Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Weekend of Shakespeare

Me at the competition years ago. Being dramatic as usual.
This past weekend I attended the Shakespeare Competition at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. This is an acting competition on the secondary education level, and it is a HUGE deal. Even though it's held in southern Utah, acting troupes from California, Arizona, and even as far as Milwaukee, attend and compete. I traveled down with my husband and his advanced acting students and helped coach them on their ensemble scene, monologues, and duo scenes. It was so much fun!! It brought back memories of when I was a senior in high school and won first place in monologues at this competition. It felt like an Oscar. :-)

This year, we also saw the festival repertory company's production of Hamlet, which was beyond amazing! I haven't seen theatre of that caliber since I saw a play at the National Theatre in London over fourteen years ago. They brought so much humor into the production, which made the contrast to the really dramatic moments spectacular.

All of this acting and directing and fabulous Shakespeare once again reaffirmed to me all the qualities good storytelling has in common. Here are some that stand out to me...

  • Conflict and tension. There always has to be a problem, even in the lightest of scenes. And each character should want something and go about getting it in several different ways. The characters should always be getting in the way of each other. And characters should be trying to reach their objective through the other character(s) in their scene. That communication separates a mediocre scene from an excellent one.
  • Clear transitions. Shifts in emotion and why characters choose to change tactics should be apparent and believable.
  • Frame of reference. Plots aren't unique, but characters and settings are. (Shakespeare borrowed all of his plot ideas.) I've seen Richard the Third, and then at this competition, I saw Richard the Third set during the Holocaust with Richard portrayed as Hitler. Same plot, entirely different effect on the audience. Fresh characters and settings make all the difference. This also goes hand in hand with caring about the character and being grounded in the setting before the conflict of the story kicks into high gear. We added a quick and silent addition to the beginning of our ensemble scene from A Comedy of Errors to establish to the audience that there are two sets of twins before we launched into a scene with one of those sets. Then the audience would be in on the joke and possibilities for mayhem from the beginning.
  • Static scenes are boring. It's a snooze to watch a scene where the actors aren't creatively blocked (the "action" in the scene, the way the actors move), just like "talking heads" are not dynamic in a novel. I watched a scene where two actors were having a cell phone conversation with each other, so neither was in the same room as each other in the scene. It was a horrible choice because the actors could never interact with each other (though they could've pulled it off if the actors were creatively blocked to stand near each other or do similar things, even though they weren't in the same "space" in their respective worlds).

The husband, me, and Shakespeare
All in all, it was a fabulous weekend. I saw Shakespeare celebrated through many art forms--acting, music, visual arts, dance. And I felt like I was in a little corner of England with SUU's Globe Theatre replica and everyone walking around in Shakespearean garb. Oh, and my husband's acting troupe won first place with one of their duo scenes and placed fourth as a school in their division. Pretty impressive!

Do you enjoy other art forms, and what connections have you found between them and writing?

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Next Big Thing

My critique partner, Taryn Albright, tagged me for "The Next Big Thing" blog interview hop. Since I've already blogged a lot about The Rowaness of Shalott, I thought I'd answer questions about my work-in-progress instead.

What is your working title of your book? 
The Lovely Invisible

Where did the idea come from for the book?
This is a very loose retelling of the Cupid & Psyche myth, but still set in ancient Greece. I don't like how Psyche is a "wussy" in the myth, however. My Psyche, "Isidora," is much different. Her weakness is her intelligence, which leads to a lack of faith.

What genre does your book fall under?
YA fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ooh, my favorite question! I can't think of the right actress to play Isidora yet, but she will look something like this...

And the PERFECT actor to play Eros (Cupid) is Douglas Booth. If you saw him in the recent TV miniseries, Great Expectations, you'd know he's not only is he swoonworthy, but also an amazing actor!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? (I'm cheating with two.)
To regain her right to rule, eighteen-year-old Queen Isidora must marry one of three preselected suitors; however, the man she is drawn to isn't one of the three--or like them at all. He is invisible.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? May we see an intro?
I started writing it in July, and I'm about halfway through. I'm hoping to finish the draft by November. (This story requires LOTS of research.)


I stared at the face of the god of love, not the polished bronze mirror balanced on his wings.

“You will look,” Nuri, said as she tilted up my chin with her small brown fingers.

I kept my eyes fastened on the marble god. His mouth was sculpted in such a way I couldn’t determine whether he was scowling or smirking at me.

Shaking her head, Nuri clucked her tongue. “You shame the patron goddess.”

I wriggled my chin from her grasp. “I thought the virginal white was an appropriate choice.”

“Don’t try and fool me, Isidora. I’ve been in your service since the day you were weaned. You chose the white because it’s plain.” Nuri grabbed a fistful of my long robe as if it were evidence worthy of banishment.

I sighed and glanced at the foot of the mirror, where three rolls of newly delivered papyri lay waiting to be read. I wanted this day to be over. I wanted to curl into a quiet corner of the palace and read about the strange fire and water machine that opened temple doors in Athens, the paved slipway near Corinth, the controversial prose of the female poet, Sappho. “Why should I draw attention to myself on Procession Day?” I asked Nuri. “The glory should go to the goddess.”

The marble god below the mirror was definitely scowling at me now. He heard my lie as well as my maid: I cared nothing for the glory of Aphrodite.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Ha! I have no idea. It's a character-driven fantasy in the vein of Kristin Cashore, Leigh Bardugo, and Cinda Williams Chima.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My longtime love of Greek mythology, and the themes of faith and doubt in the Cupid & Psyche myth--mixed with falling in love, of course. :-) I also drew from stories of strong historical young queens, especially Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Jane, the nine-days queen of England. And when I visited France, I saw the statue, Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss, by the sculptor, Canova. It was my favorite piece of art in the Louvre, and one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. This picture does not do justice!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
One of my critique partners said my story was like The Bachelorette, but set in ancient Greece. :-)