Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Evergreen Bookshop hits the silver(ish) screen


Most schools are socially distancing their theatrical productions these days, with students performing in masks and/or recording their performances for posting online. In doing so, they've shown a lot of determination, resourcefulness and creativity, and they all deserve major props for their efforts.

I especially love a recent production I came across from the Evergreen State. Lakes High School in beautiful Lakewood, WA went above and beyond the norm by filming their production like a movie, with professional-quality editing and very cool digital backgrounds. And the performances are so dynamic, you almost forget that the actors are wearing masks. I especially like the in-book credits at the end.

You can check it out above. And if you have your own production you'd like me to highlight, please send me an email. I look forward to seeing it! 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Hurray for dads!

So that program of father-themed shorts I told you about is now streaming at Springs Ensemble Theatre's website. Titled Fatherhood Up Close, it features sketches, monologues, poems and songs--some funny, many quite heartbreaking--but all of them centered on fathers and our often difficult relationships with them. (Hey, I'm a dad. I can say that.)

Tickets are $20 regular price, $5 for dads. But you'll have to act fast. Streaming is no longer available after the show closes at midnight on Sunday, July 4. Like most streaming deals, you'll have 48 hours to finish watching it after you start.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Belmont Diary: Out of the blue

You never know where a play might lead.

When I was writing "Babka Without Borders," I almost gave up halfway in. At that point, I knew it would take me a couple more months to finish and the fear started to gnaw at me that the play would never get published. Or if it did, nobody would produce it. Its costumes were too challenging (it's set in the early 1900's), its language too stilted.

But the story wouldn't let me go. The characters begged me to bring them to life. So I took a gamble and finished it.

It turned out I was wrong on both counts. Pioneer Drama Service snapped up the plat and, while it hasn't gotten a ton of productions, it's done all right (11 productions in its best year). And it is, so far, my only play to have been performed on the African continent (Knysna, South Africa).

Most importantly, the schools that have done it really love it. Its themes of love, world peace and pastries seems to resonate with a lot of people. 

Which leads me to Belmont Day School in Massachusetts. They liked the play so much that they arranged for me to do a Zoom call with the students (the first hour is always free for schools and other theater groups that perform my plays!). I had a great time meeting the cast and crew and they had a great time firing questions at me, like where do I get my ideas and what is my favorite flavor of babka (chocolate, of course).

That was a couple years ago. And I hadn't heard anything more until this week, when out of the blue, Christopher Parsons, the school's theater director, emailed me. He He explained that the school has very specific diversity requirements, and that he's had a terrible time trying to find a play that meets those requirements. Would I write one?

I only needed about a half second to answer that one. It's been four years since I've developed a play in partnership with a school, and I miss interaction. Not only do I get feedback that helps make the play better, but the sheer energy of the staff and students pumps up my writing.

They would pay me my usual fee and I would own full rights to the play after they perform it. The only challenge was the time frame. They originally wanted it done by August 10.

Now I'm a slow writer. I usually take four to six months writing an hour and a half a day to finish a full-length play. Even if I squeezed an extra half hour of writing in each day, the soonest I could get it done was October.

Fortunately, they were willing to give me until the first day of that month as the absolute drop dead date. Of course, I promised to send them partial drafts along the way so they could start planning sets, costumes, that sort of thing. And having a deadline will force me to stop wasting so much time second-guessing myself in my writing.

Deal done.

Now all that's left is to discuss are the parameters of the play: Cast size, length, possible themes. But that comes next week.

I can't wait.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

My 10th year sales

Pioneer was right.

In their annual letter to writers last year, they said that as tough as last school year was (I saw a 13% drop in productions, with nearly all shows cancelled in the second half of March and April), they warned that the coming year would be worse.

I'd hoped it wasn't true. Like most people, I'd thought that the pandemic would peak in the summer but that things would be back to normal by the time school started up again in September.

Of course it didn't happen that way. As everyone knows, we had a whopper of a wave that started in November and didn't end until we started to see the effects of the vaccine in February. (Thank you, researchers!). The result: almost an entire year's worth of school and community theater productions were wiped out.

Fortunately, there were a couple bright spots. One was the growing popularity of virtual theatre through streaming apps like Zoom. The other were all those brave directors and students who managed to maintain all those social distancing procedures necessary to keep live theater, well, alive.

Still, things weren't great. I had a total of 160 productions--a 49% drop from the 314 productions I had last year, which was a 13% drop from the 361 productions I had in my best year of 2018-2019.

That's not as bad as it could have been, but most of those productions were for shorter plays or fewer performances than my usual mix, resulting in an even more painful drop of 69% in revenues.

For the fourth year in a row, my bestselling play was The Enchanted Bookshop with 40 productions. That's a huge drop from the 121 it got last year and the record-setting 156 it got the year before that, but it's still pretty impressive for a large-cast play in the middle of a pandemic.

It was the first full year for the musical version of that play, The Enchanted Bookshop Musical. With 22 productions during the year, it moved into second place. This one actually has 12 productions booked for next year, so I'm thinking it may do very well next year.

You're Virtually Driving Me Crazy! was released in August and came in as my 3rd most popular play for the year, with a respectable 20 productions. That's not too surprising because it was adapted from You're Driving Me Crazy! for virtual performance during the pandemic. It'll be interesting to see how well this and Pioneer's other Zoom-friendly plays do as schools open back up.

An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas is my most recent release, coming out in September. It had 13 productions, which isn't too bad for a holiday-limited play in the middle of a pandemic. It actually was my biggest moneymaker for the year because it sold a ton of scripts. A play's first full year is usually its best year so with schools opening up again I'm thinking it could do gangbusters in the next twelve months. 

You're Driving Me Crazy! also had 13 productions. I don't know if the bulk of these were also virtual productions but I wouldn't be surprised if they were. At the very least, three of the four scenes that make up this driver's ed-themed collection of short plays are very small cast (two or three actors each), so schools who did perform ut live may have chosen it for that very reason.

On the other end of the spectrum, The _urloined Letter, my oldest play, got zero productions, and Babka Without Borders and The Purrfect Crime each got just one production. Things were so bad, in fact, that because of cancelled productions, two plays--the aforementioned Babka Without Borders as well as The Stinky Feet Gang--actually made negative royalties for the year.

But there is a light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel. The vaccine is now widely available, cases are way down, and most schools are preparing to reopen for live instruction in the fall.

And this month alone, I made more in royalties than I did in the first seven months of the 2019-2020.

A very bright light indeed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Wandering back to the Springs

I miss Colorado Springs.

Don't get me wrong. I love Phoenix. In fact, I wouldn't live anywhere else (unless I get really rich and can move to the Amalfi Coast). But Colorado Springs is better in some important ways, and one of those ways is its theater scene.

Although Colorado Springs has a population of only 300,000, the city has a wealth of professional, amateur, church and children's theaters. I've been involved with several of them, but I've never had anything done by one of my favorites, Springs Ensemble Theatre (otherwise known as SET).

Until now.

My 10-minute play The Wanderer has just been selected for their Fatherhood Out Loud Play Festival on--when else?--Father's Day Weekend (June 18 to 20).

The play has only been done twice before (kudos to Springs Ensemble Theatre for not insisting on world premieres): Once at Oakland's Pan Theater in 2012 and once at Connecticut's Stonington Theatre in 2013.

It's my only drama. Opening in the waiting room of a police station, it centers on an old man who was arrested for shoplifting a lady's watch and his workaholic son who's trying to understand why he did it. 

The play was inspired by my own father. And no, he never stole a watch--or anything else, come to think of it. But the thin ice that the father and son tread in their 10-minute very much resembles our own relationship dynamic.

Due to the pandemic, SET still isn't performing live, but that's a good thing because it means anyone in the world can stream the show. You can buy your tickets here (cheap!). But don't wait too long. The video isn't available after closing day. 

And if you're a playwright with a short mother- or father-themed plays, make sure and bookmark SET's website. Their Motherhood Out Loud and Fatherhood Out Loud festivals shows are an annual thing and they accept submissions from anywhere The deadlines are February 28 and March 31. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Badger Crazy

A very nice high school student emailed me today saying that she'd played Kat in her school's production of The Butler Did It! earlier this year and wanted to direct a scene from You're Driving Me Crazy! for her theater class. The only thing is she couldn't decide which scene she wanted to do. Could I send her the scripts?

I wanted to help, I really did. But with the pandemic cancelling 80% of all school productions this year, playwrights and play publishers alike are struggling. We really need every script sale we can get.

Not to mention the risk that once a PDF of a script is out there, it's all too easy to make copies and/or forward it to other schools or theaters (not that any of you lovely people would do such a thing). And any electronic script I had would be an early version of the play and wouldn't include all the required legalese. So I had to decline.

But I recognize that many schools are struggling too, so I offered to mail her one of the free printed scripts that Pioneer Drama Service provides me.

I also did a Google search and happily discovered that a high school in Plainfield, Wisconsin posted a video of the play just a couple months ago. (That town, by the way, has a personal connection for me as well. When I was a kid, my family and I would often drive through it on our vacation trips up north.)

Actually, the play they performed was You're Virtually Driving Me Crazy!, the virtual adaptation that Pioneer released last year. But as I've explained elsewhere, the differences between the two are minimal. And this particular production is really good, with lively performances and all of the action being set inside actual cars. (One of the benefits of social distancing: it forces you to get creative.)

So I emailed the student a link to the video. I hope it helps her. And, if you've been considering this play--one of my most popular works during the pandemic--I hope it helps you too.

But if it's at all possible, please buy a perusal copy. Pioneer's E-view system makes it fast and easy. And it'll help keep them and me in business for when the world finally does open up again.

Thanks for your support!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Trouble in British Columbia

They say the show must go on, and that's never been truer than now with the COVID-19 pandemic making its way around the world and schools having to find new ways to keep their theatre programs alive.

Oak Bay High School in Victoria, British Columbia, took on another whole set of challenges when they decided to film their production of Trouble in Paradise Junction for online streaming. Not only did they have to learn how to do the camerawork and editing themselves, but their rehearsal time was cut from their standard twenty weeks to just five.

There is one big advantage to filming it though. It allowed them to perform the scenes in various locations throughout the school rather than just on the stage, giving the show a more cinematic feel.

The streamed performance can be viewed on the school's YouTube channel, but it's only available from 5pm to 11pm EST today or tomorrow.

For the complete story on this ambitious production, check out this article in the Oak Bay News.