ProTalk Discussion: Writing Plays & Skits - 5/3/05


*** Verla has set the topic on channel #Kidlit to Writing Plays & Skits Discussion - IN PROGRESS
Verla: So who writes plays and/or skits?
dystar puts her hand up
Verla: or would like to?
NiMan: I've written a couple characters are occasionally prone to monologuing
Verla: heh heh, NiMan
Verla: like that monologuing
Verla: cool!
Della: I'm thinking about an easy reader ABOUT a play
dystar: but I don't know if interactive comic murder mysteries are what most people would be writing
Verla: Oh, that would be interesting, too, della.
Della: Kids putting on a play
NiMan: that could be quite cute :)
Verla: Hmm, that sounds very interesting, though, Della
Verla: Tell me this: If you have written a play, have you ever seen it acted?
dystar: yes
Verla: oh, goodie! How did it feel, dy? It has to be a lot different from writing a book and having someone read it.
Della: How was that for you?
Della: Was it a thrill, Dy?
dystar: very different -- the script is there, but the actors don't necessarily follow it
dystar: lots of fun to watch
Verla: :-)
dystar: very gratifying when the audience laughs in the right places
dystar: so, while a book is static, plays are definitely dynamic
Verla: what did you learn from watching the play being performed?
Della: oooh, good question
dystar: mostly to be more careful about dialogue
dystar: you should make sure that scenes aren't too similar
dystar: or the actors get confused and may skip over a scene because they think they are doing a later one
Verla: ah, good points, dy!
dystar: and DON'T give them tongue-twisters
NiMan: so alliteration is fun, but not in plays? ;)
dystar: depends on the alliteration
Verla: LOL dy... unless you MEAN to give them tongue twisters to make someone sound stumbly in words?
NOTE: LOL = Laughing Out Loud
dystar: one play we have has several bits of dialogue where most of the words start with "W"
dystar: "Well, Wanda, Why did you worry me with your washing?"
dystar: that sort of thing
Verla: does that make it harder for the players to learn their parts then?
dystar: it actually works fine
Della: on purpose?
dystar: but making them hard to say is difficult for them
Verla: ah ha
dystar: I also have one play that has a lot of medical terms in it
dystar: one character is meant to have trouble with them
dystar: but later on, he spits out a string with no trouble and that makes it funny
Verla: plays are a lot more dialogue than written stories, aren't they? I mean... it's more dialogue and action directions than "scenes and descriptions," right?
els: how do you gauge how long the written play will be acted out?
dystar: 1 page = 1 minute
Verla: (these questions are to all of you who have written plays and/or skits - so feel free to chime in with your opinions, too!)
els: ok- thats an easy formula. :)
dystar: mostly dialogue, but the more stage directions you give, the more the play will match what you have in your imagining
Verla: Yikes, dy! That means thirty pages for a short half hour play'
dystar: yup
Verla: how DO you write stage directions? I mean, what do you SAY?
dystar: but it usually works out to 25 or so pages equalling a half-hour play
dystar: depends what you want to have happen
Verla: (I've always been afraid of trying to write a play)
Verla: can some of you give us examples of stage directions you have put into a play or skit?
dystar: for example, if a character should roll her eyes, write in (ROLLING EYES)
Della: Exit-Stage left
Della: See?! I've got the lingo down!
Verla: like this, dy? Della screamed (rolling eyes, then fainting onto the floor)
dystar: more like
dystar: DELLA: Agh! You want me to write a play? (ROLLS EYES, FALLS ON FLOOR IN A DEAD FAINT)
dystar: here's an example of a tongue-twister that I gave one of the actors:
Verla: hmm. so the person who is acting and the actions are in all caps, while the dialogue would be in normal type?
dystar: I would not touch you with a ten-foot carbon steel titanium grip fifty-pound test fishing pole
dystar: she growled at me
NiMan: haha, I like that, dy
dystar: usually, the person is in CAPS
Verla: I didn't have any problem saying that... :-)
dystar: the dialogue in regular type
dystar: and the stage directions are in parentheses -- you can do them in caps or italics or not
Verla: ah... good way to distinguish
dystar: there are books and websites that show you proper ms. format for plays
dystar: I'm sorry -- I don't know any off by heart
Verla: hmmm, I guess being afraid of writing plays/skits, I've never looked for those, dy.
Verla: anyone else know of any good ones?
NiMan: I put stage directions in italics when I wrote in "script" format
Verla: (books or websites on writing plays?)
dystar: here's one:
Verla: thanks, dy!
dystar: when I write a murder mystery play, we don't tend to follow proper ms. format
NOTE: ms = manuscript
Verla: I'm so curious... do those of you who write scripts like this find it harder or easier than writing prose stories?
dystar: to rehearse, the actors highlight their own lines, so as long as you specify who says what, that's fine
NiMan: well, I love dialogue, so sometimes it's easier for me if the story I have in mind is driven by dialogue
Verla: ah, no leaving off of tag lines in scripts then
dystar: nope
dystar: harder in some ways, easier in others
dystar: dialogue carries everything
Verla: what do you find easier?
dystar: in a script, you don't have to balance dialogue and exposition
dystar: you can leave a lot up to the actors, too -- much like leaving the artwork up to the illustrator in a pb
NOTE: pb = picture book
Verla: hmm. what kinds of things would you leave "up to the actors?"
dystar: how to play a particular character, for example -- although much of that is laid out in the character descriptions
dystar: they bring the character to life in their own way
dystar: one of my favourite actors can be very assertive, so I try to write characters for her where she can use this ability
Verla: normally, you wouldn't know the personality of the actors when you wrote your play, though, right?
dystar: in one play, I hadn't specified that a character was drunk, although it was hinted at, but she played it that way, and it was perfect
dystar: no, I don't
dystar: and several different actors often play the same role
dystar: different nights
\ Verla: your plays must take on a "life of their own" when they are performed....
Verla: must make it fun for you!
dystar: oh, my -- they are NEVER the same twice
dystar: oh, yes
dystar: a lot of factors determine this - the actors, the audience, the number of audience, even the weather
dystar: this is especially true because they are so interactive
Verla: I wonder... does anyone know if writing movie scripts is much the same - or is there a big difference between plays and movie scripts? (Or does anyone know?)
dystar: a good audience can make a night special, a bad one can make it horrible
dystar: never written one, sorry
NiMan: I don't know, but it strikes me that movie scripts are subject to a lot of rewriting
els: I've read movie scripts verla- other than the fact that there is more action, what I saw was very much the same as a regular play. Just bigger and longer
NiMan: and editing, and criticism, etc.
dystar: often they are collaborations
Verla: oh, thanks, NiMan and dy and els
dystar: and they include camera directions
Verla: hmm, you mean like: <close up camera shot of Nicole's face>
els: or, Camera pans over blah blah blah
dystar: yes, or Fade To:
Verla: or Fade Nicole completely out (she stinks!)
Verla: (I'm sorry. I couldn't resist that last comment....)
els: well, smell doesn't come through on screeen
dystar: poor Nicole...
Verla: I meant her acting stinks, els. LOL
els: I know
els: heh
Verla: what would be the hardest part for each of you about writing a play or skit?
dystar: being funny
dystar: I have to really work at it sometimes
NiMan: I have a serious time keeping the plot from running away
NiMan: or rather, the dialogue hijacking the plot
Verla: uh... running away how, NiMan?
els: limiting action
NiMan: like if I have a particularly good exchange of dialogue going, sometimes I want to keep going with it even if it has nothing to do with the plot
Verla: I think it's always hard to do humor, dy. Probably because many people look at humor differently....
NiMan: and the plot can kind of get lost in that
Verla: ah... so it's like weeding out the scenes that don't move the story forward in a manuscript
Verla: same principle
NiMan: in a way, yeah
dystar: for the plays I do, I only allow myself a page and a quarter per scene at the most, so it has to be pretty tight
dystar: just like dialogue in a novel
Verla: erk! you don't mean you make them stop and change the set (scene) after every minute of the play, dy? No, you can't mean that...
dystar: no -- these are interactive. no "fourth wall". they are done right beside you at the restaurant
dystar: no set changes at all
Verla: oh, okay
Verla: different kind of plays then
Verla: when you write a play that has set changes, how do you plan that? Each act is one set/scene?
Verla: and how long is an act? (shortest to longest?)
dystar: generally the set only changes in a new act
dystar: but it really depends on the kind of play you are doing
dystar: my husband and I saw "Strangers on a Train" last week
Verla: hmph. That answer was as ambiguous as asking an editor what she wants to see in a story. LOL!
dystar: the set had 3 parts to it, and each part was lit up as the scenes were done
Verla: oh, interesting!
dystar: yes, it was well done
NiMan: that sounds cool
Verla: so they used three parts of the stage for the three acts/scenes. Neat!
dystar: I really liked the use of the back wall, which was translucent
dystar: they used lighting to indicate doors, windows, etc, and mood as well
Verla: oooh, kind of like the windows on trains that you can't quite see out of?
dystar: yes
Verla: sounds fabulous. The setting in that play must have added a lot to the audience's enjoyment
dystar: oops -- actually, there were four parts to the set
*** Signoff: els (Quit: Bye bye)
Verla: (you LIED to us, dy? Els, get out the whips and chains... oh. Els just left. You lucked out, dy....)
dystar: a bed on one side, a "room" on the other, a table in the middle, and at the back, a platform, where items were rolled out and back again
dystar: in the second act, some of these parts changed
Verla: fun!
dystar: they were lit up to indicate that the action was taking place in different locations
Verla: so... what advice do each of you have for someone wanting to start writing plays or skits?
dystar: watch lots of thm
dystar: them
Verla: are there specific No-No's to watch out for (other than the dialogue issues we discussed earlier?)
dystar: read the scripts
Verla: where do you find scripts, dy?
NiMan: I'd say know your characters and give them distinct voices
dystar: many are published in books, so try the library
dystar: bookstores, etc
Verla: oh, okay. (I should have known that!)
dystar: read both old and new ones -- Shakespeare, Ibsen, Williams -- AND new stuff too
dystar: my boss lets me read the scripts she has collected over the years
dystar: many plays can be purchased from Samuel French Ltd
Verla: this has been SO interesting!
Verla: I've always had so many questions about plays
dystar: what is really fascinating is to watch a play, then read the script
Verla: but never knew who to ask about it
dystar: that shows you what the director chose to use and what she chose to leave out
Verla: to see how much it changed from script to actual performance, dy?
dystar: exactly
dystar: if you can, see a play more than once
NiMan: interesting
Verla: ah HA!.. so everything isn't always acted out that's in the script!
dystar: it will always be different, no matter what
Verla: that could really change things...
dystar: yes, sometimes, it just isn't physically possible to do some things
dystar: in amateur theatre, you wouldn't necessarily have the budget to do spectacular scenes
Verla: and of course, the personalities of the actors and how they choose to interpret their characters will probably change from play to play, too
Verla: performance to performance, I mean
dystar: absolutely
dystar: costumes, sets, acting, directing, casting, audience -- these all become factors
dystar: even the props can make a difference
Verla: so in essence, when you write a play, you are writing the "groundwork" for a live animal that you have no clue what it's going to end up being like!
Verla: performance, not animal! LOL LOL LOL
dystar: you HOPE they will follow your directions...
dystar: but it doesn't always happen
Verla: is it ever BETTER because they didn't follow your directions, dy?
dystar: some directors are sticklers for getting it exactly right
dystar: some aren't
dystar: it can be -- there has been some brilliant improv that I sure didn't write
Verla: :-)
dystar: in one play, I did a spoof of CSI -- with elves
dystar: ELF -- the Enchanted Laboratory of Forensics
Verla: is that allowed? to do a spoof of something that's famous like that? you don't need permission?
dystar: two actors started playing with their sunglasses, putting them on, replacing them, taking each others, putting them on
dystar: spoofs are fine
dystar: it was similar in idea, not in dialogue, names or anything else
NiMan: isn't parody protected by copyright laws?
Verla: hmm. where/how do you draw the line in a spoof?
dystar: you can't use copyrighted names
Verla: oh, okay. I see. You already answered my question. LOL
NiMan: I was thinking of Barry Trotter
dystar: you can't use copyrighted music without permission
Verla: so you never SAID it was a spoof on CSI ... you just used the CSI show idea for your spoof-off
dystar: yes -- but everybody got the idea
dystar: it was a group of forensic elves, solving red-and-green collar crimes
dystar: they wore lab coats, sunglasses, etc
NiMan: haha, that's great
Verla: heh heh heh
Verla: sounds terrific and very funny, dy
dystar: actually, I don't think it was one of my best, but it was ok
Verla: have you ever pulled a script back (taken it out of circulation) after seeing it performed once?
dystar: I've altered some after seeing the performance -- delete this, add that
Verla: kind of like sending it out to a crit group and making changes after they've read a story, eh?
dystar: yes, but more embarassing...
Verla: because it was performed live, eh?
dystar: and everybody saw it...
Verla: yep. I can see that!
dystar: trust me, crits are much easier -- they're private!
Verla: (unless they are open mike crits, dy)
Verla: I've never had the guts to do an open mike crit session!
dystar: yeah, but not with 60 people, usually
dystar: it's fun to watch other people perform your words, though
Verla: I'm so glad you were here, dy and NiMan... to add your input to this discussion. I'm totally up against a blank wall when it comes to plays and skits. They are WAY out of my league and I've always been so curious about a lot of what goes into the writing process of them
dystar: you're welcome, verla
dystar: I kind of got thrown into this
Verla: they seemed so HARD and impossible to figure out what to write and how to do it. You've explained a LOT tonight.
Verla: Thanks!!!!
dystar: I had wanted to try playwriting, and when another writer put out a call for these, I said, "sure, why not?"
dystar: talk about trial by fire
Verla: sure was, dy. But it sounds like you found it an enjoyable fire...
dystar: I love it, frankly
dystar: (and it's carte blanche for puns and dumb jokes)
NiMan: hurrah for puns
Verla: ooh, that's FUN stuff to write!
Verla: and slapstick comedy, too?
NiMan: I am the queen of terrible friends are occasionally annoyed by
dystar: and you can't beat the royalties... I get paid for each time a play is performed
Verla: like the dumb Nellie is tied to the railroad tracks and "here comes the train" jokes?
dystar: not so much slapstick -- we're in a restaurant, and it wouldn't do for an actor to end up in someone's soup
Verla: oh, LOL... but other plays could have them, dy
dystar: "After all he's done for you, how could you do this to him? Just for the halibut?"
Verla: can you believe our hour is UP already?
dystar: From my play, The Codfather...
Verla: LOL dy!
Verla: any last bits of wisdom from anyone for the people who didn't make it tonight that will be reading the transcript later on?
dystar: give it a try, they're lots of fun
Verla: (you missed a GOOD discussion, people!)
Verla: Makes me want to write one! Sheesh...
Verla: amazing...
Verla: okay... thanks for participating, everyone... the chat room is now open to "open" discussion/chat time.
*** Verla has set the topic on channel #Kidlit to Writers & Illustrators of Children's Literature Meet Here Nightly - Welcome!

Verla Kay
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