Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Silly Manfolk!

Dear Friends,

  I have enjoyed working on the Hard Taco Project these last few years, but hopefully when I'm dead I will be remembered not as a second-rate musician, but as a great playwright. I took a playwriting course once, and I think I have a decent eye for it. Actually, the course was on Modern English Literature, but part of it was about plays and I took pretty good notes that day. Here are the basics...

1. A good play should have lots of flashbacks, or at least some scenes that are out of order. A great example of this is "The Crucible," by Arthur Miller. In the first scene, you see Danforth staring fearfully at a poppet. In the next scene, there's a flashback to the previous winter when he goes into the woods and sees a creepy witch named Tituba carrying a poppet.  That explains why he is so afraid of poppets in the first scene. 

2. Realistic dialogue and good grammar are often mutually exclusive. For example, real people say things like "Um, I could eat a whole nother Clark Bar." Nobody would sympathize with a character who says, "I could eat a whole other Clark Bar" and never says "Um" or "Eh."  You almost want that character to go hungry, or at least have to share the second Clark Bar with someone.

3. Most importantly, a good drama has characters who are deeply troubled, but (and here's the tricky part) they never come out and say so directly.  The audience has to infer that the character is troubled based on his actions (and to a lesser degree, his poor grammar.) I find that drawing on painful personal memories helps me create a more vivid tapestry into which many-layered characters can be delicately woven. 

  Here is the first Act of a play that I have been workshopping on. (That's playwright-speak for "working on.")  Please let me know if you have any constructive feedback.

"IRON RATIONS" by Zach London

(ACT I: Spring of 1989. My basement. Five awkward boys are gathered around a table, but in such away that they all on the same side of the table so that they are all facing the audience. They are playing Dungeons and Dragons. Excuse me, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. They each have their own 20-sided die. The table is covered with Swiss Cake Roll wrappers. I am the only one who hasn't gone through puberty yet.)

ZACH: The gnome leads you through a passageway into a little circular area where there's a bunch more gnomes. One of them comes up to him and whispers something into his ear. Then the main gnome... the first one, turns to you guys and says, "Glarg has decided to challenge you to a rousing game of Sprottle!"

JEFF: Okay, but it better be rousing! I'm not playing if it's not rousing.

DARREN: I shoot Alex with my Crossbow plus one! 

ALEX: Cut it out, you're such a baby.

DARREN: (Imitating Alex) You're such a baby!

ETHAN: We ask the gnome what Sprottle is.

ALEX: (Face reddens) I don't have to take this! Really!

DARREN: (Giggling effeminately, waving his hands in the air) Hee, hee, hee! Cut it out! You're such a baby!

(The doorbell rings)

ZACH: He says, "You've never heard of Sprottle? Ha! Silly manfolk. You're not from around here are you?"

ETHAN: No, we are not from around here. We teleported here, I think.

ALEX: I'm serious Darren. It's not funny. Does anyone think this is funny right now? (Darren giggles louder.)

ZACH's MOM: (from offstage) Jeff, your mom is here!

JEFF: (Getting up to leave). All right. Good luck on the PSATs tomorrow, everyone.

ZACH: You, too.

ETHAN: You know what? I should probably go, too. (To Jeff) Can you give me a ride?

JEFF: Okay. 

(Fade to black)

  In the subsequent scenes, I'm going to have ZACH gradually stop hanging out with ALEX and DARREN. Unfortunately, without them, there are not enough people to play Dungeons and Dragons, and the three remaining boys have to give it up forever. Initially, this is somewhat troubling to ZACH, but he does not expressly say so in the play. 
  Towards the end, ZACH realizes that he's more likely to meet girls by trying out for a chorus part in "Grease." 
  Finally, there will be a scene that takes place at the fifty year high school reunion. The five boys are now old men, and they barely recognize each other. This scene is an automatic tear-jerker, because they were so innocent during most of the play and now they've been through so much. They share a Swiss Cake Roll, except for ETHAN, who has diabetes. They reach an agreement that Dungeons and Dragons was not, in fact, a good way to meet girls. They will be busily patting each other on the back when suddenly they will all freeze in place. A narrator will come out and say that this was the last time the five of them met, and that they all died shortly thereafter. Then the curtain will drop. 

  I spent most of August working on that, but I did manage to squeeze out a Hard Taco Song, too. It's called "That's the Way it Goes," and it will be one of the first songs in The Hard Tack Medicine Show. This song is a bit of fast-paced exposition, in which all four main characters get introduce themselves in a cursory way.

With Warmest Regards,