Philip Kan Gotanda and Joshua Williams

Try your hand at some of the approaches professional playwrights like Philip Kan Gotanda and Joshua Williams might take to Fiat Lux.

remix 4 picture 1 man in field with students
Notice the man at the back of the group, leaning to our left? Can you imagine what he's thinking about?
remix 4 picture 2 men standing with horse
What do you make of the horse? Of course, the three men in the photograph are worthy of our attention as well. But for our purposes consider Mr. (or Ms.) Horse. What's the story there?
remix 4 picture 3 woman with microscope
What about this woman? What's running through her mind? Do you think she told people later about being photographed by Ansel Adams? What do you think she said?
remix 4 picture 4 people playing on beach at UCSB
Photographs capture a moment in time, but we can always speculate as to what might have happened just before the shutter clicked, or immediately afterwards. Imagine, if you will: moments after this photograph is taken, a flying saucer breaks the surface of the water and shoots straight up into the sky. The scuba divers are in shock, unsure how to respond. What do you think would happen next?

Playwrights often draw on archival material like Ansel Adams' photographs to create interesting characters and storylines. Try your hand at some of the approaches professional playwrights like Philip Kan Gotanda and Joshua Williams might take to Fiat Lux. We've provided a few prompts - inspired, in part, by the photographs you see above - but you should be as creative as you want to be. Let nothing hold you back!

1.) Choose a portrait of a single person from the Fiat Lux collection. If you'd like, you could go with Dr. Sudha Rao, the scientist in the photograph above. Try to imagine that you're that person and you're posing for Ansel Adams, the famous artist. Remember that he used different camera technology than we do today, and that people who posed for him often had to hold still for quite a long time. What's running through your head as he adjusts his camera and takes the shot? Write a 200-word inner monologue from the point of view of the character you've imagined. What do you, as this person, think about Ansel Adams? About the U.C.? About California, or the United States, or the world?

2.) Choose a person you find particularly compelling in one of Adams' photographs. You could work from one of the images we've provided, or another one altogether. Imagine this person going home at the end of the day. Who does she (or he) go home to? Her roommate? Her brother? Her landlord? Her son? Imagine a conversation between your character and this other person. What would your character tell her roommate or her brother or whoever it is she comes home to about posing for Ansel Adams? What would she tell this person about her day in general? Remember that these photographs were taken in the late 1960s. Try to tie the dialogue you come up with to what was happening in the world at that time - like the Civil Rights Movement, the Space Race, the Vietnam War, and so on. Write a 500-word scene that captures the conversation you imagine.

3.) Pick a person from one of Adams' photographs and try to imagine him (or her) as he (or she) is today. Remember that many of the people in these photographs are still living. Imagine your character sitting down with his granddaughter, or his partner, or a nurse at his nursing home facility. Imagine him trying to recall the day he was photographed by Ansel Adams. How would he describe the experience? How would the other person respond? What questions might this other person have about California in the 1960s? What comparisons would your character draw between California as it was then, California as it is now and California as it might be in the future? See if you can come up with 500 words of dialogue.

4.) If you find a photograph that you think is already telling a story, why not write a scene that captures what was happening just as the photograph was taken? Ask yourself: what's happening here? What happened a few minutes before? What will happen next? Think about that photograph of the divers that we showed you above. What would have happened if a flying saucer had appeared? Imagine a few of those divers - shaken, of course, by their close encounter - getting out of the water and going to their car. What would they talk about? If you're feeling bold, why not involve Ansel Adams in the conversation? How would he feel about missing a once-in-a-lifetime shot of aliens visiting earth? Try this exercise with any picture you find compelling. Really think about the people you see there. What are the relationships between them? Is love involved? Jealousy? Anger? Anything goes. Write a 500-word scene that starts from a single photograph and goes (anywhere) from there.

5.) How about writing something from the point of view of a non-human photographic subject? What about our friend the horse? What does he (or she) want from life? What stands in the way of him fulfilling his goals? What does he think of the three human beings who are there in the photograph with him? And - perhaps most importantly - who's holding that white rope around his neck? Try this exercise with any animal, plant, rock, etc., that you find interesting. (If you're interested in Mr. Horse but can't quite find his voice, check out the classic TV series Mr. Ed. That should get you started.) Write a 200-word interior monologue from this unique point of view.

Remember, these are just prompts. We'll take monologues and scenes on absolutely any topic to do with Fiat Lux. Remember to submit anything you write to the On the Same Page Contest. Over the course of the fall semester, some of the scenes that students submit will be performed. And who knows, you might win a prize!

Photographs by Ansel Adams:
1) Dr. Stebbins field trip, May, 1966, UC Davis;
2) Large animal clinic, May, 1966, UC Davis;
3) Dr. Sudha Rao, Ph. D., Entomology, September, 1966, UC Riverside;
4) Scuba class, into sun December, 1966, UC Santa Barbara.