Introduces my course "The One Act Play"
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Introduction to the One Act Play Class
The goal of this course, The One Act Play, is to lead a writer through the process of writing one. The first time is always the most difficult. A play is a unique form of expression which includes other literary forms like poetry, exposition, monologues that convey thoughts, and dialogues that show action. It depends as much on the sounds of what is said as it does on the visual effects of the stage and the artistry of the actors. It's not the influence of any one part that makes a play work, but the synergism of many components working together.
In a drama, the whole is truly greater than the sum of the parts and for this reason, many find it quite a struggle, especially in the beginning. Having written a wide range of poetry, short stories, vignettes, and even a couple of novels, I can attest that instead of doing one ball at a time, a playwright has to keep many different balls in the air. Anybody with a modicum of interest, willingness and a talent can do this and as you become more comfortable with the craft you’ll appreciate why this form of entertainment has intrigued writers for centuries. There's nothing to compare with hearing your words spoken by actors, before a live audience, straining to hear the sounds and see the imagery that rises from the stage.
In this course I'll use a lot of sewing metaphors….(I'm hardly a “Seamster” but I've watched my mother and wife enough to know a thing or two and it’s remarkably similar to writing a play.) The list begins with having a picture in mind, however it is more like creating an ensemble than a single item of clothing. There's the skirt to make, the blouse, a hat and finally a scarf and some other accessories. The vision must be converted to a pattern and the pieces cut from appropriate material. Then, it must be pinned and seen on a manikin and as the designer becomes comfortable, the fabric gets tacked together and paraded before a mirror.
Finally everything must be stitched but wait…..there’s something missing….Oh yeah, by the way….the garments must be coordinated with one another and matched to the accessories. The individual items might be well crafted but if they don’t blend in harmony it’s time for the “Ugga!” horn. The audience won’t be close enough to see all the details but they will be much too close to miss how the whole creation comes together. So it is with writing a play. Like a fashion designer, you have to stay focused on the forest and trees, all at the same time.
This course provides some tools you'll find valuable. First will be the lessons. Second there'll be an example play which will serve as a style guide and give examples of the definitions in the Dictionary of Terms. Next there will be a checklist after each lesson on the topics under discussion. In addition there will be a Rules of Thumb Page, to remind everyone of the major playwriting considerations. Finally there will be feedback from the Editor once the lesson (milestone) is completed.
Because there is so much going on concurrently, the attempt can be daunting at first….Many of you had a mother or sister to teach sewing and the effort didn’t seem like such a big deal. For most it was a challenge and a whole lot of fun. However, in writing a play for the first time, there isn’t always Momma or Betty Sue. This is the purpose of the course. Don’t expect a Broadway hit or your name in lights to begin with. If the ensemble looks coordinated and halfway decent, you did a good job and will emerge with the confidence that you can write a stage play. What you'll learn will have a huge impact on your other writing and you’ll see the spin -offs almost immediately.
Phase 1 Outlines, Character Sketches and Initial Draft
The course is broken into two phases. In Phase 1 the student writes the first draft and in Phase 2 the second draft. Since playwriting involves so much concurrency, you'll have to maintain a tactical as well as a strategic vision. By tactical, I mean craft the parts to the best of your ability; by strategic, make sure they all fit together. After each lesson is a check list that will outline the specific things covered that week. To make the course more fun it will involve role playing….The instructor will not be a traditional professor but a harried Publisher, a strange dramaturge and a Senior Editor. The students will role play Serial Romance Writers between assignments helping Matty (Publisher) out with a contract to produce twenty-two one act plays. Feedback will be role played as commentaries between some talented writers, (The Students), Percy (The Dramaturge), and Cornelia (The Senior Editor).
Lesson 1 To get started on the right foot ,the course provides what is called a General Outline.(GO). This is a tool often used in developing Serial Romance Novels. The writer works within some general guidelines that are provided up front. The GO will show the minimum essential requirements of the three scenes. It is not meant to stifle creativity. There will be ample opportunity for that as the student comes up with a title, characters, story line, monologues and dialogues.
The Comprehensive Outline (CO) is designed to provide a starting point. Be aware that a drama, even a little one act, is sufficiently complex that you will not be able to simply wing it….Outlines are great tools, not just in organization, but also in reducing a complex undertaking into bite sized chunks. You'll take this GO and expand it into a CO. The GO will be your picture of the ensemble and the CO will be your assortment of templates, patterns and ideas. Comprehensive means DETAILED! Mr. Rosen will want to see the CO and the staff will be forwarding him a copy of each lesson you complete. (This is role-playing remember? It might seem real, but like a Drama it's all make-belive.)
Lesson 2 In the second lesson you'll create your Stock Company. This will consist of 3 Characters: One (1) central, two (2) supporting and any bit parts the writer deems necessary. You'll fill out a profile summary on each of the three and write their sketches. On the Central Character you'll plot the most significant ten (10) events in his/her life.
Lesson 3 In Lesson 3 you simply take the ball and run with it. Armed with the CO you'll let your characters tell the story and talk you through the three scenes. This is not hard if you've done a good job with the outline and broke the whole thing down into baby steps. It will involve cutting out the pieces and pinning the garments while you coordinate the accessories. When you finish you’ll have an initial draft.
Lesson 4 Here, you put the draft in a drawer for a week. This is an important part of the process that is acknowledged by the experts, but not thoroughly understood. It allows your subconscious to catch up with your conscious and the two parts of your psyche to become one with the play. This will complete Phase 1 of the course. The next four lessons will deal with writing the second draft.
Phase 2 The Second Edit
Lesson 5 At this juncture, the Playwright goes back and looks again at the Structure. Is the drama coming together in a comprehensive and cohesive sort of way? The Rules of Thumb, hopefully applied in the first iteration, are taken off the bulletin board and applied retrospectively, point by point to the play. This is where you go back and look at the design. For example, did the first scene hook the audience? Does the thread, moral or premise continue through the play? After reviewing the feedback and checklist, you go back for some editing with an eye for improvement. The ensemble comes off the manikin and portions are modeled in front of the mirror. In this case it will be called a “Cold Read” between the Editor and playwright.
Lesson 6 In this lesson you and the Dramaturge look at the setting. Is it enhancing the play or is it value neutral? If it doesn’t offer the right vehicle, thought is given to modification or changes. Next the focus shifts to symbols…What are they, how are they being used and how effective is the outcome. Finally a close examination is made of the conflict(s). What are they, foreshadowing, primary and secondary conflicts are all discussed. As in Lesson 5 the your mentors makes commentary as you follow the checklist and make appropriate changes.
Lesson 7 Now the Playwright takes a second look at the characters. Are they distinctly different? Does the Central Character develop and change as a consequence of the conflict? Hopefully this is the case. Is there a fundamental consisency in voice from beginning to end? Can the reader close his eyes and tell who was doing the talking? Are the character's goals, motivations and tactics clear to the audience? Again this aspect of the play is discussed and modifications added if appropriate. At this time arranging for a “Hot Read” is discussed.
Lesson 8 If a hot read is done, lessons learned are discussed and the production is informally authenticated. A final review is made on the use of sensory imager followed by a discussion of Comedy to determine if comic relief was used effectively in the drama.
In conclusion this class is not for the timid, nor for those who are unable to make a measured committment each week. Trying to wing the requirements and not achieve the minimums will put you behind in a hurry. This is not High School, and the tempo, while not unbearable, begins to approach what a writer can be expected to face in the real world. This is an immersion workshop. It demands an investment of time and energy. Don't sign up if you can't make the committment.
For most of you I need no introduction, however I do see a couple of unfamiliar faces out there. I'm Matty, (Mr. Rosen to you), and I'm the guy that signs your paychecks and renews your contracts. I hear a lot of grumbling out there about having to write these "Mickey Mouse Plays." Get over it! Right now Educational Dramas are generating good revenue. Once this contract is over there'll be plenty of time to get back to our bread and butter...writing Serial Romance Novels.
Now I hope you paid attention to what Percy just said....The operative words were "...a significant investment of time and energy." These courses aren't cheap and don't forget who's paying your wages. If you think you can blow this off with a "Lick and a Kiss," think again....There are huge differences between a novel and a stage play and the sooner you figure them out, the better. What I like about this course is that it makes you take two looks. You write a draft and then you get to go back and fix up all the things you screwed-up on the first pass through. I don't want to be getting any bad reports from the Academy that you guys and gals are slacking off.
Pay attention now....I'm only going to explain this once... New Horizons and Cyclops Publications are jointly sponsoring this project. That means they'll be providing me feedback on your progress and I'll be following closely to make sure you're doing a good job. I'll be reviewing your assignments each week and providing my own form of feedback, in a language you're no doubt more familiar with. We have assigned Cornelia Cobb to work at the school to provide the necessary interface and handle all the administrative details. This should show everyone the importance we attach to the project. She's one of our top Editors. I know I can count on your support and I'll be insisting on a quality product...Now I'll hand of to Cornelia for a few administrative announcements.
Hi this is Corney...I want to thank several of you for responding to that little request I made. I've gotten some promising leads from several of you darlings, who for now will go unnamed. I'm so excited. Rest assured, I'll see that your manuscripts get the VIP treatment. For everybody else I'm providing some links to make navigation around the Academy easier.
If there are any questions contact percy goodfellow