Saturday, July 15, 2017

Send me your videos


I recently heard from a young actress named Maxine who's playing Daisy in a local production of The Stinky Feet Gang and wanted to know why I haven't posted anything from that play on my Video page.

The answer is quite simple. I haven't found one yet. The videos I post on this website all come from YouTube, and if no one has posted a video there, then I can't post a link to it here.

But I'm thinking there are a lot more videos out there than what you can find on the Tube. After all, my publisher allows audience members to videotape their productions (most publishers don't) and every time I go to one of my shows, I see a few parents taping away. So if you have a video and you'd like to share it with me, I would love to post it here. Just email me the file or a link by clicking here.

The same goes for photos. I can usually find quite a few scouring Facebook, but I know a lot of you have your own. If you'd like to see them posted here, please send them my way!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

So you want to promote your play


A recent post on The Official Playwrights of Facebook got me thinking. In it, a member of the often raucous group asked how he could promote his self-produced play.

He got a fair number of responses, but most of these fell into the category of "same old same old": posters and Facebook.

Now both of these tools can help, but they're far from the whole story. If you want to promote your own show, there are a lot more powerful tools you can use.

When I plan the promotion of one of my plays, one of the things I consider is what marketers call "stickiness". This is the ability of a particular promotional tool to stick with someone after they've been exposed to it. And the problem with posters is that they're not very sticky.

Think about it. A person is out and about when they see one of your posters. They think, "That sounds good. I might like to see that." They run to the bank. They pick up some Fun-Yuns. And by the time they get home, they've forgotten all about it. A poster doesn't offer people anything to take home.

Plus, there's the old problem of where do you put them? Libraries used to be a good place to post arts-related posters, but around here at least, a lot of them have gotten the idea that any event that charges is money s "for profit" and so they won't allow them. Starbucks too has cut way back on the type of posters they accept (although that's up to the individual store manager, so it doesn't hurt to ask).

This is why I don't use posters anymore. But let me offer some other ideas that are more powerful--and often a lot cheaper.

Postcards

This has been one of my most successful promotional tools. They're like posters in that they catch people's eye with a colorful image and can include all the deets on your event. But unlike posters, postcards let you make that personal connection that's so important.

I would give 50 to 100 postcards to each of my actors so they could give them to their friends. Trust me, no one is going to be a better salesman for your show than an actor who's appearing in it. And the nice thing is people tend to take postcards home and stick them on their bulletin board or fridge so they end up looking at them several times a day.

Vistaprint is a great source for postcards and dozens of other promo items (coffee cups, anyone?). Their prices are cheap and they offer a great online tool for designing the cards.

If you do use postcards, make sure to include the website where they can buy tickets. You always want to convert that exposure to an actual purchase.

Facebook

Of course you'll want to post an event with Mr. Zuckerberg and invite all of your friends. Just make sure you keep the mindless cheerleading to a minimum ("this is my first play and it would mean a lot to me if you can all come!"). That can turn people off and doesn't really set your play apart from the hundreds of other entertainment options people are bombarded with every day. Instead, hook your potential audience with a brief but punchy description of what your play is about.

Programs

Advertising your play in the program for other shows requires some advance planning (theaters tend to print them up weeks ahead of time). But this is likely to be the most effective tool in your whole promotional toolbelt. That's because you're getting your play's name in front of people who already love theater and are often looking for the next great play to see.

Rates for this type of advertising are usually pretty low and the money goes to help other theater companies. That's a big win-win in my book.

Radio

Buying radio ads can be very expensive and often isn't very effective. When I ran a children's theatre company, I spent $400 on a weekend's worth of commercials and ended up getting only one new student out of the deal (but he was a great student, so in this case, it was worth the investment!).

There are cheaper alternatives. Look at the AM talk radio and public radio stations in your area. Do any of them have arts-related interview shows? If so, you can usually snag a spot by emailing the host.

And don't be shy. I noticed that one local radio station never promoted high school shows. When I talked to them, I found out they had an equal opportunity policy. They put everyone on their show  who asked. It's just that high schools never asked.

I love doing radio shows because it's a great way to involve the actors in your show. One show even allowed us to perform a whole scene on the air. Not only was it a lot of fun, but it gave listeners a great taste of what the play was like.

Newspapers

Newspapers can also be an expensive place to advertise, and with dwindling subscriber bases, they ain't what they used to be. But here too, you might get some free exposure by convincing someone to do an article or review. Of course, this is a long shot, but it doesn't cost you anything to try.

Just let me give you one piece of advice. Don't send a press release. As a theatre reviewer, I was on the receiving end of these and 98% were deadly boring: paragraph after endless paragraph of cast member names and the history of the play and who knows what else (I never read that far to find out).

Instead, find out the names of the local arts editor and all of the arts reporters (their names should be in the newspaper's masthead). Then send them a brief, personal email inviting them to your show. As with Facebook and pretty much every other promotional tool mentioned here, the most important item is the hook. What makes your play unique? What will make it a compelling experience for audience members?

Oh, and don't forget those local event listings at the back of the newspaper. Those are usually free to get onto.

Email Lists

Of course, you should send an email blast to your own personal list of family, friends and people who've bought tickets from you before. But try thinking outside the box. Is there an arts other mass email list you can get on?

Colorado Springs had a great arts group called the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region. Each week, they'd email a list of local arts events to thousands of arts lovers in the areas. It was easy to get my plays included in the list and I found it to be way more effective than my own email campaigns because it came with the approbation of an independent and highly respected arts group. And if you're lucky, they might even make you pick of the week.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Free world premiere rights for Lights! Camera! Murder!


For the first time ever, I'm offering free world premiere rights to one of my plays. That's right. Your school or community theater can be the first in the world to perform my latest comedy. You get to experience the thrill of creating entirely brand new characters. And when the play gets published, it's your cast and crew that'll be listed at the back of the script.

Best of all, it's completely free. You don't need to pay a penny in licensing fees and I will email you  an electronic script that you can print out and copy as many times as you want.

Why am I offering such an incredible deal? Because I want to submit the play to major publishers and I need to get some production credits before I can do that.

The play is Lights! Camera! Murder!, a mystery/comedy set in 1940's Hollywood. It has a cast of nine (4M/5F), requires only a simple unit set and runs about 75 minutes. Here's the blurb:
It's 1948, and Hope Holloway is an ambitious young press agent on Dial M for Migraine, a detective movie that's three weeks late and half a million dollars overbudget. To finish it, temperamental leading man Roger Drummond has to film one last scene, a scene in which his character drinks a poisoned cup of coffee. Roger gives the performance of his life, writhing in agony as he collapses to the floor. But when the scene is done, and Roger remains sprawled on the floor, Hope realizes that the coffee really was poisoned! Worried about the bad press this will generate, Hope quickly hides the body so she can solve the crime herself. But who could the murderer be? Alberto Bologna, the hotheaded director who's only pretending to be Italian? Gwendolyn Chambers, the bubbleheaded starlet who can't read her cue cards without squinting? Tommy Novak, the gawky production assistant who has a crush on Hope? Or one of several other unlikely suspects?
To read a sample, click here. To read the entire script, email me by clicking here. The first theater to schedule a performance date wins the world premiere rights.

If you miss out on the premiere, you can still perform the play for free, but you'll need to make a commitment before July 31 (the performance doesn't need to take place before July 31, you just need to schedule it by then) because that's when this offer expires.

Seriously, how often do you get a deal like this?

Saturday, May 13, 2017

My 6th year sales


The last twelve months have been a busy year for me, a crazy year, a wildly productive year. As mentioned previously, I was laid off from my day job in April. Although it was completely unexpected and a little bit scary, being out of work turned out to be a gift and I put that time to good use, cranking out seven full-length plays in the ten months I was unemployed.

I'm now starting to reap the rewards. I received my annual royalty check from Pioneer yesterday and the numbers are looking pretty good.

My total number of productions hit a new record with 228, a 52% increase over the 150 I had last year. There was a bit of a boost from the two new plays that were released last year, but most of that increase came from the three plays that were released the previous year and now had a full year of production under their belts. I also saw one older play come roaring back to life.

My #1 play for the year was You're Driving Me Crazy!, with 61 productions. This driver's ed comedy continues to do well at one-act competitions throughout the United States and Canada. I was especially gratified in April when I saw that it got bought by the Manitoba Text Book Bureau. I don't know what this means yet, but the agency provides text books for all of the public schools in Manitoba so I'm hoping the play will start popping up at a lot more schools in our neighbor to the north.

Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye was #2 with 40 productions. That was a big drop from the 63 productions it got the previous year, its first full year of publication. But that sophomore drop is pretty common for large-cast school plays as a lot of elementary schools and summer camps prefer new plays. Still, 40 shows is nothing to sneeze at (though one of the dwarfs might be tempted to).

This was the first full year for Million Dollar Meatballs, which came in at #3 with 34 productions. This play seems to appeal to everyone, with productions being done by elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, colleges and community theatre groups. All it needs now is a nursing home production and it'll have run the gamut!

The Butler Did It! was a close fourth with 33 productions. This one really surprised me because it only got 14 productions the previous year. It appears that this, my first full-length play, has legs.

How I Met Your Mummy was #5 with 30 productions. When it first came out, I thought it would mostly get done around Halloween, but it's actually been popular throughout the year.

Long Tall Lester had 14 productions, a nice pop from the 9 productions it had last year.

The _urloined Letter was #7 with 7 productions, compared to 6 the previous year.

Trouble in Paradise Junction came out in December, but still managed to squeeze in 6 productions before the end of April. I have big hopes for this heartwarming small-town comedy as it has already booked 9 more productions in the coming year.

The Stinky Feet Gang came out in January and had a bit of slow start, with just 3 productions. Part of this may be due to the fact that the catalog lists it as 10M/8F, but it's actually one of my most female-heavy plays as the seven biggest parts are all female and many of the male roles can go either way. One good thing is that it's gotten interest from schools that are looking for gun-free westerns.

I've got two more plays slated to be released this fall, Wicked Is As Wicked Does and The Enchanted Bookshop. I can't wait to see how these large-cast comedies fare.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Raising a stink


One of the worst thing about moving to Phoenix is missing out on all the great Colorado productions of my plays. One of the best things about moving to Phoenix is getting to see great Arizona productions of my plays.

I did a little bit of both yesterday as The Stinky Feet Gang had a dual world premiere: one at an elementary school in Fowler, CO and, just a few hours later, one at a Christian middle school in Glendale, AZ.

I got to see the one in Glendale. From where I live in Mesa, it took about 50 minutes to get to the school, and that's without much traffic. (Did I mention how big Phoenix is? For that entire drive, I was on the metro freeway system, going 65 miles an hour, and I still had about half an hour to go before I would see open desert.)

Director Jennifer Pellish warmly greeted me on my arrival (as did the school principal). She apologized for changing the gender of some of the roles. The Stinky Feet Gang is heavily male but, in a twist that runs contrary to everything I know about theatre, she had more boys than girls try out and had to change a couple of shopkeeper roles from female to male.

I told her not to worry. I understand the casting constraints schools (or community theaters, for that matter) are under so changing the gender of roles is fine with me. And you don't have to ask my permission.

I do get a little uneasy if a director adds characters or changes the dialogue in a substantial way. In those cases, it's best if you email me (see the link to the right).

Jennifer went on to say that it was one of the easiest plays she had ever produced, which was a great relief to me. I didn't get a chance to develop this play with a school and while I tried to keep it simple, you never know what challenges will pop up when somebody actually puts the play on its feet.

Anyway, the students did a fantastic job. They got a ton of laughs from the audience, and the parents told me they really enjoyed it.

It's always great to see a new play get up on its feet. Even if those feet reek to high heaven.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

On character arc and Listerine



On opening night for The Purrfect Crime, I ran into a couple old theatre friends. Let's call them Bette and Joan.

We had worked together on several of my plays and I was honored that they'd come out to see this one, my last one to premiere in Colorado Springs.

Afterwards, we joined my wife for a couple beers at one of our favorite old haunts, Old Chicago. It was fun, but it was also bittersweet, because I was back in the Springs for just three days and I had no idea when, or even if, I'd ever see them again,.

But we didn't talk about that. We talked about the state of theatre in town. We talked about all the great old times we had had. We even swapped stories about the famous theatre types we'd met (the winner: Joan's story about being reduced to tears when introduced to the great Stephen Sondheim).

And then, under the tongue-loosening effects of the laughter (or maybe it was the beer), Joan looked me in the eye and told me I was a good playwright, but I wouldn't be really good until I gave my characters more depth.

She almost immediately apologized, saying she hoped she hadn't offended me. I assured her she hadn't. In fact, I thanked her. It's all too rare, I told her, to get such an honest opinion from people.

And I meant it. But it got me thinking. What she was talking about was character arc, the transformation that a character goes through as they react to the obstacles in their lives and strive to achieve their goals.

Both Bette and Joan come from acting backgrounds. And as actors, they want to feel that each of the characters they play has an arc. They feel that every character grows in some way, and it's the actor's job to make that growth visible, compelling and real.

Of course it's not true. As a playwright, I know that each story is the hero's story. Nearly all of my effort in crafting a story goes toward building the hero's arc.

Oh, sure. Some of the other characters--the antagonist certainly, maybe even a sidekick or two--may get an arc. And each of the characters is important. I don't out a character in a play unless that character serves the story in some vital way. But that doesn't mean the character has an arc.

But I get where Joan is coming from. We are each the hero of our own story, and when an actor is cast in a particular role, they want to feel as if their character has a life beyond the edges of the stage, a life that transforms in some meaningful way. It's that transformation that makes the character interesting to them.

And if an actor can find and portray an arc in a small role, I say more power to them.

Besides, this was kind of line with what my favorite readers Jeff and Debby told me. After watching The Purrfect Crime, they felt there was no one to root for.

It was a good point, and I tried to think of ways to make the entire bickering family more likable.

And then I had a revelation. No one wants to root for secondary characters. They're there to root for the main character, to hope that the hero achieves her deepest goals. And the hero in The Purrfect Crime was Cecilia, the eldest daughter and hard-driving businessman. She was the one I had to make more likable.

I looked over her entire arc in the story and I realized that, while she does transform, that transformation comes too late in the story. Only at the end does she warm to Wiggles, the cat who inherited the 36 million dollar fortune. I needed to find a place to have her show the first signs of softening.

I found the place. It came at the end of the first scene in the the second act. There was only one problem. I really liked the way the scene ended. It ended with a gag that I knew, from the three-day run of the show, always got a laugh.

But of course, it's not about the laughter. Even in a comedy, your most important goal as a playwright is to serve the story. To make the conflict compelling. To make the characters authentic.

To show the characters transform.

So I revised the ending of that scene. Here's the original version. It happens immediately after Cecilia kicks the fake pet psychics out of the house for attempting, she believes, to poison Wiggles.
(DIGBY grabs MADAME ZAMBONI and BUBBLES and starts to drag them off.)

BUBBLES: You'll be sorry!

MADAME ZAMBONI: Yes! Don't come running to us eef Weegles never speaks to you again!

(DIGBY EXITS RIGHT with MADAME ZAMBONI and BUBBLES.)

CECILIA: (To WIGGLES.) You owe me big time, Tuna Breath.

(CECILIA EXITS RIGHT with the bowl of cat food.)

WIGGLES: Is it that noticeable? (Breathes into her paw.) Oh, man! I've got to start using Listerine!

(LIGHTS OUT).
This is what I changed it to:
(DIGBY grabs MADAME ZAMBONI and BUBBLES and starts to drag them off.)

BUBBLES: You'll be sorry!

MADAME ZAMBONI: Yes! Don't be surprised eef Weegles never speaks to you again!

(DIGBY EXITS RIGHT with MADAME ZAMBONI and BUBBLES. As soon as they're out of sight, CECILIA throws her arms around WIGGLES.)

CECILIA: Oh, Wiggles! I can't believe we almost lost you! I don't think I could live with myself if I ever let that happen! (CECILIA and WIGGLES look at each other. Embarrassed, they quickly break apart.) Now go run and play. Or something.

(CECILIA EXITS RIGHT with the bowl of cat food. WIGGLES does a celebratory dance.)

WIGGLES. She likes me! She likes me! She really, really-- (Stops dancing.) Wait. Of course she likes me. I'm a cat. What's not to like?

(LIGHTS OUT.)
Is the second version as funny? Probably not. Does it make Cecilia more likable? I hope so. Does it serve the story better? Definitely.

William Faulkner told us that, as writers, we need to kill our darlings. He never mentioned it would feel so good when you do it.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Badger meatballs


It's been 31 years since I moved away from Wisconsin. But much of my family still lives there and I try to get back there at least once in a year.

It's the place where I was born. The place where I went to college. The place where I met my wife. It's also the place where I first fell in love with theatre.

So it means a lot to me when I see my plays being done there. That was the case this week when I came across this video of Million Dollar Meatballs from the Prairie Farm Playhouse in beautiful Prairie Farm, WI.

I like how they made the most of their limited space by splitting the set into two playing areas, one on the stage and one in front of the stage. And I love the spirited silverware duel toward the end of Act II.

Great job, gang. And go Badgers!