November 10, 2010 Archives

Topic:

Melodrama

Assigned Text:

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Aiken's popular dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel.

Please note: I am not assigning the novel. Instead, I am assigning a script of a theatrical adaptation. Reading a play script really requires you to play the role of the director and the actor. The playwright will sometimes throw in a stage direction such as "bitterly" to explain how the actor should deliver the line, but each speech is written to be spoken aloud, with the benefit of costumes, sound effects, and scenery.

Reading a Play Script

One entire act of this play is taken up with nothing but the following stage direction.
[The entire depth of stage, representing the Ohio River filled with Floating Ice. Set bank on right and in front. Eliza appears, with Harry, on a cake of ice, and floats slowly across to left. Haley, Loker, and Marks, on bank right, observing. Phineas on opposite shore.]
When you read that, you might think, "big deal."

Here's a brief bit of business from the script of Star Wars.

INTERIOR: DARTH VADER'S COCKPIT.

VADER: The Force is strong with this one!

EXTERIOR: SURFACE OF THE DEATH STAR.

Vader follows Luke's X-wing down the trench.

INTERIOR: LUKE'S X-WING -- COCKPIT.

Luke looks to the targeting device, then away as he hears
Ben's voice.

BEN'S VOICE: Luke, trust me.
A whole team of technical and creative people put a lot of effort into turning those few lines into an intense character-defining moment, in the middle of a heart-stopping action sequence.

Your job, as you read a play script, is to try to supply mental images of the scenery, costumes, facial expressions, tone of voice, and actions of the performers, turning a few lines of dialogue into a visual and kinetic experience.

If you've ever seen a live production of Peter Pan, even though you can see the wires, the sight of actors flying around on stage right in front of you is very powerful.  And even though you know the actors aren't really hurting each other, watching people punch each other and roll around on the floor, slamming into furniture or pulling hair is a very different experience from reading "A fight breaks out." 

Typically, audiences would applaud sudden scene changes, or stage effects such as snowstorms, gun battles, people jumping down great distances or climbing up great heights, pieces of scenery being raised or lowered dramatically, and so forth.

As you read, look for long stage directions, and really slow down and imagine how a live production would make that sequence emotionally interesting for the audience.


You can find the full text here:

Aiken's adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin (Full Text)   | Table of Contents


Assigned Text:

How To Read Literature…

Chapters 22-24

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