Playwriting

Video Tip Tuesday – Research

It’s Video Tip Tuesday during our month of May Madness.

The tip? Research is your friend.

Click here to see the video.

Transcript

Hello. Welcome to our video tip series where I’ll be sharing production tips that apply directly to our plays. Today, I’m talking about research. And this video will act as a great companion to our May and June newsletters on theatrical internet.

Thanks to that internet, the world is really at our fingertips. And that means anything we wish to know is also at our fingertips. And that means if you’re rehearsing a play and there’s a word you don’t understand, there’s an unfamiliar reference that’s clearly important, there’s a specific era or period, there’s really no excuse. There’s no reason to say ‘ I don’t know.’ The more you know about the world of the play, the world of the characters, the more research that you can do, the more you’re going to enhance the entire production.

This is especially in a period piece where unfamiliar references and outdated vocabulary lurk behind every corner. For example, let’s take Drum Taps of course based on the original Leaves of Grass poems by Walt Whitman. These poems were written in the 1800’s and they are filled with unfamiliar words, they are filled with words that I had no idea what they meant when I started working on them.

So what do you do? You write them down, you find out what they mean. If you’re lucky, there’s going to be a vocabulary list but that’s not always going to be the case. You need to research the words. For example, we have this little section.

A March in the ranks hard-prest, and the road unknown.
A route through heavy wood with muffled steps in the darkness.
Our army foil’d with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating.

Ok, three words which are – some of which are unfamiliar to me. Hard-prest. Foil’d. Remnant.

Go look those up. I’ll wait. So. Hard-prest – some of these are a little bit odd too because they have unfamiliar spellings. Hard-prest. If you looked up hard-prest – p-r-e-s-s-e-d, you’d come up with closely pursued, in difficulty. That gives a really specific image to that first moment. ‘On march the ranks hard-prest and the road unknown.’ They’re being pursued, and they don’t know really where they are. Foil’d – prevent success, frustrate. Again, that adds an image. The Army, total losses, they didn’t succeed. Remnant – scrap, usually very very small. The losses are very severe. There’s only a few of them left. Think of the scraps of these people left. That’s an image you can work with and convey.

And that is the most important point of all. If you understand what you’re saying, you can give emotion to the words. Emotion is a great communicator.

But it’s not just period pieces that are going to have unfamiliar words in them. If you’ve got a character with a certain way of talking in a modern play, and they’ve got a veryspecific kind of vocabulary, there certainly could be words in there that you don’t understand.

For example, we’ve got Skid Marks. Skid Marks, vignette play, pretty straight out comedy. There is a character, her name is Ms Motts, the driving instructor. Here’s one of her first lines:

Easy does it Mr Levenson. We must treat the car with respect. Never with reckless abandon or unnecessary impetuousness.

Now that’s a pretty big word for a driving instructor. You’ve got to think about what kind of character who uses these words. How do they speak, how do they talk, what kind of personality do they have?

So you’ve got the ten letter word: impetuousness. Go look that up. I’ll wait.

Ok. Impetuousness: forceful energy or motion. Impulsive. Passionate. Now that is a ten letter word.

So once you know what the word means you go – how do I convey that meaning. How do I say ‘impetuousness’ with forcefulness. Right? That’s going to add layers. That’s kind of the bottom line of all this. You want to be able to speak with knowledge. You’re not just speaking words. You want to embody them with meaning. Knowing what the words mean, doing some research, is going to add support and depth to your acting.

Of course research is not just about vocabulary words. You can research historical moments, costumes, opinions, images from other productions, the list goes on and on. The thing to remember about content research on the internet is that you never just want to stop at one website. The internet is a wonderful resource but not every site is 100% accurate nor do they have all the information.

A great example of that is in our version of The Canterbury Tales. Although it’s in modern English there is a ton of symbolism from the original. Understanding that symbolism really helps in portraying the characters. We’ve got the Wife of Bath.

Five times have I been down the aisle
Not to mention the company of youth.
I have dipped my toe in many a stream
From Rome to Spain and back again
My face and stockings may be red
But respectable am I through and through.

Much is made, essays totally written, about the red stockings of the Wife of Bath. So you may go to one website and you’ll see there right away: red is a symbol for lust. And you go, ‘ok I’m done, that’s my research!’ But if you just stop at the one site you’d be missing a ton of stuff. You would miss that red, the red stockings, are also a huge symbol for wealth. The colour red was very difficult to create, so having the stockings would be a sign of her wealth. Also of her non conformity, wearing those stockings meant she was dressed very differently than all the other pilgrims. They’re also a sign of her personality. Red stockings are very much – look at me, look at me. They give you a sense of who she is as a character. So certainly lust is one part of it but all these other aspects go into making a three dimensional character. And that’s where research is really going to come in.

That’s it for Video tips!

About the author

Craig Mason