Friday, May 10, 2019

Oman Bookshop photo named finalist


So you remember that photo contest I was telling you about? Well, it turns out that a production of The Enchanted Bookshop at the American International School in Muscat, Oman (yes, Oman!) made the list of five finalists selected by Pioneer.

And I can see why. Their costumes look awesome. And I love the expression on Margie's face (Margie is the one seated on the sofa).

Now comes the fun part, as Pioneer is taking votes from the public to decide the winner. To participate, all you have to do is visit Pioneer's account on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (or better yet, all three) and click Like under the photo or photos you think are best.

Here are the links:

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

Of course, I'm not about to tell you how to vote. That's up to you.

But I know which one I'll be voting for.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Babka on a shoestring


Babka Without Borders had its world premiere this last weekend with TheatreWorks, a homeschool group in Bloomington, IN, and I was thrilled to hear from Dianna, the nimble-fingered mom who'd made all the costumes.

Dianna got me in touch with Tara, the photographer, and Tara sent me an invite to the group's Shutterfly account, where she'd archived a whopping 275 stills from the show.

I wish I could share them all, especially since they show just how creative you can be on a shoestring budget. these penny-pinching moms and dads were.

Dianna told me that their stage was very small, so they only got rid of two tables on each side of the border that runs through the middle of the set. (The set diagram in the script shows four table on each side, but that is only a suggestion.)

Costumes were also a challenge, especially for a play set in 1910 Europe like this one is. But Dianna was able to get everything she needed at the local Goodwill, and she added embellishments as needed to make them period-correct.

It's resourceful volunteers like these that make youth theater such a positive experience for actors, stage crew and audiences alike.

As they say in Primwick and Bunkelburg, vielen dank!

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Purrfect case of gender bending


I'm always happy to have directors creatively cast my plays. After all, it comes with the territory.

Schools and community theaters don't always get the right mix of actors -- or even a sufficient number of actors -- at auditions, so they're often forced to combine roles or change the gender of the roles they're casting.

And sometimes they do it just for the fun of it.

That's the case with the Sheeptown Players Drama Society (love that name!) of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. They're performing The Purrfect Crime May 10 and 11 and, as this article in the Fort Saskatchewan Record makes clear, they're having a ball.

"We have a gentleman playing a female cat. We have a guy who is playing a female lawyer. We have a woman playing a male butler," executive director Stuart McGowan says. "This isn't the first time our group has bent the gender bar, but we are getting into it as much as possibly can."

Make you wonder what they'd do with Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.

Break legs, everybody. I'm glad you're having fun.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Badger Bookshop makes a trailer


Loyal followers of this blog know that I'm currently trying to sell The Enchanted Bookshop as a movie or TV series. Right now, it still looks like a longshot. I'm currently knee-deep in a page one rewrite of the movie based on feedback from a studio exec (turns out it's still not big enough).

But if the movie ever does happen, I couldn't make a better trailer than this colorful, action-packed one from Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wisconsin -- which just happens to be 20 miles from where I grew up.

Nice job, guys! I hope you sell out every show.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Pioneer photo contest returns


Lakeside Lutheran High School of Lake Mills, WI won last year's contest
with this colorful action shot from their production of The Nifty Fifties.  

It's that time of year again. From today through May 3, Pioneer Drama Service is accepting entries for their annual photo contest. The winner gets a $200 gift certificate for goodies they can choose from the entire Pioneer catalog. To see the complete rules, click here.

So give it a shot. I know there's a ton of great photos out there. I've seen 'em.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Writing Tip #2: Make Your Heroes Likable


One of the most common critiques I get about my writing is that my characters are often unlikable. My first impulse is to cry out, that can't be. That character was based on me!

I'm kidding, of course. My characters aren't based on anyone, living or dead.

But they are unlikable. And I think that's because I push their personalities so far toward an extreme that they stop being human. And that's a problem. If your characters are unlikable, then your audience doesn't have anyone to root for. You audience won't care what happens to them.

My soon-to-be-published play Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras is a good example. The story revolves around five pampered princesses who are forced to pose as pirates in order to save their skins. The princesses were likable enough, but I gave them princely beaus--and those guys were complete jerks: self-centered, lazy and, well, kind of dumb.

When I submitted the script to my publisher, they accepted it, but they also asked for changes. They thought the princes were fun, but they had no redeeming values. If the princes were so awful, why were the princesses even with them?

My publisher had a point. So I went back to the old drawing board.

There's a scene toward the end of the play where Blacktooth, the pirate who shanghaied the princesses in the first place, throws everyone--princes and princesses alike--into the brig. In the original draft, the princesses come up with the plan to rescue themselves:

                      EMERALD
          Oh, Norbert! I'd always hoped we'd be 
          together till the end of our days. I 
          just never dreamed the end would come 
          so soon!

                      NORBERT
          Don't be afraid, Emerald. I'm sure
          someone will save us.

                      RUBY
          Who's going to save us? Everyone we 
          know is knocked in this cell.

                      OPAL
          Well then, maybe we should get to 
          know more people.

                      RUBY
          Sure, Opal. We'll get right on that.

CRUSTY ENTERS. She goes to grab the key.

                      AMBER
          Wait. Maybe that's not such a bad 

          idea.

                      RUBY
          What idea?

                      AMBER
          Getting to know more people. In fact,
          I see someone we should get to know 
          right now.

                      DOROTHY
          Didn't you hear? That's the past due 
          notice from Mr, Skinflint. If Miss 
          Margie doesn't come up with three
          thousand dollars by tomorrow, Mr. 
          Skinflint is going to close the shop.

After I got the note from my publisher, I tried a version where the princes helped the princesses make their escape. But it didn't work very well. The play is about female empowerment, and there was no way to have them help without taking away from the princesses' independence.

So instead, I added some dialogue to have Donahue--the laziest, most cowardly prince of all--explain why he was the way he was. And the reason why was something that, I hope, we can all identify with:

                      EMERALD
          Oh, Norbert! I'd always hoped we'd be 
          together till the end of our days. 
          just never thought the end would come 
          so soon!

                      NORBERT
          I'm sorry, Emerald. I guess I've 
          failed you.

                      WILLOUGHBY
          We all did.

                      CARLTON
          That's right. We should have gone
          after Blacktooth like we said we 
          should.

                      RUBY
          Yeah. Now that you mention it, why
          didn't you?

                      DONAHUE
          Don't blame them. It was all my fault. 
          I'm the one who talked them out of it.

                      PEARL
          But why, Donahue? Why did you do that?

                      DONAHUE
          I don't know. I guess I was scared.
          Everyone expects prices to fight
          bloodthirsty pirates and evil knights 
          and hideous monsters with bad teeth. 
          But I don't know how to fight.

                      PEARL
                 (to the others)
          That's true. He's not much of a 
          fighter. But he does make me laugh.

DONAHUE makes a funny face. All the PRINCESSES laugh.

                      AMBER
          That's all right, Donahue. I guess we
          all feel trapped by the roles we play.

CRUSTY ENTERS. AMBER watches her as she goes to grab the key.

                      AMBER
          And I know somebody else who must feel 
          the way.

Following AMBER's gaze, NORBERT and WILLOUGHBY rise to their feet.

                      NORBERT
          Do you want us to knock her out for you?

                      WILLOUGHBY
                (pats himself all around)
          I might have a bottle of sunscreen on me.

                      AMBER
          No. Just stay back. I'll handle this.

And that's where I left it. The princes offer to help. The princesses decide to do it themselves. And even the least likable character reveals a touch of humanity.

That's what I call a win-win-win.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Talking Babka


I am just old enough that the Internet will never not seem like a miracle. Skype is one example. We actually had videophones in the 1970's, with Pittsburgh being one of the first places they were tested, but the technology never caught on. Besides being expensive, it turned out that people really didn't like being seen.

Well, Skype changed all that. Not only did they make it free (a miracle in itself), but they managed to get people to stop caring about that intrusive camera.

And that's great, because yesterday it allowed me to talk to the cast of a production of Babka Without Borders.

The school was Belmont Day School in Belmont, MA. Director and drama teacher Christopher Parsons was as excited to have his students meet me as I was to meet them, and other than one brief technical issue (mostly involving my forgetting to click my camera icon), the call went off without a hitch.

Chris was unable to set up his laptop to allow me to see everyone, so after each student ran up to the camera to introduce themselves, they returned to the bleachers so they could watch their intrepid instructor ask me the questions they'd submitted ahead of time.

Here are a few of them:

Q. How long did it take you to write the play?

A. Writing an hour and a half a day, I can usually finish a play in four months. But I struggled a bit with this one because it was difficult to get the tone right, and it ended taking me about six months.

Q. What was your inspiration for the play?

A. I once read about a town that straddles the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, and I was fascinated by a picture that showed the border wrapping around the outdoor patio of a cafe.

Well, that got me thinking. What would happen if the border didn't wrap around the cafe but cut right through it? And what if the two countries that divided the cafe weren't allies but enemies that went to war? It just seemed like a premise with tons of potential for conflict and humor.

Q. Why did you write the play as a single-set?

A. I love single-set plays because they're so theatrical. When you have one set to build, you can make it a lot more detailed and realistic. That was especially important for this play because I wanted the painted line that represents the border take a prominent role.

Of course, the main challenge with writing a single-set play is that you can't rely on scene changes to keep things fresh. So the way around that is to constantly shuffle the characters who are onstage.

Q. Are any of the characters based on real people?

A. No. My characters are always inventions. If they weren't, my family would have disowned me by now.

Q. Which character is most like me?

A. I don't know if Peter is like me, but he's the character I would most like to be. Between his idealism, his joie de vivre, and his gift of gab, he was a lot of fun to write, and I just love his whole approach to life.

Q. Which character was the hardest to write?

A. Luisa, for sure. She also had to play the sensible yin to Peter's romantic yang. But, as one of the leads, she also had to be likable. That's not an easy combination to make work. But I think as audience members, we also like characters who are earnest and well-meaning, so I tried to bring out those aspects of her personality as well.

Q. Why did you set the play in early 1900's Europe?

A. They're mostly forgotten today, but when I was a kid, I loved reading Leonard Wibberley's Mouse books: The Mouse on the Moon, The Mouse That Roared. They were funny books about a tiny European country ruled by a silly, pompous royal, but behind the funny was a very effective satirical take on modern politics. Bunkelburg and Primwick are very much patterned on that country.

Q. What do I want the audience to get out of the play?

A. I've always been struck by something John Glenn observed when he first orbited the earth. Looking down on that beautiful blue marble, he could see the continents as clear as day. But he couldn't see any borders.

Let's be honest. Borders are inherently arbitrary, and their main purpose is to separate people. As human beings, our goal should be bringing people together, not building a wall between them.

Q. Why did you choose babka?

A. I needed a pastry that was Eastern European, but "Kolaches Without Borders" didn't sound right and blintzes would be difficult to throw with the required precision (besides which, I've always been a big fan of Seinfeld).

Q. What kind of babka is your favorite?

A. Chocolate, definitely chocolate. Everything else is lesser babka.

I'm always available for Skype calls, so if you'd like to pick my brain about the play you're performing, send me an email by clicking here.