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Thr 374 Playwriting/Scriptwriting


Professor Richard Kalinoski


Theatre 374/ English 329/330

A and C  S 150

9:40 to 11:10 AM Tuesday/Thursday

Spring 2015

UW Oshkosh  (website)

Required Text : Playwriting: Writing, Producing and Selling your play. Catron, Louis E. (Waveland Press, 1984, 1990 )


-Other texts: Performances of plays on campuses: Required:

The Boy Inside by Richard Kalinoski  Feb.18--22 ;

Winter Fringe March 12-14

Oh, Pioneers by Darah Cloud (and others) April 29—May 3


Suggested reading and consultation:

Brustein, Robert   Who Needs Theatre?. New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987.

Catron, Louis E.  The Elements of Playwriting. Long Grove, IL. : Waveland Press, Inc. 1993.

Plimpton, George (ed.) The Paris Review Playwrights at Work. New York, New York. : The Modern Library, 2000.



CLASSROOM: Arts and Comm. South 150

3 PM—4:30 PM Tuesday and Thursday Arts and Communication West

(Fredric March Theatre building) Office no. 218 ACW


Phone:  920 424 0937 (at UWO)


Theatre as a part of the Liberal Arts

The liberal arts engage students in the study of the human condition by exploring the disciplines broadly defined by the sciences, the arts, culture, literature and history.  THEATRE is a small component of these human endeavors but its reach is ambitious. Theatre has been historically dedicated to the act of imitating, replicating and representing our lives. In many ways it is the ultimate “liberal” art if one understands the word “liberal” to mean generous or broadly encompassing. Theatre is a collaborative art—painting, acting, directing, visual design, elocution, sound design and several allied crafts are all components of theatrical art.

Theatre’s mandate is to explore any and all facets of lives—it demands intellectual rigor and multifarious artistic abilities.  Theatre is primarily interested in uncovering the truth about how we live. It is this search for truth that puts theatre into the very core of liberal pursuits.  Theatre is a genuine liberal art.


Objectives of the Class:

  • Students will gain an intellectual understanding of the principles of writing for the stage:

--the play is a story enacted by actors who are interpretive artists

--a play depends on the action of a protagonist(s) who makes a decision which impacts him/herself and others

--a play must exist in a confined space and must challenge the audience’s imagination to journey inside or beyond that space

--a play is not a tv program, not a film, not a novel

--plays must communicate with language, gesture, emotion, thought

  • Students will practice the art and craft of playwriting by conjecturing, writing, hearing a one-act play  and revising that play.

  • Students will gain an enhanced understanding of the artistic opportunities of writing for the stage.


Key elements of the class:

--students are asked to bring sufficient copies of each of their drafts of their one-act so that members of the class may read aloud. These copies must be formatted in the manner learned in this class.

--students should strive to offer criticism which is thoughtful and USEFUL….comments like “I don’t like this kind of play”, “this is bad writing” and “ I would do it this way”  are not helpful.  Your responsibility is to assess what is effective, what is not and make suggestions of issues for the playwright to ponder—as well as to ask probing and relevant questions.  .

--Your responsibility in every case is to be present; to take part in readings as needed; to offer helpful criticism—to foster what is effective and working and to suggest what seems to not be working. You are an audience and a critic and a playwright in this class. And, you are a reader.  In general, useful criticism is criticism which does not pander—which is not “nice” for the sake of being “nice” but which attempts to offer a direction, a solution, a pathway or an idea. Useful criticism is that which supports the work done by student colleagues---“here is why this is good…here is why this works effectively”.  “I like this because it’s good “ is not useful. Nor is it useful to declare “ I like this” without any compelling and specific reason.  This kind of parlance works in the everyday world—it does not work in a formal playwriting class.


Challenges of PLAYWRITING

Playwriting is a public activity.  The work of a playwright is almost always meant to be shared in a public arena, out loud, before an audience. The playwright has two fundamental audiences : 1. the cast and crew of her play

2. the audience that comes to see the community effort of the cast and crew and the playwright (together).  Playwrights and actors share many of the same responsibilities—the actors carry the story the playwright has fashioned and the PLAYWRIGHT DEPENDS ON THE ACTORS.

Too, it is always fundamentally important to attempt to understand the limitations and opportunities presented by the theatre. Theatre is a place for imagination—where the playwright LEADS the audience toward empowering their aggregate imagination. Contemporary theatre, especially compared to film, is SMALL. This is not small in terms of size of story or in terms of potential greatness; this is small in terms of intimacy….a successful playwright will understand that uncovering the details of a few characters’ lives will most likely be more effective than trying to explore a great many characters in massive and panoramic settings.


Attendance: You should attend class because you have a responsibility in this course which is beyond your own immediate interest—you are being asked to help others learn by responding to the plays presented.

By thinking and speaking about the work of others you gain tools for evaluating your own work. You also gain wisdom about the playwriting process---which is critical to your growth as a writer.


If you miss more than two unexcused class periods your grade will drop by one whole point…upon the third unexcused absence another point drop and etc.


Grading :

Please know that I am acutely aware that as a creative class PLAYWRITING is very difficult to grade. Still, the university requires it:

Class participation and written critiques of performances   25%

Quizzes 25%

Improvement from first exercises to final draft of one-act play:  50%. Your improvement grade on your final draft (third draft)  constitutes your entire grade on your one-act play…any previous low grades will be eliminated if the final draft demonstrates improvement. Each draft

will receive a grade. (if your first draft earns a c and your next draft improves the play significantly the c is erased and you earn  the improved grade only. )

100 % total.

The arithmetic: On quizzes and tests: 93 thru 100 A

90 thru 92 A- 85 thru 89 B+

80 thru 84 B

77 thru 79 B-

74 thru 76  C+

71 thru 73 C

68 thru 70 C-

65 thru 67 D+

60 thru 64 D

58 thru 59 D-

57  and below equals an F

Assignment and guidelines for completing a one-act play for Playwriting, Spring 2015

--find/discover a character (from some phase of life—around you, around others you know, a person you’ve read about –an incident you’ve read about

--your main character needs to go on a journey—that is she must confront obstacles, tribulations, challenges,  (worries), insecurities that your character must work to overcome/conquer

--locate your play in a single environment; limit the number of interruptions your play will need-- to less than 3 (zero would be good).

--limit your characters to no more than four (and probably fewer)

--your play should be between 23 and 38 pages long formatted as per the back of your text and in a 12 point font ;   always copy your play single sided and always always always always number your pages .

--make enough copies for each character to be read and three more—one for a reader and one for yourself, and one for your professor—bring all to class when the first draft is due.

--put the proper date on every title page of every draft--- (example: Draft x and the date)


About copies: Because students in this class are going to be readers—they (and you) need clean, well formatted copies in hand.  This helps their effectiveness as readers which in turn helps playwrights to hear and understand their plays.


The first draft of your play is due March 12, 2015—hard copies, in class.

The schedule for Spring, 2015:

Feb. 3, 5, 10,12, 17,19,24, 26  March 3,5,10,12,17,19, 24 off, 26 off, 31

April 2,7,9,14,16,21,23,28,30 May 5,7,12,14




The playwright as listener. What is listening?

Introduction to the class. Student

profiles. Discussion of syllabus.


Discussion of text(s). The uses of attending theatre.

Major points of conversation:

Why write a play?

Why present a play?

Why go to a play?

What’s the point of theatre in our society?

What is popular?

What does intimacy mean?

Contract between

audience and theatre artists:

  • responsibilities of the artists (mission)
  • responsibilities of the audience

In class quiz (not graded) and discussion of the act of theatre.  The

audience and theatre artists.

Assignment : Pages 7 thru 26 in Catron. Assignment: Narrative on conflict ( one to two

pages)…a narrative derived from a conflict in your family, other.



Lecture on concepts and 6 elements of

drama (Aristotle). Discussion of community of artists.

Reading of conflict narratives—listening.  Collect conflict narratives.

Assignment: pages 31 thru 44—assign search for three articles which

show dramatic interest. (Character).


Quiz 1 pages 7 thru 26 –includes 6 elements of drama.

--Sharing of articles re: dramatic interest; discussion of the uses of credo and journaling/collecting thoughts. Lecture and discussion of the role

of theatre in American society. Discussion of “write what you know.” ------Discussion and guidelines for discovering what your play can be about.

--Assignment of one-act play—first draft due March 12.

Notes on format. Handout of Susan Glaspell’s “TRIFLES”. Assignment:

read and rehearse TRIFLES.

--Assignment: pages 45 thru 60 in Catron.


12 NO CLASS tba; PREPARE for reading of TRIFLES. Students should read

the play and then prepare to read aloud---roles will be assigned February 10, 2015



Test on pages 31 thru 60—quiz will include listing and describing the 6 elements of drama.

Reading of TRIFLES in class; discussion of the defining action and main character.

Guidelines handed out for response to first performed play, THE BOY INSIDE; February 18, 19, 20, 21 at 7:30 PM; February 22 at 2 PM

Fredric March Theatre. Responses to THE BOY INSIDE due on Feb. 24.



Introduction to and screening of AUGUST OSAGE COUNTY by Tracy Letts.

Discussion of film August Osage County (as time permits) Assign reading:

Pages 69 thru 82 in Catron.



Collect responses to THE BOY INSIDE. Discussion of THE BOY INSIDE.

August Osage County by Tract Letts—second screening. Discussion of main elements of

the film—derived from the play.



Quiz on Chapters 9 and 10. Discussion of chapters 9 and 10. Discussion of the many challenges of the stage—the space, the limitations, the opportunities, the audience, the

artists, the collaboration. Notes on Death of a Salesman. Assign: pages 187--193





Assign:  Format chapter 11.




--discussion of Arthur Miller’s construction of the play.

--quiz on pages 187—193 Assign chapter 22.



Notes on seeing Winter Fringe. Guidelines for responding to Winter Fringe.

Winter Fringe is 12th, 13th and 14th evenings. Discussion of chapter 22.



First drafts due of one-act plays. Discussion of challenges/problems in

fashioning the first draft.  Begin reading one-act plays. Assign:

Chapters 17 and 18.



Discussion of chapters 17 and 18. In class reading of first drafts.



Test on chapters 17 and 18. In class reading of first drafts.


24 off vacation

26 off vacation


In class reading of first drafts. Assign chapter 14, PLOT.





Wrap up of readings of first draft; discussion of plot. What is story? What is plot?



Second drafts due. Readings of second drafts.



Readings of second drafts.



Readings of second drafts.



Screening of THE GLASS MENAGERIE  Guidelines for responding to playwriting contest winner’s reading on the 22 of April.




Mr. Williams.  Assign: Read chapter 10 on what is not written.



Discussion of playwriting contest play--.Review and discussion of chapter 10.



Guidelines for responding to OH, PIONEERS!

Screening of Streetcar Named Desire.






Responding to OH, PIONEERS—collected. Discussion of OH, PIONEERS.



Third drafts due…discussion of same.

Readings of third drafts.



Readings of third drafts.



Final class day. Readings of third drafts. Discussion of what to do with your


by Alderson, James M last modified Jan 31, 2015 12:59 PM