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Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays
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Backwards and Forwards: A Technical Manual for Reading Plays

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,102 ratings  ·  80 reviews
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 stag
Paperback, 112 pages
Published July 7th 1983 by Southern Illinois University Press (first published 1983)
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4.11  · 
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 ·  1,102 ratings  ·  80 reviews

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Dave Logghe
May 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This text is incredible. I've been reading plays for about 14 years now, so I kind of thought I had the process of script reading down pretty well, but this book has changed how I will read scripts, probably forever. The concept of reading a play is simple, but Backwards and Forwards pinpoints very succinctly the elements to look for as a reader, especially when reading as an actor, director or designer. I got about two chapters in before I realized I needed to start highlighting key points. I d ...more
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It is a bitter joke among my screenwriter friends that the way you get a TV show is that you create a truly interesting character, in a fascinating environment, whose family has complicated, fraught dynamics... "and he solves crimes."

It is a cliché among high school drama classes that Hamlet is about a man cursed with indecision. What is up with that guy? If Othello had been in his shoes, he'd have killed off Claudius in Act One, scene 2. (To be fair, if Hamlet had been in Othello's shoes, he'd
Apr 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Another overdue book from the library. Recommended by 'becoming a dramaturgist' friend Deb, I had to ask my local library to find it somewhere else in the state. By the time I got the book, the time allowed to read, even this slim book, was not adequate.

Author David Ball was a professor in the Drama Department at Carnegie Mellon when he wrote this book. He has impeccable credentials since then as well. That being said, I found some of his writing rather juvenile. He refers to those who don't und
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I stumbled across this book at my local thrift store and decided to give it a go because the summary said it was a guide to playreading that used Hamlet as its primary example. I love the play Hamlet and figured, sure, I could use this book for a reading plan I'm doing in the "book about public speaking" category. With so little expectations, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book, it's fantastic.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get more out of reading plays, st
Oct 05, 2011 rated it did not like it
David Ball has some for real stuff to say about script analysis but most of it is so damn obvious you wonder who would bother to drop $17.95 for it. If it weren't a required textbook. Some of us who didn't want to give him any money found it in library reserves.

Here's why I didn't want to give him any money: 1. A lot of what is said should be obvious to anyone who's seen more than like two plays in thier life. I don't want anyone who hasn't had more theater exposure than that to have anything t
Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers in general, playwrights specifically
Shelves: writing-aids, theater
Although this book was written for actors and directors, I thought it was really insightful for how stories are constructed. Chapter five in particular talks about how people only speak when they want something. I thought this was great advice for any writer. Everything you write has to be because one of the characters wants something from another character. People don't monologue into the "ether."
Aug 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
An essential book for storytellers of all stripes, not just for playwrights, directors, and actors. If you're a fiction writer, it'll be useful.

You might want to get your hands on Shakespeare's Hamlet while you're reading this, as many examples are drawn from it. I was left dying to reread the play.
Mark Adderley
Oct 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An excellent analysis of how to read and write drama--very useful indeed.
Justen Bennett
Jan 21, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: theatre
Might be good for someone just starting out as a director but doesn't offer much to the more established.
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Any writer who specializes in fiction should read this. Playwrights and screenwriters will benefit most from Ball's teachings. As well, anyone who reads, attends, performs in, or produces drama should read this. Not only should it be mandatory reading, readers should also be required to practice the principles Ball provides in specific detail with specific reading assignments and exercises.
Feb 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Read this lil book for a script analysis class. I never know how to rate textbooks but this truly is the perfect and CONCISE go-to for how to read a script. It's got every basic thing you need to know. Big props to the author.
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018-books
Kept losing my train of thought due to lack of interest. Though it might be helpful to others, I feel like I managed to gather only bits and pieces of the book's advice. It did help me review some of the things I've learned throughout college, though. Otherwise, it was not a fun or good read.
Oct 26, 2017 rated it liked it
Some really interesting points, handy for all forms of story craft (not just playwriting) but unfortunately I found the information was presented in a super mansplain-y way...or at least, rather condescending towards the poor, stupid reader.
Sean Ross
Oct 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book should have been mandatory reading in Gr. 9. Reading this, *before* they make you read your first play in Eng. Lit. class, would make the analysis and comprehension of all future play readings so much more worthwhile. I need to go re-read Shakespeare with this book's method in mind...
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So cleverly written! The tone reminds me of Lemony Snicket. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had reading for a class!
Cameron James
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is so easy to read and it is thick with valuable information on every page.
Apollonia Tsanta
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved it! Exactly what I expected to acquire from reading it!
I'll definitely revisit it every now and then.
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A useful and concise guide to reading scripts. I would recommend to playwrights, directors, designers, and actors. I could have done without the bitter and sometimes condescending tone.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: theater
"A play is not about action nor does it describe action ... A fire is flames. A play is action."
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it
A lot of common sense advice that comes down to every word of the play being important, and going line by line on how everything connects.
Jan 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Funny and well argued look at how to analyze drama. Hamlet, baby! = )
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Great book on how to get the most out of plays. Anyone involved in theater should take the time to read this book!

"This guide to playreading 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 Guthrie Theater, building his guide on the crafts playwrights of every period and style use to make their plays stageworthy. The
Becky Ginther
Aug 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
As an actor, reader of plays, and first time director of a play, 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 ...more
Stephen Gallup
Nov 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
A friend who has studied screenwriting gave me this book when she heard that I had unexpectedly been tasked with writing a screenplay for my memoir. The book is actually intended for people trying to get the most out of an existing script (with Hamlet being used as the primary example), but I found it helpful for my purpose as well. Plus, I've always loved material that analyzes literature as this one does.

I particularly liked the rather simple explanation of how a play begins with a kind of st
Aug 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-we-own
This is a great resource: a very quick read that points out things that should be (but in fact aren't always) obvious about how to read a play. I think it should be required reading for every actor, director, and playwright.
My only complaint is that Ball's tone sometimes comes off a bit smug, and I imagine that this could be a turn-off for some readers. Comments along the lines of (paraphrasing here) "any semi-intelligent high school student can easily grasp the play" do not exactly build confid
Fawad Khan
Jun 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is by far the best book i have read about understanding plays. The problem with most drama critics is that they are not really aware of the dynamics of theatre and they analyse a play as though it were a novel or any other form of literature. And shakespeare, the best of the best, falls prey to these scholars' impractical analyses. David ball has done a tremendous job. A must read for anyone who loves theatre!

And yes, even though this a very book but it will take you some time to read it.
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
A book directed toward theater practitioners, Backwards & Forwards provides solid methods for delving into and interpreting a script. The first section, especially, is useful as it speaks about cause and effect. Most of Part 2 also provides interesting ways to examine plays in their written form. The third and final section peters out a bit as it is a restatement of information already known to those in the field.

To get the most out of this book, have a solid working knowledge of Hamlet, as
Cary S
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: textbooks
An oftentimes truly insightful, brief guide for all things theatrical. The author, like authors of most "How-To" books, tends to come off a bit self-impressed, arguing constantly that HIS method is the best and HIS interpretation of plays (specifically that Hamlet is not insane, thankyouverymuch) is the most correct. I don't even want to think about the argument that Ball might get into with somebody who (quite as righteously) believed in a completely different interpretation of his select theat ...more
Luna Lovegood
Jan 15, 2015 rated it did not like it
I don't ever leave reviews. So, when I do, you know it's bad.

If you have ever taken an English class at middle-school level or higher, read a book, or seen a play, you are at the level of this book. However, if you have some masochistic desire to be spoken to condescendingly by a man who clearly believes he has unlocked the Holy Grail of theatre, go ahead.

This book is dry, repetitive, simplistic, and dull. There is little he has to offer about Hamlet that hasn't been discussed in a high school c
Aug 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Theatre artists and filmmakers
Recommended to Matt by: Kate Buckley (part of assigned class reading)
Although Ball spends the first couple of chapters relating to the reader in eye-rollingly dry and pompous British detail his or her misconceptions about reading plays, when he gets into the nuts and bolts of what makes drama work, I pretty much realized he's right. Essential reading for anyone in theatre or film, specifically, and anyone else interested in learning more about storytelling in general.
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