Inside-Out, Outside-In

by John P. Bray

Over the years, dramatic writing practices in the U.S. have evolved from a focus on structure beginning with George Pierce Baker’s Dramatic Technique, 1919, through the plethora of writing approaches offered in textbooks, monographs, and practice-based research articles. In my classes, I attempt to synthesize previous lessons to create exercises that are simultaneously Inside-Out (building worlds from dreams, emotional memories, etc.). and Outside-In (building worlds from objects, photographs, pieces of music). These exercises have proven successful in helping writers explore the sacred, imaginary spaces that exist in each one of them as they create works that are theatrical, belonging to various styles and genres.

The plays written in the dramatic writing classes, in a way, what playwriting teacher and theorist Paul Castagno would call a collage. In his section on creating character monologues in his wonderful New Playwriting Strategies: Language and media in the 21st Century, Paul Castagno has an exercise in which writers are asked to look at images that feature people exuding physical traits or physically engaging with emotional responses to find new ways to flesh out a new character (203). For Castagno, the “Portrait Monologue” is an example of creating dramatic characters as part of the new poetics; the new poetics, as Castagno suggests, demonstrates the playwrights “emphasis on creating unique theatrical worlds, on surprising or shocking audiences, lifting from a variety of sources (Wikipedia, blogs, transcriptions and so on)” (6). One of the groundbreaking playwrights and teachers Castagno cites is Cuban-born Maria Irene Fornes, who came to the fore during the Off-Off Broadway explosion of playwrights during the 1960s. My own professor at The New School, James Ryan, studied with the late Fornes whose exercises focused on objects, materials, photographs, and the immediate writing impulse one has after time spent with any of these materials (Ryan email to the author). Fornes’s contribution to American playwriting pedagogy cannot be overstated. (Her writing and teaching proved to change the landscape of American playwriting, which would take much more than this introduction to unpack.) In my own classes at the University of Georgia, I use what I have learned from my own teachers (Jim Ryan, Jack Gelber, Jeff Sweet, Femi Euba, Neal Bell, and Larry Carr, among many others) and attempt to create scaffolding for the students, as they build characters, worlds, and confidence in their writing. Each exercises results in a new, short play of ten-minutes or fewer.

The plays featured in this collection reflect different exercises: The Photograph Exercise (in which students create characters based on photographs of random people on Google), Familiar/Unfamiliar (in which one character uses a space for its intended purpose, while another character uses it for something other than its intended purpose, with neither addressing the odd behavior of the second character), Wikipedia Exercise (adapted from Castagno), and The Quest (adapted from Castagno and writings in Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey). I asked the students submitting to this issue to consider their works in context to genres and styles they may have discovered through our classers or elsewhere. As you can see, each play demonstrates an author’s unique voice. My hope is that these plays will one day be fully produced. In the meantime, I invite you, the reader, to enjoy these offerings, as I am sure you will see the names of these writers on programs and marquees in the very near future.

Works Cited

Baker, George Pierce. Dramatic Technique. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1919. Print.

Castagno, Paul. New Playwriting Strategies: Language and Media in the 21st Century. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Ryan, James, 31 May 2015. RE: Photograph Exercise. Email to John Patrick Bray (,

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd edition. Michael Wiese, 2008. Print.