Monday, July 23, 2007

U Build It, We Play It

I'm striving to read a lot more non-fiction, and have started reading non-theater blogs like Tantalus Prime. The cross currents have stirred a new idea that I'm looking to develop as a possible late-night interactive form.

It all started as I was reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson. The book, which covers the history of a cholera outbreak in 1854 London, made a great point about technological and intellectual advances: "Great breakthroughs are closer to what happens in a flood plain: a dozen separate tributaries converge, and the rising waters lift the genius high enough that he or she can see around the conceptual obstructions of the age." Johnson also made an interesting point about John Snow - a scientist whose work is discussed in the book. He suggested that Snow was certainly intelligent, but his great skill was in the ability to make observations in one area and apply the lessons learned to an apparently unconnected area.

That observation -and a certain feeling of staleness as I've been thinking about playwriting- has led to my leapfrogging through various disciplines, trying to get my sluggish brain churning again. I came across Unit Structures, which in turn led me to the Summer Doctoral Program at Oxford which finally led me to Scratch.

Scratch is a kind of programming language slash social site where you can snap together brightly colored blocks of code to create animations, games, stories and more. Its fun and a little addictive. You should check it out so my concept makes a little more sense.

Scratch got me thinking about story structure and the building blocks of playwriting. And also how writing and theater is supposed to be fun.

So my concept: U Build it, We Play It. I envision having a large bin of giant, brightly colored foam blocks. The building blocks of playwriting. Each block would be labeled with a different function: Surprising Reveal, Violent Refusal, Leapfrog Transition. The functions would be analogous to Inciting Incident, Rising Action, etc. They would just need to be a little more specific so we can create more than five blocks.

The audience comes in and individual or in groups build three to five towers using the story structure elements. The playwrights for the evening have say twenty minutes to translate the story structure towers into playable text. During this time the audience could be entertained by live music or a DJ - if in a bar, ample time to get your drink on.

As soon as the twenty minutes are up, actors receive print-outs of the scripts, have a moment to look over the script and then they are performed. Script in hand, on your feet readings.

I think this could be a fun time. A lot of fun and creativity can go into creating those story structure blocks. And the audience can get a charge out of seeing the relationship between the selected story elements and the performed text. In the spirit of Scratch, I could even see an online version where the structures are built on line and people can go into the theater the day their structure will be performed.

So - what do you think? And what might some story structure blocks be?

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