Sunday, December 31, 2017

A look back at 2017

Well, here we are at the end of another year.

2017 was a crazy year for me--a year of challenges, a year of changes. But through it all, I kept plugging away at my writing. My goal of becoming a full-time writer is closer than ever, but I'm not quite there yet.

Since it's New Year's Eve, I'd like to do what I do every year at this time and review the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

How did I do? Well, as it turns out, I missed a lot more than usual, but that's not a huge surprise--or even a disappointment.

That's because last New Year's Day, I was unemployed--and had been for 9 months. I was waiting to hear back on a job I had interviewed for, but I didn't want to jinx things. So I set my writing goals sky-high, assuming that I wouldn't get the job and would have 24 hours a day in which to write.

Things didn't turn out that way. I got the job (yay!), and besides spending a lot of time and energy learning my way around that, I also had to sell my home in Colorado Springs, pack up all my stuff and schlep it all down to my new home in Gilbert, AZ.

My writing time dropped significantly, from 4.5 to 1.5 hours a day, but I'm not missing many day. And, of course, I can pay the bills now, which makes for a much more sustainable lifestyle (it's hard to concentrate on writing when your stomach's empty and the bank's about to foreclose on your house).

Without further ado then, here are my goals for 2017 and how close I came to reaching them:

1) Complete eight new plays

Not even close. I only completed three new plays, but that's not entirely due to the unavoidable drop in my writing time.

I spent all of March and April making revisions that my publisher requested on two previously accepted plays. The revisions were time-consuming, but I have to admit, they made the plays a whole lot better.

And from October to December, I took a break from my playwriting to work on something a little bit different: a screenplay.

So I only had seven months to work on new plays. Taking that into consideration, having completed three plays isn't so bad.

2) Publish six new plays

I fell short here too, with only three new plays being released during the year. Since I didn't finish as many plays as last year, I wasn't able to make as many submissions.

But my hit rate on the ones I did complete was much better this year than last. In 2017, Pioneer accepted three of my submissions and rejected one. In 2016, they accepted two and rejected three.

I still haven't gotten any of my rejected plays picked up by other publishers, but I'm still waiting to hear from a few so I hope that'll change soon.

3) Have a successful premiere of The Purrfect Crime

Bingo. As previously reported on this blog, Palmer Ridge High School of Monument, Colorado performed the play in March of this year and it was a big success all around. Audiences loved it, and I got the feedback I needed to punch up the script before I submitted it to my publisher (they accepted it in October).

4) Get another production of Kill the Critic!

Not even close. The script was rejected by two more publishers and the LA theatre that had given it a professional reading in February 2016 didn't pick it up for a production.

It's still being considered by one publisher, but at this point, I'm focusing on my other plays. This one is just too risque fpr the schools and community theaters that form the bulk of my market.

5) Get another production of The Last Radio Show

Success. The play was performed in April by Johnston Heights Church in British Columbia, the only performance group that has done three of my plays (have I mentioned how much I love Canada?). My contact there told me that people came up after the show saying they had stomachaches from laughing so hard.

Unfortunately, publishers aren't seeing it that way. This script was also rejected by two publishers, but I'm still holding out hope as it's squeaky clean and is relatively inexpensive (if not exactly easy) to produce.

So there you have it. Two successes out of five. Not the best, but considering where I was a year ago, I'll take it.

I hope 2017 was a great year for you too.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Trouble in Buffalo Grove


I just came across this video from Aptakisic Junior High School in Buffalo Grove, IL (isn't that a great name for a town?). In it, Sara Meyer, co-director of the school's drama club, talks about their upcoming production of Trouble in Paradise Junction. She also discusses the vital role drama plays in the lives of her students.

"I think it's really important for kids to have a different outlet, to express themselves, to be creative and enjoy exploring different parts of a character... It makes kids more thoughtful about why they do things and it's a fun way for them to kind of explore new parts of themselves and to discover that they have talents that they didn't know that they had."

I agree completely. There's no better way to learn empathy than to step out of yourself and into the wants and needs, the background and personality of another person. And that's what drama is all about.

Break legs, guys. I hope your show is a huge success!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Enchanted Bookshop video is now online


I've received several requests for videos of The Enchanted Bookshop, my full-length fantasy comedy that just came out in August. So far I've had to hold off the requests with a polite, "Just wait." Although the play has booked a ton of productions (78 to date!), I've only seen a few photos online and no videos.

Until now, that is. The Small Parts Players of Virginia, MN just posted a video of their recent production on YouTube (to view it, click on the video above or go to my Videos page). It includes the entire play, and although the colors are sometimes muted because of the lighting, the sound is excellent.

The young actors are very talented, and I love seeing the enthusiasm and flair they brought to each of their roles.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Wicked questions


Last week, I had the delightful experience of seeing my play Wicked Is As Wicked Does for the first time. It was put on by Eduprize, a charter school that just happens to be located in my new hometown of Gilbert, AZ.

The students did a fantastic job. They were very funny and really made the characters their own. My only wish is that I could have seen the other two shows as they were down my entirely different casts.

Yesterday I was invited back by director and theater teacher extraordinaire Sonia Salberg to speak to her theater classes. I talked a little bit about my own struggles to break into publishing, and then I opened the floor to questions.

Oh, man. Were there questions! These kids were fully prepared, as they had been instructed to come up with a couple questions each as homework (always a good idea).

But the questions didn't stop there. As soon as the topic turned to their characters, and why I made certain choices, the hands popped in the area and the students started firing off question after question.

Here are some of the best:

1) Where do you get your ideas?

As described elsewhere in these pages, I get my ideas from all sorts of places: brainstorming, news articles, cartoons. Wicked Is As Wicked Does was different. This one came from a dream.

I had been brainstorming ideas for a new fairy tale play so my mind was humming with ideas, and when I went to bed that night, I had a vivid dream about a fairy tale land where the magic stopped. The fairy tale characters woke up one day to discover that their spells no longer worked, and they banded together to figure out why.

Well, when I started outlining the plot (something I always do; it makes the actual writing go faster) and I asked myself which characters from the famous fairy tales performed magic, I came to a realization. The Wicked Queen from Snow White, the Wicked Fairy from Sleeping Beauty, the Wicked Witch from The Frog Prince--they were all wicked!

So then I decided it would be a much stronger choice if, instead of the magic just stopping one day, it would be a much stronger choice if magic had been outlawed because it had primarily been used for evil. And the story just flowed from there?

2) What do you wear when you're writing?

This was asked by courtesy of a friend who couldn't be there but had apparently hoped that I wore some special outfit I wear to put myself in a creative mood. The dull truth is, I wear whatever I threw on that day.

If I'm writing in the evenings (Monday through Friday), I'm wearing whatever I wrote to work: usually, button-down shirt and jeans If I'm writing in the morning (Saturday and Sunday), I'm probably still in my pajamas.

3) Where did you come up with the name Grimstad?

I knew the sound I wanted for this smart alecky dragon in the play: something grim and foreboding sounding, with a little bit of foreignness. Well, after racking my brain for a while, I finally gave up and turned to a map. And I found the perfect name in a tiny village in Norway.

4) How much money do you make?

Okay, I didn't answer this one. But I did tell the student that I'll get about 300 productions this year and that a resourceful person can Google how much in royalties a playwright earns and do the math from there.

5) Do you use anything from your life in your plays?

I would like to say yes. I would like to say I'm an adventurous soul, my days spent hang gliding above the beach at Cozumel, my nights spent sipping wine at some bistro in Paris.

Instead, I go to work and then I come home and write. So no. I don't use my life in my writing. Writing is my escape.

6) Have you ever directed any of your plays?

Three times. Many moons ago, I directed my then 10- and 13-year-old daughters in the world premiere of Long Tall Lester. I directed a staged reading of The Butler Did It! in 2012. And I directed the world premiere of The Last Radio Show in 2016.

That last one turned out to be a monster of a production, and while the play was a success, and I had a ton of fun with the cast and crew, the experience made very clear that my talent, if I have one, is in writing, not directing.

7) What did you think of...?

A lot of students wanted to know what I thought about some ad lib or bit of stage business they added to the play. The truth is, I'm fine with it. I'm not one of those playwrights that think that every word is golden and that any change only serves to sabotage the playwright's intention. Instead, I view playmaking as a team project, and I love to see what students bring to it.

My only advice is to make sure that whatever you add 1) gets a laugh, and 2) is consistent with the character. You don't want to take an abrupt 180 that leaves your audience scratching their heads as to who character is or what she wants.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Enchanted Bookshop in living color


I've said it before, but I love seeing photos of my productions, especially when they're my first glimpse of a new play. The Enchanted Bookshop came out in August and it's already been produced twenty-some times, but it wasn't until the Fort Worth Academy of Fort Worth, TX posted pictures of their show that I got to see what it looks like on a real-live stage.


The school did a fantastic job with the set. And the costumes are simple yet detailed enough to let the audience instantly know who's who.


I was especially gratified to read by a comment by one of the audience members, who said she enjoyed the show but felt a visceral reaction when the bad guys tore pages out of the books.

That was exactly my feeling when I wrote the scene.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Lone Star crazy wins awards


Congratulations to Littlefield Junior High School of Littlefield, TX for their award-winning performance of You're Driving Me Crazy! As reported in the Lamb County Leader-News, the cast and crew placed second at their district one-act play contest. What's more, actors Lindsay Coffman and Sam Hill received All-Star cast, while Kara Newton, Landon Spoon and Dylan Redman received Honorable Mention.

Nice job, everyone!

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Purrfect Crime to be published


I just mailed back the contract for my twelfth play to be accepted by Pioneer Drama Service, The Purrfect Crime. And I couldn't be more thrilled. Loyal followers of this blog will remember this play as the one I developed with Palmer Ridge High School in Monument, CO. Which means that the talented cast and crew who gave the play its world premiere production will soon see their names in the published script.

The Purrfect Crime is about a cat that inherits 42 million dollars after the death of the cantankerous Texas rancher who owned her. The rancher's spoiled children are appalled, and the oldest--a hard-driving businesswoman named Cecilia--immediately plots ways to get the fortune for herself.

I think the play will do very well. Although it's not a farce in the strictest sense, there's a lot of physical humor and farcical elements in the plot. In fact, one showstopping scene features a pair of stupid criminals who pose as pet psychics, a case of mistaken identity that would feel at home in any classic farce.

It's also my most female-heavy play. Of the ten speaking parts, seven are female, including the two leads. 

And it should be fairly easy to produce. There are no special technical requirements and, except for a couple of scenes that are played in front of the curtain,  the entire play takes place in the living room of a Texas ranch house.

The play comes out in January. Until then, let me leave you with an excerpt from the fateful scene where the will is read:

JANICE: (Reads.) "The last will and testament of Robert 'Big Bob' Little."

ANNIE: Can you hurry up?

JANICE: I just started.

ANNIE: I know, but I was hoping you could skip to the part where I get everything.

JANICE: Please. Be. Quiet. (Clears her throat.) "As we grow older, we come to realize that money really doesn't matter—"

CECILIA: I'm not that old yet!

ANNIE: I hope I never get that old!

JANICE: "What matters is the love and devotion of those closest to us. Therefore, I leave everything I own to the one member of this family who has shown me nothing but unswerving devotion and love..."

CECILIA: Here it comes!

ANNIE: I can taste those millions now!

JANICE: Wiggles.

CECILIA: What did you say?

JANICE: I said Wiggles. Wiggles gets everything.

CECILIA: Who's Wiggles?

ANNIE: I think it's the cat.

DIGBY: Oh, it's most definitely the cat.

CECILIA: Uh huh. And when it says "everything," what exactly does that mean?

JANICE: It means everything.

CECILIA: You mean like the cat bed?

JANICE: No. Everything.

ANNIE: Oh, the cat food!

JANICE: No. It means everything!

LITTLE BOB: Wow! Even the cat toys?

JANICE: Let me see. How can I put this? Wiggles gets everything. The house. The land. The 36 million dollars in the bank. It all goes to Wiggles.

ANNIE: That's not fair! Wiggles is just a stupid animal!

JANICE: How can you call her stupid? I thought you loved animals.

ANNIE: I do. As a concept. It's real animals I can't stand.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beverly Hills mutt


Today I got a call from Candace Coster, also known as Candace Hilligoss, star of the 1962 cult horror film Carnival of Souls. No, we didn't talk about old horror films (though I would have loved to!). Candace called to tell me that my full-length comedy The Bow Wow Detectives won the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild Play Competition for Youth Theatre, also known as the Marilyn Hall Award, for which Candace serves as organizer.

It's the third time I've won in the last four years. Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye won in 2014 and How I Met Your Mummy won in 2015. Last year,  The Last Radio Show got an Honorable Mention, and the judges said it probably should have been entered in the adult category.

I feel extremely honored. And I have to chuckle, because the win demonstrates, more than anything else, the subjectivity of humor.

The Bow Wow Detectives didn't win a thing in four other contests I entered it in, and it's been rejected by two publishers, including my regular publisher, Pioneer Drama Service. But the kind folks who judge the Beverly Hills contest thought it was hilarious.

The award doesn't include a production, but it does come with $1200 cash, one of the biggest youth theatre prizes out there. And I'm looking forward to attending the awards luncheon at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel in March. I wasn't able to make it the first two times, but now that I live a mere six hours away, it's much easier for me to get there.

The most important benefit of the award, however, is the breath of life it's provided. I 'd almost given up on the script, but now with this vote of confidence, I'll be brushing it off and sending it out to other publishers soon.

By the way, I'm still looking for some school or community theater to give the play its world premiere. If you'd like to me to email you a no-cost, no-obligation script, email me by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Catskills mummy wins awards


A big shout-out to the Sullivan County Dramatic Workshop of South Fallsburg, NY and to the talented individuals who took home TANYS (Theatre Association of New York State) Awards for their recent production of How I Met Your Mummy.

Kristopher Rosengrant received a Meritorious Achievement in Acting for his performance as that knee-knocking, lily-livered security guard Melvin (see above).

Harold Tighe and Jim Schmidt received a Meritorious Achievement in Set Design and Construction  for their colorful, artistic take on the O. Howe Dulle Museum.

And Dawn Perneszi and Jenny Silverman received a Meritorious Achievement in Costume Design and Construction for their simple yet pitch-perfect costumes.

Congratulations, everyone!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Set ideas for How I Met Your Mummy

A while ago, I posted photos from Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye showing some of the costumes that were designed for the two main characters. My thought was that other performing groups would get ideas from those designs--or be inspired to go off in their own direction.

Well, that post was so popular I decided to do it again, only this time I wanted to focus on set ideas. And what better play to use than my museum play, How I Met Your Mummy,

When I wrote the play, I purposely kept the set requirements to a minimum. There are no doors or windows and only two entrances, making it perfect for schools and community theaters with limited space. Here's how the script describes it:
The exhibit consists of a single room dominated by a sarcophagus lying horizontally on a platform CENTER. A work table is STAGE RIGHT with a yardstick, rope, and other miscellaneous tools as well as a folding chair just LEFT of it. There are two exits, one STAGE LEFT and one STAGE RIGHT. These lead to other exhibit rooms and should be open archways. The STAGE LEFT exit also leads to the restrooms.
It's what you do with that space that counts. Some groups went all out, constructing pillars, statues and an elaborate sarcophagus covered with hieroglyphics and Egyptian-style art. Others kept things simple, using just a hand-painted paper backdrop and a plan wooden box to set the scene.

Well, I think it's all great! No matter what size budget you have or how experienced your crew is, I'm sure you can find inspiration in these awesome sets:















Friday, September 15, 2017

Free monologues and scenes are now available



Have you ever scoured the internet looking for scenes or monologues only to be put off by complicated licensing arrangements or inappropriate subject matter? Do you wish you could find a dependable source of clean, funny material? Well, I'd like to help.

I've posted a collection of my favorite scenes from my plays--some before they're available in publication. And all are free for educational use.

Whether you need a monologue for an audition or a two- or three- (or nine!) person scene for theatre class, I've got a wide selection to choose from.

Just bop over to my Free Monologues or Free Scenes tabs to see what's available. Each scene can be downloaded, printed, emailed or shared as much and as many times as you want.

Why am I doing this? Well, the obvious answer is that I'm hoping to get greater exposure for my work. But more importantly,  I owe my career to school drama programs and the dedicated teachers that run them and I'd like to give something back.

So check out the scripts. I hope you find something you'll like.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wicked Is As Wicked Does is now available


Just in time for the new school year, Pioneer Drama Service has published my eleventh play, Wicked Is As Wicked Does.

This large-cast comedy brings back all of your favorite characters from the fairy tales but turns those tales on their heads. Here those four nasty ladies who caused so much mischief become the heroes as they try to foil a fiendish plot to banish them to an icy wasteland.

Here's the synopsis:
Think all those fairy tales really ended with “happily ever after?”  Well, think again!  In this hilarious follow-up, Snow White has taken the throne and is about to marry her prince, who actually is quite intolerable.  He is trying to outlaw magic and has sentenced the four Wickeds — Snow White’s Wicked Queen, Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother, Sleeping Beauty’s Wicked Fairy and the Frog Prince’s Wicked Witch — to nine million hours of community service.  But even that’s not enough for Prince Intolerable.  He vows that as soon as he marries Queen Snow, he’ll send the Wickeds to Grimstad, where they’ll never be heard from again.  Really, though, the Wickeds aren’t so bad anymore, so there’s only one way to foil his plans:  stop the wedding!  But the Wickeds are a little rusty in the magic department.  Can they make their old spells work in time?  What if they get caught?  And why did the seven dwarfs turn into wombats?  Find out in this zany comedy that proves there’s a little good in everyone...  though sometimes, very little. 
It's always a challenge to make bad guys not only good, but likable. And these baddies seem especially repulsive. I mean, what kind of person (or fairy) would put a girl in a 100-year coma just because she was snubbed for the girl's christening?

Writing guru Blake Snyder would tell you it's simple. Just have the baddies save a cat.

Well, that seemed completely out of character for them. So I took the opposite tack. Instead of having them do something nice, I made them targets of prejudice as the evil prince plots to kick them out of the kingdom without trial or just cause.

I'm hoping this will be just as effective in winning audiences' sympathy. After all, these gals have already paid the penalty for their crimes (Wicked Fairy, for example, traveled the kingdom placing warning labels on all the spindles).

And besides, you'll be laughing so much at their crazy antics, you'll forget they were ever bad to begin with.

Wicked Is As Wicked Does has a cast of 28 (7M, 12F and 9 roles that can be either) and runs about 60 minutes. To read a sample or order a script for perusal, click here.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Enchanted Bookshop is now available


My tenth play has just been published by Pioneer Drama Service. The Enchanted Bookshop is my love letter to classic literature and the power of reading. Also spitwads. Spitwads can be powerful too.

Here's the synopsis:
During the day, A Likely Story may look like any other used bookstore.  But at night, it’s a place where magic happens.  That’s when the characters inside the books come alive.  Six of those characters — Dorothy Gale, Robin Hood, Pollyanna, Sherlock Holmes, Heidi, and Tom Sawyer — long to help Margie, the scatterbrained owner, save her struggling store.  But they’re not allowed to leave the building or be seen by human eyes.  So when a pair of smugglers comes looking for a stolen necklace hidden inside one of the books, the characters are torn.  Should they warn Margie and risk disappearing forever?  Or can they find a way to defeat the crooks without being seen?  Featuring additional appearances by such beloved literary characters as the Queen of Hearts, Long John Silver, and Doctor Dolittle, this charming comedy celebrates the joy of reading in a fresh, fun-filled way. 
You might wonder how I chose those main characters. Well, it's a little complicated.

First off, I had to decide on the number of major characters, the ones that would drive the plot. After some thought, I realized six just seems right. Four wouldn't give enough opportunity for interaction. Eight would be unwieldy.

Next was the gender. Although I've been striving to include more female roles in my plays, for this one, I wanted an even number of male and females among the main parts. (Don't worry. I include more females for the secondary roles.)

So who to choose? A legal argument can be made that I have a right to use copyrighted characters (Jon Scieszka did so in his hilarious middle-grade novel Summer Reading Is Killing Me!), but not all lawyers may see it that way. Wanting to stay far away from any courtroom, I decided to limit my choices to those in the public domain.

I also wanted characters who would be easily recognized by audience members as soon as they appear on stage. And I was aiming for a variety of ages, nationalities and personalities.

The guys were easy. Sherlock Holmes would provide the brains, Robin Hood the brawn and Tom Sawyer the spunk.

The girls were a little tougher. I would have loved to include Pippi Longstocking, but she's still under copyright protection. So is Laura Ingalls.

Peter Pan's Wendy and Wonderland's Alice are in the public domain, but I've never found them to be particularly strong. In their books, they let things happen to them rather than the other way round.

Anne Shirley (of Green Gables fame) is a strong character, but audience members might have difficulty recognizing her. The same goes for Caddie Woodlawn, Sara Crewe (A Little Princess) and Mary Lennox (The Secret Garden).

Fortunately, Dorothy Gale--one of the all-time great children's book characters--recently came into the public domain. Clever and brave, she serves as the real hero among the book characters.

I cheated a little bit with Pollyanna. People would recognize her more from the old Disney movie than the book, but what a personality she's got! What could I do but make her the ever peppy cheerleader for the team?

For the last one, I decided on Heidi. As portrayed in the books, she doesn't have a particularly strong personality, but I decided to play up her melodramatic side (or am I thinking of Shirley Temple?). And I can't wait to hear that accent onstage. I've had French, Italians and Russians in my plays. Why not a German-speaking Swiss girl?

The Enchanted Bookshop has a cast of 23 (8M/9F and 6 roles that can be either) and runs about 60 minutes. To learn more, click here.

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 brand 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!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Trouble in Paradise Junction gets real


I rarely get to see the world premieres of my plays. So usually the first time they seem real to me is when I see the first production photos.

Before that, the play is just words on a page. But once photos becomes available, the play has real live actors and costumes and a set--none of which ever looks anything like what I pictured when I was writing the script.

And that's the way it should be. Theatre is a collaborative art. Once you send your baby out into the world--well, it's not a baby anymore. It's all grown up, with a life of its own, and it needs the contributions of others to give it that life. All you can do is hope it does well, and maybe calls you on Father's Day.

That's the experience I had this week when I saw the first productions photos from my play, Trouble in Paradise Junction. It's about a small town where everything is perfect--until a TV network offers the townsfolk five million dollars to film a reality show there.


The play was published at the end of December, and the world premiere happened in March at a school in Ashcroft, British Columbia. I haven't seen any photos from that production yet, but the second production was done a couple weeks later by a community theatre in Buchanan, Saskatchewan (did I mention how much I love Canada?) and that production was written up in the local newspaper, the The Canora Courier.

I set the play in the Ozarks, because that's how the voices in my head sounded. But it was based on Beaver Dam, the small town in Wisconsin where I grew up.

In the play, I poke some gentle fun at the townsfolk. Like the people in my hometown, the citizens of Paradise Junction can be opinionated and obstinate and quick to judge others. But they're also noble and kind and very, very generous. And in the end, it's not the hero Joe Goode who saves the town. It's the townsfolk themselves.

I was hoping that by honoring small town life in this way, other places would see their own hometown in the houses, streets and overgrown gardens of Paradise Junction. So I was more than thrilled when I read director Steve Merriam's words in the Courier article: "I was delighted to discover this light-hearted comedy that has many connections to our own lives in rural Saskatechewan."

It seems that other people may agree with Steve, as Trouble in Paradise Junction is one of my fastest-starting plays to date, booking 13 productions in the first 13 weeks it's been available: New York to California, South Dakota to Tennessee.

And no, it hasn't been done in the Ozarks yet. But I'm hoping it's just a matter of time. 🙂

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Making it purrfect


When developing a play, it's important to get feedback from many sources. Your readers. Your director. The cast and crew. And of course the audience.

Well, last week, I had the luxury of getting feedback from all four as my play The Purrfect Crime received its world premiere at Palmer Ridge High School.

On opening night, director Josh Belk confided to me that he had heard the jokes so many times in rehearsal, he didn't know if the jokes were funny anymore. Well, I'm the author and I'd reached that point four months before, after tweaking the script for what must have been the five hundredth time.

That's why the audience is so important. To them, the play is fresh every night. If they laugh, you know a joke is funny. If they don't--well, maybe it needs some work.

There was plenty of both during the three-night run of the show. I was pleased that the audience seemed to like the physical humor. The play is about a couple of criminals who pose as pet psychics to swindle the world's richest cat out of her fortune. The biggest laughs of the night came when the sassy butler, upon learning of the scheme, uses his gloves to slap the criminals--not once, not twice, but three times.

There were several jokes that didn't land, which is normal, so I'll be reworking those before I send the script to my publisher. But on opening night, my biggest concern was that the key scene, in which the criminals hold a fake reading, fell flat. Madame Zamboni, the main psychic, performed the reading as a cover so that her assistant, the slow-on-the-uptake Bubbles, could stuff the cat's priceless toys into a large sack.

With its farcical elements, this scene should have been one of the highlights of the show. But watching it on opening night, I was confused by what was going on. And I wrote the thing.

The main problem was that I didn't provide enough dialogue to make it clear to the audience what Bubbles was doing behind the rest of the cast.

Josh rode to the rescue by telling the actors playing the criminals to as lib some explanatory dialogue the next two nights. He also had the lighting crew bring up the upstage lights a little bit so that the audience could more easily see what Bubbles was doing.

It worked. On the next two nights, the scene went over much better, and I'll be revising the script to include the additional dialogue.

After the last show, I got a chance to field questions from the entire cast and crew. Meeting the talented students performing my plays is always the most rewarding part of my job, and these students asked some really great questions. It also brought home to me a great truth I've discovered about writing. If you want to find the plot holes in your script, let high schoolers read it. They'll zero in on those holes like Luke Skywalker firing at that vent on the Death Star.

The Purrfect Crime, as it turned out, has a plot hole the size of that Death Star, which I discovered when one of the crew members asked why--well, I don't want to give away the big reveal in the play, so let me just say that the motivation of the villain was lacking. I told the young man, half-jokingly, that I'd get back to him on that.  Only later did I realize that the fix was an easy one, and I'll be plugging that into the final script.

As director, Josh was more concerned about ease of production, and after the run ended he came up with a great idea, suggesting that some of the scenes be moved to the same day so that there wouldn't need to be so many costume changes. I have to admit, that's not something I usually think about when I'm writing a play, but I may have to start.

Last but far from least was the feedback I got from my readers Jeff Schmoyer and Debby Brewer. They're longtime members of the playwriting group I started, but they've also been members of a novel writing group for many years, so they live and breathe plot, character and all those other writerly concerns. (They even run their own nano-publishing company, Jmars Ink.)

In this play, their main complaint was that there was no one to root for. It's a good point. The members of the Texas oil family who own the cat are pretty self-absorbed, which was necessary for the setup of the story.

But Jeff and Debby's advice reminded me that the characters, and especially the main character, needs to become likable at some point or the audience won't care what happens to them. Fortunately, I thought of a great way to soften Cecilia, the hard-driving businesswoman who wants the cat's fortune for herself but ends up driving the chain of actions that saves the cat from a kidnapper.

I always learn a ton when I work with students on developing my plays, and I couldn't have asked for a better cast and crew than the ones I was blessed with here.

A big thank you to everyone involved. I hope you'll see your names in the published version of the script soon!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bringing communities together


Leola Area Theatre of Leola, SD got a great writeup in the Aberdeen News for their production of How I Met Your Mummy. In the article, co-director Richard Jasmer talks about how they use the proceeds from the show to fund college scholarships for two local youth. They even announce the winners at the show.

But what really caught my eye was Jasmer's mention how they receive a lot of support from other communities in the area, with members of the amateur theaters in those communities going out of they way to see each other's shows.

"It's kind of neat to just go around and support each other," Jasmer says.

That's why I love community theater. It's not just a fun hobby for the actors. It's not just entertainment for the audiences. It's a way of bringing communities together.

And what could be better than that?

Monday, February 13, 2017

By the time I get to Phoenix


So I had a crazy busy day today. A crazy busy theatre day. And those are always the best.

This afternoon, I sat in on a blocking rehearsal for The Purrfect Crime at Palmer Ridge High School. Before I headed home, I messaged back and forth with a community theatre director in Kansas to make sure she could open the script for The Last Radio Show I sent her. And then, in the evening, I brought the first scene of my newest play to my playwriting group, The Drama Lab.

Did I mention it would be my last day in Colorado?

Yes, as I've been hinting in some of my posts lately, I'll be moving tomorrow to start a new job. I've been laid off from my day job for ten months (I'm an electrical engineer) and the writing isn't enough to cover my living expenses, so I'm excited to start this new chapter of my life with a great job and a great company.

Better yet, the job is in Phoenix, a city I've always loved. My wife and I lived there previously--from 1991 to 1993--and while we've also loved 23 years we've spent in Colorado Springs (especially the vibrant, supportive theatre community!), a part of me always missed the desert climate and palm trees in the Valley of the Sun.

Plus, my older daughter loves in Tucson now, so it'll be nice to see her more often, though it also means seeing my younger daughter, who's a college student in Denver, less.

Eventually, I plan to get involved with the theatre community in Phoenix, and more specifically Chandler, the suburb where we'll be living. But not yet. I've got four plays in various stages of development, and I need to clear those off my plate before I take on any new projects.

Yes, the job means I'll spend less time writing. There's no way I can maintain the 4 1/2 hours a day I was putting in when I had nothing else on my agenda but watch Kathie Lee and Hoda. But I hope to get in at least 2 hours a day, which should enable to complete about four plays a year.

I'm going to miss sitting in on rehearsals for The Purrfect Crime as the students have really started to make it their own (they're toying with the idea of replacing the cantankerous matriarch's walker with an electric wheelchair, which would provide tons of comic potential). But I got most of what I needed for tweaking the script from the table read last week. And besides, if anything comes up or any questions arise, director Josh Belk and I will be just an email link away.

It's the Drama Lab writing group that I'm going to miss the most. I started the group five years ago and I've made a lot of fantastic friends through it. But I left it in good--no, better--hands and I have every confidence in the world it will continue to thrive and grow in the future.

My baby is all grown up. And yes, my eyes are always shiny like that.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Enchanted Bookshop to be published



People often ask me where I get my ideas. The answer is complicated. Ideas come from all sorts of places.

Sometimes they come from dreams (Wicked Is As Wicked Does). Sometimes they come from brainstorming (Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye). And sometimes they come from old MGM cartoons.

That last one was the case with The Enchanted Bookshop, a large-cast comedy which Pioneer Drama Service just accepted for publication.

I've always loved those old cartoons that featured book characters who come alive. The relentless onslaught of literary puns is a big part of the fun.

But there was one flaw with these cartoons. They always devolved into a simple chase scene.

Call me weird (and you wouldn't be the first), but I wanted to learn more about the characters. I wanted to hear their backstories. I wanted to see them struggle and yearn and grow.

So I came up with a story about six famous characters--Dorothy, Robin Hood, Heidi, Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna and Sherlock Holmes--who team up to defeat a band of jewel smugglers.

There's just one problem. By fighting the smugglers, they risk their very existence. One glimpse from a human and--poof!--they're gone.

Like my more recent plays, this one has a message too. Reading is vital. The reason these book characters were granted life was because no one was reading their books anymore. So their struggle is less about smugglers and more about staying relevant in a culture addicted to TV and video games.

Whoa! That makes the play sound pretty heavy. Trust me, it's not. The characters have a lot of fun too, especially when they argue about their back stories:
HEIDI: Was ist los? 
ROBIN HOOD: Was ist los? This is los! I mean this is the matter! That fetid feline stole my hat! 
DOROTHY: Wait a minute. Don't you steal from the rich? 
ROBIN HOOD: What? Oh, uh, sure. But that's different. I give everything I steal to the poor. 
DOROTHY: So it's okay to steal as long as you don't keep the stuff yourself? 
ROBIN HOOD: Yes! Well, not exactly. I mean it's complicated. 
DOROTHY: Not as complicated as you make it out to be. 
TOM SAWYER: I wouldn't talk, Dorothy. Didn't you swipe the Wicked Witch's shoes? 
DOROTHY: What? No! The Good Witch gave them to me! 
TOM SAWYER: Oh. So it's okay to keep somethin' that was swiped as long as somebody else did the swipin'? 
DOROTHY: If the person is dead, it's not swiping!
The play may get a title change before it's published. It's targeted for high schools and middle schools, but Pioneer's editorial staff believes that the word "enchanted" makes it sound younger.

They have a good point, but so far we've been unable to come up with a better title. Suggestions are always welcome!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Radio days


Warren Epstein is the guy who gave me my first big break in writing. Nine years ago, he plucked me from a handful of other applicants to be the theatre critic for the Colorado Springs Gazette. I only held that gig for a couple years, but it was a fantastic experience and it helped me get my foot in the door of the local theatre community.

Since then we've gone our separate ways. He went into PR. I went into playwriting. But we've kept in touch, and even worked together on organizing a staged reading for several local writers last year.

So it was an honor when he invited me to appear on his arts radio show today to let me say a fond farewell to the Colorado Springs theatre community (yes, I'm moving). It was the fourth time I've appeared on his show but by far the most meaningful and I had a great time discussing all things theatrical with one of the funniest, warmest guys in the Pikes Peak region.

If you'd like to listen in, click here and jump ahead to the 28:06 mark.

Friday, February 10, 2017

A purrfect reading


A table read is one of the most exciting, nerve-wracking, agonizing times in a playwright's life, second only (and a very close second at that) to the world premiere. The table read is usually the first time the author hears the play spoken out loud. Even scarier, it's often the first time they get a live reaction from an audience.

So it was with a little trepidation that I approached today's table read of my new comedy, The Purrfect Crime.

I knew the students would do a great job. I sat in on a rehearsal for their fall show and they proved themselves to be not only talented but hard-working and dedicated.

No, it was my jokes I was worried about. I have a tendency to fall back on wisecracks and snappy
comebacks. I mean, I was brought up on old Marx Brothers movies and Bugs Bunny cartoons, so that kind of thing is in my DNA.

But people (and especially young people) find these increasingly unfunny.

What do they find funny? Three things.

1) Physical humor

I always like to add farce-like scenes to a play, even if the play itself isn't a farce. I've got a couple of these in The Purrfect Crime. One happens during a psychic reading and the other during a ransom drop.

But director Josh Belk thought of a new piece of business that's funnier than anything I came up with. The script says that the cantankerous Mama hobbles around with a walker, but Josh is going to try to find an electric wheelchair that she can cruise around in and bang into things.

Another reminder that playwriting is less about mapping out every detail of the story and more about giving your cast and crew something to play with.

2) Cheesy Accents

These always seem like a cheap way to get laughs. But you know what? They always work.

And this play has a lot of them. The Little family at the center of the story lives in West Texas--oil country--so they have a broad, easy drawl.

The butler Digby isn't necessarily British (at least he's not described that way in the script), but the young man playing him fell into a very posh English accent during the reading. He's not sure he's going to keep it, but it did add a lot of humor to his dialogue, especially when he fired off lines in a contemporary American patois like: "Oh, yes. You are totally rocking that, girlfriend."

The thieves who plot to steal the cat's fortune have a New York City accent, which is completely cliched--and completely funny.  But when they pose as pet psychics, the script describes their accents as "exotic". The young women playing them did a French accent that was hilarious. In fact, it was so hilarious that they may have a hard time keeping a straight face.

3) Weird, oddly specific lines of dialogue

I've written about this before, but one type of gag that always gets a laugh isn't a gag at all. It's just an oddly specific way to say something. Monty Python is the inspiration for me here, as their old skits were full of these.

One example? It comes from the first scene, right after the family learns that the fortune was left to the cat, and the cantankerous mother leaves in a huff:

MAMA: Oh, well. I guess I'll go back to watching my soaps.

CECILIA: You really should find a new interest, Mama. Those soap operas will rot your brain.

MAMA: What soap operas? I'm talking about my collection of rare and exotic cleansing bars!

When I originally wrote that, I thought the last line was a bit forced. But at the reading it got a big laugh. Not because of the pun, I think, but because it's just such a weird thing to say

I came away from the reading feeling much better than I did going in. Sure, there are a lot of gags that didn't get any laughs, and other lines that are just plain awkward, but those can be fixed pretty easily.

And after all, that's what a reading is for.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

O Pioneer!


The place where it happens.
You know how people never see the sights in their own hometown? New Yorkers never go to the top of the Empire State Building, Seattleites never visit the Space Needle?

Well, I'm just as guilty as they are. Pioneer Drama Service has been publishing my plays for over 5 years, and even though they're only 50 miles from where I live, I've never stopped by.

Until today, that is. Why did I wait so long? Well, the answer to that will have to wait for a future post. Suffice it to say that the drive won't be 50 miles for me much longer.

The company occupies half of a building in a pleasant industrial park just off I-25 in south Denver (actually, Centennial). When I showed up, I was greeted by Editor-in-Chief Deb Fendrich, who quickly introduced me to a few of the employees, including Submissions Editor Lori Conary, who I'd communicated with many, many times but had never had the pleasure of meeting. I had met my editor Brian Taylor once before, at the world premiere of Kill the Critic!, but that was six years ago so it was nice to see him again. Unfortunately, CEO Steven Fendrich was unable to make it as he was volunteering at a local school.

Deb then gave me a quick tour of the facility. The place isn't large, but Deb was proud to point out that unlike most publishers, both larger and smaller, they do everything in one location. Editing, printing, shipping--it's all done right there.

And did I mention they do all this with just 15 employees?

I especially enjoyed seeing the printing room. Pioneer had recently decommissioned their last printing press and now do all their printing on a pair of massive high-tech copy machines. Nearby, in the same room, is the "warehouse"--shelves upon shelves of the over 800 scripts they sell throughout the United States and around the world.

After the tour Deb, Brian and I went out for a lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Over fat, chile-smothered burritos, we had a wide-ranging conversation about what kinds of plays they're looking for, editing suggestions for my next play and how to make my plays more marketable.

Okay, maybe it wasn't that wide-ranging. But it was a blast.

And I learned a ton. If it wasn't clear to me before, it is now: producibility is key. The bulk of Pioneer's customers are cash-strapped schools and community theaters, and they really need plays that won't break the bank. Yes, this means simple props and costumes. But even more importantly, this means a single set. Pioneer will publish plays with multiple sets, but if a submission only needs one, then it gets a big exclamation point in the PRO column during their acquisition meeting.

Of course, it's also important to give each play more female than male roles. You can never go wrong adding more female roles. And if you're trying to write a large cast play, don't make the parts too small. Deb likes to see each character get at least ten lines, though you should never force the lines if they don't fit. As always, story comes first.

Finally, Deb said that Pioneer would really like to see more submissions like Jonathan Rand's Check, Please. This one-act comedy is a series of short, two-person interactions in a restaurant, lending itself to flexible casting and easy staging (which may be why it's one of the most produced plays in the country). Pioneer's recent offering Complaint Department and Lemonade follows this format, but they're always looking for more.

It was a great visit. I came away understanding better why they rejected some of my plays in the past and how I can make my plays more appealing in the future.

I also came away with a new respect for the work they do. Each play they publish features the name of the playwright on the cover, but there's a whole team of smart, creative, hard-working folks behind that name.


Editor-in-Chief Deb Fendrich and Editor Brian
Taylor looking good despite my poor selfie skills.