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We are a group of friends/parents that run a not-for-profit cultural association in Spain.
This is our (bilingual!) blog about our theatre workshops for kids...

sábado, 10 de diciembre de 2011

Starting from scratch III. From lyrics to plot

A song can be an excellent place to start when you're looking to write a theatre script for kids. Songs that tell stories (eg. ballads, traditional children's songs) are particularly good, as most of the work - at least in terms of the plot - has been done for you (!) and the structure of most songs - separated neatly into verses as they are - lends itself to breaking up the plot into scenes. We're in the process of looking at how we might turn "The Ugly Bug Ball" into a theatre production for kids, and  - using the song to give a rough, overall 'shape' to our script - is precisely what we need to do next.

The first step is to analyse our material, so we get the lyrics and we see what we've got. We need to focus on:
  • its potential for characters (is it suitable for our group?)
  • any clues or ideas we can glean  from the language to help us with mood/atmosphere/dramatisation
  • the bare bones of the narrative (does the song give us the whole plot or is it just a starting point?) 

So what do the lyrics of "The Ugly Bug Ball" tell us?

Fire antsImage via Wikipedia In terms of characters, it's clear that there's huge scope for any number of creepy crawlies of all shapes and sizes, over and above the named "characters" in the song (caterpillar, beetle, dragon fly, fleas, worms etc). This, for me, is a major point in its favour. The sheer range of characters makes it ideal for larger groups (but flexible for smaller ones) and means character choice can be easily tailored to children's taste (not everyone finds spiders appealing, after all). I love the possibilities for costumes that this gives rise to. It's immediately obvious that there's scope for vibrant, colourful and varied costumes. The sky is really the limit (sign of a good song choice!).

From the lyrics, we also get clues that can help us set the tone of the overall play - providing us with a kind of verbal moodboard, if you like. In this case, we have words like "glorious", "happy", "glad" (so we've already got a great feel-good vibe going). Also, phrases like "crickets clicked their tricky melodies" or "the ants were fancy-dancing with the fleas" can give us useful staging ideas. We might have a trio of crickets with castañetas perhaps? Or is this the perfect opportunity for any budding tap dancers in the group?? We may have the ants and the fleas dance in some kind if unusual way: a jig perhaps? Or a spontaneous street dance (depending on the talents and tastes of our group).

In terms of plot, we certainly get the 'bare bones' of a narrative: a lonely caterpillar gets taken to a ball by his sympathetic friends where he meets the love of his life and lives happily ever after. It would be perfectly possible to develop a script entirely around this narrative, but, in my opinion at least, I think it will make a more interesting play with a bit of tweaking. As such, for me it's a song that falls into the second category - it makes a great starting point for a script but doesn't provide us with an off-the-peg plot. (An example of a song in this category would be "Puff The Magic Dragon" where it is possible to base a scene on every verse and you've got a play).
206/365 Ugly-Bug BallImage by david anderson : da-photography via Flickr
In terms of how we would develop the storyline, off the top of my head, I would say it lends itself to an ugly duckling scenario (especially as caterpillars - as future butterflies - undergo a similar transformation as a baby swan). Perhaps we will have the caterpillar suffer a series of rejections as he tries to befriend various 'glamourous' bugs before getting invited to the ball? Or maybe we can dramatise his loneliness at the beginning in some way. A choreography or scene that shows his lonely lifestyle perhaps? Once we get to part about the ball, our story can slot neatly into the song's narrative (dancing, boy meets girl, happily ever after) but we can draw this out, enjoy the details, as it were: a lively dance scene is surely a must? And we might want some kind of presentation scene (perhaps the insects arriving at the ball?) to showcase all our gorgeous costumes? There is also scope for a feel good finale once we get safely to the happy ending.

There are obviously any number of other ways that the plot of this song could be developed into a storyline for a theatre production - I've just touched on one possibility - but for the time being at least, we know that if we use "The Ugly Bug Ball" as as starting point for a play, we're going to have plenty to get our theatrical teeth into!

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