Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Notes on “Look, Listen, Look Again!”

The introductory videos with the artists explaining what they tried to achieve were, in my opinion, a big mistake: the more the artist speaks, the less the work speaks for itself.

Three of the choreographies made a strong impression on me.

“Alright” (the four friends in the car): doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I think it was a great example of narration and non-narration conjugated with cohesion. While it was easy to identify the characters’ roles and relationships, it didn’t detract from the visual/spatial tensions of the choreography itself. The fact that many of the gestures had a cultural added value of their own that went beyond the choreography (e.g., the bits where they danced to the music on the radio, the girls playfully shaking their behinds like bunnies) helped blur the distinction between dance and drama. And I think that’s a good thing to remember from our perspective – we should learn the same trick they use to bring some verbal to their non-verbal and use it to add a little non-verbal to our verbal.

“Units of Light”: I’m pretty thick when it comes to dance, but one moment made my jaw drop on the floor – the part where the three dancers are walking in line to the front of the stage, with the first and the third facing the audience and the one in the middle facing backstage. It’s so simple, and yet the resulting effect of reflection unleashes a torrent of meanings that gives a new dimension to the piece: mirrors, water, multifaceted identities etc. That’s what I would call “genius”.

“Mindless Connection”: stood out from the others because the dancers spent most of the time very close to each other. The synergy between them was so strong it got me despite the avant-gardy music, which I found very distracting. Nothing against dancers being far away from each other onstage, but I found their proximity to bring more tension to the performance than the more separated ones.

Notes on “101 Ways…”

Plenty of spectacle on this one. Never lost rhythm, never got boring. Granted, that’s easier to achieve with small segments than with a single plot from beginning to end, but as playwrights, I think we should consider how the action of 101 Ways (…) is distributed in cycles and use it to make sure our plays never suffer for having too much time go by without anything changing, surprising or otherwise happening.

And my God, what a beginning.

Ass-kissing aside, I’d like to address two issues that, in my opinion, need improvement:

1) Despite the myriad segments, the play had a formal unity, and I think that was because of the recurrent “sections” – “Makeover with Miss Carra”, “X Things I’d Like To Read In Cosmo And Won’t”, “Q&A with Steve”, “Someone Wrote This”. The more independent bits (Sarah’s story where the magazine scares her into not doing anything other than reading magazines, “If the media was a city”, “Cosmosutra”, Steve’s argument about girls practicing for adulthood instead of playing) worked just fine on their own, but felt a little out of place in the greater context.

2) Emphasizing the real-life identities of the actors-writers is not very constructive for the overall effect. It makes the subject matter less concrete: we’re no longer watching a play about magazines, but an investigation about the writers’ attitudes and reactions toward the magazine world, its culture and how it connects to their own individual baggage, blah, blah, blah. Even if that is exactly what is being presented onstage, disconnecting the material from the writers hides the process, casting a brighter light on the product.

"Funky Snowman"

"Funky Snowman"

First of all, I enjoyed Michael and Julia in costumes in this short play for kids. I think that the acustic conditions of the room were not very good. To support the dances, the music should be louder and come from all sides.

The music itself was good, although parts of it seemed improvised by the elegantly clad keyboard player. About the costumes: I think that all the other ballet kids should wear the same costume except Fritzie who should look slightly different to support her outcast existence.

The snowman itself danced quite funky, he should be clad in an all white costume though and maybe wear also one feature of a snowman's face, for example a big and convincing carrot.

The actors did a good job. But I have to say that I don't think it is necessary to speak only French (the ballet class teacher), some words should be enough. That is, because it is intended to be a play for children, although there were hardly any children in the audience yesterday.

A good idea would maybe be if the teacher also left disappointed BEFORE the class to show that she has no power over the free and quite wild, funky dances of her students anymore.

Having better conditions, this play surely has potential, the dances could even be longer and include some people slipping and falling to the ground to show the unplannedness of them. I don't have any kids but I would absolutely take them to this play which maybe should be staged in theatres in the north of the US in the wintertime, since Texan children might not know about the white substance the snowman is made of.

"What Started Here Changed the World"

This was a very interesting play based on the increasingly frequent shootings at universities and high schools in the last few years. The story begins with Annabelle (I could be wrong on the name) reluctantly studying with her TA in a classroom. After an entertaining and realistic interaction between Annabelle and the TA, we hear screams outside, where there is a gunman on the loose. Eventually, three or four other students run into the classroom for protection, and the waiting game begins. The students have heated disputes over whether or not to barricade the door and over a general game plan. What was incredibly fascinating was seeing how each character, despite efforts to remain under control, gradually showed his or her true colors under the intense pressure and fear of imminent death. As Heath Ledger's Joker so memorably remarked in "The Dark Knight", you see what kind of man (or woman) a person really is when they're about to die.

The ambiguous ending was nice... we don't really know if it was the gunman at the door or not. The video clips were also a good touch (especially Annabelle's chat conversation with her boyfriend at the beginning) but I think the story might have been a little tighter and more effective had the eyewitness testimonials been cut and we just had the (apparent) gunman's incredibly creepy video. The twist of Annabelle having a gun was unexpected, but I think might have been used to greater effect. The dialogue was generally very realistic-- I had the continual feeling that I was actually in the situation myself and would have expected the characters to act as they did. The one exception was the character of the Christian (I don't remember his name, unfortunately.) While nicely acted, his lines seemed as if each was lifted from an old book or the Bible, when he really only quotes the Bible once or twice... his speeches are a bit too idealized, considering the circumstances, though his actions are believably consistent with his faith. I wonder if he was intended to be an "intellectual" or else trying to convince himself by repeating old quotes...

The title is incredibly ironic... how cheeky, in a way, to take UT's slogan and apply it to such a tragedy, and yet so appropriate...

Thoughts on Autopilot

So I saw Autopilot yesterday.  :)

I thought there were a lot of really cool concepts incorperated into the performance:

-The cast started in seats among the audience members, and did their opening lines from there.  I was actually sitting next to one of the girls, and she turned and told me her story like we'd been best friends since third grade.  I really enjoyed it, and it pulled me from the very first beat.
-There was also a lot of unison dialogue (a la Charles Mee) which, in my opinion always makes the text being spoken a little more universal... all of these people believe this line, and say it, AND all at the same time, which kind of makes it unifying- earth shattering.  Maybe that's just me.
-All of the relationships represented in the piece revolved around one guy, who made quick changes to become each other character's significant other.  I'm a big fan of having one actor play multiple parts, and thought that Bryan did a really good job differentiating the characteristics of each of the guys he was playing.  So yeah, it was the same guy every time... but within each given situation I felt like he was different every time and was completely enthralled in that scenario with those characters.  Applause.

While I really did completely adore these aspects, I felt like a lot of the writing was either predictable or really unrealistic.  Two actresses in particular (Jenna and Chelsea) did a really good job of pumping that cliche text full of emotion.  Their monologues were spectacular.  Seriously, I had to check myself, because I felt like my face was slowly melting to match the anger in theirs, and I was becoming really, truly enraged for these girls.  

Overall, I enjoyed it.
(P.S. I heard that Footprints show opened last night and was amazing....)

More later.  Hope everyone is having a great festival week!

Monday, March 30, 2009

On to the New Works Festival!

Hahaaa!! First post of the festival! Beat ya, suckers!


Thoughts on “Dream Sequence”

I’ll summarize it briefly for those who didn’t watch it: eight people reenact/narrate one of their individual dreams, framed by a black-clad cowboy who asks questions like “did he dream her, or she dream him?” at the beginning and the end of the show. No sets other than eight chairs. Some changes of lighting. Soundtrack ranging from crickets and cars to Ella Fitzgerald and Carlos Gardel.

For each segment, the main actor would tell his dream and illustrate it with some repetitive movement (cocking a gun, swimming, dancing or just abstract gestures). Many times they described the same action they were mimicking. I don’t think it worked. Perhaps it lacked spectacle. Perhaps it was too much telling instead of showing (or both, as it were).

One of the segments was about a guy and his ex-girlfriend. Though it wasn’t a particularly remarkable story, the tension between the two characters gave it the drama that lacked in the rest of the play. The other segments had no counterparts to the protagonist other than the casual and brief opposition of a clerk, waitress or teacher.

Some of the performances were very captivating, with the main actor being “manhandled” by his peers in ways that distorted faces and dispersed or concentrated the whole cast in visually interesting ways.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I forgot Kat.

Which is weird, because she knows how much I love her play. 


The concept of the confession booth is really powerful, and I just envision really serious, heavy subject matter- which is what was delivered.  I think the balance between the hosting of the radio show and carrying on a normal conversation with a friend was well done, and little, if anything, was unclear to me.

Good one.  Good. One.

Thoughts on Tuesday

I'm just going to go out of order.  Sorry.

Celso: I really love the plot, and the fact that your language is so detailed.  I can imagine every single thing that is going on, from the look of your setting and characters, to the voices and inflections that I am supposed to be hearing.  I feel really useless- I don't have any constructive criticism.  I just enjoyed it.  :)

Lily: I really wanted to use the Neil LaBute slashes, too, but didn't feel like I could make it work- you DID though, and good for you.  Though we're not writing about the same thing at all from a story standpoint, I feel like we are both trying to get a point across about society, so, we're basically twins.  I liked it a lot- my only thoughts would be to look over the end.  Throwing Jeanie into the conversation was a little abrupt, but I can see what it is that you are trying to do, so I know you'll be able to iron it out. :)

Chibbi: I thought your dialogue was believable, really fantastic.  I have trouble writing things that people would actually say, so I listen for the good stuff to try and learn from it.  Your work would rank among the 'good stuff.'  I especially liked the character of Lily, and her emotional arch.

Sarah: This was SO interesting.  At first, before the actual conflict arises, I was just taken in by the mother/son dialogue because it was written in a believable fashion.  And then when the son begins to remember his other life- this is just so cool.  Sorry to be of so little help in the revision department, but I was really struck by the plot, and enjoyed it.

On MY play:  The Student is meant to be nameless 1) because every time I think up a name, I end up scratching it out, thinking it's stupid, for some reason and 2) because the meat of the story doesn't involve her.  She's not as important and Anne and the characters of her past/fantasies, so I never want her referred to by name.  None of the characters that reside in that outer frame get names.  Ha.  So it goes.  This is also because in the extended version, more stories/fantasies are included that involve more characters, and I want all most of the focus to be on them without any confusion over who is who.  You know?


Festival notes

It was great to hear everyone's plays, from the revisions to the new plays I hadn't heard before. Very good job!  I'm looking forward to today.

Ashley: The ending was very dramatic and wrapped it all up nicely.  Now I know what you meant when you said my ending needed to have a BANG at the end (forgive me the pun).

Chibbi:  I liked the addition of Warren's monologue, and the scene with Lily and the guys.  Hearing from the boys gave us more of an idea of what their school environment felt like.  I preferred the original ending, with the video of the guys playing and riding bikes and things at the end.  You showed us there what you ended up having the characters say at the end of the play.  I thought it was more powerful when you let that serve as subtext in the scene with the videos playing us out, leaving the audience to consider the implications for themselves.

Celso:  I absolutely love your character descriptions, even for the ones that had one line and then were shot instantly afterwards.  The prologue was captivating, and the whole scenario played with humor and action and drama wonderfully.  It was something I'd like to watch and I enjoyed reading, very fun characters that will appeal to actors.

Lily:  I really liked the opening scene, it immediately drew me in to the story.  Some of George and Millie's dialogue seems a bit circular/repetitive after a bit.  Some of the lines seem superfluous.  It would be cool if we could circle back around to the first scene's setting at the end...maybe?

Julia:  Believable dialogue and characters.  I liked the split stage for fantasy and reality.  The Barbie and Ken playhouse scene was very funny, especially in contrast to the gritty reality of that same scenario showed later.  I thought the connections to dolls, the barbies and the Alice doll, was very cool.  I liked the ending when she asks the doll to hold her hand to prepare for what's coming.  Question for you, why is the granddaughter just STUDENT and nameless?

Kat:  Nice setup that sets the mood.  Nice lil' bits of humor dispersed throughout.  Interesting concept.  My favorite part was when the one man confessed that, after hearing all those confessions, he was now suspicious of everyone he saw on the street, even lil' old ladies.


First of all, thanks so much to everyone for their critiques/encouragement... that was hugely helpful.

Now, for the wonderful plays we heard on Tuesday...
Quick note: these will not be in huge detail, because without having seen the script for most of them, I'm very likely to misinterpret or mess something up!

After that disclaimer, here we go, in no particular order:

Chibbi: Very creative idea, and very well-executed; the overall result was striking and disturbing (in a good way.) I really liked how we got to see the perspectives of everyone in the school (the principal, especially... it probably didn't hurt that Jenny read the lines so well!)

Sarah: LOVED this story… the plot raises a lot of interesting questions about the real truth. The stage directions were great-- I could completely visualize the setting and the action in my mind, and the dialogue was incredibly realistic-- exactly what I would expect a child and his mother to say in such a situation.

Celso: It's been fun seeing this play develop… I liked how there were actual physical descriptions added to the stage directions. The catch to this, is that while it makes it easier for the READER to visualize, I wonder if it's necessary when this play is actually performed, since the actresses may very well not look like the descriptions… totally just a thought. However, the physical characteristics do give us a clue into how the characters should be played. I also thought it was great that the details of the Gaetano and Sforza family wars were fleshed out a little more in the dialogue.

Julia: This play is fabulous. No more to be said.
Well, since that's probably not very helpful... I have a few notes on the revisions...
The change to the ending was interesting... I liked that the doll Alice no longer was the secret stash for the pills, and that everything was a little more ambiguous. On the other hand, I did like in the first draft when the last line of the play was, "Will you hold my hand?"

Lily: I REALLY, really liked George's development. The fact that he is now working for the government adds a great twist and an added sadness to his lines. And I know I already said this about the first draft, but I love the quotations at the beginning. I think they add such a great touch and set the mood.

Ashley: This was the hardest for me to follow without reading the script-- I think it just takes either seeing it in performance or reading the play to get everything, though; the writing was great. I thought the scenario playing out between Sam, Amy and Jessie was really intriguing, and like I think someone else said, I would love to see it expanded in a longer play. Great job!

Dietz: Reviews

Ashley- You fixed the "Sam" Dillema and thus, you made a really great (though really disturbing lol) play. Maybe I'm biased because I think I liked it from the start, but Sam's character was a problem, and your solution was very believable to me. So excellent job... loved it!

Chibbi- Dude, nice work. This felt polished and well planned. You enhanced Lilly, Brought in Brandon, Burkard's part, and the principal, which filled in the play with some real meat. It felt real becasue we got to hear all sides of the story. ALSO, I really liked the way you kept it "American", totally took care of the "international confusion" we had dealt with before. Nice job man. I really enjoyed it.

Celso- I really like this man. It was very classy, and different. I loved the massive amount of death, and the way you developed your characters was well done. I could totally visualize them down to detail. Great Work.

Lilly- Topical, and drama enriched. It presented a real proplem that had no clear answer, which are always the best problems if you asked me. The ending left me hungry more. Nice job.

Sara- I didn't think it was possible, but you made it even creepier opening new questions of adoption and even enjancing the little boy's creepiness. Felt a lot more polished, and of course I've always loved the idea, so nice work. One of my favorites.

Julia- I remember you telling me the idea, and I really think you pulled it off. Even in the stage directions, I can see it all happening smoothely. Also, I really enjoyed the splashes of humor, and the "Barbie dream world" was a nice symbolistic scene, that took me by surprise, and made things all the more enjoyable. Also, I felt the drama you presented, particularly in the dialouge between the grandma and her husband, was very real. I thought I was watching my grandparents! Loved this completely.

KAT- You totally had me with the twists in this play. I did not see anything coming as far as the plot was concerned, and I loved the fact that it was Dark, but not overdone in a distasteful way. I was really impressed, It was honestly one of my favorites thus far.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Team Beckett #5: Mini Reading Festival Day I

"America: The Dream"

I really like the changes made to Lily's monologue. I wanted to see images of the aftermath of whatever it is that these boys did. I like the use of the video footage and projector images. This time around, there was a more developed relationship between Lily and Joseph (i.e. "Joseph asked me out once. He was a nice guy."). I felt there was too much repetition toward the end with the "We could have prevented it."

The new characters that were introduced, Brandon and Chris, were a little too cliche for me. I didn't find them believable. They seemed dehumanized to the point that they were just a conglomeration of of every bully that has ever existed on paper.

I think the new title, the images of the American Flag, and the songs at the end of the play, give new meaning to the play that wasn't there before. I think it puts it on a much larger scale.

I also liked that you added the principal character, a figure of authority. (i.e. "your system," "attack on us by us.") There is definitely a sense of defeat.

Some of the most powerful images/ideas:

When dialing 911, the phone rings but no one answers.
The students/principal are bloody and beat up. Dead but walking.
"We are America."

I have one question, and maybe I just wasn't paying attention, but are they all singing at the same time at the end of the play? I think that could be cool. To have their voices overlap.

"Summon the Blood"

I really like this title. Very strong image. I thought this play was interesting because peoples' reactions to and thoughts on war are so varying. I've been reading a lot about the American Widow Project, a support organization for war widows who have lost husbands mostly in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These are all very young women, early 20's mainly. And maybe it's because the relationship between parent and child is such a sacred thing in comparison, but all these women are extremely proud to have been married to the men they've lost to war. They're proud of their men for serving their country. And maybe it's taken them time to reach that point, I'm not sure.

Or maybe it's the difference in the world of the war in your play and the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan. The idea of children being taken from their parents. It brings images of the draft, of controversy. Like how much more controversial Vietnam was compared to the wars in the Middle East.

Some of my favorite images/quotes: The idea of their children being "wrapped in some loathsome symbol." And "next time, next war."

Overall, I really like the subject matter and how it presents the relationships between parent and child, citizen and state, husband and wife, etc.


I enjoyed this play too. The plot in general, the use of the doll named Alice, the Barbie book, the tape recorder. Does that exist by the way? Do you have a copy of it?

I think the creation of three different "worlds" was very effective. The reality of the past, the fantasy and then the real time reality of the play. Very cool.

I also loved the dialogue between Ken and Barbie, especially when Barbie asks Ken, "Must I think?" And of course the irony when Ken calls her doll face.

I have a couple of questions: Why is the granddaughter called "the student?" Also, do we ever learn her real name?


This was a super creative approach to revealing a secret, the idea of a live confession. Speaking of which, this play was full of confessions. The peoples' confessions, Jim's. I think you made some good choices with this play. For example, the title of Jim's Pulitzer Prize-winning (novel, story?) "Red Handed." I think most writers will feel a little like Jim over the course of their career, even if they don't do something as unethical as bribing a priest to record people's confessions. "What gives me the right to tell their stories?"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thoughts on “No Doppelgangers Here”

What strikes me the most is how the language is economic, to the point. No unnecessary poshness in the style. From all our plays in class so far, I’d say this is the one that stands out the most in that sense.

I kind of feel James says “I want to be big” too often. Their conversation seems to go around in circles a little bit.

The moment James picks up his drawings from under the bed is the moment he has to convince the audience after failing to do so with Linda. I wish it was bigger, with his actions supplying more evidence for us to judge the truth of his claim.

“I’ve got the pictures and the scars to prove it”: great juxtaposition. No other line gives as much legitimacy to Linda’s disappointment in having her maternity questioned.

By the way, similar premise to the 2004 movie Birth, with Nicole Kidman. You might want to watch that to get a different perspective, Sarah.

(PS: is it me, or the title answers the open question that the play structures so carefully and gradually? Feels like a bit of a spoiler.)

Thoughts on “Confessions”

Love the introduction with the candles. It quickly establishes mood and tone. Worked equally well on Summon the Blood, by the way (I also tried something like that on my long play; we might be experiencing some sort of epidemics).

I feel the radio broadcast flowed better in the first draft: “may I call you Jim,” for instance, conveyed a lot with very little text.

I’m divided between the endings: I like Jim’s deduction that Mark has been broadcasting their talk, but I also like Mark to get away with it. Perhaps it could occur to Jim, and Mark would then convince him otherwise?

I miss Danny. It’s always nice to see someone getting kicked onstage.

Mark’s gloating is a great way to end the play. I only think it could use a more direct phrasing.

Thoughts on “America: A Dream”

Reminded me a lot of Triple A Plowed Under. Especially the ending.

I’m divided about the titles: it enhances the reading experience, but I’m assuming the play is not meant as a closet drama. If performance were to ignore the titles, it would feel superfluous; if they were projected into the screen, it would feel heavy-handed. (Also: if the play's title is "America: A Dream", what's "Another Day in America"?)

Love the actors coming in through the theater door.

Daniel’s line, “if we wanted that we would’ve just given in to this pre-constructed sense of ‘normality’” (p. 3), strikes me as stated emotion. “Why would we want to be like the people we hate?” conveys the same idea, but more dramatically. Likewise, “were they right in making us feel like we didn’t deserve to be treated like human beings?” (p. 7) could be expressed in a less literal way.

Lily’s and Warren’s monologues could be tightened, except for the end of Warren’s (after “speculation”), which I’d like to see expanded. The blame and the hidden truth “for your own safety” are where the greatest statements about the American tradition of school shootings are.

When Lily says, “if we had just taken the time to listen,” it feels to me as if Joseph and Daniel reached their objective too easily. It would be more dramatic if, despite the tragedy, people still didn’t get it (as I don’t think they have, actually).

Why saying only on the last scene that Daniel is the boy from the bathroom floor picture? The audience will realize that in his first appearance, won’t they?

The bloody victims standing next to the video (p. 8) are the dramatic peak of the play – by far its most powerful moment. I think that tension does not come through as clearly elsewhere because of the monologues. I don't agree with Burkard on the video bits. It's not the video that has to speak lower, it's the actions that have to speak louder.

My overall impression is that this would be great to watch: fast-paced, dynamic and fresh. Bold form for bold content. My compliments, Chibby. You’ve got balls.


About the plays in class

Lily, "Summon The Blood"

I especially liked the beginning. It is a new idea, to interest the audience by a dramaturgical (?) trick at the very beginning of the play: She leaves the stage black and unused while she uses the voices to introduce a certain atmosphere.

Ashley, "Liar"

I thought that this play deserves a longer runtime because it has a complex structure and is well-thought. It was quite difficult to me to understand the relations of Amy, Jesse and Kyle, but maybe because I'm not a native speaker. I would recommend to form the various flashbacks into one scene.

Celso, "Dons and Donnas"

I liked Celso's piece because I like gangster movies. This is a parody which mocks the important features of Italian mafia movies like "Casino", "The Godfather", "Goodfellas" quite well. The only thing I could recommend to improve within this funny play is, to let the MEN live a little longer and tell them (brag, for example) about themselves, so that the audience knows a little bit more about them. That is, because the audience might have difficulties remembering their characters' traits after a short introduction.

Julia, "Whispering"

An interesting idea which subtly criticizes the US-American society. I have to say that I also observed that many Americans are ready to throw their principles overboard, just to lead a life like Barbie and Ken in the play to make others jealous. I would be interested to hear what the critics would say if this play was staged.

Sara, "No Doppelgängers Here"

I think Sara perfectly thought herself into the mind of small James, alone the sentence "I don't want to hurt your feelings", he utters towards his mother seems to mature to me. I think the talk between James and the mother quite realistic. Still, in my opinion the play lacks a certain moment of surprise or maybe a switch to the black-haired Doppelgänger family, if the play would be allowed to be longer.

Chibbi, "America: A Dream"

Chibbi has massively and successfully changed the weaker parts of his drama since the first version. I think this drama adresses an important issue and is well-thought. Only the big part of the projector should be shrinked a little bit.

Kat, "Confessions"

I think the idea is great, the dialogue is crafted skillfully and connects a serious part with funny moments (when it is revealed how ridiculous the radio moderator is). I just think that somebody forgets about that he is on the radio (or did he NOT know it? - I don't remember that since I don't possess a script of "Confessions") and talks about a series of murders he committed is not realistic, even if the guys are close friends.

Monday, March 23, 2009

long plays… aristotle post

Ahhhh… the long play. Far more difficult than expected, challenging, and yet… a satisfying experience, once it's completed.

While reading over some of the previous blog posts, I was again struck by that fabulous quote from… how appalling, I've already forgotten the title. Something like "Elements of Style"? Basically, the quote about making all your words count, or "tell." While I think that is a really wonderful philosophy to adopt, I realized while writing my play that I simply cannot execute it while in the actual writing process. Has anyone had the same experience? (And no, that is not meant to be a rhetorical question.) It stunts creativity in the middle of a moment of inspiration, which for someone like me is fatal. Inspiration does not come all the time for me, and when it does come, I have to grab it and not be interrupted. If it wasn't highly unprofessional to put a smiley face in a class blog post, I would have put one there, most likely.

I'm imagining this idea comes more into play in the editing process… when one has passed the stage of coming up with ideas, one can focus more on elegance of style. I'm looking forward to experimenting with that in the workshops and revisions…

This long play nonsense.

My expansion of my ten minute play is bringing me more grief than joy.

Celso, I'd be okay with you saying "I told you so."  It's cool.  I now understand what you were saying.

It's just, I had four distinct scenes that I knew were going into it, and I chose ONE to put in the short play.  Over the break, I've split the four up, writing them separately, trying to make them good enough to stand on their own before they all get squished together.... and I think I achieved that- each, on their own, are fine.

Putting them together to make one play is possibly the most aggravating task I have ever undertaken.  I sit at my computer, and try to fill in the spaces between each scene, TRY to make it cohesive and exactly what I had envisioned, however, I end up deleting a TON of material, only to re-add it, change the words up slightly, delete it again, add something totally different, delete it, plug the original back in.... and it JUST NEVER ENDS.  I do this every single day, and feel like I'm not getting any closer to the end, to a polished product that I can throw up in the air and have it puff into multicolored glitter that I can dance under.

I can't wait to get back to class and have the perspective of everyone else in my group again.  I think it will help SO much, and make me feel less like I want to form a rope out of printer paper and strangle myself.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

So much to do so little time!!!

After exams were over I thought Id get a break, relax a little...no. A typical day is going to class, coming home, reading chapters for Media studies and biology, then revisions to my play which today I have completely just scratched and starting anew with an idea that hit me like an 18 wheeler....ok not that bad but its something Im excited to be writing. I cant explain it, if I dont feel like a play that Im writing is good, Ill just keep writing it. Eventually I just get another idea but it usually comes in the middle of revising the first crappy one. I guess its just hit and miss for me. It seem sometimes like I have to write something bad for my brain to come up with anything good, then the process starts over again. Oh well I guess thats just how my mind works. :/

Dietz Post: Opposites

So I've been thinking lately about this peer reading stuff. And my personal conclusion is that it is great on many levels.

Personally, I find it provides affirmation to boost confidence. Allows me to see where everyone else is at stylistically, allowing more examples for mysef to feed off of. It even gave me a test example of how stunning, (or boring) my play was. This already has helped tremendously in the cutting of my play.

But here is a question I've been pondering over. In theatre, or in story telling in general for that matter, stories are never completely original. However, often they captivate audiences with either their stylistic surprises or surprise plot twists.

So my question is, if we were to do the exact opposite of what our peers wanted, or at least expected to see, what would be the outcome?

A hit? A complete disaster? Or maybe both?

I'm not saying I want to be the guinea pig here, but if someone were to take all the suggestions they received in class and re-do their play with the exact opposite, I am willing to bet money that some critic out there would acclain the s#*t out of it.

I mean, take something local. For example, last year's Assassins. "A play about assassins", I bet the peers loved the idea and were full of recommendations on action sequences, in depth drama, time shifts, etc. "Turning the thing into a musical!" I bet people were like, "There goes your career" But in the end, it turned out to be brilliant if you ask me. I mean, I had no idea about it prior to, and on watching it I was litterally thrilled.

And look at something on a bigger scale, take a Blockbuster for example like the Batman Begins.
Now I bet when the writers finished the script for that bad boy, his peers were like, "Dude, it's Batman, chill out!" But he did his own thing and look at what became of it? Greatest story since the Bible. (Kidding, but you get the point.)

Granted my examples, may not be that legit, but I guarantee each and every one of us can name a story they love that completely seems stupid to someone else. So I'm simply throwing the question out there. What if we do the opposite of what we are recommended? Could something far greater come about? Or will we be destined to a life of living from our cars and showering in public restrooms at rest stops?

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Writing is rewriting"

I thought I'd post my notes on critiquing and editing. Just so they have a permanent place to live. :)

Liz Lerman: Critical response technique, criticism, post-show discussion, editing.
4 part system:
1. affirmation - the things you liked about the work.
2. artists asks questions - did you understand that...
3. audience asks questions
4. opinions

Artist - What was she doing...
Why did he react...
Did this make sense...
Moments unclear?
Time shifts...
Think about the things that are worrying you.

Audience - Don't put opinion in questions. Be careful with your question.
Opinions - rather than launching in. I have an opinion about...do you want to hear it?

My questions:
1. On a scale from 1-10, how dramatic was this piece?
2. What do you think is happening in the second flashback scene?
3. Does the timeline make sense? With the flashbacks?
4. How old do you think the characteristics are?
5. I felt like it needs to be fleshed out. It was hard to keep it only 8 pages long. Any opinions on this?
5. Did the stage directions clarify the scene?

"Omit needless words: Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

The Idiot

I LOVED "The Idiot." LOVED it. From start to finish, from the performances to the story to the score to the set, it was thought-provoking, touching, and completely delightful. Much of this can no doubt be attributed to the amazing story by Dostoyevsky, which is a fascinating exploration of human psychology, society, and above all, human nature. The adaptation for the stage was very effective, I thought, and while the idiosyncrasies of Russian nomenclature were occasionally daunting, the result was far less confusing than it had potential to be.

The performances, particularly those of Tom Truss as Prince Myshkin and Smaranda Ciceu as Nastasya Filippovna, were phenomenal. I was really able to believe in the prince and Nastasya as people rather than characters on a stage, and that made the story all the more heartbreaking.

From a playwright's perspective, it's difficult to know what decisions were made by the director/actors or the person adapting the script from Dostoyevsky's novel. One choice that I thought was very good, however, was the way many scenes (or single detailed scenes) from the book were seamlessly condensed to a few minutes on stage (Nastasya's almost-wedding to the prince is a good example.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Musicals? Maybe

My work in the class so far has been drastically changing. Always changing. I'm starting to wonder in what direction it's headed. I'm honestly starting to lose interest in short form plays, and I want to move onto the longer plays. Specifically, musicals. I'm not sure what it is about a musical, perhaps the singing or dancing, but I've been attracted to them. I think I've found my true calling. Surprisingly, it's something that comes natural to me and has very much influence in my life. I tend to make a song about everything, which, I admit, is really cheesy.
Something that comes natural to me is the lyrics. Most of the time, I just say what ever comes to mind. And it usually works in a very interesting way. All the words seem to collide together and when they expand, they create a musical tune that is unique and new. It's then that I find a harmony in the complicated method. Everything fits together when the words escape my mouth. Speaking from the heart is the most important key that I've found. I think it's important as playwrights to stay true to ourselves and allow ourselves to escape the methods that we use just to write freely and see where our feet lead us. The old patterns can be boring, and if we find ourselves doing them repeatedly, then we're not going to break away and make that amazing play that we want.

What was a play, again?

This intensive crash course on criticism and feedback that we’ve been having in class has given me much food for thought in terms of that slippery question from our first classes, “what is a play?” I still think nothing more categorical than Jenny’s definition is possible (“can’t pause, rewind, go to the bathroom…”), but in terms of language, some elements and aspects have occurred to me that seem to belong to the stage as opposed to paper or screen:

1) The stage necessarily demands some degree of exaggeration: the more true-to-life actions seem to be, the less interesting they look to an audience.

2) The stage is the most receptive media for varying lengths: audiences are equally open and receptive when watching 10-, 30-, 40-, 60- or 150-minute plays. Paper is much more limiting – a 30- or 70-page story is not a short story, nor a novel, and won’t find readers easily. And what to say of film? If it’s not between 80 and 130 minutes, it’s either a short with no chances of distribution or a long-ass epic that will demand twice its production budget in marketing to convince people to watch.

3) The stage is more suitable for fewer and longer scenes: while we can’t ignore the technical difficulties and the time it takes to set up each new scene*, there is an aesthetical dimension to it as well. A scene performed live demands more time to be fully taken in by the viewer – if you watch a couple fight for two minutes and then move on to something else, you probably won’t relate to the scene, retaining just a look or a line or a gesture and trying to ask yourself “what the hell has just happened here?” before a new scene hijacks your attention and cuts your reflection on the previous one short. On paper, scenes can be long and overwhelming or short and unremarkable, with the narration adapting proportionally to let you know what to dwell on and what to take at face value. Film achieves a similar effect with editing.

*Though I remember a Brazilian production of David Mamet's Edmond that presented its 23 scenes in 65 minutes, never dimming the lights and never taking more than a few seconds between the end of a scene and the beginning of the next. The set was made of three fake walls on wheels and never more than two or three light pieces of furniture, which the cast itself dragged to different positions for each new scene. Gripping action, believable characters and clear plot with nine actors and an average scene length of 2m48s -- not bad, huh?

I can’t think of anything else about live drama that doesn’t apply to other medias as well: motivation and transformation are not more necessary onstage than in any other story, and superfluous action or dialogue (repetition, stated emotion, answered questions and filler words) is unwelcome and tiring in any story you try to follow. But it would be quite soothing to find more such traits to hang on to when we feel lost in our writing. If you can think of another one, I’m dying to hear it.

Also, I’m focusing on prose fiction and film as our most obvious language counterparts, and deliberately ignoring narrative poems, songs and radio plays. But finding differences and similarities between stage drama and those medias would be as helpful in defining the boundaries of theater, and I think even non-narrative art like instrumental music and abstract painting/photography could offer valuable insights in terms of rhythm, recurrence and spectacle.

The Daily Texan Can Kiss It. And by "it," I mean "The Idiot."

The Daily Texan slammed The Idiot.

I would like to pick it back up.

-Tom Truss is my hero for 1) crying real tears on command, 2) acting seizures, 3) having curly hair that bounces when he walks (I actually felt really cheated at the beginning of Act II when they'd slicked it down).
-The entire family of the General was perfection.  Each actor within this set had their own character completely developed, every relationship between each character was clear, and they were just amazing to watch.  These four also kept me invested in watching the show because of the varying spatial relationships that they utilized in their scenes (granted, it's easier to use the space more diversely with four people than one or two, but still).
-The peddler's character was also one that kept me interested in what was going on physically simply because the actor made dynamic choices in how his character should move and speak.
-The lighting design was beautiful.  The Russian lettering on the floor as the show opened... yes.  I am continually amazed by how cool our tech people make every performance.
-The scenic design was also not only visually impeccable, but very smart.  The space that started out as a dark, gloomy train cab morphed seamlessly into grand reception halls and living rooms, modest lower class parlors, discrete hideaways, and all with minimal set and prop changes (which, in my opinion, largely reflects the abilities of the actors- we believe that they are where they believe that they are, if that makes any sense at all).

I had only two tiny issues, which were more like nit picky naggings rather than attributes that pulled away from the show as a whole.

-Nastasia Philipnova (spell check).  I have seen her in past productions, and this is the first time that I've ever felt that her performance was not up to par with the rest of the cast.  I felt like her voice stayed the same volume, with no dynamic range, which led to a smaller range of emotion that we received from her.  And while completely lovely and physically suited for the part, her approach to the character just didn't sit right with me.  I felt that she was too reserved, which kept us from feeling anything for her character: I didn't feel hatred (she wasn't vindictive enough for that) nor sympathy (she evoked no emotions of sadness), or love (for she was clearly intended to be an antagonistic figure).  But I adore her accent.
-The footman walked the walk, but stumbled hard over the Russian talk.  No one tell Tommy I said that. :)

Anyway.  Overall, I really enjoyed it, from 8:00 until the lights fell (which was at 11:56).  Even saw it twice.

Yay for 19,872,342,384,689 hour plays and fake seizures.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Team Beckett #4

The summer before senior year of high school I took a fiction workshop course at Carnegie Mellon University. At that point I'd been writing poems for about a year, and that summer I wrote my first short story. In that workshop class, and in the others I've taken since, we never had a structured process for critiquing each others work. I agree with what Jenny said during class, about most workshops or Q&A sessions being unproductive or pointless. While there are a few students in every class that actually have something honest and insightful to say about your work, most keep quiet or say things like "I like it." They never really dissect it.

By breaking us up into small groups and having us implement Liz Lerman's critical response technique, the process was more productive and worthwhile. At the same time, being that I'm not used to so much structure, I really just wanted people to tear my piece apart. Just dive in and give me initial, gut responses. I don't necessarily think anyone in my group was holding back. But I think a system like Liz Lerman's lends itself to people second-guessing what they have to say. That being said, I do think I received some honest feedback during the opinion part of the technique. I guess I'm just not used to being told how to critique something. How to give my opinion on something. I say just do it. Go for it. Criticism comes with the job. And it's nothing personal. I don't see anything wrong with jumping to the opinion bit right off the bat, or even interspersing the entire process with a bit of opinion. And like Jenny said, we don't have to respond or answer to everything. We can smile politely, jot down a few notes, and say thank you.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Idiot and Editing

  I saw The Idiot and I appreciated the exceptional acting and directing, it was an interesting show to watch.  As much as I enjoy beautiful writing and prose, I have to say that I prefer Dostoevsky on the page more than in performance.  Granted, I have only read one of his novels, Crime and Punishment, and that was when I was in middle school, but I remember underlining passages on every other page.  I remember being awed by his use of words.  However, I prefer him as a novelist.  It was adapted from his novel by someone else?

  I was the only person in our group that got feedback last class and I was extremely nervous when I was put up on the chopping block.  I can see how useful getting other perspectives on your work can be.  It seems the questions they posed me were the most helpful.  Burkard brought up a point I want to further explore that I only really touched upon.  It also was nice to receive positive affirmations on my play, giving me encouragement to really pursue it with gusto during the next editing round.  Learning what others took as the meaning of my play was very insightful, and the question was asked as to how ambiguous I want it to be, if I want people to have different understandings of the events.  I will be looking at my group's comments and questions when I return to my play, and I think it will help to re-shape it somewhat, if not just flesh it out a bit more.

Dietz Post: On Short Plays

So after Tuesday's peer editing a major question came up.

What exactly qualifies as a ten minute play? I mean what is the difference between a scene and a really short play? And perhaps if there is no clear answer other than "a beginning, middle, and end" then I would love to know what we as a class look for in a ten minute play.

I'm not asking necessarily on a structural level as much as, what do we look for taste-wise?. As simply those being entertained, do we want all loose ends tied up? Do we prefer something hanging open? Do we want characters fully established, or do we want some of the details filled in by our own imaginations?

I know that generically, its all up to whatever the writer wants, but say the writer wants to please the audience, I'd love to hear what we as a focus group of an audience would look for because when it came time to the "question" and "opinion" portion of our peer editing, these were the things the group tossed around, and no one could clearly state whether they were issues we even should be tossing around. So if we have time, I think it'd be really great to talk about it together in class. I'd LOVE to get some collective feedback.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Aristotle Blog Post–– Portrait

I'll admit it-- I am officially confused about when each group is supposed to be blogging. I have a lurking fear that I actually missed my time to blog last week, but hopefully that's a lie and this really is the right time.

So, with that established, on to the actual blog post.

As I have not yet been able to see "The Idiot", I will instead talk a little about "Portrait." I was very impressed by how smoothly the time transitions were effected. Often this kind of jumping in time can be jarring, but in "Portrait" it flowed very well and really helped the audience's understanding of the story while also tantalizing them for the ensuing scenes. The dialogue was also excellent; realistic, and yet more generally expressive and coherent than everyday language often is. Also very nicely done was the staging and "spectacle"; as many have pointed out, the blank canvases were a great touch and leave room for the imagination, and made a nice backdrop for the "art" that was being played out among the characters.

Playwriting and the Sims 2

I was playing the Sims 2 the other day and I started daydreaming about how playing the game is a little like playwriting, or maybe more accurately directing...the Sims even look up and complain at you like the stereotypical actor might.

There is much more to real life than there is in a Sim's life: more things to do, places to go, people to meet, things to have or see or emotions to feel.

I have heard that to write a memoir, you need to either have an extraordinary life and a good way to tell it or an average life with a greatly compelling way to tell it. This reminds me of the Sims in that in some ways their lives are boring...so how could I make up a storyline for them based on what they do? They speak Simlish, so I don't know what they are saying, but I could make it up, and could that make for an interesting scene? Sim games are usually played primarily in one house anyway, so setting a stage would not be difficult. I've had a lot of trouble making scenes simplistic, keeping the setting to one or two rooms only so that the play is performable. I'm learning that with a simple set you can transport the audience to a different place if you just trust them to use their imaginations.

Anyway, maybe the Sims have the boring lives, and we need to take their language and put real words (english words) into their mouths.

...which reminds me of some amusing videos that I've seen on YouTube in which people will mute a video and record their voices over it, pretending as if they are the characters. ...which reminds me that one could also use this "observe and overdub" technique in real life, on real people. If you see someone or a group far off you can watch them and imagine what it is they're saying to each other, so long as you overcome the fear that they might come over and bop you on the head for staring.

Bop you on the head? I am in a weird mood today.

This is reverse engineering for playwriting. Instead of saying "this is what I want my actors to do," you're saying, "where can I find silent or muted actors who will inspire me?" This kind of exercise would (I'm guessing) probably lead to a more character-driven play rather than a story and language-heavy play.

For example, in Sara's post on Lidless, she discussed how the play was a lot about the story, and not as much about the characters, whereas in Portrait the characters were at the forefront and the story was not as important. Then Jenny commented and explained the differences between her background and Frances' background. I think I'm starting to see how plays can be effective in different ways and there's no one way (or one background) one must have to write an effective play.

Thoughts on Portrait

I thought the suspense was great, and the ending seemed sudden, but I liked it.

I was a little confused as to why the lefty brother said to Nancy (paraphrased), "If he tells you the truth, marry him, if he doesn't, marry me." At the start his character is anti-marriage in general, so why would he say that? It's clear that Nancy made an impression on him at the dance, and he didn't make an impression on her because she forgot he was even there, but I never understood why he would make such a bold statement.

I also liked how the canvases were blank, because they would have drawn my attention away from the characters, and as someone pointed out, we all have different opinions as to what is and is not a "good" painting, and if the paintings looked bad to some of the audience members, they might be less engaged.

I was a bit confused as to the time skipping around--since we saw Nancy first as Alice's assistant, and then again when Nancy meets Alice as the conservative brother's girlfriend, I kept thinking "Won't she recognize her own assistant, and won't Nancy recognize Alice and Alice's home?" I realize now that I must have been quite confused throughout the play as to the time travelling based on what other people have written, I'm not sure what's wrong with me.

I liked how Nancy reacted to Alice when she started to curse, and how she did not shy away like her boyfriend assumed she would want to. This (and the fact that she poses for Alice) were an effective way to demonstrate just how much devotion she had to her potential fiancee.

The scenes with the art dealer and Alice painting him were fun to watch, and they really tore each other down. The way Alice can paint people and then know them reminded me a lot of the Idiot's ability to read people and tell them who they are inside.

Cutting and Editting

The flashcards idea is very original. The idea that just using this as an editting technique is smart, but I'm not sure if it is working for me. Usually, my inspiration comes from just writing and writing, and I rarely think of where I'm headed. I try my hardest to answer the questions I need, but it doesn't make sense all the time. This is when I usually throw it out. I know that most of the editting that is done in the class should be subjective, and we should only focus on the questions we ask ourselves. I have particularly hard time trying to edit what is needed and throw out what isn't. I find it difficult because there are always facts in a story that I think are needed. I sometimes think that I'm the type of guy who would tell a story and repeat as much information that really isn't needed. I always think there are details that are needed when writing a play.
I'm not sure what to say about the play, "Idiot." Unfortunately, I missed the night it was free and was gone all weekend. I think I would like to address "Portrait" one last time, though. There was a question of how to write a play about someone who actually existed. I think there was also a question of the ethical aspect of it and how much of the story was fiction. I think that a story about a person who lived years before and really impacted the world is always significant and interesting, no matter what. I don't think that a playwright should turn a piece of a story into fiction unless there is no fact that can back it up. But "Portrait" was done so successfully that I wouldn't doubt that any of it actually happened. There might have been a few places where the story was exaggerated, like the sketches of a beaten child, but I think everything was right on. A perfect example of how a story of a real person should be filled fact more than fiction.