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5 Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis: Dealing with the Visual

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Welcome to our series of Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis! These mini-lessons about Don's process adapting How To Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play will help you create your own work both on screen and on stage.


One of the first lessons I always teach my playwriting students is to picture what the audience is going to see. Since most plays consist almost entirely of dialogue, it’s easy to forget that the job of the playwright is not principally about writing brilliant dialogue. Your job is to create a compelling situation, and that situation consists partly of spoken words, but also of action and visual cues. You need to give the audience something to look at.

When writing for a digital platform, you need to think about the visual as well. What does it look like to have six people on camera at once? Are they little heads at that point? What about nine people? Does a crowd make sense? How might you create a crowd if you can’t really use twenty or thirty actors?

“When writing for a digital platform, you need to think about the visual as well.”

— Don Zolidis

Likewise, digital performance gives us a new way to express character—their relationship to the camera. Are they too close? Are they far away? Are they ducking in and out of view? Can you use their relationship to the camera to create movement? Can you pick the camera up and move it with you? Luckily, a lot of students have already picked up these skills by making their own videos for YouTube and the like for years.

Basically, you don’t want to have a group of talking heads on the screen like a business meeting. That’s BORING. How do you mix it up? How do you create an interesting visual that is going to keep the viewer’s attention?

“How do you mix it up? How do you create an interesting visual that is going to keep the viewer’s attention?”

— Don Zolidis

As I work to adapt HOW TO SURVIVE BEING IN A SHAKESPEARE PLAY, I need to leave room for creating interesting visuals. Now, a playscript is not a finished work of art. It is only complete once performed, so I think of it more like a blueprint for a performance than a fully fleshed out work. I want to think about ways to encourage experimentation with visuals, and opportunities for directors and actors to create their own interesting moments.

So I write with the knowledge that any given production is going to change things. I hope they will, honestly, because they will be able to add further levels of detail that I can’t even imagine yet.


More Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis:

We'll link to them as they're published. Check back weekly!


How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version) – Stage Partners

About the Play:

How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version)
By Don Zolidis

Some day it’s going to happen: You’re going to find yourself on stage, wearing tights, and saying things in iambic pentameter. Face it, you’re in a Shakespeare play, and that means it’s a pretty good bet you’re going to DIE. The Bard is out for blood, but this play is here to stop him! How could Romeo and Juliet survive? Julius Caesar? A nameless soldier in Henry the Fifth? What if King Lear had an emotional support llama and didn’t need to make terrible mistakes? Join us in discovering how a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays could’ve turned out differently! If only they listened...

One-act, 30-60 minutes. 10-50+ actors, gender flexible.



Don Zolidis holds a B.A. in English from Carleton College and an M.F.A. in playwriting from the Actor’s Studio Program at the New School University, where he studied under Romulus Linney. His plays have been seen at numerous theatres around the country, including The Purple Rose Theatre, The Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Phoenix Theatre, the Victory Theatre, Stage West, The Williamstown Theatre, and many others.

Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries. Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries.


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