Only two more sessions now. After a class on a meltingly hot day when we discussed the play “Mud,” by Maria Irene Fornes, my teacher’s longtime mentor, we were sent out into the world to write down conversations overheard in public places.
Some class members got great conversations down on paper in spite of noisy air conditioning and music. My scene, which featured three tourists (a mother, father, and 14-ish son) was beyond boring. Instructive, though. People really do not converse the way we think they do. Lots of broken-off and garbled lines. Nonsequitors. Chitchat to fill dead air. Often about food. And to cover real thoughts.
I’m really interested in how people use language to not communicate. Not just when the chitchat covers what they are consciously thinking, but even more, when the words cover thoughts that are too deep for the speaker to be aware of. Like some political or religious discussions. For example, one Right to Life person getting red in the face shouting at a clinic could be feeling on a deep level that being the 10th child, his mother might have thought twice about having him. I’m oversimplifying. But I do know a couple folks whose political arguments are closely tied to how they felt about their fathers.
An art professor Suzanne had at Pomona used to paint over an under story. He believed one could sense the completely invisible picture. That interests me.
This week, members of the playwriting class are to take our overheard scenes and develop them more. I am mainly adding what the people are consciously thinking. Someday I’ll write about what people don’t even recognize they’re thinking.
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The next assignment is to listen in on a conversation somewhere and try to write it down word for word without adding any of your own details or dramatizing it.
In the age of Murdoch telephone hacking, is that kosher?
I do sometimes hear conversations I want to write down. Yesterday, for example, I was in a small grocery store, and a woman dripping with perspiration blew in and accosted the butcher. “I’m Christine! I’m from Burnin’ Love. I’m so sorry. I got all turned around.”
Pretty good, huh?
Another time I was out walking on a breathtakingly beautiful summer morning — clear blue sky, goldfinches flying everywhere — and two men on bicycles passed by discussing credit default swaps.
And one day last fall, I overheard a conversation as I dashed from my office building to the subway. A young woman was saying to a friend, “What I’d like to be doing is studying. But I’ll be grocery shopping and doing laundry, and he’ll be watching football and playing video games.”
This morning, I ventured some timid eavesdropping. I thought I better buy something in my chosen venues. In the first coffee shop, where I hovered near a biking couple, I bought coffee and the Sunday Globe. But the air conditioning was loud and drowned out their words. In the second coffee shop, I bought a decaf cappuccino and wandered around testing conversations, but the music was too loud. In the third coffee shop, I bought waffles with toppings (blueberries, strawberries, granola), but that place had both loud air conditioning and loud music.
In the afternoon, I tried the book shop without luck and ended up back at the first coffee shop, which had opened its screened porch for lunch. I bought lemonade. I can probably use a few snatches of the conversation among three fed-up-looking tourists. Pretty bland, I must say.
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Posted in Uncategorized, tagged cambridge center for adult education, ccae, coal, gas lamp, horse, ice delivery, jersey shore, lamplighter, milk, milk delivery, peter littlefield on July 20, 2011 |
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When I told my husband that playwriting teacher Peter Littlefield wanted class members to base a scene on an early moment when we first looked objectively at the adult world, he volunteered memories of his own.
Last weekend, Suzanne, John, and their spouses got to hear about a Philadelphia childhood and the horse that delivered milk, going reliably to the next house while the deliveryman placed bottles at the last one. They learned about an elementary school visit to a dairy company, and how it hit my husband so young that some men spend their whole lives lifting bottles into crates. He also remembered catching the tail end of the street lamplighter age. He has since mentioned ice delivery at the Jersey Shore and how you would put a special sign in the window indicating how many pounds of ice you wanted for that week.
There was also coal delivery in large canvas bags. Believe it or not, my husband is not that old.
Even Suzanne and John should remember that coal was delivered next door for several years after we moved to town. And clearly coal is still being delivered somewhere, as in this video a guy put on YouTube. I especially like the speech balloons he added.
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Posted in Uncategorized, tagged acting, acting exercise, cambridge center for adult education, ccae, Godspell, peter littlefield, sanford meisner, Snow White, technique, the method, Turn Back Oh Man, youtube on June 25, 2011 |
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Playwriting teacher Peter Littlefield had the class do an exercise. First, we each drew pictures of two different people on two pieces of paper and decorated them a little (stick figures were OK). Then we shuffled the pictures, and we each pulled out two that were not our own, invented names for the characters, and wrote the names on the papers. Then we shuffled them again and chose two other drawings. About these two final characters, we each wrote a little scene, read it aloud, and discussed.
It was almost like an inkblot test, because the stories we saw in these crude drawings came from inside us. People were very supportive of one another’s writing efforts, some of which entailed far-out themes, and the teacher pointed to what was unique about our voices and what aspects he himself found most intriguing.
The previous weekend I had had time to write a short monologue about someone I know, a rather obsessive person with whom I had recently had a strange conversation. I wanted to capture the bubbly surface and the sadness beneath. What was really nice was that everyone in the class totally got what I was doing.
We also did a Meisner acting exercise, which involved one person saying the same word over and over as another person repeats the word in between as if responding. I have just wasted a lot of time trying to find a good example of this Meisner exercise on YouTube. Although there was a lot of blah-blah-blah about Sanford Meisner and “the Group,” I think I better ask my class to make its own video. It would fill a YouTube vacuum for sure.
Instead, I am showing you, by means of the photo below, that the theater bug runs in our family. This is John as Grumpy in 1983 (lower right, green shirt).
And sometime you should ask Suzanne to sing “Turn Back, Oh, Man” from her performance in Godspell as a teenager.
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Posted in Uncategorized, tagged cambridge adult education, ccae, christine rice, drama, English National Opera, eno, glimmerglass, handel, newhouse, opera, partenope, peter littlefield, play, playwriting, syracuse, theater, theatre, weimar on June 17, 2011 |
I am taking a playwriting class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education with Peter Littlefield, who also does a lot of directing. Here is an opera (Handel’s “Partenope”) he co-directed at the English National Opera. I wish I had a real video, but this is what I could find on YouTube.
I just had one class so far, and it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. The students are an interesting mix of ages and backgrounds, and I’m really looking forward to getting to know everyone. One woman, as it happens, teaches in a Boston elementary school where I volunteer.
I really like Peter’s sort of associative approach to playwriting, in which you mess around with images and ideas that interest you, then set them aside while you play with different images and ideas, and ultimately see how they converge. To me the attraction is that you’re less likely to get bored with what you are doing than if you were trying to force an idea into a structure. (I really am sick of writing coaches who harp on “structure.” I believe a structure will emerge.) We did a really funny exercise for openers.
Although I have often tried to write plays, the only actual class I ever had was in writing for TV, which I took while getting a master’s in communications at Syracuse’s Newhouse School. It was all about the formula: one, two three, gag (joke); one, two three, gag; one, two three, gag. Spirit crushing.
For fun, watch the first few minutes of opening-night comments on my teacher’s production of Partenope.
Comments may be sent to email@example.com. I will post them.
Asakiyume comments: I’m so excited about this playwriting class. You must have such a great sense of theater from *watching* so many plays, and you’ve definitely got stories to tell. I hope you’ll share any scripts that you do write. (Your thing about television screenplays, with the “one, two, three, gag” made me laugh because of the alternative meaning of gag–which is what, of course, someone with an artistic vision and free spirit must surely do if trapped with such a formula.)
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