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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Repost: Rules for the Naming of Plays

This is a post from 2007 that I always sort of liked. Thought if you're a new reader of the blog (yes there are some out there) you might enjoy it.


So you have examined the Rules for the Writing of Plays and lickity-split you're the author of one of the next great American Works of Dramatic Artistry. How, pray tell, do you trumpet the heralding of the harbingers of this monumental act of creationism?

By naming the play with gusto, dear readers.

Heretoforthwith, we shall delve (reference to Stoppard) into the naming of things, the power of names, and how naming and titling are related.

First... we shall look at the great titles.

Hamlet is the title of a play. So is Death of a Salesman. Other play titles one might note are Doubt, Waiting for Godot, and The Odd Couple. There are many more titles of playworks. They include Bug, King Lear and, of course, Fences.

What do these titles have in common? So very much.

Hamlet is the name of the most important character in all of modern history and the first human mind expressed in its fullness. So much so that he even impressed Harold Bloom. No small feat. If your main character is capable of impressing Harold Bloom and interesting Peter Brook, name the play after this character. For example, Beckett did not name Waiting for Godot "Estragon." Why? Because Estragon isn't, in and of himself, capable of hanging himself. Hamlet is perfectly capable of killing himself. Hence, title character.

Death of a Salesman is an excellent title because it gives away the ending. People aren't interested in being surprised. Give away as much as you can without being cheeky.

Doubt, a more recently play, names itself after the theme of the play. While at some point in time this might have been frowned upon (should Shakespeare have called Hamlet "Indecision?"), these days, high school English teachers are overmatched by the reductive power of text messaging and YouTube. As a playwright that is alive, you are well-served to consider the theme of your play as its title. It will only help underpaid teachers explain what the hell is going on.

The Odd Couple is such a good title they turned it into a TV show. Write that down. These days, that play would have been written by Paul Rudnick. Shame that it wasn't, in a way.

Let us move past the examples of the past and think more forward-like. You have written a new play that is untitled. Let us say this play is three acts long and the plot revolves around the sun. Meaning, it is a history of our study of the sun. The main character is Copernicus, but you have named him Nicky Copper, and put him in 1930s Chicago.

Call the play Chicago Sun Times.

You see? Simple math. One word for each act.

Or, perhaps, you have written a ten minute thriller about the history of Tibet. In ten short minutes, you are able to sum up the history of the struggle for Tibet Freedom. It is a hit at parties, this play, and you can tell it will be beloved by the Actor's Theater of Louisville.

Call the play Ten Minutes in Tibet. So everyone knows what you're up to.

Or, dear dramatist, you have written a political masterpiece, which uses devilishly disguised figures with names like Decider and BlossomPoo and Mary Queen of Scots. The play spans the lifespan of the spanned life of a fictional kingdom called the Universal Capitalist Tribes and its many wars over plastic toys in the Middle Desert. It is an alternate history of sorts, barely researched and therefore unclouded by anything but fresh thinking.

Call the play The United States of America. That will really show them.

Regardless of how you go about titling your masterwork of new drama, you must remember that it is as much science as art. Precision and testing do the trick. Ask you Mother what she finds most memorable. Look for important phrases in songs and rework them to match your needs. Name your play Title for a bit of metatheatrical giggle-laugh-riotry. But most of all: Be Yourself.

To close, and to be generous, other play titles you can use are:

Lucinda's Dog Walking Business
The Big Red Balloon
Christ is Watching The Eyes That Are Watching God
They Still Boil Lobsters, Don't They?
The Historical Tragedy of Amerigo Vespucci
This, I Should Not Have Sniffed
Dedicated to My Mentor, Freeman
James Comtois and Qui Nguyen: With Fights!
Endgame (which you are trying to write anyway)
Kickstand: The Bicycle Cycle
Ten Short Plays Copywritten
The Organisms

You're welcome.

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