Monday, December 19, 2011

Hedda Gabler: Background & Samuel Beckett

Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler premiered in 1891 to negative reviews--the critics found Hedda's controversial character to be a vicious monster. Her character is known today as the female "Hamlet" in theater circles and is one of the most dramatic roles in contemporary and modern theater. Hedda is often portrayed as a feminist heroine fighting a rigid, conservative society, although she is also seen as a villain.

As you watch the film today, please complete the handout notes and turn in at the end of class.

HOMEWORK: Begin working on a musical, social drama (like Hedda Gabler), or an absurdist play in the style of Samuel Becket. Watch at least one of Beckett's plays and respond to his work on the forum (see forum for details).

And now for something completely different...

Samuel Beckett: (Beckett will separate the true playwrights from those who just pretend to be talented or intelligent)
Perhaps one of the strangest plays you are likely to see (there are several, actually--see below) 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 or you can view this complete version with actor Michael Gambon (better known as Dumbledore).

Another very strange play is Happy Days by Samuel Beckett. 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.

And another very strange play is the play Play. This one with actor Alan Rickman. Similarities to the two previous plays are obvious, I think.

And finally Beckett's masterpiece: Waiting For Godot in its entirety. Enjoy!

NOTE: When we return from break, we will be workshopping and preparing our plays for the playwrights' festival, the Geva 10-Minute play festival, and working with the junior drama majors. Please choose one of your scripts: the monologue play, either 10-minute play, the adaptation, the one-act play, etc. to workshop.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fiddler Forum, Play Option, & Ibsen

HOMEWORK: Please post a forum comment on the play Fiddler on the Roof. It is due by the end of the day today (11:59 p.m.).

As your final project in playwriting, you will have a variety of options. Here are a few of them:

1. Collaborate with up to two people (2 works best) to create a musical. You may find it helpful to base your musical as an adaptation (remember those adaptation scripts?) of a well known book (examples might include: Harry Potter! or Tale of Two Cities! or The Eyre Affair!, a well known film: Kane! King Kong, the musical!, or Whatever Happened to Rosemary's Baby!, a well known event: Wallstreet, the musical!, or Evron, the musical!, or a even a religion (The Book of Mormon is playing on Broadway right now, but there have been tons of religious musicals: Godspell! Jesus Christ Superstar!, and others.) The possibilities are endless.

2. Write a realistic social play a la Ibsen. More details on this very soon--see below. Use the techniques of naturalism to write a dramatic script.

3. Write an absurdist play (more details will follow next week).


A major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theater director, and poet, Henrik Ibsen is often referred to as "the godfather" of modern drama and is one of the founders of Modernism in theatre. His works are what we call naturalistic.

Naturalism (1865-1900) attempts to go further from realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment affects human behavior. Plots often revolve around social problems, characters are often drawn from lower classes and the poor, perhaps in an attempt to explain their behavior.

In Hedda Gabler Ibsen explores infidelity and betrayal. His use of the "secret" as a conventional plot device is excellent. Hedda remains one of the most interesting dramatic characters of the 19th (and 20th) centuries--a juicy role for an actress!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a Stephen Sondheim musical, with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. It is inspired by the farces of Plautus (251–183 BC), a Roman comedic playwright. The musical is specifically taken from Pseudolus, Miles Gloriosus and Mostellaria, and centers around a Roman slave named Pseudolus as he attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door. The plot displays many classic elements of farce, including puns, the slamming of doors, cases of mistaken identity (frequently involving characters disguising themselves as one another), and satirical comments on social class.

Fiddler on the Roof & A Funny Thing Happened...

Sholom Aleichem was the pseudonym for Yiddish writer Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich. His collection of short stories Tevye the Milkman and Other Tales inspired the musical Fiddler on the Roof. In 1905 he escaped Russia's Pogroms (more history here folks) to settle in New York, but moved to be with his family to Geneva, Switzerland. His family eventually moved to Manhattan in 1914, but Aleichem died the next year in Geneva. His work was influential as a Jewish writer.

Fiddler on the Roof is based on Aleichem's characters and stories and was written by Joseph Stein (book) and Jerry Bock (music). Lyrics were written by Sheldon Harnick. The play takes place in Russia and is about Tevye (a milkman) who is the father of five daughters. He attempts to maintain Jewish traditions during the Russia diaspora.  Since many of you are a little cloudy about history, please look here for information about the Diaspora (full film documentary). And a lecture by Dr. David Neiman on the Diaspora.

The original Broadway production of Fiddler opened in 1964 and surpassed 3,000 performances. Fiddler held the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for almost 10 years until Grease took that title. It remains one of Broadway's Top 20 productions in all history. The production was extraordinarily profitable and highly acclaimed.winning nine Tony Awards, including best Musical, score, book, direction, and choreography. So There's a lot to learn by reading it.

HOMEWORK: Please read Fiddler on the Roof (listen to the music on our next blog entry) and post a response to the forum (remember that thing?) by Friday, Dec. 16.

Friday, December 2, 2011

One Act Play Project

You are working to complete your One Act plays. Your one act play script should be a minimum of 15 pages (and probably no longer than 30). One acts are longer (obviously) than 10-minute plays. You may include more than one scene in a one-act play, but you still want to think about following the unities. The shorter the play, the more this matters (or you can use a suggested set).

Before you hand in your play, please proofread your work (grammar, syntax, and spelling count), check your play script format, and examine your sentence structure. Dialogue should not be long, twisty-turning-labyrinthine sentences that go on and on and on with many conjunctions like and, or, but--also get rid of those stupid non-words like: um, well, so, etc.

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...