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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
IN THE LAB:
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!