A theme is an idea, a simple, clear, and powerful idea. Every story you have ever been told was created to teach you something. The more powerful and life changing the lesson, the more sacred the story. Human beings are incredible entities that extract meaning from stories that are not true. It is this ability that has allowed the arts and creativity to thrive. If your story has no theme then it has no lesson and will leave your audience's minds faster than it entered. If you are going to spend months or years of your life on a story shouldn't it be important? Human beings not only extract lessons from stories, but often base our existence on them. One of my favorite quotes was from a Neil Gaiman book (which he attributed to another writer and later said he made up). “Stories are important not because they teach us that dragons are real, but that they can be defeated,”
The theme is the heartbeat/ soul/ central message of the story. The theme is power statement in which the entire imaginary world of the play was created in order to deliver. The theme is vital because it will help guide how you develop the characters and their objectives and will also guide how the production is presented. Each character will have a relationship to this theme and this will determine his/her actions. Think of the theme as the glue or force that connects all of the souls that both view and present the production. When starting a play and identifying your theme ask yourself why do you need to tell the story? Why should the audience watch? What makes this story special? Once you have written these ideas down see if you can summarize or synthesize it in one sentence.
Playwriting Activity 1: Finding Themes in popular films
- Pick 2 films and identify the Theme. What makes that theme essential to the film? How do the characters reflect that theme?
- Find a friend or partner and discuss your findings. Do you both agree with your findings? If not discuss and see if you can discover a theme you can agree on
Playwriting Activity 2: Finding Themes in popular plays
- Pick 2 plays and identify the theme. What makes the theme essential? How do the characters reflect that theme?
- Find a friend or partner and discuss your findings. Do you both agree with your findings? If not discuss and see if you can discover a theme you can agree on.
Playwriting Activity 3: Finding Your Themes
- Write down the core mottos, themes, slogans, rules, or guiding principles that have had the deepest impact within your life.
- Pick 2 of the most important. Once selected, find a friend or partner and share your ideas.
- See how your partner responds to the themes. Discuss.
Playwriting Activity 4: Finding themes Through External Sources
- Look around you and find ideas, concepts, or current events that could inspire you to write a play about.
- Pick 2 of the scenarios/stories/events. Once the event is selected, choose the theme or message you wish to convey through each of these events.
- Find a friend or partner and share your ideas.