Analyzing and researching the playscript

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ANALYZING THE

SCRIPT

Construction and meaning

From Patterson,

Stage Directing, The First Experiences

(Waveland Press, 2004)

Plays are made…

CAUSALLY.

This is the most common structure. One incident leads logically and linearly to the next

BUT...Beckett’s

Happy Days

is an example of a play organized on its

IDEAS

Other plays are

EPISODIC

in nature, like works by Paula Vogel and Brecht. Aristotle described this form as the “epic”

READ AND RE-READ

To understand how a play works, the director must

read

and playscript.

re-read

the

STRUCTURE.

The heart of the modern realistic script is people in

CONFLICT.

The way the conflict is arranged and developed is

PLOT.

Well-written plays have a

beginning

, a

middle

and an

end.

IMITATION

to represent various objects through other means

• …As Aristotle understood the word, imitation is

a creative act

and not a copy

TRAGEDY

“the imitation of an action that is serious, complete and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear affecting the proper purgation of these emotions…”

COMEDY

“…an imitation of characters of lower type

…”

Aristotle’s elements

PLOT is the imitation of the action...the arrangement of the incidences

CHARACTER, the agents of the plot

THOUGHT (THEME) is a general truth enunciated

DICTION is the expression of the meaning in words

SONG is an embellishment whose sense everyone understands

SPECTACLE is the least artistic, connected least with the art of poetry

GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Time and place

Social circumstances, age, sex, etc. of characters

Prevailing mood/atmosphere

In short, details provided by playwright to create the world of the play

GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES are uncovered by a careful reading of

What the characters say

What other characters say about them

Stage directions

Often grouped as a series of W’s

When, where what, who

Why (discovered in rehearsal)

WHO

The people of the play (Characters)

Protagonist

is who the play is about

(Central conflict)

Antagonist

is preventing the protagonist from getting what is wanted

Three W’s

WHEN

--The specific time of the action and its elapsed time.

WHERE

--The environment of the script.

Geographical and exact

WHAT

--The major conflict as expressed in previous actions

MIDDLE

The development of the obstacles and complications that escalate the conflict

 

...sometimes called RISING ACTION

 

END

The END contains the CLIMAX and the

FALLING ACTION.

 

The action of the plot leads to the climax and falls away from it

(denouement).

RESEARCH

Most plays will require some research.

In

MASTER HAROLD and the boys

, it is probably important to know something about South Africa. What is Apartheid?

What is ballroom dancing? What are “donkeys years?”

Ultimately, the director must know everything there is to know about the script and the world of the play.

ACTS AND SCENES

Modern plays typically have a one or two act structure.

Shakespeare’s plays have five acts.

Plays from other periods might have 3, 4 or

6 acts depending upon the conventions of the time.

ACTIONS, UNITS, BEATS

These describe ways in which we break down a script.

The smallest unit is a beat...several beats make a unit...units form scenes which form acts...several acts make a play.

ACTION UNITS

An individual and separate section of a play that comprises one part of the dramatic action. (Obviously, longer plays have more action units than shorter plays.)

Label each action unit...This label describes the action within the unit.

FRENCH SCENES

Sections marked by the entrances and exits of characters.

Can be a single unit or comprised of several units.

BEATS

A beat is marked whenever a transition appears...when a character’s objective changes.

In music, a measure is a group of related notes while a group of related measures is a musical phrase. In drama, a series of sentences makes up a beat and a series of beats makes up an action unit. Playwrights construct beats just as novelists construct paragraphs.

♩♩♩♩♩♩

OBJECTIVES

THE WHY

An objective is phrased using an active verb to express what the character wants or needs at that particular moment.

So, objectives (

why

) become the fifth “W” of given circumstances.

Identify objectives and beats with ACTABLE VERBS

CHARACTER

Dramatic action and character are intertwined almost beyond separation because the action of a modern realistic play is revealed entirely by what the characters say and do and by what is said about them by others. Character, then, is the instrument of the dramatic action; that is, all action happens through what characters do and say.

ACTION TRAITS

ACTION TRAITS illustrate character.

Characters can be complex or simple depending on the number of defining actions.The director should begin a character analysis by making a list of what each character in the play does. Action traits are central to delineating character.

PERSONALITY TRAITS

The qualities that make a character unique.

They are discovered through the analysis of given circumstances such as age, education, social class, environment, appearance, language, etc.

Personality traits not specifically indicated by the playwright can be fleshed out by the director through casting.

FUNCTIONAL TRAITS

These help to define how the character operates in the world of the play.

Protagonist-antagonist are central characters

Other characters help to define or contrast the central characters (Confidante, Foil, etc.)

Understanding the traits of each character helps the director in casting

According the

Stanislavski

•Encompass all of the character’s individual objectives

•Be directed toward other characters and not inward

•Reflect the inner life of the character

•Relate to the play’s large issue

•Be stated as a “to” construction followed by an active verb. For example: to get back home to

Kansas…to revenge my father’s murder, etc.

Minor characters may not have clearly defined

superobjectives

.

Directors can develop a superobjective that is in keeping with that character’s functional traits.

ACTOR AND CHARACTER

Character development is a partnership between the playwright and the actor.

SO--casting becomes an important tool for shaping character

MEANING

If

plot is about what happens

next;

meaning is the significance of those events

in a wider context. This is often called theme, moral or message.

ACTION AND MEANING. There can be many meanings to a play and different productions will emphasize different meanings.

CORE MEANING

Look at the play’s title

Examine key speeches

Evaluate the qualities of the play’s major character

Research into playwright’s background and other works

CORE MEANING

CORE MEANING should not be confused with what happens to central character. A script’s core meaning is greater than the conflict and realization of the main character. As such, it should be stated as a broad general statement.

For example, OEDIPUS

’ core meaning might be

“people who let their pride in themselves blind them to reality are fated for tragedy.

CORE MEANING

Does the core statement accommodate the central action?

Can the major characters be better understood in light of the core meaning?

Does the core meaning reflect the given circumstances?

Other influences on core meaning

CURRENT POLITICAL OR SOCIAL EVENTS guide our understanding of plays

PERSONALITIES OF ACTORS AND

DESIGNERS can influence a production

OTHER INFLUENCES can shape the director’s approach

The CORE STATEMENT becomes a map for the production

For example:

Glass Menagerie

-

“Modern urban and industrial society leaves no safe space for the fragile and emotionally needy to live.” OR

Oedipus

-

“People who let their pride in themselves blind them to reality are fated for tragedy.”

Whenever a

choice

is made in production, the outcomes of those choices can be

measured against

the play’s

core statement

.

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