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Lajos Egri 1888-1967 Born in Hungary, emigrated to US in 1908 Pre WW1 socialist, communist and journalist Playwright for the Hungarian radical theatre.

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Presentation on theme: "Lajos Egri 1888-1967 Born in Hungary, emigrated to US in 1908 Pre WW1 socialist, communist and journalist Playwright for the Hungarian radical theatre."— Presentation transcript:

1 Lajos Egri Born in Hungary, emigrated to US in 1908 Pre WW1 socialist, communist and journalist Playwright for the Hungarian radical theatre in NYC

2 Lajos Egri Mid 1930s founded the Egri School of Writing 1942: How to Write a Play 1946: Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human Motives

3 Lajos Egri Edited radio (and eventually TV) plays for CBS Acted and directed in a Hungarian theatre group in NYC Collection of his papers available through the Immigration History Research Center, Univ. of Minnesota

4 Egri on “Why we Write”  We want to be immortal  We want to be important  We want attention  Writers are extremely needy and insecure  They want to be noticed and remembered

5 Great Writing …is a submission to a creative force (individuation-Jung) that seems to use the writer as an instrument. Writing becomes a process of discovery as the story and characters lead you forward.

6 Linking Aristotle to Egri … From the laws of logic to the laws of dialectics

7 Aristotle’s Formal Logic Aristotle developed the laws of logic:  Law of identity: a thing is always equal to itself (a=a)  Law of contradiction: if a thing is always identical with its self, it cannot be different from itself(a can never equal not a)  Law of excluded middle: everything must be one of two things, (a or not a)

8 Formal Logic has Limits Logic is fine of daily life, but when you begin to contemplate higher questions like… How can a man be a man and nothing else? At what point is man dead? You need a higher form of logic.

9 Hegel’s( ) Dialectics, modified by Marxists (late 1930s)  Hegel’s “Universal God” was “materialized” by Engels, Marx, and Trotsky  Whereas formal logic was rigid and examined static relationships, dialectics was the understanding of real life-processes of motion, contradiction and change existing in the material world

10 Laws of Dialectical Materialism  Law of quantity into quantity and of quality into quantity  Unity of opposites (polarization-attraction)  Negation of the negation “Each is linked organically to the other as an expression to a law which is felt in all grades of consciousness and general experience” -Hegel

11 So what does this mean to playwrighting?  Movement and change results from causes inherent in processes and things, from internal contradictions. These contradictory tendencies within phenomena represent, in reality, a unity of opposites. For every action this is a natural reaction. Change takes place in leaps and revolutions.

12 So what does this mean to playwrighting?  There must be something to generate tensions and create complication and this something must be natural and organic.  The force that unifies is human character and all of its contradictions  If there is a thesis, there must be an antithesis. From the two will come a synthesis, uniting the road to truth

13 Egri’s Section 1 Premise

14 Plays have a premise and every character has a premise of their own  No character (figuratively) “lives on an island” in a play  Everything in existence is closely related to everything else  The more the dramatist reveals, the better the play

15 What is a premise? Everything must have a purpose, premise or goal. A premise is the writer’s message; what you have to say. No idea, situation or emotion can carry a play thru beginning, middle and end as well as a clear cut premise.

16 Expressing Your Premise  The premise must be clear cut, contain emotion and be brought-forth by character and action.  The premise should be worded so that anyone can understand it as the author intended it to be understood  An unclear premise is as bad as no premise at all

17 Three Parts of a Premise  1). Character (adjective, such as a trait like “frugality”)  2). Conflict (verb, should be active, “leads to”)  3). Conclusion (noun, such as “waste”)  A good premise is a thumbnail synopsis of your play  The writer must take sides, take a stand, commit to the goal. Without the author’s conviction there is no premise

18 Examples of Premise  Pride brings destruction  Immorality brings destruction  Dishonesty leads to destruction  Extravagance brings destruction  Egotism leads to destruction  Greed brings destruction Any could be true, but the author must commit to only one of them!

19 Must a Premise be True? Only in the story.  A premise may not be universally true, but if you choose it the action and characters of your play must prove it.  Passion and emotion enter when the author takes sides and commits.  Passion and emotion must be driven by the premise

20 Can I use someone else’s premise?  Yes, but you must make it your own through your own beliefs, passion and personal experience.

21 Must I begin with a premise?  No, you can begin with an event or character.  You must allow the premise to unfold and you must commit  Characters and action cannot carry a good play alone

22 Can I change my premise?  Yes, but you likely will wind-up going back to the beginning of your play and rewriting much of it.

23 Does my premise have to be obvious?  No, it shouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  In a good story you cannot tell where character ends and premise begins

24 Can I have more than one premise?  Yes, but you must accept the fact that you will not have a great play.  Don’t confuse subplots with premises. Subplots may be included as devices to propel the action that propels the premise.

25 How can I find my premise?  Look within yourself. What do you believe? Where do your passions lie?  Study characters  Study human nature  Study the “why” (motivation) instead of the “how” (action)

26 Remember dialectics:  There must be something to generate tensions and create complication and this something must be natural and organic.  The force that unifies is human character and all of its contradictions  If there is a thesis, there must be an antithesis. From the two will come a synthesis, uniting the road to truth

27 The Art of Dramatic Writing: Basic Story Structure 1.Develop your Premise 2. Decision or Event Sets Action in Motion 3. Conflict Arises 4. Character is Revealed 5. Characters Develop Under Pressure of the Situation or Environment 6. Protagonist vs. Antagonist Propels the Story to its Ultimate Destination 7. Premise is Proven

28 Remember dialectics:  There must be something to generate tensions and create complication and this something must be natural and organic.  The force that unifies is human character and all of its contradictions  If there is a thesis, there must be an antithesis. From the two will come a synthesis, uniting the road to truth

29 The Art of Dramatic Writing: Basic Story Structure 1.Develop your Premise 2. Decision or Event Sets Action in Motion 3. Conflict Arises 4. Character is Revealed 5. Characters Develop Under Pressure of the Situation or Environment 6. Protagonist vs. Antagonist Propels the Story to its Ultimate Destination 7. Premise is Proven

30 West Wing Episode  Characters: Leo, The President, Josh  Event: Republicans want to strike a deal suppressing Leo’s substance abuse in exchange for his recommendation to the President that he accept a Congressional Censure  Leo is loyal to the President; Leo’s friends don’t want to see him destroyed; Josh wants a friend to become more than a friend

31 Mills Schedule Changes  I will not hold office hours this week due to my husband’s surgery on Tuesday  I will be available via Thursday and Friday of this week.  Do not hesitate to contact me via if you have a question or need something

32 Egri’s Section 2 Character

33 Describing characters is not enough. You must understand them.  If a character is happy, sad, rude, friendly, apathetic or active, you must understand WHY.  To understand the action of any character we must look at the motivation that compels him or her to act as he or she does.  Understanding character allows you to truly understand how the story will move forward.

34 The Bone Structure: Making Characters Three-dimensional  Physiology  Sociology  Psychology

35 Environmental Pressures  Physical, mental, sociologic, economic, political  These are ever-changing

36 Character = physiology + sociology + psychology pressures of the environment As with all mathematical equations, as one variable changes the resulting product changes, and here his where we can form our character’s growth or arc

37 Dialectical Approach  Thesis: What the character wants  Antithesis: Obstacle preventing them from getting what they want  Synthesis: Thesis and Antithesis circling around each other create dramatic action and change, the only constant of the human condition

38 A Character Grows  Through Synthesis  All great plays build upon the constant change and development of a character under the impact of conflict

39 Weak vs. Strong Characters  Weak characters have no power to put up a fight. They are always held back or their growth is implausible.  Strong characters grow and find the will to change and get what they want  Josh’s secretary is an example of a strong character that is not a protagonist or lead

40 Character Drives Plot  Yes, this is the OPPOSITE of what Aristotle believed.  The pivotal character is the Protagonist.  Anyone who opposes the pivotal character is an Antagonist.  There may be more than one of both.

41 Orchestration  This is the melding of character with plot  Good orchestration allows the plot to rise in several stages or intervals  Orchestration demands well-defined and uncompromising characters in opposition, moving from one pole toward another through conflict

42 Unity of Opposites  There is no compromise in a good play. One thing has to be destroyed in order for the other to live. EXAMPLES:  Science vs. Superstition  Religion vs. Atheism  Capitalism vs. Communism

43 Unity of Opposites: Character  EXAMPLES OF CHARACTER TRAITS  Sloth vs. Productivity  Fear vs. Confidence  Loneliness vs. Companionship  Innocence vs. Maturity

44 The Heart is a Lonely Hunter  What is the premise of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter?”  State the premise as a thesis, proven by “Mick.”  State the premise as an antithesis, proven by “Singer.”

45 Character: The Bottom Line (for a great play)  The dominant trait or quality of a character must fundamentally change  The change must be motivated by that character him or herself (plausible)  Unity of opposites brings the conflict that allows a great story to rise to a climax

46 The premise is proven by strong characters  A decision or event sets the action in motion  A conflict arises  The true nature of the character(s) is revealed  Characters develop under pressure of the situation or environment  Thesis/antithesis propel the story to its ultimate destination  Premise is proven

47 Singer  His deep desire is for friendship, “connection”  He is very observant and a “good listener.”  Gives Mick a gift: music  Often his kindnesses are not returned, and he remains lonely, isolated (chess game)  Cruel circumstances are beyond his control (Andropolis’ behavior, doctor’s illness)  Makes sacrifices for the collective

48 The Bone Structure: Making Characters Three-dimensional Character = physiology x sociology = psychology ________________________________________ Pressures of the environment

49 Singer’s equation Deaf mute X outcast = loneliness/frustration (isolation) _____________________________________________ Pressure to conform to society Antithesis: Isolation leads to destruction/death

50 Mick  Her deep desire is for beauty beyond her grasp  She also gives gifts… helps Singer “hear” music… gives her friends a party… takes care of her brothers  She also makes sacrifices for the collective: her family (room)

51 Mick’s Equation Innocent X Outcast = Frustration/Anger ___________________________________ Pressure to accept life is unfair Thesis: Communication leads to freedom

52 Doctor’s Equation Dying X Racism = Bittnerness/Stubborness _____________________________________ Pressure to conform to societal rules Thesis: Communication leads to understanding and love

53 Jake’s equation Psychological pain X Drifter = Feels hopeless ______________________________________ Struggle for meaning in life Antithesis: Violence leads to a meaningless existence

54 Egri, Part 3: CONFLICT

55 What is conflict?  Definition: “a state of opposition or incompatibility between two or more people or groups of people.”  Argument is not conflict  Contrast is not conflict  A conflict can have no less than two forces (characters)

56 Conflict won’t happen if…  Your characters all get along perfectly with each other because none of them are flawed  Your characters are weak or superficial

57 Conflict won’t be satisfying if…  The action is illogical and difficult to sustain (logos)  The action is static and never really goes anywhere (because characters aren’t willing or aren’t strong enough to make a decision or take action)

58 Conflict needs…  Strong characters that can grow  Intensity provided by the strength or the will of the protagonist  Protagonist and antagonist must be evenly matched (Kirk and Spock vs. Klingons or Romulins)

59 Almost all conflict can be traced to…  Environmental pressures  Social pressures  Psychological flaws of main character  It is the main character’s nature and will that create the counteraction that sets the play in motion

60 Your challenge as the storyteller:  Line up the forces that will create the conflict  Bring those forces out of the true nature of your protagonist and antagonist  Each character must have a stake in the outcome of the conflict

61 Typical dramatic conflicts:  Between human beings  Within human beings  Between human beings and non-human animate beings  Between human beings and natural forces

62 Three kinds of conflict  Static: ping-pong, doesn’t GO anywhere  Jumping: Not believable, inorganic, overdramatic  Rising: Always moving up (with plateaus). Always involves foreshadowing. Rising action can be unrelenting, so you must give your audience room to breathe

63 Conflict Structure: Crisis, Climax and Resolution  The unbreakable BOND between characters ensures rising crisis, climax and resolution  The climax must be inherent from the very beginning of the play: choosing your protagonist and antagonist predicated it.  BUT… the climax can still be ruined if any character weakens for some reason

64 Crisis and Climax  These follow each other to the rising plateaus  One single scene may contain the exposition of premise for that particular scene, the exposition of character, conflict, transition, crisis, climax and resolution  The procedure is repeated over and over in an ascending scale

65 Periodical Connections  All the elements of a three-act play are actually repeated over and over again in each defining scene  Crisis, climax, resolution and exposition are cyclical

66 What is a Crisis?  Any turning point  A state of things in which a decisive change one way or the other is impending

67 What is a Climax? (Egri)  The resolution of all crises  The culminating point  It is the height of all plateaus  It is the part before the resolution

68 What is a Climax? (Vogler, pp )  Greek for ladder.  Explosive moment  Highest peak in energy  Last big event in a work  Highly emotional but decisive

69 “Quiet” Climax  Gentle wave of emotion  Sense that all conflicts are harmoniously resolved  Tensions are converted into feelings of pleasure and peace

70 “Rolling” Climax  Individual subplots each require their own climax  Hero experiences a climax with each new level of awareness or emotion  Mind, body, spirit climaxes and the hero’s whole world changes

71 Climax leads to Catharsis  Psychoanalysis: catharsis is a technique for relieving anxiety  A raising of the consciousness of both hero and audience  A sudden expanse of awareness, peak of higher consciousness  May include physical expressions like laughter

72 Climax and Character Arc  Logical result of a character’s change or growth  A common flaw is the climax is reached too abruptly

73 The Puffy Chair  2005 Jay and Mark Duplass  Mark Duplass plays Josh  Has won many independent film awards  Shot on a very low budget… on location… with friends who worked for little or no pay


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