Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays

Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays


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.

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.

Using Hamlet 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) Backwards and Forwards is also a fine playwriting manual because the structures it describes are the primary tools of the playwright.


This book is for people who put plays on the stage: actors, directors, designers, technicians, and playwrights. (It is also for people who read plays just for the sake of reading them -- if they agree that the purpose of a script is for it to be staged -- but it is addressed directly to those putting plays on the stage. The rest of you may eavesdrop.) A script is not a prose narrative in mere dialogue form. It is writing heavily dependent on special methods and techniques for the stage.

The techniques in this book will help you read analytically to discern how the play works. What the play means should not be the first consideration. For the theater artist or technician it is more important to know what makes the clock tick than what time it is. And you can't begin to find a play's meaning until you comprehend its works.

To do your part in staging a script, begin by understanding its mechanics and values. If they are not clear to you, you can't make them clear to an audience so all your best efforts will be wasted. Theater is a combination of artists and technicians, and a script. You can't effectively combine with something you don't understand.

But students of the theater have stopped reading plays. They continue to look at them, sometimes even look at them on the page, but few have the smallest idea why. So . . .

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