March PlayLab 2-Lorena Diaz breaks it down!

Diane here with a quick introduction-Lorena Diaz from our PlayLab 2 was gracious enough to serve as our guest blogger for the March PlayLab 2. Below is her blog…enjoy!

March Play Lab

People at Play Lab:

Wendy
Lori
Petrucia
Mishelle
Kristiana
Yolanda

It’s 7:21 and we’re still chatting. Not usual or unusual for this group of Latina women.

Stories of Internet love, properly using the moon to your advantage and the business of writing and putting up our work in the coming weeks are told.

I love Play Lab.

Mishelle is back and it’s nice to have her. She’s spunky and deep and her writings have been missed. It’s been a month since we’ve seen one another and last time we got together there was a snowstorm. Only a few of us were able to make it out so this March Play Lab is a real treat since almost everyone is here.

Our assignment was get a newspaper article and write a scene based off of it or inspired by it.

Wendy goes first because she thinks what she wrote is shit. She refers to the 3 part series of articles from the Chicago Sun-Times about Latino musicians doing their thing and how they talk about JLO instead of the local musicians. Who are also Latino. Her scene, by the way, is hysterical. This raises great dialogue at the table. Being Latino is not a new mainstream thing; it’s a growing niche. That’s what we feel about it, and we are really tiring of being Latino and trying to work in the industry, just to have the “industry” tell us we don’t look Latino enough or we should be more like J.Lo and Penelope Cruz. Wendy’s scene deals with this in a fun abstract way- I could easily see this as an awesome sketch on Saturday Night Live. Can you imagine? SNL doing a scene catered to Latinos.

Now we move on to Petrucia. Petrucia speaks and writes Portuguese. She’s Brazilian and her musings are ohhhhh so sexy. Today she wrote a scene inspired by the natural catastrophes that are happening in Brazil. She wrote this scene in Portuguese and has transcribed it in English for us. Her story is about a few bourgeois couples that go out on vacation together in order to work through some issues and while in the process of doing so they get stuck in a natural disaster. Part of what’s so brilliant about Petrucia’s writing is that she doesn’t write to the confines of a stage; yet you can easily see her work onstage. She writes to write and she paints her world. Her human drama in what she creates is so well executed, even in a first draft. Wendy comments that her characters always jump out of the page and we all agree. Petrucia, who lives with plays in her head waiting to be written by her, has a nice long awesome story to develop through this one little wonderful scene inspired by an article in the paper.

Diane is up. She says it’s time to depress us. (Hahaha) The article is about a Naperville rapist by the name of James R. Willard. Her scene is indeed dark.
Diane is very good with this tone, she bounces between comedy and dark drama with incredible ease and childlike delight. She writes a scene that takes place in the 80’s. I can’t tell you too much more about the plot because what she’s ultimately writing is a piece that has a tone or theme of the Twilight Zone. Remember the show? Major mind trickery. Diane has been diligent to her theme. Every month she brings a new piece that explores her original theme over and over again, each time more layered and complex and an exciting reveal. I’m jealous at her diligence. I wish for the discipline in my own writing. Diane feels there are things to clear up. Group reading is good to throw ideas to in order to expand your original concept and keep you close to it when you’re feeling like straying a little. We all collectively love it and are excited to see all the pieces together.

We break briefly to come back to Yolanda telling us news about a national award she won for “Brown Girl Chronicles”. The American Educational Research Conference awarded it to her. We are indeed among great talent. It occurs to me that it has taken a little over a year, meeting once a month, for us to finally feel real comfort around the other. We celebrate our success and share misery in our tragedies. It’s a commitment to want to write and an even greater commitment to want to share it over and over again with the same group of people. The work is worth it though-where else can you get this level of support and mentoring on your piece? It’s never been negative, always positive and challenging. All collaboration should be like this.

I go next. My inspiration comes more from a collection of articles I’ve been drawn to over the last few weeks as well as the last few months. Gay Rights. Brad Pitt also said something very curious once at an awards show. He said that if a bunch of people got together and said straight people weren’t allowed to marry other straight people then he would be fighting for their rights instead–mostly because it’s about civil liberties and not about right and wrong sexual behavior. Since I deal with almost everything through the eye of comedy, I wrote a scene about turning the tables on society and having two parents very upset to discover that their son is straight. It was cathartic writing it and I’m curious to see how it will play in front of a crowd. The girls seemed to dig it and I received some great pointers on how to make it stronger.

Kristiana brings us some new stuff. She’s brought an article in from BBC News about a US female soldier being found guilty of indecent exposure after she took part in a mud wrestling party at the largest military prison in Iraq. She’s pulled from the article very well, writing a scene about 2 characters, one a female private and the other her boyfriend. Kristiana is also very good about writing the voice of her characters. Some of us have strength in characters, others in plot; Kristiana has strength in the human drama. She wanted to write something about a female soldier without it just being about a female soldier getting raped. After all, there’s more to it then that anyway. Kristiana also excels at writing characters without preconceived status. Any one of the characters she writes can do just about anything at any time. Which is (part of) what makes her writing so exciting. I refer to it as her “Christopher Walken character writing technique”. Kristiana has inspired me to take another look at the world. I tend to pull things from a very topical perspective. She likes to dig in there and see how many layers of thinking exist. I really dig that and have borrowed the insight when dealing with my own writing. Now when something inspires me in any way, I dig and dig for all sorts of different perspectives on the topic. This way I can come from any angle and feel confident that my characters might stray from even their own ideals. That’s true to life anyway.

Onward with Mishelle. Her article was pulled from her sister’s Facebook page. The article was about Chelsea King who was found in San Diego dead and sexually assaulted. She went out on a run at the lake and a convicted released sex offender was the one who killed her. It seems the story gets even weirder when the bones of another girl who went missing a year ago shows up as well soon after they find Chelsea’s body. Mishelle was inspired by how these girls’ lives are intertwined through their death caused by the same person. Her scene is inspired by these girls. A fantastical scene emerges- as is consistent in Mishelle’s writing. Provocative for sure. She flips the tables on us. I like it. Her theme is a little taboo but I love this! I love anything that takes something people have their mind set on, especially in regards to death and smudges it with little ink filled fingers of taboo.

Yolanda is last but not least. She has chosen to bring in her 10-minute play submission. Good solid scene. Yolanda has been consistently bringing in really funny material. Grounded in real solid characters she likes to play in the absurdity of relationships between the characters. Dialogue is always so great, that we struggle with telling her to trim it because so much of it is funny. But alas, everything could always be tighter right? We hammer this truth over ourselves over and over again and happily reach conclusions on ideas with one another. Yolanda has ease with beating out her scenes clearly even in a first draft. It’s funny, she is usually prone to saying something she’s written is “so-so”; but honestly, it’s usually pretty hilarious.

The end of the night comes around and we’re sent home with new inspiration.
Until next month. Write.

-Lori

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January PlayLabs-Death of a Salesman and Art as Inspiration!

Happy New Year! Hope everyone enjoyed the holidays–I’m happy to be back with an exciting synopsis of our January PlayLabs. As always, there were some wonderful scenes read and some great discussions! So first, we’ll start with:

PLAYLAB 1-JANUARY 9th

Our reading assignment was “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller. The last time I read this play was in high school, when I was a 17-year-old wondering why we were reading about this old man loser…what did this have to do with me at all? Fast-forward to years later, and I’m blubbering through this play as I’m reading it…why did it hit me now? The same words kept being repeated throughout the discussion–“broken dreams”, “failed goals” “loss of hope”.  We all agreed that the character of Willy Loman served as the ordinary everyman trying to be extraordinary by being “well-liked”.  We compared the loss of Willy’s dreams to the loss of the American Dream–the hard realities that we all have to go through in life’s journey (which is why Willy Loman is a more poignant character at this stage in life than as a teenybopper trying to get an A in English).

“Death of a Salesman” is structured differently than the other plays read in our labs–in this case, Miller used flashbacks as Willy’s memories and entwined them with the current-day action.  One example of this technique is early in the play, when Willy is playing cards late at night with his next-door neighbor and he remembers a conversation he had with his late brother.  As the memory progresses, Willy starts talking to his brother out loud, in present-day, and his neighbor grows confused, then concerned with Willy’s behavior.  An embarrassed Willy ends up running the neighbor out of his house.  The participants all agreed that the technique of integrating Willy’s memories moved the action forward more effectively than just using plain exposition.

According to David Ball, in his book “Backwards and Forwards”: “Action occurs when something happens that makes or permits something else to happen”.  According to Ball, action is one event that leads to another event, and these actions are what makes up any play.  For example, you can say “How are you?” to a friend, and she can reply “Fine.”.  The “How are you?” is the first event that comprises the action–the “Fine” is the second event that completes the action.  As Ball says, “The first leads to the second; the two compose an action”.

Ball has assigned terms to these events that make up an action–the first event is called a “trigger” and the second event is a “heap”.  Again, an event is anything that happens–but it takes a subsequent event that happens as a result of that FIRST event that comprises an action.  Now, according to Ball all plays can be mapped out by their action, not only from beginning to end, but backwards–from the end to the beginning, all based on the “triggers” and “heaps”.

We will be discussing action in further detail in our February PlayLab–we will be analyzing our next reading assignment and the actions within the play to further understand triggers, heaps, etc.  It should make for a great discussion–I’m looking forward to it!

This month’s writing exercise was:

TAKE ONE OF YOUR PREVIOUS EXERCISES AND REVISE IT TO TAKE PLACE IN A DIFFERENT LOCATION.

SELECT A LOCATION THAT ADDS A NEW OBSTACLE FOR AT LEAST ONE OF THE CHARACTERS OR INCREASES THE URGENCY OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE  CHARACTERS.

The scenes that were presented really benefited from the change in location–the characters were more clearly drawn, and there was definitely more action within the scene, instead of just exposition or talking heads.  I think there is definitely some room for expanding on these scenes, if the participants wanted to do so.  That’s the most exciting part of the PlayLab 1–seeing where someone can expand on their work and start to write more…either about a character, or a situation.  We are now beginning to work on projects that will lead to a one-act play by the end of the session.  I’m looking forward to seeing these one-acts develop over the next few months!

Keep up the good work, ladies!

PLAYLAB 2- January 12th

Our assignment for this lab was:

WRITE A SCENE BASED ON A PAINTING.

We had some fun scenes based on this exercise–participants had playful ways of incorporating the painting into their scene.  Whether it was literal (referencing the actual painting within a hilarious scene about a high-school field trip to an art museum); or figurative (a surreal scene about a magical parrot or a scene about profession of love before an arrest), it was an entertaining night!  The best part is having new artwork to love now as well!

I’m excited to announce that THREE of our PlayLab 2 participants have completed their full-length projects.  Two of the participants, Kristiana Colon and Petrucia Finkler, will have table readings of their plays read at Teatro Luna in late February/early March 2010.  I’m so excited to attend these readings, as I feel I’ve only caught glimpses of these fabulous plays, and I’m ready to hear the whole play read out loud.  A table reading is such a valuable tool for a playwright–when you’re dealing with dialogue, it’s so important to have other people read your work out loud.  Sometimes a monologue is brilliant tragedy on paper, but when read by an actor turns into melodramatic tripe.  Also, it’s important to see how the play “moves” when read aloud–will the actors be able to catch what you’re trying to accomplish?  Will the plot be clear?  Will you be able to relate to the characters?

Our third participant, Mishelle Apalategui, is having her play, “Shiny Boxes”, produced by the Dream Theatre Company in February.  The information on this show is below:

AELITA & SHINY BOXES
by Bil Gaines & Mishelle Renee Apalategui

Thursday, February 4 through Sunday, February 21, 2010 at Dream Theatre 556 W 18th Street.
Performances run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM, and Sundays at 7:00 PM.
Street Parking is available. Tickets are $15-$18.

773-552-8616 / annainthedarkness@gmail.com

http://www.dreamtheatrecompany.com/main/index.html

I can’t wait to see it!

As long as I’m plugging shows, last week I was able to catch another show written and performed by two of our PlayLab 2 participants–Lorena Diaz and Wendy Mateo make up the comedy group Dominizuelan, and their current show is running at ioChicago:

Dominizuelan Presents: People in the City

Thursday nights until 2/25 at 8PM in the Del Close Theater

Tickets are $10.00

For more information, call the iO Chicago Theater Box office at 773.880.0199 or visit the Dominzuelan website at http://dominizuelan.com.

You do NOT want to miss this show–it’s hilarious, fun, and a STEAL at only $10.  These ladies will be also writing and performing in the next Teatro Luna show, “Multiple Americas” in May, so get a head-start in checking them out.  You will NOT be disappointed–I was literally crying from laughing so hard!

February’s PlayLabs are when the 10-minute play festival submissions are due, so I’m DEFINITELY looking forward to those labs.  I can’t wait to read what the participants have written based our our MOON theme.  We are going to have some very interesting pieces to present, and I’m also very excited about working with the Directors Lab as well, as they will be directing the 10-minute plays chosen for the festival.

As always, I welcome comments, suggestions, etc for the blog.   Thank you for reading, and looking forward to catching up with you in February!

-Diane

November 2009 PlayLabs-Character, Our Town and Memory as Inspiration

Hello, all! I’m back with another exciting synopsis of our November PlayLabs. There were some wonderful scenes read, some great discussions, and the best news–the announcement of the theme for our 10-minute play festival! Without further ado…

PLAYLAB 1-NOVEMBER 7th

Our reading assignment was Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Some of our participants had been in a production of Our Town at one time or another, so it was very interesting to hear their take on the play. What struck me was how layered their analysis of the character they played was, given the apparent simplicity of the show. One point that kept cropping up in our discussion was how deceptively simple this play is-the set is a couple of chairs, ladders, a bench. Yet for all the simplicity of the show (the Stage Manager announces the theme of each act), all of the participants were able to find a deeper meaning behind the script and the characters…which lead to our discussion of character.

According to David Ball, in his book “Backwards and Forwards”: “Scripts contain bones, not people”. He goes on to state that “character is revealed primarily by what a character does. Yet even the best of plays presents only a skeleton, because much of what the audience perceives as character has to do with the actor”.

With this in mind, we took one of the characters from “Our Town”, Simon Stimson, and sketched out the “facts”–what we knew about the character from his actions and from what other characters said about him. By just listing the facts (not interpretation), we were able to give details that would guide a director and actor through the role. However, these facts (Simon is a drunk, he is the choir director, his wife is constantly looking for him) are only the “bones” of the character. It is the actor and director that work together to “flesh” out the character–he could be portrayed as anything from an arrogent SOB to a pathetic has-been, depending on the actor’s interpretation. One of the participants talked about her experience playing Mrs. Soames, the busybody of the town, and how she saw this character in more of a sympathetic light…so she chose to play her as someone who had good intentions behind the nosiness and gossip.

This month’s writing exercise was:

“A” must tell “B” something without “C” knowing. None of them may leave the stage.

This was not an easy exercise-how can you prevent a character from knowing what’s going on right in front of their nose? I am glad to report that our participants rose to the challenge with some very entertaining scenes.

Keep up the good work, ladies! I look forward to our January PlayLab to see what else you have in store for us!

PLAYLAB 2- November 10th

Our assignment for this lab was:

WRITE A SCENE BASED ON A FAVORITE OR PARTICULARLY STRONG PERSONAL MEMORY.

Try to include what you felt, what you saw, what you heard, what you smelled? Does the time of day, time of year, weather, or setting color your memory of this event? What is important about this memory? Why does it remain so strong for you.

WRITE A DETAILED SUMMARY OF THE MEMORY BASED ON THE QUESTIONS ABOVE, THEN WRITE THE SCENE BASED ON THE MEMORY.

You may change the outcome if you wish-what else might have happened? How do you wish this event had ended? What is significant about the way it did end?

What was especially lovely about this exercise is hearing the memory-having the details behind each memory (what time of day, the weather, even down to what the person was wearing) really lent to an honesty within the scenes. Even when the scene was far left of the actual memory, I noticed that the participant’s attention to detail prompted sharper writing and more attention to environment. I would strongly recommend this exercise to any writer who might feel “stuck” with their project.

The writers of PlayLab 2 are on notice now to start bringing their projects to a close–we are hoping that in 2010 we can offer each PlayLab 2 participant a chance for a reading of their full-length project, depending on the finished project. I’m looking forward to checking in with the participants in January, to see how far they’ve come with their plays!

We have our theme for the 10-minute Plays Festival! To honor Teatro Luna’s 10 year anniversary, we decided on the following theme:

THE MOON

What does that mean? Whatever inspires the PlayLab participants! Is it a scene about the cycles of the moon, or will there be a scene about someone mooning over a celebrity? Will there be a literal scene about the Man in the Moon, or an abstract scene of lovers meeting by moonlight? Whatever THE MOON means to our participants, is what we will be accepting as submissions. Again, we will have our PlayLab participants submit their 10-minute plays, and we will choose 10 10-minute plays to produce for the evening. They will be directed by our Directors Lab participants as well.

We have now closed out 2009, and what a year it has been! I’m looking forward to what 2010 will bring!

As always, please feel free to post any comments, questions, etc for this blog!

Until next year!

Diane

PlayLab October-Three Sisters, Music as inspiration, 10-minute play festival!

So the PlayLabs 1 and 2 have been up and running since June, but we figured it would great to keep all updated on our progress with both!  So a short synopsis on both of the October PlayLab workshops:

PLAYLAB 1-OCTOBER 3RD

It was a small yet mighty group for this PlayLab–our reading assignment was Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov, and we had a lively discussion about how the play relates to us today.  We were all able to draw parallels between the three sisters and points in our own lives where we’ve been “stuck” or “living in the past”, and we talked about how that universality makes this play relevant even today.

We also discussed the challenges in reading the play with the amount of characters, the loooong names, and the fact that it was a five-act play as opposed to the two or three act plays we are used to in modern times.  We all agreed that we would like to see a live version to see the work fleshed out–it was a reminder that in our own writing we need to be sure to give our characters distinct voices so they are not lost within the play, and how we are writing within our times of shortened attention spans so it would be a challenge to mount a 5 act play like Chekhov’s in today’s world (not impossible, just challenging).

The women of PlayLab 1 are doing a great job with their writing assignments–I can definitely see the improvements over time in each of their work just by the quality of writing in their exercises.  This month’s exercise was:

One character is high status, one character is low status–the high-status character asks for something from the low-status character, which the low-status character does not want to give.

Our lovely participants came up with some great scenes–from sorority sisters to city officials to old neighborhood “friends”, they were very fun to read and entertaining.  Keep up the good work, ladies!

PLAYLAB 2- October 13th

Our assignment for this lab was:

Write a scene inspired by music

It’s always interesting to see what songs inspire writers in their scenes–we had songs like the Glee show’s cover of “Don’t Stop Believing” set up a scene about alien invasion, or drumbeats inspiring a scene about oppression and revolution…Nina Simone inspired a father/daughter scene that was heartbreakingly honest, while Adele’s “Daydreamer” and “Ghosts in the Water” by Julian Velard colored a scene about a woman’s recollection of a Halloween party.  Last, Portishead was the inspiration behind a continuation of a play where the dead feed off feelings like vultures and patterns are sustained, broken and remade.

The most exciting news to come from October is the confirmation that Teatro Luna will be producing a night of 10-minute plays to coincide with the Latino Theatre Festival as well as TL’s 10 year anniversary.  We will have our PlayLab participants submit their 10-minute plays, and we will choose 10 10-minute plays to produce for the evening.  They will be directed by our Directors Lab participants as well.   We are working on a theme that the 10-minute plays will be set agains–any ideas??  Let us know!

Well, until November…feel free to post any comments, questions, etc for this blog!

Until next month,

Diane