WiseWrite Digital Play Festival
In The Rep’s WiseWrite program, students learn playwriting while increasing written communication skills. Now young learners can take part in WiseWrite at home – and then submit their plays for selection in our first-ever WiseWrite Digital Play Festival!
Our education department has adapted WiseWrite so that students from grades 4 to 12 can participate at home. We'll release one unit of our curriculum each week through the end of May, allowing students to develop the fundamentals to tell their own stories.
Once they've written their plays, we encourage students to submit their scripts to [email protected] for potential inclusion in our WiseWrite Digital Play Festival this fall. We'll select the best scripts and record readings of these new works performed by professional actors over Zoom. We've extended our deadline for submissions to August 31!
We can't wait to see what students create and submit! Get started with our curriculum units below. Each unit has a helpful instructional video to accompany it!
Unit 1: What makes a play?
- Opening scenes from The Tortoise and the Hare (PDF)
- Venn diagram worksheet (PDF)
- Example completed Venn diagram (PDF)
1.) A play tells a story with dialogue rather than description and narration.
Use the provided opening scenes from The Tortoise and the Hare by Sarah Brandt as an example. Read the scene and discuss the following questions:
- Who is in the play and what do we know about each character?
- What do we know about the situation or what is someone trying to get?
- What are some of the things that could happen?
2.) Model storytelling through prose and dialogue.
Tell the story of a dog and cat who are trying to open a can but they have no thumbs. Now do the story a second time taking the parts of the dog and cat and use dialogue to get to the same place.
3.) Using the Venn diagram worksheet to show the overlap and differences between a story told through dialogue and one told through description.
Have children offer things that are in a story, a play or both and put them in the correct area of the worksheet. Add a few suggestions if needed to fill out the sheet.
4.) All together (as a class or as a family)—write a scene using two characters and a situation.
- The characters/situation can be suggestions from children or randomly chosen by picking pictures from a magazine or book.
- Write the scene on paper or type on a computer using script format (character name and what is said; any necessary stage directions). Use the provided scene as a model.
- Read the scene aloud using volunteers from the children and family.
Unit 2: The 10 Elements in a Well-Written Play – Part A
1.) Beginning / Middle / End:
Look at the cartoon strip below.
In the first box, we see our two characters and what their world is like. In the last box, things have changed. Things happened in the middle box to make that change happen.
At the BEGINNING of a play, we meet the characters and find out what is happening in their lives at that moment our story starts. The MIDDLE of the play is when things happen to change the characters and their world. Those things can be good or bad and might involve other characters or events.
By the END of the play, our characters and their world have changed because of what happened in the middle. The characters may be better off and happier, they may be sad because things worked out badly or there might be a whole new story ready to start.
Think about a movie or television show you have watched.
- How did things change by the end of the show or movie?
- What happened to the characters during the show?
- Describe the beginning. Who are the characters and where do they live? Do they have a problem or something they want?
2.) Cause and Effect:
Have you ever built a trail of dominoes, knocked the first one and then watched them all fall one after the other? When one thing happens (CAUSE), which makes another thing happen (EFFECT), which makes another thing happen (new CAUSE), which makes something happen (new EFFECT) and so on, it helps tell your story and gives your characters interesting action. It might also surprise your audience or help them anticipate what might happen.
- If someone in your plays knocks on the door, what would you expect your character to do? (Maybe answer the door or maybe hide.) Then what does the person at the door do based on how your character acted? Remember, this action (EFFECT) will be in response to the action (CAUSE) your character took.
- Fill out the CAUSE AND EFFECT worksheet to make sure you recognize this element and to start your mind thinking about how characters might respond.
3.) Character Arc:
One of the elements we can’t identify until the end of the play is CHARACTER ARC, but it is very important. A character starts the play acting or feeling a particular way. For example, a pencil that wishes it could get free before it is sharpened to a stub, or a giant that is hungry and wants to eat children.
Because of things that happen in our play, our character has changed by the end of the play — the pencil is proud because it was used to draw a beautiful picture, or the giant learns that he really likes eating pizza better than children and goes to Italy. The journey our character goes through is called the ARC. What they wanted at the beginning of the play and how they felt is not the same as what they want at the end and how they feel.
- Think about some fairy tales you might know and how the main character changed from the beginning to the end. How did Goldilocks change? What about Cinderella?
- Sometimes it is not just our main character that changes or has an ARC. Think about Cinderella’s stepsisters. Did they change by the end of the story?
- Think about a movie like Frozen or Shrek. Choose one of the characters at the beginning of the story. Identify the journey or CHARACTER ARC for that character.
4.) Character Strategies:
In the first unit, we used an example of a dog and cat who wanted to open a jar but had no thumbs. They had to try different things to get what they wanted. Each thing they tried was a STRATEGY. Sometimes the first or second STRATEGY doesn’t work or might even cause a new problem. By thinking and trying new ideas and learning along the way, the character changes. (Remember what that journey or change is called?)
Sometimes a STRATEGY involves using something or someone to help. There are usually three “helpers” when a character is trying to solve the problem or get what he or she wants.
- A tool is an object that can be used by the character. An example would be an axe to help cut trees to make a raft or bread that can be used to leave a trail.
- An ally is a person, animal, talking plant or object that can be a friend and supporter. An example would be a dog that travels with a character to help find the trail or a talking key that can help our character find the correct lock.
- A mentor is a person, animal, talking plant or object that is a teacher and can help our character learn something that will help along the way. An example would be a wizard that can teach a spell or give a magic bean.
It might be hard to tell the difference between the three helpers. Here is some practice:
Think about a flashlight.
- If our character uses the flashlight to see in the dark, the flashlight is a ____. (tool)
- If our character finds a talking flashlight that shows him how to get out of a very dark tunnel, the flashlight is an _____. (ally)
- If our character meets a flashlight in the forest and it teaches our character how to use the light from the moon to see his way, the flashlight is a _______. (mentor)
Fill out the STRATEGIES worksheet to check your understanding of the three helpers.
5.) Character Voice:
Each character has his or her own way of talking. How a character talks tells the audience a lot about that character and helps show feelings.
- Speed: A mouse might talk very fast while a sloth would talk very slowly
- Tone: An angry character will talk very loudly while a shy character might talk very softly
- Accent: If the characters come from different parts of the world or from another planet they will pronounce words with a different accent
- Vocabulary: A character who is older will use different words than someone very young; a wise owl will use different words than a silly monkey; am earthling will use different words than an alien
You can use a mixture of these to help your audience understand your characters. Look back at the opening scenes from The Tortoise and the Hare. Read what each character says listening for the CHARACTER VOICE. If it helps, read it aloud.
- What can you identify about Wally’s VOICE? What does that make you think about Wally? How does the CHARACTER VOICE fit with being a bear?
- What can you identify from Shelly’s VOICE? What does that make you think about Shelly? How does the CHARACTER VOICE fit with being a turtle?
- Try the other two characters. What can you tell about them from their CHARACTER VOICE?
Unit 3: The 10 Elements in a Well-Written Play – Part B
- Dramatic Conflict Worksheet (PDF)
- Logical Behavior Worksheet (PDF)
- Strategies/Obstacles Worksheet (PDF)
- Elements of a Play Summary Sheet (PDF)
In the last unit, we explored five of the elements needed in a well-made play. Now let’s look at the other five you will want to include.
6.) Dramatic Conflict:
Let’s say that more than anything Sophia the Frog wants to become a famous baker. So what could stop her? Maybe she doesn’t know how to bake, or maybe she bakes beautifully but is so embarrassed by her webbed feet she doesn’t want to be seen by any customers, or maybe people won’t come to a bakery where the baker is a frog. Any of these things could be a problem.
Sophia has a DRAMATIC CONFLICT. She has a want and something—an object/skill, someone else or even herself—is keeping her from getting what she wants. Sophia will have to develop strategies to help resolve her DRAMATIC CONFLICT. The more a character tries to resolve his or her DRAMATIC CONFLICT the more interesting the play. If the character gets his or her want with no problem, then there really wasn’t a CONFLICT.
- Use the DRAMATIC CONFLICT worksheet to practice identifying and creating DRAMATIC CONFLICT.
7.) Forward Movement:
One young playwright said that FORWARD MOVEMENT is what makes the audience lean forward in their chairs to find out what is going to happen next. When an audience is watching a play, we want them to wonder what is going to happen next. A playwright might do that by creating a character we really care about so we want to see how his or her dramatic conflict is resolved.
Another way to include FORWARD MOVEMENT would be to include a mystery (will our hero be able to find the magic key before the dragon wakes up?) or to have the audience know something the characters do not (we know there is a net trap on the ground but will our heroes walk around it or step on it?). Having a play with lots of humor also gives us FORWARD MOVEMENT.
If we write a play about Tommy going to the store to get some eggs and then coming home and making a cake, it isn’t going to be a very interesting play and won’t have FORWARD MOVEMENT. But imagine that on the way to the store Tommy meets an alien who just landed on earth and needs to find something to fuel his spaceship and get home, or when Tommy gets home with the eggs and cracks them open they contain clues to a treasure. Those scenarios make a much more interesting play, and we want to know what is going to happen. How could you change each of the following situations to encourage FORWARD MOVEMENT?
- Sparkle goes to school to take a spelling test.
- Chester the Chicken crosses the road.
- Larry the Lawnmower cuts the grass.
8.) Logical Behavior:
Though anything can be a character in our plays, our characters have to act in a way that is LOGICAL for that character. For instance, an angry troll isn’t going to be nice about helping bunnies collect flowers for a party. Even if our character is doing make-believe things (like an animal talking) we have to make sure that they are doing things that are LOGICAL based on what they are or how they are feeling.
Sometimes the situation in our play might change what is LOGICAL BEHAVIOR. We would not expect a pig to fly unless because of scientific mix-up it was born with wings or it drank a magic potion so a flying pig makes sense.
- Use the LOGICAL BEHAVIOR worksheet to practice identifying when a character is showing LOGICAL BEHAVIOR.
Remember at the beginning of this unit when we talked about Sophia the Frog wanting to be a baker? Sophia’s dramatic conflict was caused because things were stopping her from being a baker—she didn’t know how to bake, she was shy, people wouldn’t buy cookies from a frog. Those things are called OBSTACLES.
Sometimes the obstacle is a situation, another person or something inside the character. Strategies are what the character uses to overcome OBSTACLES and resolve the dramatic conflict.
- Use the Strategies/Obstacles worksheet to review.
THEATRICALITY is special to plays. It is all the noticeable or exaggerated things that catch the audience’s attention. We can use lights, sound, costumes, surprising movement, unique characters or lots of emotion.
In the new version of the play Pippin, all of the actors are also circus performers, which adds THEATRICALITY. Be careful though, if you use too much THEATRICALITY it distracts the audience from your story.
- Watch a movie or television show. Can you identify any uses of THEATRICALITY?
The Elements of a Play Summary Sheet will help you remember the 10 elements as you work on your play.
Unit 4: Creating a Character
Now that we know the elements of a well-written play, let’s get started! We need someone or something for our play to be about—our characters.
- Look around the room and name three things you see. These things could be people, animals or even objects.
- Now name three things you have never seen. Again, they can be a person, an animal or an object.
As I look around my room, I can see a round basket on a shelf. Something I’ve never seen is a talking ostrich. Any of these things can be a character in a play. As the playwright you just need to come up with an interesting “want” and the obstacles that keep the character from getting the want so you can create the dramatic conflict.
For example, maybe my round basket wants to get off the shelf, but if it jumps it will roll away toward a flight of stairs. The talking ostrich needs help escaping from a factory that wants to use all of its tail feathers to make hats, but it doesn’t have a way to get back to Africa.
Think about the six things you named at the start of the unit.
- What could the want be for each one of them? The want can lead to comedy, mystery or tragedy.
- Which one do you think will make an interesting play?
As a first step to writing your play—let’s brainstorm some ideas. Use the Brainstorming Sheet to quickly write down characters, what they might want and where they might be. Try to write down ideas as fast as they come to mind. After you have lots of ideas, you can go back and see which ones you would like to develop further. Keep a Brainstorming Sheet available as you go through the week, and jot down any idea that comes to you as you read, watch TV or talk with other people. Even if you don’t use an idea, it is good to have them written down so you don’t forget them.
Look at your ideas and choose the one that sounds the most interesting to you to develop into your play. Your first step will be to profile your character. There are three worksheets for you to use to develop your characters.
The starter Character Profile is an easy sheet to help you explore characters and decide if you find them interesting before you put a lot of work into that character’s story. You can use this sheet with each of the six things you named or with new characters that come to your mind. Start the profile sheet using one worksheet for each character.
- If you get partway through the profile and decide you don’t find this character particularly interesting, stop the worksheet and start on a new one with a new character.
- Keep the worksheets even if you don’t finish them because you might find that the character will become an ally or a villain for the main character you do choose.
- Maybe you won’t find this character as interesting as you initially thought but it will make you think of another character you do find interesting.
- You might look at the profile sheets and decide to combine some of them into one character.
Once you choose the character whose story you would like to tell, use the Character Profile—Playmap to expand your character and get ready for the next step in Unit 5. There are two versions of the Character Profile-Playmap:
- One is a simpler version in case you are still unsure if this is the character you want to use or if you are one of our younger playwrights.
- The other features more character details.
Either worksheet will help you get ready for the next step.
Remember, you can do as many character profiles as you like. In fact, the more you do the better. If you don’t use a character in your first play you might want to use the character for your next one!
Unit 5: Creating a Playmap
You know the elements, you have created interesting characters and you know what those characters want. Now it is time to create your PLAYMAP. This map will help you work out your character’s journey and give you an outline for your play.
- Look through your character profiles and pick the character you want as your main character. Are there others you want to include in your play as allies or villains?
- Use the Overview of My Play worksheet to make your notes. Write down any ideas so when you begin working on your playmap you will have a list of choices. You may not end up using all of the ideas on your overview, or you may change some of the characters because they don’t fit this play once you get started. The ideas you don’t use for this play might show up in the next play you write.
- Once you have your overview complete, use the playmap to create the outline of your play. The playmap will help guide you through telling your story. Remember, the playmap is to help you. If your character needs more than three strategies, you can add more strategies. If you get through one strategy and realize there is an obstacle you had not considered, go ahead and shift your play. You might find you need a new character or tool partway through, so go ahead and add one. It’s up to you! There are also reminders to add your elements. If you aren’t pleased with the way your playmap is working out, just start a new one. The goal of using the playmap is to make sure you know where your character is going and how to get there.
Once you have finished your playmap, put it away for a little while. When you come back and look at it answer the following:
- Do I still like my story?
- Have I included all of the elements?
- Can I imagine what my characters would say?
- Would an audience understand my story?
You might want to have someone read your playmap to give you some feedback.
Once your playmap is ready and your character’s journey is clear, you are ready for the final unit—writing your play.
Unit 6: Writing Your Play
You have your characters and your playmap which gives you an outline of their journey. Now it is time to write your play. Before you begin writing, let’s talk about dividing your play into SCENES.
A scene is a section of a play during which the action takes place in the same location without a break in time.
If you are sitting at your computer working on your play and a member of your family comes in to ask how you are doing, drops of a snack and you go back to writing that is all one scene. If you are sitting at your computer working on your play and you get called into dinner and while you are at dinner your family asks how the play is going, then being at the dinner table would be a new scene because you changed location. Let’s say there is not a scene at the dinner table but you come back to work on your play the next day, then that would be a new scene because you had a break in time.
To show scenes we use
- At Rise:
TIME is when the scene takes place. You can use a specific time (3:00 PM, midnight), at general time of day (in the afternoon) or a season (Spring). Use the type of “time” that you think best sets the action. Remember logical behavior and use the time that makes sense for the action. You wouldn’t plant flowers in the winter or have a race at midnight.
PLACE is simply where the scene takes place. It might be in the jungle or downtown, or it might be in a tunnel by the rotating fan. You decide how specific you will need to be to set up the action.
AT RISE is what is happening at the moment the scene starts. (This term comes from when theaters had curtains, so it is what the audience would see when the curtain rises or opens.) It should be where the characters are and what they are doing before the action starts. It should not tell us how the character feels or what the character wants because the dialogue will tell as that as soon as the play starts.
Here’s an example:
Time: late afternoon before dinner
Place: in Marsha’s bedroom at her desk
At Rise: MARSHA is working on her play. Her sister MICHELLE walks in with a bowl of pretzels and a glass of lemonade.
Marsha or Michelle would start the scene by saying something. Notice that Marsha’s and Michelle’s names are in ALL CAPS. That is because they are the characters that are in the scene at the beginning.
- Use the Time, Place, At Rise Worksheet to make sure you understand how to start your scenes.
In addition to using Time, Place and At Rise, a play is written in a particular style to help the directors and actors bringing the play to life. The format also helps you, the playwright, make sure the correct character is speaking that the dialogue is telling the story.
Here is the style we are going to use.
- Title block: this is the title of your play and the playwright’s name. The title block should:
- Be centered on the page
- The title should be in ALL CAPS and BOLD
- Your name should be on the next line after the word BY (in all caps)
- There should be at least one blank line after the playwright’s name.
- Character List: each of your characters should be listed with a short description of important character traits. This is for the people reading the play. Remember the audience will never see this list, so early dialogue must let the audience know what and who your character is. For example, your character list might say that Chuffy is a cheetah but the audience won’t know that unless at the beginning of your play one of the characters talks about Chuffy being so fast or about his long legs and spots.
- CHARACTERS in all caps and underlined should be at the left side of the page
- Each character listed with his/her/its name in ALL CAPS
- Description or list of character traits should begin on the same line. If you have to go to the next line, indent 5 spaces.
- There should be at least one blank line after the character list.
- For the Body of the Play: This is where your dialogue and stage directions tell your story. Try to get as much of the story as possible in the words of the characters. Think about if this play was on the radio or you were listening from another room.
- Each scene should start with Time:, Place: and At Rise:. The words should be in bold and be followed by a colon (:). If you have to go to the next line on any of them, indent 5 spaces.
- The NAME of the character speaking is in ALL CAPS and centered on the page.
- There should be a blank line between the end of that character’s dialogue and the next speaking character’s name.
- If you need to give a feeling or an action that goes with a line of dialogue put it in parentheses right after the speaking character’s name and indent 5 spaces. The dialogue should go on the next line.
I am working on my play about a giant praying mantis that takes over the St. Louis Arch.
(shivering and hugging her arms)
I hate regular-sized bugs. A giant praying mantis is really scary.
Sometimes you need action that doesn’t have dialogue attached. Maybe Michelle dropped the pretzels and lemonade and ran out of the room. That would go in a stage direction. When putting in a stage direction:
- All stage directions should be in parentheses and indented 5 spaces.
- Character NAMES should be in ALL CAPS.
- There should be a blank line between the end of dialogue and the stage directions and between the stage direction and the next speaker.
I am working on my play about a giant praying mantis that takes over the St. Louis Arch.
(MICHELLE drops the lemonade and pretzels and runs out of the room. MARSHA falls off of her chair laughing.)
(from off stage)
- The end of your play needs to be celebrated. You have started at the beginning, gone through the middle and now are at the end. Your characters have tried strategies to solve their dramatic conflict causing them to have a character arc. Your play is ready to end.
- Center “The End” and put it in bold.