If You Fall In Love With Project: Project…

After you close a show, you can feel bereft. No more late nights hanging lights, no more communal snacks, no more emergency-dragon-puppet-making.  But you can take little bits of wisdom with you for the next project.  Here is a line from SHIVER that sticks with me.  It boils down the message of the play, and was poignantly delivered by the brilliant Scot Colford as Wilhelm Grimm to the delightful Louise Hamill (also “one of most tireless forces in the Boston theatre scene” –Edge Boston) playing the heroine Charlotte , a character who was so caught up in her own fears she was pushing the people in her life away.  This is a mantra I will carry with me far beyond this one production.  Project: Project, this one is for you.



Playwriting and Math

One of the many amazing things to come out of the Freedom Art Retreat back in 2011 was that one day, somewhere in between swimming in Pea Porridge Pond, eating grilled corn, drinking cocktails, singing along to ukeleles, hiking mountains and making group projects, I asked the group a question that had been on my mind for a while.  Actually, no, I tried to ask the question, but it was a barely formed, half articulated, bizarre mumbling thing in the general tenor of a question.

It was something like:  “So guys, I’m working on this 8-character play, Mad Props, and it’s a lot of characters!  But I was wondering, if I have 8 characters in a play, how many, um, if I wanted to know, like, how many different scenes are possible, with you know, different characters in different configurations, um, how would I figure that out?”

Now I used to be a math person, back when being a math person meant basic multiplication and division.  So, essentially, elementary school was when I peaked.  But I’m still a person who likes to figure things out, even if it’s not something I know how to figure out. That’s where the amazing powers of friendship and collaboration come in handy.  Thanks to the help of my fellow retreatants, particularly Jason Weber, we figured out what my question was, and then he even came up with the answer in the form of an amazing excel spreadsheet that figures it out for you using formulas.  Formulas!  On a theatre-in-the-woods retreat!

The key was remembering a math concept called “combinations (without repetition)” – just coming up with the right concept took a little while.  Did I mention I was having problems articulating the question?

It turns out what I was asking for was the total number of possible scenes, depending on total number of characters in the play, using different combinations of characters.  So, for example, if there are 8 characters in a play, then the total number of 1-character scenes possible in that play is 8.  The total number of 8-character scenes possible is of course, 1.  The trick is figuring out all the combinations of 5-character scenes and 3-character scenes, etc.  In an 8 character play, there are a total of 255 unique combinations of different characters on stage.  The only thing is, the formulas only give you the number of combinations.  You would have to figure out yourself what each of the unique combinations are.

For example, here are the 28 unique combinations for 2-character scenes in an 8-character play: ab, ac, ad, ae, af, ag, ah, bc, bd, be, bf, bg, bh, cd, ce, cf, cg, ch, de, df, dg, dh, ef, eg, eh, fg ,fh, gh

Here is what the basic formula looks like in my fancy spreadsheet (thank you Jason Weber!!):

with B7 containing the total number of characters and A10 containing the # of characters in a scene

Ah, math.  Sometimes you are so helpful.

Knowing and Not Knowing, Part I: Direct Address

When should you let your audience “in” on what’s happening?  When should you keep it a big, heavy, elephant-in-the-room secret?  All plays have some elements of both – one of the jobs of the playwright is to measure the balance between what the audience knows and doesn’t know, and how and when to withhold or impart information. Sometimes when you want the audience to know something, the quick and dirty way to accomplish that is to just tell them.  Why bother with fancy tricks to get your most important exposition across?  Want your audience to know that one character thinks the other one is crazy?  Just tell them!


[Aside] Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.

This is a nice little essay about the use of direct address in a few contemporary plays.

A couple of my favorite examples of plays that use monologues spoken straight to the audience (aka an aside or in a slightly different sense, a soliloquy) are Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation.  These plays are a story being told and acted out for the audience.  The play is aware of itself being a play, and the characters consistently break the fourth wall.  Like a Greek chorus, they narrate story as it goes along.  So, yes it is an old contrivance, and a very effective, if blunt, instrument.  And yes, sometimes blunt is an excellent thing.

Frenzy and the Treats

Turns out April really is the month to get inspired to write that new play.  Budding playwrights (and dialogue-based script writers of all forms): meet Script Frenzy!  Script Frenzy dares you to write 100 pages of a new script in the month of April.  So, if November and NaPlWriMo is too far away and you’re ready to get started right away, in fact, you were ready yesterday… www.scriptfrenzy.org looks like the way to go.

They have some great resources on their website, like information about script formatting, a list of all the free and not-so-free software available, and all kinds of articles and advice.  I love love love that all this is available for free online.  And I love that I can share about it here on this blog of mine.

But dare I say it, the more computerized my everyday world becomes, the more I treasure my work as a playwright. After all, I spend all those hours on my computer alone writing because a play brings people together – bodies, imaginations, emotions, and intellects – in time and space.  And because nothing beats being in a room with a bunch of other people hearing the brand new pages of your script you just wrote last night out loud, sharing ideas and feedback, debating and discussing and deliberating and eating brownies while bawling and guffawing and holding our collective breath and leaning in close….  I suppose there’s probably an app for all that now, minus the brownies. And I am indecently attached to my iPhone. But I’ll take a room at Grub Street any day.  BYO brownies.