Sunday, 5 July 2015

Tennessee William's "A Streetcar Named Desire"

"Along with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night and a few other notable works, Tennessee William's 1947 masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, helped shape the look and feel of American drama for decades to come." (Life magazine)



From 1920 to 1948, the Desire Line ran from New Orleans' Bourbon Street, through the French Quarter, to Desire Street and back up to Canal Street.  The line served as the inspiration for Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Name Desire which debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in December of 1947.  That night's performance, despite its "shocking scenes" and "gritty dialogue", received a half hour applause from the audience.  The play made Williams a Pulitzer Prize winner and transformed Marlon Brando into a movie star.

"Along with Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night and a few other notable works, Tennessee William's 1947 masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, helped shape the look and feel of American drama for decades to come." (http://time.com/3605994/brando-takes-broadway-life-on-the-set-of-a-streetcar-named-desire-in-1947/)  

The play opens with Southern Belle, Blanche DuBois, arriving in New Orleans from Laurel, Mississippi where her family's home has been repossessed by creditor.  Blanche, who moves in with her sister, Stella, and her brother in law, Stanley, explains that she has left teaching due to her nerves. 

Living in such close quarters, and not seeing eye to eye, Blanche and Stanley immediately clash.  Stanley feels like Blanche cheated Stella out of her inheritance of the family home.  Blanche dislikes the way that Stanley treats Stella.    

Southern Belle Blanche attracts the eye of a respectable gentleman named Mitch, played by Karl Malden.  In the meantime, in the heat of an argument, a drunk Stanley strikes Stella, who flees upstairs with Blanche.  A sober Stanley returns to beg Stella's forgiveness, bellowing her name from the courtyard.  This is a cultural touchstone scene of the play, re-enacted many times since.  Stella returns to Stanley, despite Blanche's protests.

In the meantime, Stanley spreads a rumour that Blanche was fired from teaching for sleeping with one of her male students.  When Mitch confronts Blanche about the rumour, she admits that it is true. Mitch storms out in disgust.

Stella, pregnant with Stanley's child, leaves for the hospital to give birth.  Stanley, home alone with Blanche, rapes her.  Blanche later tells her sister what happened but she refuses to believe her.  Blanche, who suffers a nervous breakdown, is committed to an insane asylum.  

A Streetcar Named Desire served as an example of melodrama with the female characters' "exaggerated sighs, unnecessary screams and fluttery hand gestures" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Streetcar_Named_Desire_(play)#Inspirations).  But it also served as an example of "Method Acting" with Marlon Brando's attempt to "create in himself the thoughts and feelings of his character".  The iconic play closed in December of 1949 after 855 performances.














Saturday, 4 July 2015

Tony Award Winning Plays

Here is a list of Tony Award nominees and winners.

1.  Death of a Salesman (1949)

2.  The Teahouse of the August Moon (1953)

3.  The Diary of Ann Frank (1956)

4.  The Miracle Worker (1960)

5.  Luther (1964)

6.  Inadmissable Evidence (1966)

7.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (1968)

8.  The Philanthropist (1971)

9.  The Elephant Man (1979)

10.  The House of Blue Leaves (1986)

11.  The Grapes of Wrath (1999)

12.  The History Boys (2006)

13.  The 39 Steps (2008)

14.  War Horse (2011)

15.  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (2015)






Friday, 3 July 2015

Best Books about Playwriting

Here are ten books about playwriting to get you started.

1.  The Art and Craft of Playwriting
     (Jeffrey Hatcher)

2.  The Architecture of Drama:  Plot, Character, Theme, Genre and Style
     (Joe & Robin Stockdale)

3.  Technical Theatre for Nontechnical People
     (Drew Campbell)

4.  The Playwright's Guidebook
     (Stuart Spencer)

5.  Writing a Play
     (Steve Gooch)

6.  Composing Drama for Stage & Screen
     (Stanley Vincent Longman)

7.  Writing the Broadway Musical
     (Aaron Frankel)

8.  The Art of Dramatic Writing
     (Lajos Egri)

9.  Naked Playwriting:  The Art, The Craft and the Life Laid Bare
     (Robin Russin & William Missouri Downs)

10.  The Dramatic Writer's Companion
       (Will Dunne)








Thursday, 2 July 2015

Play Versus Short Story: What is the Difference?

What are the differences between a play and a short story?

PLAY

  • dates back to Plato and Aristotle
  • consists of acts and scenes
  • drama comes from the Greek word "dran" which means to do or to act
  • tells the story of one or more events
  • consists of a few characters
  • set on a stage
  • tells story through dialogue
  • use of literary devices
  • theme should be evident as play unfolds
  • setting self-evident
  • top 100 stage plays (http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/13581.Goodreads_Top_100_Stage_Plays_of_All_Time)





SHORT STORY

  • dates back to early 19th Century
  • consists of a sequence of events (plot)
  • has a clear beginning, middle and ending
  • few characters
  • read at one sitting
  • tells story through narration and some dialogue
  • strong character development
  • frequent use of literary devices
  • theme woven into the plot
  • setting described through narration
  • top 100 short stories (http://americanliterature.com/100-great-short-stories)





Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Play's the Thing

"Writing for the stage is an exhilarating experience.  I'll never forget the first time I saw my scruffy pages of dialogue transformed into flesh and blood drama on an off-off-Broadway stage in New York's east village in the late 1960's."



One author, who used to write fiction, poetry and essays, thought that his background would not suffice for playwrighting.  However, he found that his fiction experience helped him to structure a story, his poetry background helped him with rhythm and diction, and his essay writing helped him present the core factual information.  Here are some tips to help you get started as a playwright (http://www.writersdigest.com/author/guestcolumn).

1.  Involve yourself in all facets of the theatre.  Volunteer, attend rehearsals, audition for roles.  Observe the collaboration involved in mounting a play.

2.  Study the play's text before and after the performance.  See how the dialogue moves the play forward.

3.  Use standard playscript format.  Page 1 should include cast members, setting and what happens when the curtain rises.  The characters' names should be written in capitals.  A single space should appear between dialogue, a line between characters.  Stage directions should appear in parentheses.  A one act play should run 30 to 60 pages while a full play should run 90 to 120 pages.

4.  Keep casts, sets and scenes simple.  Focus on character develpment.  Remember that most of Shakespeare's plays can be performed on a bare stage.

5.  Don't overdo stage direction.  Again, keep it simple.

6.  Stage test your play with a group of amateurs or friends.  A dramatic reading of your play will help with pacing, coherence and dialogue.

7.  Find each character's voice.  It should be recognizable.

8.  Keep the plays as small as possible.  "It is a slice of life, not a biography." (http://www.wikihow.com/Write-a-Play)

9.  Understand the limits of the stage ex. no gun fights, no car chases.

10  Break the plot into scenes and acts (usually three).

11.  Enter playwriting competitions for exposure.  It could be your one true shot at the big time (metropolitan commercial theatres).

12.  Contact play publishers, not theatres.  Look in the Writer's Market for a listing ex. Big Dog Plays, Broadway Play Publishing, Eldridge Publishing Pioneer Drama Service.  When a theatre buys your play, the publisher will send you a royalty statement.  Just as authors have literary agents, playwrights have theatrical agents.  However, you usually need at least one performed play under your belt before you can attract an agent.

Note:  For more information, read The Art and Craft of Playwrighting by Jeffrey Hatcher.






Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Louisa May Alcott's "Death of a Soldier"

"It was the hardest question I had ever been called to answer; doubly hard with those eyes fixed on mine, forcing a truthful answer by their own truth."



As the Civil War raged on, the casualties mounted.  An unknown woman named Louisa May Alcott, volunteered at a Union Hospital in Georgetown for six months in 1863.  Homeschooled by her father, she was also raised by close family friends Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, giving her a good grounding in literature.  Louisa loved to write.  At the hospital she penned many letters, which became her first book Hospital Sketches, preceding the famous Little Women.

One soldier really made a mark on her.  The doctor said:  "Every breath he draws is like a stab; for the ball pierced the left lung, broke a rib and did no end of damage..."  Louisa was\ told there was no hope for him.  It fell on the young woman to break the news to the soldier.  

Louisa wrote:  "[There was] no outward sign of suffering till, looking nearer, I saw great tears roll down and drop to the floor."  She thought she was a "poor substitute" for a wife, mother or sister.  She watched as the nurse dressed his wound and the scar from his operation, an operation in futility since the bullet was lodged in too delicate a spot to be removed.  

The soldier's vulnerability pulled at Louisa's heartstrings;  "Although he was the manliest an among my forty, he said:  'Yes, a'am' like a little boy."  She noticed a ring on his finger, and thought he was married, but found out it belonged to his widowed mother,  Almost 30 years old, the soldier stayed home and looked after his mother and younger siblings.

The soldier said that he was injured in his first battle, and asked Louisa if it might be his last.  "It was the hardest question I had ever been called to answer, doubly hard with those eyes fixed on me, forcing a truthful answer by their own truth."  The soldier dictated a letter to Louisa to be sent to his brother Jack, who would then break the news to his mother.  

"Over his face I saw the grey veil falling that no human hand can lift."  The other soldiers in the hospital room gathered around the soldier's bed to say goodbye.  Though they were strangers, he was "beloved by all".  As his time drew near, the soldier begged for air and the curtains were opened to a red streaked dawn sky.  "Over his whole face there broke that mysterious expression brighter than any smile, which often comes to eyes that look their last."  The soldier held Louisa's hand until he breathed his last breath.   







Monday, 29 June 2015

James Michener's "When Does Education Stop?"

"Young man, your sad story is truly heartbreaking.  Excuse me while I fetch a crying towel."

In 1962, a literature student at a prestigious American university requested an interview with the author James Michener.  He immediately launched into his complaint about how his professor had given him an assignment for the summer to write a 3000 word essay about Michener's books.  The author, irritaed by his bellyaching, gave him a card which a chaplain had given him during the Second World War, which read:  "Young man, your sad story is truly heartbreaking.  Excuse me while I fetch a crying towel."

Decades later, nothing has changed.  My husband's university students complain about writing their essays.  And they only complete them for marks, not for the love of learning.

 MIchener pointed out to the young university student that we he sat down to research and write the book Hawaii, it was a five year and 3 million word "term paper".  It is not the small tasks which prepare us for life, but the big ones.

What we need to complete the big tasks in life is a good work ethic.  As Michener explains;  "When I was finally ready to write, I holed up in a bare wall, no telephone Waikiki room and stuck at my typewriter every morning for eighteen months."  Michener's novel was not yet complete.  He said that he rewrote each manuscript six or seven times before submitting it for publication.

Michener pointed out that if a job should be performed, not in a half-hearted manner, but to the best of one's ability.  "Young people...frequently fail to realize that men and women who wish to accomplish anything must apply themselves to tasks of tremendous magnitude.  A new vaccine may take years to perfect.  A Broadway play is never written, cast and presented in a week.  A foreign policy is never evolved in a brief time by diplomats relaxing in London, Washington or Geneva."

In his essay, Michener went on to say that most adults will work at three different careers in their lifetime.  With each career change, comes re-education.  "Adults who are unwilling to re-educate themselves are doomed to mediocrity."  The author pointed out that after the war, when President Truman or President Eisenhower picked a military figure for a particular job, he usually picked one that had re-educated himself.  For example, the head of Michener's outfit, William Calhoun, spent six hours a day learning French.

Michener said that in the closing months of the Second World War, he worked with a group of brilliant doctors studying alcoholism.  One of them asked him what he was studying in his own field, the field of literature.  Michener was embarrassed to think that he was studying nothing.  The very next day, he started the manuscript to the book Tales of the South Pacific.  It was another example of "Go big or go home."

Note:  James Michener held various jobs in his lifetime including teacher, businessman, soldier and author.  He went on to write at least 25 novels.




A map of Michener's novels courtesy http://home.comcast.net/~arbjlb/michener.htm.