In The Faust Project, I led a group of teens in exploring Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Goethe’s Faust. The Faust legend is the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil for all knowledge and power. Our group analyzed the plot and characters of the two plays, then researched what we thought would be forbidden knowledge today. Then we wrote a play with similar characters and plot but set in today’s world.
In creating the interactive play Julia, I took the plot and characters from Julius Caesar, and adapted those characters into the modern day in an urban teen girl gang. In Shakespeare’s play, Brutus is led by Cassius to betray his friend Julius Caesar, for Caesar, in becoming emperor, has challenged the very meaning of the Roman republic. Brutus is torn by conflicting loyalties: loyalty to friends, loyalty to Rome (his country/community), loyalty to his own ideals. In Julia, Julius Caesar became Julia Sierra, who is capturing media attention and trying to bring her gang “legit”, threatening the relationships and community of their world. Brutus became Ruth, Cassius became Cassie.
In each of the above cases, I took an established play, borrowed the plot and the characters to fit the needs of the new play I was creating. It is important to note that I didn’t just take a play and change the names; the characters changed to fit the new setting and the new conflicts in the new play.
I had lots of fun in writing Nightlight: Vampires Afraid of the Dork, a parody of the Twilight series. Again, using the characters and storyline from an established work, I twisted and tweaked for humorous effect- real groaners, I am not kidding. For instance, Bella Swan became Smella Duck, and her father, Charlie the police chief, carried donuts and Dunkin Donuts coffee with him everywhere. Jacob Black, member of the tribe, became Jacob Schwartz, who commented that he was not related to Sitting Bull, although they were both Sioux (pronounced “Sue”), Sitting Bull was a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux, while Jacob was a member of the Yo Mama, She Gotta Sue.
CHEESY. Yes, but it got a laugh. In writing a parody, you are making fun of what you are satirizing by exaggerating and twisting out of shape.
Another great source, because you know it so well, is your own life and relationships. Ruth and Naomi is a play I am writing that started with examining the relationship that I had with my mother-in-law (of blessed memory). Our relationship started out as a difficult one; we came from very different backgrounds, and I was marrying her youngest son, her baby. Over time, we came to have a great relationship built on mutual respect. The beginning, however, was undoubtedly rocky. And I thought: what if? What if a mother-daughter-in-law relationship had that same rocky start- but the son/husband died? And what if the women were still tied together by an unborn child? So my play Ruth and Naomi got its start.
The play Ruth and Naomi also uses another technique: your own take on Biblical or mythical tales. In the Book of Ruth in the Bible, Ruth loves her mother-in-law so much that Ruth leaves her own homeland to follow Naomi. In my play Ruth and Naomi, the two women dislike and distrust one another, but each has an investment that keeps them bound together even after the death of the man they shared.
Finally, there are the works that are completely original. In my play Hootchy Kootchy Coo, a group of strippers discover that one of their troupe is pregnant. She is determined to keep the baby, but she really needs the job. The unlikely group become friends as they band together to hide the pregnancy and “cover” her stripping acts until the baby comes and transforms them all. In this play, I am interested in exploring the concept of women as sexy and women as mothers: two roles that in our society seem opposed and irreconcilable.
An idea can come from anywhere. It might be a childhood story, a family incident, a scrap of conversation overheard at a coffee shop. In your mind, a story begins. Write it down. Challenge your characters with obstacles to overcome in achieving their heart’s desires. Soon, you will have a play!