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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

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4.13  ·  Rating details ·  1,252 ratings  ·  94 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
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Paperback, 112 pages
Published July 7th 1983 by Southern Illinois University Press (first published 1983)
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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
Alex
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
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Ryan S
Apr 12, 2020 rated it liked it
It was fine. There are some good nuggets for playwrights and directors, usually summarized as the "focus" at the end of chapters. His hero worship of Hamlet as a text was, frankly, exhausting. I ended up rereading the play a few pages into this book just so I could understand all of his examples. Mostly it felt like a script analysis of Hamlet which wasn't really what I was looking for. I thought it was a book about script analysis and structure.

The writer honestly comes off as a pretty pretent
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Carolyn Page
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well, I need to buy this book. A brief manual that's interesting to read and is powerful in its instruction. I've noticed that the more established a professional is in their field, the more succinct their instructions are.
Ann
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
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Matthew
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
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Leah
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
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Emanuella
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."
Deb
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.
Matt Ely
It's about Hamlet, but only because Hamlet is familiar. Hamlet is the lens through which the author enables the reader to analyze plays in a distinct, systematic way. I appreciated the tools described here that helped me differentiate theater analysis from literature analysis, something I haven't really thought about specifically. This is a short, memorable collection of approaches to seeing plays the way the playwright saw them and (critically for the author) translating them into performance. ...more
amyblue
Jan 27, 2020 rated it liked it
listen, I’m a theater major so i understand the importance of proper script analysis (trust me i’ve had to take like 3 classes on the subject) and this book is not a book on script analysis. this book is an essay on how great hamlet is disguised as a book on script analysis. praising hamlet isn’t necessarily a problem, but if you want to write about how great you think hamlet is, just write about how great you think hamlet is. while this book DOES still contain some decent information and techni ...more
Rebecca Rebecca
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The clearest book on play structure that I have ever read (and I have a shelf on this subject). It provides pointed definitions of key terms (action, character, etc.) and demonstrates how to analyze dramatic action at the level of the play, scene, speech, or single line. Hamlet provides the central example, but the other plays cited throughout imply a study program -- on which I now intend to embark.
Jamie
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.
Sydney
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
It's good, there's just a LOT of information thrown at you at once. In accordance with my script analysis class, I can see how this will be incredibly useful and how I will be coming back to it on the daily.
David Ball is incredibly witty and makes some very important remarks about writing and reading as a whole.
Bernadette
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...
Libby
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.
Rachel
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.
Liz
Jul 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Terrific Theater Director tool. I reviewed “old” concepts and learned new ideas on how to better My studying of a script.

Both simply written and provocative at the same time to make you think differently on script work.

I liked it a lot!
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.
Otto
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.
Elphabian
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!
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.
JP
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."
G. H.
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.
Blissom Booblé
Great resource for actors and writers.
Alyssa Still
May 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The gold standard of play analysis. Absolutely essential reading for anyone who wants to view plays through a critical lens.
Rick
Jun 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The first book any theatre artist should read before working on a script. This book stands the test of time. Glad I revisited this decades after first reading it.
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