Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Notes from the dialogue workshop with Martha Gies

If Martha teaches this again next summer, I'm taking it again. I generated so much vibrant raw material for the novel. Wow. Now I have to transcribe it, while I can still read my handwriting.

Here's the structure:
breakfast 8-9
dialogue workshop 9-12
lunch 12-1
critique workshop 3:15-5:30
dinner 6-7
lectures by the faculty 7-8pm.

The dialogue workshop is a method Martha Gies learned from the Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, who has won 6 Obies and numerous other drama awards.

The morning session started with 40 minutes of exercises developed by Fornes, using Hatha yoga and exercises from The Actor's Studio originally designed to free the actor's instrument (body and voice) and adapted for playwrights. Then we moved directly and silently into a room with tables and chairs where we had set out our notebooks and pens. We sat, closed our eyes, and Martha would give us a place. One day this was a house from our past; another day it was a staircase; another time it was a place with a phone. We opened our eyes and began to draw a floorplan of the setting, adding in furniture, trees, stairs, whatever made it real to us. Then we drew the people in the room. The crucial thing is that we did not start out writing dialoge. We drew a setting, got grounded in it, and then waited for the characters to speak.

And speak they did.

Later, Martha would give prompts, a line of dialoge, a noun, a verb. "Did you just call someone?" A miraculous bird. To desire, to clamour for, to crave. Around the beginning of the final hour, she would announce a scene change, or time change. "Now it is two weeks later."

The afternoon critique session
was a regular workshop where we read each other's work and offered our notes. We also read an essay, poems, and stories that Martha had handed out to us:
"Close Reading" by Francine Prose, from the current Atlantic Fiction issue.
"New Age" and "Eyes" poems by Czeslaw Milosz.
"What the Doctor Said" poem by Raymond Carver.
"Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemmingway
"The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara.
"White Gardens" by Mark Helprin.

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