Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Wow! Session 35 was a surprise for me.

Maybe it was because my "day job" had tuckered me out as we cleaned up from Hurricane Sandy here on the east coast, or maybe it was simply that spending time workshopping a great script with astute writers and critics is, frankly, one of the most fun things I've done in my life. Either way, Session 35 took TMPW to a new level for me.

Tom Hayes' script, "," led us down a gender-role path that was visceral and confrontational and vivid. His characters spring off the page through dialogue that doesn't have a hint of the dreaded "constructed message." Indeed, Hayes' dialogue could be a model for demonstrating how to build (and sustain) conflict through everyday conversation. This "everyday conversation" was so effectively done I became uncomfortable in my character!

Paul Moulton and Dennis Agle joined in the session, each of them back for more workshopping with TMPW! Our discussion centered on the character development that Hayes takes us through, and the role-based gender play of his casting. Hayes' is a must-read!

The session is in two parts:
My thanks to Tom for sharing his script and to Dennis and Paul for workshopping it with me.

I've rescheduled a few sessions, since Hurricane Sandy got the best of us for the past few days. , which are now scheduled to happen in two weeks.


Friday, October 26, 2012

Joël Doty's script, "" is a compelling dialogue between two unlikely characters (the best kind). She throws in enough subtle sexual tension to keep things moving, and, if you're a comic book fan, you're going to love this script! Actually, I'm not a comic book fan, and I loved this script!

Chase Yenser (he's got a script in an upcoming session on November 6 - !) joined in the session to read and workshop the script with me, and we had a blast. The workshop focused on the interplay between the characters, and how the dialogue set them up for a connection at the end. As with most every character-connection I have read in scripts, I always want a stronger link between the characters. In this case, Doty's script brings me the connection, and we talked about how it can be solidified even more.

I'm finding in these workshops, that I (as a reader) always want more - more connection, more conflict, more emotion, more of everything. Maybe that's just my personality, or maybe it's true that you can never have enough conflict, or emotion, or connection in a script. In any case, Doty's script is tight and fun and lively, and she definitely is "cooking with gas," as they say. I'd love to see this script on stage - the characters are such a hoot, and, mixed into the playful banter are some serious themes about gender equity and societal expectations. You won't be disappointed!

We ended the session with a discussion of this project and I let the cat of the bag about a new workshop session I'm going to try in two weeks: anonymous workshopping. More on that in my next blog.

My thanks to Joël for sharing her script and to Chase for workshopping it with me!

You can .

Session 31 has been re-scheduled to next week (I had techno-trouble); if you can help to workshop, please join in the fun!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Anthony Pezzula's script, "," was a throw-back to the fifties, a tribute to the "" film. Pezzula came out of the gate with tight, fun dialogue that brought the characters alive and made the script jump to life. If you want a good read of inter-couple relationship traits revealed through dialogue, check out Pezzula's !

The workshop session focused on the need for more detail from the movie, to allow those audience members who aren't Body Snatchers aficionados to stay with the story and be able to grasp the references and meaning that are littered throughout the dialogue. This is an interesting question of balance: in scripts which reference another work, how much can one rely upon assumed knowledge and how much does a script need to "stand on its own?"

John Byrne (he's becoming a TMPW-regular; see for a workshop of his script, "") put it this way, "If you write for sixth-graders, you'll be just fine."

I need to say that again: "If you write for sixth-graders, you'll be just fine." John, can I steal that for a chapter title in the paper I'm writing at the end of this project?!

Dennis Agle also joined in the session, and we had a strong discussion of how to build the strength of the dialogue into a ten-minute play that resolves the yearnings of the audience by the curtain drop.

My thanks to Anthony for his script and to John and Dennis for the workshopping.

You can of the session.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When I first read Thomas Koron's "," I wasn't quite sure how I was going to get it through a TMPW session. The script is a four-scene, sixteen-character piece about a tragedy that happened in England in the 1300s. Whew, a script that intense to produce wouldn't make it past the reviewers of a ten-minute play festival, even though the dialogue and sense of tragedy are tight, poignant and well-established in the script. It was such a fun script I knew I wanted to workshop it.

So, when Thomas revealed that he is pursuing his Ph.D. in music and that he sees this script as the beginning of an opera, it all made complete sense! It made so much sense, actually, that I encouraged him to turn it into the first "Twenty-Minute Opera." (If Thomas does start that genre of opera, you heard it hear first... but there's no way I'm leading those workshop sessions... I can't sing!)

It was a little out of the ordinary to workshop what a script that is written for an operatic stage, but we had fun with it, and found a way to read sixteen characters with three people.

My thanks to Thomas for his script and to TMPW-regulars, Jake Wilson and Cate Vincent, for their continued support of this project.

You can . Don't worry, we don't sing... that's for another project.

Workshopping Lynn-Steven Johanson's script, "," was like being thrown into an old-world aristocrat's living room and listening to the voices of yesteryear. An earlier version of Johanson's script had been produced, but he had subsequently changed the language throughout the script and was looking for this version to go through a workshop to see how it stood up. It stood up just fine!

Awash in verbose language patterns and word choice, the characters relate to each other as simply as two people can, and march us toward an ending that surprised. No surprise, however (as I have seen in most of the workshops), we all called for even more surprise, more verbose language and even more conflict. Come to think of it, I don't think we've done a script yet where the critics said, "Ooh, that was too much conflict..."

Lynn's script is tight and could go on-stage today, but we are all hoping for yet more twisting and turning at the end, and more flowery language, just to make us keep up with it all the more!

My thanks to Lynn for his great script and to Jake and Cate for doing another TMPW session as readers and critics.

You can .

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Alternir Silva's play, "," not only shines the spotlight on the morality of killing in (and out of) war, it leaves the ultimate outcome to the audience in a way which allows their own morality to determine how they answer the questions Silva so poignantly poses in the story.

Silva writes for television and movies in his home country of Brazil, and has joined in other TMPW sessions. Ashante Pickett and I read and workshopped the script, and then truly took a deep dive into the relationship of the characters, and the potential endings that Silva leaves to te audience. The workshop then focused on the title, offering ideas about leaving even more uncertainty (and opportunities for imagination) for the audience to unravel, if a less specific title was used.

What fun it was to read and workshop a script which is written to leave more questions than answers - truly a wonderful play!

You can of the session.

George Smart's play, "," is a classic example of differentiated character voice. Two characters verbally spar throughout the play, all shrouded in the guise of meditation practice. Funny and true-to-life, this play was a hoot to read and workshop!

The workshop focused on the context of the script and the characters, and worked through what George had commented on during his introduction when he said, "Something not quite right about it, but I'm not sure what." (OK, that was a paraphrase, his exact words are in the .)

The characters were established, the dialogue poignant, but the context of the character relationships was not quite believable. After several minutes of workshopping, and talking through how to make the context more believable, Barbara hit upon a new idea that we all got excited about.

This workshop is a good example of not re-writing the story line but rather talking through the context in which the story is presented.

My thanks to George for his script, and to Barbara, Cate and Christian for workshopping it with me.

You can .

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Workshopping 50 plays in two months has brought out some interesting trends and themes already. One of the trends came up when I was in discussion with another author who said to me, "Where are the women?" Of the 22 scripts I've done so far (Session 6 and Session 17 actually are being re-scheduled because they didn't have enough workshoppers), three have been by female authors. I'm not a sociologist, nor is this a gender-studies course, but, Dang! Not to fear, however, because the script in Session 24 is not only a fun, tight and deep script, it's #3 in the femme-category!

Rachel Bublitz's script, "," is just that, but with a twist. It is definitely worth a good read, and we had a blast workshopping it.

Paul Moulton (see ) and  (check out her ) joined in for the reading and the workshop. What was so interesting to me about the workshop was that, now that we are getting to know each other a bit from workshopping his piece, Paul and I were able to banter a bit and have diametrically-opposed opinions. I loved it! Paul did a great job countering my points, and the discussion grew deeper from our differences of opinions. "Rachel A" (as we began calling her, to differentiate from "Rachel B," the author... isn't online workshopping fun?) was right there with us, juxtaposing ideas and reactions to Rachel B's script, and this proved to be the workshop most laden with discussion and differing opinions about the characters and plot progression to-date!

If Fox ever contacts me about starting a reality-TV show with the workshopping, I'm going to call these three writers for the first episode!

My thanks to "Rachel B" for her script and to Paul and "Rachel A" for workshopping it so boisterously with me!

You can of the session.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

If you're Catholic, this script is for you. And if you're not, you'll learn a thing or two!

John Byrne's script, "," was a great workshop session tonight. Saint Anthony and the Devil verbally spar and temptations fly throughout the script. The story is clever, and rightfully shows the true cost of righteousness.

The workshop session itself focused on the relationship between the characters, and if we had gotten enough of the characterizations early enough int he piece, before the conflict happens. Patrick Riviere and Barbara Bell joined me in the session and did a great reading of the script.

Once again, the workshop benefitted from having an author who was open about the script and receiving critique. John even said, "there's something missing from this, I think. help me find it." (OK, that was a paraphrase. His real words are in the .)

We also talked about experimenting with a new sort of workshop session, an anonymous workshop of sorts, with three scripts done by a team of authors and readers and workshopped anonymously. What would that do to the critique?

My thanks to John for his script and to Barbara and Patrick for their reading and critique!

You can of the session.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Tonight's session really shouldn't be written about. I can't say much more than of Tommy Jamerson's "!"

The script is tight, with comedy and conflict, love and laughter throughout.

Cate Vincent again joined in (thanks, Cate!) as a reader and critic and we found ourselves reveling in the fun of Jamerson's script! Simple workshopping tonight, with a focus on the few spots in the play that broke our focus (or, rather, broke the focus of the story line) and then a long discussion about the title.

But, stop reading and ! Jamerson's script really should be heard!

God and stereotypes and train stations and judgementalism collide-and resound-in Patrick Riviere's script, "."

If ever there is a moment when we need to check our stereotypes at the door, it would be at a production of this script where you should! Workshopping Riviere's script was a poignant look at how far down the spectrum of character stereotyping one should go, and how effective it is as the audience's believe-ability level increases.

A full house during the session, Patrick, Dorothy Distefano, Merridawn Duckler, and Jeremy Fiebig (our guest professor) and I had a lively discussion about voice and dialogue and context and how both of those elements contribute to one's ability to lose suspicion of the characters themselves. Digging into the relationship, we found we wanted more of a protagonist, more heroic action, to connect the characters in a common response to an external conflict.

My thanks to Patrick for his script and to Jeremy, Dorothy and Merridawn for doing the workshop!

Take a listen to and see for yourself!

If you've forgotten your Kant and DesCartes, Paul Moulton's "" is a ten-minute re-fresher course in philosophy, as it relates to graduate school roommates, best friends and lovers.

Set in a stage that is zoned between characters and a "neutral" zone, Moulton's script was a great one to workshop. We could put ourselves in the audience's seats and found that no one in the workshop (save Moulton) remembered their philosophy enough to feel fully in step with the characters. Jake Wilson even suggested "dumbing it down" to allow us to get the refresher philosophy lesson we wanted, so we could feel smart when we walked out of the theater!

By workshops' end, we had worked and re-worked the tension and shifting love affair, and only Paul will know which, if any, of the suggestions will work with his final piece. The session was almost raucous, and a lot of fun. Again, I found the openness and maturity of the author contributing most to the level of workshopping that feels right. Bravo! My thanks to Paul for his script, and to Jake and Yuki for doing the workshop!

We had a reverb issue again tonight during the introductions, and again we took the time to all don headsets to fix it. The audio recording of the session is in two parts:

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Max Gill's script, "," is a must-read. Interwoven sub-plots bring the characters together-and then threaten to send them apart-and made for a great workshopping session. Gill's script is layered with the essence of relationships and brought us to the edge of our seats.

During the workshop, we played with the idea of who (or what) is the protagonist, and if it is possible for the protagonist to be a common thread that runs through all the stories, or if a script must have only one protagonist.

Then, it went like this: pop and Bollywood and clarity and theoretical stories and death and "mister" and common threads and big-city smarminess and the edge of our seats. You really have to hear this one.

Max introduced himself and his script and invited a deep workshop, saying, "I know something isn't quite working in the script and I'm looking for your ideas." (That's a para-phrase, the actual quote is in ).

The session started with a bit of reverb in the audio. After the introductions, we opted to all get headphones and that solved the reverb issue. So tonight's audio is in two parts:

  • (with Max's great quote)
This is the most intense workshop I've been in to-date. Max's openness, Christian's admitting that he is "addicted to the workshops" and that he's not as polite as he was in the beginning (!) and Jake Wilson offering layers of new options made this one of the longest workshops, but more importantly, it was the deepest analysis of plot lines and character relationships. Max's approach truly made it apparent how critical an author's openness is in determining what the workshop participants are given license to discuss.

This one is truly a "must-listen" session. My sincerest thanks to Max for setting the bar for authors and to Christian and Jake for their wonderful workshopping!

Session 18 may get me in trouble if ever I run for political office. I will most certainly be called a sexist (as that is what I called myself during today's session)! The dialoge style of the female character in the script again caught my attention, and we dove into a discussion of voice-gender.

Workshopping Stephen Baily's play, "," was a raucous international interplay of dialogue analysis and themes between characters that left the question of sexuality on the table.

Workshopping the script with me were Max Gill from New York City and Altenir Silva from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Even though Altenir claimed his languages skills were not ready for reading, he was assigned a part nonetheless (Big Hank), and he brought a new quality to his character, so much so that we even talked about the value of specifying an accent for certain characters. Baily's play was staged in 2010. You can watch the and then listen to and see if Altenir's reading gives you a different idea of the "Big Hank" character.

The international flare of this session reminded me of how different cultures can receive nuances and messages in scripts differently, and how an international workshop is a wonderful way to see the layers of meaning in a piece of writing.

Baily's script spurred a strong discussion of relationship tension and believability mixed with a surprise ending that left the audience to answer their own questions. My thanks to Stephen for his script and to Max and Altenir for reading and workshopping it with me! It truly was a pleasure to have a non-native speaker in the workshop, as it brought so much texture to the character Altenir read. Thank you!

You can of the workshop.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Session 16 was the first time the author couldn't make the session. However, since I had Cecelia Raker and Marshall Botvinick, two dramaturgs, with me on the session, I opted to lead the workshop and see what came of it. Here's the  at the beginning of the session so you can get to know Cecelia and Marshall.

The script we workshopped was Sarah Chichester's "," and we had a blast workshopping it. It is a script that will go far, and the gist of the workshop is that the dialogue is very strong but we wanted it to be more bold in the character depth and conflict development.

After the workshop, I took the opportunity to talk with Cecelia and Marshall about workshopping a script, sans author. We had a frank discussion about the traits of authors - new and experienced - and how the experience level and approach an author takes during a workshop session is critical to its success. Both Cecelia and Marshall helped me get a deeper understanding of the things they do as dramaturgs when working with a script.

I'm opting to snip out the workshop session, since the author wasn't present and it feels a bit weird to post an authorless-workshop recording (and it was certainly different to workshop a piece without the author!), but we had about workshopping elements.

My thanks to Cecelia and Marshall for their participation and help in further defining the critical elements of workshopping.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Workshopping Arthur M. Jolly's script, "," was a raucous session of reading, suggestion, bus rides and analysis of voice-gender.

Jolly introduced his script as an infant script, just out of the writing phase, and asked for a rousing workshop session to help him mature the script. How wonderful it is when an author is aware of the value of having a script read by folks who didn't write it, hearing the character voices, and being eager for ideas and responses to the piece.

Cate Vincent and Jeff Mandel were the workshop participants and read the script and then offered solid advice about getting the theme to be heard even more clearly.

One of the points of discussion was around the gender of the character voices. Two girls are the cast of characters, and we talked about how girls and boys use language differently, and which gender the dialogue sounded like. Take a listen to the of the session and hear it for yourself.

Afterward, I was talking with a colleague about leading these sessions and remarked that one of the powerful things I am learning is that workshopping has a language all its own. Much like offering critique on a bottle of fine wine, workshopping scripts has a language that is unique. I think this may have to be a section in the paper I write at the end of this project: the language of workshopping.

My thanks to Arthur, Jeff and Cate for a great session. You can .

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Workshopping Dean Bevan's script, "" probably benefitted me more than it did Dean! Bevan's script was produced in 2004 (but is a timely piece during this election season!), and offered me a view into a script that had already gone through a rigorous review and production.

Bevan's stage direction and character descriptions were the most developed I've seen in our bank of scripts (he says that his dissertation on Bernard Shaw has something to do with this). But, more importantly than that, a comment made by a TMPW-regular, Christian Vincent, added to my arsenal of workshopping questions. Here's how it went:

(para-phrasing... the real lines are in the )

Dean: The director of the play pointed out to me that having Shabby Man kick his wine bottle would divert the attention of the audience so much that they would stop watching the plot unfold and, instead, watch where the bottle was going to land. He encouraged me to change the kick to a nudge.

Christian: Yes, it kept the focus on the play, not on the bottle rolling off the stage.

The discussion went on to how keeping the focus on the plot and the story themes is so important, and so easily undone by extraneous motion.

Christian: But, Shabby Man's direction to act and pantomime as if watching a tennis match was brilliant.

Keeping the focus on the essential elements. Isn't this what workshopping really encourages us to do? So, a new question: did anything break your focus? Did any character break the rhythm in a way that wasn't wanted (by the author or the audience)?

Workshopping a script that had seen the stage allowed me to talk with Dean about what changes he made while it went through the initial workshopping and production phases. This allowed me to see the elements of the script in a new-and precise-way.

My thanks to Dean and Christian for an enlightening and fun session. You can of the session.

Friday, October 5, 2012

If you're in New York City (or anywhere close to NYC) stop reading this post right now and go get a ticket to Tom Misuraca's , opening tonight at the Shepard Theater in New York!

Tom's ten-minute play, "," was workshopped on TMPW today, and if it is a sampling of his command of characters and dialogue, then should be a win!

The workshop session was comprised of Tom, Paul Lewis and myself. We cast the four characters between us, and then enjoyed a fun reading of a tight script. I enjoyed this workshop session because the workshopping was done by all of us, together. Both Paul and Tom are professional writers, and their level of acumen at detailing what could make the script even better and more successful at conveying the theme of connection was a joy to be a part of.

Paul's lead off after reading the script highlighted that the connection that is made by the end of the script needs just one more sentence, or bit of dialogue, or foible that is shared by the characters. This observation led us down a path of discussion that pin-pointed a few elements of the script that were not yet wholly ready in terms of believe-ability.

It was a pleasure to workshop this piece, and the workshop took on an "open format," with all of us chiming in along the way. Again, it brought a sense of maturity to the workshop that the closed format seems to deny. I skipped the "last two questions" I have been using (Production ready? Production worthy?) because they seemed redundant after the workshop was over.

My thanks to Tom and Paul for this session, I loved it! You can .

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Today's session was a first reading of Sam Graber's script, "." The dialogue in this script could be used to teach students about giving each character their own voice! This two-character script brings to life two very different characters, joined through place, and the dialogue couldn't be more fun to listen to.

John Byrne and Aaron Leventman read the script, and then helped to workshop it. The workshop focused on the power of using a sense of the abstract to convey meaning, instead of a forthright thematic approach. Hidden in the dialogue of Graber's script is a telling of loss and gain, responsibility and frustration.

I learned during this workshop that allowing the discussion to wander where it will is often the most powerful thing I can do as a facilitator. Aaron and John offered strong suggestions to avoid distraction and to focus the theme, even through the abstract approach. I found my question about the title to be shallow, so I may drop that in the future. I also heard in Aaron's response to the stock question about story progression that it didn't apply to this script, as the story progression is not the important element. Perhaps I'll focus on theme progression and the effective delivery of it, regardless of the type of script it is.

My thanks to Sam for his script and to John and Aaron for reading and offering critique. You can .

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If you're going to read Jeff Mandel's script, "," get your box of Kleenex handy. I will skip my typical re-counting of the story, for fear of giving it away, but let's just say this script is deep, and resonant, and needed and keenly emotional.

As we read Mandel's script, I found myself feeling as if I was the characters - each of them, not just the one I was reading - and that I had lived through the tumult and the pain, and was learning the lessons myself.

Calling in from France (it seems that France's internet connection wanes after midnight!), Cate and Robin Vincent read and workshopped this piece, and then connected with Jeff about the intrigue of his script, and putting it on stage in their theater in England. Hot Diggity! I must say that this is one I'd love to watch in a darkened theater, with a beer in my hand (as they do in England during the theater).

The workshop evolved into an open-style workshop, with the natural give and take of adults discussing something that is poignant and meaningful, with pros and cons being discussed side-by-side. This open forum (and its natural success) has made me ponder the value of the "closed forum" of the author not speaking until the end used in "traditional" workshops.

Did this work tonight because we were (dare I say?) all over 40? Or did it work because we were all moved by the piece? Does the script bring about the workshopping in such a mature manner, or is the approach a part of it? Can a younger crew of writers and workshoppers handle this "open forum" as well? Or is it an outcome of knowing that no one has it all figured out just yet, and every scene, every moment, every script in life can benefit from an outsider's point-of-view?

Whatever it was, this was a workshop worth re-living. My thanks to Jeff for his script and to Cate and Robin for their participation. You can .

Monday, October 1, 2012

Is it just me, or are these sessions getting to be more fun as we go along? Session #10 featured Jay Asher's script, "." Asher's script portrays a first date between Christine, a transgendered woman, and Ralph, her suitor from an online dating site. It is witty and precise and poignant. It made me laugh, and think, and sit back in realization. It shows a directness that is rare between two people, and it was a wonderful script to workshop.

John Byrne and Cate Vincent read the script, and then we had a workshop session that went ten minutes long (!) but was a session where we got to talk about action on-stage, introducing some alleviation from the seriousness of the setting and discussion, and if there is value in keeping the cast to two characters or introducing a third (the waiter) on-stage to punch a point at the end.

The workshop session followed the format I have been using (see ) and I find myself struggling to come up with new angles for the workshop itself. If you have some new ideas for the workshopping, please post a comment back to this entry.

The session truly was a hoot, and I am finding myself falling in love with these sessions. There is something about the community that is building that keeps me coming back, wanting to hear new scripts and learning how to workshop them more clearly along the way.

Today at a conference, I heard Steven Covey speak about trust. It immediately hit me that workshopping ten-minute plays is all about trust. First, the authors trust the readers by sharing their characters and themes in a script. Next, we have to trust each other enough to read and workshop a script in a meaningful way. And lastly, we have to be willing to trust that the critique of the script is solid and worthy of the script's weight. If that isn't a trusting environment, I don't know what is!

Oh, and the ingredients are all coming together! Cate and Jay ended the session by talking about a potential production opportunity for Jay's script in Cate's production company in Devon, England. Now that's what this community is all about. Write. Workshop. Write Some More. Produce. Isn't it all about getting these works on stage?

My thanks to Jay, John and Cate for a great session. You can of the session.

Somehow I missed scheduling Session #9, so I spent the time doing some research and found "A Play Every Other Day" web site. It's a great site of scripts and a fun idea, though I can't tell if it's still going. If anyone knows about this project, will you post details back to this blog entry?

Here's the EODP web site: