Tag: playwright

Plays the Ultimate in Recycling

Plays rely on recycling all the time. Parodies and adaptations of classic works, fairy tales, and even the Bible are a common way for playwrights to break onto the stage.

Most of my published plays are stage adaptations of familiar stories – fairy tales and other classics that have stood the test of time. I’m okay with being less than original when it comes to writing plays. There are so many fantastic stories out there that are begging to be rewritten for a live audience. I figure if Shakespeare can do it, so can I. For example, his play The Two Noble Kinsmen is a remake of Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. (If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to read them side-by-side.)

If you are new to writing plays, adapting a familiar story is a great way to get your feet wet. Of course, it is crucial that before you do anything, you check to make sure there are no copyright restrictions. In essence, anything published before 1923 is considered public domain. That’s why fairy tales, Shakespeare, Dickens, and even Bible stories are fair game. Many works are public domain even beyond 1923 due to various copyright registration rules.  You will want to do your research if in any doubt.

I find adapting classic stories for the stage very rewarding, even if the basic idea is not originally mine. Using the given framework of plot and characters still allows for a lot of creativity. It is up to me to make the story come to life – literally. In the previous issue of Fellowscript, I emphasized that a play is not the same as a movie. This is important to keep in mind, even when writing adaptations. The playwright must decide how the story will be staged without the use of complicated sets and scene changes, and how the motivation of each character will come across in their dialogue and actions without sounding contrived. It’s always fun to add some unexpected twists, as well. In my stage version of the Peter Pan classic called Hook’sNemesis, Captain Hook is a neurotic female who has her psychologist as well as her mother on board the pirate ship. My premise started with the thought, “What if Hook had Mommy issues?” and it went from there.  (Her mother always wanted a boy…)

Many Christian playwrights choose to adapt Bible stories for the stage, which is another way to hone your skills as a playwright. Another thing I mentioned in last issue’s column was the fact that plays are meant to be produced. Why not offer to write your church’s next pageant? Easter and Christmas are the two most popular, but there are hundreds of other dramatic stories that are easily adaptable to the stage. (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat comes to mind.) However, understanding the basics of dialogue, stage movement, and other theatrical dynamics can be FS spring issuethe difference between a ‘nice’ Easter pageant and a truly moving experience.

Writing plays is a skill set that takes some practice. Scripts also tend to require a fair bit of revision once they are test driven with real actors on a stage. That’s why recycling play ideas from other works is such a great way to start. There is enough to think about in terms of dialogue, action, scene changes, and just the sheer logistics of making it work without having to wonder if the plot has merit. As a bonus, audiences love watching their favourite stories come to life. It’s a win-win!

*Much of this article was originally printed in the May 2016 issue of Fellowscript Magazine.

A Pivotal Point In Time

Who doesnplay-bookmark-8’t love a good stage play? The immediacy and intimacy of a live performance beats a motion picture any day. Anything can happen – and often does. From an early age, I participated in school and church productions, and later, once I was in college and beyond, I started writing and directing as well. My ‘real job’ is teaching Drama at the secondary school level. You could say I lucked out when it comes to a career. I get to do something I love each and every day I go to work.

I credit my fascination with drama to a few key people. My high school drama teacher, Mrs. Rees, was an inspiration – albeit a taskmaster. Before that, though, I can pinpoint an exact moment in time when my love for the dramatic arts came into being. I wrote my first play when I was in Fourth Grade – a dramatized version of a book I’d read called Ghosts Don’t Eat Sausages by Marion Koenig. For some reason that now escapes me, I loved that book and decided to make it into a play. I then convinced several of my friends to act it out during recess time.

It’s a wonder the ‘actors’ could even figure out their cues, let alone read my writing. I corralled my chosen cast every recess – either outside or at the back of the classroom if our teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, would let us stay inside. I think I was a hard taskmaster as a director. I remember feeling frustrated on more than one occasion when people didn’t know their cues. No wonder – there was no such thing as photocopying at that time and I didn’t even bother with a typewriter. I just hand wrote the entire thing and then recopied individual parts and handed them out on scraps of paper.

Thankfully, the cast was patient, and there must have been something about the project that inspired them as well, since we persevered for weeks, perfecting and rehearsing a plot that was likely full of holes at its inception. When we started, I don’t think I knew exactly what the final objective would be – just that this was a good story and it needed to be told! Mrs. Sullivan must have seen something of merit, perhaps in my tenacity in doggedly whipping my actors into shape. It wasn’t long before she suggested that we perform the play for an actual audience – the entire school population, if we were up for it.

Say no more! That spurred us on to even greater efforts as we added costumes and props and continued to perfect the line delivery and action. Finally, the day of the show arrived, and an assembly was called. I don’t remember if we were the only item on the program or not. It really didn’t matter, since for me, this was like getting recognized at the academy awards. As I recall, the show went off well. We got a full page in that year’s yearbook and I was credited as the ‘writer and director’.

All these years later I still look upon that seemingly insignificant experience as a pivotal point in my development as a writer. I’ve gone on to write and direct dozens of stage plays, some of which are published and have enjoyed a measure of success across stages in North America. If it wasn’t for the encouragement I got from my Grade Four teacher, I wonder if I would have gone on to write another play. It’s something to ponder.

  • This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of ‘Bookfun Magazine’, page 163.

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