Monday, April 1, 2019

Spending Time with Sarah Ruhl

Sarah Ruhl’s playwrighting workshop at Brunner Theatre, Augustana College, provided three writing exercises.

I missed the first one because I was late leaving home and then found my preferred parking spot filled with sports fans. So, I can only speculate on the myriad ways a roomful of eager college students might choose to name their main characters. My unfortunate loss.  

The second exercise had us pairing up and dedicating time to closely observing each other. I have to say that both looking and being looked at can be equally uncomfortable. But the mental images formed lingered quite a while. After being thus forced into “observation mode” we were given time to write about “home."

The third exercise had the feel of a Mad-Lib game. Our goal was not to fill in the blank spaces of a ready-made story grid. We would be fleshing out our own stories. It started by drawing five columns on a sheet of paper. Then we were asked to randomly place words: colors/3, names/2, the letter I/3, nouns/5, adjectives/3, adverbs/2, verbs/4, and a couple of exclamations throughout the page. The goal was to leave lots of blank spaces in between the pre-chosen words. Filling in those blanks within each column created sentences that made sense and often flowed into a coherent story. If the words chosen were related to a current writing project, I could see how it would inspire viewing your work with fresh potential.

That exercise was my best take-a-way from Ruhl’s workshop. I can see why she doesn’t believe in writer’s block. That and the time I spent among energized college students working on their plays.

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