Assignment: Create a spine for your play. Show your work by showing earlier iterations of the spine. The spine is the main through line or idea of your concept. The themes are the ideas that support the concept, the other issues being explored in the play in relation to the main idea.
Strong Spines convey three elements;
- Clarity means the thought is streamlined and worded clearly and elegantly. Sometimes fewer words are better.
- Passion shows your personal connection to the text – why you are interested in the piece and how it hits you. Passion usually reflects the strength of your convictions.
- Significance mean why it is important to produce today. Why does the audience connect to it? Why do they care? Is the question and answer important enough to warrant getting the audience to the theatre – whether they agree or not. Significance is the most often element lost in beginning spines. Push to make it relevant.
A criticism that your Spine needs work does not necessarily mean you need to throw your work away or start over. It could just be the wording of your idea that needs a little fine tuning. In fact several drafts or iterations of your spine show a thoughtful and thorough approach. See Below (from Harold Cluman’s On Directing) :
- Play: The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
Good Spine: getting connected
Better Spine: connection is the only reason to be alive
- Play: Rocket to the Moon by Clifford Odets
Good Spine: to seek love
Another Good Spine: love vs. loneliness
Better Spine: The power of loneliness over the search for love
Or Maybe: The search for love defines the pain of loneliness
Or Even More Specific: Loneliness is a Product of Love
- Play: Heartbreak House by George Bernard Shaw
Good Spine: To get out
Better Spine: To Break Free
Or Maybe: To Break Free of Convention
Or more specific: Happiness Demands Breaking Convention
The Response Spines
Sometimes the easiest way to discover your spine is to consider it a response to the play. The spine is usually the answer to a question the text asks. When you read the text, ask yourself:
What is the question the text asks?
- Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
Question: (these are always subjective)
- “Can unconditional love survive in a society filled with conditions?”
- Response Spine 1: Unconditional Love Cannot Be Suppressed by the Constraints Society Throws upon it.
- Response Spine 2: Perfect Love Cannot Exist in a Modern World without Destroying Itself
- Weak Spine: Love Conquers All
- But Why is it Weak?
- Vague (What kind of love? Conquers what? What does “all” mean?)
- Doesn’t take a specific Stand (Significance – Why should the audience care?)
- Trite (We don’t sense Passion or Personal Connection)
Invest in the Spine to make it Clear, Passionate and Significant.
Make the Spine the main idea for the Concept.
Create Themes that support the Spine to complete your Concept.
Take into consideration the Given Circumstances.
Create a Conceit that is in service to the Concept.
Example Spines from My Past Shows (with my own criticisms attached. After all, perfection is the enemy of art):
Blood Wedding – When tradition becomes a knife and severs the soul from it’s desire, no one is safe from the bloodshed. (This still feels too long)
Five Women Wearing the Same Dress – Happiness becomes possible when we accept what is instead of what is supposed to be. (Still feels too long)
Pride and Prejudice – No matter what the circumstance, you have the power to write your own ending. Choose to be the author of your story. (These feel like two spines)
Harvest – Whether buying or selling, trading in human dignity is a cannibal’s feast, we all become food in the end. (I like this one)
Arcadia – What is lost exists only to be discovered anew. (I like this one)
The Seagull – Build on the Flight, not on the Fall. (I like this one)
Translations – Identity is only laid bare once the skin of words is burned away. (A bit too many mixed metaphors)
Macbeth – Aspirations born of blood can only fly towards death. (A bit vague)
Black Comedy – The more you try to hide, the more you reveal. (I like this one, but bordering on trite)