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Southern Illinois University Press
Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays / Edition 2

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays / Edition 2

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The best-selling script analysis book for thirty-five years

Considered an essential text since its publication thirty-five years ago, this guide for students and practitioners of both theater and literature complements, rather than contradicts or repeats, traditional methods of literary analysis of scripts.

Ball developed his method during his work as literary director at the Guthrie Theater, building his guide on the crafts playwrights of every period and style use to make their plays stageworthy. The text is full of tools for students and practitioners to use as they investigate plot, character, theme, exposition, imagery, conflict, theatricality, and the other crucial parts of the superstructure of a play. Also included are guides for discovering what the playwright considers a play’ s most important elements, thus permitting interpretation based on the foundation of the play rather than its details.

Using Shakespeare’s Hamlet as illustration, Ball assures a familiar base for clarifying script-reading techniques as well as exemplifying the kinds of misinterpretation readers can fall prey to by ignoring the craft of the playwright. Of immense utility to those who want to put plays on the stage (actors, directors, designers, production specialists) Backwards & Forwards is also a fine playwriting manual because the structures it describes are the primary tools of the playwright.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809311101
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date: 07/01/1983
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 95,652
Product dimensions: 5.37(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile: 1010L (what's this?)

About the Author

David Ball was one of the nation’s first theater literary directors when he served under Michael Langham at Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater. He later taught acting, directing, and script analysis at Lawrence, Carnegie Mellon, and Duke Universities. He was the artistic director of Pittsburgh’s renowned Metro Theater and the literary director of the Pittsburgh Public Theater. David Ball’s plays and adaptations have been frequently staged at professional repertory theaters throughout the United States and in Europe, including most recently his landmark adaptations of Moliere’s Tartuffe, The Miser, and The Imaginary Invalid. His former theater and film students hold Oscars, Obies, Tonys, and Emmys, and his own work has been supported by the Ford, McKnight, and Shubert Foundations, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Table of Contents

 Foreword to the 2017 Edition
Foreword to the 1983 Edition

Part One: Shape 7
1. What Happens That Makes Something Else Happen?
2. And What Happens Next?
3. But Do It Backwards
4. Stasis and Intrusion
5. Obstacle, Conflict
6. Ignorance Is Bliss
7. Things Theatrical

Part Two: Methods
8. Exposition
9. Forwards: Hungry for Next
10. Missing Persons (Character)
11. Image
12. Theme

Part Three: Tricks of the Trade
13. Background Information
14. Trusting the Playwright
15. Families
16. Generalities: Mood, Atmosphere
17. The Unique Factor
18. Changing Eras
19. Climax
20. Beginnings/Endings
21. Rereading
22. What Next?


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Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
cinesnail88 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very interesting take on play analysis. He held my interest, which I think he deserves credit for, yet he was a little too arrogant for my taste. That said, he's not without some good points that I believe all readers should adopt. As he rather acidly puts it "Dumb readers finish last."
beckykolacki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As an actor, reader of plays, and director, I found this to be a really nifty and useful book. It's short, and a really fast, enjoyable read, but it packs a lot in there. There are things you wouldn't really think about concerning plays that he brings up, and things that you really ought to but maybe don't. I'm definitely considering using this manual as a handbook for anything I'm going to act in or direct, and go through some of what seemed to me to be the best advice. He uses fun examples and focuses on Hamlet, a text that everyone is (or should be) familiar with, so it's easy to follow along.I particularly liked anything he said addressing characters. For instance, people have a reason for voicing outloud anything that they say. So what is the reason why your character chooses to say this particular thing out loud? I could also see this book being useful for playwrights, and would recommend it for anyone involved in any aspect of the theatre, or anyone taking a theatre class or studying plays.
karla1981 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A concise look at how to read plays. A must read for anyone who works in theatre. Not only does it make you think, but it's fun to read as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
David Ball circuitously describes the creating and production of the theatrical process beginning with the script and ending with the live production. His uniquely specific approach to script analysis provides: the theater practitioner with a perverse array of metaphoric processes by which he or she can obtrusively interpret a play. Using William Shakespeare¿s Hamlet as a stepping-stone, Ball ¿wanders¿ his way from Shakespeare¿s original concept to his own esoteric interpretation like a child in a candy-store reaching for the lollipop on-top-of-the-seven-foot shelf. This, -is delicious! Backwards and Forwards treads water in a quarry of sophomoric action and unmitigated retardation of character. This: one rule '1' there are no rules '2' action is the frontwards momentum achieved when-so-ever character moves from my room to your room '3' THE WORD THREE: 1,2, this is what 'we' are talking about. If it isn¿t, it isn¿t¿
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was introduced to David's slim volume at Duke University where David was chair of the theatre department in the late eighties. Now, as head of publications at one of the nation's premier play publishers in New York City, not a work day goes by that the principles David so concisely and elegantly introduced me to as an undergraduate don't figure into my understanding of what makes for successful drama. Read and take the time to absorb the principles in David's little book, and you will begin to see them everywhere -- on the stage, in films, in novels, in nonfiction, in the newspaper, even in poetry. BACKWARDS AND FORWARDS and a big stack of plays read in the light of it will do more to illuminate drama for you than a hundred other books on the art and craft of theatre by giving you a vocabulary and the ability to identify the fundamental building blocks of drama that most people, even many theatre professionals, have, at best, only an intuitive grasp of.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have used this book since college, although it was not assigned until one of my last theatre classes--I wish I had it from my first day. This book is an indispensible tool for script disection whether you be an actor, director, designer, or English teacher. Throw away all of the other books on play interpretation, and replace it with this small, insightful volume!