Thursday, February 17, 2011

Getting ready to ride the B.U.S.

The B.U.S. is coming!

B.U.S. (otherwise known as the Bricolage Urban Scrawl) is a 24 hour play festival extravaganza put on by Bricolage Theater in downtown Pittsburgh.  This is its sixth year running and I am fortunate (or unlucky) enough to be invited to participate as a playwright.

Last night I ran into Tami Dixon and Jeffrey Carpenter, the dynamic duo that run the theater company and I told her I was psyching myself up for it and getting into training.

Cue Rocky Theme Music and workout montage now.

Okay, the thing with this 24 hour play festival, as with others, is that you can’t really do any prep work.  They give you a theme on Friday night.  You go ride a bus and observe people.  You don’t even know who your actors or director is yet.  Then you have twelve hours to write a ten minute play.  The beautiful thing about this is that you will probably end up riding a bus through a new neighborhood, seeing different people and literally getting of your comfort zone.

But just because I can’t do any prep work for the festival, doesn’t mean I can’t get myself ready.  

Ballet dancers do physical drills.  Musicians practice their scales.  Actors do voice, movement training and work on their monologues.  We playwrights and screenwriters should be exercising our creative skills in the same way. 

B.U.S. is like one giant writing exercise—like a test.  Here are your parameters and limitations—make something out of it and oh by the way, the clock is ticking.  This is not just a fun whimsical idea, but a task that can develop real world writing skills.  It prepares you for on-the-spot rehearsal rewrites or trying to polish up a script before sending it off for a commission. 

You don't have to do the madness of B.U.S. to workout your writing muscles, though. There are plenty of exercises you can do, even if all you have is a spare fifteen minutes.

For instance, my favorite has and always will be the six-line play.  The rules are easy.  Write a play using only six lines.  You can have two characters or six, but the goal is to create a real situation, real characters, with a story that has a beginning, middle and end.

A great book, chock full of playwriting exercises on various techniques is Playwriting in Process by Michael Wright.  

For you more advanced playwrights, check out New Playwriting Strategies by Paul Castagno.

Or just make up some of your own.  Like any workout, it should be fun, right?  

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