Sunday, October 25, 2015

Historical Sketch; Charles Busch; Steve Martin: Picasso At the Lapin Agile

This morning during period one, please complete your historical sketch exercise. You will need this draft for upcoming play projects. Turn in your draft when you finish today. If you don't finish for some reason, please turn in your draft (counted as late) in the next few days.

If you finish earlier than 2nd period, please spend your time working on your essay test (due Wednesday) for Charles Busch and read and take notes about our next playwright. See homework below.

Steve Martin: Picasso At the Lapin Agile

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Pablo Picasso

Today, before 2nd period, please read a little about our next author/playwright.

The contemporary writer, actor, producer, performer, comedian Steve Martin wrote the play Picasso At the Lapin Agile in 1993. His plays The Zig Zag WomanPatter for the Floating Lady, Wasp were to follow. His musical Bright Star opened 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:

You should be familiar with two historical figures used in the play:
Picasso & Einstein (click on their links for info)

READING: 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: Please complete your Charles Busch take-home essay test. It is due next class. Bring your scripts and books back with you to our next class. We will finish reading Picasso At the Lapin Agile then.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom; Charles Busch; Historical Sketch Exercise

This morning we will complete our reading of the play "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom" by Charles Busch. As we read please examine the topic you picked up today in class and be prepared to discuss this topic with the class after the play.

Much humor can be achieved by putting a well-known historical or literary figure on stage. As examples take a look at these samples:
A sketch is a short play or slight dramatic performance. It differs from a play in that there is not necessarily a major theme or point in the sketch. Usually sketches are simply meant to be enjoyed. Deep discussion dealing with the human condition is left to PLAYS.

Sketch Writing: (by Brian Luff)

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

Types of Sketches

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

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

For today's writing exercise, please get together in pairs (or you may work alone) to write a 1-2 page sketch centered around an historical figure.

HOMEWORK: Please continue reading your chosen play from the collection.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dialogue/Comedy/Charles Busch: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom

This morning please print out and turn in your revised drafts of the 2-person play. These were due Wednesday, but we, of course, did not have class. I hope you enjoyed your extension on the project. Please turn in your drafts this morning.

Lab Task(s): please use the next 20 minutes in class to take notes on "tips concerning dialogue", "types of theatrical comedy", "pantomime", "commedia dell'arte", "cross dressing & the theatrical tradition" and "Charles Busch". The subjects/key notes/explanations about each subject can be found below this sentence.


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.
Types of Theatrical Comedy:
There are various types of comedy found in theatre today.
Sentimental Comedy examines the tribulations and trials of common people worrying about common things, but it all works out in the end.

Romantic comedies are plays that revolve around relationships. Usually following the love archetype: boy (or girl) gets girl (or boy), boy (or girl) loses girl (or boy), boy (or girl) gets girl (or boy) in the end.

Farce includes fast-paced action, improbable situations, hyperbolic characters, and lots of entrances and exits to cause confusion and conflict.

Satirical plays (taken from the ancient Greek Satyr play form) poke fun at something in society or about human nature that needs to be examined or changed.

Black comedies poke fun at serious topics. These are often considered in 'bad taste' by sensitive, less cynical audience members. Black or 'dark' comedies usually don't end happily.

Absurdist comedies point out the futility of life, using nonsense and trivia to examine that the meaning of life is...well...meaningless. These plays are often metaphorical or symbolic.
Of course many plays are a combination of these diverse types. Comedy has a long tradition in theater. The spring theater festivals from Greece began the tradition. Later in the Middle Ages, the comedy dell'arte form appeared. Read about the pantomime and commedia dell'arte tradition here today (or see your handout). Complete the graphic organizer for your notes on these articles and turn in when completed.

Cross dressing has been a common occurrence on the stage (the Greek, Roman, and Elizabethan theaters only employed male actors!) 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. The play we're going to read today carries on this tradition.

Read about cross-dressing and theatre here.

Charles Busch & The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom

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.

Around 9:30 we will go to the library to pick up our next play: The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

HOMEWORK: Please choose 1 play by Charles Busch from the collection. Read this play. Be prepared to write a response about this play next class regarding Busch's style of comedy, his influences from pantomime and commedia dell'arte traditions, characterization through dialogue, and cross-dressing.

You may choose any of the following: Psycho Beach Party, The Lady in Question, Red Scare on Sunset, or the Tale of the Allergist's Wife. Please bring your play script books back with you to next class.

Complete any of the above if you did not complete the work in class today.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Baltimore Waltz (Conclusion); Scene in a Sentence: Revising 2 Person Scenes

After completing Baltimore Waltz, please work on your 2 person scene drafts (these are due Wednesday of next week--there will be no lab time, so please print out and turn in before or after class on Wednesday).

The Exercise:
1. Create a "core description" of your scene/play. This should be your premise boiled down to only the fewest words. Describe the main EVENT of your scene in 10 words or less. This core description should cover "what really matters most" in your scene/draft.

2. After you have your "core description" choose any of the following tasks to flesh out your scene. Keep your "core description" nearby or in mind.

  • Prior Event: Focus your scene by writing about something that happened earlier in your story or the backstory of the characters. Add a clause to your core description with the conjunction "BECAUSE..."
  • Character trait: Focus your scene on a character trait. Add the clause to your core description with the conjunction "BECAUSE..."
  • Digging Deeper into Cause/Effect: focus your scene on developing your plot--uncover new reasons for characters' actions. Add a clause to your core description by adding the conjunction "AND..."
  • Something different: Write about a truth or different focus from what you first envisioned this scene to be. Add the conjunction "BUT..." to your core description.
  • Plotting/Future Impact: All stories build upon a chain of events that add drama/conflict. Consider what the future holds for your characters. Add the word "CONSEQUENTLY..." to your core description. You may do this option with one or both of your characters.
Revise your scenes/plays by recreating and revising your EVENT. Add, cut, explore, write.

HOMEWORK: Complete your play scene.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Baltimore Waltz; Theater Vocabulary: The Event

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

LAB: last class you read Driving Miss Daisy and examined Uhry's use of plot elements in the play. Please turn in the analysis worksheet for participation credit. Then use the next 20-25 minutes revising your 2 person scene(s).

Complete and craft these scenes by next week by fixing formatting issues, fleshing out characters, adding appropriate characterization with monologues and dialogue, work on tightening your script, attend to your diction, and otherwise improve your draft (you will have to complete this assignment as homework since we won't be in the lab!)

Period 1 (at 9:30): Please join us next door to begin reading The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel.

A note about suggested sets:

There are two types of sets a playwright can prepare a script for:
A. a realistic set
B. a suggested set

A realistic set (like the set used in 'Night Mother) is a standard, realistic set that looks and feels like the actual setting of the play. It is more detailed and infinitely more expensive. Characters interact with props, costumes, and set pieces. It is not practical to change the setting or location in a realistic set.

A suggested set (like the set used in Baltimore Waltz or Driving Miss Daisy) allows actors to create the setting through actions (like pretending to drive a car--which would be impractical in a theater) or through dialogue. Setting is described, not built. We use our imagination.

The Event

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: Complete your 2 character scene. Complete any missing work thus far. Complete The Baltimore Waltz on your own.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Driving Miss Daisy

This morning, in the comments section, please review Spamalot! What did you think of the production? What did you learn about musicals or writing plays from watching the play?
Please read Alfred Uhry's play Driving Miss Daisy today in groups of 4.

Complete the handout analysis chart and turn in by end of class as participation credit.

If your group finishes early, please return to the lab to continue working on or revising your 2-person scene.

HOMEWORK: None. If you did not finish your 2 person scene or reading/analyzing Driving Miss Daisy, please complete that.

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...