursday, Oct. 6.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plot Technique & Baltimore Waltz

Most plays begin with an EVENT: a unique and significant moment in a character's life (or characters lives). In plays all scenes should be thought of as "events".

Events can be almost anything: an unusual incident, a special occasion, a sudden visit, or any kind of crisis.

An event that starts off the play is called the inciting incident: the point of attack, the turning point in the life of one or more of your characters. Some playwrights call this moment the "disturbance". Whatever term you choose, you want to start off your story with a strong reason for the events in the play to occur. As the play continues (particularly in plays with more than one scene) more events may occur in a story. The inciting incident is the first one.

A protagonist usually confronts the inciting incident from a position of weaker power or disadvantage. Starting with a protagonist who has all his stuff together, who can easily defeat or solve a problem, makes for a boring play.

The beginning of a play ends when the protagonist(s) make(s) a major decision. This major decision should set him or her or them on a collision course with forces that will oppose and perhaps destroy him/her (aka: antagonist). This should be a decision. A decision to act, a decision that causes the antagonist to confront the protagonist, etc. A major decision makes a protagonist active in the plot.

The inciting incident and the major decision help to create the MAJOR DRAMATIC QUESTION: MDQ. The MDQ is, as stated earlier, the question that keeps an audience interested in the plot of your play. The MDQ is also attached to your overall theme. For example: MDQ: will action (and therefore revenge) be possible for Hamlet?

The middle of a play is fraught with a series of obstacles (rising action). During the middle, you need to pay attention to the 3 C's: conflict, crisis, and complication. These 3 C's will lead to the dark moment of your play (more on that later).

Conflict can be person vs. person (often true in plays), person vs. self (also common), person vs. society (common as well if done correctly), and person vs. nature (God, etc.) (not as great, but some plays do this one perfectly.) The more interesting the conflict the more interesting the play. Crises and complications cause the conflict to be more interesting. The crises is a critical moment--a place in time for the protagonist to act, make a decision--that usually has consequences. Complications are problems (usually unforeseen) that arise to thwart or challenge the protagonist.

As you read the play the Baltimore Waltz please note the event, the inciting incident, the protagonist, major decision, the MDQ, the conflict, crisis, and complications.

Please complete and respond or comment on the play Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel on our forum.

You may wish to comment on the characters, the theme, the plot, the use of the third actor, the staging, or the writing. What major dramatic question is being asked? Is the play satirical or political? What human lesson are we to learn from reading (or seeing) this play? What surprised you, what interested you, what did you learn about playwriting from reading this play? Comments should be thoughtful and well written. Please post by Wednesday, Oct. 5.

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...