Today's featured guest blogger is Bill Leach, Liberal Arts Program Chair and Assistant Professor of English at Florida Institute of Technology
What do alien abductions, cops chasing robbers, and binge drinking zombies have in common? They’ve all been subjects of one-act plays written by student groups in my introduction to literature classes over the years.
I’ve always been a fan of introducing creative writing opportunities to students as a method of reinforcing the elements of short fiction, poetry, and drama. Many of my ideas are not really mine at all. Our university uses The Bedford Introduction to Literature, edited by Michael Meyer, and there are gems of writing ideas embedded in the text just waiting to be mined. These ‘Creative Responses” are sprinkled throughout, such as writing your own 55 word short story or writing a three minute phone call or email conversation between two characters based on the brief play Reprimand. These ideas can be incorporated as journal entries, test questions, and group activities.
I introduce group work early in the semester, which allows group members to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and provide a sense of commitment to the group for completing the tasks assigned. Toward the end of the semester, I introduce the groups to the project of writing a script for their own one-act plays. Years ago, I started this activity by asking the groups to write an alternate ending to the play Am I Blue by Beth Henley, which deals with many issues young adults face today. This activity also works in writing an alternate ending to Death of a Salesman. Studying original plays and writing in groups takes up a good chunk of classroom time, so I searched for shorter activities because of the premium associated with classroom time.
That's when I stumbled across the website 10-Minute-Plays.com. The site not only provides multiple examples of short plays, but it also provides students easy to follow directions on how to compose their play, which reinforces the concepts of plot structure. Here’s an example of directions from the site:
Page 1: Set up the world of your main characters (exposition)
Page 2: Something happens to throw your characters’ world out of balance
Page 3-4: Your characters struggle to restore order
Page 5: Just when your characters are about to restore order, something happens to complicate matters
Page 6: Your characters either succeed or fail to restore order
The brevity of the 10 minute play allows students to work with the structure of drama, introducing conflict and providing a resolution just as longer, traditional plays do. In addition, the shortened format saves on group and classroom time, allowing for more in-depth discussions of other genres such as short fiction and poetry.
The students really enjoy the activity and work well together writing the scripts and even acting out the parts. It is a fun way to end the semester, and student feedback shows it to be something they learn from and remember.
As a caution, though, instructors need to be involved in the brainstorming part of the process, guiding students toward appropriate topics. If not, you may find yourself in the middle of many dramatic renderings describing drunken zombies fighting aliens!