Tuesday, June 9, 2009
But the reason I'm bringing them up here is an intriguing bit of information I found in the entry for Theater of the Absurd at the French Literature Companion:
Absurdism helped to liberate playwrights from outmoded conventions, and gave rise to some powerful theatrical metaphors. Beckett's image of two tramps waiting beside a tree in a barren landscape became a universal icon of futile existence. But its nihilism represented a philosophical impasse. Moreover, it was the last theatrical avant-garde led by writers. After 1960 original dramatic writing fell into decline and directors took the initiative.
(the last paragraph in the entry)
I have felt for some years now that current theater has more emphasis on production than on text, with a predominance of radical re-readings of classics and collaborative experimental group creations. I don't think it's necessarily good or bad, it's just a current trend. But I do have the feeling that the big names of playwriting nowadays are not as big as their counterparts from a couple of decades ago -- think of, say, Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard, John Patrick Shanley or any of the Pulitzer-winning playwrights of the last ten years. They're not doing bad by any accounts, but they're not the big kahunas Beckett and Pinter were in their time, are they?
That does give me a couple of things to be concerned about: on a very practical level, of course, what kind of succe$$ beginners like us can look up to in the current theater scene/industry, but also what it means to write plays at a time when production shines brighter -- and what kind of writing is more likely to move and captivate audiences in this context.
Am I the only one seeing this trend? (I can't deny I'd be a little comforted if someone told me it's all in my head.) Do you have any feelings about this trend and your own writing, and whether you should bear it in mind at all when writing (and how)?
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
This comes from their FAQ page:
"We'll look at anything science fiction, fantasy, or horror related, in whatever form -- plays, screen plays, poetry, whatever. We've had them all. Even novel query letters & synopses you might send to editors are fine. Not as many members work outside of the short story or novel form, so review rates may be lower, but they're absolutely welcome."
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I've just finished reading Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery, a 1999 play about a family trying to cope with a grandmother's advancing Alzheimer's disease. Remember all those rules and guidelines we studied during the semester? You won't find any of them in it.
No want, no transformation, plenty of filler in the dialogues, answered questions and stated emotions. Nothing happens -- and not in any avant-garde Beckett way, either. I can't even tell you who the protagonist is supposed to be: the Alzheimer-stricken grandmother who's supposed to be the focus of it is pushed around the whole play as she mumbles incoherently, her daughter who seems to call the shots of the family doesn't bring about much change or asserts herself in any sort of power structure, and her grandson does little more than bitch about a failing romantic relationship (which we never see onstage), though for some reason he gets to speak to the audience in introductory soliloquies to a few scenes. His father, to boot, is one of those characters that could be removed entirely and not be missed at all.
"Gee, Celso, with that subject matter, what did you expect?" Good point. I looked for this play because its author is one of the screenwriters of Analyze This, which I find an excellent example of a good screenplay, with fresh comedy and engrossing characters that bring about a perfect balance of laughter and seriousness. Seems like I should look for stuff by the other screenwriters.
It's easy to find timeless classics by celebrated authors that we're all supposed to idolize and learn from. But if you ever find yourself in need of a negative example to put the good stuff in perspective, look no further: run through The Waverly Gallery with a checklist, and by the time you're done you'll have finished an intensive crash course on what to avoid in writing.
Friday, May 8, 2009
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed all of you this semester, and how much I'm enjoying your portfolios. Do you have any idea how much writing you did? A ton. You've got a lot of great work to go back and take further.
I encourage you to post those things you've learned this semester, so as not to forget them. And anything else worth posting. Here's something to get you started:
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Fall 2009 class detail
1230 to 200p
LYNN, KIRK E
T D 357T NEW PLAY CREATN: CONC-REHRSL-W
PREREQUISITE: UPPER-DIVISION STANDING AND CONSENT OF INSTRUCTOR.
CONTAINS A SUBSTANTIAL WRITING COMPONENT AND FULFILLS PART OF THE BASIC EDUCATION REQUIREMENT IN WRITING. COURSE NUMBER MAY BE REPEATED FOR CREDIT WHEN THE TOPICS VARY.
TOPIC DESCRIPTION: TECHNIQUES FOR BRAINSTORMING, MIND-MAPPING, RESEARCHI NG, SYNTHESIZING, PERFORMING DRAMATURGY, QUESTIONING PERFORMANCE, AND PR ACTICING INQUIRY. FOCUSES ON CREATION OF "THE GINGERBREAD MAN" BY KIRK L YNN AND DIRECTED BY KATIE PEARL. STUDENTS WILL BE INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN STAGED PERFORMANCE IN THE SPRING SEMESTER. ACADEMIC WRITING WILL INC LUDE DRAMATURGICAL RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS, AND SELF-REFLECTIVE RESPONSES TO IN-CLASS WORKSHOPS AND READINGS.
MEETS WITH T D 387D.
Monday, April 27, 2009
So... I am really looking forward to tomorrow's workshops, and am also sort of glad that I'm in a group without anyone from the previous group (I really do love all you guys, don't take it personally!) so that they can look at it with fresh eyes. I totally agree with Julia that after doing several drafts, you think each one is great, until you start the next rewrite and change a thousand things, and I for one am losing, as a result, all objectivity (if I ever had it!) On that note... were we supposed to have read everyone's plays by Tuesday? I have yet to get my group's plays, if so... haha you know who you are, guys! :)
And Jenny, I would love to second Julia's rewriting question: How do you know when enough is enough? It seems like everything can be dissected eternally, but if we had eternity to rewrite, nothing would ever be finished! :)
Action - Physical Activity + Intention
Event - Physical Activity + Intention + The CONTEXT of time and circumstance"
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Activity - Jenny's parents kiss in the kitchen.
Action - They have their "Tuesday Kitchen Kiss," something they intend on doing every Tuesday.
Event - Jenny's dad rejects her mother for the Tuesday Kitchen Kiss--this would be intentional and have repercussions.
Or...(And this example I am less sure of)
Activity - Jenny walks out the door for the first time. Obviously this is a physical activity. I'm confused though, because this activity could have repercussions and could be intentional. Is this the same as writing "Exit CHARACTER NAME" in a play?
Action - Jenny walks out the door a second time. This is intentional because she repeats the activity to build tension among the students?
Event - Jenny says "I've had enough!" and leaves the room. This is definitely intentional and has repercussions for all.
For Posterity's sake (or to start an argument -- go ahead, guys, whatcha got???)
Activity - the physical thing your character is doing
Action - Physical Activity + Intention
Event - Physical Activity + Intention + The CONTEXT of time and circumstance. An action with repercussions.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
P.S. Is anyone taking Playwriting II with Kirk next semester? Besides me and Julia, of course. :)
I will tell you it has given me a whole new respect for writers whoe are able to pull this off. To take a person from the start to the finish of a story is one thing, to take four a, and fully develop them to make it where anyone cares really requires so much thinking!
This weekend I saw the movie Duplicity. In spite of its all star cast, (Leading with Clive Owen and Julia Roberts) it has not done so well in the box office. For those who havn't heard about it, it is a story of two corporate spies who are lovers, that are caught up in a gigantic conglomerate deal that could make or break their career, as well as trying to balance their love life.
It sounds like a lot, and it is, however, it was very good movie. Smarter than anything I've seen in a long time. But, this is also its downfall. I felt like I just finished the LSAT because the plot was so overlycomplicated, (from the writer of Michael Clayton, if that gives you a hint) and it litterally wore you out.
But here is the point, to write something like that, with so many characters, and that intricate, is something that is truly bad @ss, but for those of us who can't write Michael Clayton or duplicity, what can we do?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
What would your song be? I mean, every single baseball player has one, every single one. How on earth do they ever decide? It’s an impossible decision. Imagine it. You make it through high school as the star player, and get your scholarship to play baseball in college (yay). It’s your freshman year, you’re caught up in the glamorous grunge and independence of college life, parties (yay) girls (yay) sports (double yay). But at the same time, it’s a lot of pressure: to impress, to aspire, to achieve, to hit balls really hard and catch them when nobody else can, send your body twisting in opposing directions at ludicrous speeds to smack a ball, throw yourself with no, or very little, regard for your safety and well being at a red and white bullet while people cheer and boo if you miss. And that’s when they’re feeling generous. You have all this going on around you. It’s blinding, intoxicating, gut0churning. And some Assistant to the Assistant Assistant Coach comes up to you in the middle of this tornado that has become your life and says, “Hey, buddy, by the way, what’s your theme song?” What the fuck.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Friday, April 17, 2009
It seems the balance between a) captivating audiences, b) conveying the author’s intentions and c) not taking over the director’s job can only be achieved with a lifetime of fasting and meditation. Right now, I feel like there’s a conflict of interest between the two hemispheres of my brain – and they’re about to go to court over it.
Three of Michael’s rules seem especially relevant to my current dilemma:
12) Be specific; if something in the play matters to you, feel free to describe it in intricate detail - an accent, a prop, a set, a light cue, a costume, a speech pattern, anything.
13) Don't specify everything; leave enough room so that a production team can keep its job. Once the director picks up your play, consider yourself dead - the play is the living work, not you. Don't direct from beyond the grave.
14) Specifically forbid directors in your text from doing anything stupid and dumb that you hate. If something is really important, write a few guidelines right into the stage directions. God knows you're more brilliant than them.
I’ll give you one example of the many passages in my play I’m trying to rewrite and don’t know if I should go for more or for less. This is a moment when Benny is surprised to find Ruth in a compromising position, and Ruth tries to sound dignified and unapologetic:
(shaking his head in disappointment)
(distant and polite)
Am I playing director here by instructing the actor to make a specific gesture? And the actress to assume a certain air? If I remove the parentheticals, will the punctuation in their lines be enough to make it clear that Benny is surprised, and Ruth is not? (And what about the other emotions described in the parentheticals? Should they be left entirely at the discretion of the director?)
Perhaps the underlying concern in my present worries is Michael’s rule #14. If I include an unnecessary or excessive stage direction, the director can always choose to ignore it, and even contradict it, to imprint his own voice in his production (and I think he should; he’s an artist, too). But if an important aspect of my play is subtly insinuated in between the lines, am I not running the risk that it will go unnoticed by less…attentive directors?
In other words: should we try to bullet-proof our plays against bad direction?
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Rewrites… lovely rewrites. I am so glad we've been going over strategies for this in the last couple of classes, because otherwise it would be quite overwhelming. On the one hand, you're sort of done "creating", per se, so it's easier. On the other hand, this is where all the real creativity comes in–– like trying to fit together the pieces of a puzzle. Or, to use one of Jenny's metaphors, like placing the dominoes perfectly in line.
I, for one, tend to lose my objectivity when I'm in the initial writing process, so it's really good to take a step back, survey your work logically, and be able to see the problems that need fixing.
Yikes... my professor just walked in the room… better post next time!
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
On the other side my tone was criticized as partly antique or too formal and some incoherences in the plot were observed. I'm looking forward to the completion of all the comments tomorrow because I feel that it really helps me, it is a thorough criticism, also not too softened, an opinion Celso published in his blog.
Right now, additionally, I also think that the theatrical or playwright "tools" we learned about are helpful, simple and working. What am I talking about?
I think to probe the logic chronological order of a play, especially plays with many flashbacks, as - for example - Ashley Moreno's "Liar" is very good for the author and for the audience as well. For this purpose, the timeline is a good means.
Then, the questions for ourselves are also rather good. Question 2 "Does each character have an emotional investment in the story's outcome - If not, why not?" helps to find out about character-forming flaws or flat vs. round characters within everyone's play in my opinion.
From the questions I also learned about ruthlessly cutting down on useless parts of the play, self-criticism must be applied in an honest way. But it does not help if others give you the best advice. So I think, everyone should honestly probe his/ her play to see where/ if there are weak points.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
So, please, when you read my play, and write down your notes, and share them with me in the coming classes, don’t think of my feelings. I’ll be happy to hear what you think worked, so that I can keep doing it, but I’m more interested in what you feel is boring, confusing, contrived, out of place, badly timed, doesn’t make sense, etc. By being strict to my work you will be kind and considerate to me, giving me your time, your attention, your insights and your wisdom.
I won't take offense -- even if I don't agree with your assessment, I'll value the outside perspective.
Tell me there is no Santa.
Tell me you saw her cheating on me.
Tell me I need to lose ten pounds.
Crack your knuckles and tear the damn thing apart.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
I thought I'd post our "Master List" of rules for good theatre/plays:
2. Audience Affected
3. Must have a reason; "Why?"
12. Tone (Comedy/Tragedy)
As my workshop group will soon figure out, I decided to expand my 7-page play into the longer play we were assigned to write. I didn't plan on using the same piece, but after workshopping "Liar," I realized it was begging for expansion and revision. So I decided to put more work into. I'm still not satisfied with where it's at, and I hope to improve and make it a more complete, more whole piece once the semester is over. And I've been through a bajillion revisions.
During the workshopping process there were a ton of questions (and some comments) that came up:
How old are they?
Who really screwed things up?
Who is the bad guy?
Who do you think is the liar? And what does that mean thematically?
"I don't know whether I should feel sorry for someone."
Are the mom and dad divorced?
What type of incest is this? Flowers in the Attic? Cruel Intentions?
Was the sex voluntary? Rape?
"I enjoyed that you basically didn't waste time."
"There is no question as to who the characters are. But I wonder if you can say it a little more eloquently."
How can it be more eloquent?
"I don't believe they've gone 5 years and 9 months with out divulging who the real father is."
"There is a lot of context."
"Could have been a longer play."
"Can it be expanded?" Michael was really pushing for expansion.
"Lends to taking time on each line."
In meeting with Jenny, I received the following notes:
1. Who is the protagonist? The sister or the brother? Or both?
2. What's at stake? The engagement? The child?
3. Why do you need the time lapses?
4. What is necessary to see on stage?
5. How would the play change if it occurred in one night? In two days?
6. Is the flashback, the monologue useful for the audience to see on stage? Or should they simply hear it?
7. To what degree is the boy at stake? What do we get if we see him on stage, if we never see him on stage? If he's younger?
8. Months collapse time on stage. Is it evaporating dramatic tension or is it making it melodramatic?
In the expansion of my play, I think I touched on all of the aforementioned points. Most of them anyway. I'm still having trouble deciding whose story it is. The brother? The sister? I have no idea who my protagonist really is. In some ways, they're equally protagonists until the very end of the play. Is that my answer? [By the way, I changed the ending in the expansion. The sister still dies, but she doesn't commit suicide.]
At the end of my meeting with Jenny, she gave me the following "mini assignments."
1. Ask questions, ask a million questions.
2. Create a timeline for characters - include things we don't see on stage.
3. Outline for play (DO THIS LAST).
4. Decide about mystery guy. [Sam.]
5. This is why it happened, this is how it happened, this is how it stopped.
6. He said/she said - from both voices.
During the revision process of our long plays, I think I will revisit these suggestions to get even more out of this story. I'm really looking forward to discussing my play on Thursday. I'm curious to see how this play works as a longer piece. I'm especially looking forward to hearing from those who were in my previous workshop group.
It came to me while I revised my long play and tried to picture this elderly Jewish lady who's a bit of an important character in it. I thought of Alice Neel's cold, arrogant sarcasm, and how it would fit my character real well. The face (and the look) lingered on my mind for a while, then I struck me: I checked the program for Portrait, and there it was.
She'll be at the top of my list if I ever get to put this thing together for the stage. Okay, maybe after Liz Sheridan (Seinfeld's mother in the series).
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
2) Spectacle- It is simply anything memorable about your play, from fireworks, to simply moments of silence, anything that would leave an impression on a child under five, is spectacle in my book. (Think about it)
3) Character- for me, they are the subject of the play defined by the action, personally I find they add a sense of realism but if one is not careful they can rob from the plot. So my rule is, they should be the agents of your story
4) Melody- Silent films aren't around for a reason. (though silence is sound) We have five senses for a reason, use it, music makes everything better
5) Thought- The most important, if your play is not well thought, it is not good, period. Sure, real life isn't carefully thought out, but even a play about real life is not real life so just do it!
6)Diction- It's the only thing you really control, I like the line from our packets that said, every line is a piece of DNA revealing the entire plot. This is the way I see diction, from "and's" to "I love you's" diction is what we are here to do
7)Entertaining: Be it a dark play or a funny one, make it memorably entertaing, its a show for GOD's sake!!!
2. Must have a strong relationship between characters (romantic or platonic)
3. It doesn't matter where the conflict is resolved as long as the story remains interesting
4. Costumes and settings must be unique and interesting
5. GOOD ACTORS bring the best writing to life
6. Acrobatics never hurt anyone...
7. Comedy (even the most serious story can have a joke or two)
8. Special effects (dont have to be professional but executed perfectly)
9. Plot of course
WHAT MAKES GOOD THEATRE
3. Making the ordinary, extraordinary
4. Taking the soul of a cliché and expressing it in a new way
5. Blurring the line between black and white
6. Showing us something we’ll never see again
7. Asking uncomfortable questions
10. The defiance and acknowledgment of The Fairy Tale Ending
11. The audience
1) Plot- Beginning Middle and End please. The beginning and the ending need to be clear and serve a purpose. The middle not so much. Personally I think it is fascinating when I watch a play and get a little confused in the middle. As long as the ending just ties it up or is surprising so I appreciate & understand the middle better. I don't want to be able to tell just what comes next. Thats boring. The plot itself should have an interesting story.
2) Spectacle! As said by my group in class, Spectacle too must surprise. It should have a meaning, in the words of Andy "not just have a random firework go off" like at a funeral scene or something, unless it has meaning. Spectacle can be subtle, size doesn't matter. Spectacle can be the lack thereof. But above all...MAKE IT MEMORABLE!
3) Character! Characters should be well thought out and relatable. Its also fun if there is an interesting web of relationships.
4) Comic relief. I think comic relief is very important. You can have a tragic play with comic relief. It helps the message you are trying to send stick to the audience. It also makes awkward moments bearable.
5) Any line being said should serve a purpose and be said clearly so the audience can understand it.
6) If you want to do something big, make sure you do it right. If it doesn't work, don't feel bad, try again or just don't do it.
7) Any sounds or music in the play should harmonize with the theme of the play. It should accentuate the world you are establishing.
2. There must be at least some comedy, otherwise I think the audience gets bored/overburdened.
3. The characters must be strong enough that the audience will care what happens to them. (I admit, I am not sure I managed this in my long play.)
4. I think some sort of soundtrack is preferred--and by that I mean music appears at least a little, not only sound effects.
5. Most of the characters must be passionate about something/someone. And they can be passionate without being loud.
6. The set must not get in the way of the performance, it must not take away from the actors.
7. I wouldn't say this is a rule...but I love it when characters talk to and interact with the audience.
8. Good theater has a theme, it leaves the audience with something to think about. Ideally audience members will want to discuss the show afterward.
9. Good theater (as I said at the beginning of the semester) will make you relate to something, whether you could relate to it before you saw the play or not. It will teach you about yourself, and others who you may never know.
10. Good theater makes you very glad you moseyed out of your house to go see it. Good theater makes you want to come back and see it again with friends, or alone.
11. Good theater makes you think about life from a new angle, if only for a little while.
12. The Jenga example--every line must have a purpose. But then it's fun to confuse the audience or be a confused audience member, too.
13. I am finding that scenes should not ONLY develop characters, they need to move the plot forward, too. I'm not 100% sure this should be a rule, though.
14. A playwright should try to create an image or spectacle that will stand out in the audience's mind. Make them see something they've never seen before, or shed new light on the ordinary.
15. Don't have too many settings, it will throw people off. "Too many" is subjective, you decide.
16. Make sure flashbacks are quite clearly flashbacks...unless your goal is for the audience to be unsure that it's a flashback they're watching.
17. Do your research so that you know what really went down, but feel free to be as historically incorrect as you want.
18. Good theatre often offends people, and that's okay. Awesome, even!
19. The beginning of a play must be attention-getting and/or emotional, it must reel the audience in.
20. Scratch that last one--there are plenty of great novels that have slow beginnings and turn into pure awesome later, so I don't see why a play MUST begin with a bang. No reason to feed our already short attention spans. ...Granted, a play is not a novel, but I still stick by this.
21. Endings can be abrupt!
2, For the detailed work on the plot, I think it is important to decide before the start of this work if the aim is an OPEN play (i.e. with many decisions up to the director etc.) or a DETERMINED play in which the author is very determined about the setting etc. (an example would be: 1960s, New York, Jazz music in a dimly lit bar, etc.)
3, An important thing is not only to create the CHARACTERS. It is also important to imagine them roughly and uninterruptedly to ask oneself: "Does the thing that the character does on stage, the thought he/ she has, the line he/ she speaks fit to his character?" I think that "mimesis" in the Aristotelian sense comes into (the) play here, just to narrow down the infinite possibilities a character could act like, to find a possible acting range for him or her. That is, to make it possible for the audience to follow the plot.
4, A play is not like reading a book in a silent chamber. Things can be shown in an allusional way and be entertaining and still carry serious content. Therefore, it is important as a playwright to ask oneself: "Can I use MUSIC (melody) here? Could I use NONVERBAL (paralinguistic) means to convey my plot idea (see 1,) to the audience? Is there any other means I can use (LIGHTING etc.)?" (An example are the mocked dance videos in the "101 ways to . . ." play of the New Works Festival).
5, Any play stands in the tradition of an oral and visual culture rather than that of scriptures (although the plot is the most important part). That means there is usually no possibility for the audience to follow very fine or abstract, infinitely philosophical etc. aims, but there is one idea or one story which is told. To use the power of the oral and visual tradition it might be useful to employ surprises and thus, create a SPECTACLE. But: It is important that the spectacle is not more important than the plot, that means it has to be used as a means to support it ("delectare et prodesse").
6, Any author has to think of the AUDIENCE he writes for. That is, because one play could cause ecstatic agreement or spiteful hatred or astonished non-understanding among its audience. An example would be to show the "101 ways to . . . " to 1,000 seventy-years-old farmers from Uzbekistan which would just not be understandable to them.
The DICTION of any play has to follow the plot like every other part of it, too. But still, there is one important thing: The playwright has to find his OWN STYLE OF EXPRESSION. In my opinion, this relates not only to the diction but can be any other part serving the plot (for example a theme announcing a certain character etc.) It is good to quote, mock or rely on any other part of cultural evidence, like Greek myths in "The Psyche Project". I think, if a playwright imagines the characters of the play and combines it with his/ her aim the style of expression or the diction follows up naturally.
1. Have a plot the moves the characters forward.
2. Develop Opposing and Harmonizing characters.
3. Create a love story/ interesting relationships between the characters.
4. Be driven to teach a moral.
5. Maintain a balanced mixture of the arts
6. Discover truthful analysis of psychology and humanities.
7. Have universal applications.
2. It's interesting that I would prefer a play's second most important need is a great plot. Not that I hate plays with no story. It's just that when I go to the theater I want to hear ideas that I've never heard before.
3. I also believe that a play's original thought or idea is important to the production of a play. The playwright's image is important to what he or she is trying to say.
4. I think monologues are great assets to plays. I always enjoy learning about what a character internalizes and how they think. It delivers a secret that can be difficult if delivered any other way.
5. Another way to show a person's feelings is a great light show. The lighting is perhaps the most important part of production that needs to deliver a squeaky clean performance.
6. Props and scenery aren't things that I hold too close to my heart, but I do enjoy a play if it has an elaborate stage. I do think that there needs to be some way to identify a play's location or idea with as much as possible.
7. Another thing that I find quite childish about myself is that I'm attracted to colors and costumes. I love colors that pop and make me think and feel exactly what a person's mind is.
8. Although I am a huge fan of tragic endings, I don't think that the whole play needs to be one tragedy after another. I like comedy in every play. Immense amounts of it, too. I love it when a play combines the horribly tragic with the deliciously funny.
1. Every plot point must be necessary. By necessary I mean that it must have ultimate relevance to the story, characters or theme in some way or another.
2. Spectacle must TELL. Everything on stage (or not on stage) should have a purpose and should communicate.
3. Lines should be tight and memorable (not necessarily all epigrams à la Oscar Wilde, however.)
4. Dialogue and especially diction should say something about the characters who are speaking. (Sometimes it's not what they say but how they say it.)
5. Time sequence should also have a point. For example, what is added to the plot by presenting the story in a chronological order? Backwards? In flashbacks?
6. Actors should disappear into the characters. One of my personal pet peeves when watching a play is when I'm too distracted by an actor when I want to know his or her character.
7. Whether it be embedded in the play's themes, the characters, or the plot, there should be an element of universality to which the audience can connect-- something that resonates with them and makes them identify with/care about what's happening on stage. Otherwise, one wonders at the end of a play, "So what?"
8. It must be memorable!!!!!
I realized as I wrote these rules how often I come back to the theme of necessity and purpose-- how nothing should be present without a reason. Sorry for the over-emphasis... this is probably due to the fact that I personally tend to err on the side of lots of unnecessary or pointless dialogue, characters, etc. and am trying to learn to pare down my work to the bare bones.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
(But “good” is a very vague word. By “good” I mean captivating and intriguing – keeping the audience’s attention for the entire duration of the play. If you think about it, that’s not a lot, actually. I’d say it’s the bare minimum you can ask of a story that’s being told to you. Whether it’s easy to achieve, however, is a whole different ball of wax.)
1) The play must speak for itself. Elements whose meaning depend on footnotes, background stories or anything relative to the writing process may add some enjoyment to the mix, but if any of them are necessary to grasp the core meaning of the play, it has failed on a very basic level. Above all else, the author must never explain his intention – and never need to.
2) The play must establish the rules by which it is going to be presented and abide by them. Suspension of disbelief may be broken and any or all of its elements may contradict reality (as it is acknowledged by humanity) or storytelling conventions in any manner or to any extent, but that deviation from the beaten path must make sense as part of the play. This rule applies to content as well as form. When the play has no particular plot or aesthetic statement establishing an unusual language or setting, the audience naturally assumes, by default, that they are watching a play set in the real world as they know it, and it in the dramatic language they are used to – e.g., chronological order, clear enunciation, stories ending with some sort of resolution, etc (in other words, it is impossible for a play to have no rules – either it defines its own or the viewer will). The more elements contradict the play’s rules, the less coherent the play seems in form, content or both. If the central elements or too many elements of the play violate the play’s rules, it has failed on a very basic level.
3) All the elements of the play must be motivated by a need of the play itself. In Aristotle’s words, everything must arise out of probability and necessity. The classical example of a failure in this sense is the Deus Ex Machina – the arbitrary ending where a conclusion is reached not as a resolution of the tensions and relationships developed throughout the play, but out of a new, last-minute element. Both Aristotle and the expression Deus Ex Machina refer specifically to plots, but anything can be gratuitous: a character trait (or even whole characters), a soundtrack or a lighting choice may also be dissonant from the whole play to the point of drawing the viewer’s attention to it from a formal perspective. The more elements are dissonant, the less cohesive and meaningful the play is. If the play has more random elements than motivated elements, the play has failed on a very basic level.
4) At least one element of the play must draw an emotional response from its audience. More often than not a character (or more), but it may as well be the plot itself. If viewers love it – or hate it – the play has succeeded. If viewers are indifferent to it, the play has failed on a very basic level.
5) The play’s duration must feel necessary to the viewer. It mustn’t feel too short or too long, regardless of its actual length. Three-hour epics may feel insufficient, and ten-minute sketches may feel too long. If the play’s duration calls attention to itself during the performance, the play has failed on a very basic level.
6) The meanings of the play or of its elements must be limited. A professor I had when I studied Visual Arts once said that “what can mean anything means nothing.” That may have been the most important thing I learned in that major. If no interpretation of the play can be denied or discarded, the play has failed on a very basic level.
7) The more important elements of the play must have more than one meaning. All art must have some sort of poetry, and there’s no poetry in anything that has only a literal meaning. If the audience can grasp no metaphor, allegory, symbolism, humor, pity, risk or some other sort of added value in the play as a whole or in its central elements (whether in form, content or both), it has failed on a very basic level.
As you can see, good theater is actually something very basic. Perhaps even more so: the more I think about it, the more I think rule #1 is the only one strictly necessary. Maybe #4 as well. It’s was in fact quite a struggle for me to fill up the 7-rule minimum. At any rate, these are the rules for good (not necessarily great) theater. There’s a lot more I find desirable in a play, but not necessary. If plays can still be good without it, I left it out.
The rules above are operational from the moment of their publication. Infringement of said laws may lead to severe civil and criminal penalties.
This time there are RULES - rules for good playwriting (or "playwrighting", as I was taught to spell it on an earlier occasion):
- A play should never take itself to seriously - it must be self-aware to some extent and justify its own existence through its content.
- A play's first job is to entertain.
- A play must compel people to continue to watch the whole way through.
- Any play longer than two hours must have an intermission roughly every hour.
- Any play longer than three hours must mandate catering during said intermissions in the stage directions.
- Any play longer than four hours ought to be seperated into multiple plays.
- If your play is short enough, you can do whatever the hell you want. Bizarre experiments are always more acceptable when they only last a few minutes.
- If there is no dialogue, the stage directions ought to be pretty intricate.
- If there are no stage directions, the dialogue ought to be pretty intricate.
- One should always be able to glean more from performing the play than from simply reading it.
- One should always be able to find something interesting in reading the play that they didn't necessarily glean from a performance.
- Be specific; if something in the play matters to you, feel free to describe it in intricate detail - an accent, a prop, a set, a light cue, a costume, a speech pattern, anything.
- Don't specify everything; leave enough room so that a production team can keep its job. Once the director picks up your play, consider yourself dead - the play is the living work, not you. Don't direct from beyond the grave.
- Specifically forbid directors in your text from doing anything stupid and dumb that you hate. If something is really important, write a few guidelines right into the stage directions. God knows you're more brilliant than them.
- Clarity is essential; the audience must know what the hell was going on at all times.
- Leave anything unimportant to the imagination - this includes the fantastic elements of the play which the audience must lend to disbelief or what was actually in the briefcase or whatever.
- Include elements that don't move the plot forward but create a stronger sense of the world of the play. Before it can move, it must be established. Or by moving, it can establish.
- Surprise and intrigue.
- Your title will usually be much more memorable than your dialogue: make it good.
- If your play is a tragedy, some parts must be funny.
- If your play is a comedy, some parts must be VERY funny.
- Embrace the cliché. These are tried and tested. Every written work ever is the most cliché, overdone drivel in the history of the universe, and is completely unnecessary. Until you actually read it.
- Your play can fit a certain format criteria, but never must fall into one genre.
- Have a beginning, a middle, and an end.
- Always break all of every one of the rules, all of the time in every way.
2. You DO NOT talk about the PLAY.
3. If someone says "stop," goes limp, or taps out the PLAY is over.
4. Only two guys to a PLAY.
5. One PLAY at a time.
6. No shirts, no shoes.
7. PLAYS will go on as long as they have to.
8. If this is your first PLAY, you have to...write?
Okay, so number 8 was pretty lame. But I'm loving number 3.
Fight Club aside, here are a few rules I came up with:
1. The material and performance must challenge the audience in some way. It must cause the audience members to reflect on themselves (i.e. beliefs, character traits/flaws).
2. There should be a character that the audience either: a) loves to hate or b) hates to love.
3. I think a good script calls for the performers' own interpretation and improvisation. Not just that there's room for it, but really requires that each performer bring something to the table.
4. Not every play needs to end with resolution. Of course, the path from the play's beginning to end still needs to make sense even if the play doesn't wrap up nicely.
5. A playwright should not answer EVERY question. The audience should walk away wondering a little, thus giving them the opportunity to fill in their own stories. SOME loose ends are okay.
6. I think all playwrights/actors should incorporate the idea of GROWTH into their scripts/performances. There has to be a challenge, a feat, an exploration, a discovery.
7. A least one scene in a play should challenge the actor(s) mentally, emotionally, and vocally. Referencing Joseph Pilates and the lovely Andrea Beckham, I want to see the actors using their girdle of support, squeezing their juicy peach, and really speaking from their core.
8. There should be at least one character that reminds me of someone I know.
9. Sort of getting into spectacle, I think there should be some quality in the play or performance that causes audience members to avert their eyes or blush or shift in their seats. Whether it's simple costume choices or props, or maybe a sex scene or drug use. It can even be two characters discussing a controversial subject like war or abortion. Acting is reacting and I think theatre itself is a series of actions and reactions. It creates this unique dialogue between collaborators and the audience. Again, it's all about growing.
America: The Dream by Chibbi
This play really took my breath away and reminds me of a film called, "Elephant." Story about two boys who suffer through the pains of adolescence and wind up taking everyone out. It's a sad, harsh truth that really puts out a social problem we have in our world, and I think the play conveyed the images fantastically. Especially with the images on the projector.
Whispering by Julia
I absolutely love the characters you created. Alice as an old, worn out woman who suffers from amnesia is classic, yet you brought something new to the table by adding two separate scenes that depict what's reality and what's imagination. Great job. Alice is a character that I can see actually existing and everyone around her act the way they would around a sick person.
Confessions by Kat
This play was interesting to hear. It was too funny and too pathetic to see Jim's life blow up in his face. I liked the idea of karma coming around, I almost felt bad for Jim, and Mark for selling out his buddy.
The Elevator by Andy
Nice play. Very nice. It was smart, hilarious, and ultimately eye-opening. All the subtle hints the girlfriend was dropping about the man from the rape trial were all too delicious. It's like we know what's going to happen, and it suddenly flips and we're no longer in control of our own understanding of the play for a split second.
I Shot My Future Boyfriend by Autumn
I love the comedy in this play. It was all too real, and it seemed like something that can happen. Knowing this, I have to admit, heightens the hilarious moments. The relationship between the girls and their horrible accusations of others made me laugh alot harder. Using insults and quips on the basic level of comedy and heightening simple situations was done throughout this play and it worked sensationally.
Well, to all others, Michael, Zora, Burkard, Ashley, Brian, Sara, Lily, and Celso, I really enjoyed your ideas and your plays. I promise I have more to say about each, but then I'd be over-analyzing 10 minute plays. Thank you for sharing your brilliance.
Monday, April 6, 2009
"Resabios de Amargura"
Although this play, or Bitter Cabaret as I should say, was short, the content was fabulous and made me wonder more about immigration than I already did. Love was a similar theme in this play as it was in Psyche Project, but it was a different kind of love I saw. This love was a love of one's heritage and homeland. The way that Beliza Narváez would present Lola Amapola and prance along stage singing about where her heart is and why it seems to jet off to another country, from state to state, is amazing. Her cunning use of the songs "Ropa Interior," "Protoplasma," and "What's the Point" really embrace how she feels about leaving her Puerto Rico, and really epitomizes the emotion that we all get when we leave something we love behind. Maybe love isn't the word I should use. I think because she grew accustomed to her life in Puerto Rico, leaving her land was the next step. And when she finally did it, there was nothing for her in the states. When Lola went back, there was nothing for her there, and that's where we last hear from her. Lola's perception and anunciation makes the audience laugh whenever she says or thinks something that is similar to Latin American culture. From the rolling of her r's to her dramatic behavior, Narváez is sensational in telling a story about a woman's struggle with immigrating to the U.S., and why her story is like a bitter cabaret.
I am always astonished whenever there is music in a play that encompasses the content and underlying message of the work. Footprints is a story about a young girl, Sophie, traveling through many obstacles all to help a tree that her father is going to knock down. She must travel to all corners of the Earth to collect some of the different types of elements, as I should say, to help the Tree. Sophie goes to the Goddesses of the Water, then to Goddesses of the Wind, and finally approaches the Sun. The singing was phenomenal and clearly explained everything that happened in the play and why it was so important for each element to leave its prime. Although I didn't enjoy the Sophie's singing as much, I did enjoy listening to the water creatures sing and especially the wind. I loved how each personified a certain element, and how each element sang why it was so important for them to exist. My personal favorite was the Sun. With a deep, beautiful voice that nearly made me cry, the young woman playing the Sun took the play from a seven straight to a ten. It was almost like a finale that happened before the end and was placed there to really "wow" the audience. It certainly did me. I especially liked the line, "It ain't fun being the Sun." Although this was a musical for children, I enjoyed it for what it was. The singing and imagination personified each being and made everything come to life. The underlying message I received was to better ourselves for the sake of everyone else. We're not the only ones who inhabit this world, and we can't act like we do.
Again, I apologize, Jenny, for the lateness in this post.
"Cabaret" is about a Puerto Rican woman who moves from Puerto Rico to a town near the Canadian border to Los Angeles to New York and finds herself missing her original home.
It is a solo piece, and the actress behind the production took stories from her various friends' experiences with moving to the US. She said in the post-show discussion that she had friends who never wanted to go back to Puerto Rico once they moved away, friends who longed for the island, friends who moved back, and friends who did not want to move back, but felt guilty for feeling that way. Her story is about several different kinds of love: love for one's old country, new country, and romantic love.
The performance was partly in English, partly in Spanish, and partly in Spanish with English subtitles, which she said she did to privelege the Spanish speakers. I don't speak Spanish, but I didn't feel like I missed a beat. Her facial expressions and body language said it all.
I've never seen a monologue quite this long or elaborate.
And I loved how she would announce things like, "Okay, in a moment I'm going to change into a red shawl, and I will be playing the other character for awhile. Okay? Okay." This clarified things for me, and it was also just cute. Makes me wish this kind of thing was common on stage, sometimes I get confused.
And she talked to the audience like we were her best friend or her diary; we got to see her little quirks and flaws, and I thought she was really charming.
I didn't know much about Puerto Rico before seeing this, and I still don't know much, but I feel like I have a better idea of what it's like to be a transplant in a new place. She goes through a lot of trials, but she keeps smiling and singing through it all.
You fixed the guards, and Sabios part and made a play that was nearly cinematical, and took us to a different world, well done man!
You finished!!! And might I say, you made something very “Lifetime” which in my book was very cool. It was real drama, and it felt smooth and complete thoroughly.
Josh: Sexy and Scandalous bro. It is rare that plays transcend past a story and leave you with a certain ambience, but with the dialogue you delivered, this play had a mood, and left us with an actual feeling. Well done.
Seriously? You call that a play? I’ve read comics off of Bazooka Bubble gum wrappers with more of a story. I’m just saying man, playwriting isn’t for everyone.
I know you weren’t totally happy with how it turned out (Because I was sitting next to you and you told me so) but to be honest I found it refreshingly original, and thoroughly well accomplished, in that you took on a topic of science, and made something that sounded well researched. Nice job dude.
Simply Hilarious! Enough said, it was my favorite.
Dude you clearly fixed the issues we were expressing in our small group, otherwise I had liked the idea from the start so I stand by what I had said before in that this was an interesting “realistic” play, and I found the dilemma quite thought provoking. (In a good way!)
So... instead of talking about Jenny's plays, of which I saw The Psyche Project and 101 Ways, or talking about plays in which I had some sort of mangly hand in, including Funky Snowman and The Mariner, I have decided to talk about the other plays I saw!
What I have to say about The Nomadic Dream Project:
Having worked on another child-oriented theatre piece with minimal dialog (Funky Snowman), rather than finding The Nomadic Dream Project silly or distant in its appeal, I approached it with the same seriousness I would approach work on my own project. After all, from the title, I had presumed the Nomadic Dream Project had something to do with the ancient folklore of wandering inuit tribes. That'll teach me a thing or two about being presumptuous.
However, the Nomadic Dream Project struck me as being extremely adult in its sensibility... it isn't a play about children, after all, it's about three self-respecting specialists in their respective positions, and a society of anthropromorphic sheep that seem to have some sort of control over their dreams. Perhaps at times they act like children, but really, the play is about exploring that space in dreams, where we can become anything we want to become, so perhaps these were just adults remembering the potential of who they could be rather than what they were in day to day life. And of course, they take their chance to share their craft with someone else in a way that the other might not expect, suggesting creativity, innovation, and looking for new voices and ideas. Things we all need in our respective fields of speciality.
Needless to say, I was very impressed. The staging was brilliant, if not marred by the million other outdoor events taking place on campus adding unwanted sounds and distractions. Such is the cost, I suppose, of being able to utilize ingeniously the carillon of the UT Main Tower. In the future, I'd hope to see this play stage in a better lit and perhaps more peaceful local. Some other city park with some other clocktower? A difficult thing to locate.
Costumes were of course, perfect. The setting was iconic - I enjoyed the encore presentation of the cart from La Curandera which I had the pleasure of getting to do welding work on during my tenure in the prop shop, now in a half-way space which better fits its mystical figure. The balloons... the bingo cage... of course the costumes, which instantly make each character and their roles recognizable. Despite the ambiguousness inherent to dreaming and the non-concrete space the play is set in, there is so much clarity in this play that we are never once lost in the product of a script with only two lines, both numbers.
The play is obviously the product of countless hours of work, in which each character was explored to a fantastic extent, always such that you have something to look at in viewing each of them: I would have loved to see the play three times and follow each of the three main characters the whole way through. The process of discovery in this play is brilliant and apparent, perhaps discovery is the theme of this play? Needless to say, I enjoyed every bit of it.
What I have to say about Phoenix Unforgiven:
I don't feel comfortable talking about it. After all, even if I didn't talk about performances, of which a few were lackluster, and the staging, which was quite distractingly poorly concieved, or the costumes, which served their purpose adequately but really aren't anything to talk about, or some of the special effects, which I just found a bit distracting, we're left with the writing. I want to say that this is good writing marred by a lot of technical problems and acting difficulties, but I can't. At its core, I just don't feel like this play was really ready yet for the stage.
Perhaps it's because I had recently read a lot about the Dirty War and the many atrocious acts of the Argentine government in the late 70's and early 80's, and that I had bothered to read the program notes, but I might have been one of the only ones in the room to understand the context of the play at all. I realized partway through that the unfamiliar last names jumping out at me and the continual references to what was simply called "the war" throughout the play were completely jarring. I can't remember if they even explicitly said "Argentina" during the play. I am just rather sure that somebody in the audience had to have been very lost, wondering whether this play is set in post-nazi germany or what.
Needless to say, it didn't seem like any specific historical event had anything to do with the play itself. The play came across as this deluge of cascading plot twists stemming from the lies of this old man, but none of them really seemed to have a heavy baring on the action, until the protaganist, Amanda, decides to throw away her school's sanctity on revealing the truth. This is tragic and reminds me of somewhat of Oedipus... he's bound to uncover the truth and thus destroy the whole foundation of everything he's worked for. Is it for better or for worse?
I had no idea that was what the play might be getting at until I sat through an hour and a half of soap opera-esque plot twists, gimmicky attempts at going beyond the linear world of the play, and occasionally brilliant performances simply swamped by somewhat unbearable ones, extreneous lines and speeches, and things which were so implausible and unmotivated for a character to actually say that I heard light chuckles being choked by polite gasps in the front row.
This play has a long way to go.