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.

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...