Sunday, March 31, 2013

Continuing the re-write

Brenda has added two new scenes to her play.  After a reading we showed her how she can expand the dialogue of her characters to reveal their arching.  In the opening scene she had one character, 'Kip', using his friends to sharpen his weak and sometimes insulting attempts at comedy, only to create doubt in their minds as to his eventual success.  By turning the tables on him in the end, they allowed him a graceful exit.  Glib and facetious humor on his part was countered with tongue-in-cheek, friendly, mischievous and playful humor.

"Do my characters have sufficient 'skin in the game'?  If they don't, there is no reason for them to exist in the little world you have created.  They serve no purpose in your play.  What compels them to live in your play?  Have you created a place for them to complete their arch?  With any luck, your life experience will allow them to lead you where they want to go.  They want you to 'advance the plot' in their direction.  This is what they want, and if they don't get what they want, there will be consequences.  Your characters are under constant pressure.  As individuals they have different goals and different ideals and their own methods to achieve those goals.
I cannot emphasize the importance of editing and re-writing your play.  Even after their work has been published, playwrights, famous as they may or not be, continue editing and re-writing their work.

"When do I get to stop re-writing?  Am I ever finished?"  Yes and No.  "Yes" it's finished when your characters tell you "Yes, I know I'm boring, but my arch is complete.  I think."  And "No" when your characters continue to say, "I wouldn't say that to her.  Given the predicament you have placed me, and I didn't really want to go there in the first place, why don't you just have me turn slowly and stare blankly into her face.  Yes!  Now I'm finished!  Wait... !  One more little tidbit.  Please?  It'll only take a moment of your time."  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Topics: (1.) Theatre group formation, (2.) Dialogue.

(1.)  On forming a theatre group.
This morning I met with ten ladies whom I have asked to look into the possibility of forming an in-house theatre group here at the Unique Thistle Dew Dessert Theatre.  Each of the women have written for, acted for, directed for and/or produced for, stage managed for the Thistle Dew and for other theatres.  This group would be created by and for women: playwrights, actors, directors, producers, stage managers, et cetera.  Let me preface this post by stating that I am not without experience in founding theatre groups and a theatre.  (My brothers and sisters formed a stage company in our childhood home.  One of our first productions was a re-production of The Mass.)  I digress.  After many years of writing, managing all aspects of the Thistle Dew, writing for theatre and working on the internet, monitoring and analyzing theatre related websites, I have a very good idea of the trends, needs and directions of theatre.  Especially the Unique Thistle Dew Theatre.
Some of my suggestions to the group; (1.)  Understand the difficulty of organizing a theatre group, the  financial aspects of maintaining a viable theatre group, assigning and rotating responsibilities, reading play submissions, planning a season, operating a box office, monitoring reservations, advertising, et cetera.  The list goes on and on.  (2.)  Volunteer your significant other to help with staging your play, managing the play and the theatre, and serving the dessert.  (3.)  If you are an actor and a playwright as part of the selection committee perusing submissions for your group, select plays that fit within the group's criteria.   (4.)   If you are a playwright, write plays exploring the affirmation of the vibrant lives, the inventiveness, the courage and vital spirit of women in your community.  Can you create text that presents a feminine perspective and contains significant opportunities for female performers?  If you are a woman and you have a play with the aforementioned criteria, please submit your play to the attention of Tom at .
(2.)  On dialogue.
Writing dialogue for some writers is easy, but it is not solely a "he said" "she said" affair.  The writer has to take into consideration the nature of the character himself/herself;  How old is he? Is he brusque or so easy going that he falls asleep between thoughts or even words?  Is she grandmotherly?  Is she a foxy lady searching for and entrapping a mate.  Is the character setting the other up for a demonic fall?  Each of the aforementioned will have a certain way of speaking and a certain way of emphasizing adjectives or verbs or the other character's name.  Perhaps in a mocking manner or a dismissive manner.  There are so many aspects of each character's dialogue which the playwright will have to take into consideration.  Be careful to insert after your character's name [Desmond:  (Brusquely and snidely.)]  with certitude, direction the actor will need to give her/his character your life.
The character's actions, behavior, habits and accents are important to character development.  A great failure for new playwrights is that all their characters sound an awful lot like the playwright.  I was reminded of this bad habit long ago by a great actor, teacher and director, who read one of my first failures, which, upon re-write, and after dozens of re-re-writes has gone on to an off-Broadway production.
Hope to see you next Saturday, March 16, at 10:00am.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

On writing comedy...

Once you have been inspired by a personal experience or an inspiration from the whole clothe of your imagination as your story, you can begin making notes about your characters by giving them 'back stories'.  Today's 'back story' is for Brenda's character 'Kip'.  Kip is an aspiring standup comedian.  
This morning we began our workshop with a reading of Act I, Scene 3 of Brenda's tentatively titled "House of Cards": Kip's trial by fire as a stand-up comedian.  
Let me preface this session with a few rules about writing comedy: It is very difficult!  What you or I as playwrights think is comedy may not be funny when presented by our actors/readers/critics/audiences.  Unlike vaudeville comedians with their 'trunks full of jokes' (stolen or not) modern television comedians like Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien, most successful comedians have a group of comedy writers behind them.  Why?  Because its in their contracts!  Insurance!  Producers (CBS, NBC, ABC et,cetera) insist upon the back-up team.  Without his back-up team, Jay would be hard pressed to come up with a 'fresh' monologue every night, let alone  as many as 260 'fresh' monologues every year.  
So... with comedy being difficult to write... in mind... and bearing in mind also that the comedy writers at the Thistle Dew do not have back-up teams of writers, we rely upon our actors/readers/critics/other playwrights to help us achieve comedy on stage.  Yes... that is where it really happens: on stage, in readings and even in rehearsal as re-writes.  The collaboration between the actors/readers/critics/directors and the playwright is critical to the evolution and shaping of comedy.  But it is not the genesis of a comedy for this or any other play.  Comedy for this play, "House of Cards", is in the mind of playwright Brenda's character, Kip.  
If Kip wants to do stand up comedy and humor he and the playwright must understand that creating comedy is an art and comedy is an art form.  It is a skill developed by the comedian with a series of subtle changes in voice and/or facial expressions and body contortions and postures in front of a mirror or in front of sympathetic friends who can be used as foils, or in the lonely atmosphere of an attic or basement.  
Comedy is a skill developed only with practice and rehearsal and re-writes and re-writes and re-writes by editing as you go: pre-writing, writing, polishing and revising also includes spelling correction, capitalization, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure according to your characters' dialect, subject/verb agreement, consistent verb tense, word usage, story continuity, et cetera.