(from Period of Starting Points)
Objective: To have students find inspiration for their plays and begin writing, also to grow in confidence using Theatre games. (This lesson plan may be good for several class periods.)
Intro: Build a machine
Cognitive Activity: Identify the form in which the play is written. Identify format for character names, stage directions, etc. Identify characters, objectives, conflicts. Observe how the play shows and does not tell. Identify character actions. Identify conflicts in terms of Individual vs. Society, the personal vs. the legal, divine law vs. human law, failure/success, desire and value. Seek out contemporary parallels.
Creative Activities: Students take time to write down an event that had special significance to them, or to write out an experience or wish that has meaning to them. Students write down examples of what groups they belong to and how they belong. By what actions do they belong? Each student writes down examples of how he or she is personally valuable. Each student writes down a detail or details of their own individualism. This detail should be a detail. It does not have to be complete or all-encompassing example, but rather a window into each individual. In addition to these writing activities, I will choose or devise games that establish a sense of personal efficacy and control within each individual as they participate in group games. These activities open a rich lode for further creative playwriting work that can be physicalized. All physical work encourages organic growth through experiential learning.
Evaluation: See above.
Closure: See above.
The third period is the Development/Middle Stage Period. This involves more active writing assignments. Students will be asked to write out scenarios, objectives, stakes, character actions, and dialogue in the creation of scenes. They are encouraged to be fantastic in their imaginations. We will propose many scenes and play with the objectives, stakes and actions. We will play out the scenes, taking turns. We will observe entrances and exits. We will look to clarify single actions. It is likely that students will write more than one scene as part of a story but not know the distinction of scene, so this is a time to separate each scene and develop them completely. We will consider the difference between daily conversation and a play’s dialogue, the difference between TV and stage, the difference between movies and stage and real life.
Helpful to the teacher of playwriting is the “Poetics” by Aristotle, a book that describes elements of dramatic composition. Even though he wrote it more than 2000 years ago, it remains the central book on drama as we know it. Aristotle’s definition of drama is that it is the imitation of an action. (Actually, Aristotle’s word was not “imitation” but mimesis, which is a process impossible without an integrated, non-alienated society. But, let’s ignore that for these purposes!) The important thing about the “Poetics” is that Aristotle gave us a way of talking and thinking about drama. We know that drama is not the same as narrative, that drama is action, that the stage is a visual area, that characters are the embodiment of action, that characters face obstacles in achieving their objectives, that changing the stakes changes the magnitude of the drama. I need to break down these ideas and give them to students as simply as possible. To have students record notes for their notebooks would be part of the cognitive activities; exercises that apply these ideas would be part of the creative activities. Note that much of this can be challenging if not daunting to the student. Thus, it very important that they are able to focus (from previous periods together) and that they can have fun. Remember to go back to simple games when possible.
As part of the cognitive activities I may or may not bring in examples of scenes from plays. It really depends on what the students need. I had originally considered using Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” as a further example to play on the themes of the Individual vs. Society. But students may not be able to use more material of this kind.
However, during this third period we will read Latoya Hunter’s autobiography. Discussion will center on her story and moments of conflict. Hers is a good example of narrative writing. Through the use of imagination and scenario, it is possible for students to physicalize some aspects of her narrative and translate those passages into dramatic scenes. I want students to develop scenes she describes as well as scenes inspired by her story. Students will write these out using scenario form, and then fill in dialogue. Perhaps it is possible to break down the whole book, have students compose scenes, and put together an original dramatic piece. Discussion of a play’s form will take place here: the story play, the unfolding character play, and other forms. We will discuss how a narrative “tells” a story and how a play “shows” a story using dramatic actions. Even as students work together to develop a dramatization of Hunter’s book, they also work individually to write their own plays.
As another possibility, some students may prefer to work not on Latoya Hunter’s autobiography, but rather on a book entitled “Scorpions” written by W. Meyers. “Scorpions” is set in Harlem and involves teenage life, gangs, and survival. This book can be translated from the narrative into a kind of dramatic representation. I include it as a possibility to increase the likelihood of success in our classroom.
Although the following descriptions of activities are not formal lesson plans, they propose activities toward our extrinsic goal of playwriting. But, in preparing the formal lesson plans, it will be important to remember my original motives for total organic student growth, not simply training in Theatre.