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.

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...