Saturday, February 28, 2009
First I thought this was a play just to hail the personality of Alice Neel. That would have been a quite boring experience, because this character would not change during the play. But the drawing of her son being beaten by the husband gave the straight direction of the play (as it seemed in the beginning, when I watched it) an interesting and also dark twist.
Like Julia wrote in her post, I think the idea of using blank canvasses instead of in any way painted ones added much to the play. I would even say, it was necessary to do that. Because a, everyone could project his/ her thoughts, how the portraits looked like on them b, noone was distracted from the plot staged right in front of them without interruption (in both times the play is set in.)
2, About the "Idiot"
I think, one problematic thing was the direct transfer of the political ideas like anarchy, socialism into the play. The audience is introduced into a net of intertwined characters. Thus, to me the detailed and unprepared hints at these philosophical, abstract ideas were just distanced to far from that. I missed a kind of connection.
I think the actors did a good job though, especially the Prince Mushkin and Nastassya Felipovna. I was impressed how the scenes with MANY people on stage did not seem to be stark and static. I am speaking of the scenes at the beginning when Nastassya comes into Ganya's house and meets his mother, sister and the Prince and later Ragoshyn appears or the party at the end, which results in an epileptic fit of the Prince.
3, About the flashcards
It was impressive, how easy it is to create a plot's outline with some thoroughly thought through ideas. It is also a way to enhance phantasy and flexibility of the mind of a playwright, because you can play with the ideas. By moving one of your flashcards one or two steps up or down the chronological ranks, you can create a whole new play sometimes, at least in my opinion.
Another important thing I learned from this task: It is often better to keep the thoughts on the flashcards short and rather general. If you specify too many facts, the flexibility aforementioned might vanish and it is not possible to develop different ideas and play with the red ribbons possible.
4, Cutting and editing
Having worked as a journalist, I know about one tendency all authors or writing people in general have. It is the thought of the written piece as an entity which shall not be violated. But the reality looks different, as we say in Germany. The thing you have to do generally is to shorten, shorten, shorten your text.
Therefore I found it helpful to trim Jenny's 2-page Joe and Amy play. I think we have to go away from the thought of having finished any written piece as we set the last full stop dot. As time goes on, as audiences or authors change, as circumstances change - the play itself has to change, if it shall be sincerely adapted and adequate for the special point in time and place it is staged on that special occasion, whenever, wherever that may be.
Friday, February 27, 2009
I felt the condensed plot has too many ellipses – how could they omit the time Myschkin and Nastasia spent together in the country? There were also too many stories narrated by the characters instead of dramatized, specially at the beginning, when playing them out would be even more important. As a result, some character developments became “bumpy”, like the sudden loyalty between Myschkin and Rogozhin after they exchange the crosses, and even the gestures of love/sacrifice between Mischkin, Nastasia and Aglaida. Lebedev the gossipmonger and Lebedev the theologian struck me as two different characters altogether.
Still it had a pretty good flow – the plot wasn’t difficult to follow, despite the many characters. Those brick-sized Russian novels are a pain to follow even in the paper, let alone in performance. It’s no small feat.
The set was too bare. It looked like an empty medieval monastery. A carpet would have breathed more life into it. Likewise, I found the costumes too plain and unimposing for Russian nobility, especially in San Petersburg, Russia’s center of French influence.
The expressionistic devices worked perfectly: the echoes were seamless, and the procession of people in Myschkin’s mind was his most dramatic moment, in my opinion.
Lizaveta’s performance was the most engaging aspect of the play: it made her character shine brighter than the protagonists. For the brief time he appeared, Afanasy also made a strong impression.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
On a more positive note, I totally agree with everyone who liked the idea of plays being made up of vignettes. The image of those little moments on stage can really be the ones that stick in your head, and can be made to have the most psychological significance later on. And the questions that arise from the vignettes can open up the heart of the story.
Why is that?
Well, here's one guess: with slam poetry I would struggle and write and rewrite to find the "perfect" sentence, so to speak. How could I express myself in the most creative way in the least amount of words? Where does one go when they "take their metaphors for a joyride?" It was always about looking for a better way to say something. And obviously I thought that there were better ways than what I had come up with, I just couldn't think of them. With playwriting I feel like there isn't that pressure to find the "perfect" way to say something. Maybe its the restrictions of slam poetry. One only has 3 minutes to present a whole idea or story where as here I have a whole play, however long that may be.
Also with slam poetry, its a competition. So not only does it have to be good, but it has to be better than the other guys'. Now obviously life, publishing, getting your work put on, etc, is a competition, but it doesn't feel that immediate. And I'm not really writing to please anyone except myself. I'm not writing for points. And although I don't necessarily do that in my poetry, its still in the back of my mind. I guess the trick would be to focus on the writing and whether I'm happy with it rather than whether it scores good.
The problem is when I read something that I wrote and I know I can write better, but I don't know how. I have a big problem with editing because, the way I see it, I wrote something one way because that was how I thought of it. How am I going to change what I thought? (I don't think that makes sense) I just find it difficult to see something in a different way than how I've already perceived it. What I feel I need is another set of eyes and brains. They will probably see something differently than me, suggest it, and that'll get my mind running on a different track.
Since we haven't really gotten into much editing in this class I guess we'll just have to wait and see how I respond to it.
I like the idea of a play being made up of a million vignettes, and I think the asking questions is a GREAT tactic to opening possibilties. But here I am having a bit a problem, or maybe it's just part of the process? You tell me.
Here is the deal, making the flashcards myself has been a lot trickier of a task then I thought. Maybe it is just me, but I've had a really difficult time keeping my mind from trying to outline a story you know?
The randomness of fresh ideas is something hard to keep because it's hard for me to ignore the outlines that form in my head. Personally, I have found the best solution to be incrementing the process over time. Like last night I started at 8 with flashcards, but I discovered I had to take breaks and lose focus to rid myself of an outline of a story forming in my head, so I took the assignment in periods and ultimately, I didn't finish the whole thing till 11:30. This, at least to some extent made me lose my train of thought, which was good for creating more random vignettes.
My question from all of this is, am I alone? Is anyone else out there run into this sort of problem? And if so, any better tips than taking breaks to solve the issue of detaching one's self from the story ?
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
[OK, so I started this blog earlier this afternoon. But life happened and I'm just now finishing it at 8:47 p.m.]
Anyway, I've found it difficult to keep each of my flashcard moments short and sweet. They're more like little paragraphs on each notecard, and I feel like I'm trying to write the entire play instead of just the outline. Is anyone else experiencing the same thing? As I'm typing out my "outlines," I'm wondering if they're too detailed. Any thoughts?
I really enjoyed this production. It had the sort of conflict that really holds my interest: Family conflict, love, sex, indecency, suggestion. It had it all. And I especially enjoyed Erin Phillips' portrayal of Alice Neel.
I also jotted down a couple of notes on some of the things that caught my attention:
At the top of the show, when Nancy handed Alice a cup of tea or coffee, she stood there for a while holding it out to Alice. It was kind of awkward to watch, and I'm not sure if it was something that was worked out later. It may be that the timing was off because it was the first rehearsal in the performance space.
In Scene 2, when Hartley and Richard were talking after coming home from a night out, their conversation was unnatural. Not that the dialogue iteslf was unnatural, they just weren't flowing. It was pretty choppy.
Later, when Alice was painting David, she looked like she was faking it. I didn't think she looked at him enough to make me believe that she was painting him.
That was all I managed to write down, but after reading other peoples' accounts of "Portrait," I have to agree with some of what was said:
I too found it hard to believe that Hartley was the ladies' man. I don't think his character was developed enough to suggest that he was the one who got the ladies. He just didn't seem as strong a character as Richard, thus it was hard to simply believe what was said about him during one scene. I also felt like the "Marry me" was out of place.
About the clothes racks, I figured they were on stage because the performance I saw was a rehearsal. I didn't think they would stay on stage through the actual run.
And I'll leave you with some of my favorite quotes:
"Who can understand a person? We're a nasty bunch."
"They belong to whoever looks at them. Don't you think?"
"Where do you think you came from, the back of a cabbage leaf?"
Monday, February 23, 2009
Time was alot more discreet than the tension that seemed to build up to a satisfying climax. The more the intimate nude portraits were mentioned, I was forced to wonder what exactly was in the box and what Nancy could never forgive Alice for. The most amusing part of the tension was when Alice was finally confronted about the portraits of her beaten son. The culmination of the entire plot came down to the moment when the family's most disturbing secrets were revealed to everyone. For a moment there, I was afraid that the Richard's horrible past included nude pictures of more disturbing crimes such as molestation or anything greater than that. Afterwards, I realized that in this story, a mother's neglect of her child's beaten body and bruised soul was far worse than anything I imagined, and it made me understand why Richard was so cold towards the end.
Something that was more disturbing to me than the sketches of Richard was Alice's final words when she admits her only self portraits are the ones of her children, Nancy, and grand-children. It made me ultimately feel pity for Alice and where her heart was her whole life. This moment probably qualified the idea that a mother's life can be shown through her children. It fit so perfectly and only made the play more twisted in the sense that Alice's life no longer belonged to her. Because she no longer can "claim" her own life, I think that this plot heightened how truly cruel Alice was to herself and to those around her.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Loved the way tension was built between the characters, especially in the scene where David first strips for Alice (and the intimate sarcasm that develops from it makes me feel like watching a hundred other encounters between the two) and the scene where Alice meets Nancy, with Richard and Hartley trying to douse the flames around them.
The secret theme is also well developed. It's not always on the forefront, but comes back every now and then to haunt you. And that box? Always under the bed, like a monster in a child's bedroom? There couldn't be a better McGuffin for the secret subplot. Pandora would be proud.
I think we didn’t get to see enough of Hartley to credibly establish him as a ladies’ man. Maybe because his exploits were too much “in the other room,” a la Sophocles. I think the character would become more concrete if his affairs were more present (e.g., phone calls, Alice and Richard complaining about girls calling all the time). As it were, a million-dollar line like that “marry me” sounded a bit out of place.
In terms of production, I’d like to say that Alice had a tangible charisma. She filled the stage. I’m positive much of it is the merit of the actress (despite the screw-ups with the text), but I think the fact that she was dressed as an old lady, but mostly moved around like a young woman (with no sign of age but her neck bending forward) worked as an expressionistic device: she’s never aged inside.
The bits where people speak at the same time didn’t sound very natural to me. It was easy to understand what both were saying, and it seemed too apparent that each actor was interrupting his own sentences. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this is something that only works in extremes: either the actors really talk at the same time, producing a cacophonic texture, or they talk in the typical fashion, upholding the illusion that people talk orderly in real life. I think it could also happen less often in the play.
Not sure how much the clothes racks at the sides of the stage contributed. They do make a good counterpart to the whiteness of the set, but they seemed more “fragmented” than the rest of the play in terms of language. Some hallway furniture, for instance, would have given the same benefits without the characters rubbing shoulders with clothes when they came to the front door.
Despite these issues, I think the play succeeds in drawing audiences in and keeping them interested until the end. I feel like seeing it again, and also like reading more about Alice Neel. I want to find out the stories that Jenny left out of the play.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I never quite understood, why Aristotle would so clearly and strictly define the length of the time displayed in a drama. If I remember it right, the "unity of time" rule says that this length should not exceed the length of one day. In "Lidless" - at first sight - this rule was obviously broken. The Guantánamo time was displayed and the next time period shown, about 15 years after that, was displayed as the "real time" of "Lidless". But it would also have been possible, even to shorten the (not very lengthy) play by describing the events 15 years prior to the "real time" by one of the actors, for example. The important thing I realized while watching the play was that you have to display the DECISIVE moments in the life of the people. I thought of US-American movies like "Pulp Fiction" by Quentin Tarantino, of "Short Cuts" by Robert Altman, especially of "magnolia" by Paul Thomas Anderson. The plot writers connect the lives of several people in one movie by showing their encounters at IMPORTANT stages or important points within their lives, peaks in a plot. By doing this, you don't need to tell much of the history of the used characters up to this point in time - you just have to decide which facts you need necessarily or to speak with our rule: which things must have happened before, which not. Then, a very short "real time" that is displayed (while the play/ movie is staged/ shot) is enough to show the whole life of the displayed persons. I learned, that the lives of the characters as well as our lives in the real world maybe don't possess so many decisive moments. But if you find out the TURNING POINT, an IMPORTANT point in time, then you can display a good play. It sort of comprises and concludes the whole life in the microcosm of the play. In my opinion, that was and is a helpful and important insight.
I've never seen a play with so few props, and I like the change. I feel like I could focus more on the characters and less on the scenery. Still, sometimes it took me awhile to figure out where and when we were in the sequence of events.
I got confused about Ali when he was in the hospital bed--at first I thought he died, then later he started talking, and still later I thought we were seeing his ghost, only it was Alistair. In the end I'm guessing Rhiannon gave her liver to him, but then we never see her in a hospital bed.
Also, did anyone understand why Alice was interrogating an empty chair in the beginning, and why Rhiannon is sitting to the side, going on about "just one breath, etc.?" Maybe it comes back to that line when someone says, "Rhiannon thought that the world would be a better place if we all just learned to breathe deeper."
I think there must be some significance of sickness in the play other than just "Ali has Hepatitis and needs a liver." Ali has it, Alice has it, and Rhiannon has asthma. The three of them make a family unit, so perhaps that is why they're all sick.
Also, I liked how Alice, Ali, and Alistair all have names that begin with 'Ali.' I don't know for certain what the significance of this is, but maybe it's because they are all very affected by Alice's past. Then again, Rhiannon is definitely affected as well (Alice attacks her), and she doesn't have a name that contains 'Ali.' I looked up "Rhiannon" in a baby names dictionary because of its uniqueness. Rhiannon means "Great Queen." She is also a Welsh mythological goddess. Or maybe Alice just like Fleetwood Mac.
I thought the metaphor of the icing on a burned cake was great. When it came up, I didn't yet understand that Alice had taken pills to "feel better," but when that came out, I thought the cake was very meaningful, and true for many people.
It felt very strange to see a mother acting so cruelly, I guess I generally think of people who don't have children as more likely to be that brand of crazy.
I think the play gave me a better understanding of what happened at Guantanamo and it was a reminder that we can't just forget our pasts, because they make us who we are.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Time in a play can be manipulated in any way possible, and when it's actually done, it becomes more than just a simple plot that has one climax and an end. I really enjoy learning about time in a play because to me it is almost better when everything is mixed up and has a finish that connects everything for me. I love to watch flashbacks play out because then I get to learn more about the characters and plot than I originally knew. It honestly makes the whole play more interesting to watch and enjoy.
I'm not convinced that Lidless could've passed as a play if it only had it's violent and intense moments that followed in a straight line. In some cases, I think a play should take total advantage of the intensity of the plot and just carry it out all the way. I would like there to be more broken moments in the time of a play. It would feel like I'm watching a play that isn't only smart and astonishingly creative, but it satisfies its ultimate interest.
The beauty of playing with time in a play is that you make the audience feel, if only for a hour or so, that they're existing outside of time. You do sacrifice a little bit of the total belief in the reality of what's on the stage (that was a wordy phrase) but on the other hand you let the audience feel a little like Ebenezer Scrooge's Christmas ghosts... hopping around time with ease and at will.
More importantly, having certain moments happen at certain times makes sure that plot points have the impact they need to keep the play moving. And effective, for that matter.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
We'll be working transitions, lights, cues...if you'd like to come, send me an email, and I'll tell you when/where to show up.
I'll ask you to mostly sit quietly in the audience...neither my actors nor I will have time to chat, I expect. But I'll welcome your notes/thoughts on what you see, the day after you see it.
Friday, February 13, 2009
An Ideal Husband
Lacked spectacle, in my opinion. The set was admirably simple, with the bare minimum to indicate the time and place, and doing so very effectively. But such a bare setting demanded that the space be filled with the performances, which I found rather tame. With the exception of Phipps (best actor in the play) and Caversham, everyone else spoke their insults and their greetings with the same diction and intonation. From a playwriting point of view, I think that was the most problematic issue of this production: the non-verbal didn’t convey the meaning of the verbal.
Very tight, making the most of its resources. Powerful, too (the image of the inmate screaming with the bag on its head and handing out the flowers will haunt me for quite some time). The revelation of the inmate being the girl’s father could have been more concrete – because of the fragmented form, there is a lot of plot to absorb. Other than that revelation, the play seemed to be clear where it needed and fuzzy where it didn’t matter (or where it was best served by being fuzzy). I’m also not sure how the doctor and the torturer met after their discharge, and it’s sort of important, but it didn’t prevent me from understanding and enjoying the play.
Loved the sadomasochistic tension that developed between victim and aggressor -- it touches very deep, essential issues of human nature, and very concisely, I might add. Reminded me of the movies Black Snake Moan and Blue Velvet.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
[On behalf of Team Beckett]
Some will tell you that theatre is doomed and that film isn't just an art form, but the way of the future. To thee, I say NAY! Our class discussion of spectacle reminded me that there is so much value in the live theatre environment. Regardless of subject choices or artistic approaches, live theatre will always have a niche, because of that wonderful, wonderful weirdness irked by the ability to see something happen before your very eyes. There is that mystical quality to being able to witness a happenning - having been in the room - seeing something created before your very eyes - which recorded media simply will not capture. A sheer amount of in-your-face-ness.
This was a thought I'd had recently when I read an article published about the fall of the CD format due to online stores and sheer pirating. Recorded music is on the verge of becoming a hopeless cause to charge money for because of the utter ease of stealing it due to advances in technology. I realized that, though this is a tragedy, this is an easy wake-up call for bands and artists everywhere. Bands have to stop using tours as just lame venues with which to sell their CD's. Before the 80's, bands actually cared about their tours and made them all into thrilling experiences full of lights, costumes, jumps, swaying, glamour, theatrics, pyrotechnics, etc. Half of the different "movements" of rock and roll have been changes in costume anyway. Then, along came Thriller, and suddenly every album become a cheap ploy to make some dumbass in a corporate office a millionaire by finding hits and repeating the formula until a band was nothing but a puppet with a record executive's arm crammed up his ass.
Many of us in the Theatre Department will want to be screenwriters and screen actors and screen anything. It certainly pays a lot better, sometimes the budget is better too. But, no matter how pretty somebody looks in the beautiful and intricately polished magic of film, a film is something that can be ripped onto a disc and distributed to anyone with a computer at all in a matter of moments. If you're making a film, keep in mind that people in Taiwan probably are already pirating a bootlegged unfinished cut.
Theatre, however, is raw. Performance, regardless of whatever ridiculous thing you've done whether on a shoestring budget or with all the right investors, has value in one basic quality that makes it theatre - it's live. You can always charge people for something if it's live. Because things that are live have value. Everything is up in the air. It's the thrill. It's the life. It's the spectacle of theatre.
Last class just showed me that all that mess is so unnecessarily complicated. I never really put some thought into the fact that even if you ran with the same idea of something prior, your plot could be entirely different. And it was funny because when I wrote down 3 movies I loved and put them into a sentence of summary, they were all practically the same story. And not to mention, how easy we made the time line. I mean a beginning, middle, end and go crazy with the space in between. That simple... GENIUS!!!
So, I'm not saying that I am going to be some unstoppable writing force that is wripping out the Academy Award winning scripts now. I am simply saying, I'm going to be able to write, I mean free of restraint, headache, and self degradation. And that alone is so exciting. So sincerely, thanks Jenny. Last class was great!
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
See, when I think of love, I think of you. But your love isn't sweet, kind, or gentle. It's a weight on my shoulders. You love me for my strengths, and so you test them. You put that love upon me, and there it sits growing heavier with each expectation of a person I can't always be. It presses down upon me, shoving my ribs torwards my hips, and my stomache inward till I find it hard to breathe.
But I love you for the latter. For all your cracks, dents, dings, scratches, and scruffs, you are all the more beautiful. Like an antique vase, you were molded into the most beautiful design of curves and shape, yet in an instant you can break, shatter into a million pieces, irreperable.
So I've held you, your shapely self, and your love upon my shoulders, felt the weight upon, me breaking my spine like the "snapping" of twig upon in the winter, made frail by the cold. But I am tired of snapping into pieces.
I want to bring you down from my shoulders, till we see eye to eye. I will bind you, break you, mold you, and burn you down in the furnace of love that rages inside me, until you feel the chaos inside me that is this love. And we will burn together, till, as one, we'll melt.
Last thursday my notecard said "I would love to see a character break into song during a play, not a musical, where people would expect that to happen."
So to whoever wrote that one, you might be interested in seeing this video:
What struck me in the last lesson was the exercise about the Chiltern monologue (about women idealizing men in their relationship, while men tend to see their female partners more realistic and recognize their flaws). It is incredible, how many possibilities language offers to its users and thus, how many different "versions" of this monologue or scene we could produce. First I thought, I could not produce anything reasonable. But I managed to convey Chiltern's opinion only with stage directions. I had "no dialogue" and decided to do the monologue without any words. It showed me the power of gestures and why we continually communicate, even if we don't speak a word. It also reminded me of the psychologist Watzlawick who (I think) said "You cannot not communicate". Personally, I used a projector to show newspaper headlines (of Chiltern's dishonorable actions), or a liquor bottle and dollar bills to illustrate the vices of men. Thus, I came to the conclusion that language is really only ONE part of communication. The situation the person is in, his or her clothing, mimics, gestures, age, gender, ethnicity, religion/ culture, sexual orientation and the point in time are just some other important features of the communication going out from one person - even if the person itself may not be aware of it or maybe even wants to avoid that.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Heightening, exaggeration, using monosyllabic words to show rapidity, really obvious names, interruption, lambic pentameter, ubiquitous languages - magical words, modern references, OCD v. current slang, rhetorical questions, stuttering, pun, one word sentences, contractions, pauses, monologues, asides, interviews, music, malapropisms, incomplete sentences, accents, alternative/consequential dialogs, vernacular, information that can only be read not performed, volume, dialect, profanity, corruption, conjections/subordinated periods, allegories/poetic text, directness, run on sentences, fragments, intellectual language,foreign languages, repetition, no dialogue, narration, wordiness, absence of punctuation, hesitation, hyperbole, euphemisms, hyphens, ellipses, misspelling, question marks, fonts, page breaks, pauses, animal voices, wit, tempo, alliteration, violence, synecdoche, vulgarity, phonetic spellings, personifications, quotes, text language, mixing languages, beat, colloquialisms, italics, stychomythia, embellishment, silence.
I liked the class discussion and activity. The way people can heighten a simple sentence and exaggerate the thoughts one can have in a scene is why I wanted to pursue playwriting. The ability to transform simple words into a huge profession of happiness or love or pain is a truly remarkable trait that writers should never deny.
It saddens me, however, that language can be the most a playwright is allowed to be involved with in the production of his or her play. I would want to contribute more to a play other than it's language.
this post is packed with similes like reese's peanut butter puffs is packed with peanut butter and chocolate-y taste
The middle of the week is like a whirlpool that starts from the moment the alarm clock pierces my dreams at 8:00 am on Tuesday to the minutes my head finally rests somewhere during Friday morning.
Tuesday, especially, irks me like that first long, awkward dinner with your girlfriend's conservative family.
It begins first with the brief moments I switch clothes and pretend to have showered, where I feel as clean as I do during that first awkward, rushed greeting while I secretly ponder the sanctity of my utterly dirty intentions with this nice family's oldest daughter. I go to my first class, Acting, which, though exciting, comes a little too early in the day for my comfort, like that plate of expensive cheeses they have laid out just for me, obligating me to spoil my appetite so that I don't appear ungrateful.
This, of course, is but a preamble to the long, long bulk of time spent in the prop shop, which is as rigourous and consuming as my girlfriend's mother's pork chop recipe, passed from generation to generation to me, the only one whose sensitive teeth are too weak to chew the extra lean cuisine for less than an eon. By the time I leave it late in the afternoon, I find myself somewhere between trudging and running to my immediate next class, somewhat in the same way I sift the ladles and forks through the side dishes I neglected, but now must defend my affection for before my captors. All of this is capped off by my play rehearsals, an evening treat, which, like desert, would have the flavor of a blessing when the day was young but instead leaves me feeling like the Hindenberg after everything else has passed.
All of this is, of course, punctuated by the homework, the assignments, the outside projects, and my endless job hunts, like (if not constituting) the awkward dinner-talk that the whole excursion was actually for, leaving me wary of a father's if-you-knock-up-my-daughter-I-will-obliterate-your-balls-from-existance glares and a mother's I-sure-hope-this-boy-goes-to-some-nice-church smiles, as I wallow in double-standards and exhaustion.
Fridays are like when that girl's parents go out of town.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Other than that, I see great value in studying plot, action, motivation and conflict, and whatever else is in store for us concerning traditional drama language and structure. I think that kind of formulaic concern is hardly news for anyone with a remote interest in writing (who has never heard, for instance, of loglines – the “twenty words or less” summary of film ideas?), but it’s something worth learning in detail – and mastering to the point where you can use it comfortably and spontaneously, I daresay. Ionesco and Beckett are great, and no writer of any talent should discard a good idea upfront just because it clashes with any rules; but I find those traditional rules to be the most effective and practical help you can turn to when you don’t know what to write next.
I have no qualms about studying writing from a mechanic perspective, following recipes of success. I want to learn how to do that, as objectively and thoroughly as possible. I think that actually makes experimentation and innovation easier: when you’re familiar with what’s been done, you’ll know that whatever else you can think of is experimental and fresh. Revolution always comes more easily in the most inflexible regimes.
MAN (enters) shakes head ten times fiercely
MAN points at woman and points at himself
WOMAN looks askingly at him, as he repeats his gestures. She lifts her hands, palms up, shakes her head lightly, curls her lips.
MAN draws out a cardpaper heart (red)
WOMAN pulls out pedestal. Lets man jump on pedestal, kneels down before it, holds up cardpaper heart to him; produces praying gesture and look
MAN (annoyed) jumps from pedestal, shakes his head. Throws the pedestal away.
He shows the woman
1. a liquor bottle, drinks from it greedily
2. looks at porn magazines, he draws out of his pockets
3. laughs exaggeratedly and throws out dollar bills on small (children's) ferrari/ kettcar ferrari
WOMAN looks astonished; still asking look; lifts arms and shakes hands; she doesn't understand
MAN throws on projector. Shows pictures of newspaper articles. Headlines with his name in connection to dishonor, trial etc. Also: Pictures of him in handcuffs, looking guiltily at the floor
WOMAN looks scared at him. Crosses arms in front of her, waves hands. She didn't want that.
MAN While looking at pictures/ headlines: getting angrier. He turns toward the woman, takes her head in both hands. Points at it and shakes it and makes asking gestures.
WOMAN still doesn't seem to understand.
I want to talk about the writer's block, because we treated that topic in class and I also saw posts containing thoughts about it. First I think, it is very helpful to learn things like the language devices we collected on the blackboard. It is astonishing, how many possibility language offers.
But to me, this is the same with the action or the plot. When we had to invent the short drama with 2 out of our 3 wants, set in a place mentioned by the others in class (also collected on blackboard) within 20 minutes, I thought, "I won't be able to finish that in 20 minutes".
While I was doing it, my tension vanished, though. I became aware of exactly the fact, I mentioned above. There are millions of revelations or solutions to all plot or language problems. Therefore, I think this exercise was helpful.
But another aspect of this lesson is important. Because, still, if we could pull one or several revelations for the plot out of the hat, it would not be a good piece of work in my opinion. I have written many texts of all kinds, scientific texts as a student, worked as a journalist for 6 different newspapers in my hometown and as I said in my introduction, I am publishing a small satire magazine together with one friend of mine.
The written texts and the contents of my different written works thus varied a lot. But overall, it is important to say, that a text generally would always improve, if I would take a second, a third look at it. Also I think it is important for DRAMA purposes to imagine the person, better the person and the situation given or needed. If you do this, it can't be completely wrong.
And as we have seen, e.g. regarding the settings or the language devices on blackboards, you can relax. That is, because there are so many POSSIBLE solutions. The next important step should be for us, to learn how to IMPROVE the allegedly shitty first drafts.
it was supposed to be like a sottish dialect. I've never written in dialect before so I did my best. Thanks for attempting to read that.
I gave you billions and adored your very belly button lint!
And where did that leave you? In Siberia! Starving and clawing for more! I can't take it, you're hell!
How is he any different? He'll perish, just like I did the moment you touched me.
And wait, you're not hell, my life is hell. Thanks for drowning me in you diarrhea.
The following is a brief excerpt from an early draft of my best-selling book on writing from the FUTURE, whose title will be revealed at a later date... in the FUTURE.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CONFLICTS
Though much is said of conflicts and the necessity of conflict for any basic work of storytelling, regardless of medium, to convey a plot or idea, it is necessary to remember that conflict does not give a story its intrigue or any merit as a story. The broadest conflicts can seem incredibly tedious and the smallest trials can be astoundingly interesting depending on the depth of the story itself.
Take the fate of an entire planet at the hands of a spacefaring empire for instance; though extraordinarily massive and serious in scope can be completely and utterly uncompelling. Take the writing of any given video game set in space: Star Fox Armada, amongst cries of disappointment as a lackluster game, was detested for having such extraordinarily overdramatic cutscenes for a plot that was so genuinely silly. To be honest, who really plays these games for the plots? In video games, the trick to a good plot is having one that gives you a better idea of what the gameplay means to you. Still, with a lot of outright crappy gameplay (Damn you, Landmaster tank!), attention turned to the fact that players basically don't give a bucket of spit whether the spacefaring "aparoid" hivemind species takes over an entire solar system, just as long as none of the interesting characters (i.e. the ones with the best designs) are killed off. Video games have yet to flourish as a truly fine storytelling medium, because most games try to pass off graphics and the fact that it's basically you beating the crap out of whatever they come up with as a story.
By contrast, the small agricultural dispute of Sherman's Planet in the Star Trek episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles" retains a legendary status. Kirk doesn't fire a laser at anything, there are no characters die, and there certainly isn't a fucking Landmaster tank every other fucking level! No, the plot of "Tribbles" is a parable about ecological awareness and a brief and surprising episode in an agricultural conflict between two spacefaring empires in a civil disagreement. Yet still, Star Trek, in all its not-being-a-video-game-or-having-any-CGI-at-all gloriness continues to amaze while most copies of Armada collect dust. Why?
Levels! And I don't mean bonus levels (which Armada has none of, by the way) or levels where you play as the piece-of-shit Landmaster tank (which Armada has too much of, by the way); I mean levels and layers of conflict which give the story more depth than A vs. B. A good work of fiction (or even non-fiction), though it might be described in brief by focusing on one basic conflict, tends to be a plethora of basic conflicts between different parties who, depending on their own alliances, are perhaps involved in bigger fights or governing smaller potatoes than that which the protaganist(s) might even recognize.
The "Tribbles" episode is wonderful because there are interpersonal conflicts far and wide, most involving Kirk, as well as larger difficulties which greater parties are engaged in. The major conflict of the episode (and indeed the series) is between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, this time involving a relatively small conflict over the ownership of Sherman's planet, an agricultural haven, under the confines of a treaty. Kirk and his crew find themselves at odds with the Klingons, who they must, due to the treaty, act cordially amongst on the cooperative space-station they are defending. This friction means Kirk is at odds with the Klingons, an acknowledged danger, Nilz Baris, a captain in search of protection of a wealthy payload of grain, and Starfleet Command, which insists that Kirk remain at the station despite his own ego. Meanwhile, the character of Cyrano Jones introduces the quickly reproducing and payload-reducing Tribbles, creating a battle against unnatural insertion of a natural predator, while humiliating Kirk and initiating a search for the Klingon Spy.
"Tribbles" is dizzying in the amount of sheer stuff going on, produced for one of the most classically camp shows of all time, and yet it can still imbue the viewer with a sense of position on the relevant conflicts the show addresses, such as man's effect on the environment through unnatural insertion of species into different environments. Meanwhile, Star Fox Armada only ever introduces the concept of Space Furries versus Space Bugs, and maybe Good Furries versus Weirder Furries when Star Wolf is introduced. The only greater conflict the game really arouses is all its confused players versus the fucking Landmaster tank.
Perhaps if one totalled out all the cutscenes, dialog, and cinematic sequences in Star Fox Armada it would be relatively the same length, if not longer than the "Tribbles" thing. This can only prove that length of a work or scale of conflict addressed does not determine whether the story is good or not, nor should you be mislead by my evaluations so far to think that I value "denser" works more than others or that quantity of conflicts means quality. I would actually have prefered "Tribbles" to be a bit less wordy, a bit better acted, and perhaps make the characters not just a bunch of dudes with shallow quirks.
What I admire, however, is when a work gives me something that I find myself involved in, to where I continue sitting and watching or reading or playing because something about it is compelling and thought-provoking, not in any particular sense, just that I will have many, many thoughts when I consume it. And the thoughts will surprise me and I will find something new in them, even if it might be age old conflicts. Because Star Fox Armada relied simply on finding new ways to explore Star Fox versus Things Not Yet Exploding, the only new or surprising thoughts I have when playing Star Fox Armada are "How much longer will I have to play in the Landmaster tank?" or "Is there something I can do other than play as the Landmaster tank?" or "Why does the Landmaster tank suck donkey balls?"
The trick is not that one strive for any particular conflict, be it the most meaningful or unique or intense or broad or whatever. The point is that one explore it to such an extent that we find meanings beyond the most obvious and the directions that such a conflict could truly encompass. Where space adventures can be nothing more than a romp of gratification for a truly perserverant cadet, they can also be the exploration of conflicts interpersonal and interplanetary through the display of what the conquest of a planet has the potential to truly entail. For Fox, this entails wallowing around in the crappiest tank ever devised by furry or man alike. For Kirk it entails learning to both cooperate and remain true to one's ideals in a time of great deception.
A fine example I can give of such bizarre relationships between conflicts on different levels is the music video for the "Revolution 909" single by Daft Punk. In it, a woman flees a party which is being busted by local police, only to find herself mesmerized by a spot of tomato sauce on the pursuing officer's undershirt. From there, we see a massive sequence entailing the life cycle, cultivation, sale, and preparation of the very tomato that stained said shirt, a thought which appears to visibly mesmerize the woman. The officer, wondering what she is staring at, glances down at his shirt, only for the woman to make her escape.
The conflict is brief and lasted perhaps a few seconds: the girl and the officer square off, and the girl escapes. But the means by which she escaped create the true journey of the video, set on the backdrop of a completely contrasting inner-city conflict between cops and the unruly youth of the era. Such imaginative explorations are provocative and compelling, even despite the lack very much actually happenning, proving that the power doesn't lie in simply having a conflict, but discovering what that conflicts means for your story.
In conclusion, I really really really hate the Landmaster tank.
Monday, February 2, 2009
But this weekend, I ran into a point that I hope translates in a way that we can reflect upon in this class, or maybe we already did and I was just zoned out daydreaming of what it would be like to be known as Andy "the grouch".
Friday, I went to opening night of the movie Taken. First of all, awesome action film. Totally go see it if you havn't yet! But then again, was it?
Personally, yes, it was. But according to all the critics its average rating was two stars, and not because the acting was poor, everyone thought Liam Neeson was excellent. Not because it failed to entertain. People were litterally jumping out of their seats. No, it was critically a flop because most reviewers thought it was just too unbelievable for someone's daughter to go abroad for a summer and be abducted by a gang that ultimately forced young women into prostitution.
Now, granted, this sort of conflict may not happen everyday, and one out of five of us may not even be able to name a person this has happened to, but without the girl being abducted the movie would have had no conflict. It would have been the story of a dad whose daughter was overseas. Not nearly as bad ass you know?
So here is the point. We need conflict, but what are its limitations? I mean, how can a movie receive bad reviews because of the conflict that makes the story. I mean, if movies of aliens are acceptable than we know that all characters and settings can work for movies but what about conflict?
Must it be both internal and external? Does one matter more? Does the conflict have to be original or must it reflect things that are traditionally conflicted in society? How much conflict can you have and is there ever too much? These are the things I wonder about. Because if conflict makes a story, then how could you ever do it wrong?
I also have to admit that writing in-class, on the spot is new to me. It's a little nerve-wracking, but it's exciting as well. And once it's all over, and Jenny calls time, I look back on the last 8 or so minutes and I'm proud of myself for getting the words out. Even, like I mentioned before, if it's not amazing.
I wanted to comment on something Julia said at the beginning of Thursday's class. I too find that I focus more on writing stage directions than I do dialogue. In our first three-page scene that we submitted on Thursday, I think mine made it to three pages quicker than I thought because of my stage directions. I do think that it comes from my experience writing short stories and poetry, and even in writing short stories I find dialogue the most difficult part of a story to write. I guess that's a big part of why I'm here.
I really liked the last exercise we did, where we wrote our three wants on a sheet of paper, etc. Surprisingly, the paper I chose contained three wants similar to my own. It could have easily been my paper, my wants.
1. I want to be in complete control of my mind.
2. I want more quality time with my boyfriend.
3. The tangible thing I want is money.
Even though I have no idea whose wants these are, it's pretty cool to know that we may have more in common than we think.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
The man in my picture just gone done working and is dirty. He holds a chainsaw in his hands. He looks tired, but his eyes look determened. He stands next to a huge tree.
It may not be the most glamorous job, and it isn’t, but it’s not that bad. I am a third generation lumberjack, and I am trying to stay afloat. The money never stretches as far as I need it to and things don’t turn out the way I want them to. I work intensely all day long, usually in the sun. The work is hard, heavy and back-breaking.I’d like to lose this dead end job one day and go somewhere and move up in the world like Jessica says. But… I don’t exactly know where I would go, or what I would do, something a little easier on the bones for sure. Some folks would call me crazy for saying something like that. It’s tough enough to get any job in these times, particularly me without a high school diploma. Hell I shouldn’t be complaining, a lumberjack is paid well by the hour because of the hard labor. I am thankful for what I have, but I am using all of my resources and making no forward motion.There is not a lot of opportunity these days; you take what you can get. Physical labor is my only outlet. Who knows, soon I may not have the luxury of a choice. Everyone is fearful of the next round of job cuts. My father told me something. He told me that in life I shouldn’t just wait for somebody to give me a piece of their pie, that instead I should make my own pie. It was just some stupid expression that he had heard somewhere or possibly he just made it up, but that is easier said than done. It seems as though the road that I must travel to make my pie leads me exactly to where I didn’t want to be in the first place.
However, it is difficult. It is hard to decide on what message I want to present, and how I want to make what I’m saying different than everything that has already been written. Also sometimes I find it difficult to write material that is do-able on stage that is new and isn’t just conversation.
To get started, I just try brainstorming for an idea. Brainstorming with other people is really fun, and I get excited about talking about writing a play and throwing ideas around. I could throw around ideas for hours maybe, but still when I get home and try to tap it out on the keyboard the actual writing always proves to be a challenge. I need to learn to decide where I’m going in my writing before I begin. I am always trying to think of that awesome idea, but it seems like I think up the same old stuff, and it isn’t good enough.
In the exercise where we used our classmate’s wants and the locations on the board to write a scene, I started off blindly with no idea where I was going (because I couldn’t think of anything good). Often I will start writing my scene even when I don’t have an exact idea of what I want to happen mapped out. I just start writing, follow my lead, and let it happen, hoping that a story will unfurl. However, I don’t feel like that is an adequate method to writing plays. When I look back on what I’ve written, I see that if I had done it a different way then it could have been more meaningful, or more interesting.
Basically what happens in my two person scene exercise is a mother and her son are in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, and the mother responds very well to her son’s bad behavior. When looking back, I could have made her unable to handle it. That might have given the story the ability to have a little more bulk.
What I would like to focus on is coming up with a very interesting theme that I want to express. The big idea, the why what happens in each scene in respect to the piece as a whole is what is important. What do I want to say, and how is it different from what other people have already said?