Thursday, December 22, 2016

Twelfth Night: Conclusion; Play Projects (One Acts)

After our quiz on Act III, we will read Acts IV & V in class today and conclude our comedy.

Remember that comedies often include:
  • Weddings (romantic pairings--sometimes with mismatched lovers...) This tradition is as old as Old Comedy--Ancient Greek comedy came out of phallic songs--songs about the penis and progenitive powers of procreation (say that 10 times fast...); Weddings usually end a comedy.
  • Mistaken Identity (Sebastian is taken for Viola, Viola is taken for Sebastian. Shakespeare often used the trope of "twins" in his comedies to create mistaken identity situations to enhance his comedy. This is closely related to the item below: cross-dressing/disguises.
  • Cross-dressing/disguises: Boys dressing as girls and girls dressing as boys. Of course, Shakespearean actors were all men (it was illegal for women to be actors...) so this a common and practical play device in Greek and Elizabethan theater. Of course, the tradition continues today in the works of Charles Busch and other comedic writers. In Twelfth Night Feste dresses up as the curate (priest) Sir Topas to fool Malvolio, Malvolio dresses oddly in crossed-garters, Viola dresses up as Cesario. 
  • Farce: physical humor can be found throughout most comedies--and Twelfth Night is no exception. The drunken revelry of Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste in the first act includes a lot of physical humor, the sword play between Sir Andrew and Viola in Act III is another example of humor, and, of course, the hiding scene as Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, and Fabian trick Malvolio with the fake letter are all good examples of farce. Quick entrances, exits, close calls, and physical violence done in a hyperbolic way are all elements of farce.
What to do with all this info? Try adding some of these classic elements of comedies in your own play scripts. Try to add some farce, disguises, or a wedding/partnering between two unlikely characters in your own scripts. 

Keep writing your play scripts over break! (See HOMEWORK below).


According to David Ives when interviewed by the magazine "The Dramatist", one-act plays offer a writer a "greater challenge...greater than the challenge of larger...plays, in the same way that the sonnet with only fourteen lines remains the ever-attempted Everest of poetry. For what the one-act demands is a kind of concentrated perfection." He goes on to say that unlike longer plays which have time and space to develop plots and characters, the scenes in a one-act must be more constrained--the plot needs to be tighter, the characterization more apparent and specific, and the theme/message (Aristotle's category of IDEA) needs to be clear, but not too obvious to bore us, and stretched enough to be longer than the 10-minute play). 

The key, says David Ives, is compression. One-acts are often stripped-down but powerful. As you read the 3 short one-acts, note how the authors Strindberg, Wilde, and Chekhov masterfully tell a story that is not too long, but not too short. Note how the writers compress action, time, and place (the 3 unities) to cover just enough. If these plays went on to a second or third or fourth act, they would be tedious--their content would not be interesting and there would be too much extra, non-dramatic or effective action in the play. 

If you are working on your own one-act, remember that these plays require all the elements of longer plays, but must be more compressed and "tight" in the writing. 

HOMEWORK: Please read August Strindberg's Miss Julie, Oscar Wilde's Salome, and Anton Chekhov's The Boor over the break. Examine the scripts for the major action occurring in the play and how the authors attempt to compress and tighten their stories. For each play, answer how the one-act centers around one major action (or EVENT). Identify and explain that event in writing. To help you, consider the Major Dramatic Question you have as an attentive reader. (i.e., what do you want to know about the characters or the situation by the end of the play?) This homework assignment is due Thursday, Jan. 5. 

Also, please make sure you spend some time writing your play projects. Don't drop the ball on this project. It is due Jan. 20. We will be workshopping your script drafts when we return from break. 

Have a nice holiday!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Twelfth Night: Day 2

Period 1:

Please spend until 8:00 working on your play projects. We will then move to the classroom to take a quiz on Act 1 of Twelfth Night and begin reading Act II. After the quiz, please turn in your homework (see previous post for details!) You may use your homework on the quiz if you did it.

Written around 1601, Twelfth Night is based on the short story "Of Apolonius and Silla", which in turn was based on another story. It is named after the Twelfth Night holiday of the Christmas season.

Twelfth Night marks the end of a winter festival. The Lord of Misrule (sort of the mascot for this the Easter Bunny or Santa) symbolizes the world turning upside down. On this day the King and all those who were of high stature would become the peasants and vice versa. At the beginning of the twelfth night festival a cake containing a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would run the feast--be "king for a day." Midnight signaled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed. This Lord of Misrule tradition can be traced back to pagan festivals, such as the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia.

The Winter Solstice (December 21st--that's tomorrow, folks!) historically marked the first day of many winter festivals. The 12 nights following and including the solstice represent the 12 zodiac signs of the year - and the 12th Night (New Years Day) is a culmination and celebration of the winter festivals. Thus, Shakespeare's title refers to New Years Day.

Food and drink are the center of this celebration. A special alcoholic punch called wassail is consumed especially on Twelfth Night, but throughout Christmas time, especially in the UK. Around the world, special pastries, such as the tortell and king cake are baked on Twelfth Night, and eaten the  following day for the Feast of the Epiphany celebrations.

What's the connection? Look for reversals (of fortune, as well as gender), drunken revelry (particularly Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek), and a general misrule or mayhem that occurs. Party on!

Shakespeare's Twelfth Night is one of his most loved comedies. Many of his comedies rely on the mistaken identity shtick, as well as the cross-dressing shtick. These theatrical conventions are taken from the Roman comedies and commedia traditions (remember commedia dell'arte?) Other shtick's or stereotypical characters include the pining lover, the wise fool, and the foolish master. In any case, there's mishaps, misrule, and bawdy drunkenness in this playful play. Enjoy!

Period 2: Classroom.

After our quiz, please read Act II-IV together. See below.

HOMEWORK: Please read through Act IV for Thursday. As you read, take note of the following:

ACT II: How does the action in act II become complicated? What complications exist to the plot?
ACT III: Identify one of the characters and explain this character's 'dark moment' (in what scene and line # does this occur?); identify the turning point for this act. How does this turning point change the plot or status of characters? Explain.
ACT IV: What enlightenment or anagnorisis happens in this act? (identify the scene and line # in which it occurs). 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Play Projects; Titus (conclusion); Twelfth Night (Act One)

1st Period: Lab.

Please continue working on your play projects.

At 8:00, please go to the library to pick up Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

2nd Period (after library): Please complete our viewing of Titus. We are watching the 5th act.

The structure of a Shakespearean play (most 5 act plays) is:

ACT ONE: Exposition, Inciting incident, Major Dramatic Question is introduced, sometimes the protagonist has made a Major Decision. Often a complication occurs to disrupt the status quo.
ACT TWO: Rising Action, Complication(s), Establishment/development of the Major Conflict, sometimes the protagonist has made a Major Decision. Introduction to sub plot (minor plot).
ACT THREE: Crisis or Turning Point, Dark Moment, Major Decision.
ACT FOUR: Enlightenment, development or Resolution of minor plots.
ACT FIVE: Final climax, Resolution of minor and major plots, falling action. Major Dramatic Question is answered.

As we read Twelfth Night in class (and as you read Twelfth Night at home), keep track of these events. Find the page # and line #'s that can support your findings.

HOMEWORK: Please read ACT ONE of Twelfth Night. Find examples (lines from the text) that support the EXPOSITION (who's who, setting/location, situation--events that happened in the past before the play begins, etc.), INCITING INCIDENT, and consider what the audience might want to know by the end of ACT ONE in the way of a MDQ (Major Dramatic Question). 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Titus Andronicus: Day 2

Please continue to view Julie Taymor's Titus.

HOMEWORK: Continue working on your play projects. Completed project drafts are due in January.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dr. Faustus: Act 5; Titus Andronicus: Day 1

Dr. Faustus (Act 5, scenes 2 & 3). Let's read the rest of this play. After our reading, please take a moment to consider the following information:

Titus Andronicus is believed to be Shakespeare's first tragedy. He may have co-authored it with George Peele (although we can't be certain) between 1588 and 1593. Popular in his day, the play is thought to be needlessly violent and the most bloody of all his revenge plays.

The play is set at the end of the Roman Empire and tells the fictional story of a Roman general, Titus, who runs afoul of Tamora, Queen of the Goths. As you watch the play/film (see below) please take notes on the following for your notebook.

Major Characters:
  • Titus Andronicus – A renowned Roman general
  • Tamora – Queen of the Goths; afterwards Empress of Rome
  • Aaron– a Moor; involved in a sexual relationship with Tamora
  • Lucius – Titus's eldest son
  • Lavinia – Titus's daughter
  • Marcus Andronicus – Titus's brother
  • Demetrius – Tamora's son
  • Chiron – Tamora's other son; allusion to the centaur Chiron
  • Saturninus – Son of the late Roman Emperor; afterwards declared Emperor
  • Bassianus – Saturninus's brother; in love with Lavinia
Minor Characters:
  • Quintus – Titus's son
  • Martius – Titus's son
  • Mutius – Titus's son
  • Young Lucius – Lucius's son 
  • Publius – Marcus's son 
  • Nurse
  • Clown
  • Sempronius – Titus's kinsman
  • Caius – Titus's kinsman
  • Valentine – Titus's kinsman 
  • Alarbus – Tamora's son (non-speaking role)
  • Revenge
  • Human Kindness & Pity (and its limitations) (Cruelty, as its opposite as well)
  • Limbs (usually being hacked off--"parts" of the body just as children are "part" of the parent's body, and citizens are part of the body politic...)
  • Animals (particularly fierce bestial a wilderness of tigers, but also birds of prey, and their victims.)
  • Astrology (reference to Fate and the stars)

Ovid's Metamorphoses (the story of Philomela, in particular)
Seneca's play Thyestes (the myth of the House of Atreus--The Orestia)

Information about Julie Taymor (director; also directed The Lion King on Broadway, Across the UniverseSpiderman the Musical (on Broadway) and Fridaand the cast of Titus (1999)

While we're not exactly ready to discuss the finer elements of film, Julie Taymor's film is an effective visual work.

Notice what the camera is doing while watching the film. The camera provides POV in a film and conveys meaning, both literally and symbolically. As you watch look out for examples of:

  • Motifs
  • Frequency
  • Synechdoche

Listen to how TONE is created by the use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound elements. As you watch, also keep in mind the key themes and development of plot and characters Shakespeare uses in this play.

HOMEWORK: None. Keep writing your play projects!

Feel free to: 1. Pick a myth or Shakespearean story and update it (that's what Shakespeare did with Titus Andronicus--a retelling of the house of Atreus myth--like Agamemnon), or write your own version of 1). someone "selling" their soul (or selling out) in order to get ahead or gain power, etc., or 2). a revenge play. It works like this: a character slights or causes tragedy to another person's family or fortune. A close friend or family member of the victim exacts revenge. Usually, there is a confidante character--a character who the avenger can tell his/her plans to. Then the avenger finds ways to get back at the offending character.  

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Doctor Faustus: Day 2

Lab: (until 8:00)

Continue to work on your play projects.

Classroom: We will watch Act III of Dr. Faustus performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company's production. This is the contemporary Globe Theater in London. Note that the crowd is standing where the "groundlings" would have been. Information about the modern Globe Theater can be found here.

After viewing Act III, we will pick up our reading with Acts IV & V to complete this tragedy. As we read, consider Marlowe's use of music, spectacle, language, idea, character, and plot (or lack thereof).

HOMEWORK: Complete Dr. Faustus (if we don't finish it during class); Read Titus Andronicus--Shakespeare's bloodiest and most violent play.

Extra Credit Opportunity: Read the one-act play "The Devil and Daniel Webster" by Stephen Vincent Benet, adapted by the author from his short story. Compare Dr. Faustus with "The Devil...Daniel Webster"--how is the depiction of the devil similar/different? How is the plot similar/different? In a paragraph or two response, please examine and answer this question using textual support to back up your answers. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Play Project; Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Please turn in your homework (see previous post for details). Please turn in your Hamilton scripts as well. Before you do, you should know the major characters, plot, and author of this musical. Take some notes, then turn in your script. You will be tested on the plays we have read in this course. We're over 15 at this point. More to come.

LAB: 1

Please continue working on your play projects. Before the end of period 1, please read the packet/handout on Christopher Marlowe and Doctor Faustus. A good idea would be to annotate these articles and keep notes during our reading about key concepts and script craft.

Go to the library and pick up the play Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. We'll take a quick Shakespeare survey too.

Unsure of how my colleagues cover Shakespeare each year (and whether or not you come from a tradition that includes the study of Shakespeare) it's my duty to give you a little info.

Theater as we know it as being performed in a typical PLAYHOUSE (or theater) didn't occur until 1576. It was James Burbage who built the first playhouse in the Elizabethan period called, wait for it..., "the Theater"--a permanent building dedicated to showing plays for commercial interest.

Before then, plays were generally performed in courtyards and inns or guild houses. Private showings for the nobles or upper classes would be commissioned in indoor theaters.

Actors joined an acting company. Shakespeare, for example, first belonged to the Chamberlain's Men, then to the King's Men (after Elizabeth's death). Only men were allowed to act in the Elizabethan theater--a hold over from Ancient Greek and Roman theater traditions. Younger actors (boys) often played the female roles because they would have looked more like women (i.e., no beard). This helps to explain why so many of Shakespeare's plays include cross-dressing. New actors were often given smaller roles so as to train with the experienced actors--who often played the major roles.

Plays were written (often in collaboration) by the actors in the company (who also doubled as the house manager, director, props master, producer, etc.) This helps to explain why some characters in Shakespeare's plays disappear mid play or return as new characters in the 4th or 5th acts. It's hard to be on stage while also taking money at the door.

Lines for a play were written on sides and distributed to the company members. It would be rare for an actor to have a complete script (the writer would, of course) but printing costs money, so copies were kept to a minimum. This helps explain why there are A sides and B sides to Shakespeare's works. Some lines or sides were changed by the actors or the writer during the performances. Famous actors might even change the author's lines by slipping in a bit of well-rehearsed and well-known comedic business for the audience's benefit. Having one's works collected in a book or quarto would have been rare. Scripts that got out of the hands of a company could be stolen by other theater companies, so copies were not passed around. The King's Men must have thought highly about Shakespeare to have his works printed and bound! Luckily they did--or we could not frustrate future high school students by reading these works!

More information about all of this can be found here. and here.

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Things to note in Act 1:

  • The first act of any Elizabethan play introduces us to the main protagonist and provides the inciting incident (the first action that begins our plot and involves the protagonist in the plot). In this case: Dr. Faustus, bored with all the earthly knowledge he possesses, tries out unearthy knowledge.
  • The Faust legend was published in a chapbook in 1587. Marlowe undoubtedly would have read this for his inspiration. Heresy, demons, and supernatural subject matter was a public favorite in Elizabethan popular culture.
  • Note the theme of master and servant throughout this play. We are introduced to Dr. Faustus' servant Wagner in the first act. Wagner typically takes the role of the "chorus", and early convention of Elizabethan drama.
  • Mephistopheles (named in the original Faust chapbook) undoubtedly was taken by Marlowe to represent part of the chain of command in Lucifer's dark army. It is important to note that Mephistopheles is only following Faustus' orders (as any good servant should only obey his master) but that Mephistopheles is not a free servant, he belongs to Lucifer (who rents him out to Faustus in exchange for Faustus' soul). The fact that he appears first as a hideous demon reverts back to the Medieval morality plays where devils and demons were comical characters. The form he takes in the play (a Benedictine monk) is a satirical joke and would have had Marlowe's audience in stitches.
In Act II, please note the following:

  • As there is the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Ghost), there is the infernal trinity: Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Belzebub. These parallel ideas are common in literature.
  • The pageant recalls earlier Middle Age mystery plays and would have been well known to the audience, but seen as antiquated.
HOMEWORK: Please complete Act II if we do not do so in class. We will pick up the play with Act III on Thursday. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Play Project; Hamilton, An American Musical

This morning, please read these short articles (particularly if you are stuck for ideas!)

Jake Jeppson's Advice for Playwrights (how to get started!)
What actors want: Actors Imagine their Dream Roles (then ask your drama friends what kinds of roles they would love to play on stage...)
Time Management for Playwrights by Martin Zimmerman

Use your time in the lab to work on your play script projects.

2nd Period: Hamilton, an American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Review: All About the Hamiltons (New Yorker)
Review: "Why the show isn't as revolutionary as it seems"

As we read/listen to Hamilton, look for some of these Greek Tragedy elements in the libretto:
  • A story based on history or historical legends
  • Hubris (a tragic flaw or Hamartia of a character who feels he/she is too great, powerful, or perfect to make a mistake...this is usually taking the gods or fate for granted, or ignoring the natural reality of life, etc.)
  • A good (or powerful) character comes to a bad end
  • A peripety (turning point or change of fortune)
  • An anagnorisis (a discovery)
  • A chorus representing the populus (the people)
  • Aristotle's 6 elements of a play: Character, Plot, Idea, Language, Music, Spectacle
  • Stasimon (choral singing together)
  • Stichymythia (alternating short lines of dialogue between 2 or more characters)
  • Parados/exodus
  • Deus Ex Machina (a contrived ending)
HOMEWORK: Please complete Hamilton and a paragraph analysis identifying the bulleted points. Due Tuesday. Please return scripts to the library or to me (if they were photocopies). Instead of hoarding the script we read, please take notes about the author, basic plot, setting, themes, characters, and conflicts in the play.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gathering Themes & Subjects; Agamemnon (Conclusion)

This morning please work on your play project.

Let's start with that list of premises. Answer this question: What do you want to write about?

  • Historical/legendary figures
  • Social problems
  • Contemporary issues
  • Absurdity
  • Romance and good times
  • Family issues
  • Sex and gender issues
  • Health issues (death & dying, etc.)
  • Psychological issues
  • Religious or philosophical issues
  • Other* (continue this list--your options are only limited to your imagination!)
Many of these things can be combined in a longer play. In a short 10-minute play it is usually best to stick with one premise.

Before you write your play, you should draft ideas about characters/settings and major plot events: conflicts, complications, crisis, turning points (peripety), anagnorisis, dark moments, enlightenments, climax, resolutions, etc.

Start fleshing out ideas based on SETTING: where does the play take place (time period, location, weather/season, time of day, etc.); will you need many settings to tell your story or can you consolidate your locations/times and bring UNITY of TIME to your play?

Start fleshing out characters that might appear in your play. Not all should or have to show up. Some are just talked about (offstage characters). Consider whose story you want to tell? Who is likely to be involved? Use the packet of characters for some ideas--or create your own. It's all good. The best stories are character driven. Characterization is the key!

Start fleshing out plot (see above). How many scenes or acts is your story likely to cover? How will each scene fit together to tell an interesting, creative, and effective story?

Finally, consider theme/subject. 

Come up with some subjects for your play: what is the main topic or issue your play will deal with? Marital infidelity? Revenge? Suicide? Broken promises? Dealing with difficult people? Family issues? See the bulleted list above for some ideas. Flesh these out! Pick a subject.

THEME (or IDEA in Aristotle): theme is your POINT OF VIEW about the subject.

Read and consider the packet on theme. Complete these activities in the packet along with others. 

at 8:00 we'll continue and complete Agamemnon. Please turn in your "test" at the end of our viewing.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Play Project (ongoing); Agamemnon Prep; Agamemnon: Day 1

LAB: Please turn in your homework (see previous post for details).

Review the following information until 8:00. We will be moving to the classroom at that time to begin viewing Agamemnon. Begin planning your play ideas/premises, complete homework you should have done already, and/or review the background information regarding Agamemnon.


By the end of the marking period/course (Jan. 20, inauguration day, as a matter of fact) the following assignment must be completed to complete and pass this course. You will have a variety of options.

Option 1: Write a full length play. Full length plays are typically two full acts (each act being about 25-30 pages of script, so you're looking at completing about 50-60+ pages of a single play script story line--most contemporary full length plays are between 60-80 pages in length so you're not expected to write that much--but this is a challenge, not for the faint-hearted). Think about this: if you wrote only 1-script page per day until the end of the marking period, you'd have about 54 pages written. Genre and style is completely up to you. If you have a big story with important human themes in mind, this may be a good option. The plus side is that you get to develop a cast of characters and really flesh them out. Writing a good full length play will likely get you into any theater program you are applying for--and most likely with a scholarship. We will be able to workshop your play along the way (usually scene by scene) and can discuss production or readings if you'd like to pursue this option.

Option 2: Write 2 full one-act plays. This option allows you to explore two different ideas, themes or styles. One act plays sustain a longer story line and plot, usually with fewer characters than full-length plays, but complete their climax sooner and generally take less time to write than full length plays. One full one-act play should focus on one important action (although side plots can be included) and usually develop characters to a greater extent than 10-minute or short one-act plays. Each full one-act play would typically be around 20-30 pages in length, so you're looking about a total page count of 40-60 pages. Workshopping individual plays once you have a draft written would be doable. Having written 2 substantial play scripts will likely get the attention of college programs in writing or theater. Longer plays may be given a public reading or production during the playwrights' festival in January.

Option 3: Write 1 one-act play, and two (2) 10-minute plays. This option allows you to dabble with a variety of casts, styles, and ideas. One act plays should be around 20-30 pages in length, with 10-minute plays about 7-12 pages each. Workshopping one or two of your drafts is expected. The shorter plays can be entered into Geva's young playwriting contest. 10-minute plays are about the length we are looking for during the playwrights festival in late January and will count toward your page length requirement if you join us. The one act might be given a public reading or production.

Option 4: Write 4 (four) 10-minute plays. This option allows you to dabble with many different short plays and scenarios for students who have trouble sustaining a storyline or plot. You've done these before so there's no mystery here. Each 10-minute play should be somewhere around 7-12 pages in length (not including title or cast list pages). Workshopping one or more of your plays is expected. 10-minute plays are about the length we are looking for during the playwrights festival in late January and will count toward your page length requirement if you join us.

Start your process by taking some time to write some premises. Outline and sketch out ideas (mind-maps or other graphic organizers can help!) to see if they might work and what length might be the best option for the story you want to tell. If you already have a full-length play written and would like to develop it further, you can do that. You can also take a short story you have written (or read) and turn that into a play for the stage. If you're a poet, consider writing a poetic or verse play--or a musical. Monologue plays and historical plays are also options we have already explored, but feel free to use the form if you'd like. Consider your tone. Is your play's premise likely to be comedic or serious? Tragic or satirical? Choices, choices.

Some professional advice:

Grading and rubric information will be forthcoming, but what I'm looking for here is growth. Prove to me that you have learned how to write a play. That's all you need to do to pass this course. Quality counts, but it's not as important as your growth as a writer. For those of you who would like a challenge, challenge yourself by doing something out of the ordinary, something creative or unusual. For those of you who are having trouble writing or shouldn't have been a creative writing major, try to find the love of writing you once had by writing about subjects and characters you care about. What do you want to say to the world? Not all plays come out as perfect works of art. We will be workshopping and helping you succeed along the way during class. Most of the writing time, though, is on your own clock. Start today!

NOTE: you can always change your mind about the options. Say you are writing your 10-minute play and everything's clicking. You're on a roll. You write 12 pages, then 15, then 20. You can decide what option you want to fulfill after you write.

Some extra credit is available by a). going to see live theater and writing a short review, b). being in a production of live theater and writing a short reflection about the process, and c). writing an additional play script (length would be completely up to you (which would include sketches or very short plays...!) So if you screw up and write something crappy, don't worry. Again, I'm looking for growth and effort, not perfection! Most plays suck until we workshop them, so...chill.

The next few classes (after Agamemnon) as we explore Elizabethan theater we will be reading, writing, brainstorming, and gathering advice about writing plays. Feel free to use the exercises we have already completed as starting points for your own ideas. Impress me and you'll pass. Ignore this project or put it off until the last moment and you will likely fail.

HOMEWORK: None. But you can get started on this project today! Consider your options and begin a plan. Write. Nothing is stopping you from being successful but you.

AGAMEMNON by Aeschylus:
The Oresteia by Aeschylus is the only complete Greek trilogy. These three plays: AgamemnonThe Libation Bearersthe Eumenides tell the story of the House of Atreus in Argos. Today and this week we will be watching the production of Peter Hall's Agamemnon, translated by Tony Harrison. In Harrison's script, you will note the use of alliteration and kenning. These literary devices and techniques are Anglo Saxon in origin, not Greek. The Greeks had their own cadence and rhythm to their plays. Other elements, such as the use of masks, flutes, drums, and an all-male cast are standard Greek tragedy style.

Key mortal characters in the myth are: Thyestes, Atreus, Aegisthus, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Odysseus, Helen, Paris, Priam, Cassandra, Iphigenia, Orestes, and Electra.

Key immortal characters include: Zeus, Apollo, Artemis, The Furies (Eumenides...also called the Erinyes, the Kindly Ones, The Daughters of the Night were spirits of vengeance, murder, and jealousy. Their names are Tisiphone, Megaera, and Alecto).

• Atreus and Thyestes (brothers, sons of Pelops) fought because Thyestes challenged the throne of Argos and seduced Atreus’ wife.
• Thyestes was defeated by his brother and driven out of Argos, but returned as a suppliant with his children. A suppliant is like a homeless beggar.
• Atreus invited the family to a feast (where he slaughtered Thyestes children and served them to their father as dinner).
• Thyestes ate his children, unknowingly.
• When he found out what had happened, he cursed the house of Atreus and fled with his remaining son, Aegisthus.
• Agamemnon and Menelaus are the sons of Atreus, inheriting Argos.
• Agamemnon married Clytemnestra
• Menelaus married Helen.
• Helen ran off with Paris (or Paris, like Thyestes, seduced Helen) and this started the Trojan War.
• Agamemnon and Clytemnestra had three children: Iphigeneia, Electra, and Orestes.
• Menelaus convinced his brother Agamemnon to help him get his wife back from Troy.
• The gods (Artemis) were protecting the Trojans and didn’t bring them the wind needed to sail to Troy
• Calchas, the prophet, divined that the gods were angry and wanted a sacrifice.
• Calchas and Menelaus encouraged Agamemnon to sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia.
• Agamemnon did so and gained favor and wind from Zeus; the Athenians sailed to Troy, won the war and sacked Troy. The battle lasted 10 years. This is, of course, the Trojan War.
• At beginning, Aegisthus has returned to Argos, now the lover of Clytemnestra (think Penelope and Odysseus), and exiled Orestes (he’s the rightful ruler, you see).
• Greek torchbearers or Messengers will light the beacon fire when Troy has fallen.
• Agamemnon, with his “prize” Cassandra (the daughter of Priam, king of Troy), returns after the war to a “warm” welcome.
CLASSROOM: Agamemnon, Part 1.

Please complete the questions regarding Agamemnon as you watch the play. Your answers are due when you finish viewing.

HOMEWORK: See HOMEWORK section above.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Old Comedy dates from the establishment of democracy by Pericles, about 450 B.C.E.

Aristophanes and other comic dramatists satirized Greek culture, human behavior, and popular or political figures of the day. Satire's purpose was to make a better society through ridicule and laughter.

Comedy borrows much of tragedy's components: such as choral dances, masked actors, metre and music, scenery and stage mechanism, among the structure of tragedies: prologue, parados, episodes, exodus, stichomythia or debate, etc.

Instead of tragedy, comedy focuses on a "happy idea" whereupon a bad character or idea is exposed, ridiculed, and overcome. Good people rise to a happy ending, with conflicts resolved--and no one dies (usually). In The Frogs Aeschylus and Euripides have already died when the play begins.

Coming from phallic songs, Old Comedy often focuses on sexual or marital issues.

As you watch/read the play please look for and jot down in your notes examples of: Phallic or Yonic Symbols.

For HOMEWORK: Please complete the play. Answer 6 questions from each category (choose 1 question for each Aristotelean category: plot, character, theme/idea, language/diction, music, spectacle.

PLOT (choose 1 to answer):
  • 1. Test the three unities of time, place, and action against the play Lysistrata. Did Aristophanes follow these rules? 
  • 2. Contemporary movies tend to be episodic and rarely follow the three unities. The intricate plots and subplots jump around in time and location. The plots and settings are more sensational. Since movies usually have extremely large budgets, reusable sets are not common. However, many classic black-and-white movies followed the unities closely. List one movie that follows the three unities. Write a three-line plot summary of this film explaining how it meets the criteria of following the unities. 
  • 3. How realistic is the plot of Lysistrata? Would Lysistrata’s strategy for ending the war work today or in recent wars? Discuss the 1960s-70s slogan, from the Viet Nam era, “Make love not war.” How have times/perspectives changed about war since the 60's/70's?
CHARACTER (choose 1 to answer):
  • 1. How do you as the audience view the character of Lysistrata? What figure(s) in mythology, tragedy, or literature does she most resemble? Would an ancient Greek audience respond to her differently than today’s audiences? 
  • 2. How are the “foreigner” characters depicted in this play? Discuss how Lysistrata and the Athenian women respond to their initial observations of the women from other lands as they arrive at the top of the play. Discuss differences in language, dialect, and slang. 
  • 3. Why do you think Aristophanes chose to have two choruses? Why older men and women? How does this choice add to the comedy? 
  • 4. How are the male characters depicted differently than the female characters in language, actions, and physical appearance? 
THEME (choose 1 to answer):
  • How universal is (are) the play’s theme(s)? Discuss some of these themes. Do these apply today? How do you feel about these issues in your life? Would you be willing to take desperate measures to speak up against, change, or fight for these themes?
LANGUAGE (choose 1 to answer):
  • 1. How are analogies and metaphors used throughout the play to further plot, character, and theme? Copy your favorite analogies and metaphors in your notes and write a paragraph about how they develop and move the play. 
  • 2. How many puns can be found on one word or image? Locate puns on words and images used in the play. Record some in your notes. Explain how puns and plays on language help to create the humor or tone in the play. 
  • 3. How is language used to portray differences in character, intelligence, place of origin, rank, and gender in the play? List examples and explain their effect. 
  • 4. How does the rhythm of the language differ between the choral odes and the dialogue in the play? Find scenes where stichomythia, short one-liners exchanged between characters, is used to enhance the rhythmic exchange of dialogue and explain its effect on the reader/viewer.
MUSIC (choose 1 to answer):
  • 1. Imagine the choral odes sung by the men’s and women’s choruses. How might singing and dancing these odes add to the comedy of the play? 
  • 2. Why do you suppose Aristotle placed music so low on the priorities of dramatic elements when so much of the play is based in music, dance, and internal rhythm? 
SPECTACLE (choose 1 to answer):
  • 1. Play a director. Keeping in mind the ancient Greek stage, how might the play be staged? Where would the main characters enter? Where would the two choruses enter and per form? How would the gate to the Akropolis be positioned, and how would the men storm the gate? Examine some of the important scenes in the play and consider how these scenes would be staged on a typical Greek Theater stage
  • 2. Considering ancient theater traditions, what special effects might be used in this play? Which scenes would use spectacle. Consider building structures, masks, sound effects, costumes, props, and the passing of time.
Complete your answers by supporting your answers with textual evidence. Homework is due Nov. 28.

Extra Credit: Watch Chi-Raq (2015) by Spike Lee and compare/contrast the contemporary film with the play Lysistrata. As question #7 of your homework, complete your comparison between Spike Lee's film and Lysistrata.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Antigone: Day 3


As we read please examine the play for the following Greek Tragic elements:

As we read, let's pay close attention to the use of: (class discussion or small group discussion)
  • Hamartia (fatal or tragic flaw): what might Antigone's tragic flaw be? Do other characters in the play also have flaws that cause tragedy to occur?
  • Catharsis: why might we feel sorry for Antigone or Kreon or the other characters in the play?
  • Peripety or peripeteia (turning point): when is the moment when Antigone cannot "save" herself by her actions? Are there turning points for other characters?
  • Deus Ex Machina: does the play end with a contrived or obvious ending? If so, what makes the play's ending ineffective? If not, what surprised you about how the play ends?
  • Tragedy: Aristotle suggests that there should be a good character that comes to a bad end. How might Antigone support his theory of tragedy?
  • Dithyramb: What is the effect of the choral odes in this play? What purpose does the chorus play in the story or theme of the tragedy?
  • skene: How is setting and/or entrances/exits of characters used in this play?
  • Choragos or choragus: Where in the play does the choragos act as an individual? With whom does he interact?
  • parados/exodus: At what moment in the play does the chorus enter and exit? 
  • Idea (theme): What themes or messages about human existence occur in the play? What seems to be the message or point of this play? 
  • Contemporary context: can you connect Antigone's behavior/actions with any contemporary or historical figures? If so, who and why?
  • Is Antigone relevant today?
Creative Ideas: small group activity:
  • If you were to write a play about justice/law and its misuse perhaps, how might you tell the story? What scenes or characters would you include?
  • What historical figures since 300 BCE have there been that remind you of Antigone and her determined sacrifice or stubborn civil disobedience? How might the play's theme be different from a play from that perspective? If you updated Antigone today, what would you keep or what would you get rid of?
  • Choose a popular (or not popular) myth that you know (Greek or otherwise) and make an outline for yourself as to how you might turn this myth into a short play. Include 3-5 episodes, a title character/protagonist, an opposition or antagonist, and other characters you feel you would need to tell your story effectively and creatively. 
HOMEWORK: If we did not finish reading Antigone in class, please complete it for homework. Please read the comic one-act Medea by Christopher Durang.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Antigone & Greek Theater

Turn in any homework (God of Carnage, etc.) or borrowed scripts.

Today we will continue our reading of Antigone by Sophocles.

Let's start with an introduction to Greek Theater. Then we'll jigsaw the article on Greek Theater. What elements of Greek theater are still present with us today? Let's discuss.
Then, let's continue reading Antigone together.

As we read, let's pay close attention to the use of:
  • Hamartia (fatal or tragic flaw)
  • Catharsis
  • Peripety or peripeteia (turning point)
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Tragedy (and comedy)
  • Dithyramb
  • skene
  • Choragos or choragus
  • parados/exodus 
How do these terms/ideas work together to make an effective play-going experience? As we read Antigone, what themes/issues or ideas are presented to us? Why might these ideas be helpful or useful to us at this point in our history?

Creative Ideas:

  • If you were to write a play about justice/law and its misuse perhaps, how might you tell the story? What scenes or characters would you include?
  • What historical figures since 300 BCE have there been that remind you of Antigone and her determined sacrifice or stubborn civil disobedience? How might the play's theme be different from a play from that perspective? If you updated Antigone today, what would you keep or what would you get rid of?
  • Choose a popular (or not popular) myth that you know (Greek or otherwise) and make an outline for yourself as to how you might turn this myth into a short play. Include 3-5 episodes, a title character/protagonist, an opposition or antagonist, and other characters you feel you would need to tell your story effectively and creatively. 
The structure of a Greek play was typically:
  • a prologue leading to a parados (or parode)
  • several episodes (typically 3-5) followed by a choral ode
  • choral odes were typically made up of stasimons, strophes, and antistrophes. (Turn and counterturn toward or away from the altar--stylistically the chorus arguing on a specific point or detail.)
  • an ending or leaving of the chorus (exode) to signal the end of the play


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

God of Carnage: Day 3; Aristotle's Poetics & Ancient Greek Theater

Period 1:

Please complete our viewing of The God of Carnage. As you watch the film based on the play (and when you read the script of the play), examine the characters:
  • Alan Raleigh
  • Annette Raleigh
  • Michael Novak
  • Veronica Novak
Using the character types we discussed last class, argue what kind of character or what role(s) these 4 characters play within the drama. How do they shift or balance or grow or conflict? Which are protagonists or antagonists and when does this role shift in the play/film? Use evidence from the film or play to support your answer. Take notes as you watch/read to help you build your case or answer.

Share your ideas with a neighbor or small group after viewing. Due to elections, rehearsals, and coffeehouse performances, turn in your work today (if you have it done) or Tuesday, Nov. 15. This is an extension on the homework.

After turning in your homework/classwork on the character analysis, please turn in your script. Before we move forward to the beginning of theater, you should know who Yasmina Reza is and what she wrote. Contemporary writer.

Now for something a little ancient:

Period 2:

Aristotle’s Poetics (circa 330 B.C.E.)

Aristotle Introduction

Here's a 20 point summary of the first established literary critic's masterpiece "The Poetics" by Aristotle.
1. People like to imitate and learn.
2. Arts (Epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, dithyrambic poetry, flute-playing, lyre playing) are all modes of imitation. Just as color and form are used by artists, the voice, language, and harmony are used singularly or in combination. IE. Theatrical arts are REPRESENTATIVE of reality, not reality in and of themselves.
3. Objects of imitation should be above our common ilk; characters in a play/subject matter should be of high quality (and scope).
4. Poetry soon broke into two parts: tragedy/comedy. Serious poets would write about serious subjects; Humorous poets would write about frivolous and happy subjects.
5. Tragedy originated out of the dithyramb (choral ode); Comedy out of phallic songs.
6. Aeschylus limited his chorus, introduced the “second” actor, and made the dialogue take the leading part of the play.
7. Sophocles introduced the third actor.
8. As tragedy deals with noble subjects, comedy imitates men worse than average.
9. Tragedy is different from epic (although both are serious) in length, in one kind of verse (narrative form); epic includes tragedy, but tragedy does not necessarily include epic.
10. Aristotle’s six parts of a play:
a. Plot
b. Character
c. Theme (Idea)
d. Spectacle
e. Melody
f. Language (diction)
11. Plays should have a beginning, middle, end
12. Plays should not include so much as to bore, or too little
13. It is better in a tragedy for a good person to come to ruin, rather than a bad person
14. It is better to create catharsis from language and plot, rather than spectacle
15. Characters should have a discovery (anagnorisis) that leads to a turning point or crisis/climax (peripety) (plural peripeties)
16. The chorus should act together as a “character” and integral to the whole
17. Characters should act according to verisimilitude (semblance of reality).
18. Diction should be clear, correct, poetic, but not inessential.
19. Plot should be made up of probable events
20. The poet, being an imitator (like a painter) must represent things either as they are, or as they are said to be, or as they ought to be – which is accomplished by skillful use of language to create a catharsis (emotional purging) in the viewer of a play.
Key Words to Know:
  • Hamartia (fatal or tragic flaw)
  • Catharsis
  • Peripety
  • Deus Ex Machina
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Dithyramb
Play Reading: Begin reading Antigone by Sophocles. Sign up for a role on the role sheet. Let's read the introduction and then begin the play itself. I will have to leave for a meeting with my district accusers half way through the period most likely.

HOMEWORK: Complete the character analysis for God of Carnage if you have not already done so. Please bring your Antigone scripts back with you next class as we continue to discuss Greek Theater.

Monday, November 7, 2016

God of Carnage; Character Types

Period 1/2: Read the reviews and interview handout. What strikes you about the subject, the style of the writing, or the content of the journalism?

Watch the play/film God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, directed by Roman Polanski (2011). Starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christopher Waltz, and John Reilly. The play won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2009.

As stated before, characters are the driving force of a play. Without well designed and depicted characters, a play will certainly fall short. There are some types of characters we want to be intimately familiar with (so that they are 'cast' in our plays):
  • Dynamic characters: characters that change through the events of the play or story.
  • Round characters: characters that are fully developed. They often have contradictory traits. A loving uncle, but a pedophile (How I Learned to Drive), or a wise chauffeur who is illiterate (Driving Miss Daisy), or a cranky old Jewish lady who has a heart of gold (Driving Miss Daisy), a bitter couple who actually love one another, despite their bickering (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf), etc. These characters are interesting because they possess contradictory or conflictual traits or qualities.
  • Confidante: someone in whom a character can confide or speak his/her mind freely.
  • Foil: a character who enhances a quality or trait of a major character or protagonist through contrast.
  • Sympathetic character: a character with whom an audience can identify.
  • Unsympathetic character: a character with whom an audience cannot identify. Usually this character has motives that are questionable, unappealing, or difficult to understand.
  • Ally: a character who helps the protagonist accomplish, achieve, or learn something.
  • Messenger/Herald: Usually a minor character, although not always--this character delivers an important message or brings some sort of external insight to the protagonist.
  • Minor characters: stock characters, spear-carriers, static, flat, cardboard cut-out, stereotype, supporting, allegorical, etc.
How do I develop a character?
  • Know what role the character plays in your play/story.
  • Use characterization: what a character says, what a character says about another character, actions, thoughts, or description. Description is best delivered through dialogue in plays. In fiction, it is delivered by description and imagery.
  • Provide backstory through flashbacks (fiction), or monologues (plays)
As you watch the film based on the play (and when you read the script of the play), examine the characters:
  • Alan Raleigh
  • Annette Raleigh
  • Michael Novak
  • Veronica Novak
Using the list above, argue what kind of character or what role(s) these 4 characters play within the drama. How do they shift or balance or grow or conflict? Which are protagonists or antagonists and when does this role shift in the play/film? Use evidence from the film or play to support your answer. Take notes as you watch/read to help you build your case or answer.

Turn in your analysis at the end of period 1, next class (Thursday, Nov. 10) for credit.

HOMEWORK: Complete your reading of The God of Carnage by Yasmine Reza.

Our Coffeehouse is tonight at 7:00 in the Ensemble Theater. Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Test; MP 1 End; Critique/Review of Charles Busch

Period 1:

Please take your mp exam.

When you finish, please hand in and begin reading working on:

Charles Busch (choose one play in the collection. Read it. Review it.)

Your review should include an introduction (grab our attention), a short summary of the play, An analysis of the play's construction. A paragraph on the play's performance history. A critique from your POV about the effectiveness/writing/construction of the play.

More details to come.

Period 2:

Character exercise.

HOMEWORK: Complete your Charles Busch reading and read as much as we've watched of God of Carnage.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Play Script Brush Up; Charles Busch Reading; Prepare for Friday's Test


Use your time in the lab today to:

A. Complete (or revise/proofread) your 10-minute play. These are due if you had an extension. Or they are late, but better late than never. The end of the marking period is Friday. All work must be completed and turned in by then. If you have missing work, please use your time in class today to complete your work. Chop chop.

B. If you have completed all work, please read one play in the Charles Busch collection: Psycho Beach Party, The Tale of the Allergist's Wife, Red Scare on Sunset, or The Lady in Question. Each pokes fun at a cinema style or a specific time period (early 1960's beach films, 1950's red menace in Hollywood, 1940's spy thriller, or contemporary turn of the century New York social scene). As you read, pay close attention to dramatic components of its structure: inciting incident, major dramatic question, the major decision, complications, turning point or crisis, dark moment, enlightenment, climax, resolution, catharsis, etc. Keep track of important characters, setting, and plot events as well. Hey, you could write these down as notes!

C. There will be a test on the following Friday. Study:
  • Talking With by Jane Martin
  • Spic-o-Rama by John Leguizamo
  • 'Night Mother by Marsha Norman
  • Oleanna by David Mamet
  • The Dutchman by Amiri Baraka
  • The Baltimore Waltz by Paula Vogel
  • Learning to Drive by Paula Vogel
  • Driving Miss Daisy by Alfred Uhry
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee
  • The Mystery of Irma Vep by Charles Ludlam
  • The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Charles Busch
  • Premise
  • The 4 types of conflict
  • Structural unity 
  • monologues/soliloquies
  • beats, scenes, acts
  • Major dramatic question
  • The inciting incident
  • Major decision
  • Rising action, complications, crisis/turning point
  • Dark moment
  • Enlightenment
  • Climax
  • Catharsis
  • Monodramas or monologue plays
  • Adversaries (different types)
  • Tips about writing dialogue, playwriting, writing for the stage
  • Status quo & building a plot
  • Cross dressing, Pantomime, Commedia Dell'Arte
  • Comedy characteristics
  • 10-minute play structure
Please bring any script copies with you to next class so you can return them to me or the library. 

HOMEWORK: None. There is a test. The end of the marking period is Friday.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

10-Minute Play Script Project Draft Due!; Charles Busch & The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom


Plays often start with a conviction, a belief, or some issue that a playwright wants to expose, examine, or discuss.

In the plays we have read, such themes as suicide, HIV, aging or dying, racism, self-deprecation, aging, sexual assault, feminism, etc. have been used.

In your own play, jot down on a piece of paper, an index card, or on your title page the conviction, belief, or issue your play deals with. This is your premise. What did you write a play about? Tell me in 1-2 sentences.

Please complete your play draft this morning during period 1. Print out your play script and attach your premise to your script. Hand in for credit.

If you finish your play script before the end of period 1, please examine/read the material/linked articles below:

Charles Busch:

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.

CLASSROOM: Please finish reading The Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Get started on homework if we complete the play before the end of class.

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 handout articles: cross-dressing and theatre, pantomime, and commedia dell'arte. Write a 1-sentence summary of each article and include 1 important fact or detail you think is essential or interesting for each article. This assignment is due Nov. 2 (Wednesday). 
  • Finally, choose 1 other play in the collection: Psycho Beach Party, Red Scare on Sunset, The Woman in Question, or The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and read it. You will be asked to review the play. This homework assignment is due Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

10 Minute Play Project; Comedy; Vampire Lesbians of Sodom: Day 1


After our quiz on The Mystery of Irma Vep & The Ridiculous Theater Company, please use your remaining time in the lab to continue working on your 10-minute play script drafts. Aim to complete these drafts by end of next class's lab time (Oct. 31).


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. 
5. When writing dialogue allow your characters to interrupt, talk over each other, digress, or speak in fragments. Keep sentences short. Use imagery and specific details (concrete nouns, active verbs) when writing lines for your actors. 
Use some of these tips in your play draft.

On our way to the classroom, please stop by the library check-out desk and pick up the collection of plays: The Tale of the Allergist's Wife and Other Plays by Charles Busch.


Comedy: a literary genre and type of dramatic work (play) that is meant to entertain, delight, or amuse its audience. It is often satirical or humorous in tone and often ends happily. Characters in comedy triumph over their dramatic or tragic circumstances reminding us that, as humans, we will adapt and survive. Comedies often utilize hyperbole, satire, parody, under/overstatement, irony, wit, puns, and other comedic literary elements. For the stage, conventions such as romance, cross-dressing, mistaken identity, violence, and farce are common. Let's take a look at this example:
Then, let's pick some parts and begin reading Vampire Lesbians of Sodom

HOMEWORK: Complete your 10-minute play script. You will have lab time to work on the finishing touches for your play scripts. Bring your books to our next class so we may finish reading Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.

Monday, October 24, 2016

10 Minute Play Script Project; Adversaries/Antagonists


Please work on your 10-minute play scripts. See previous posts for help fleshing out your ideas. Use your outline to guide you.

Since plays are based on conflict, it is important to make sure your short play includes an adversarial relationship between two or more of your characters. An adversary may be the main antagonist, or may be someone or something that attempts to destroy or defeat a character.

There are some basic types of adversaries/antagonists:

  • Fierce & powerful: this antagonist will stop at nothing to destroy a character. Motivations are hate, jealousy, sociopathic tendencies, revenge, etc.
  • Powerful but restrained: this antagonist could destroy your character, but has other issues to concern him/herself with. Authoritarian characters (people in power) might fall into this category. These characters may cause problems for a character, but may not always mean to destroy, or have other concerns instead of the motivations of hate, jealousy, revenge, etc.
  • Fierce adversary with few resources: While this character would like to destroy another, he/she does not have the resources or power to do so completely. This character is determined, but may not have the power to destroy--but like "fierce & powerful" characters, motivations of hate, revenge, or jealousy are common.
  • Restrained adversary with weak resources: characters who fall into this category cause problems for another character, but they do not cause major harm to the character. Characters like this complain or cause conflict in a scene, but they are not out to destroy other characters. They are often selfish, or acting for their own needs with little regard to the problems they are causing other characters. Teenagers are good examples. 
  • Friendly foe: characters who act like friends but deliberately ruin or cause problems for a character.
  • Beneficial adversary: Motivated by anger, or seeking to cause harm, a character whose actions end up helping a character fall into this category. Also, sometimes a character helps another character get what he/she wants, but it turns out to be a bad idea for that character.
Like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, characters may change their alliances--causing problems, but then ganging up on a weaker target when the opportunity presents itself. We all draw lines and create allegiances based on our beliefs, actions, political, philosophical, religious, personal reasons. 

Use the handout to develop your adversaries and create conflict in your 10-minute play.

If you need a little break to stretch your brain, try reading The Mystery of Irma Vep or watching this preview for the play from the Kansas City Repertory Theater.

HOMEWORK: Complete The Mystery of Irma Vep and read the handout on the Ridiculous Theater Company. There will be a quiz.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Day 3; Character Design Exercise

Today, let's finish watching Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Character Design:

For your 10-minute play, you will have 3-4 characters. Let's get to know them.
For each character in your play, do the following:

  • Make sure you have a name for each character in your play. It's also a good idea to give them an occupation: what do they do for a living; how do they survive in the outside world of the play?
  • Describe each one of your characters in one single word. Blanche, for example, might describe herself as "genteel", but Stanley might call her a "floozy." George might be a "victim" but Martha might call him a "swamp". Give your characters a single word that encapsulates them.  
  • Then add a second word for greater meaning. Blanche might be a "genteel aristocrat", or Stanley might call her a "phony floozy." George might be a "misunderstood victim", but Martha might call him a "desperate swamp."
  • Create a metaphor for each of your character. Blanche might be a moth. Stanley might be a brutish bull-headed rutting pig. Martha might be a braying donkey with grand delusions. George might be a slow-burning coal pit or a broken puppet. 
  • Then give your character a positive action: Blanche tries to save Stella from Stanley. In her mind, Stanley is a brutish pig. He's uncouth. Give each of your characters a reason to act in a positive way (with motivations they believe are true--whether they are or not).
  • Finally, give each of your characters a selfish or negative action: Blanche is running away from her past. She invades the small home of her sister Stella. Two's company, but three's a crowd. Her arrival causes a lot of conflict in Stanley and Stella's "happy" home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Day 2); PSAT

Please continue watching: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966)

We will be leaving at 8:55 or something to that effect. Go to your PSAT sites and take that test.

HOMEWORK: None. If you have not yet completed your reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, please do so. Feel free to continue working on your 10-minute play project.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

10 Minute Play Project: Day 2 (Drafting); Tips for 10-minute Plays; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf


Take the first few minutes of class to continue reading/critiquing your peers plays. By 7:45 stop and focus on the following writing tasks:

#5: Premise, premise, premise: In one sentence what do you want to write a short play about? Finish this thought: I want to write a play about...

Finally, using the outline from homework and brainstorming prompts you completed last class, make a list of everything you know about this new play you’re beginning. Could be characters’ names, location, time of day, geographical spot in the world or galaxy, a need, a piece of clothing, a desire, a repeated physical gesture, anything that could be in this new world of your play, no matter how far-fetched or banal, put it on the list. Create a working title, a short cast list, and a short description of your setting and time. In other words, create the title page, cast list, and set description for your play today. Plan out your plan and begin writing it.

Follow these restrictions/rules:

  • Your 10-minute play should be between 6-10 pages, written in proper play script format.
  • You must use 3-4 characters and develop all of them.
  • Your play script should include a title page and cast/set list (these are not to be counted in the page # requirement). 
  • Use your outline to guide you if you get stuck when writing. 
  • Spend your time in the lab today working on your 10-minute play draft. It is NOT due today.
CLASSROOM: After our quiz on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, we will begin screening the film (1966) starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Sandy Dennis, and George Segal. All four actors received Academy Award Nominations for their excellent acting. Both Taylor and Dennis actually won them.

The film director Mike Nichols is one of the American New Wave directors. Haskel Wexler was the cinematographer.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) was one of the films that challenged the restricted film code by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Originally, no one under 18 could legally buy a ticket to see the film unless they were accompanied by an adult. The film was also banned and shocked audiences with its content and lewd language. Tame perhaps by today's standards, the film is one of the reasons why films today can be edgy. It was shot entirely in black & white--one of the most expensive black and white films to be made at the time.

Film is not stage. As you watch the play, notice subtle differences between the play and movie.

HOMEWORK: None. If you did not complete your reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee, please do so. You'll learn a lot about writing really good verbal fight scenes. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Workshop; Generating Ideas Prompts; Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf


Take the first few minutes of class to continue reading/critiquing your peers plays. By 7:45 stop and focus on the following writing tasks:

5 prompts to jumpstart your writing by Winter Miller (and Brad Craddock)
Use the prompts below to prepare your 10-minute play script for our next writing project. Your project should follow these rules:

  • 3-4 characters. That's all. As we read the next few plays, notice how the playwrights use 4 characters to create a pretty complex and character driven play.
  • Write your play in the standard play script format for writers.
  • Your play script should be between 6-10 pages in length.
  • Use the prompts below to get an idea. Please generate ideas first--instead of just sitting down and typing. In fact, instead of typing these prompts, use a journal/notebook and a pen/pencil. Write by hand. If you skip this step you will get stuck and then...well, I told you so. Yes, you may get stuck anyway. Generate ideas first. Then worry about shaping them into a well written play script.

Let's mix the ingredients first. Then I'll show you how to bake them...

Prompt #1: Write a letter to yourself from someone in your past (or present) who has said kind words to you. A favorite teacher, a family member, a best friend, and just have them say some things they love about you, some words of encouragement. Spend only 3 minutes or so on it. First name that comes to you, just go. Surprise yourself. 1-2-3: go!

#2 (10 minutes total): Give yourself TWO MINUTES (time yourself) for each of the next tasks. You must keep your pen moving, do not stop to think. If you run out of ideas, just repeat the last word you’ve said until a new word enters your mind. So if all you can think of is peanuts, keep writing peanuts until the next word comes out of you. Make these lists:

  • Make a list of at least five things you’ve never seen on a stage before that would totally floor you if you did. (For instance, very elderly people skiing; a baby wrestling a snake, an elephant on a skateboard, etc.)
  • Come up with as many lies as you’ve ever told a friend, parent, sibling, or teacher (you can lie about your lies if you want, I’m not looking over your shoulder) (For instance here are some lies: I have horns; I will always love waffles; I didn’t see you there; I love you).
  • Make a list of machines to replace people in the future and what they will do. (For instance a robot that cleans your oven and tells you a bedtime story, a cell phone that absolves you of your sins, a headset that fills you in on all the gossip you missed that day, etc.) 
  • Make a list of at least five things you never want to see on a stage! (For instance: a beautiful sheep who tramples teenagers for sport; an actor removing her liver with a knife, a train wreck, a falling chandelier, a helicopter landing on stage--the last two have been done before!)
  • Remember to keep your pen moving, repeat if necessary, or make up a new word, just keep writing until your two minutes is up.
Reread your above lists and circle any words or phrases that excite you. You don’t have to know why. Next, choose of the many things you’ve circled and write them down. You have your last 2 minutes to complete that.

#3A.Stretch break. Take one minute and goof off. Stretch. Relax. Stretch. Relax. Now get back to writing you next prompt:

#3B: Spend 15-20 minutes on this next part. Really push yourself to keep going, even when you want to quit. See if you can remain open and focused on this task.

  • Take your three things from your list above. (For me that might be, very elderly people skiing, I have horns, and a person in performance removing her own liver).
  • Take the first character who jumps into your head, give that person a name (ie JUANA).
  • Now, write a scene in which JUANA witnesses another character (ie FRANKIE) doing any of the above things you circled WITHOUT being seen. Then have JUANA make her presence known to FRANKIE. What happens?
    • Somewhere in the scene, one of the other things on your list comes to pass during the scene—what happens? How do they both react to this event or revelation? Are they surprised? Did they know it? Are they angry? Do they respond by force? With love?
    • Take this scene as far as it goes and if need be, bring in more characters to engage with the two you have. Let them have real connections to each other, real conflict and real emotions and see where they take you.
    • It’s okay if surprising things come out of their mouth—maybe they’re sexist or racist or have a Martha’s Vineyard accent or curse a ton—whatever idiosyncrasies these characters present to you, let them have it. Trust your impulses.
    • Do not go looking outward on google for confirmation that such a person could exist, could make those choices. Just go with your gut and see where it leads.

#4: Make a list of things that absolutely terrify you. (For instance, Nazis; an angry bear). Write continuously for one minute. Now, take one of your characters from the scene you just wrote a few minutes ago (JUANA or FRANKIE), preferably the one that is least like you. Write down this character’s name. Take that character and have a character most similar or like you approach this first character.

  • Begin to insult the first character for his/her beliefs, or appearance, or actions.
  • How does your first character respond to the second character’s insults? Do they fight? Is it verbal? Physical? What happens?
  • Let your impulses dictate whatever the conflict is, but do not shy away from it. See if you can get as down and dirty with these two people. See if you can go somewhere that feels IRREVOCABLE with them. Then, at some point in the scene, one character will turn to the other and reveal an important secret. Then what happens? (10 minutes)

Take a pee break/water break. Do NOT check your phone or your email Stay in this burgeoning world you’re creating. Go to the library and return with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf by recently deceased superauthor Edward Albee.

With the rest of our time in the lab today or when we move to the classroom, please complete:

Finally: #5: Before you pack up your stuff for the night, make a list of everything you know about this new play you’re beginning. Could be characters’ names, location, time of day, geographical spot in the world or galaxy, a need, a piece of clothing, a desire, a repeated physical gesture, anything that could be in this new world of your play, no matter how far-fetched or banal, put it on the list. Create a working title, a short cast list, and a short description of your setting and time.

Between this class and next, please outline your play. You only have 6-10 pages to tell your story. You must use 3-4 characters and develop all of them. Outline the following (page # suggestions are based on a 10 page play script; adjust for a play that is a little shorter or longer as you see fit):

  • What is your inciting incident? (page 1)
  • What is your major dramatic question? (pages 1-10)
  • What is your crisis or complication? (pages 3-4)
  • What is your play's event? (pages 3-7)
  • What is your character's major decision? (pages 2-8)
  • What is each character's dark moment? (pages 1-10)
  • What is each character's enlightenment? (pages 5-7)
  • What is your climax? (page 8-10)
  • What is your denouement or resolution? (page 10)
  • What startling and interesting image will you end your play with?

Bring your outline with you next class to begin working on your play. Or see homework below.

DISCUSSION: Compare & contrast How I Learned to Drive with Driving Miss Daisy.

READING: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Pair, Stand, Perform. We will read as much of the script as possible in class.

HOMEWORK: Complete your reading of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. As you read, take particular note of the interactions between the 4 characters. How do each become the protagonist and antagonist as the play unwinds. Look for the horrible secret! You'll never guess...

And complete your outline using the brainstorming exercises you did today in class. Bring your outline and your play scripts back with you next class. Maybe there will be a test.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Driving Miss Daisy; Play Scene Workshop

Today's class will be held in the library.

In your small groups, please complete your reading of Driving Miss Daisy.

With time remaining, please workshop your play scenes using the handouts as guidelines for discussion.

HOMEWORK: Please complete Paula Vogel's play How I Learned to Drive for Thursday's class. Be prepared to discuss the play along with Driving Miss Daisy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Character/Scene Exercises; Driving Miss Daisy & How I Learned to Drive


Exercise: Complete the following character exercise this morning in the lab.

Looking at pictures and watching people can be a goldmine for character building. As a playwright, one of the most important tasks you will have to accomplish is creating interesting characters. Boring characters make for boring plays, so it's helpful to have a few ideas about character design before jumping into the pool of monologues, scenes, and plays.

Task #1: Brainstorming Characters:

IN YOUR JOURNAL or NOTEBOOK please complete the following exercise. DO NOT TURN THIS IN. Instead, you may use it for a writing assignment.

Please take a look at the photos of people below. For each photo, give the person a name, age or age range, and 1-sentence physical description. Follow this up with a 1-sentence goal or major decision.
For example:

GEORGETTE MINSKY, female, age 25-30. Georgette always wears a baseball glove (even to church) and too much lipstick. She wants to witness a miracle first hand or at least win her minor-league softball team's championship trophy in memory of her dead grandma.

Create a character for any 3 of these pictures (you may do all of them, if you'd like):

Now find some pictures on your own (or use your own photographs) and continue your list.

Task #2: Please turn in your homework from last class: (see post below for details). Interview with Paula Vogel at the Playwright Center in Minneapolis. (Please view at least 15 minutes of the interview. You may watch more, as your time allows. Please make sure you let me know which section you watched or how long you watched by indicating the time code on your homework draft. 

Summarize the section you watch by summarizing the key or important points she makes (or important points for you to hear as a beginning playwright). Complete your summary paragraph with your own reaction to what Paula Vogel's key points were in the section(s) you watched. Turn in for participation credit today.

Task #3: If you have not yet turned in a draft of your play script, please do so. It is now late.

Task #4: Please begin reading your homework: How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel.


#1: Please get the play Driving Miss Daisy from the library.
#2: When we return to the classroom we will complete a scene exercise. We will use the exercises we wrote today later in the course.
#3: In small groups of 4, begin reading the play Driving Miss Daisy in class. Please bring your play scripts back with you next class to complete the play reading in your group.

HOMEWORK: Please read Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize Winning play: How I Learned to Drive (aim to complete the play by Tuesday of next week!)

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...