Stories

New Victory Arts Break – Playmaking Week

Welcome to Week 8 of New Victory Arts Break! Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

We hope last week’s focus on clowning gave you your fill of comedy, because now it’s time for a dose of drama. It’s Playmaking Week! By the end of this week, you’ll have everything you need to write and perform your very own scenes and short plays.

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Monday

Finding Your Story

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

Inspiration for your next big play can be found everywhere. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Ana Cantorán Viramontes as she improvises a short play using unlikely combinations of character, setting and plot.

Ana built her story through a game of improvisation—once she chose different story elements, she had to get creative to weave them all together into a story. No two people with the same story elements will invent the same story! Here’s a breakdown of Ana’s activity, with some suggestions for characters, settings and plot elements to get you started.

Materials: Paper, writing utensil, three containers (bowls will work well), your imagination!

Step One: Label each of the three containers with one of the three categories: character, setting, plot. On slips of paper, write out different examples for each category and place them in the containers. Some examples for each:

Characters:

  • A friendly witch
  • A grumpy clown
  • An energetic dog
  • A shy snake
  • A manic chef
  • A kind child
  • A fearful prince

Settings:

  • An enchanted forest
  • A studio apartment
  • An overgrown cabin in the woods
  • A rickety rocketship
  • A spooky basement
  • A pristine yacht
  • A moonlit beach

Plots (think of a challenge or conflict your characters have to overcome):

  • Their computers are all broken
  • They are scared of the dark
  • They float into the air every time they laugh
  • They are enduring an endless rainstorm
  • They are afraid to go to sleep
  • They have too much pasta in their house

Step Two: Pick one slip of paper from each container. For character, you can choose to pick more than one, especially if you’d like to write dialogue to perform with another member of your family.

Step Three: Create your story! On a blank piece of paper, outline a story that involves all of the story elements you plucked. Everyone playing can each create their own version, or you can work together to write one story. All your story needs to work is a beginning, a middle and an end. Once you’ve outlined your story, come up with some pieces of dialogue for your character(s) to say throughout the play.

Step Four: Perform your play! Take some time to rehearse your play, and feel free to edit along the way as you discover more about your story. Add costumes, music, dance—anything you need to make this tale come to life.

Tips for Partner Storytelling:

  • Remember that all good stories have a beginning, middle and end. They also usually contain a conflict (something that happens that needs fixing) and a resolution (something that happens to fix the conflict).
  • Don’t overthink it, and go with the first idea that pops into your head.
  • Accept the ideas of your family and say yes! Remember to listen to the line before your turn so that your line continues where the previous line ended. If your brother says “Then, the aliens landed!” your line should tell what happened next.

Modification for younger kids: Draw your play! Pluck different story elements from your containers and draw what you imagine them to look like. Continue drawing out important moments in your story and put them together to create a play booklet. BONUS: Act out the play you drew with members of your family!

Creativity from Constraints

Some of the best stories come from having a lot of limitations (like in the activity above). Having too many choices can make it harder to be creative. Take a look at this video from animator Morr Meroz, as he explains how creating a few rules for his characters to follow helped him create the story for his animated short film Lift Up.

As you create characters and stories this week, don’t get overwhelmed by all the possibilities! Instead, restrict yourself with some rules or constraints and see how creative you can get.

What’s in a Name?

The traits and idiosyncrasies of those closest to us can be a great source of storytelling inspiration. In The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly (New Victory 2012) from Dublin’s Theatre Lovett, the characters—all performed by actor Louis Lovett—each have a signature trait. The title character, Peggy O’Hegarty, is known for her terrible singing voice.

Playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer, who wrote The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly, is known for his quirky and imaginative titles. In this activity, create a title—and a story—based on the quirks and personalities in your family.

Step One: Brainstorm some things that make each person in your family unique. What do they like to do? What are they afraid of? What are they really good at doing? Are they known for anything specific?

Step Two: Using these traits, craft a name for each person in your family (in the style of the play’s title) that would be worthy of being the title of a story, the quirkier the better. For example, “The Dad Who Learned to Make the Biggest Sandwiches in the World.” You could even include the family pet! “The Dog Who…”

Step Three: Generate a list of five locations, real or imaginary (e.g. the laundromat, a desert island, Narnia), and a list of five larger-than-life events that might happen on a journey to one of those places (e.g. a massive blizzard, an alien invasion, a volcanic eruption).

Step Four: Using your character names and the lists of locations and events, improvise a story. Take turns making up the next line or sentence of the story, speaking aloud back and forth. If you get stuck, use another item from your list or your imagination to continue the tale. Still stuck? Try adding constraints! Can you tell this story in only ten sentences?

Step Five: Challenge your family to incorporate all of your ingredients (the locations, the events and the objects) into one story!

Tuesday

What a Character!

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

A play revolves around its characters, and the inspiration for creating characters can be found all around you. Sometimes it’s the people you know and the personalities you’ve encountered, but everyday objects have their own personalities, too, just waiting to be set free. Practice your character writing skills with New Victory Teaching Artist Ugo Anyanwu as he interviews household objects to create characters for a play.

If you’re not sure what kind of story you want to tell, an interesting character can provide the inspiration! Use Ugo’s object interview questions to see if you can get inspired to create a story based in character.

  • What’s your name?
  • How old are you?
  • What are your hobbies or interests?
  • Where are you from? What’s it like there?
  • What are your hopes and dreams? What do you want?
  • What stands in your way?

As Ugo suggested, try this with several objects and see if there are relationships that you might imagine between characters you create. Who knows? Perhaps a story will start to emerge!

How Distinguished!

As a playwright, it’s important for you to draw distinctions between your characters. One way to ensure that they all have individual personalities is to imagine how they might be performed onstage—perhaps even by the same actor! In Catherine Wheels Theatre Company’s The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk (New Victory 2014), actor and co-creator Andy Manley plays all the characters. Take a look in this video from Theatre Center.

In this activity inspired by The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk, perform a familiar story with multiple characters and practice ways of distinguishing between them.

Materials: Different colored crayons, paper

Step One: Choose a well-known story that contains multiple characters. If you like, you can use this excerpt of Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

Goldilocks was very tired, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard. Then she lay down in the second bed, but it was too soft. Then she lay down in the third bed, and it was just right. Goldilocks fell asleep.

As she was sleeping, the three bears came home. When they got upstairs to the bedroom, Papa Bear growled, “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed!” “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed, too,” said Mama Bear. “Someone’s been sleeping in my bed, and she’s still there!” exclaimed Baby Bear.

Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears. “Help!” she screamed, jumping up and running from the room. Goldilocks ran down the stairs, opened the door and ran away into the forest. She never returned to the home of the three bears.

Step Two: Identify the characters in the story you’ve chosen. Write each character’s name on a piece of paper using a different colored crayon. Then write the lines that each of your characters will say. This is your script!

Step Three: Perform your play, reading all the lines in your script. Try changing your voice and body when reading each character’s lines.

  • How can you ensure that the audience knows who is who?
  • Is one character’s voice high and naive, like Goldilocks’, while another’s is low and justifiably angry?
  • How can you change your body to look bigger, like a bear’s?

Step Four: Storytellers and actors use a variety of techniques to keep their audiences engaged, including playing with speed, volume and sound effects as they perform. Identify places in your play where you can use these techniques and write them into the script.

Step Five: Perform your play for your family, playing all the characters and incorporating different performance techniques. What was it like to perform for an audience? Could they tell which characters were which?

We’re excited to see what story you turn into a one-person play! Share your performance with us on Instagram by tagging us @newvictorytheater, and we’ll feature you in our story.

Wednesday

Writing Dialogue

20 – 25 minutes, Ages 7 – 12

Now that you’ve practiced creating characters, it’s time for them to talk to each other! Good dialogue demonstrates character and moves the story forward. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Nanya-Akuki Goodrich as she creates a pair of characters and writes a short scene of dialogue for them.

Before beginning your dialogue, brainstorm some ideas about your characters and their circumstances. Think:

  • How do they know each other? What is their relationship?
  • Where are they from? Do they have accents?
  • What are they like? Are they similar to each other or different?
  • What are they talking about? Do they have a problem to solve? A secret to share?
  • How is this conversation making them feel?
  • Where is this scene taking place?
  • What style is this scene in? Are they talking? Singing? Rhyming?

Use this A-B dialogue template to write your script, or take Nanya-Akuki’s advice and recycle paper that you already have around the house.

Writing Dialogue Worksheet

Looking for examples of interesting characters and dialogue? Check out these ten short plays for young audiences commissioned by The Kennedy Center for the Play At Home project. Read them through, perform them with your family and get inspired to create your very own.

Modification for younger kids? Practice dialogue writing using photos! Find pictures with two subjects and imagine what they might be saying to each other. Try it out with the unlikely animal friends below.

Three photos of unlikely animal friends: A chimp and a baby tiger, a giraffe and a zebra, and a rhino and a bird
Photos by Bary Bland, Raja Sambasivan, Arno Meintjes

Thursday

Adaptations

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 7 – 13

From Cinderella to Spider-Man, well trodden tales are retold, rebooted, remixed and reimagined all the time. Can you think of a story you’ve seen or read that’s been adapted for the stage? The talented theatermakers of London’s Tall Stories based The Snail and the Whale (New Victory 2014) on the children’s book of the same name, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Take a look.

In this activity, inspired by the page-to-stage adaptation of The Snail and the Whale, write and perform your own adaptation of a beloved story.

Materials: Printable casting template, writing utensils, a favorite story

Step One: As a family, choose your favorite story. Ask yourself:

  • What makes this story so special?
  • What memories do you have of reading this story together?
  • What is your favorite part of the story and why?

Step Two: Create a list of all the characters in the story using this template. Think about the traits of each character and decide who in your family will play each role. If it seems like there are too many characters, think about which characters could be combined or removed altogether—adaptations do this all the time.

Casting Your Characters Template

Step Three: Next, write down the lines the characters say in the story. This will be your script. If each scene only has two characters, you can use the A-B dialogue template from Wednesday’s activity.

Step Four: Get it on its feet! Ask someone in your family to practice your new dialogue with you, or practice in front of a mirror. Rehearsing your written work aloud will help you make the necessary changes to take your play from a tired retelling to an exciting adaptation!

BONUS: Perform your play without telling your audience what story you’ve adapted it from. See if they can figure it out!

You’re a Fabulous Fabulist!

Adaptation or combination? Sometimes well-known stories are woven together with an overarching story. Isango Ensemble’s operatic rendition of Aesop’s Fables (New Victory 2019) united many famous parables into one story about Aesop seeking freedom from slavery.

A fable is a story that teaches a moral or a lesson, and there are many famous fables attributed to Aesop (you can read some of them here). In this activity, create your own moral to write a fable around and then perform it!

Materials: Fable worksheet, pen

Fable Worksheet

Step One: Print out this fable worksheet. Identify a moral or a lesson that you’d like to teach or that’s important to you. Think:

  • What do you value most? Kindness? Respect? Love? Peace? Puppies?
  • Has someone ever given you advice that you have taken to heart? How did they put that advice into words?
  • Have you seen someone wrong someone else? What could you say to the wrongdoer to make them change their ways?
  • Do you have a favorite quote or song lyric that makes you happy or that makes you reflect on your own actions?

Step Two: From your conversation, write out your moral sentence on the fable worksheet. Here are some examples from Aesop’s Fables:

  • “Slow and steady wins the race!”
  • “Flattery is not proof of true admiration.”
  • “Kindness is never wasted.”
  • “Liars are not believed, even when they speak the truth.”

Step Three: Now it’s time to create a story that teaches your moral! Here are some basic elements of fables:

  • Fables usually have animals as the main characters in their story. Typically, there are very few characters, often just two—a “rightdoer” and a “wrongdoer” (i.e. a hero and a villain).
  • These stories are allegorical, meaning that the fictional animal relationships represent or reflect real human relationships.
  • These fables are usually very short, even as short as a couple of sentences!

Complete the fable worksheet to write an original story! Think:

  • How does the story begin? What is the relationship between the two animals?
  • How does the story continue? Is there an event or competition going on? Does one animal need something from the other?
  • How does the story end? Who learns the lesson (or doesn’t)?

Step Four: You’ve created your own fable! Can you act out the story with your family? Put on a performance of your original piece!

Share your fable with us! Post a picture or video of your performance to Instagram and tag us @newvictorytheater. Be sure to include your moral, and we’ll feature it on our story.

Friday

Playwriting is Personal

30 – 35 minutes, Ages 6 – 13

Sometimes the best stories come from our own life experiences. Follow along with Teaching Artist Jamie Roach as he teaches a poem-writing activity inspired by the things that make the place you come from feel like home!

Can you write your own “I Come From…” poem and use it as the basis for a scene or play? Fill out the poem template to tap into something personal and get your creative juices flowing.

I Come From... Worksheet

Tell us where you come from! Share your poems with us on Instagram, and we’ll post them to our story—just tag us @newvictorytheater.

What are you made of?

CARTOGRAPHY (New Victory 2020), from Kaneza Schaal and Christopher Myers, explored the varied stories of young refugees from around the world during the ongoing crisis of migration, and reminded audiences of the role that immigration has played in their own family histories.

The actors in CARTOGRAPHY each had the opportunity during the show to step forward and share their own family migration stories in monologue. In this activity, inspired by CARTOGRAPHY, create a monologue about yourself and your loved ones.

Materials: Printed template, scissors

Part One: Individual Stories

Step One: Have every person in your family print and individually fill out this template. Answer each prompt by writing down meaningful moments that complete the sentence “I am made of…” (see the template’s example page for phrasing ideas). Make sure that what you write is personal but not private—it should be honest and unique to you, but also something you are comfortable sharing with your family!

What Are You Made Of? Worksheet

Step Two: Cut out each individual speech bubble.

Step Three: Mix them up, and then pick up each answer and put them in a random order.

Step Four: Each person will read their poem of statements, starting each one with “I am made of…” Finish your poem by stating “I am (your name).” For example:

I am made of finding notes of encouragement my dad had hidden in a jacket I wore to school on the day I had a tough test.

I am made of the first moment I sang in front of an audience.

I am made of the car ride home after a long day, knowing I’ll be with the people I love soon.

I am made of hugging my stuffed cat I’ve had for my whole life when I felt lonely.

I am Freya.

Part Two: Family Stories

Now that you’ve explored your own identity through a devised poem of memories, create a family narrative!

Step One: Identify pieces of your family members’ responses that relate to your whole family, or generate more material by filling out the template as a family with shared memories.

Step Two: When you’ve created your family poem, take turns reading the statements one at a time. However, this time, start each one by saying “We are made of…” Finish the poem by stating your family name. For example:

We are made of playing hours of Beatles Rockband on a cold December day.

We are made of playing hours and hours of our favorite card game.

We are made of the couch where everyone in the family, including the pets, congregates every time someone comes home.

We are the Maliekels.

If you want, rewrite your poem on another piece of paper and hang it up somewhere in your home! You can also mix up your answers and repeat Part Two of the activity as many times as you want, creating dozens of unique family poems.

Parting Words

We hope all of the skills you learned this week—from creating intriguing characters to crafting captivating dialogue—will serve you well in writing plays that jump off the page and into the hearts of your audience! But if you’re feeling stuck, or if the writing process seems endless and you’re not sure you want to continue, take some advice from Lin-Manuel Miranda:

We hope you enjoyed this eighth week of New Victory Arts Break. Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun in the weeks ahead.

You are a part of the New Victory community. We want to see you, and hear from you! Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us—tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.

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