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Backwards & Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays [Paperback]

Professor Emeritus David Ball Ph.D.
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 7 1983 0809311100 978-0809311101 1st Edition
<DIV><P>This guide to playreading for students and practitioners of both theater and literature complements, rather then contradicts or repeats, traditional methods of literary analysis of scripts.</P><P>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, motivation/obstacle/conflict, theatricality, and the other crucial parts of the superstructure of a play. He includes guides for discovering what the playwright considers the play’s most important elements, thus permitting interpretation based on the foundation of the play rather than its details.</P><P>Using <I>Hamlet</I> as illustration, Ball assures a familiar base for illustrating script-reading techniques as well as examples of 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) <I>Backwards and Forwards</I> is also a fine playwriting manual because the structures it describes are the primary tools of the playwright.


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“In fewer than 100 pages, this marvelously instructive book shows how to unlock the secrets of plot, character, theme, exposition, imagery, motivation, conflict, theatricality and pacing… Our editor says he learned more about dramatic structure in the few hours he spent with this 96-page book than he has in his 20-years of theater experience.”—Stage Directions

“Ball wrote [Backwards and Forwards] to help people who put on plays understand how a play works… He argues that scripts represent a special kind of writing—because it is writing meant to be staged, not read— and thus requires special reading techniques; these techniques are what he offers.”—Dramatics

About the Author

<DIV><DIV><B>David Ball</B> is Professor of playwriting, acting, theater history, and literature at Carnegie-Mellon University and Artistic Director, Pittsburgh Metropolitan Stage Company. He has published two plays, <I>Assassin! </I>and an adaptation of <I>Woyzeck</I>, and has written and directed more than one hundred plays in professional, academic, and community theaters.</div></DIV>

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Demystifying the Playwriting Process March 5 2000
David Ball's book is a must-have for all students and professors of theatre. It demystifies the playwriting process and presents a simple, down-to-earth explanation of why a playscript works the way it does. In a word, it explains how scripts work. I find the deceptively simple explanations help the novices in my Introduction to Theatre classes understand how playscripts are put together and make a fun game of script analysis for these students--a concept that is often hard to communicate to Intro students. At the same time, it make so much sense that it becomes the cornerstone for Beginning Directing, Playwriting, and Script Analysis students. Students whom I teach using Ball's ideas always come through the semester with a lot of self-esteem because having such a solid cornerstone allows their creativity to take off in unexpected directions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A concise text for ALL theater artists! March 3 2000
Ball's book is perhaps one of the most concise and insightful texts written about the subject of text analysis. Short and simple yet powerful, it is a must-have for theater artists of all kinds.
Whenever I am directing or writing, I go back to Ball's book and review it as part of my preparation, and there is always something new or interesting in it. Besides being useful as a resource to directors and writers, it is invaluable to academicians as well as actors. Using Hamlet as a model, it unravels not only the mysteries and traps of that play, but ALL plays.
I cannot recommend it highly enough. It should be taught in directing curriculums and read by actors, writers, and academicians everywhere.
(P.S. - Ball was a professor at Carnegie Mellon, my alma mater, and the birthplace of advanced directing studies in America.)
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I have used this book as the basis of several theatre and playwriting classes that I have taught. Ball's language is simple, though the words he creates to explain his theories, such as "trigger" and "heap" (a trigger is the moment when people's motivations are exposed, while a heap is the result of that action) make it it easy for any non-theatre person to grasp the clever concepts.
By having a person read a play backwards, Ball shows how to grasp the playwright's intentions, and the character's movements. It's a basic theatrical literary theatre that is surprisingly effective, especially in trying to teach young writers how to create a play.
I highly recommend this book to the theatre neophyte as well as the theatre professional.
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A friend who teachs drama and directing at a local college recommended this book to me after he'd read a script I'd written. Not only is it a fast and interesting read, it offers simple and sometimes brilliant techniques for understanding and evaluating plays, movies, and even books. Even if you never plan to act or write, this well-written little book will enhance your appreciation of good story-telling. And if you ever had to endure discussions of "Hamlet" in high-school or college, you'll likely be surprised by Ball's unique take on the character as an example of dramatic writing.
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