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An intensive 9 day workshop (expanded from the previous 8 day version) conducted by Tom Noonan. All artists will act, write, and direct multiple scenes. The process will culminate in a performance of the produced work. Open to those with professional experience acting, writing, or directing for film or stage. Enrollment is limited to twelve artists.

NEXT WORKSHOP: Winter 2008

Tom has experience as:

  a) a playwright: WHAT HAPPENED WAS..., WHAT THE HELL'S YOUR PROBLEM, WANG DANG, and WIFEY, winner of the the OBIE award
  b) a filmmaker:  WIFEY (10 Best Films of 1996, San Francisco Chronicle /  10 Best Films of the Decade 1990-2000 ArtForum Magazine), WANG DANG, and WHAT HAPPENED WAS..., winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Best Film and SundanceWaldo Salt Award for Best Screenplay.
  c) an actor: acting in over 60 films (MANHUNTER, LAST ACTION HERO, THE PLEDGE, SERAPHIM FALLS, ROBOCOP 2, KNOCKAROUND GUYS, and the upcoming WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Spike Jonze, and SYNECDOCHE, by Charlie Kaufman.
  d) additionally, Tom is a Guggenheim Fellow in Filmmaking, and has been artistic director of the Paradise Theater Co. since 1983.  Besides teaching extensively in venues all over the country and at his studio in New York, he has been a Professor of Film at Columbia University, Yale University, and for the past 3 years in NYU's undergrad and graduate film programs.

Acceptance in the workshop is based on your work experience as a writer, actor, or director.  A writing and/or film sample, an interview and an acting audition is required.

The workshop takes place at Mr. Noonan's Paradise Theater at 64 East 4th St.

The workshop schedule is:

1) December 13 - Saturday from 4:00pm to 12:00am. 

2) December 14  - Sunday from 4:00pm to 12:00am.

3) December 15 - Monday is a rehearsal day

4) December 16 - Tuesday is a rehearsal day

5) December 17 - Wednesday from 6:00pm to Midnight. 

6) December 18 - Thursday is a rehearsal day

7) December 19 - Friday night from 6:00pm to 1:00am.

8) December 20 - Saturday all day and night rehearsals, and Sunday daytime are available for rehearsals

7) December 21 - Sunday evening from 5pm to 10pm (run through at 6:30 - performance at 8pm)

The price is $750-.


    The following is a more detailed explanation of how the workshop operates, including the writing assignment used in the April 2005 workshop.  I have also included my notes to the participants during the course of that workshop.  Some of these will not make complete sense since they are out of context - but I thought they might communicate the 'feel' of how the workshop operates.

     The writing portion of the workshop happens in the five weeks prior to the workshop.  You will submit a 5 to 7 page script to me based on an exercise assignment.  I will read the scene, makes notations in the scene for your consideration and possible rewrite.

This is an intensive nine day workshop open to all actors, writers, and directors. The workshop will explore the nature of drama and provide the tools necessary to create drama through acting, writing, and directing .

The workshop will begin on a Saturday evening.  A key element of the workshop will be a commitment to produce a work of drama. The workshop will culminate in a public exhibition on the last Sunday evening of the scenes developed during the course of the week's workshop. You will be free to invite your friends and colleagues.

THE WORKSHOP WILL BEGIN on Saturday November 10, ending on Sunday, November 18. You must commit to being present and absolutely ON TIME (I suggest you arrive at least 15 minutes early) for each and every session - and remaining the for the entire session. If you cannot commit to this, please don't apply and just wait till your schedule permits.

Each participant will be required to write one scene, direct one scene, and act in two scenes. This approach is based on my conviction that drama has an irreducible integrity - drama cannot be broken down into more elemental components (writing, acting, directing, etc) - it cannot be approached from only one angle or discipline. And even though in the marketplace one is often pigeon-holed into one ‘job', experiencing the various aspects of drama directly provides invaluable insight and skills.

Particularly attention will paid to what are traditionally considered the province of the director:
a) creating a text that supports drama
b) the audition - finding the actor - getting the part
c) developing and handling text,
d) blocking a scene,
e) the ‘job' of the actor, writer, and director,
f) how a crew functions in a production

And these issues/skills will be dealt with from every side of the ‘fence'.

It is my experience that drama can only exist in the human being: in the actor. So that's where we will start and that is where the process will be completed - in the final performance of the scenes.

Every participant will be required to write a six page scene (six minutes long) in preparation for the first session. These are the scenes we will perform.


1) The workshop will have five supervised sessions:
        a) Saturday evening: 6pm to 12am
        b) Sunday evening: 6pm to 12am
        c) Wednesday evening: 6pm to 12am
        d) Friday evening: 6pm to 12am
        e) the following Sunday there will be a run through at 6:30pm followed by a public performance of the work at 8pm.

2) Rehearsal sessions will be available by appointment at any hour during the course of the week. These rehearsals are not generally supervised by me but, I believe, they will be invaluable in the process. A good number of hours should be available at various spaces in the theater and will be scheduled on a first come/first serve basis. I suggest that you bring with you your schedule for the week to the first session so you can arrange with your scene participants a definite schedule - JUST REMEMBER, YOU WILL BE ACTING IN TWO SCENES AND DIRECTING YOUR OWN SO THERE IS A SIGNIFICANT TIME COMMITMENT BESIDES THE SESSIONS THEMSELVES. You must have a great of time the week we do this or the work will suffer and you and your partners will not get the full benefit this is a very cooperative endeavor - the more you put into the more you and everyone else (including me) gets out of this. I also suggest you have ample time in the weeks preceding the workshop to work on writing your scene(s).

3) The workshop is open to all actors, writers, and directors. After you submit an application, you will be contacted for a phone interview. Finalists will meet with me one-on-one. You will be selected based on their previous experience and how you would ‘mix' with the other artists. But primarily your selection will be based on my interest in your work and my sense that the workshop can make a real difference in your work.

Space is limited - the workshop will have a maximum of 12 artists - a minimum of 9.

You will have written a six page scene with my guidance by the time you begin the 1st Sunday session - you will also be required to know the words to both scenes you are cast in at that time. We will break up into 10 or 12 working groups containing 1 writer, 1 director, and 2 actors.

4) WRITING: Every artist will submit, one week before the workshop, a 6 page scene. These scenes will be based on a very specific set of requirements both artistic and practical that will keep the scenes in the same general ‘arena', convenient for our performance and study. I will give notes on all scenes and some rewriting will probably be necessary previous to our first session as well as during the production week.

5) The price of the workshop is $700 due upon acceptance. Once you are accepted, a group of essays will be emailed to you for your reading. These essays will provide some basis for the work and the ideas we will be exploring during the week. Some of these essays are available for your consideration on my website now.


Dear Artists,

Tonight (Saturday) I want to concentrate on acting which to me is where drama takes place - in the human being. There are ten of us so I would like to have each pairing that get a half hour to work. We will work very much like you did when you met with me initially. So, if everyone works for a half hour, that adds up to five hours so there will be no time to waste since we're planning on a five hour session tonight - and of course, this leaves very little time to discuss things or answer questions. I want do to my best to help each of you have an experience of yourself tonight that will provide the material with which to create a compelling scene as the week progresses.
Tomorrow night (Sunday) we'll take what we find tonight and get that into the scenes - we'll block the scenes out and create an agenda for the rehearsals that we'll do between Tuesday and the Sunday performance. It is of utmost importance that everyone has MEMORIZED THEIR SCENES BY TUESDAY - ABSOLUTELY WORD PERFECTLY. If that doesn't happen it is unlikely that we will have time to get the scenes as far as I think we can get them. It shouldn't be that hard to memorize two 6 page scenes. I cannot overemphasize how important this is.

Now, I am usually in the habit of not giving notes 'publicly' - I almost never comment on an artist's work in front of anyone - it's not how good professional situation are run and I believe it can be counter productive. But since this is a workshop in directing (as well as acting and writing) I think it could be very helpful for each of you to see my way of working with actors to help them be present. So I am considering my giving notes 'publicly' - this is a real departure for me but again I think it could be very helpful. I will think about it today and we can talk about it when we meet but as I said there is very little time tonight for talking so...

And here's a speech that I make at the beginning of most of the classes and I thought I'd put on paper so you could read it and we could get to work right away. I may repeat this a bit but here goes...
I'm not a big believer in education (whatever that means). I don't think I can teach you anything. I think people are good at things that they love to do and that they practice. I think (and hope) the reason you are all here is that acting, writing, and directing give you a feeling that you love - and that you need to have more in your life. My job is to help that happen - create a situation where you can find a way to have these things in your life more often and in a more consistently powerful and pleasurable way (fun). But I don't know how you work or how your 'process' operates. All I know is how I do what I do and what that experience has been like for me - making the movies and plays that I've made.
I will be talking about my experience - trying to give you a taste of how I work in the hope that it gets you closer to your own way of doing things. I would appreciate your giving over to me to some degree - to hear what I have to say and try what I'm suggesting. But, if something doesn't feel right or is confusing or makes you feel badly about yourself, please talk to me - take me aside and let me know. Or if after you go home one of these nights you need to talk to me about something that didn't feel right, please call me up or email me. I would like to make a difference for each of your but the one thing I don't want to happen is that you leave this experience feeling less hopeful or confident or good about your work. That is something that you must take great care of. You cannot let anyone make you feel bad about the way you do the things you love to do. That's all we have in the end really.

Looking forward,

Tom N.


Drama Workshop - Day 2

On the second day of the workshop we will take the ‘material' we found on the first day and combine it with the script in a more traditional way, dealing with the technical aspects of acting and directing, and basically ‘blocking out the scene. My experience is that if the actors say the words in the same place every time, make the same exact movements every time thru the scene, and simply are present to the experience of being themselves, the scene will work well depending the quality of the writing. (Again, the main function of writing is provide support and inspiration to the actor in becoming present and also to provide him/her with the material with which to pursue their own needs.)
So, we will block out the scenes. I've found that even though you will do your best as actors to be present during this phase of the work, the process of breaking down the scene technically can make that presence come and go. The purpose of the blocking is to provide support and a framework so that ‘material' that you discovered on Sunday - the relationships the actors have to themselves and to each other - can best end up in front of the audience. If the actors in Sundays session were distant most of the time then keep that in mind. If there were a funny or sad moment that came when they came close, try to find a way to work that into the blocking so it has a chance to happen in the performance.
Once we find a workable blocking for each scene I will have that group of actors and their director go to another space in the theater and work on the details and get the blocking into their body. What I am always trying to do in my work is learn the words and the blocking so well that they ‘go away' - and I am free to be present. This is what the rehearsals on Wednesday and Thursday will hopefully allow. Since the actors will know their words perfectly by Tuesday, once they learn the blocking we will focus on Thursday getting the presence back into the performances - learning as actors and directors how each of your processes best work.
Each email I've sent recently has a list of all the participants - and I believe that Lisa Ebersole is getting you each a telephone contact list. I suggest that each director call their actors this morning and begin forming a rehearsal schedule for the remainder of the week. As soon as I hear from the directors about their rehearsal needs I will begin creating a schedule and a way to get everyone keys to the theater. Please don't delay on this front.
So learn your words perfectly and get in touch with your actors and I will see you tomorrow night. Any questions or thoughts please call or email me.
Thank you for last night - I know this work is not easy and the process can be different for each artist. But I thank you for having the courage to get up and be present to the experience of being you in front of an audience. It what drama is about and it's what we need. And all this is done with the understanding that I am compressing this process - when I do a play or movie I take weeks on each of these aspects. The purpose of the workshop is give you a taste - an idea of this way of working. But I believe even in this short time we can create compelling drama - and it is only through the experience of feeling and seeing drama come to life that we really learn.
And, again, it's absolutely important that everyone be on time each session 6:30pm on Tuesday and Thursday - I or Roger will be there by 6pm if you want to get there early and get settled for the evening.

Be seeing you.


Dear artists,

Here is your
writing assignment for the Drama Workshop, April 17 to April 24, 2005.

a) the scene will be a minimum of 5 pages - a maximum of 7 pages.

b) the scene will be formatted along the lines for standard screenplay. If you have questions to what the specifics of standard screenplay format are, I can forward you an essay on the subject. But basically, a properly formatted scene consumed one minute per page when performed.

c) your stage directions will be clear and simple. The actors need to know what their actions are and what their words are. Please do not tell them what they are thinking, feelings, wanting, wishing, expressing, etc. That is the job of the actor, not the writer. (More on that as we go along)

d) write what you must, but since you are not aware of what actors will be available to you for your scene, I would make the gender and other personal qualities as non-specific as possible. For example, there may not be enough of one gender, type, or age or the other to fulfill the scenes if you insist on your characters be a particular gender. And for the sake of best use of our time I, myself, will in most cases be casting the scenes - somewhat randomly, in fact, as I need to keep the logistics of the scene partnering as orderly as possible.
e) I recommend that you not spend too much time rewriting. I believe you learn more by writing one scene a day for 5 days, instead of writing a scene on day one and then rewriting it every day for the next four. You learn to write by writing.

I will be sending a series of essays over the next three weeks on writing, directing, and acting. I will try not to overwhelm you with information but I want to give you as much of what you need as possible in the time we have together. At the end of this scene assignment is the first essay - it covers some important issues - read that to get a ‘feel' for what I'm talking about. And just jump in and start writing. Don't forget: you can only write as good as you can write - suffering over it, thinking about it, planning it, and on and on, in my experience, don't make much difference in the dramatic effectiveness of a scene.
Just take a shot - write a scene and send it to me and we'll begin working on it, as we will continue throughout the next month.

On receiving this email, the workshop is underway. If you haven't already done so please send me a check for $400 on receipt of this email. My address is 57 East 4th St. #6A, NY NY 10003.

Looking forward,
Tom N.


Sunday night, 8pm

a Church hall basement haphazardly prepared for a social

a stereo and an odd assortment of CD's along one wall

a wobbly refreshment table against the opposite wall

folding chairs are arranged sloppily here and there

the lights are dim but not as dim as they will be getting later

"A" stands alone in a room near a window far from the door

"B" comes to the door and looks in

"A" turns and see "B" (I only use "A" and "B" for convenience - you are clearly free to call your characters whatever you want.

(A wants B to enter)

(B does not want to enter)

(After a time B enters)

(A wants B to come closer)

(B wants to keep distance from A)

(After a time B does end up close to A)

(After a time close, A moves away from B)

(B wants to be closer to A)

(A wants B to keep distance)

(After a time A leaves the room)

B is alone in the room

End of scene


Here are some fundamental issues in dramatic writing that I'd like you to consider as you begin working on your scene. Some of the terms may not be clear or understandable - if you have any questions, please write me an email. I will respond to your questions in the form of group email (don't worry, I won't reveal who it was that asked the question).

A) Territory
B) Implication
C) Reversal
D) Immediacy
E) Simplicity

A) Territory. In human interaction, territory is one of the most basic fields of endeavor/struggle. It is where power, control, status, achievement, intimacy, sexuality, identity, and family (and more) are be played out. And territory isn't necessarily limited to physical property - territory can be emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual, intellectual, symbolic, et cetera. Human beings identify with their territory - with their bodies - we are a very self conscious animals (our heads are at the top of our bodies, and we have the most vertical physiological organization of any animal) - it is who we are in many ways and most of the conflicts we engage in with other people are fought over territory (the territory of the body - the battlefield of the mind).

B) Implication. (yet another view) Human beings are very invested in their egos - in their having a distinct, unique, and boundaried self - that is inviolable to all, even to themselves at times. I believe that most animals, apart from humans, are able to communicate directly without any interference, on one or more levels. My sense is that animals, aside from humans, are awash in the direct communications that reverberate like ripples on the pond of cosmic consciousness. I believe that language was the means by which human beings have been able to prevent this sort of direct communication from taking place with one another. Language allows us to be separate from one another - to protect our inviolable egos. It allows us to negotiate everything we do - to have the illusion that we are the authors of our lives. And NEARLY ALL of these communications and negotiations are done implicitly. Only in the very rarest of circumstances is explicit communication used. It is this 'dance' of implication that makes us most human - it is a game that allows us to be isolated while at the same time be connected to other people.
And it is this 'dance' or 'game' that makes drama of interest to people. It is the celebration of what makes us most human. It is the truth of who we are. Explicit communication is reserved for those rare moments of overwhelming emotion which are the climax of a drama (or a life). And sometimes explicit communication is used when one player in the game of life petulantly lifts the veil and lets the direct light of day reveal us as empty, self involved creatures we are - this is often seen in argument which, to me, is one player acting childishly by refusing to play the game of life: implicit communication. Explicit communication is, in this case, cheating and it is a crime that, by its very nature, takes us out of the game of life.
Implication may include, to name but a few, the following tactics: indirection, innuendo, symbolism, sarcasm, misdirection, lying, exaggeration, denial, projection, seduction, flattery but implication cannot be reduced to any one of these - in fact, implication is irreducible to any more basic elements - there is no way to translate implication - it is not a direct code that has a one-to-one connection between words and meaning, between inner to outer. It is in some ways the most human way of communicating and it operates in the realm of mystery and magic. It is undefinable. What is implicit in one conversation may be explicit in another. Implication is 'talking around' the subject. It is what it doesn't express directly that it expresses most profoundly.
In many ways, the very words you use, define who you are - and are the expression of the implicit contract you have struck with the people in your life. Not having a shared code or language leaves two people no way of sharing the same space - so in some ways, language itself is a battle being played out over territory.
"I can say no more."

C) Reversal. Drama, on all levels (microcosmically in dialog and character / macrocosmically in scene and story) depends on reversal. Reversal keeps an audience and actors engaged as to the outcome of a drama - wondering what's going to happen.
So, every scene, every line, every character must embody, at the in potential, its own opposite. Without that, there is no drama. How these reversals are expressed is the stuff of story. We see a story unfolding: a bad guy ties a woman to the train tracks - the train is bearing down on her - there is no way she will survive - the hero is drowned at the bottom of river - but still, the hero does get to the scene in time - he saves the day. Every story depends on the audience being set up to expect one outcome and at the last minute a different ending is supplied, in hopefully the most surprising (but in retrospect, sensible) of ways.
It is like the story of our own lives. We think we know where it is going but what keeps us going is the hope that it doesn't really go that way - that somehow magically 'life' will intercede and save us. This applies from the most mundane of our daily chores to our existential angst over our unavoidable deaths. How do we go on each day, knowing that in the end nothing we do can save us? That is where our 'story' saves us - sweeping us up in an adventure that we are convinced will save us.
So, in writing, we must learn to have this sense of reversal always present. In these exercises I encourage you to play up the potential of reversal as much as possible. In life, there are reversals happening every second. In most movies and plays and TV I rarely see a single 'real' one. The potential for reversals give scenes unpredictability - it draws the actors and audience in and allows us to live in the world of 'story'.
There are many archtypical means of reversal and all great dramas have one or more of these devices in them. The most powerful are the most weak (SCARFACE, sorry I couldn't think of a better one), the ugly are the beautiful (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME), the losers are really the winners (ROCKY), the dead are the most alive (DRACULA), the blind can see (OEDIPUS), the victim is the perpetrator (OEDIPUS), through death we live (CHRIST).
And once we sense where we are going in our own lives, even if we have worked like dogs to go to that place, we don't want to go there anymore. It is our nature as human beings - we live for our stories and we don't want to know the ending - we want to be surprised right up until the very end.

D) Immediacy. Drama is the arena of the present - of the immediate. It is not about what happened last week or might happen tomorrow or what is happening over there or back home. It is about what is happening RIGHT HERE - RIGHT NOW. For a drama to be effective the conflict on stage (or screen) must have the potential of being resolved RIGHT HERE - RIGHT NOW. It is that 'threat' that engages us. The issues that are raised in any scene must have the potential of being fulfilled before our eyes. That is what makes drama so effective when it works - and that's why people go see it. They want to see SOMETHING HAPPEN. No other art form can do that like drama - and if it does, it IS drama ( (that why people watch sports, news, gossip, car wrecks, terrorism, crime).

E) Simplicity. Drama is very limited art form. It is able to express life in a very narrow, but very powerful and immediate range. Drama is not poetic, it is not clever, it is not beautiful, it is not educational, it does not have a point of view, it is not about what we know, it is not comic or tragic, it is not manipulation, even though it has elements of all these in it. Drama is simply the unfolding of all our unpredictable stories in a way that is very much out of our control. Great stories write themselves - they are not contrived.
Our job as writers, is to get out of our own way (through our daily dedication to the fundamentals - through our devotion to discipline of writing everyday), so that we can almost sit back and let our stories pour through us without intervention.
Drama talks about very limited things: what just happened, what is happening right now in this moment, and what's going to happen in the next moment.

Dear Artists,

Here's an essay on screenplay formatting I wrote - generally the scenes you've submitted have been properly formatted but there are other issues covered herein.


Tom N.

Screenplay Format

I believe that how you format your script is incredibly important. I think that the format itself can actually reflect the inner structure and style of your script. Also I believe that how clear and easy your script is to read is nearly as important as the quality of the writing when it comes to selling a script. When I write a ‘commercial' script I attempt to format it in such a way that the reader will get through it quickly - hopefully in one sitting. If you can get a buyer to read your script from beginning to end in one sitting your chances of selling it are very high. Anything that slows down or confuses a reader is death to a script. If the reader pauses to figure out where the story is taking place, or what is happening, or who a certain character is, or takes a breath before tackling your page long stage direction, he is out of the story. The phone will ring, he'll put down your script and chances are he will never pick it up again. Now understand I am only talking about format - not content.
Over the years the way scripts are formatted has changed dramatically and it is essential that you know the current fashion (not that you have to use it). For example, Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Last Boy Scout, Last Action Hero) uses humor and inside jokes in his formats, creating a breezy, fun read (even when violence is rampant). People look forward to reading a Shane Black script just to get a taste of his format humor. He will actually talk to the reader as if he were a studio executive (since that's who is going to buy his script), making reference to places he knows executives eat, cars the executive drives, and movies the executive may like. Or if he gets to a very complicated action sequence he'll write, "you've seen this in a million movies, use your imagination" and leave half a blank page. It's very charming and hasn't stood in the way of his getting five million a script.

My ideas about screenplay formatting:

1) use courier type face only - 12 point (I make an exception sometimes with the title making it larger)

2) margins are 1.5 inches on the left, 1 inch on the right

3) dialog averages 38-40 characters across

4) stage directions average 58-60 characters across

5) setting are all caps, separated by a ‘*' and are tabbed back to past the left margin to 1" - leave three spaces between the end of the scene and the following setting. And don't repeat setting information in a stage direction.

6) capitalize a character when you introduce him/her (I capitalize a character's name always but that's not done generally)

7) in stage directions, capitalize important props or other elements that are central to the stage direction

8) Attempt to make stage directions no more than one line long. If you cannot, break the stage direction into several single lines. (this sparse style is not the norm but I think it enhances speed and ‘reading rhythm'. What I mean by ‘reading rhythm' is that the reader's eye is going down the page at a steady rate, not having to slow down for stage directions. So in my scripts he reads: line, line, stage direction, line, stage direction, etc. They all appear of a similar length and feel, keeping the reader moving along. And my stage directions are what I consider ‘shots'. Visualize your script and describe what you see in very simple sparse terms. I know as an actor I skip any stage direction that more than two lines long when I'm reading a script).

9) Keep camera directions to a minimum - but if you feel it really makes a point, definitely use them, especially if you can keep it simple. I use CU, MED, WIDE, TRACK, PAN, REVEAL, BOOM UP, and DOLLY IN constantly in my scripts. They're simple, clear and can be evocative. Complicated camera directions I would not attempt to use unless it was absolutely essential to the story.

10) Be specific in your descriptions. Don't write ‘old car' write ‘beat up red ‘59 Edsel. Don't write ‘fast food joint', write ‘Bob's Big Boy'. Don't write ‘a touch looking guy,[what does ‘touch looking guy mean?] smoking a little cigar, with a wry smile on his face', write ‘think Clint Eastwood - you get the picture'. This is especially helpful to people remembering who's who and what's what and where's where. When you introduce a new character give him/her some simple distinctive features that will help define him/her. If Ellen is blond, then make Debbie a red head. If Sergeant Hansen is skinny, make Lt. Clayborne fat. Tell the reader who smells bad and who has a crease in their pants.
And stage directions are a form of creative writing. Use them to create a mood or get a laugh or scare the reader. Make their tone match the style of the drama. But keep them short and simple.

11) Name characters with distinctive, memorable names and don't use the same first letter for two characters - it only leads to confusion. If a character has a simple, forgettable name, give him a flashy, descriptive nickname. It's only a script - it doesn't mean any of this has to be carried over to the movie. And give every character a name - don't call character ‘Cop #1' or ‘waitress' - call him Officer Banks or her ‘Sally, the waitress'. It makes the scene seem unspecific and again will alienate actors.

12) Be technical when describing something - don't worry about confusing the reader in this case - he'll think of you as an expert and it will add to his believing in your script. Now this is somewhat risky but I believe in this concept especially in dialog. If a character speaks in very specific or technical way so at times it's hard to really understand everything he means, that's OK. It adds to the authenticity of the story. When you try to make everything clear and understandable, it often backfires. If you're worried use footnotes.

13) Never tell the reader what a character is feeling. If it's not clear from the dialog or situation then fix the dialog. It will also alienate an actor reading it. And the best way to sell your script is to have a bankable actor want to play the part.

14) Never tell the reader what a character is thinking or remembering. It will alienates actors reading it. And the best way to sell your script is to have a bankable actor want to play the part.

15) Don't use ‘(cont)' at the bottom of every page. Are you really worried that the reader won't turn the page if he is not told the script continues? I find it annoying. Don't annoy the reader.

16) Avoid ‘cut to' or ‘fade out' or any of these sorts of process directions between scenes unless they are essential to the story.

17) Never hand in a script that's shorter than 100 pages or longer than 115 pages. If you have to mess with the margins and type size, then do it. Readers are always looking for any way to say ‘no' to a script. Length is an easy one for them - don't let them have it.


Dear Bill (the name has been changed - I try to be very respectful of privacy in this process),

       First of all, I appreciate your candor and courage in pursuing this so steadfastly.

      In answer to your question, the issue of pursuing what you want and need happens AFTER you feel what it's like to be you.  I think there is a marked difference between going after what you want from your 'normal, everyday' self and the place where you are feeling deeply what it's like to you.  And it's that experience of feeling yourself at your core is what drives drama in my opinion.    It's what an audience wants and needs to see - at least from my POV.
      So, those things you mentioned as what you say want and need, I believe, come from a superficial place, in my opinion - and I am very aware how presumptuous and arrogant that it - but it's what I do when I 'teach' - I sit in my chair taking a person in and hoping to 'see' them and 'feel' them.  I still have trouble both seeing and feeling you in your core when you get work.  I want to see what behind the need to be entertaining - the need for approval.  And then what's behind what's behind that.  I think there are only two things that a human being needs - 1) Integrity - and by that I don't mean ethical or moral integrity but the feeling that you have an identity that can exist on its own - that you know where you end and the world begins.  You'd be surprised how often people don't feel that.  2) The feeling of connection to other human being - being close - merging at times - being taken care of - taking care of others.    Now, these two needs can and are often in conflict - and it's that conflict both within people and between people that creates the deepest, most compelling drama - and comedy.

      Now let me recommend that you read a page on my website:  which requires a user name and password

USER NAME: essays    PASSWORD: mamet

      It may feel a little mumbo jumbo or new-agey but see if it helps.


Dear Artists,

     Here's what I suggest as the next step in the process of getting your scenes to the next step.

     1) Learn the words
     2) Complete your basic blocking and run it over and over, making sure you have it memorized - in your body - do not change the blocking at this point - do it the exact same way every time - and say the words in the exact same place every time.
     3) Now, as a director, have your actors commit to ONE INTENTION for the duration of the entire scene.  The sort of intentions I suggest are simply, direct human intentions: I need to be closer to you, I need to be farther away from you, I want you out of the room, I want you to stay in the room,  I want you to take care of me,  I am in control of you.  DO NOT LET THE ACTORS KNOW WHAT THE OTHER ACTOR'S INTENTION IS.
     4) The notes you give the actors should be in regard to how they accomplish these requirements which are basically, do the actors repeat the same exact movements and words with different intentions.  And this is with no regard to the content of the scene or the lines.  And these intentions should be pursued in the unique, personal way  - if the intention is that I want you to kiss me, you should make sure that your actor is doing it the way that person would do it, again without respect to the scene's content.  And the intentions should not be played explicitly - for example, it the intention is to make the other actor leave, the actors should not use a mean tone, or point to the door, or use some other obvious means - the actors must commit to pursuing their intentions in a personal way - how do you get your partner to leave you alone in the morning when you know that your partner needs your attention.
   By using this method you will have a much better chance that your actors will be present and will not be playing the scene.  Be very aware of discouraging your actors from playing the scene.
    Another method which accomplishes the same end is to have the actors do the scene with the opposite intention that seems to be part of the blocking you've established.  For example, when "X" and "Y" do their scene, it would seem that "X" is moving toward "Y" at the beginning is because she wants to be close to him - and "Y" does not want her to come near - it is too much for him.  So what they should try is to have "X" move to "Y" with the intention of not wanting to be close to him and "X"'s intention should be that he wants to be closer to her and he can't get enough of it.  AND also you can try in that instance to have "Y" be in control - to have a higher status - and "X" have a lower status - that she is in his control.  AND AGAIN, THE BLOCKING MUST BE EXACTLY THE SAME - THE WORDS SAID IN THE SAME PLACE AND SAME WAY.
    By using this method you will begin to find ways of making the scene personal to you and not play the scene which is not the job of the actor.
    Directors should be careful not to talk about character, motivation, backstory, plot, emotions, or meaning.  The actors do not need to act something out if they say it - ALWAYS PLAY AGAINST THE LINE when you work.
   The material of a scene is the relationship you have with yourself and the relationship you have with your scene partner(s) which is the world.
    Tomorrow night we will explore these methods in detail.

       Have good rehearsals and always remember that what drives drama is the actors' ability to be present ot be present to the experience of being them - and having the courage to use the feelings that come up to pursue what they need in their own life.

           Tom N.


Dear "X", "Y", "Z",

      So I hope last night's rehearsal was helpful.  But I woke up this morning and looking back on it I may have come off a little overbearing.  I wanted to apologize if I was a bit brutal or rude in my handing of the situation.  Especially, in how I talked to you at the moment about the looking at the cake box and saying that you were being "argumentative".  The point I was trying to make was that, if you are going to talk about John's tying the string, you have to see him do it and in seeing him do it moves you closer which is essential to the scene.  It may have been confusing as I said don't "play" the activities and then I tell you to pay more attention to the activities.  It's a somewhat subtle distinction - but it is important to go through the motions of the activities but not make the scene about them - in some ways that is what drama is or a dramatic situation: people doing one thing but clearly that thing is not what is really going on - saying one thing but that is not what the scene is about.  The actors should clearly be in (blocking) a real situation and talking (script) about real things but, at the same time, you need to leave as much room as possible for the actors to be present to the experience of being themselves and pursue what they need (which has little or nothing to do with those obvious events.  So, to my mind, there is a real difference between a) creating a good blocking around the cake box and (b) making the scene just about what the obvious scripted situation.      
        How I had blocked the scene was with keeping in mind what I saw the first time I saw "X" and "Y" act together on Sunday night.  Now, what I saw may not be what was really going on with them - I'm on the outside - but I thought when we blocked the scene on Tuesday it felt like it had the energy of the Sunday night work and it had a lot of 'room' for you two to be there in the way I first saw you.  And, again I may be wrong, but it seemed as though most of the blocking changes that came about during your out-of-class rehearsals worked against that relationship that I had seen on Sunday.  What I was hoping by sending the essay I sent out on Wednesday night was to give you guys a taste of the next step - once a scene was blocked out, to try to see if in keeping with that blocking, could the scene hold a variety of intentions.  At that point one would only change the blocking if it clearly couldn't hold a lot of different intentions.  Changing the blocking to accommodate an interpretation of the scene or what that scene implies is not what I was recommending.
      This week is very compressed - if we had a month to work on a scene we could try a variety of basic blocking scene and then try various intentions.  But that is not possible in this short amount of time.
      What the actors need to learn is what it feels like to be themselves and learn how blocking can either help or hinder that experience.  And how as writers, a script can help or hinder the experience of feeling what it's like to be you.  That ability to distinguish between feeling present and not feeling present is essential to this sort of work - to able to recognize an actor being present and not being present is essential to this sort of work.  Without that ability, I don't believe  compelling scenes can be created.  As a director the only question you really want to be asking yourself is, "How do I help these actors be present in the way I have seen them naturally be at the first rehearsal (or audition)"   The primary job of the director is not to interpret the scene - or make the scene work in terms of the text.
      Again, the job of the director is like that of the parent in the family.  You don't want to be a parent who has his or her own script in your head and you force that script upon your children.  You want to be as helpful as you can in helping your children become the people they were meant to become (almost without respect to your own personal  hopes for them).  And as a parent that ability to sense what that potential your children have comes from your own awareness of that potential in yourself.  Everything in a scene flows from the director's ability to be present to him or herself.  From that comes the director's ability to sense that in his or her actors and is the basis of his or her ability to help those actors get to that place the director senses in them.  If you can not feel yourself in an authentic, compelling way, I don't believe that you can feel that in other people.
      Again, I hope I'm not being too pushy or impatient or thoughtless in my efforts to have you 'get' this in this very short time we have.