Friday, September 23, 2022

Trimming the Madhouse

Speaking of slimming things down, my friend Gemma from New Zealand emailed me a couple weeks ago. She'd seen the announcement of my newest play It's a Madhouse! and wanted to read it but the script but wasn't yet available from Pioneer. Could I email her an electronic copy of my script?

Silly question. Of course I could!

Gemma ended up loving it, but she was concerned about the length. Standouts, her Wellington-based theater school, has very short rehearsal periods (often as short as a week!) and while that's worked for previous plays of mine that she's done, she felt that a 90-minute play would be a stretch. 

No problem, I told her. I structured the play in a very modular way, stringing together an array of independent, small-cast vignettes. I did this to make rehearsals easier, but it also makes it easy to remove one or more vignettes. She thought she'd cut out the vignetter involving some desperate-thespians and a hokey family searching for their lost pet.

Ironically, eight days later, my editor at Pioneer, Brian, had an interesting offer. As it turns out, It's a Madhouse! has been getting a ton of interest from their customers and he was wondering whether I'd be willing to adapt it for a smaller cast. He felt a lot of schools would love the physical action and humor but be unable to field so many actors (the play calls for 40--count 'em, 40!) or stage so long a show.

Silly question. Of course I would!

So I dove in. And that's when I realized that cutting the thespians wouldn't work because one of them, a verbose, self-absorbed actor playing Romeo, played a vital role in the climax. But there was another vignette I could cut without any loss of flow: one involving a demanding tour group and some hyperactive cheerleaders. 

And then I found two more characters that could be cut, and a major scene, and lots and lots of lines from, well, pretty much everyone.

By the time I was done, I'd gotten the play down to 28 actors (25 with doubling) and 60 minutes. And that's the version I just emailed to Brian for publication.

I don't know when it'll be released, but it shouldn't take long. After all, the play has already gone through editing once. But you can bet you'll hear about it here first.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 8, 2022

A slimmer Bookshop

I got an interesting email the other day. Kevin, an assistant theater professor at a small midwestern college, wants his students to perform The Enchanted Bookshop for area youngsters.

Wait. That's not the interesting part. No, the interesting part is that he was only able to recruit 12 actors and he wonders whether this play (with its cast of 23) can still be done.

Schools and community theaters usually have the opposite problem. They get so many actors trying out that they have to add characters.

But cutting the cast size? Well, I had to think about that one a bit.

Of course, there is some obvious doubling. In fact, the script itself suggests that the actor playing Fagin can double as Dr. Dolittle and either Frankenstein or Hopalong Cassidy while the actress playing Lady in Red can double as Queen of Hearts and Wicked Witch. Take on all that doubling and it brings the cast down to 19.

You can also have the actress playing Dorothy operate Toto as a hand puppet. The dog only appears in the first and last scenes anyway. Now you' down to 18 actors.

Next, have Mom and Timmy double as Eddie and Fingers (this could be kind of funny, actually). It's not suggested by the script, but it doesn't pose any particular challenge other than a quick-ish change in the last scene. Also, have one of the six main literary characters (Sherlock Holmes would work best) exit the last scene early and have that actor double with Officer Ketchum. Now you're at 15 parts.

This is where it gets tricky, as you'll have to adjust the script. So forget what I said earlier about doubling Wicked Witch, Frankenstein and Hopalong. Instead, cut them out entirely. They're only in the last scene anyway.

Then delete the scene between Long John Silver, Queen of Hearts and Book Fairy in Act Two, Scene Three. This allows you to eliminate the Queen of Hearts. Of course, you'd have to rewrite the last scene to have one of the other characters tie up or otherwise immobilize the smugglers (Tom Sawyer?).

What this buts you is that you can now have the actor playing Fagin and Dolittle double as Long John and the actor playing Lady in Red double as Book Fairy. Bingo, 12 parts.

For a while, Kevin was considering changing Tom Sawyer to a female character for the statement it would make. But who could it be? Well, it's not a one-to-one match, but independently (believe it or not) we both came up with Jo March from Little Women, as she shows many of the same spunky, rebellious and rule-breaking traits as Tom.

As I've said before, I'm open to letting directors modify this popular play, especially since it has proven so successful in encouraging young audiences to put down their Gameboys and cell phones and pick up a book.

If you need any quggestions as to making this play fit the special needs of your production, be sure to contact me. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

The Last Radio Show is now available!

After five and a half years of rejections and almost a full year in the editing queue at Heuer Publishing, my 1940's radio comedy The Last Radio Show is finally available!

It's my twenty-first play to be published, but only my first with this particular publisher, so I'm excited to see what they do with it.

The play runs 90 minutes, requires only a single set and features a cast of 10 (5M/5F). Here's the blurb:

It's 1948, and KUKU Radio is in trouble. Their broadcast tower keeps falling over. The electric company is about to shut off their power. And they're losing actors, one by one. Can this ragtag crew keep the show going? Or will they be shut down for good?

This hilarious farce brings back the Golden Age of Radio, with crazy commercials such as Kindling Krunch ("the cereal that's like having your own national park--in a bowl!), and even crazier shows, like The Thing with Two Spleens and Tex King, The Humming Cowboy. 

Of course, the best part of those old-time radio shows was the sound effects, and this play features over two dozen of them, most of which can be produced from simple household items.

Don't touch that dial. This is radio like you've never seen it before!

I truly believe this is one of my funniest plays, if not the funniest. The radio sketches feature a seemingly endless array of rapid-fire gags, the behind-the-scene action is crazily frenetic, and each of the characters are over-the-top in their own quirky way.

So why didn't the play get picked up right away? Well, it can be a bit of a challenge to produce. Just as in those long-past days of radio, the actors have to hold the scripts they read from, and that requires some juggling when those same actors have to make the various sound effects in the sketch.

The nice thing is that the use of those scripts means that the actors have much less to memorize than they would in a regular 90-minute play. 

Also, the climax of the play features a single character--the geeky office boy Jimmy--performing the final sketch, including nine different voices and over a dozen sound effects, all by himself.

But it's well worth it. At the end of his bravura performance, Jimmy collapses to the floor in triumph, and this is the one moment in all of my plays that always earn a show-stopping ovation from the audience. 

Up for the challenge? If so, be sure and visit the play's web page, where you can read a sample of the script and view photos from the original production.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

It's a Madhouse! is now available!

 
Just in time for the new school year, my twentieth play has now been released by Pioneer Drama Service. And according to my editor JJ, they wanted to rush it out because it's been getting requests ever since they posted it on their website a couple weeks ago.

The reason? It's hard to say for sure, but he thinks it's because the play was specially designed to be episodic, with lots of roles that are small but high-energy crazy. In fact, the entire middle section of the play is almost like a collection of five-minute skits. Not only does this give each actor an opportunity to take the spotlight, but it makes the play a breeze to rehearse.

In fact--and I probably shouldn't be telling you this--the play is so episodic that you can remove entire scenes of the play without missing a beat. This came up last week because was one of the first potential customers to show an interest in the play was my friend Gemma from Wellington, New Zealand.

She wanted to do the play with her younger kids but was concerned that it was too long for the one week of rehearsal that she usually gets (I don't know how she does it either). I told her that was easily fixed. Just cut one of the scenes.

Sure, it means some of the roles are gone. But the play starts with 40 of them so you can easily lose a few and still have lots of parts to fill.

Here's the blurb:

Best-selling mystery author Byron Pembroke is dead. Soon after, his highly dysfunctional family gathers on a dark and stormy evening for the reading of the will. Each family member has their own reason to believe they'll receive the bulk of Byron's estate, but the family soon funds out that the deceased didn't think much of them. Instead of naming an heir, Byron instead condensed his fortune into one mysterious object and left it to... whoever finds it first!

Before greedy family members are able to put together individual plans of their own, the mansion is overrun by a horde of strangers seeking shelter from the storm. And once the strangers find out about the hidden treasure, they soon join in the hunt.

Who will find the treasure first? Byron's spoiled, self-serving family members? The bickering trio of ghost hunters? The nosy news team? Or the busload of obnoxious tourists? Loaded with small parts and several small-cast comical vignetters, this madcap mystery gives every actor a chance to be part of the madness!

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

Monday, August 22, 2022

P2K


Is this what hope feels like?

Across the country, schools are back in session. And for the first time in two years, things seem to be back to normal. Drama teachers are booking their plays for the coming season. And I've managed to reach a significant goal in my playwriting career.

My 2000th production (I call it Play 2K).

This particular production makes a lot of sense. It was for The Enchanted Bookshop, which has been my best-selling play since it was first published four years ago. And the school that booked it is located in a small, heavily agricultural town in Canada, very typical of the type of community that has provided the backbone of my support all along.

The school? Seven Persons School in Seven Persons, Alberta. How the town got that crazy name is another whole story.


It took me 8 years to go from production #1 to #1000 and only 4 years to get from #1001 to #2000.  

Here's hoping it only takes 3 years to get to #3000.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Hong Kong Bookshop is picture perfect

All of my productions are special. But I have to admit, they're particularly special when they're the first to be done in that country.

That was the case yesterday, when Hong Kong 3 Arts Musical Institute performed The Enchanted Bookshop Musical, making China my 20th country.

This musical theater school went all out. It seems they spared no expense on the technical elements.

The set was elaborate and colorful, with fully constructed pieces and lots of interesting places for the action to play out. The costumes were just as colorful and completely authentic to each of the characters.

I've always said one of my main goals in this play was peopling it with characters that are instantly recognizable from their costumes. I think this school achieved that and more.

Of course, it's funny because these photos make it clear that they added several characters not in my original script: Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Captain Hook (the latter as a replacement for Long John Silver?). I think I even see an Aladdin in the photo above--a first, as far as I know

And that's okay. As I've stated many times before, I encourage theater companies to add whatever literary characters they love. Alice of Wonderland fame has been very popular, as have other fairy tale characters such as Cinderella.

But what I like most about these photos are the dynamic poses and lively expressions on the faces of the actors. They're having a ton of fun, and you can feel it.

And did I mention that they translated the dialogue and lyrics into Cantonese?

Great job, everyone! You done me proud.

And to paraphrase another one of my favorite fictional characters, I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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.