Friday, October 26, 2012

Brainstorming & Charles Busch

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, join a group of 2-3 and take a moment to brainstorm some ideas:

Brainstorming; Doodling or Cave Drawing; Listing:
  • 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.
  • Make a few quick sketches of important moments or scenes.
  • Jot down time periods that interest you. Choose time periods 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. 
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.

HOMEWORK: PLEASE READ (on index card, write a one-sentence summary of each article and 1 important fact or detail you think is essential or interesting):
  • 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.
  • Charles Busch's Introduction (ix-xix) 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Rewriting & Play Length

Please turn in your homework. Keep your "titles" list in your journal.


Please spend some time today rewriting. The post-reading revision can be difficult. You saw your play on-stage, you saw what the actors did (or not do) with your play, you saw your baby exposed for all the world to see.

Some key questions to ask yourself:
1. What were you trying to convey or "do" when writing your play? I.E., what was your PREMISE?
2. Was your premise realized or communicated?
3. What was the major dramatic question in the play, and was it answered satisfactorily by the end?
4. Were your techniques working? Was the dialogue interesting, compelling, dramatic, poetic? Were your characters interesting, compelling? Was the plot interesting, compelling, important? Was the action of the play clear, compelling, appropriate?
5. Was your play worth the time and effort to produce and watch? Did it convey a valuable idea, or did it just rehash old, worn out ideas? Did the play help anyone understand life, society, or the world? Was the end result worth it?
6. Were you proud of your work?

Answering "no" to any of these means you need a rewrite.

Additional tips about rewriting a play can be found in the previous post (see below).

Use the time in lab today to rewrite your play (or plays). Create a second draft. 

Play Structure & Length
Plays come in only a few flavors structurally:
1. The Five-Act Play (popular with Shakespeare and the Elizabethan stage)
2. The Four-Act Play (popular with Chekhov and Russian Modern theater)
3. The Three-Act Play (popular in the early part of the 20th century)
4. The Two-Act Play (popular now; and the preferred length of a full-length play)
5. Full length One Act Play (ex. Freud's Last Session; Night Mother, etc.) There is no intermission, the play is about the length of a film.
6. Short One Act. (Usually 15 minutes to an hour)
7. 10-minute Play (short, short plays anywhere from 3 minutes to 15). You should be familiar with these by now.

HOMEWORK: Please read and watch John Guare's "The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year." Compare the reading to the performance. Would John Guare be pleased with the production? Why or why not?

The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year (part 1)
The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year (part 2)

Monday, October 22, 2012

Last Public Readings & Rewriting

Today, we will conduct our final public readings with the actors. When we are done (either today or next class, Wednesday) we will revise some of our work while the play is still fresh in our minds. To help you out, please read the following advice:

Some advice:
1. You are the writer. Therefore you have complete control over your written script. If you disagree with an actor's ideas or complaints about your script, that's fine. Focus on the material you need or want to change rather than the bickering of non-professionals. Everybody's a critic when it comes to movies and stage plays.
2. Your actor/other writers are your fresh eyes. They may have some good advice about what is not working in the script. You need to be open-minded and trust the revision process. Change those things in your script that you feel will STRENGTHEN your play.
3. Just because something isn't working right now in the script may not be reason enough to change it. A skilled director or actor can find and pull out wonderful things in your script. On the other hand, if the talent isn't there--the talent isn't there. If it didn't work with this cast or director, consider its importance to the scene and consider getting rid of it.
4. Revise grammar and syntax to make lines comfortable and easy for the actor. Not sure what's wrong? Check with a partner, ask a teacher, or do it yourself (you'll ultimately be responsible for your own writing ability after graduating from high school). Here's a website that may help with grammar problems. You can find thousands of these helpful sites on the web, there are grammar books in the library, you have been taught enough grammar in ELA classes over the years. If you don't know something by now, look it up and learn it! You have the power!
5. Plays utilize realistic speech, but lines of dialogue are NOT real speech. Improve the beauty of your lines by being specific, adding imagery (metaphor, simile, personification, sound imagery with alliteration, assonance, consonance, figurative language), and strong active verbs. Review your diction before making people perform your play again. Language is YOUR art, not the actors--they interpret and present the words through body, voice, and movement.
6. Trust your instincts. If you're bored watching your play, rest assured others will be too.
7. Rearrange and combine or cut plot, scenes, characters, lines. Don't be afraid to revise. Save your work (BEFORE) you revise so that if you want to add that scene or character back in the play later, you can. Word processing programs are cool like that.
Use your time in the lab to complete your rewrites.

HOMEWORK: Please read the chapter handout and answer the questions about scenarios. In your JOURNAL or notebook, begin a "titles" page as illustrated in the chapter. You will be able to use this "titles" page for both Contemporary Writers and Playwriting. Questions are due next class.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Working with Actors; Staged Readings

No two productions of a play are the same. No two actors will play the character you wrote the same way. Each actor brings his/her skills to a role. The more skilled the actor, the better the portrayal. While this can remove slight problems with the script, a strong script (the writing) is absolutely essential to the success of a play.

This is not easy.

To help actors, here's a few tips:

1. Be consistent.
2. Always go through the director if you have a comment or problem with the way your play is being acted.
3. If you DO speak to the actors (like we've been doing), keep your comments and suggestions at their level: i.e., speak to an actor about motivation, character, and action. Do not give them line readings, or gush about the play's theme or philosophical underpinnings. An actor's job is to explore. Let them.
4. Always be polite. No one wants to work with a jerk.

During the staged reading or a rehearsal:

1. Listen to where an actor stumbles or struggles with a line. This is your cue to fix awkward phrasing and/or action.
2. Pay attention to when an actor does not say your line correctly or paraphrases your lines. This also needs cutting, correction, or editing.
3. Come to a reading/rehearsal with a pen and your script. Follow along as the play is performed or acted through and listen for changes, mark your script, take notes, etc.
4. Always be polite. No one wants to work with a jerk.

Today, please have a copy of your script with you and a pen/pencil. During the performance, take notes. Save these for your rewrite. Collect scripts and materials from actors if they have them for you.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Blocking & Staging

Please turn in your homework today. In addition, if the play you are working with is NOT the play you wrote originally, please turn in a copy of your original 10-minute play/scene. These plays will be part of your semester portfolio.

By the end of class today, make sure your play is BLOCKED and staged. Insist that the actors run over your scene/play a few times, but take turns to allow all actors/writers to have a chance to rehearse from your group. We will open the main stage theater as well for rehearsal purposes.


Friday, October 12, 2012

Play Development

Today with the acting majors, please complete the following:

1. Complete your reading and discussion/workshop of your play.
2. As co-director, you and an acting major (another co-director) will stage and block your play today.
3. Your group should block each play in your group. Help out where you can. While not blocking (if it's not your play and you are not an understudy) go over your play and plan rewrites or revisions.

HOMEWORK: (or complete during down time in the theater) please read the article on Play Development. Identify ONE thing that you think is important for you to learn from this article about workshopping a play. Write this one thing on paper and hand in next class.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Workshopping a Play

Most college and professional programs that people interested in stage writing take as part of their education involve a chance to workshop an original script. While this is ultimately an impossible task for every work you have written, a staged reading or performance is a necessary step in preparing your script for public viewing.

Please print a copy of your play. I have made copies for your actors.  Today we will be dividing you into groups to work with our actors.

More instructions will be forthcoming during class. Please pay attention to get the most out of this exercise.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Play Script: Draft 2 due!

Your play scripts (2nd draft or 1st draft of a second 10-minute play) are due by the end of class today.

Next week we will begin workshopping our plays with the 11th grade drama majors. More details to follow.

If you finish early today, please work on your reading and writing for Ms. Gamzon. Any missing work needs to be completed and turned in asap.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Book of Liz (conclusion) & Plot Structure

Today we will complete the play The Book of Liz in class. Then move to the lab to continue working on our play drafts.

Play drafts (draft one of a new 10-minute play) (or) (draft two of your original 10-minute play, now a one-act play) should be completed by Friday in the lab.

Consider adding one or more of the following plotting techniques:
Conflict: You know this one: person v. person; person v. self; person v. society/God; person v. nature. Drama means conflict. You've got to have this in each scene or you haven't written a play, but a tableau.
Structural Unity: all parts of the plot (exposition, rising action, turning point, climax, resolution, etc.) should work and fit together. 
Inciting Incident: the point of attack, the inciting incident forces the protagonist into the action of the play's plot. 
Major Dramatic Question (MDQ): the hook that keeps an audience interested in a play; a dramatic question that a reader/viewer wants answered. 
Major decision: A decision a character makes in the plot that creates the turning point for their character. 
The three C's: Conflict, crisis, complication: obstacles characters must face for an interesting and dramatic plot. 
Rising action: your 3 c's create this. Increase tension in a play or scene by increasing the stakes.
The dark moment/crisis: the lowest moment of a character's struggle--when all the world seems lost, the fight unbeatable, the "darkest hour before dawn" -- a stunning reversal of fortune and sense of failure. 
Deus ex machina: a contrived ending. Often one in which the characters did not have a hand in solving. (It is more interesting to see a character deal with their own problems rather than an outside force solving it for them.) literally, a "god from a machine" -- Avoid using this at all costs!
Enlightenment: When the protagonist understands how to defeat the antagonist. A revelation that begins the movement toward a climax)
Climax: the point of highest tension in a play. After the climax, the fates of our characters are determined.
The Event: a uniquely significant moment in the character's life.
The Trap: keeping the characters in the setting. Weather works well for this, as does situation. But a dramatic trap doesn't have to be physical. It can be psychological: for example: guilt traps us a lot, as does addiction, alcoholism, the love of another character, etc.
Time lock: setting up a time limit or specific deadline characters have to meet in order to spur them into action (for example having a script project due...)
Sarcey's Principle of Offstage Action: We are less likely to consider the plausibility of an event if it occurs offstage or before the play begins (part of our exposition). Stage what is believable, talk about everything else.
HOMEWORK: None. If you are far behind in your play script (and would not possibly finish in 2 periods next class, please work on your play(s) for homework. Otherwise, none.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Play Work & The Book of Liz (part one)

Today for the first period, please continue to write your scenes/plays. Now that you have designed your plot, consider using the techniques covered in class in your script (check your reading or the blog posts below if you don't know what these terms mean):

1. The Premise
2. The Major Dramatic Question (MDQ)
3. The inciting incident
4. The major decision
5. Conflict, crisis, complication
6. the rising action
7. The dark moment
8. The enlightenment
9. The climax
10. The catharsis

These 10 items constitute the standard formula for playwriting.

During the 2nd half of our class, we will go next door to read Amy and David Sedaris' The Book of Liz as you are reading please identify these 10 standards of playwriting. See handout.

HOMEWORK: If you are far behind us, please work on your play. Additionally, please read the handout which will conclude our analysis of plot and story structure. It is important for you to learn these key terms and concepts, look for them in others writing, so you can see them in your own writing. We will cover these concepts next class.

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...