Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Yesterday we welcomed our first group of playwrights to Summer Theatre Camp at Playwrights Theatre. Among the many things we've done in the first two sessions was a writing exercise in which the group began a story using this painting by American painter Norman Rockwell.

April Fool's 1948 by Norman Rockwell
from The Saturday Evening Post
According to The Saturday Evening Post website, Rockwell painted a series of April Fool's Day paintings for the magazine's cover page as a reprieve from his famous Four Freedoms work. The first picture was published in 1943; another in 1945; the last in 1948, which is the one with which the class worked today. First, the class discussed what they saw in the painting and then were asked questions about the characters and the setting:

Who are these people?
What is the relationship between these people?
Who is the main character in the picture?
Where are they?
What is going on?

As you can imagine, the group developed a whole host of ideas and quickly noticed the "errors" in the painting: a series of oddities and mix-ups that Rockwell included for Post readers to find. The class was asked to consider this painting as a moment in the story of the main character (they choose the girl with the doll for this purpose) and began to develop a story idea.

The group named the girl Nancy Jane (a combination of the two more popular suggestions) and decided that she was a proper, stubborn, and taciturn (great word!) girl of about 11 years old who is living with her grandfather while Mom and Dad are on a world tour for the summer. Somehow she has discovered these oddities in her grandfather's attic and in this moment he is explaining to her how they are artifacts to a mystical world for which he serves as some kind of gatekeeper.

This is just one scenario that came up in the group discussion. With so many objects in the frame, there is a wealth of possibility as far as what the story is about and how it proceeds forward from the moment captured in the picture. We also discussed what Nancy Jane's journey might be, the obstacles she would face, and eventually how she would find her way home. They were having such a great time with this story that it was disappointing to have to stop, but time is short in our 10 day workshop and they had their own story ideas that needed attention. However, I look forward to using this picture in writing workshops yet to come!

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