lunes, 3 de marzo de 2014

Some hints on how to write scripts for theatre

Script Writing Seminar

Voltaire once asserted:  “Theatre is a lie. Make it as true as possible.” Art is not reality. What happens on stage is what filters through the minds of actors, directors and playwrights. Each actor, director and playwright creates because he or she has lived, had experiences, contemplated or struggled with political, social, religious or philosophical ideas. Christians believe God created men and women out of mud; the Mayas in Guatemala say the raw material was corn. One of the Western world’s most prolific and profound creators, Leonardo da Vinci, expressed it this way: “The soul cannot stand to be without its body because without a body it can neither feel or do; for that reason it is necessary to construct a figure in such a way that its form speak to us of its soul." We do not believe that there is any magic formula for writing, much less for writing scripts. Nevertheless, there are some basic notions—as in all activities—which should be observed, some hints, clues which the script writer can use as raw material.

Who is going to read my script?
Experienced actors know by instinct whether a script can be “translated” into convincing stage actions. Moving about on stage, interacting with others and struggling with the “subtext” of their lines has given them the ability to “feel” a script which is or is not apt for presentation. They know that what takes place on the stage is not just words, beautiful or not. Theatre is action. Action directed towards an audience, action and reaction to the characters in the play. Therefore it is essential to define who might be interested in seeing the play or monologue. When we write plays we do so thinking of who is going to see the show or how we are going to capture their minds and emotions. Shakespeare realized that perfectly well: parts of his plays were clearly directed to the nobles in the balconies; others to the “groundlings.”

What style should I use?
As in all forms of art, there are different styles or approaches which the creator may use to express his or her thoughts, feelings, conflicts. Realism in the strict sense does not exist. The actor on stage must imagine the castle, the space is never the same, he acts in the present but the action in the play might be located in the past or even in the future. That is why every actor plays Hamlet or Lady Macbeth differently: he uses his imagination to “see” his character and to “imagine” the setting, evoke places and events which are not on the stage. The reader or the audience wants to be moved by the actions, the emotional situations and philosophical, political or social issues evoked in the play. That requires consistency on the part of the writer.

Character Development
A play or a monologue, a skit or stand-up comedy involves characters who become convincing to the extent that the characters come to life. In theatre that refers to what characters do on stage and what or how they express themselves, how they deal with their problems, how they relate to others, how they dress, how they speak…When an actor comes on stage she must ask and answer some important questions: who am I? Where have I been? What do I want to achieve? How am I going to go about it? The way those questions are answered—by means of words and actions--give substance to the character and allow the spectator to share the character’s emotional, philosophical or political dilemmas.

Playwright and Actor
The vast majority of the actions on stage are the result of improvisations by actors in search of their characters, molded together with the perceptions and decisions of directors and technicians. Yet according to their artistic orientation, playwrights give varying degrees of instructions concerning the setting and the actions; they may include abundant or scant instructions in the script for the actors.  Some playwrights are quite prolific in their instructions, others provide little more than clues. For example, the writer might say that an actor “stumbles on stage” or “knocks over a flower vase” or “laughs” or answers in a “negative tone of voice.” These instructions help orient the actor concerning what the author wants to achieve. Neither Shakespeare nor any other dramatist tells the actor does not tell the actor what to do when saying “to be or not to be.”

The Premise…The Plot
It is useful to write a short sentence or phrase concerning the basic idea which drives the plot. Try to say what your play is about with as few words as possible. Then develop that into the plot, the basic structure of your piece. It is also useful to put your idea in the form of a question--then try to answer it. Likewise try to respond to actions you are not sure about by saying: "What if..." It may be useful to first write a story, then turn that into the play script.


We should think of stories, plays, monologues and movies as exercises in problem solving, as a sort of puzzle. What keeps us reading or watching is our desire to find out how the conflict iss resolved or how each character came to terms with his or her dilema. There is a general conflict involving the play itself; however each character likewise has his or her conflicts with the persons he or she relates to. We need to have a clear idea concerning what takes place between each one of the characters in the play.

Road Map
True. Not all writers use the same technique. Some need a detailed plan of actions, others write more spontaneously. Nevertheless, for newcomers it is often convenient to create a sort of basic road map/story of what is going to happen. This is helpful to avoid getting sidetracked and helps to work out the kinks and difficulties which always appear in the process of writing. Here an interesting technique is envisioning. We try to “see” the conflicts and “observe” our characters resolving their conflicts. If you can’t find the plot it is sometimes useful to use speed writing, or stream of consciousness—Write without stopping to think and without lifting your pen from the paper. Then go back and try to sum up the idea in as few words as possible before you begin the first draft. Sketch out a general plan, then envisage how events unfold. 

Segmenting and logic

At least from the theatrical point of view, actions are dialectical because they suppose a chain of movements: there is always something that sets off an action; in the process of its realization it will be subject to factors which may modify it and when it "finishes" it will initiate a new action. In order to go more deeply into his actions the actor segments what he does, breaking down each action in order to understand the physical and mental state of the character, for example, when he comes on stage, when he advances towards the table and when he throws a glass to the floor. Likewise, the writer of the play should comprehend the sequence of actions and what is at stake at each moment. Actors try to find the "logic" of their actions; writers must find the logic of the lines they write. 

The Details, the Details!
The slug lines before each scene are essential because they indicate whether the action takes place inside a home, in an office or on a farm, whether it is day or night. The writer should put this information in parentheses or in italic letters to indicate that they are the writer’s instructions. As a start, it is important to include ample details. That helps orient the actor. Often what one character says about another (and how he says it) can provide vital information for both. Actors need graphic language because they act with their senses as well as their minds and bodies. It is important for them to visualize the character’s “bloodshot eyes,” for example. Dialogues rich in imagery awaken the actor’s creativity.

Trim it down
We often fall in love with our own words. It is therefore important to weed out and trim down all words and phrases which have little or nothing to do with the characters or the development of the plot. This is usually a difficult task but editing will oblige us to clarify actions and will make the text more apt for the stage.

Script Writing Format
Here are the beginnings of several plays. Don’t take them as models but they should give you a general idea about how to go about putting your pay on paper.

1.      The Death of Bessie Smith by Edward Albee
Scene One.
The corner of a barroom. Bernie seated at a table, a beer before him, with glass. Jack enters, tentatively, a beer bottle in his hand; he does not see Bernie.
(Recognizing Jack with pleased surprised) Hey!
Hey; Jack!
Hm?...What?...(Recognizes him). Bernie!
What you doin’ here, boy? C’ome on, sit down.

2.      All that Fall by Samuel Beckett
Rural sounds. Sheep, bird, cow, cock, severally, then together.
Mrs. Rooney advances along country road towards railway-station. Sound of her dragging feet. Music faint from house by way. “Death and the Maiden.” The steps slow down, stop.
Mrs. Rooney: Is that you, Christy?
Christy:                       It is, Ma’am.
Mrs. Rooney:  I thought the hinny was familiar. How is your poor wife?
Christy:                       No better, Ma’am.
Mrs. Rooney:  Your daughter then?
Christy:                       No worse, Ma’am.
Mrs. Rooney:  Why do you halt? (Pause.) But why do I halt?

3.      New York Actor by John Guare
A theater bar in the west 40’s of Manhattan, Joe Allen’s to be precise. One wall is lined with brightly colored theater posters of shows with one thing in common.
Craig, Nat, Barry, and Eileen sit at a table.
Craig:                          To see these posters. I know I’m back in New York. (Craig raises his glass to the wall in question) To you, “Rachel Lily Rosenbloom”
Nat:                            Cheers, “Mata Hari.”
Barry:              Hail, “Fig Leaves Are Falling.”
Eileen:             Hey, “Dude”
Craig:                          “Here’s Where I Belong!”
Nat:                            “Come Summer!”
Eileen:             I still remember you, “Carrie1”
Craig:                          “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

4.      A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
The play begins with a one page detailed description of the setting in New Orleans. Then:
(Two men come around the corner, Stanley Kowalski and Mitch. They are about twenty-eight or thirty years old, roughly dressed in blue denim work clothes. Stanley carries his bowling jacket and a red-stained package from a butcher’s. They stop at the foot of the steps.)
Stanley (Bellowing):
Hey, there! Stella, Baby!
(Stella comes out on the first floor landing, a gentle young woman, about twenty-five, and of a background obviously quite different from her husband’s)
Stella (mildly):
Don’t holler at me like that, Hi, Mitch.
(He heaves the package at her. She cries out in protest but manages to catch it; then she laughs breathlessly. Her husband and his companion have already started back around the corner.)
Stella (Calling after him):
Stanley! Where are you going?

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