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DRAMA 441 A: Beginning Playwriting

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
HUT 154
Trista Jentiena Baldwin

Syllabus Description:

DRAMA 441 A                                                                      BEGINNING PLAYWRITING


 Class meets every T/TH 1:30-3:20 in HUT 154                   Instructor: Trista Baldwin

Email: (preferred method of contact)           Office hours by appointment only


OBJECTIVE: To learn fundamental script elements and develop theatrical script writing abilities as a vehicle for personal expression.

METHOD: Playwriting is both an art and a craft and the work you will do in this class will approach playwriting from these two vital angles. In-class writing exercises will be aimed at helping you to access your unique creative voice. You’ll be encouraged to write with abandon, to write as freely as you can, as bold and true as you can. The art of playwriting is similar to any other art in that you need to know how to access your vision, to learn how to get around self-censorship, self-doubt, and learn how to recognize when you are being true to your unique voice.

The craft of playwriting is complex and unique. You will be shown the tools of the craft of writing for the live theater: for actors, designers, directors and audience. We will read and analyze professional plays and discuss structural issues of storytelling, staging and the technical aspects of writing for the stage. You will hear your work read aloud in class, you will hear the work of your peers and you will give and receive comments. You will be required to learn the vocabulary of playwriting and know the basic ingredients of a play and begin to understand how to use them to create something uniquely your own. By the end of the course you will have written two viable (producible, rehearsal-ready) short plays.

PROJECTS: You will complete two one-act plays; a 10-minute play (MIDTERM) and a 10 to 20 minute play (FINAL), written in professional stage play format. You will also read and discuss several one-act plays by contemporary American playwrights and analyze two contemporary play productions.


You will read, discuss and write brief responses to contemporary American short plays as given in class and assigned from the book: THE BEST TEN-MINUTE PLAYS OF 2018


A notebook for in-class writing exercises.

Photocopies of script pages; for scripts to be read aloud in class, you will need one copy for each character that needs to be read as well as a copy for stage directions.

ATTENDANCE: Attendance is mandatory, expected and vital to your grade. Your active participation is a significant part of this course, and your absence will affect everyone.  If you have hree or more unexcused absences you could fail the course. If you are having problems with attendance, please discuss them with me – before you find yourself in jeopardy of failing this class. 

LATENESS: This class will not function properly with people coming in mid-reading, so if you are 20 or more minutes late it will be treated as an absence. If you are having a habitual problem with being late by 5 or so minutes, it will start to add to up to an unexcused absence.

DECORUM AND SUBJECT MATTER: Every individual and every viewpoint will be respected in this class as long as the individual/view is respectful of others. That said, we will respect risk and demand of ourselves an open-minded response to work that goes against what an individual or society may deem morally correct. It is my job to keep this a positive environment where all people feel comfortable to express themselves. This includes careful monitoring of feedback sessions. Please note that if the script pages that you’d like to hear read aloud contains graphic violence or potentially problematic content, it is your responsibility to bring it the classes’ attention before the work is read aloud by your classmates. Subject matter is not restricted and within reason all material will be read aloud and discussed.


GRADING:   Minor writing assignments:             10 points each, unless otherwise noted

                        Written response to reading:            5-15 points each

                        Midterm Script                                          100 pts

                        Final Script                                                   150 pts




For your minor script writing assignments, you are graded based on whether or not you completed the assignment and whether you adhered to the purpose of that assignment. The minor writing is about exploring and the process of grading will respect that.


For your Midterm and Final, you will be evaluated based on whether or not your script is theatrically viable: are you writing in professional script format with plausible stage directions and dialogue that moves the story to a conclusion? Does your play have an arc; does it feel like it has a beginning, middle and end? (Does the play work?) Is the play consistent in tone? In style? Is the play theatrical? Note that rather than being judged as having written a “good” or “bad” play, you will be judged on your own progress. If you show through your writing an increased understanding of the elements and contemporary purpose of playwriting then your grade will reflect that.


In writing for the stage, there is an inherent friction between commerce and art. We write to entertain an audience. “Entertainment” means many things, which we will discuss. If you write successfully entertaining scripts that fall into a certain category (imitative of certain styles/authors),that is good. If you write scripts that reach an artistic level - that is great. To reach this level, you have to put something on the line. In this class, I will strive to show you what that means. And if, as you learn the basics of playwriting, you are able to take risks and use to the form to express in ways that are unique to you (whether in content, style, or both), well then you’re really doing something. And, of course, your grade will reflect that.


To give you a sense of how your performance in this playwriting course will result in a grade, I am providing the following guidelines:

A 4.0 or “A” student in this class can be described as one who completes the basic requirements of the course, writing viable one-act plays for the stage, as well as someone who pushes themselves both artistically and academically; rigorously studying the form, taking artistic risks, and using the form of playwriting to express something that the student is uniquely invested in. A 4.0/A student in this course is one who shows a willingness to contribute to the larger Conversation by finding a question, an answer - a crack of some kind - and pushing into it.

A 3.0 or “B” student in this course can be described as one who completes the basic requirements and writes rehearsal-ready short plays for the stage that have a strong arc. A 3.0 or “B” student in this course is someone who scripts a compelling story with interesting characters and an evident theme.

You can earn a 2.0 (“C”) in this course by completing all assignments on time and in the correct format, and attending all classes.

A 1.0 or “D” student can be described as someone who does not turn in all assignments, has significant problems with class participation and/or does not exhibit through their work that they are attempting to learn playwriting.

You can fail this course by having serious problems turning in your assignments, attending class, or otherwise participating in the course. Please note that missing the final class(es) can be grounds for failure.


Drama 441 A ~ Beginning Playwriting   COURSE SCHEDULE

Instructor: Trista Baldwin   Meets: T/TH 1:30-3:20 UW HUT 154    

This is an overview of our class plan and course deadlines, subject to change.

Reading assignments are from The Best 10-Min Plays 2018, unless otherwise noted. Writing assignments are in bold; due on date noted. No late work.*


Week 1

T 1/7    Course introduction; in class writing exercises            

TH 1/9    Reading Due/to be discussed: Just One of Those Things (Brody p.121)  Lab Rats (Lopez p. 129), Spark (Blumenthal p. 185), Lonely (Healy; hand out)

Week 2

T 1/14    2 pages, w/copies: 2 CHARACTER DIALOGUE work

TH 1/16     Reading Due/to be discussed: Stones and Bones (McClinton; hand-out)  Discuss the three layers: plot/character/theme

Week 3           

T 1/21    2 pages, w/copies: THEME work

TH 1/23     Reading Due/to be discussed: Tim Kaine…(Barsky p. 203), Melto Man…(Pfeffinger p. 149), and Gorilla Gorilla (Harris, p. 75) and Lorax (Perrone p. 347)  Focus: concept-driven/associated writing exercises

Week 4           

T 1/28    Working Draft of 10 Minute Play w/copies to read

TH 1/30  Working Drafts continued

Week 5

T 2/4       Workshop pages (as discussed on the 30th); in-class writing

TH 2/6    Final Draft of SCRIPT ONE approx. run time: 10 minutes/7-12 pgs.

Week 6           

T 2/11    Reading Due/to be discussed: A Limbo Large and Broad (Hepp-Galvan p. 137), This Quintessence of Dust (Hinkle p. 443)

TH 2/13    Reading Due/to be discussed: The 5564 to Toronto (Howes) Rusalka (Nigro p. 177) and Fightbook (McClindon p.287)In-Class writing.                           

Week 7                                   

T 2/18                    In-Class 2 Minute Play Challenge!

TH 2/20                2-Minute Play discussion; In-class work on outline/play design work 

*Due by SUNDAY FEB 23rd in the discussion forum:     OUTLINE/DESIGN for FINAL PLAY         

Week 8

T 2/25                           2-3 pages towards Final Play, with copies to workshop

TH 2/27                      Workshop Pages, continued; Reading due to discuss: Forty-Minute Finish by Jerome Hairston  and Joan of Arkansas by Sheri Wilner (hard copies provided)


Week 9

T 3/3                           Point of No Return scene (final play) with copies to workshop

TH 3/5                        Workshop pages, continued; Revised Outline/Design to share


Week 10         

T 3/10                        3-5 pages towards final play as discussed, with copies to workshop

TH 3/12                      Play Production Response (1-2 page essay; 2nd essay allowed for extra credit)**


Week 11         


                                    Due by THURSDAY MARCH 19th    (Final Class time /location TBA)


*Late work is only accepted in the case of documented emergencies. If you are having troubles that are not necessarily documentable, please discuss with me in advance of the deadline to work something out.  


**You are required to see at minimum one production at the UW (see list below) and one theatrical production off campus.   Here are your show options:


UW School of Drama’s Productions

You must see EITHER

The Best of Everything, Feb 1-16 or The Women of Lockerbie, Feb 29-March 15


Professional Off-Campus Productions

You may see any production at one of the following theatres before March 9th

ACT Theater, ArtsWEST, Seattle Public Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Sound Theatre, Strawberry Theatre Workshop or Washington Ensemble Theatre. (See separate list for recommendations and show dates. Class credit for productions at On the Boards or other venues by permission only.)

Catalog Description: 
Writing exercises and drafts of a one-act play provide first experience in writing for performance. Readings of representative one-act plays introduce genres and writing styles.
GE Requirements: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
January 16, 2020 - 9:12pm