Introduction to Playwriting
DRAM 251

Winter Term, 2013
Meets on Thursdays, 2:30 to 5:30
Theological Hall, Room 118
Prof. John Lazarus
Contact information: (613) 533-6000, Ext. 74333 / / Carruthers 308.
Office hours: Thursdays, 10:00-11:30

Lara Kessides & Kendra Pierroz, "Trouble on Dibble Street", St. Lawrence Shakespeare Festival, 2010. Above: Jonah Allingham, Alix Sideris, Colleen Winton, Anthony Wallace, "Trouble on Dibble Street"

Course Goals and Objectives: This course introduces you to the fundamentals of playwriting, with an emphasis on the principles of plot structure; character development; action and motivation; exposition of theme or meaning; and the creative exploitation of the alleged limitations of the live stage. You also get to know the dramaturgical or workshop process.
I have yet to find a better way to learn to write plays than by writing plays. So you will write the first draft of a one-act play, on a topic and storyline of your choice, subject to some restrictions, under the guidance of the rest of the class and myself. The Play is due  a week after the final class.
Each week, on a rotation schedule, four or five students will submit their material to be read aloud in class and discussed by the rest of the class and myself. Each student should have at least two opportunities, during the term, to present his or her work in class. All students submit material from their Play-in-progress once a week, for me to read. For the majority of students who have not presented their work that week, I will write notes on the work, and give those back to the student within a week or so.
When your colleagues present their work, you are expected to take an active part in its analysis and discussion. This is to help them, to acquaint you with the workshop process, and to motivate them to help you when it’s your turn.
We will also have five specific homework exercises through the term. Two of these are conventional assignments, and three are variants on a specific kind of assignment called a “7-11”. I will describe each Assignment in more detail in its own handout and in class. The 7-11s are two-character dialogues of seven to eleven lines, between characters who are not in your Play but whom you will create for the exercise. I will propose the circumstances for each 7-11 when assigning it.
The course also features exposure to professional work, which may include published stage plays by contemporary Canadian and foreign playwrights, the viewing of live theatrical performances, and, when possible, classroom visits from professionals. In addition, we will begin most classes with students reading aloud a passage from an established play, followed by a brief discussion of the passage.

Academic Integrity:
[This passage is written by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and is required to be in every syllabus. Please read it carefully. – J.L.]
Academic integrity is constituted by the five core fundamental values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility (see These values are central to the building, nurturing and sustaining of an academic community in which all members of the community will thrive. Adherence to the values expressed through academic integrity forms a foundation for the “freedom of inquiry and exchange of ideas” essential to the intellectual life of the University (see the Senate Report on Principles and Priorities
Students are responsible for familiarizing themselves with the regulations concerning academic integrity and for ensuring that their assignments conform to the principles of academic integrity. Information on academic integrity is available in the Arts and Science Calendar (see Academic Regulation 1, on the Arts and Science website (see, and from the instructor of this course. Departures from academic integrity include plagiarism, use of unauthorized materials, facilitation, forgery and falsification, and are antithetical to the development of an academic community at Queen’s. Given the seriousness of these matters, actions which contravene the regulation on academic integrity carry sanctions that can range from a warning or the loss of grades on an assignment to the failure of a course to a requirement to withdraw from the university.

[Note: There is another passage, titled “Copyright of Course Materials”, which is written by the Faculty of Arts and Science and usually required to be in every syllabus, but it is not included here as we will not be using copyrighted materials. – J.L.]

Katie Bell & Evan Stern, "Old Enough to Kill", Gnu Ground, 2011

Grading Scheme:

Due dates include those for Section 001 followed by those for Section 002, separated by a slash (/). Dates are laid out more clearly, in chronological order, further down in this Syllabus.

7-11 no. 1 – worth 10% – assigned Jan. 10, due Jan. 24, returned to you Jan. 31
Assignment no. 1 – worth 15% – assigned Jan. 24, due Feb. 7, returned to you Feb. 14
7-11 no. 2 – worth 10% – assigned Feb. 7, due Feb. 28, returned to you Mar. 7
Assignment no. 2 – worth 15% – assigned Feb. 28, due Mar. 14, returned to you Mar. 21
7-11 no. 3 – worth 10% – assigned Mar. 14, due Mar. 28, returned to you Apr. 4
The Play – worth 20% – due date to be determined.
Participation in class discussion & dramaturgy – worth 20%
Total = 100%

In this course, components will be graded using letter grades, which for purposes of calculating your course average will be translated into numerical equivalents using the Faculty of Arts and Science approved scale.

Your course average will then be converted to a final letter grade according to Queen’s Official Grade Conversion Scale.

Late Policy: This applies to Assignments and 7-11s. “Days” refer to working days, Monday through Friday. Assignments and 7-11s that are one day late get a penalty of 1% off their grade; those two days late get a penalty of 2%; those three days late are penalized 4%; four days late, penalized 8%; and so on, doubling for each day. So a piece that is seven days late will fail, and a piece eight days late will get a grade of zero.

Textbooks/Readings: There will be out-loud, in-class readings of scenes from established plays at the beginning of most classes. Otherwise, there are no external textbooks or readings. You are writing the textbook for this course. We are studying the work of some two dozen emerging playwrights. That’s you.

Hugo Dann, Grahame Renyk, Steve Schadinger, Emma Hunter, "Rough Magic", Theatre Kingston, 2006

Course Outline: I begin most classes with a lecture or seminar, after which one or two students give presentations in the first half of the class, and three more give presentations in the second half of the class. I will provide a rotation schedule as early as possible, hopefully by Class 2.

Student presentations take place in every class, beginning in the second week, unless otherwise stated below. So-called “Handouts” will usually be distributed electronically, the day before the class, either by e-mail or over the WordPress blog.

Class 1, Jan. 10: Meet and greet, and my introduction to the course: Why we’re here, what we’ll do. We talk through this Syllabus.
Why it is that everything in a play must happen for two reasons, and what to do about it. Getting you started.
In the second half of this class, we begin writing the first 7-11 in class. The exercise then is to take it home and complete it. No student presentations, but I’ll want five brave volunteers to offer to present in the next class.

Class 2, Jan. 17: I have to be out of town on this date. The class will be taken by Dr. Julie Salverson, who will do whatever she wants.
Student presentations begin. Handout: Student Rotation Schedule.

Class 3, Jan. 24: What are plays for? “Message” versus “Theme”.
Handout: How to Organize Your Playwriting Material. 7-11 no. 1 is due. Assignment no. 1 is assigned.

Class 4, Jan. 31: Plot structure. Cause and effect. The plot graph. The Interesting and the Believable.
7-11 no. 1 is returned to you, marked.

Class 5, Feb. 7: John’s Famous Card Game.
Assignment no. 1 is due. 7-11 no. 2 is assigned.

Class 6, Feb. 14: In this midterm class, student presentations take place in the first half of the class. In the second half, we have a general discussion: ego, envy, success and failure.
Assignment no. 1 is returned to you, marked.

(The following week is Reading Week.)

Class 7, Feb. 28: Action versus exposition. Titles. Subtext versus “on-the-nose writing”. Stage directions and character descriptions. Personal taste. Speaking up in class.
7-11 no. 2 is due. Assignment no. 2 is assigned.

Kim Sakkal, Nat Fried, "Old Enough to Kill"

Class 8, Mar. 7: Rhythm, orality, chewability, “Inkfish”.
7-11 no. 2 is returned to you, marked.

Class 9, Mar. 14: The solo workshop. Rereading, revising, cutting, living with the characters. Stage directions.
Assignment no. 2 is due. 7-11 no. 3 is assigned.

Class 10, Mar. 21: Style, setting, and the live stage. Transparent symbolism.
Handout on the End of Term. Assignment no. 2 is returned to you, marked.

Class 11, Mar. 28: Further script development. The playwright in rehearsal. Playwriting as profession or avocation. Handout on Acknowledgements.
7-11 no. 3 is due.

Class 12, Apr. 4: Final wrapup of class. 7-11 no. 3 is returned to you, marked.

Publicity shot, "The Grandkid", Theatre Kingston, premiering February 2012


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