Thursday, July 14, 2022

Hoosier Bookshop actors know their stuff

I have to admit, when I was writing The Enchanted Bookshop, I was worried that a lot of kids wouldn't know the characters.

I mean everyone knows Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes from the movies, if not the books. But even my own daughters didn't recognize a giant Robin Hood figure at a miniature golf course when they were kids--and I consider them to be well-educated (maybe I didn't expose them to enough Daffy Duck cartoons!).

As for Heidi and Pollyanna--well, there hasn't been a movie about them in a long time!

Of course, I didn't have much choice. Short of paying millions of dollars in licensing fees, I was forced to limit my characters to those in the public domain, many of whom were big in their day but are now largely forgotten.

I shouldn't have worried. At least not when it comes to the Jackson County Community Theatre of Brownstown, Indiana. Their Youth Artists group is performing my book-centered comedy this month and their local paper just gave them a great write-up.

"I like how it promotes how important books are and how important it is to read," said director Steve Deweese. "Growing up, if you're a reader, if you're bookish, you're a nerd, you're not cool, but this really shows that reading is an adventure, it's fun, it's exciting."

His biggest surprise? Many of the young actors already new the characters.

"I was really, really pleased that I have a cast of what appears to be readers who really in touch with the work," said Deweese.

Destiny Long, who plays bookshop owner Margie, had her own thoughts on the matter. "I really love how it's all characters that kids or adults even grew up reading about, and I love how this story kind of brings them all to life and puts them all together and they have to save a bookstore."

Long went on. "One of my lines is 'Oh, no, books are wonderful. They fill your imagination. They teach you about other times and other cultures.' It's really true, and so I really love how my character is literally what I would tell people."

Break legs, all! And keep on reading. That world of adventure is only a page turn away.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Whole Latte Love is now available!

Today is a great day. For the first time in two years, I have a new play out. I've discussed the reason for the dry spell before. But now it's officially over. I've got two more plays coming out this year (one from Pioneer, one from Heuer), a third play out for submission, and I'm close to finishing a fourth play.

So this promises to be my most productive year ever. And I don't know why. I have a very demanding day job, a noisy household, terrible sleep habits--and yet, when I sit down at the end of the day to write, all that goes away and the words just flow.

It only took me 59 years to get here. 

I think high schools and community theaters will have a lot of fun with this play. Whole Lotta Love is a sweet comedy filled to the brim with rapid-fire one-liners, over-the-top physical humor, and rich, quirky characters.

And yet I made sure it was easy to produce as possible. The play requires only minimal props, simple costumes, and a single set. With its two acts, it runs around 60 to 70 minutes and features of cast of 13 (a very flexible 5M/8F).

But the theme is what I'm most proud of. As the title suggests, this is a play about love in its many forms, how we demonstrate that love, and what kinds of things can get in its way. 

Here's the blurb:

Whole Latte Love is a coffee shop with a catchy slogan: "Where There's Magic in Every Cup." Only it's more than just a tagline. Each one of Isla's six special blends really has a magical power -- if only for the duration of the cup. 

Fuzz Buster turns you into a genius. Chill Pill relieves you of all your worries. Cupid's Arrow is a love potion. Miracle Manna fills even the emptiest belly. Ponce de Leon makes you feel twenty years younger. And Veritas acts like a truth serum. 

With "perks" like that, it's no wonder this coffee shop has such loyal customers! But Isla finds herself in hot water with her landlord, who gives her an ultimatum: pay the three months of back rent she owes or he'll evict her.

Isla hires "perk"-y Shelly to fill in while she boss ducks out to meet with loan officers. But when an overzealous health inspector flusters Shelly on her first day, she mixes up the coffees, leading to a hilarious "brew"-haha as each customer is served the wrong blend.

Will Shelly spill the beans about the magic coffee? Will Isla save the shop? And why is the landlord suddenly acting like a five-year-old? Don't worry, be frappé! Love and laughter are sure to win in this frothy, fast-paced comedy!

For ordering info or to read a free sample, please visit the play's web page.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Ontario theater proves its generosity

The last two years of social distancing have been rough of small town community theaters. Some closed for good. Some went on hiatus. And many, through a combination of creativity and grit, survived.

And then there's Hanover Community Theatre of Hanover, Ontario. As reported in the Wiarton Echo, they not only survived, they thrived. So much so that they were recently honored with the Not For Profit Excellence Award by their town's Chamber of Commerce.

They donate $1 from each adult ticket to local charities like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hanover and the Hanover Housing Support Program. During the pandemic, they sold a lot of them.

How did they do it? The same way so many theaters thrived: by learning to stream their shows.

Their first online production was Pioneer Drama Service's Ho Ho Ho! The North Pole Chronicles. As it turns out, they had a lot to learn. One big challenge was getting the actors to take turns when talking (never easy!).

"We also had tech problems like Internet connection issues out in the country," said HCP Chair Jenn Hillier. "It could be difficult to get everyone acting to focus and be audible."

But they eventually solved their problems, following up that show with my own You're Virtually Driving Me Crazy!

"Two weens ended up being two years," said Hillier. "But even though COVID we kept running plays any way we could do so.

A well-earned award indeed.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Kiwi dinosaurs come to life!

Tena koutou!

My new comedy The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct premiered in New Zealand at the end of April, and as much as I would have loved to travel to that stunningly beautiful country to see it, it just wasn't possible at this time. I like to blame it on their COVID restrictions, but the truth is I'm too poor.

So I did the next best thing. I contacted Gemma Shapleski, who runs the Wellington performing arts school where it was performed, and asked her to send me some photos.

Somehow, Gemma manages to put rhe shows together in just four days. That includes rehearsal, set building, costume making, and the performance. Gemma says the short rehearsal period makes her job easier. The kids seem to retain things better this way.

That may be true. But I thing the real reason is that Gemma and her talented staff of teachers are amazing.

I told Gemma to keep the costumes simple. There's no need to make complicated animal costumes, just baseball caps and T-shirts. This worked out great because it gave the kids an opportunity to decorate their costumes themselves, designing and attaching their own eyes and teeth.

The key in differentiating between the various animal groups was in the colors of these items. Green for the plant-eating dinosaurs.

Black for the meat-eating dinosaurs.

And brown for the oh-so-cute mammals (shrews, to be specific).

The play takes place in three separate locations: Fernville (the verdant home of the Plant Eaters), the Crags (the rocky abode of the Meat Eaters), a laboratory, and a classroom.

This could have been challenging since the show was performed in a very low-tech community hall (Gemma's words, not mine), but they made it work with just a few simple set pieces. Like the pine tree in the above picture (yes, Antarctica, where the play takes place, had pine trees in the Late Cretaceous Period!).

Or the whiteboard and rocks (seen on the edge of the stage) in the picture below.

The props are pretty easy too. There's the broken dinosaur model which clumsy young Snaggleclaw breaks, leading him to approach the two scientists, Professor Broadbeak and Doctor Duckbill.

And of course, the telescope through which the three of them first view the asteroid on a collision course with earth.

Gemma reported that the play was a roaring success (pun very much intended). The kids had a lot of fun and there was a ton of laughter from the audience.

Ka pai, everyone!

If you'd like me to email you a free perusal copy of the script, just email me here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Belmont diary: It's a Madhouse! to be published

I thought the three weeks it took An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas to get accepted for publication fast, but It's a Madhouse! blew that away. It took just seven days from when I submitted the play To pioneer Drama Service to them accepting it.

And I couldn't be happier. Not just for me, but for the kids and faculty at Belmont Day School who worked so hard to bring the play to life. I know it'll mean a lot to them to see their names as part of the world premiere credit in the script.

It'll be interesting to see how this play does. As I've said in my previous posts chronicling its development, the play was specifically written to meet school Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion requirements. It also has a massive cast--40 actors in total. It's one of the biggest full-length plays Pioneer has ever published. I know it's the biggest one I've published.

The script should be released in time for school this fall. In the meantime, let me tease you with this scene introducing the first of literally dozens of intruders who threaten the Pembroke family's search for the treasure:

HOBSON (Opens UPSTAGE DOOR. GEORGE and HARRIET ENTER, holding novels.): May I help you?

HARRIET: Look at this place, George. Isn't it just a dream?

GEORGE: Oh, it's more than a dream, Harriet. It's an absolute vision!  

HARRIET: This is exactly how I pictured his house, you know. All ominous and spooky.

GEORGE: Spooky indeed. In fact, I might almost call it "sinister."

HOBSON: Excuse me. Is there someone you'd like to see?

HARRIET: Oh, yes. Byron Pembroke, please. We're his biggest fans.

HARRIET and GEORGE hold up their novels.

HOBSON: I'm sorry, but Mr. Pembroke is... indisposed.

HARRIET: That's all right. We'll wait right here until he's disposed again.

HARRIET and GEORGE start toward the sofa.

HOBSON: No, no, no! Don't sit down!

HARRIET (Sits.): Oh, but we must. Our feet are simply pounding.

GEORGE (Sits next to HARRIET.): They're a virtual symphony of pain.

HOBSON: All right, fine. He's dead.

HARRIET: Who's dead?

HOBSON: Mr. Pembroke. The man you're waiting for.

HARRIET: Well, that was rather sudden.

HOBSON: Actually, it happened several days ago. 

HARRIET: Oh, dear! And to think we never got to tell him how much his books have meant to us! Isn't that tragic, George?

GEORGE: More than that. It's a genuine cataclysm of sorrow.

HOBSON: And now that you've made that point abundantly clear, I really must insist that you leave—

HARRIET: Oh, we can't leave.

HOBSON: What do you mean you can't leave?

HARRIET: Didn't you hear? The bridge is out.

HOBSON: Surely you're joking.

HARRIET: He doesn't believe me. George, dear, would you tell this nice manservant about the bridge?

GEORGE: Oh, you should have seen it. It was a disaster of the highest magnitude!

HOBSON (Calls OFF LEFT.): Mr. Pembroke!

HARRIET: I thought he was dead.

HOBSON: What? Oh, uh, Mr. Pembroke is dead. I mean that Mr. Pembroke is dead. I'm calling the other Mr. Pembroke. The one that isn't dead.

If you want to know when the play is released, keep checking back here. You'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

My 11th year sales

Well, it was a good news, bad news kind of year. The good news? I had 199 productions, which was up 28% over the 155 I had last year.

The bad news? That's still down 45% from the 361 I achieved in my peak year of 2018-2019.

My total royalties, however, were much better, being up a whopping 155% from last year and down only 32% from my best year.

Of course, that drop in the number of productions isn't totally unexpected. The fall semester was heavily impacted by the omicron variant of COVID, and while this resulted in milder symptoms than earlier variants, it still discouraged a lot of schools from herding a bunch of kids onto a stage for weeks of rehearsals. So yeah, I get it (although it is funny that sports never get affected that way).

There is one bright spot to all this. Those schools that figured out how to stream or record their shows during the darkest days of COVID are still doing it for their live performances as an option for those unable to attend. As a result, many productions are generating an extra royalty for that stream or recording.

Now that COVID has finally evolved into something closer to the flu, I expect that the school and community theater world will fully rebound and that in the coming year, all playwrights will see bigger royalty checks.

As it has been since premiering in 2017, The Enchanted Bookshop was my best-selling play for the year with 63 performances. That's up from 38 last year but down from the 156 it received its full year of publication. It already has 28 productions booked for next year so that's one sign that things are improving.

Last year, for the first time, The Enchanted Bookshop Musical was my #2 show. It had 25 productions l, which is very impressive for a large-cast musical in a COVID-impacted year. In fact, that's only a 14% drop from the 28 it received its first year. And it already has 8 productions booked for next year.

You're Driving Me Crazy! has always done well, and last year was no exception, with this driver's ed comedy coming in #3 with its 20 productions.  

Coming out in September 2020, just as the first COIVD wave was hitting hard, An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas has never had a normal year. Which may explain why this last year was its best year yet, with a very healthy 18 productions. Not only was this enough to place it at #4 on my list, but it ended up as the #1 full-length Christmas play at Pioneer.

To put it another way, my three Enchanted Bookshop plays got more productions than my other 18 plays combined.

Rounding out the top five, my perennially popular restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs received a respectable 15 productions,

Several plays only had 1 production, but unlike last year, none had 0 productions and none earned negative royalties (due to the cancellation of previously booked shows).

So yeah, I'm excited for the coming year. Productions of each of my existing plays should continue to grow. But I also have two new plays coming out (maybe more), which will add to my total.

Is this what hope feels like?

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Copper State Bookshop opens new theater

While many community theaters continue to struggle just to stay open, it's heartening to see a plucky young company not just succeed but actually build stylish new digs.

That's the case in Prescott Valley, Arizona. After bopping around from one borrowed venue to another for every twenty years, Prescott Valley Performing Arts is thrilled to finally have a home to call their own.

An article at the local SignalsAZ website tells the tale. A true labor of love, The Main Street Theatre was funded and built by volunteers from the community and will feature a wealth of artistic opportunities: acting classes, improv performances, after-school activities, and more.

It all begins May 13 with a production of Gilligan's Island: The Musical. Shortly after that, the theater will offers its first theater camps with productions of The Nifty Fifties for teens and The Enchanted Bookshop for younger folk.
I hate to admit it, but I've only been to this lovely burg once, and then only when I was passing through after a weekend in Sedona (it's about 60 miles north of Phoenix). But with a snazzy new venue like this, I'm going to have to start going up there a lot.