Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays!

Have a nice break. If you completed your 10-minute play script draft, please turn it in today. Otherwise, it is due Tuesday, January 7. We will be workshopping these plays the week we return.

Please turn in your graphic organizer/handout for the play you are reading. If you did not complete the reading and analysis of the play, please turn it in January 7th.

Have a happy and safe holiday!

HOMEWORK: None. (Or see above).

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tennessee Williams & Cat On a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:

"Shortly after Menagerie closed, [Tennessee Williams] went to work on a new piece..., producing his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Another Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, followed in 1955. The crux of this latter work concerns the conflicts of a Mississippi family following the diagnosis of its patriarch, Big Daddy's, stomach cancer and the revelation of his darling alcoholic son's homosexuality. Cat premiered in New York under the direction of Elia Kazan, who revised the third act to give the play a more redemptive resolution. In 1958, director Richard Brooks adapted Cat" into a popular film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Judith Anderson, and Burl Ives. "To Williams's dismay, Brooks excised all explicit references to Brick's homosexuality in deference to the studio censors."

The play involves the following characters:
Brick: a former football star and favorite son of Big Daddy, he has some issues.
Maggie "The Cat": Brick's lonely wife.
Big Daddy: Brick's father; recently diagnosed with a "spastic colon" as opposed to the truth.
Big Mama: Big Daddy's wife; the matriarch of the family.
Gooper: Brick's older brother.
Mae: Gooper's pregnant wife and busy body.
Reverend Tooker: A guest and friend of the family.
Doctor Baugh: Big Daddy's physician & friend of the family.
Children: Mae and Gooper's clan of brats.
Please learn the following basic film vocabulary.

Shot: How much subject matter is included within the frame of the screen.
In general, shots are determined on the basis of how much of the human figure is in view. Additionally, a shot is also an unedited strip of film, recording images from the time the camera starts to the time it stops.


1. extreme long shot - taken from a great distance, almost always an exterior shot; shows much of the setting or locale. They serve as spatial frames of reference. Used where locale plays an important role. (Historical, epics, westerns, etc.)

2. long shot (proscenium shot) - About the distance one would be from the theatre stage to the audience. Usually includes complete human form to a distance less extreme than the ELS.

3. Full shot - Fits the whole human form in the frame of the camera.

4. Medium shot - Usually contains a figure from the knees or waist up. It is useful for shooting exposition scenes, for minor movement and for dialogue.
A. Two shot (two people in the shot, usually from waist up)
B. Three shot (three people crowded in the shot)
C. Over the shoulder (focal point is the person the viewer can see, shot over another character's "shoulder" to show POV

5. Close up - Usually a person’s face (or neck and shoulders). Concentrates on a relatively small object. Elevates the importance of small details, often symbolic.

6. Extreme close up - Focuses on a very small item. The item usually fills the frame. Used to elevate importance of small details; again, often symbolic.

7. Deep Focus Shot (wide angle shot) - A long shot with many focal distances. Shot captures objects at close, medium and long ranges simultaneously.

Camera Movement Shots

8. Pan, panning shot: (short for panorama), a revolving horizontal movement of the camera from left to right or vice versa.

9. Tracking shot, trucking shot, dolly shot: A shot taken from a moving vehicle. Originally tracks were laid on the set to permit a smoother movement of the camera.

10. Crane shot: A shot taken from a crane (mechanical arm) which carries the cinematographer and the camera to move in any direction, vertical or horizontal.

For those of you interested, check out these other Williams' films:

Most of Williams' plays (as well as his films) revolve around a central secret: something terrible or haunting or degenerate that a protagonist desperately tries to cover up. Williams' women are often unhappy, the men brutish and insensitive. Oh, where will it lead but to modern American drama!

We can learn a lot about playwriting from Tennessee Williams. A character in pain or conflict lies at the  center of his plays. The use of a "secret" allows appropriate tension and rising conflict until a climactic scene reveals the truth. Learn from this.

HOMEWORK: Deadline #1: Friday: Please complete your draft of your 10-minute play script. Complete the reading handout for your chosen August Wilson or James Baldwin play.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

10-Minute Play Project: Draft Writing

Use the class today to work on (or complete) your 10-minute draft project. For details, please see the post below this one. You may also use the advice in eLearning modules 0, 1, and 3 for help and ideas.

You may also read your chosen play (either Blues for Mister Charlie, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, or Joe Turner's Come and Gone). Remember the graphic organizer is due for your chosen play by the end of the week, as is the draft of your 10-minute play.

We will be watching a Tennessee Williams play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starting on Wednesday.

HOMEWORK: None (or work on your 10-minute play or read)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

George S. Kaufman & the 10 Minute Play

During the first five minutes of class, please complete the following:
1. Glance over the handouts: "The Dramatic Triangle" and "The Roots of Action." You will be reading and working with these two articles, during 2nd period.
2. 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 in particular. We will revisit the Marx Brothers in Film Studies next semester.
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 up to 4 (please do not take any more time than 1st period). Then get ready to write today during 2nd period.

Writing the 10-Minute Play Project

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 five characters. Often two or three at most.
  • The beginning of the play starts at a very early POINT OF ATTACK (inciting incident).
  • 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. Use the graphic organizers, if you need them, and read the handouts "The Dramatic Triangle" & "The Roots of Action" given to you this morning on plot and use the "Exercises" to help you create a play. You may work alone or with a single partner for this project.

Then write. 42 minutes of just you brainstorming, drafting, writing. Try to avoid unnecessary fooling around or talking (that's what 1st period was about).

HOMEWORK: Use the character exercises we completed last class and the articles "The Roots of Action" and "The Dramatic Triangle" to continue working on your plays. Bring your ideas/work and script with you next class. Begin reading either Ma Rainey's Black Bottom or Blues for Mr. Charlie.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Major Barbara Quiz; Sketch project Due!

After our quiz on Major Barbara, please move to the lab to complete your sketch writing assignment. This project draft is due today by the end of class.

A clip from the 1941 movie: Major Barbara
And another clip from Act II.

If you finish early, please begin to brainstorm an idea for a 10-minute play. Your play should be contemporary in style.

To start, create two characters and complete the character development handout to flesh out these two characters. After you flesh out your characters, please turn in your character sketches as participation credit.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Importance of the Importance of Being Earnest

From: Fiona Gregory's article for Insight Publications:

"The period in which The Importance of Being Earnest appeared, the late nineteenth century, is sometimes referred to as the fin de siècle: a French term that literally means ‘end of the century’. The fin de siècle was characterized by a loss of confidence and a sense of impending doom, prompted by factors such as threats to British imperialism, economic competition from abroad, political turmoil at home and social upheaval as conventions of class and gender were challenged.

We can see these preoccupations reflected in The Importance of Being Earnest. In the ‘tea scene’ in Act Two, Cecily taunts Gwendolyn with the spectre of ‘agricultural depression’, noting: ‘I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much from it just at present’.

When Gwendolen learns of Jack and Algernon’s plans to be re-christened she praises their bravery
by exclaiming, ‘How absurd to talk of the equality of the sexes!'"

This is not to be taken seriously--it is Oscar Wilde's satirical stab at conservative thinking. He is being ironic.

"Individuals in nineteenth-century England were organized into social classes. Class was defined by occupation, family connections and access to wealth. Individuals generally remained within the class they were born into. At the top of the scale were the upper class, consisting of the aristocracy, the landed gentry and a select number of wealthy professionals and manufacturers. At the pinnacle of the upper class were the members of ‘Society’, a social enclave (district) centered around the royal court.
The middle class was represented by professionals (including doctors, lawyers and bankers), manufacturers, artists and retailers. The working classes consisted of domestic servants, tradespeople, retail workers and labourers. The poor and destitute existed outside this framework but remained visible and a significant source of anxiety.

Several classes are represented in The Importance of Being Earnest. Lane, Merriman and the footman
belong to the working class; Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble are part of the genteel middle class; and Jack, Algernon, Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell and Cecily are members of the upper class.

Wilde’s play can be read as a satire of the class system, particularly of the upper-class elite who formed ‘Society’. Society was structured around social rituals, and governed by the strict rules of etiquette. The most significant rituals were those surrounding birth, coming-of-age, marriage and death: all of which are depicted or mentioned in the play."

What are YOUR opinions about class in our own 21st century culture? Is economic class still an issue? What might be a solution to this "problem"? As a playwright, how might you represent this issue on stage?

HOMEWORK: Please hand in your short sketch based on one of Oscar Wilde's quotes (see previous post for details) today. Please complete your reading of Major Barbara). Expect a reading comprehension quiz on the play. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How to Write a Sketch; George Bernard Shaw; & Oscar Wilde

A sketch is a short play or slight dramatic performance. It differs from a play in that there is not necessarily a major theme or point in the sketch. Usually sketches are simply meant to be enjoyed. Deep discussion dealing with the human condition is left to PLAYS.

Sketch Writing: (by Brian Luff)

1) Choose a setting. Avoid common set-ups like doctor's surgeries or "Man Goes Into a Shop". Think original. Only set the sketch in one location.
2) Don't make the sketch too long. Two minutes is a good length to start with. [In scripts, a page is usually equal to one minute].
3) If you're trying to sell your material to TV, don't put in anything too expensive like a helicopter. Most TV shows are on a tight budget. [This goes double for theaters]
4) Three characters is more than enough for a 2 minute sketch. Don't write for a cast of thousands. [Limit your sketch to 2-5 characters]
5) Work out loud. Say the lines as you write them. You need to hear what the material sounds like.
6) Think about what is happening visually as well as the words. Describe the physical action in detail. What are the characters wearing? What do they look like. What are their names? (Don't just call your characters FIRST MAN, SECOND MAN. It will help to bring them to life in your mind [if you give them names]).

Types of Sketches

To help you get going, here's a few tried and tested comedy formats for sketches.

1) Escalation: Funny idea starts small and gets bigger and bigger, ending in chaos of ridiculous proportions.
2) Lists: Sketches in which the bulk of the dialogue is a long list of funny items. The best example of this is "Cheese Shop" in Monty Python. (You can find all the Python sketches at
3) Mad Man, Sane Man: This format speaks for itself, but don't go for obvious settings.
4) Dangerous Situations: For example, sketch set on flight deck of aircraft.
5) Funny Words: Sketches which use the sound of language itself to be funny. For example, use of the words "blobby" or "wobble" (See, Mr. Bean).
6) Old and New: Getting a laugh from putting something modern in an historical setting (Or, vice versa) Example: Sir Walter Raleigh using a cigarette lighter.
7) Big and Small. Getting humour from large differences in scale. For example, a mouse trying to make love to an elephant.

HOMEWORK: Please begin writing your sketch based on one of Oscar Wilde's quotes (see previous post for details)--due next class (we will have some time in the lab). Please complete your reading of Shaw's bio; Please keep reading Major Barbara)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oscar Wilde

After our quiz on Miss Julie, please check out Major Barbara from the library. Then, please join us in room 238 to view the production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Ernest.

Oscar Wilde was one of Victorian England's most scandalous artists. He was born in 1854 in Ireland,  and died in 1900, Paris, France. He was a poet, dramatist, novelist, and wit whose reputation rests on his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), and his comic masterpieces Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).

He was a spokesman for the late 19th-century Aesthetic movement in England, which advocated art for art's sake, and he was the object of a scandalous civil and criminal suit involving homosexuality, ending in his imprisonment (1895–97).

Peruse the brief bio of Oscar for more details at the Official Oscar Wilde page.

You may also find this short biographical film helpful. Please watch.

Oscar Wilde is often quoted and noted for his epigrams (short pithy sayings). WRITING ASSIGNMENT (HOMEWORK): select one of these epigrams and use the quote to inspire a 1-3 page sketch. Usually sketches are comic, but you are more than welcome to write a serious sketch. Your sketch should have a definite beginning, middle, and end, but may be use parody, hyperbole, or other literary techniques. This assignment is due Friday (Dec. 6).
"No man is rich enough to buy back his past."

"Men become old, but they never become good." -- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"A man who moralizes is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralizes is invariably plain." -- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"Nowadays all the married men live like bachelors and all the bachelors live like married men." -- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

"One should never trust a woman who tells one her real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one anything."-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones."-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"Men know life too early. Women know life too late. That is the difference between men and women."-- “A Woman of No Importance”

"Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood." -- “The Sphinx Without a Secret”

"It takes a thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing."-- “Lady Windermere's Fan”

"Women give to men the very gold of their lives. But they invariably want it back in such very small change." -- “The Picture of Dorian Gray”
 Monty Python Sketch
Kids in the Hall Sketch
Alias Smith and Jones Sketch

HOMEWORK: Write a sketch of 1-3 pages in length using one of Oscar Wilde's epigrams. Please begin reading George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara. Aim to complete this play by next week (Dec. 10). More information about the play will be given to you 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...