Are your students feeling stuck or frustrated with their playwriting assignments? This exercise will help get them unstuck by challenging them to explore alternative situations for their scenes and characters. You can do this exercise in three different ways:
First, students will take their scene (either previously self-written, written by a partner, or a scene from an existing play) and read it through carefully.
Then, they will answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper, brainstorming 3-5 suggestions for each question. Suggestions could be comedic, dramatic, tragic, or ridiculous – the point is for students to generate lots of ideas and alternatives.
1. What might happen if one of the characters didn’t appear in the scene, or a different character appeared instead? (For example, in Hamlet, what if Ophelia or Rosencrantz was hidden behind the tapestry instead of Polonius?)
2. What might happen if one of the characters reacted in a completely different way than they did in the scene before? (For example, in Macbeth, what if Macbeth and Macduff start breakdancing instead of swordfighting?)
3. What might happen if one of the characters makes a completely different decision than they did in the scene before? (For example, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, what if Oberon decides to kill Puck as a punishment when Puck places the potion on Lysander instead of Demetrius?)
From this brainstorm session, have students choose one of their suggestions and use it to rewrite their existing scene into something new. The only rule is that the scene cannot just cut off and end abruptly with the change (as in, “He dies. The end.”). How does the change affect the rest of the scene, the characters, and the overall story? What happens now that the change has occurred? How do the characters react to the changes? Have students explore these thoughts during their rewrite.
Optional: Once the scenes are rewritten, have students do staged readings of the new material.
If students are working with scenes that they have written themselves, this exercise will be especially useful as they develop their scripts. It’s so easy to get stuck with clichéd scenarios and stock characters – this exercise helps students to push their limits and realize that anything is possible in the world of playwriting!