THE PLAY’S THE THING: Part 2 By Dale Griffiths Stamos

April 27, 2010
Written by

 

Stamos photo

THE PLAY’S THE THING

Part 2: First Draft 
Making a Scene 2: The Beat Goes On

By Dale Griffiths Stamos
May 2010

 

Authorlink welcomes award-winning playwright Dale Griffiths Stamos as a regular monthly columnist.

"A beat is a segment of a scene where a certain number of interactions between the characters take place, all circling around one intention. . ."
—STAMOS

The term: A beat, or A beat of action, is often used when talking about constructing scenes in a play. I would like to delve here into what a beat is and how it can be used to strengthen a scene.

A beat is a segment of a scene where a certain number of interactions between the characters take place, all circling around one intention. For example, there may be a “seduction” beat where that part of the scene is dedicated to one character trying to seduce another. That is the overall beat’s intention, but of course you can (and should) break it down into what each character’s individual intention is within the beat. One character may be trying to seduce, but the other could be resisting. In like manner that other character could also be responding. As I have mentioned in other contexts, it is helpful if both the overall intention of the beat and each individual intention is expressed as a verb. This works even when the intentions are subtler like a character persuading someone, or avoiding something. In other words, verbs can be just as readily used to describe a psychological interchange as a physical one.

"Keep in mind that the beats are all intended to work together. . ."
—STAMOS

Keep in mind that the beats are all intended to work together to enable the expression of the intention of the whole scene. The scenes, in turn, work together to express the intention (the premise) of the entire play.

So, in a way, a play is like a fractal. A fractal is an occurrence in nature where the micro level imitates the macro level. This is called self-similarity. An example would be the veining pattern in a leaf that reflects the pattern of leafing on a branch which in turn imitates the growth pattern of the branches of the tree. In similar fashion, at each level of a play, you are asking the same set of questions, building up from the smallest level (beat) to the largest (play).

Now if, at this point, you are saying, whoa – this is way too much structure – where does creativity come in? Well, even when the intention of each scene has been worked out in advance during the storyboarding phase, these intentions may well begin to change and evolve during the process of putting them into effect. And certainly, when breaking them down into individual beats, you will be working at a much more intuitive and experimental level: trying out various dialogue exchanges, feeling the “flow” of the scene and sensing whether the overall effect is the desired one.

    

". . .asking yourself the questions: where do the beats land and does each beat have its own intention. . ."
—STAMOS

However, at some point in that process, asking yourself the questions: where do the beats land and does each beat have its own intention, is helpful in honing and tightening the scene.

Remember, like music, playwriting has its own rhythmic characteristics. And so, like a beat of music marking melodic and rhythmic content in a measure, beats in a play mark emotional and temporal content in a scene.

About the Author About the Author: Dale Griffiths Stamos is an award-winning playwright whose work has been produced and published in the United States and abroad. She has been on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, and a guest artist at Cal Arts where she taught the workshop, Finding Your Story. For more information, go to www.dalegriffithsstamos.com

 

Categorised in: ,

This post was written by Editorial Staff