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An Introduction to Playwriting

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Sasha Singer-Wilson

on 27 February 2017

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Transcript of An Introduction to Playwriting

How do you write for the Stage?
How do you structure a play?
- Conventional story arc

- All scenes connect to one central idea/theme
Traditional Structure
Associative Structure
An Introduction to Playwriting

The earth
is often a question that is planted in the audience's mind at the beginning of the play (in the set-up) and answered during the CLIMAX.

What is the theme of Shakespeare's MACBETH?

August: Osage County
By Tracy Letts
Theme: What goes around comes around
How does this clip of the film adaptation of "August: Osage County"
engage with the play's theme?
The two oldest genres are COMEDY and TRAGEDY.

In a COMEDY the protagonist attains his/her objective.

In a TRAGEDY the protagonist is defeated (and does not attain his/her objective).

The black experience and African-American identity politics
Example: Young Jean Lee's "The Shipment"
Rap & Hip Hop culture
Formatting your play
Writing Stage Directions
What's helpful to the director, designers and actors in writing stage directions:

What we see
What we hear that's not dialogue
What we need to understand the story

"Savage In Limbo" by John Patrick Shanley
From "Circle, Mirror, Transformation" by Annie Baker
Formatting guidelines differ depending where you live and where you're submitting your play.

CELTX is a free scriptwriting software available for download.

It has an easy to use Stage Play template.
From the Playwright's Guild of Canada
Characters in a play must have ACTIVE wants and needs
Characters come to life through what they DO and SAY
The most engaging characters go through a TRANSFORMATION
Be specific (round characters)
Language and Dialogue
Lucinda Coxon (contemporary British playwright/screenwriter) on writing dialogue:

"Dialogue is the words characters speak to themselves, one another and an audience. And before that, of course, to the writer. When characters speak to the writer with tremendous
, that urgency translates into dialogue with real
and immediacy. Dialogue is also the words the characters do not speak.

While dialogue can be informational, a way to develop character or reveal plot, it is emphatically not conversational, any more than war or sex or prayer is conversational.

Dialogue is character, is plot. Above all, it is action.

The best exercise for writing dialogue is reading other people's
. Read widely and read people who don't write like anyone else: Howard Barker, Caryl Churchill... Read them (and your own work) aloud. When the characters began to speak, the writer was really listening."

: speech patterns, habits, vocabulary.

: What characters say, when, how and to whom, to propel the plot forward.

: Key information should be
, not spoken.

: Atmosphere, building the world of the play.

The key functions of
Kim's Convenience
By Ins Choi

The themes of each scene must connect to the greater theme of the play:

The cycle of life
Life and death/mortality
Fear/animal instinct
Watch how playwright and performer Anna Deavere Smith explores
in her docu-drama "Let Me Down Easy". In this play, Smith examines human resilience through the lens of the national debate on health care.

How do the voices of her characters differ?
Why is it important for a playwright to
know their stage directions?
Interested in reading contemporary Canadian plays?

The Unplugging - Yvette Nolan
Age of Minority - Jordan Tannahill
Shakespeare's Nigga - Joseph Jomo Pierre
Kindness - Dennis Foon
The Russian Play - Hannah Moscovitch

Interested in writing plays? Go see some theatre!
Here are some companies who are creating exciting work in Vancouver:

The CULTCH, New World Theatre, Electric Company Theatre, Rumble Theatre, Pi Theatre, The Firehall Arts Centre, ITSAZOO, The Chop Theatre, and lots more...

little tongues - Toronto, 2012

The Rez Sisters by Tomson Highway

The devastation that follows when ambition oversteps moral boundaries.
Macbeth at the Stratford Festival in 2009
This Is It - Toronto, 2014
- emphasizes plot over character or idea.

- dramatizes an actual event using real names, dates, and places.
Example: "Seeds" by Annabel Soutar
Example: "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde
Example: "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry
- Heightened form of realism
(usually takes place in a single location, in real time).
Example: "Miss Julie" by August Strindberg
(Photo from Yael Farber's adaptation "Meis Julie")
- characters in hopeless situation, dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense.
Example: "Rhinoceros" by Eugene Ionesco
Example: "Appetite" Directed by Sarah Sanford, created and performed by Claire Calnan, Adam Lazarus & Linnea Swan
Some examples of different styles of plays:
Writing exercise 4 -->

This scene takes place in an empty classroom.

It involves the two characters that you just sketched out.

The first line is:
“I have to talk to you".

Write a short dialogue.
Here are some examples of plays I've written:
1. Theme (central idea)
2. Genre
3. Structure and formatting
4. Characters
5. Language and Dialogue
My Ocean - Vancouver, 2015
inside- Toronto, 2014
- Characters are believable, "kitchen sink" dramas, employment of the fourth wall.
Collective Creation
- devising a play as a group, with or without the aid of a playwright.
Writing exercise 1 -->

"I believe..."

Let's free write for a few minutes.

Start every sentence with "I believe..."

Writing exercise 2 -->

Looking back at your last "I believe..." free write, brainstorm on what genre might best serve a theatrical exploration of this theme.

"Agokwe" by Waawaate Forbister
Writing exercise 3 -->

Returning to your chosen theme and style, what characters might help to tell this story?

Take a few minutes and make description lists of two characters. Be as
as possible.

Consider physicality, mental/emotional state, socio-economic background, speech patterns, likes and dislikes, habits, etc.
Read over what you've just written, choosing one "I believe" and circling it.

Now, free write for a few more minutes on this belief.

Why is it important to you? Did someone teach you about it? How does this belief show up in your day to day life?
Does theatre still matter?
American playwright & screenwriter Tony Kushner
"When a run of a play is gone, it's gone forever."

"Theatre creates a laboratory where people can believe and disbelieve at the same time."

"... You can't be a literal reader of life, you have to be an interpreter. Unless you do that, you are a mechanical who doesn't get the truth and the joke of life."

- Tony Kushner
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