Friday, June 14, 2024

George Washington Ate My Homework is now available!

For the first time in ten months, I have a new play out! George Washington Ate My Homework is my 23rd play to be published by Pioneer Drama Service and 25th play overall. For the full scoop, including a synopsis, script sample, and ordering info, please visit the play's web page.

I may have struggled when I first tackled the story, but I'm really happy with how it turned out. There's a lot of funny dialogue and as well as some high-energy action (particularly with the way Florence Nightingale dispatches two of the nastiest pirates ever to sail the seven seas).

But the play also teach students what makes historical figures like Cleopatra, Albert Einstein, and H.G. Wells so great. And have you ever heard of Dr. Grace Hopper? I hadn't when I started writing the play, but in doing my research, I discovered that much of our computer technology is due to this groundbreaking computer pioneer.

In this play, she gets her due.

Something else I learned about was how time travel theory has changed over the years (turns out Albert Einstein wasn't right about everything!) and how some scientists currently think it might work, if it ever does. 

I don't go into detail on this in the play, just enough to pique the interest of any budding scientists in the audience.

Anyway, take a look at it. I think you'll really like it.

You'll also learn a thing or two. I did.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Belmont diary: Third time's a charm?


Just kidding with that blog title, of course. Because I feel like my first two at-bats with Belmont Day School went very well indeed.

Theater Director Christopher Parsons must feel that way too, because he just emailed me that the school has approved a third playwriting commission for me.

This one is different. Way different. Instead of a full-length for their seventh- and eight-graders, they're having me write a 20- to 25-minute one-act for their sixth graders. And while the first two plays required massive casts--like 38 to 40 actors--this one calls for a much more economical eight.

The set and plot requirements are particularly loose. The school had laid out very specific guidelines for what became It's a Madhouse! and Bringing Down the House, but for this one they're only asking that the set be minimal (no backdrops or complicated set pieces) and that the story be in the fairy tale or fantasy genre.

Ironically, though, that makes the writing tougher. The story requirements for the first two plays acted as writing prompts for me, and I only had to toss a few ideas around in my head (and at the dinner table) before I was able to break the story.

Not here. Fairy tales present an extremely large canvas. Do I write an original one or a parody? If it's a parody, do I base it on a well-known story, a more obscure one (hello, "Hans-My-Hedgehog"), or a mishmash of several of them? And which ones do I choose?

Another challenge is related to the reason Belmont Day School hired me in the first place. DEIB goals are a big deal for them, as they should be for everyone, and in the past, Chris had difficulty finding plays that met those goals.

So they're a big deal on this play as well. There can't be any gender, racial, or cultural stereotypes. But the classic fairy tales are built on stereotypes. You've got the brave prince. The helpless princess. The foolish peasant. And on and on.

Well, I've got to figure out a way to subvert all those. Or maybe not subvert them, because even playing with them can reinforce them in a way. No, what I have to do is bypass them entirely.  

Oh, there's one other difference with this commission that I should mention. The school won't be giving the play a full production. They'll only be using the script in class to practice their performance skills. This frees me up to submit the play to my publisher as soon as it's written (it should be completed by the end of August).

So that's good. But if I ever want the play to get a full production, I'll need to make it work for a broad spectrum of schools and theater companies, maybe even as a competition piece. 

Whew. This is going to be a toughie. But that's okay. I love a good toughie. 

If you'd like to hire me to write a play for your school or theater company, you can find all the deets on my Work With Me page.

I look forward to collaborating with you!

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Kill the Critic! to be published

A couple of years ago, when I learned that my old-time radio comedy, The Last Radio Show, was going to be published, I mentioned in a post that it had been a long time coming. And it was. Five and a half years long, to be exact, from world premiere to publication offer.

Well, it turned out that was nothing. Heuer Publishing has just accepted my backstage farce Kill the Critic! for publication, one month short of eleven years from world premiere to that glorious, glorious publication offer.

A long and winding road

To tell you the truth, I'd given up on the play a long time ago. And that hurt. Because the original response to it was nothing short of phenomenal. 

I'd produced the world premiere at a small performing arts center in Palmer Lake, CO, with my friend Nancy Holaday directing. I was nervous at first because I didn't know what I had. But the audience loved it. The laughter was constant, the applause was enthusiastic, and the comments from the audience afterward were overwhelmingly positive.

I had a soft spot for that production for another reason as well. My daughter Brooke played the ditzy debutante Melanie Monzoni in that production (that's her on the left in the photo at the bottom of this post), and the feedback on her performance was just as positive as it was for the show itself. Some people even told me they thought she stole the show. As a proud papa, of course, I had to agree.

The play went on to get a staged reading that year at the McLaren Comedy Festival in Midland, TX, coming in a close second in their play competition. It also came in second in that year's Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence.


Do the hustle

With high hopes for success, I pushed it hard, submitting the script to as many theaters, contests, and publishers as I could find. In 2015, it got its second production with the Stage Presence Players in Austin, TX.

Tennessee Stage Company expressed an interest in producing it, but when they found out they would not get the world premiere, they quickly lost that interest.

The play reached its high water mark in 2016 with a staged reading at Theatre of Note in Hollywood, CA, which remains one of only two performances I've ever had by a professional theater company.

And then it just kind of... died. No other theaters wanted to produce it. The play didn't place in any other contests. And every publisher I submitted it to rejected it.

I understand why my regular publisher, Pioneer Drama Service, gave it a thumbs-down. The play is much too risque and dark for their catalog. But I don't understand why publishers like Playscripts and Dramatic Publishing weren't interested.

So I shoved the script in a drawer (or, to be more precise, a folder on my laptop) and forgot about it.


Back to life

But the play kept tugging at the back of my mind. It was, after all, The One That Got Away.

I have three other full-length plays that have never been published, but they don't bother me because they hadn't had such an auspicious start. And Kill the Critic! is funny. Like really funny. It's my one true farce, with mistaken identity and sexual innuendo and lots of doors slamming and opening and slamming shut again.

In fact, now that I think about it, it may be my funniest play. The Last Radio Show has, I think, the wittiest dialogue. It's a Madhouse! features the most over-the-top characters. But only Kill the Critic! has the constant, outrageous physical comedy that audiences love.

So I returned to it late last year, racking my brain once more to figure out where else I could send it. And in checking my submission log, I realized that for some reason (undoubtedly a stupid oversight on my part), I'd never submitted it to Heuer Publishing.

Which is weird. They already publish The Last Radio Show, and their sister company Brooklyn Publishers publishes my Hollywood mystery Lights! Camera! Murder! (they're releasing my kid's climate change comedy The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct later this year). And both publishers go a little darker than Pioneer. It was a perfect fit.

So I sent off it off to Heuer in September. And today, I got the word that they're going to publish it

Sweet, sweet success.

I guess if there's a lesson in all of this, it's to never give up. If you really believe your work is good, and it has received a lot of positive feedback, keep pushing it. If it's meant to find a home, it will.

But it might be a long wait.


Curtain up

And so, for the first time ever on this blog, I now share a scene from Kill the Critic! It's the opening scene, and I like it because it gets right into the action, setting up the premise and showing us the contrasting personalities of the two leads. 

ACT ONE

Lights up. BERTRAM enters, his hands tied behind his back, a wastebasket over his head. TREVOR enters behind him holding a knife.

TREVOR: Don't move. (Locks the dressing room door.) Now where can I put him? I know. The bathroom. (Peers into the bathroom.) No. I might need to use this. (Closes the door.) How about the broom closet? (Looks inside, picks up a dead rat off the floor.) Yeesh! I wouldn't put a dead man in there. (Tosses the rat back in and shuts the door.) Aha! The wardrobe! (Throws open the wardrobe. It's crammed with old costumes. He tries to grab them up in one armful, but the knife gets in the way. He switches the knife to the other hand and tries again. Big surprise. The knife is still in the way. Finally, TREVOR has a brainstorm. He places the knife between his teeth—and immediately cuts his lip.) Ouch! (Touches at his mouth, sees blood.) Damn it! And on the night of my Broadway debut!

(TREVOR goes to the mirror to look at his wound. Tired of waiting, BERTRAM shakes his head until the wastebasket falls off.)

BERTRAM: Stanton. I should have known it was you.

TREVOR: Put that back on!

BERTRAM: You can't even play a kidnapper convincingly.

TREVOR: I said put that back on!

BERTRAM: I'll bet that's a stage knife too. 

TREVOR: What, this? No, I just cut myself with it.

BERTRAM: Well, you bleed like a real actor.

TREVOR: Thanks— (Pause) Now cut that out! That's exactly why I'm doing this! 

BERTRAM: You don't appreciate my wit?

TREVOR: Yes. I mean no. I mean, that's not wit. That's just the same venom you write your reviews with.

BERTRAM: Good actors don't read reviews.

TREVOR: They read you.

BERTRAM: Yes. Well, that's one of the advantages of being the most powerful theatre critic in New York. So how are you going to do me in?

TREVOR: What?

BERTRAM: The method. The means of execution, man. Strangulation, perhaps? A quick blow to the head? Wait. I know. You're going to subject me to a soliloquy. 

Want more? Then be sure to visit the New Play Exchange for the full synopsis, cast list, and a 20-page sample. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Belmont diary: Bringing Down the House to be published

Great news! I just received a contract from Pioneer Drama Service for my backstage comedy, Bringing Down the House. You know what that means. It's going to be published! For those keeping score at home, this is my 24th play with Pioneer and 27th play overall.

I've said so much about the development of this play already that I don't know what else to say except I couldn't be happier. This far into my playwriting career, I'm still extremely grateful for every single publication.

Especially this one. Sure, it had a couple of advantages going for it. First, it was written on commission, so I knew that it met at least one school's needs. And second, it has been through the grind of a rehearsal and production cycle, allowing me to work out the bugs before submitting the script to Pioneer.

But still, it's a bit of an oddball. It's my first play with a swordfight, except that it actually has two, one with actual swords, one with protest signs and sledgehammers (plastic, of course). It's also my first play with a dance number, although I leave the music and choreography entirely up to you.

So yeah, I took some big swings with this one, but I think it paid off. This is one of my funniest plays by far. And every one of the 38--count 'em 38!--actors in the show will not only get a laugh but a meaty role to bite into.

I shared a scene a few months ago when I finished the final draft. That scene, however, was from the middle of the play, so let me now entice you with the opening scene.

ACT ONE

AT RISE: The Edgar Street Theatre, morning. JERRY, DALE, MERLE, and HARLEY ENTER LEFT carrying four crates to add to the four already onstage. JERRY and DALE set their crates down.

JERRY: All right. I think that's the last of the dynamite.

DALE: Wow. Eight crates. Are you sure we need this much?

JERRY: Of course, we need it. We're not doing a fireworks show here. We're bringing down this building!

DALE: Fireworks show! Ha ha! Oh, Jerry! You kill me! You really kill me!

MERLE (Sets his crate down gently.): Slowly... slowly... (HARLEY sets his crate down with a crash.)

JERRY: Harley! Be careful with that!

HARLEY: But it's heavy!

JERRY: I don't care if it's heavy. Don't you remember your training?

MERLE: How could he remember it? He slept through it.

HARLEY (Remembers fondly.): Best nap I ever had.

JERRY: Yeah, well, you need to start using that brain of yours. Dynamite is dangerous. The slightest movement can set it off.

HARLEY: Oh, right, right. Now I remember.

JERRY: Good. Now let's go get our tools so we can start drilling the holes for the dynamite in these columns.

MERLE: Wait. You mean we're just going to leave the dynamite here?

JERRY: What's the big deal? We're coming right back.

MERLE: I know, but what if someone comes in here and jostles the crates around?

JERRY: Who's going to do that? Nobody's used this building for years.

MERLE: Well, I still think it's dangerous.

JERRY: Oh, yeah? Well, you think too much.

DALE: Hey, Harley! Did you hear that? Jerry says Merle thinks too much and you don't think enough. Maybe if you put your brains together, you'd think the right amount!

JERRY: And you talk too much.

DALE: Aw, come on, Jerry. I was just appreciatin' your humor.

JERRY: Yeah? Well, don't. (JERRY, DALE, MERLE, and HARLEY EXIT LEFT.)

If you want to see more, including the synopsis, cast breakdown, and a 20-page sample, you can visit the play's page on the New Play Exchange.

I guarantee you'll get a real "bang" out of it.

Monday, May 13, 2024

My 13th year sales


When I set out to write this post, I was going to use the word "gangbusters" to describe how this theater season went for me. But then I went back to look at what I wrote last year and realized I'd used that same word then.

So what word is stronger than gangbusters? Stellar? Dynamite? Fantabulous? Nifty?

Okay, so maybe my favorite thesaurus app throws in a few clunkers. The point is you can pick any one of those words and they wouldn't do justice to how successful this year was for me. Here are just three of the highlights.

I had a total of 420 productions, 16% more than my previous record of 362, set all the way back in that pre-COVID year of 2019. 

My royalties were an impressive 44% higher than my previous record, which was set just last year and which I'm definitely not getting to share here (sorry!).

I also added three new amazing countries to my life list, making a grand total of 24 (still no South America though!).

The top five

The Enchanted Bookshop was my best-selling play for the seventh year in a row, with a whopping 109 productions. That's the most it's had since 2020 (actually, the 2019-2020 season, with the tail end of that season being clipped due to COVID-related theater closures). While most of my plays drop 50% or more within three years, this play has shown incredible staying power. In fact, its production count has dropped only 30% in five years and had held pretty steady the last two years. Besides that, the play got me my 22nd and 23rd countries this year with productions in Abuja, Nigeria and Jakarta, Indonesia. And did I mentioned it already has 43 productions booked for next year? Wowzuh!

It Happened on Route 66 was my second best-selling play with 57 productions, this being its first full year of relief. And that's a whole story in itself. For years after writing The Enchanted Bookshop, I've been trying to replicate its success, but my subsequent eight plays received only a small fraction of that play's productions. Then along came this love letter to the Mother Road, proving that a completely different story--if it's the right story--can get halfway there.

If the success of It Happened on Route 66 was a pleasant surprise, the numbers for It's a Madhouse! were an even bigger surprise. This crazy treasure hunt farce got an impressive 41 productions this year (again its first full year), making it my third-place play. But if you combine that number with the 33 productions received by Madhouse!--its one-act version and my fourth-place play--you get a total of 74 productions--almost Enchanted Bookshop levels. And the royalties for this one-two punch were 82% of the those that my top-earning play received.

Two new hit plays in one year? I'll take it.

With 24 productions, fifth place goes to my coffee shop comedy, Whole Latte Love. This was the play's first full-year as well, but it was down a bit from the 28 productions it got the year before, mostly because that year was practically a full year. It's too early to know for sure, but I expect that this love-filled play will continue to pull healthy numbers over the next few years.

But wait, there's more

Further down the list, I have to give a shout-out to my restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs, which has been going strong for nine years now. And by strong, I mean it has gotten 20 or more productions every year except for the two COVID-affected years. As Adam Sandler would say, not too shabby.

I was kind of blown away by this one, but An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas is defying the play-aging odds. This was its fourth year of publication and it somehow managed to earn more royalties this year than it did in any of its previous three years. Like 50% more. This has never happened to me before. A little elfin magic? I have to wonder...

Finally, I have to mention my collection of driver's ed skits, You're Driving Me Crazy!, which, like Million Dollar Meatballs, continues to receive 20 or more productions a year in this, its ninth year. Even more amazing, this year the play got me my 24th country, with a production in Rzeszow, Poland. 

The big question

I've been racking my head lately, trying to figure out why my last four plays have done so well. In last year's wrap-up, I suggested that it may be because I've been concentrating more on single-set, contemporary plays. I'm sure that's helped, but it doesn't explain why my cat inheritance comedy, The Purrfect Crime, has never done super well.

Then I realized that all four plays came after my two-year hiatus from writing plays to try to break into novels and screenplays. How did that go? Not well.

But maybe I learned something in those two years. I spent so much of that time studying the Hero's Journey and learning to apply those lessons to my novels and screenplays that my plays may have benefited as well. I feel like they're stronger now. Tighter. More character-driven.

I know they have a lot more heart.

Anyway, I want to thank all of the schools and theater companies who performed my plays this year. I love you all!

And if you enjoyed my current plays, just wait. There's more great stuff right around the corner. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Finding Winona

Setting has always been of the utmost important to me. Often, the germ of an idea for a new play comes not from the plot or a character, but from the setting, whether that setting is a creepy mansion, a failing French restaurant, or a bookshop.

So I suppose it's ironic that the setting of my plays rarely includes a specific city.

Location, Location, Location

It Happened on Route 66 is the big exception. From the get-go, that play has been about capturing a specific time and place, so when I first sat down to write it, it was important to me to set it in a real town along the Mother Road and to bring that town to life through the specificity of the dialogue and the richness of the characters.

During my initial brainstorming, I considered several small towns along that fabled highway. Tulsa. Amarillo. Flagstaff.

But when I remembered that famous line from the song "Get Your Kicks on Route 66," I knew that Winona, Arizona had to be it.

Route 66 Trivia: Being east of Flagstaff, Winona is the only town that's out of order going east to west in that song.

It didn't hurt that I've lived in Arizona for the last seven years so I already knew what small Arizona towns are like. However, I've never been to Winona itself.

Until today.

My wife and I were in Flagstaff to cheer on our daughter in her first 38-mile ultra-marathon, and the day after the race, as we headed back to Phoenix, I managed to talk them into buzzing through the tiny town. After all, it's only 13 miles east of Flagstaff--a quick jaunt, no?

I wanted to see how close modern-day Winona was to the quaint roadside town of my imagination. I especially wanted to see if there was actually a diner there. And could it possibly be named Ookie's?

Gettin' My Kicks


I've always loved Route 66 towns. Tulsa makes a big deal about being the birthplace of the highway, apparently because the guy who first pushed for it came from there, and I remember taking a picture of a big Route 66 sign on one of the bridges over the road downtown.

Not the largest Route 66 sign in the country.

Flagstaff is pretty much built along the old highway, with many Route 66-themed burger joints and other restaurants stretched along its length.

But my favorite Route 66 town has to be Williams, Arizona. We spent a weekend there a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. That town, by the way, calls itself the Gateway to the Grand Canyon, even though it's 54 miles away from that big hole in the ground. But there's no bigger town closer to the canyon, so I guess they can get away with it.
Route 66 Trivia: Williams was the last town on Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40.
What I love about Williams is that even though it's pretty small, it really crackles with life. And that's due its ties to the Main Street of America.

The main drag is lined with neon signs that hark back to the time when Route 66 was in its heyday. And it seems that every other shop in town sells some kind of Route 66 memorabilia. But the town also has some great restaurants and brewpubs, and a killer view of an extinct volcano named Bill Williams Mountain to the south.

Prices are cheap in Williams.

So I had high hopes for Winona. The town had lived and died by its connected to that legendary highway so I figured there would still be a lot of remnants from its glorious past.

My pre-trip research held promise. It revealed that a gas station named the Winona Trading Post had been built along Route 66 in the late 1940's. It was the main business in town back then, and--miracle of miracles--it's still in operation today in the same sand-colored, cinder block building. What's more, a photo of an old postcard I found online showed that the sign on the store boasted a cafe.

I had my diner!

What once was.


An inconvenient truth


I'm not embarrassed to tell you that my heart was racing a little as we pulled off I-40 onto the frontage road that led to the gas station.

That's when it saw it. The cafe sign was gone. There was no diner anymore. The building had been turned into a convenience store.

Let me correct that. An extremely tacky convenience store.

Smiling on the outside. Crying on the inside.

Of course, they had some cheap little Route 66 trinkets for sale. There was even a little exhibit of historical items from the road on display. But sadly, no sign of the cafe itself.

Still, I stood in that store for a few minutes and tried to imagine the millions of travelers who'd passed through the cafe over the years. Who were they? What were their stories? And did they ever order the all-you-can-eat special?

I went outside and looked around. I smiled to see that there was a garage next to the store. I later learned it had been built in the late 1940's or early 1950's so my play wasn't completely accurate when it said that the nearest garage was in Flagstaff. But I thought it funny that there was a tow truck out front, just like the one from Ed's Towing that Sally told Lovey was getting repaired.

Looks fine to me.


As for the rest of the town, it mostly consists of a few dozen houses scattered over the foothills to the north (Winona has never been incorporated so I have no idea what the population is). But I instantly recognized one sight that loomed over the town like a dark cloud on the horizon.

It was the Darling Cinder Pit Mine, which Sally referred to as the largest cinder pit mine in the country. When I got back home, I went online to reconfirm this fact. Turns out it's actually just the largest cinder pit mine in the state--and might not have even held that title in 1955, when the play was set.

Clearly, Sally got some bad info.

Not the largest cinder pit mine in the country.

After taking a few pictures, I climbed back into our car and we headed home.

Final thoughts


Was I sad that I didn't get to see the cafe where It Happened on Route 66 might have happened? Sure. But then so much of that once-vital highway has been lost to time, I shouldn't have been surprised. And I wasn't.

Still, I'm happy I went, if only to get a sense of what might have been. I'm even happier to see how popular the play has been with schools and community theaters. The sets I've seen photos of do a fantastic job of bringing to life the diner I'd hoped I'd see. And in this way, on stages all across the country, Ookie's Diner remains open for business.

May it never close.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Crazy in the Great White North

One of the things I like best about being a playwright for the amateur market--mostly schools and community theaters--is the amazing places where you get to be produced.

If I wrote for professional markets, I'd get produced in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, maybe a few of the regional theater hubs like Minneapolis and Seattle. And that would be it.

Well, I've been produced in all of those cities. But I've also been produced in quaint little hamlets with fantastic names.

Like Farmers Branch, TX.

Soap Lake, WA.

Knysna, South Africa.

Angels Camp, CA.

Punxsatawney, PA (of groundhog fame).

Locust Grove, OK.

Soddy-Daisy, TN.

Marceline, MO (boyhood home of my childhood hero Walt Disney).

Sadly, I've never had a production in my own fantastically named hometown of Beaver Dam, WI. But if I ever do, you can bet you'll hear about it here.

Anyway, now I can add one more amazing place to the list. The school district in faraway Inuvik, Northwest Territories will be performing You're Driving Me Crazy! at the end of this month.

I find this fascinating for several reasons.

It's my first production in the Northwest Territories, leaving the Yukon as the only Canadian province-slash-territory where I haven't been produced.

It's my first production in the Arctic Circle.

It's also my furthest north production. Four years ago, I had posted about a production of The Enchanted Bookshop Musical at an elementary school in Iqaluit, Nunavut. That was pretty far north, but not as north. 

Inuvik is so far north, it enjoys 56 days of 24-hour sunlight in the summer and 30 days of 24-hour darkness in the winter. The coldest temperature ever recorded there is -70 degrees F, although the average daily high is -9 degrees F in January and a balmy 67 degrees F in July.

The town has a population of 3137, predominantly Inuit. And it offers plenty of watery recreation as it's located on the enormous delta where the Mackenzie River empties in the Arctic Sea.

Unfortunately, I can't find any information about my particular production. That often happens when a school district rather than a particular school licenses the play. But I feel honored that they've selected You're Driving Me Crazy! and I wish the cast and crew broken legs all around.

Oh, and just for fun, I did a quick check to see where my other compass extremes have been. Here are those:

Southernmost Production: Eight--count 'em, eight!--different shows at my friend Gemma's wonderful performing arts school Standouts in Wellington, New Zealand.

Easternmost Production: How I Met Your Mummy at Te Puke High School in Te Puke, New Zealand--just 314 miles north and east of Wellington.

Westernmost Production: You're Virtually Driving Me Crazy! by Hana Arts in Hana, Hawaii (on the island of Maui).

Can you tell I'm a geography nerd?