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Backwards & ForwardsBackwards & Forwards

A Technical Manual for Reading Plays

David Ball

Narrated by Kevin Pierce

Available from Audible

Book published by Southern Illinois University Press

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 stageworthy. The text is full of tools for students and practitioners to use as they investigate plot, character, theme, exposition, imagery, motivation/obstacle/conflict, theatricality, and the other crucial parts of the superstructure of a play. He includes guides for discovering what the playwright considers the play’s most important elements, thus permitting interpretation based on the foundation of the play rather than its details.

Using Hamlet as illustration, Ball assures a familiar base for illustrating script-reading techniques as well as examples of the kinds of misinterpretation readers can fall prey to by ignoring the craft of the playwright. Of immense utility to those who want to put plays on the stage (actors, directors, designers, production specialists) Backwards and Forwards is also a fine playwriting manual because the structures it describes are the primary tools of the playwright.

David Ball is Professor of playwriting, acting, theater history, and literature at Carnegie-Mellon University and Artistic Director, Pittsburgh Metropolitan Stage Company. He has published two plays, Assassin! and an adaptation of Woyzeck, and has written and directed more than one hundred plays in professional, academic, and community theaters.


“In fewer than 100 pages, this marvelously instructive book shows how to unlock the secrets of plot, character, theme, exposition, imagery, motivation, conflict, theatricality and pacing… Our editor says he learned more about dramatic structure in the few hours he spent with this 96-page book than he has in his 20-years of theater experience.”

Stage Directions

“Ball wrote Backwards and Forwards to help people who put on plays understand how a play works… He argues that scripts represent a special kind of writing—because it is writing meant to be staged, not read— and thus requires special reading techniques; these techniques are what he offers.”


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University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks