In Intro to Theatre classes at Metro State, the students are required to write, produce, and perform a one-act play for their final exam. This semester, in compliance with the General Ed technology requirement, I assigned each group to do a video promo for their play: this could either be in the form of a trailer, or a talk-show-style interview with the creators, or etc. Below please enjoy the trailer for one of these projects. Looks mysteriously intense, no? ~Jenn
A few action shots from the rehearsal day of the Beginning Stage Combat class’ unarmed fights. At MSU Denver.
If you’re a local lurker, these two events are not to be missed!
Saturday the 21st is the first Bolder Acts of this season! The 24-hour theatre project is always exciting–I’m most likely
going to be a playwright and maybe fight choreographer (if needed) this time.
Sunday is the annual Physical Comedy workshop, taught by me, hosted by the Boulder International Fringe Festival. This class is essential for anyone interested in performance of any kind, or anyone who just wants to clown around on a Sunday. Full info below.
Physical Comedy: the Art of Clowning Around
Taught by Jenn Zuko Boughn
Learn how to portray comedic roles in theatre and film. Dance, mime, pratfalls, stage combat, and overall physical versatility are all important for any would-be Bill Irwins or Mr. Beans. Branches of movement arts covered will include: clowning bits, mime technique, comedic dance, physical storytelling, commedia dell’arte, and building character with physicality.
Sun Sept 22 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM
To register: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 917-495-2277
I am re-posting some of the longer, erstwhile-lectures I had up awhile back, as they got cut off in the reboot of our site. This is one explaining the Three Rules for Actors, and expanding it to include the realm of literature, and storytelling itself. I am basing part of my ROMOCOCO presentation on this concept as it applies to stage combat and comics. Please to enjoy. ~Jenn
Three Rules for Protagonists: the Monomyth Revisited
Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.
Back in acting school, we learned a magic Three Rules that we were to adhere to whenever we performed a new character (which was often a couple times a week). No matter how big a role, the Three Rules for Actors worked to make a performance authentic, dynamic, and compelling.
When an actor plays a mood, she dissolves instantly into sham. Mood spelled backwards is Doom for the actor.In other words, if one “plays sad” the performance will seem false and cheesy to an audience. If one plays a verb, an objective, then one is playing an action instead of an emotion.
Three Rules for Actors:
“What do I want?” (objective)
“What do I do to get what I want?” (tactics)
“What stands in my way?” (obstacles)
Actors ask these three questions of themselves as the character they’ve been assigned, and often will write verbs in the margins of their scripts (tactics = action words) to guide them along the scenes. Any story can be boiled down to this formula. A character does actions to get her objective. When one action doesn’t work, she’ll try another. And the audience will want to know what she’ll do next, and if she’ll end up achieving her objective. When the character either achieves her objective, or discovers it can’t be achieved, the story is over. A new objective is a new story.
These three rules, though taught to actors, I have found to be essential in the understanding of story structure. A writer can ask their protagonist these three questions and the narrative nearly writes itself. Ray Bradbury probably never heard the Actor’s Rules, but his story-writing instructions are a direct reiteration of the objective/tactics/obstacles formula:
Find a character, like yourself, who will want something or not want something, with all his heart. Give him running orders. Shoot him off. Then follow as fast as you can go. The character, in his great love, or hate, will rush you through to the end of the story.
This formula works for anything narrative—fiction, non-fiction, or (obviously) drama. Poetry is about image and sound, so it doesn’t go by the Actor’s Rules. But anything that has events, things happening, a central character (even the writer-as-narrator of a personal essay) has added dynamism and a clean plot if the Three Rules are kept in mind.
This is where a lot of what’s called “literary fiction” falls into traps, and genre fiction writers get carried away.
Writers are faced with so much that is less than artistic sitting on the bookshelves, many wonder what they can do to be noticed by an inundated publisher or agent, and, not wanting to “sell out,” they try and write really, really good stuff. This is the problem. If a writer adds too much to the Three Rules above, it’s like adding too much stuff to a base skeleton: it becomes an overweight monstrosity that’s dressed in too many clashing layers of clothes. As Philip Pullman said in his Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech,
…in adult literary fiction, stories are there on sufferance. Other things are felt to be more important: technique, style, literary knowingness. Adult writers who deal in straightforward stories find themselves sidelined into a genre such as crime or science fiction, where no one expects literary craftsmanship.
And what happens to the genre writers? They put the same flesh and clothes on the skeleton that hundreds have done before them, but those hundreds did it better. What results from the genre writers is a cheaply made clone that’s not any better than fan-fiction (and worse than some).
What to do?
Really, the answer is simple (which is what makes it so difficult to execute). It has to do with Mamet’s statement of simplicity in storytelling:
As long as the protagonist wants something, the audience will want something. As long as the protagonist is clearly going out and attempting to get that something, the audience will wonder whether or not he’s going to succeed. The moment the protagonist, or the auteur of the movie, stops trying to get something and starts trying to influence someone, the audience will go to sleep.
In other words, stop trying to be a good writer. Just follow your character’s strong desire, and it will become a compelling story. That’s it. Don’t write a masterpiece of linguistic gymnastics with “a prophylactic garnish of irony.” That’s not what people want to read. People want stories, they’ll watch movies or play video games to get stories; or as the pithy Pullman says again, “We need stories so much that we’re even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books won’t supply them.”
I’ve had writing students struggle against this: they cry, “But if all stories are just the Three Rules, then anything I write won’t be original?!” Writers shouldn’t be afraid of this, the Three Rules for All Story, any more than they should be afraid of their own skeletons. I mean, think about it: if you stand my skeleton and your skeleton next to each other, there’d be hardly any noticeable difference. It’s the flesh and clothes and actions we take that make us different from each other, original works of art.
Look for more on this at this event:
 Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
 Uttered by many of my previous acting profs, at CU Boulder and a couple UNC seminars.
 From Zen in the Art of Writing
 From http://www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/author/carnegie.html
 From Mamet’s On Directing Film
 Pullman’s speech again
Bradbury, Ray, Zen in the Art of Writing. Joshua Odell Editions. Santa Barbara, CA: 1994.
Mamet, David. On Directing Film. Penguin. New York: 1992.
Pullman, Philip. “Carnegie Medal Acceptance Speech,” His Dark Materials. 2008. Accessed 11/9/09. Available: <http://www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/author/carnegie.html>
So I decided to assign my Freshman Comp students a grammar project: make a video teaching something about grammar (or punctuation). The results were so very entertaining! Here’s one, by the DazBloggers:
Congratulations to Sonia Rivera for winning the MSU Jenn’s Freshman Comp Essay Contest! This essay was voted upon by a classroom of her peers. ~Jenn
Violence and video games; what triggers aggression?
It is without a doubt that the majority of Americans can admit that video games are rapidly consuming the minds and time of the youth in our society. However, the greatest concern, and a recognized, controversial topic is violence and aggression pertaining to video games. Anyone who has ever had a glimpse of one of these throat slashing, gun-cocking, blood drenched video games, is likely probing for insight on the possible causes and effects. Everyone is begging to know: what is the foundation for increased aggression in children?
Over the past fifteen years, the amount of time children and adolescents spend playing video games has increased and continues to do so (Anderson, C.A., Gentile, D.A., & Buckley, K., 2007). Therefore, it is only natural for parents to be alarmed at the budding rate of videogame popularity and its content. Several studies have been conducted to search for positive and negative correlations between violence and video games, yet the most complex thing for several of the studies to prove is violence to be the causality. The most prevalent generalization and or assumption believed by a vast number of people is that violence in video games is the direct cause for aggression in children. Surprisingly, there is fresh information suggesting that, rather than violence itself, competitiveness could be the rooting drive for aggressive conduct.
In 2011, an experiment was performed in which a group of randomly assigned participants was divided into two categories, a control situation and an experimental situation. The experimental group was asked to play a series of four high-violence, low-competitive video games; whereas the control group was asked to play a series of four high-competitive, low-violence video games. The results were measured based on the level of aggression displayed and reported by each of the participants through a questionnaire. The argument for the experiment was based on the notion that video game competition elicits a strong desire to succeed above all others and leads to frustration expressed through aggression. This is also supported by the fact that violent video games have a tendency to be highly competitive which has caused people to associate the violence with aggression. Experimenters found that the participants who had been assigned the low-violence, high-competitive videogames exhibited a significantly higher level of aggression than those who played high-violence, low-competitive games. The suggestion that competitiveness may be the trigger for aggressiveness is a recent breakthrough that helps us to broaden our mindset as far as what is influencing children and adolescents (Adachi, P. J. C., & Willoughby, T., 2011).
Contemplating competition as a leading cause in the increase of children’s levels of aggressiveness, one can easily infer that violence is unlikely to be the source of aggressive behaviors because it does not result in the same levels of violent behavior as competition, according to this study. Certainly, it is common knowledge that violence is not advised nor a positive influence on children and this study does not imply violence to be completely irrelevant. However, rather than generalizing that, violent video games create a violent and aggressive person; this study provides insight that perhaps violence alone cannot have such a strong and detrimental effect on all children. It suggests that there are other causes, such as competitiveness, that can serve as triggers for aggressive behavior.
This study is to this date one of the most remarkable studies because it focuses on competitiveness as a trigger for aggression, isolating as best as possible the element of competition and measuring its effect on the youth. While this study proved competitiveness to be positively correlated to aggression, it is important to seek out the flaws in every argument in order to maintain a valid premise. The results of the experiment were true only for the selected group of participants in this one time study. This lessens the external validity of the findings because it is difficult to generalize the results and apply them to other demographics and situations. One of the reasons we have not yet found a direct cause for aggression related to violent video games is the lack of high validity due to confounding variables in several studies. The 2011 study is certainly noteworthy and a possible gateway to finding the culprit of video game aggression. Concurrently, the hot topic of video games and violence will be handled according to the opinion of each child and adolescent’s parents and whether aggression is due to competitiveness, violence or another factor is still an impending question.
Anderson, C.A., Gentile, D.A., & Buckley, K. (2007). Violent video game effects on children and adolescents: Theory, research, and public policy. New York: Oxford University.
Adachi, P. J. C., & Willoughby, T. (2011). The effect of violent video games on aggression: Is it more than just the violence? Aggression and Violent Behavior. Canada: Brock University.