Monday, December 15, 2014

The Lion in Winter

Last week you were asked to read the play The Lion in Winter. Let's end the week before break by watching the film adapted from the stage play (1968) starring Katherine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, and a rather young Anthony Hopkins (among others).

We can learn a lot about conflict and effective drama from this play. Each scene and beat are crammed with conflict. The choices of the characters and the decisions they make are very much like a chess game--each a calculated move in order to gain position and power. As you watch this film, consider how equal strength antagonists face off and create the intense drama of this play.

You may also pay attention to film techniques. Notice what the camera is doing, how it creates POV, for example. Notice how lighting and music help to create tone and mood. Notice how the effective portrayal of an actor can make a character on the page come alive.

Information about James Goldman and the film adaptation of The Lion in Winter can be found at the links here.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lapin Agile: Last Day; Play Project

After completing this play, please go next door to the lab to continue working on your projects. If you took my advice, you have written a draft of your play. It may need a few polishes and we might need to chisel and smooth rough edges, but you should have a good model from which to start carving.

What to add to lengthen your script/story:

  • detail--always aim for specifics instead of general words and stuff. 
  • backstory--now that you've written that scene for that character, flesh out that character by giving him or her a backstory. 
  • Use monologues!
  • Use historical data. This may be the time to add a few details about setting and character details through backstory (see above).
  • Remember your last image. The last moment of the play is usually a striking image that lingers in the mind of the reader/audience member.
  • Add philosophy. Now that it's written, what is your play really about? What do you want to tell the future generations and contemporary people about life as YOU see it? Or as the characters see it...
  • Add lovely poetic language. Figurative language. Alliteration. Metaphors. Similes. Smiles. Remember these?
  • Consider what your characters were doing just before they entered the stage. Add a beat (a line or two) about what it was they were doing off-stage, when they come on stage.
  • When nothing's happening:
    • Describe a character's physical circumstances
    • Describe a character's psychological circumstances
    • Describe a character's social circumstances
    • Describe a character's economic circumstances
    • Describe a character's political circumstances
  • Add a new character, but set up the fact this character exists before you drop them in a play. No one likes unannounced guests.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Picasso At the Lapin Agile (day 2); Beats & Dialogue

After reading the play, we'll work in the lab on your upcoming projects.

Just as a full-length play is usually divided into acts, those acts can be divided into scenes, but what are scenes divided into? If you said beats, then you're right!

A beat is a short exchange of dialogue (a mini-scene) about usually one topic. Beats can be divided into three basic types:

  • Physical: the beat involves action and the physical need(s) of a character. This is very typical in film where a character on screen does something physical (without talking usually). 
  • Behavioral: This kind of beat is driven by a character's desire or motivation or goal--usually people talk to convince, persuade, explain, influence, impress, or any other action verb to get something they want. Actors and directors will pick up on this kind of beat as part of their training.
  • Inner-life: the beat centers around a character's thoughts, memories, psychology, and interior monologue. If a character explains his/her motivation or describes his/her backstory, you can bet it's done in this kind of beat.
Write your plays. Revise your plays. Drafts are due Friday.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Picasso At the Lapin Agile

Steve Martin

The contemporary writer, actor, producer, performer, comedian Steve Martin wrote the play Picasso At the Lapin Agile in 1993. His plays The Zig Zag Woman, Patter for the Floating Lady, Wasp were to follow. Recently his musical Bright Star just opened in September in San Diego. He co-wrote many of his comic films, written fiction and novels, wrote his own stand-up comedy routine, and is a regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine.  Check here for an interview with Steve Martin.

Picasso At the Lapin Agile takes two very well known modernists (the scientist/genius Einstein and the artist famous for creating cubism, Pablo Picasso) and drops them in a Parisian bar in Montmartre, the Bohemian-artsy-avant-garde neighborhood of Paris. His historical play reminds us that writing history can be playful, fun, and, to a large extent, completely made-up.

Charleston Stage Advertisement (Picasso At the Lapin Agile sample production)

Some of Steve Martin's films:

The Jerk
The Man With Two Brains
Top 10 Steve Martin performances

As we read the play, notice how the author introduces characters, situations, complications, and how he handles dramatic and comedic situations while presenting a theme and a reason for people to pay to see a play. His use of dialogue is snappy and effective and we can learn a lot about contemporary play writing by reading this play. So let's go to it!

HOMEWORK: Perhaps none if you have already done your work. Your historical plays are due soon. Again, I suggest writing your draft quickly (pretend that the play is due Monday, so write it Sunday night like you probably would do)--so that you have time to revise, edit, polish and craft your work before turning it in for a grade. If we don't finish the play today in class, we'll finish it on Monday. Keep writing!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Amadeus Discussion


Using the index card, please write an open-ended question to discuss about the play.

Today we'll have a discussion on the play Amadeus. As you participate in the assigned groups, please use textual evidence to support your ideas in the play.

Evaluate a peer on their participation in this discussion and turn in the evaluation sheet by the end of class today.

After our discussion, please return to the lab to work on your play script projects. Continue to conduct research and use the handout writing exercises to help you flesh out your idea or develop your theme, character, setting, etc.

HOMEWORK: Continue writing your historical play.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Historical Links

Elizabethan Period
Elizabethan Period & Historical Figures & Events
American Colonialism
Famous African Americans
British/English Historical Figures
Ancient Greek Figures
Historical Asian Figures
Famous Egyptians
Famous Hispanic Leaders/Events
Famous Female Leaders
Famous historical leaders
Chinese Dynasties
Roman Historical Figures
Historical Periods & Important Events
Lesser Known American History
Famous Inventors
Famous Artists

Advice from Paula Vogel (and Mr. Craddock):

Once you have chosen a time period for your setting, consider HOW you will plot your story. How many scenes will you write? How may you combine time and scenes to tell your story? Consider:

Plot: (what happens on stage) off stage is part of the story, not part of the plot
a.     Pick a historical person, or set your play in a historical time period. Your play may deal with a fictional protagonist(s) in an otherwise historical setting. 
b.     Ask: Where would you start a play? Each writer will start a plot somewhere different. Write a short play with that plot in mind. Example:
1.     Hamlet can be told from a variety of plots. Where we start Hamlet suggests a different story as varied as the writer writing the play.
2.     Fortinbras, by Lee Blessing for example, starts his play at the end of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Hamlet could also be a minor character (for example in Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead)
3.     Desdemona by Paula Vogel tells the story of Desdemona in Othello: plot can be told from the perspective of a different character
c.      Four ways of writing plot:
                                               i.     Linear (syllogistic): events happen in chronological order
                                              ii.     Circular: events start at a point in time then flashback and come back to the present by the end of the play.
                                            iii.     Pattern plot: event, event, event, then repeat 1st event, 2nd event, 3rd event, etc. (The General, for example). Your plot will form a specific pattern.
                                            iv.     Genre/archetype: impose one genre or form on another. Combine mystery, romance, western, musical, realist, etc. Include a wedding, funeral, or graduation. Alternate celebrations with tragedy and vice versa. Look at Henry V as an example of this. The play ends with a wedding after a terrible battle. Take the same plot, but include elements of the generic genre or archetype.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Historical Play Project

Please read the following article and take notes on the index card about important advice you learn from the author.

WRITING THE HISTORY PLAY: Why dramatists lie in the pursuit of truth by Charles Deemer
(originally published in Oregon Magazine)

"The recent Hollywood blockbuster "Pearl Harbor," for all the disappointment of its plodding love and buddy stories, generated the usual amount of controversy that arises whenever Hollywood brings history to the screen. In Letters to the Editor and Op-Ed pieces across the country, historians were quick to point out the inaccuracies and historical short-comings of the film. Typically, many of these comments reflected a basic misunderstanding of the task of the historical dramatist, whether writing for film or stage.

I want to defend the task of the historical dramatist by giving you a case history of my most
recent history play, a short reworking of material I first put together for a Bicentennial Play. This
material focuses on a dramatic character in our early history, a forgotten "Founding Father."
Among our most cherished Fourth of July rituals is extraordinary admiration of our Founding Fathers. What brave and brilliant men, rising to the needs of the times against great odds! The names of our first patriots are embedded in the national memory: Thomas Paine and Paul Revere and Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, Samuel and John Adams and George Washington. However, none of these are the man whom John Adams called "the First Patriot." Ask people on the street for this name and you are unlikely to hear it. Today the Boston lawyer who earned the admiration and respect of the generation of our Founding Fathers by leading the cause of liberty in the American colonies, the man who first argued that taxation without representation is tyranny and thereby coined the slogan of a revolution, "no taxation without representation!" -- today this man is forgotten. His name was James Otis.

There are two reasons why Otis has been neglected by history. The first is that he ended up on history's wrong side, the losing one, and history gets written by the winners. Otis never wanted American independence. What he meant by "no taxation without representation!" was that American colonies should have representation in the British Parliament. To his dying day, Otis believed that the British Constitution was the best document ever written and that if England only would have behaved constitutionally, then all colonial troubles would have disappeared. The second reason we have forgotten Otis is that he believed so strongly that change should be made peacefully within the system of government that when colonial action began to move in the direction of street rebellion for independence, he couldn't handle it. Defending the British Constitution against growing dissention led to a nervous breakdown, near madness, and eventually he had to be bound hand-and-foot and forcibly removed from Boston for the protection of himself and others. Otis' mental imbalance led to
other self-destructive acts that would assure his disappearance from all but the back pages of history.

I first became interested in the ordeal of James Otis in the early 1970s while researching material for a Bicentennial play. Originally I was attracted to Otis' sister, Mercy Otis Warren, who is credited with being America's first playwright. But the more I read about the period, the more I saw in the story of James Otis the perfect dramatic question for the times: do we have to rebel against the government, indeed over-throw it, in order to change it in fundamental ways? It's a question that gets repeated every generation. The play that resulted is called "Mercy to the Patriot." Returning to this material 25 years after my full-length Bicentennial Play, I find myself moved once again by Otis' extraordinary personal story, challenged by the questions it raises about politics, and amazed that so few people are familiar with it. I also again faced the conflicts that naturally arise when a playwright brings the craft of dramatic storytelling to the panorama of historical events. I found myself manipulating  certain "facts" of history in order to emphasize what I consider to be the emotional truths of Otis' story.

Facts versus truth: perhaps only a dramatist would conceive of such a struggle. From my point of view, the trouble with a "literal" rendering of the Otis story is that it is inefficient and dramatically unfocused. Drama is about conflict and focus and pacing. Playwrights like to order their story events in ways that build tension and keep focus on the central dramatic issue of the story. History almost never plays out with such order, and therefore dramatists frequently rearrange events and change emphases in order to tell a more compelling story. However, as they do this, conscientious dramatists strive to retain the essence of the emotional truth that lies at the foundation of the historical events and period.

Here is what we know about his story:
-- In 1761, Otis resigned his position as King's Advocate because it would require that he defend the
Writs of Assistance in court (these were powerful search warrants). Instead he led the legal fight
against them, representing the citizens of Boston.
-- Otis became a leader against unpopular new taxes levied against the colonies.
-- Otis' wife Ruth, a High Tory (Otis was a Whig), became embarrassed by her husband's political
activities. Some considered his activity treasonous.
-- Otis met with Governor Bernard of Massachusetts, defending his loyalty to the Crown. He agreed to write a Vindication arguing that citizens should comply with the law and pay taxes, not refuse to pay them as the Virginia Legislature had urged its citizens to do (Samuel Adams had published this decision in the Boston paper).
-- As protest over taxes moved into the streets, sometimes turning violent, Otis became more erratic in his behavior. He broke windows, picked fights in the House of Representatives, and had fits during which he burned his writings.
-- He spent the Revolutionary War in exile.
--Otis burns his life's work.
-- Otis died while watching a thunderstorm, struck down by lightning.

I manipulate these events in several ways in my play. Let me focus on two moments: Otis' burning of his life's work and the poem written after his death. Watching my play, the audience is led to believe that Otis burned all his life's work in one moment just before his death because this is the only time I 
mention it. This is not what happened. I changed the "facts" of history in order to emphasize the
overwhelming emotional content and importance of the act -- destroying a life's work and thereby writing oneself out of history! This was such an extraordinary act that I chose to emphasize it, which meant relating it in a way more dramatically powerful than the erratic, unfocused action of the historical Otis. So I save this event until the end of the play. 

If I had revealed earlier that Otis was periodically destroying his work, then I would have lost the edge of this scene, its powerful and shocking surprise at play's end. I deliberately sacrificed the literal facts for what I believe is a deeper emotional truth, conveying to the audience the emotional meaning of Otis' act. In my play, the short poem about Otis' death is recited by his sister, Mercy. Although I never say she wrote it, the implication is clear. The audience already knows she's a poet. Most will assume she wrote it. Why do I let this historical inaccuracy slip by?

For reasons of focus and emphasis.

Mercy is the narrator of the play, the story is cast as her recollections of her brother and her sense of
tragedy that history has forgotten him -- so it makes perfect dramatic sense that the last moment, the poem, belongs to her as well. In writing drama, what is left out is at least as important as what is written. Drama is about focus and efficiency, so that conflict isn't dissipated by relatively unimportant information. Historians favor informational complexity, while dramatists favor emotional complexity, which is best communicated by simple, not complex, exposition. We want our audiences to feel our material first and understand it second.

Often, the historical dramatist has to create scenes out of insufficient information. Consider Otis' visit with the Governor, in which he agrees to write a Vindication urging citizens to obey the law, an act that is the turning point in his story, the moment when his own vision of the future (colonial representation in Parliament) and the vision of his followers (moving toward independence) begin to move apart. This is a critical scene in the play, a clash between two strong personalities. 

Not all historical drama is written conscientiously, of course. Sometimes a writer has a particular
interpretation of history to pitch, such as Oliver Stone in "JFK." More often a writer will let the
dynamics of a story find their own way: thus Peter Shaffer has three different versions of "Amadeus," the London stage play, the New York stage play, and the movie. Each version becomes less historical but at the same time more powerful because more focused and more dramatically efficient. Shaffer has written about this process in the introduction to the published script.

Occasionally the conflict between dramatists and historians becomes comic. Given such a free environment, I [might take] the risk of telling the story backwards, on a timeline that went 
from the end of their relationship to its beginning. I [might do] this in order to conclude the play with the most dramatic moment. Historical dramatists always will emphasize a good story over a literal treatment of events, and historians always will complain about the results." 

Last class I asked you to complete the basic scene starter and setting exercise. Take this assignment and use it to complete your own history play. What are the rules/expectations?
1. Length is up to you, but it should be at least a 10-minute play (about 7-10 pages in script format)--you may, of course, write more than a 10-minute play script. Overall your play should have a beginning, middle, and compelling end. Say something insightful about what it's like to be a human being!
2. You will write this play at home or during your advisement periods. Not in the lab. Our lab may be open when you have an advisement period. Please ask.
3. A draft of this script is due Dec. 12. I suggest you start working on it today. Write the draft relatively quickly, then use the time between now and Dec. 12 to fine tune, add historical data, and flesh out your characters and plot. Don't get bogged down too much in research!
4. If you're writing a short play (7-10 pages) you should start very close to the end of the historical conflict. Get in there and write. The plays Amadeus and The Lion in Winter will be valuable models for your own work. So to, are the plays Henry V and most of Charles Busch's plays. Use them as models.
5. Your play may be a comedy or parody, if you'd like.
6. While you may start off with some research, it is often better to write about humans and human motivations, rather than worry too much about historical accuracy. Use the advice from the article above as some helpful advice.
7. You may NOT write a contemporary play. I don't want anything written after your parents were born. That means you should not write about the early 21st century or even the 1980's. Challenge yourself by choosing a historical period that intrigues or interests you. Use your knowledge of social studies and history classes as a way to examine parallel ideas--ideas that happened in the past but are still relevant today.
8. Consider a suggested set--like Shakespeare uses--where only props and costumes are used to suggest the time period--this is NOT a film. It is also NOT realistic. It is theater! Your play should use the creative conventions of the stage.
 9. Don't forget that it is DIALOGUE that drives a play and reveals character. Get those characters talking and debating and arguing. They'll do the rest if you have them talk about important subjects. Remember your poetic techniques and literary devices. Imagery, people. Use it. Remember to give your protagonist at least one good monologue (or more). 
10. Have fun. Change the details in history as you need to in order to make the play dramatic and interesting. Challenge yourself by thinking outside the box and be creative!
HOMEWORK: Work on your play projects. You will need to accomplish this task on your own time. Mark off a day or two at home or in the evenings before bedtime to write the play. If you write the draft NOW (this week, for example), you will NOT have to procrastinate. I know most of you complete your work at the very last minute. Set your deadline ahead so that you trick yourself into completing this assignment. 

Please read Amadeus by Peter Shaffer as inspiration and a model of the kind of play we're dealing with here. You might even like the play. It's just that good. There will be a test and discussion on this play on Dec. 3. Feel free to use the graphic organizer notes to help you remember main plots, themes, and characters.

Friday, November 21, 2014

King Henry: Day 3

We will complete Mr. Shakespeare's play Henry V today in class. Please complete and turn in the handout from last class concerning theme.

We will follow this up with a discussion if time permits.

HOMEWORK: Please complete the "basic scene starter" and "Where in the World Are We" for homework. The questions you are completing are part of your pre-writing scene building for your next play. The only rule is to pick a historic time period (something in the past) and an historical character (fictional or real).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Shakespeare: King Henry V: Day 2

Take a minute to consider the theme of war. Write a 1-sentence premise about what you believe about war.
  • Is war ever justified? 
  • Why do people go to war with each other?
  • Are there any benefits to war?, etc.
What other viewpoints can you identify as opposing views of yours? Write these counterpoints down.

Please take 4-5 minutes to share your ideas and positions with a neighbor. How might you write a play about these ideas? Discuss.

Today, as we continue to watch King Henry V, the theme of war should be foremost in your mind. As you watch the film, please examine the theme(s) and motifs in this play (see handout).


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Shakespeare: King Henry V

During period one, please review the advice about your play projects (see post below). Then complete the following activities:

1. Review the notes/advice about playwriting. See the post below! Actually read these notes and consider how to improve your playwriting skills.

2. Take the pre-quiz (true or false) to determine what you think is true. Hand this quiz in before you move on to the research portion of our class today.

3. Using the letter you selected, research information about this topic at the links provided below:

After completing your research, please find members of each of the other 3 groups you did not research and share notes/details about what information you found. Please turn in your notes for participation credit by the end of period 1.

During period 2, please go next door to begin watching William Shakespeare's King Henry V (directed by Kenneth Branagh, 1989).

Please answer the questions either during the film, or after the film (to be collected next class). Please read the questions beforehand and think about them as you watch the film. They are due next class period. If you missed anything you can read the script here: King Henry V.

HOMEWORK: See paragraph above.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Field Trip to MCC

For those of you not going on our field trip, please complete this REQUIRED assignment:

Research a problem in American education and write a scene (at least 3 pages in length) with a definite beginning, middle, and end. The script should be turned in by the end of class today. If you are NOT finished, you should TURN IN what you have written to my sub and complete your scene to turn in next class.

This is a required assignment for those students NOT going on the field trip.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Play Script Advice

Thank you for those of you who turned in your required play scripts. The following is some advice about strengthening your plays:

  • If you are having trouble with PLOTTING: remember that all plays should have: an inciting incident, major decision, various complications, conflicts, and crises, a dark moment, an enlightenment and a climax, followed by a resolution or denouement (conclusion). If you can't point these parts out in your script, you have work to do on plotting! 
  • The development of plays are broken down into Acts, Scenes, and Beats in a script. 
    • Acts are LONG. We're talking at least 20-30 pages of script (and that's pretty short, all told). If you only have one main plot (being deported, coming out as gay, dealing with abuse, etc.), you only have a one-act play--especially if you have written only 10 pages or so. If you only have one act, you do not need to indicate it. Act One in the script is only important if there is an Act Two (or Three or Four or Five).
    • Scenes are shorter than acts, but should:
      • Flow easily into one another through various staging techniques and conventions: lighting, monologue, or by character's lines or the use of props
      • Move the PLOT along
      • Be removed if the action and time of the scene can be combined with other scenes--if we don't need a commercial break, we don't need a scene break. 
      • Limit your scenes to ONLY the essential scenes in a story. Usually, in a one-act or 10 minute play, this is about 1 important scene. In longer plays, there may be 2-3 scenes. The more cinematic you want the action of the play, the more scenes you may have, but be careful--this is a stage play, not a film script!
    • Beats are mini scenes within a scene. They are described as a short exchange of dialogue concerning a single topic. There can be many beats within a scene as characters shift from one topic of conversation to another. Beats should build on each other to create the beginning, middle, and end of a scene.
  • Practical advice: If it's 10-minutes or less, only write 1 scene (with various beats); If it's over 10 pages, you have time and room for two scenes. Each scene should end with a climactic moment and build your story. You need a beginning, middle, and end to every scene or act.
  • To develop character you must know WHO your protagonist is. If you don't know who your main character is or who the audience is interested in following, you don't have a main character!
    • Give your protagonist at least one monologue to develop his/her character.
    • If you don't have any monologues (speeches that are at least 10 sentences in length) you probably need to work on character development. 
    • Give all your characters a reason to enter the scene. Why are they appearing at this moment? If you don't know, you need to figure that out.
    • Remove any unnecessary characters from your list. If they don't speak, remove them. If they have fewer than 10 lines in a 10 minute play, remove them.
    • Characters need to wear their thoughts on their sleeves, so to speak. In other words, they need to talk to each other. Plays use dialogue to develop characters!
    • If it's important enough to mention in a stage direction, you need to have a character SAY it so the audience knows about it. Hair color, costume, things that happened in the past, etc. need to be TALKED ABOUT during the scene. Otherwise, cut.
    • Have characters who are on stage alone talk to someone else on stage. The soliloquy or aside only works for memory plays (like Tennessee Williams' Glass Menagerie) and Shakespeare. Characters who speak to themselves sound like they're crazy! To correct this, bring a character on stage to listen to (and perhaps comment on) the speech.
    • If you have unnamed characters, you probably have undeveloped characters. Who are these people?
  • Stage directions: if you are changing location or having anyone drive anywhere or move from room to room or go from inside to outside within 10 pages of script you should adhere to the unities. Keep characters in the same location. Don't change location unless you absolutely have to.
    • Keep stage directions short, concise, and to the point. If you have more than 1-3 blocked staging descriptions in a 10-minute play, cut, cut, cut.
    • Don't be the director. It is better to have no stage directions than too many. Tell the story through dialogue! Characters can help out by asking questions: "Hey, you seem sad today. What's wrong?" or "Put that gun down, Charley!" work a lot better than a stage direction.
  • For stage plays: read more plays. Watch less TV or film. Much of your content is cliche or sentimental. Try to be as creative and original as possible. People today do not simply throw their children out on the street without a good reason, or when coming out as gay, throw away years of friendship. Be original with your characters: do not copy what you see on tv or on Jerry Springer, for example. People do not act that way in realistic situations. 
  • Decide how realistic you really want your play. If you want a very realistic story, consider writing a film script instead. Plays are representative. They are unusual. They are dramatic--they are not always realistic. There are, of course, exceptions: 'Night Mother for example. But think about what you've been reading: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, The Baltimore Waltz, The Mystery of Irma Vep, The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year, For Colored Girls, Monster, Spic-o-Rama, The Mousetrap, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), Talking With, etc. were NOT staged realistically or, if they were, they took place in the past (such as Wait Until Dark or The Crucible). 
  • Pay attention to grammar. A sentence ends with a period. Look here for how to write effective sentences. Several of you didn't use periods at the end of your sentences, or joined two or three thoughts together into one sentence using commas instead of periods when necessary. 
  • Watch formatting for play scripts: never double-space your work. Use the TAB key and indent 5 tabs to reach 2.5" where you should put your character's name. When using the Word program, change the line spacing options to 1.0 (without adding spaces between paragraphs or hard returns). You have to do this manually, as the default setting is wrong for our purposes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

End of Marking Period; End of Complete Works of W. Shakespeare (abridged); Education & Field Trip

Today we will be completing the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged).

Please turn in your homework. See previous post for details.

Next class we will be leaving on our field trip (at 8:05--please be in the Commons at that time--do NOT be late) to MCC. Once there we will attend a college class, discuss issues in education, and take a tour of the campus. Lunch is provided. Please hand in your permission slip.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Complete Plays of Shakespeare: Abridged; Tudor England

This morning let's begin our examination of theatrical history with the Elizabethans. For a bit of background, please watch and take notes.

England's Kings & Queens (song)
Cos We're The Tudors
Henry VIII, Wives
Mary Tudor Song
The Catholic Report
Queen Elizabeth Dating
William Shakespeare song
Elizabethan Theatre (video)
England Civil War

Likely the most influential writer in all of English literature, and certainly the most important playwright of the English Renaissance, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, England.

Around 1590 he left his family behind and traveled to London to work as an actor and playwright. Public and critical success quickly followed, and Shakespeare eventually became the most popular playwright in England and part owner of the Globe Theater.

His career bridged the reigns of Elizabeth I (ruled 1558-1603) and James I (ruled 1603-1625). Wealthy and renowned, Shakespeare retired to Stratford, and died in 1616 at the age of fifty-two.

Shakespeare's works were collected and printed in various editions in the century following his death, and by the early eighteenth century his reputation as the greatest poet ever to write in English was well established.

A contemporary example of Theater of the Ridiculous is the smash hit The Reduced Shakespeare Company Presents The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). 

As we watch this play, note:

  • Elements of ridiculous theater
  • Premise, Inciting Incident, MDQ, Complications, Conflict, Conflict, etc.

HOMEWORK: Please read two of the following three articles (you may read all three if you'd like) and take Cornell notes on two of the articles. We will discuss and turn in our notes for credit next class:

  1. Daily Life in Elizabethan England
  2. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
  3. Shakespeare's Influence

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Play Project Due!

Your projects are due today!

Before you turn in your plays, please make sure:

  • Your play is written in the proper play script format (see handouts and previous links to double-check!)
    • Refer to today's handout about punctuation and format...
  • Your play draft should have a title and a character list. 

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 or very 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 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. Dialogue is awkward, unnatural, or non-specific. Work is not up to 11th grade level or standards. Grammar mistakes and writing errors make reading difficult.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mystery of Irma Vep; Play Project

This morning, please continue reading The Mystery of Irma Vep.

  • As "theater of the ridiculous" you should identify how the play stands up to its name. Allusions to popular culture (this play, for example, borrows much from a variety of literary sources including Daphne DuMaurier's gothic novel Rebecca--made into a Hitchcock film in 1940), Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, and a variety of pop cultural horror films such as The Mummy, The Wolf Man, and Dracula. Most adult audiences would know these references. 
  • Above all there is a sense of play or make-believe and, well, ridiculous situations. The quick change costumes and fact that only two actors play all the roles in this play make for some farcical situations.
  • Some of the scenes (see the Irma Vep scene in the tomb) were improvised--another characteristic of this kind of play format. We will also screen The Complete Plays of Shakespeare: Unabridged as another example of the Ridiculous Theatre tradition next week.  
Once we're done, please return to the lab and work on your projects. These will be due Monday at the end of class. Please make sure you are ready to edit/revise your work on Monday (i.e., don't plan on finishing the play then--instead use your time in the lab to tweak, edit, and improve your script as opposed to writing it!) That means: finish your play script this weekend!

HOMEWORK: Finish your play script! Complete the reading of the Charles Ludlum article.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Play Project: Deadline Looming!

This morning, please work on your play projects. Use the time in the lab to work toward your climax and ending of your draft. You may find you need to complete this draft in your advisement periods or as homework if you are behind.

Aim to finish writing the play and turn it in Monday, Nov. 3.
  • Give your characters a defining trait. What aspect of their personality shows up the most? How might props and actions help define these characters?
  • Deepening your characterization (your characters' actions, thoughts, and speech) should be driven by strong emotions and the events, people, or situations that cause these strong emotions. If your characters have nothing to fear, get angry about, or get motivated about, consider how you might introduce a strong emotion into the scene. Consider your time lock and trap as stage conventions.
  • Give your characters a backstory. What has your character experienced in the past that sheds new light on his/her behavior now? Go back into your earlier scenes and dig this backstory out! 
The Mystery of Irma Vep

One of the reasons people attend theater, as opposed to staying home watching TV or going to a movie is that through theatrical convention, we are often treated to a live-event that is intimate and "magical" in that what we witness on stage is a heightened exaggeration of life. Theater tends to be REPRESENTATIONAL and symbolic, rather than presentational. That is, the characters, plots, settings, props, etc. of a play REPRESENT reality, they are not reality. The viewer is likely to accept certain "unreal" actions, dialogue, characters, etc. while watching a stage play that he/she would not accept in film or in a novel.

Our case study will be the play The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam. Ludlam created the Ridiculous Theater Company in NY in 1967. Ludlam died of complications from AIDS in the 1980's.

Ludlam is best known for the theatrical movement: The Theatre of the Ridiculous.

""The Theatre of the Ridiculous" made a break with the dominant trends in theatre of naturalistic acting and realistic settings. It employed a very broad acting style, often with surrealistic stage settings and props, frequently making a conscious effort at being shocking or disturbing. "Ridiculous" theatre brought some elements of queer performance to avant-garde theater. Cross-gender casting was common, with players often recruited from non-professional sources, such as drag queens or other "street stars." [We can see this trend continue with the works of Charles Busch].

Plots in these "ridiculous" plays are often parodies or re-workings of pop-culture fiction, including humor and satire to comment on social issues. Improvisation plays a large role in the plays, with the script acting as a blueprint for the action.

HOMEWORK: Complete your Charles Busch play review. Complete the handout to turn in next class!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom

This morning take 5-10 minutes to complete the round-table discussion of the articles on Pantomime, The Cross-Dressing Tradition, and the Commedia Dell'Arte. Turn in your graphic organizer notes for credit.

We will continue to read Vampire Lesbians of Sodom in class today. For students who do not have a part to read out loud, please note how Busch uses dialogue effectively in this play. Consider the points I covered last class. At the end of our reading of the play, please present your findings to the rest of the class. It will be YOUR turn to talk!

With time remaining in class, please retire to the lab to continue working on your play projects. Aim to complete a draft of your play by the end of next week. Actual deadline will be Nov. 3. The marking period ends on Friday, Nov. 7.

HOMEWORK: Please choose 1 other play from The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and Other Plays by Charles Busch and read it by Thursday, Oct. 30. Complete the play critique for this play (see handout).

Go see The Young Playwrights' Contest winners at Geva this weekend: Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 in the Next Stage (Geva Theater). Tickets are free and can be reserved here

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Building Blocks of Dialogue/Charles Busch

Dialogue isn't just talking. Dialogue HAPPENS. It happens when your characters' need to speak. It is also how they listen (or not listen), and the connotation, nuance, color and subtext of what they say, how they say it, and why they say it. Good dialogue is the result of well-defined characters in a well-structured plot. They may be compelled to speak (or not), but they should have a REASON for speaking.

Here are some tips to consider:

1. We usually talk because we want to communicate some need. If we want nothing, we say nothing, usually. We also speak when we want to: threaten, teach, explain, tease, joke, murmur, pontificate, defend ourselves, apologize, seduce, evade, pout, challenge, yell, scold, cry, motivate, convince, etc.

2. Dialogue is action. It is an action taken to satisfy a want or desire. What a character wants or desires moves them to speak and act. This is part of characterization--and the best way to build or develop your character(s).

3. When we don't get what we want (often immediately), humans tend to become shy, aggressive, or hide our agendas in our words. This is often our subtext (the meaning hidden in a line of dialogue; or saying one thing, but meaning another) and is very important to actors. It is often this subtext that a good actor will uncover in a performance.

4. Characters have to hear each other. Characters often do not listen the same way. Characters interpret what is being said, ask questions, ignore speech, get confused, miss a meaning and even read special meaning into something that has no meaning. Listening, therefore, will often help build the conflict and drama in your scene. A response reveals something important about the listener. How a character hears, then, is an important point to consider.

TODAY IN THE LAB: Please continue writing your plays with the dialogue advice in mind during period 1. Before the end of period 1, please read and take notes on the following:

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 about 10-15 minutes to view this material.

In period 2, please pick up our next play: The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

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 pantomimecommedia 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 NightAs You Like It, and even The Merchant of Venice.
  • Read the Charles Busch's Introduction (ix-xix) 
  • Continue to write your play scripts.
  • Bring your Charles Busch collection of plays back with you to our next class!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Play Project: Day 6; Mousetrap Analysis

During period 1: Please continue writing your play projects. Devote your time and energy to your task, as opposed to off-topic conversation and avoidance tactics.
What happens in the middle?

Writers often have a strong start to an idea, but then the middle happens. Luckily you have your scenario. The whole point of a scenario is to help guide your construction of your play. However, sometimes even a plan doesn't work to get you through. In this case, take a moment to read this advice:

1. Most of the time we get stuck when we don't know what our characters want. Give your character a motive (a desire, or goal, etc.) to keep him/her moving forward.
2. Forward march: Move the plot forward by adding conflict and action. Involve your characters in a specific action or direct conflict with another character. This is particularly helpful if you are bored.
3. Put yourself in your protagonist's shoes: go inside a character's head. This is a common error that young writers constantly forget to do. Get your character's perspective. What would you think in a similar situation? What would you see if you were in this scene? What would you notice? What would you say? What would you do?
4. The trick is to trap your characters on stage. Don't let them leave stage when the sh*t starts happening. They want to leave, but keep them trapped in the scene and have them verbally fight it out!
5. Press forward: If you need more time to research details and don't want to stop to look up a fact or information, indicate what you need to look up by BOLDING or CAPITALIZING a note to yourself. You can also insert NOTES using your word processor feature under the insert menu.
6. Skip to the next major plot point or scene. If you know where the story is going, but don't know yet how to get there, write the next scene. Use your scenario as a guide.
7. Go back to brainstorming. Use your journal to try out some new things. If you don't know (or are stuck on):
  • Your characters: write a character sketch, draw a picture of your character, or develop your character's background history
  • Your setting: draw your setting, find a picture of an appropriate setting on the internet, describe your setting using imagery--what sounds, smells, tastes, textures, and sights would one experience in the setting
  • Your plot: list possible challenges or problems that a character might face in a similar situation or setting. Decisions characters make (or don't make) often create conflict. Create a mind map or use a graphic organizer to focus on plot elements.
  • Your theme: create a premise for your story. What do you want to communicate about the human condition? What lesson or experience are you trying to relate?
Period 2: If you're writing fluently this morning, keep going. If you're struggling, change your tactics by examining the following in The Mousetrap:
  • The inciting incident
  • The major decision (define which protagonist you are identifying and what decision he/she made)
  • The major dramatic question (MDQ)
  • The conflict (find an example of each): person vs. person, person vs. nature, person vs. self, person vs. society.
  • Complications (name at least 2 complications in this play)
  • Crises (name at least 1 major problem that sets the characters back)
  • Dark moment (choose a protagonist and explain when he/she comes to a desperate low end)
  • Enlightenment (choose a protagonist and explain when he/she understands how to solve a problem)
  • Climax (when does the climax of the play occur?)
This play uses the stage technique of a TIME LOCK and a TRAP. A time lock is when characters have a time limit or need to accomplish something in a specific limited time.

A trap is when characters are forced to stay on stage or cannot leave the "setting".

Identify how Christie uses the TIME LOCK and TRAP in this play.

HOMEWORK: Complete the analysis above for The Mousetrap. Complete your reading of it, if you have not already done so. Keep writing.

Didn't read the play? Watch it now at this link.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Playwriting Project: Day 5: The Mousetrap

Please use your time in the lab this morning to continue writing your script(s).

At 9:00, please move next door to begin reading The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie.

Please read this article from the Guardian about the play. The Mousetrap opened in 1952 in the West End of London (its theater district) and is still running. It began as a radio play based on a short story: "Three Blind Mice."

Information about the author is here.

HOMEWORK: Complete The Mousetrap by Monday, Oct. 20. Expect a quiz.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Playwriting Project: Day 4

EQ: Getting your writing done can be a difficult task. How do we find inspiration, what is a healthy writing process, and why should we learn to write more fluently and skillfully? What's in it for us?

This morning, please read or watch the following today in class by the end of period 1 and take notes on key points in the articles/video (there may be a quiz):
1.  Getting Writing Done: How to Stop Thinking About It & Get It Done
2. 31 Ways to Find Inspiration for Your Writing
3. Writing May Be The Key to Getting a Job or Promotion

The Writing Process Animation
After viewing/reading this morning, please continue to work on your play project. At this time, you should stick with the scenario you created in the September 30th post assignment! If you have other ideas for other plays, save them. While you may change some details, you are expected to write the play script you completed your scenario assignment for!

Please note: Length of your play will depend on the story you are trying to tell--not on any artificial page length. All plays should use proper U.S. play script format. (See handouts from previous classes!)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Baltimore Waltz: Day 3; Play Project

Paula Vogel on The Baltimore Waltz.
Scenes from the play: The Baltimore Waltz
Various clips for The Baltimore Waltz, including the film noir film: The Third Man (1960)

During period 1 we will continue our reading of The Baltimore Waltz. After completing this script and discussing its essential elements, we will move to the lab to continue writing our script projects.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Play Project; Baltimore Waltz: Day 2

Use the idea you created and researched and your scenario to write your play. Play length will vary from story to story and writer to writer.

Use your scenario (this was what we should have accomplished either in the lab last class or as homework) as a ground plan for your play.

Use the handout on play format as a guide. Your play should be written in standard play format!

During period 2, we will return to our classroom and continue reading The Baltimore Waltz.

HOMEWORK: Keep working on your play project. Work scene by scene to build your play.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Baltimore Waltz; Play Project #1

EQ: Identifying key dramatic terms within a script. Creating and working with a scenario.

Let's continue our reading of The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel.

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. 
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 in your notes.

During period 2: please go to the lab and work on your scenario. Use the idea you created and researched during the last two classes to begin writing a play. Play length will vary from story to story and writer to writer. Today is the last day to waffle about your scenario. If you scrap your plot and subject, decide on the subject and plot you WILL use (even if it's for a short 10 minute play, about 10 pages or less in length.)

HOMEWORK: Keep working on your play project. Work scene by scene to build your play.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Scenario Practice & The Baltimore Waltz

EQ: What is a scenario? How does a playwright create a scenario? How does a playwright use research to help build a scene or play? How do we build our plays to be more dynamic?

LAB: last class you brainstormed some themes or topics for a play your group thinks would be important subject matter for a play. You began to outline your group's idea and shared your idea with the class.

Today, take your idea and conduct some research in the lab. Gather information that you might use to frame or include in a scenario for your play idea.

NOTE: you are working alone on this, although your original idea was from a group effort. The idea is that you conduct your own research as practice and design the play as you deem fit.

A scenario is a playwright's blueprint of his/her story. It includes:

  • The working title
  • A cast list of characters (with names)
  • A basic outline describing your various scenes or acts
  • A description of the setting: time, place, (season/weather)
  • An idea of the major theme(s) the writer will be working with
  • A premise (this play is going to be about...)

If, after your research surrounding your topic, and your scenario writing, if you like your idea, you may begin writing this play as part of your longer play project.

Period 2: Please join us next door to begin reading The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel.

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.

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 in your notes.

HOMEWORK: None. You may begin to write a scene from your research if you'd like.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Night Mother Analysis

EQ: Analyze 'Night Mother. What are some effective ways in which an author presents subject matter that connects with an audience?

After our quiz on 'Night Mother, please get into groups of 4-5 and discuss the following:
  • How is this play a plot driven by its characters? 
  • Do you feel Marsha Norman is successful in creating an interesting or socially relevant play? 
  • Take special note about how with only two characters and a single set, the story unfolds. Examine specific ways in which the playwright keeps us on the edge of our seat.
  • Pay attention to character development and conflict. Who wins this play? Which character is the protagonist? Which the antagonist?

A note about the seriousness of this play's theme:
  • Suicide is a potentially preventable public health problem. It accounts for more than 1% of all deaths in the U.S. each year. In 2001, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • Among young people aged 15 to 24, suicide is the third most common cause of death. Four times as many men die by suicide as women. And 73% of all suicide deaths are white males.
  • Risk factors for thoughts of suicide can vary with age, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnic group. And risk factors often occur in combinations.
  • Over 90% of people who die by suicide have clinical depression or another diagnosable mental disorder. Many times, people who die by suicide have a substance abuse problem. Often they have that problem in combination with other mental disorders.
  • Adverse or traumatic life events in combination with other risk factors, such as clinical depression, may lead to suicide. But suicide and suicidal behavior are never normal responses to stress.

Other risk factors for suicide include:
  • One or more prior suicide attempts
  • Family history of mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Keeping firearms in the home
  • Incarceration
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
Are there warning signs of suicide?
Warning signs that someone may be thinking about or planning to commit suicide include:
  • Always talking or thinking about death
  • Clinical depression -- deep sadness, loss of interest, trouble sleeping and eating -- that gets worse
  • Having a "death wish," tempting fate by taking risks that could lead to death such as driving fast or running red lights
  • Losing interest in things one used to care about
  • Making comments about being hopeless, helpless, or worthless
  • Putting affairs in order, tying up loose ends, changing a will
  • Saying things like "it would be better if I wasn't here" or "I want out"
  • Sudden, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy
  • Talking about suicide or killing one's self
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Be especially concerned if a person is exhibiting any of these warning signs and has attempted suicide in the past. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, between 20% and 50% of people who commit suicide have had a previous attempt.

Having read and thought about these facts/details, how does the playwright use some of this statistical information in her play? Can you find specific examples or lines where she has her characters discuss this information in a more informal way? Is the playwright successful in presenting her audience with a powerful message?

In your small groups, brainstorm some themes or topics for a play your group thinks would be important subject matter for a play. Outline your group's idea. Be prepared to share your idea with the class.
  • Where would the action of the play take place?
  • Would you have a single act, or several? A single scene, or several? Why?
  • What would be the basic PREMISE of your play?
  • What characters would be needed to tell your story? 
  • Would the play end happily or tragically? What are some reasons why this would be your best choice?
Together create an outline (a break down & scene/act summary) of your idea.

HOMEWORK: None. If you're curious about what the ending of 'Night Mother might look like on stage, take a look here. And the film with Sissy Spacek & Anne Bancroft

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Night Mother; Prop Scene

After our chat and going to the library to pick up "'Night Mother" by Marsha Norman, please return to the lab and work on your "prop" scene assignment from last class. Please turn in your draft of your scene at the end of class.

If you finish or need a break, please begin reading 'Night Mother.

HOMEWORK: Please read 'Night Mother. Be prepared to discuss the who, where, and what of this play, and how the characters interact with each other that causes conflict. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Wait Until Dark; Prop Scene

Period 1: Please get into groups of 3-4 and read the first scene of Wait Until Dark. As you read, notice how the setting helps create the mood and how the characters interact with it.

Setting is not just TIME, but LOCATION, weather, season, and, in plays: props. Notice what props are used in the scene and for what purpose. What props do each of the characters have in their possession in this scene?

Period 2: In the lab, write a short scene in play format (for play format please refer to the handout) where an OBJECT (prop) plays an important role in the action of the scene. Use what you've read today as inspiration perhaps. If you can't think of a prop, list objects in the setting until you find one that holds some significance.


  • Choose a WHERE from your settings list
  • Choose 1-3 WHO's (characters) from your character list
  • Choose a WHAT or major event for your scene from your list
  • Choose a prop or object to be a talking point in the scene
  • Write
HOMEWORK: Please remember to arrive in the Commons at the beginning of period 3 with a bagged lunch, and clothing appropriate to our field trip.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

For Colored Girls...Discussion; Wait Until Dark Workshop

Period 1: after our writing exercise, please watch the videos about Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls...Enuf and then we'll hold a Socratic seminar discussing the play. Complete your Socratic seminar sheet and turn in for credit.

Period 2: We will have a workshop on Wait Until Dark. Please welcome Ms. Savastano, a local actress and representative from Geva.

HOMEWORK: None. Go watch some plays during the Rochester Fringe Festival. Bring back your program to get extra credit!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

For Colored Girls...Enuf

EQ: How have monologue plays (monodramas) influenced us?

Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf

Recent film trailer by Tyler Perry

Today we are going to read Ntozake Shange's choreo-poem and masterpiece For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.

Please watch this short interview with the playwright.

We have been reading a series of plays where monologues play an important and powerful role in the storyline of the play. In fact, way, way, way back during the ancient Greek period (about the 5th century BCE), theatre performances began as long "choral" odes--essentially monologues where the chorus sang in what is called a dithyramb.

After a while, the first actor: Thespis (actors are now called thespians) separated himself from the "chorus" and began to play various roles--and dialogue began!

Please take an index card with a specific role. Play that part today.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Spic-o-Rama & For Colored Girls...Enuf

EQ: Why write a one-actor show? What do Mono-dramas (1 person plays) or Monologue Plays offer an audience? How are they similar or different from other plays, other genres of writing (slam poetry, fiction, novels, audio-books, films, etc.)

This morning take a few minutes to watch these videos from the play Spic-O-Rama by John Leguizamo. As you watch the video, consider the script and its characters and themes. After viewing, please gather in groups of 2-3 and take 5-10 minutes to discuss this question:

"One person plays showcase an actor's range and ability while often addressing issues that are sometimes overlooked by mainstream audiences." In regard to Spic-o-Rama, explain:
  • How the play showcases John Leguizamo's talent as an actor and writer 
  • Why he might have chosen the characters he did to portray in the play, and 
  • How he structurally put the play together to create an effective theatrical experience. 
  • How is the play similar or different from performance poetry, films, short stories, novels, or non-fiction essays?
Please use specific examples to support your answers. What have we decided?

After your discussion, please return to your seat to complete another pre-writing exercise.

After writing, we will head down to the library to pick up Ntozake Shange's For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. When we return, please select a character and let's read the play as a class.

HOMEWORK: None. Please get field trip forms completed and turned in by next class!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Characters; African-American Theater Tradition; Monster & Quiz

This morning, please get together in small groups of 3-4 and brainstorm a list of characters. Write these characters, their names, their occupations, and 1-2 physical or personality traits each character has in your notes/journal. 

Example: Sweety Pie, 20-30 year-old beautician. She wears her sleeves rolled up so that we can see her tattoos; there is a comb tucked behind one ear.

Teddy, 60-70 year old businessman (retired). He speaks very loudly and slowly. Always wears a soiled bib.

Kashandra, young woman, student. She smiles a lot and likes to laugh at herself. She only wears purple sweaters.

Try to gather at least 6-10 characters each. Keep this list, as you will use it later in the course.

Giving a voice to the underprivileged, minority, or unnoticed members of our society is one of the excellent things theater can accomplish. Probably more than any other art form, theater has a way of sparking a discussion and, sometimes, debate about important issues easily ignored by more mainstream mass media like film or television. African American actors, directors, and playwrights have held an important place in American Theatre history. Today, let's learn a little more about these talented and important artists.

This morning, let's read about Dael Orlandersmith as a contemporary playwright & actor (and faculty member). Spend a few minutes (up to 28 minutes for the full program) to watch the interview with Dael Orlandersmith. As you watch, consider some of the themes and issues she deals with in her writing.

Then read "A Brief Overview of the History of African American Theatre" and identify at least 3 things you learned from this article. Be prepared to hand these notes in as a "ticket out the door."

Apply what you've learned to the play Monster. Complete the quiz on the play Monster.

HOMEWORK: Please read the play Spic-o-Rama by John Leguizamo. Be prepared to discuss the play Monday, September 15.

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