Sunday, 11 November 2018

Drama Notes

I flipping through a printout of a short play I wrote and saw some notes I'd written on the back of a page. I should keep these notes in mind for myself, so why not share those notes with others?

I wrote the play as part of a play writing workshop held at the University of Alberta's drama department. One year the workshop was run by Colleen Murphy, and another year it was run by Meg Braem.

The comments likely come from  Colleen Murphy, but Meg Braem might also have said them. Below the notes are my elaborations.
  1. "Without foreshadowing, drama is melodrama."

    Three literary terms are in operation here. Foreshadowing is the hinting of details that will happen later in the plot chronology. Drama is the telling of a narrative in front of a live audience. Melodrama is a subset of drama that arose in the nineteenth century in which music played throughout the performance as a way to set mood and affect the audience's emotions. These days, soap operas continue in the tradition of melodrama by having nondiegetic music--music played unrelated to events in the story and unheard by the characters--play continuously. In melodrama, emotions are stark and strong. Good and evil are easily discernible, and though evil is powerful, ultimately good prevails.

    To me, the quotation is arguing that drama and melodrama can seem similar. A drama can have the same outcome as a melodrama--good vanquishes evil--and generate strong emotions. However, drama establishes a rationale for that outcome in some way. In melodrama, rationale is besides the point. The audience knows how things will end, and they want that ending, and they don't care how that ending comes about. Melodrama is weak on characterization and lacks sophisticated plots.

    Superhero films are melodramas. Even if some characters may, on first glance, seem complex, they really aren't. Deadpool is a good guy, in the end: he is an asshole to bad guys and is rude to good guys, but his actions operate on the side of goodness.

    A happy-ending drama has to work for its happy ending and its emotional effects. Its happy ending is deserved, rather than inevitable. If the happy ending arises out of the blue, with no explanation, it is melodrama. William Shakespeare himself edged his plays towards melodrama (keeping in mind that "melodrama" is an anachronistic term to use). In a plot that threatens murder and rape, Measure for Measure has a surprise happy ending.
  2. "Tragedy is when the past leaks into the present and changes the future."

    "Tragedy" here is the original dramatic idea that Greek playwrights represented a few hundred years before the Common Era. Sophocles's Oedipus Rex well demonstrates the principle. Oedipus unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. In the present, Oedipus decides to find out what is the source of his kingdom's suffering, and he tracks down himself. He blinds himself and withdraws from the world.
  3. "Can a narcissist be humourous?"

    A good question. I would think not.
  4. "Negative action on stage is different from positive action. Negative action does not indicate agency."

    Negative action is action not taken. For example, a person may have the opportunity to steal a purse on a nearby park bench and decide not to steal it. Not-acting is an action: a decision related to action. Though in the lived world a person not stealing a purse is good. In drama, a character not acting is not a real action. Such a character is not an agent: that character does nothing. A lack of agency in a character makes that character passive. Passive characters are not much fun to watch, and they are counter what drama is: actions on a stage.
  5. "In drama, the meaning of life is more important than life itself, said Edward Bond."

    I couldn't find a source for this quotation, though Edward Bond is a playwright whose philosophy seems amenable to this idea. To me, this statement refers to plot and character. A character doesn't have to stay alive in a play. A character should, however, help to explain the meaning of life (what meaning life has). A character may need to die in order to communicate the meaning of life.
  6. "Earnestness is saying, 'This is important.' Preaching is telling the audience how to think."

    The difference is in quality. A preacher has an answer, whereas an earnest person, though he or she may have an answer, prefers to call attention to an issue without "solving" it.
  7. "Arthur Miller said 'right' versus 'right' = drama."

    I traced this idea to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (via Julia Peters's "A Theory of Tragic Experience According to Hegel" among other places). Hegel appears to be discussing Antigone by Sophocles. The "rightness" is from the opponent's point of view. Both opponents see themselves as operating on moral grounds; it's just that more than one moral ground is possible. (In melodrama, one opponent may takes an avowedly immoral position.)

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