Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hearing from the actors

Photo by Steve Hibbard

When I was producing my own plays, I always enjoyed talking about the shows on the radio. But I always made sure to bring along a couple actors.

After all, radio listeners don't want to hear some writer pontificate about their vision for the play or what inspired them to write it in the first place. They want to hear how much fun the actors are having.

With a youth play like The Enchanted Bookshop, that goes double.

So I'm really glad that in this latest article about that Arlington production (boy, do they know how to get great press!), reporter Steve Hibbard gave the young stars a chance to talk about how their roles.

"I wanted to get into my character as much as possible and embody that character," Emmie Vajda said. Dorothy is passionate and she's brave and clever, so I have to be all those traits when I'm acting as Dorothy."

The production runs through January 20 at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington, VA. To order tickets, visit Encore Stage & Studio's website.

With passion like Emmie has, it's sure to be an awesome show!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras to be published


Well, this is a nice start to the New Year. Pioneer Drama Service just gave me the word that they're going to publish my latest play, Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras.

Like Million Dollar Meatballs and The Purrfect Crime, it's a farce. But this one has a twist. Instead of a pair of bad buys posing as good guys, Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras has a whole bunch of princesses (five, to be exact) posing as pirates.

The fun starts when the princesses' beaus sail off in pursuit of the dread pirate Blacktooth. Feeling a little jealous, the princesses decided to have some fun by dressing up like pirates themselves. They even try their hand at some piratey patois.

Well, who should show up but Blacktooth himself? Spying on the princesses, he concludes that they're really bloodthirsty buccaneers and forces them to join what's left of his crew.

That's when the princesses learn that life on the sea ain't all it's cracked up to be. The food stinks. The rats are rude. And Blacktooth--well, they quickly learn why he's so dread (it's his breath).

Of course, everything will be fine once their princes rescue them. But when Blacktooth captures the princes instead, the princesses come to a sobering realization. If they want to be rescued, they're going to have to do it themselves.

The play should come out this fall, just in time for the new school year. Until then, here's an excerpt from when the princesses first pretend to be pirates:

AMBER (Adopts a piratey stance.): Avast ye mateys! Hoist the mainsail and scuttle the jib! There be treasure afoot!

OPAL: What did she say?

EMERALD: I think she said something about our feet.

AMBER: Oh, that's just how pirates talk. You string a bunch of piratey words together like "matey" and "jib", then finish them off with a rousing "arrr"!

(BLACKTOOTH sneaks IN. He watches from behind the trellis.)

BLACKTOOTH (To himself.): Well, blow me down! I've never seen such a fearsome band of pirates!

EMERALD: Ooo! Ooo! Let me try! (Steps forward.) Scuttle the mainsail! Ye have a fine jib, matey!

AMBER: Don't stop now. Keep going!

EMERALD (Struggles to think.): Um, um, I used to have a fine mainsail, but one of me mateys jibbed me out of it.

AMBER: You forgot to say "arrr"!

EMERALD: Arrr!

AMBER: Good. Who else wants to try?

OPAL: I do. (Steps forward.) Matey jib jib matey! Matey matey jib jib!

BLACKTOOTH (To himself.): Well, shiver me timbers! They may look like pirates, but they sound like fools! (Steps out from behind the trellis.) Avast, ye mateys!

OPAL: Hey, look. He can do it too.

AMBER (Stage whisper.): Of course he can do it, Opal. He's a real pirate!

OPAL: Oh...

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Rave review for Arlington Bookshop


That Arlington production of The Enchanted Bookshop just got a big thumbs-up from DC Metro Theater Arts. Reviewer Betsy Lizotte had nothing but great things to say about the young performers, and she wrapped up her enthusiastic review by calling the production "a crowd-pleaser that mixes expert staging, dialogue, delivery and humor into a captivating show."

I've noticed that a lot of the productions add characters so that they can involve more kids. I think that's great (and no, you don't have to write me for permission, though I do love to hear from theaters doing my shows).

Normally they add other well-known book characters (Amelia Bedelia and Alice of Wonderland fame are popular choices). But here, director Sarah Conrad decided to split a couple of characters that already exist in the play. Fingers became Fingers and Toes, and Bombalurina became--what else?--Bomba and Lurina.

Hey, if it works, go for it!

Best part of the review? I learned that Robin Hood hat.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Arlington youth theater thrives


It's not easy running a children's theater company these days. From public funding cuts to competition from school sports and a gazillion other entertainment options, it might seem impossible to keep a theater program alive.

But Encore Stage & Studio in Arlington, VA has found a way--not just to survive, but to thrive. And they've been doing it for thirty years.

Executive Director Sara Duke and Artistic Director Susan Keady were recently interviewed by radio station WERA about their upcoming production of The Enchanted Bookshop, and they were given a very generous half hour to elaborate on how they've managed to be so successful for so long.

One key is that they try to recruit by on a "third-third-third" basis. That is, in any production, one-third of the students are returning students, one-third have theater experience outside of Encore and one-third are brand new to performing.

As Duke puts it, "That third-third-third is really a winning combination and puts on the best show but also has the best opportunities for peer-to-peer mentorship between cast members because we do really ask the kids, particularly the older ones, to really step up and show the younger ones the ropes and create friendships across grade levels."

What's more, they don't just look for artsy kids. Instead, they reach out to physics and engineering students and get them involved by having them solve technical problems with the sets or lighting.

Sounds pretty genius to me. To learn more, check out the entire interview on Mixcloud.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A look ahead to 2019

We're having an incredibly cold winter here in Arizona. For the first time since I moved here two years ago, we have snow.

Okay, the snow is 30 miles east and about 4000 feet up in the Superstition Mountains, but I can see it.

And that's as close as I want to get to it.

Anyway, it's New Year's Day. I've already taken stock of my goals from last year, so now it's time to lay out some goals for the bright, shiny new year ahead of us.

I'm going to go out on a limb this time. Most years, I post a list of five to eight goals, but this year I'm keeping it simple. I'm only going to set one goal.

It's such a longshot that I've got to focus all of my energies on making it happen to give it a chance of happening at all.

If it does happens, it changes everything. If it doesn't--well, the rest will take care of itself. Pioneer is bringing out the musical version of The Enchanted Bookshop later this year. I'm waiting to hear their decision on my pirate play. I've got a couple of plays with other publishers. And the original version if The Enchanted Bookshop continues to do well, booking about four productions a week.

What is that goal? Just this:

1) Sell The Enchanted Bookshop as a TV series

As I mentioned in my 2018 wrap-up, I wrote a pilot for a TV version of The Enchanted Bookshop. My manager really likes it, and after a couple more polish drafts, he's going to take it out on the town.

While the US film market is mostly closed to spec scripts right now, the TV market is wide open. This is mostly due to Netflix, which is flush with cash and snapping up everything--and everyone-- they can find. But other networks and streaming services are looking too.

If the pilot does get any interest, they're going to want to see a detailed pitch. So that's what I'm working on now. It includes a description of the characters, a detailed synopsis of the pilot, a brief synopsis of the first six to eight episodes and, most importantly, my vision for the show.

At that point, the decision will be made whether to greenlight the show or not.

So I'm excited. Whether the show happens or not, it's going to be an adventure.

Monday, December 31, 2018

A look back at 2018


It's New Year's Eve, time again to review my goals for the year and see how well I did.

Overall, the year was a mixed bag. I hit one goal and missed the rest, but the one I hit was a biggie so I'm feeling pretty good.

Here are the goals I posted on New Year's Day:

1) Get some traction on my Enchanted Bookshop screenplay

A year ago, I had left this goal pretty vague, refusing to define exactly what "traction" meant. I was thinking that a contest win or a request to read the script from a producer might would. But if you had pinned me down, I would have said that my real goal was to get some kind of representation.

Well, that's exactly what happened. In May, I signed with Gravity Squared Entertainment in Beverly Hills, the management company that represents Homer Hickam, author of Rocket Boys (which became the movie October Sky).

I worked with them on a couple of screenplays, a movie version of The Enchanted Bookshop and a coming-of-age comedy about kids who sneak into an after-hours amusement park called Wonderland.

My manager sent out both scripts to a handful of places but didn't get any interest.  It seems spec scripts are a hard sell right now (when are they not?).

But last month, I finished a TV pilot for The Enchanted Bookshop and he fell in love with it. We're now working on polishing it so it'll be ready to go out after the first of the year.

It's still a longshot, but I'm a lot further along than I was a year ago. Let's call this one a Success.

2) Complete two plays

For a long time, I'd wanted to write a pirate play but I couldn't figure out how to make it work. The problem, of course, is that historically, pirates tended to be male, while high school and middle school plays need most of the parts to be female.

Prolific playwright Craig Sodaro came up with one successful approach. But of course I didn't want to copy him. I needed to find a new way to do it.

Well, this year, I finally figured it out. The play would be about five pampered princesses who are forced to pose as pirates--and, in so doing, find the inner strength that didn't know they had.

The title? Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras.

I'm really happy with how the play turned out. But it was the only play I wrote this year.

Give me Half Credit for this one.

3) Publish three new plays

In August, Pioneer published my thirteenth play with them, a political satire titled Babka Without Borders. They did a fantastic job with the editing and artwork. But that was the only play I got published this year.

I didn't submit the pirate play until October so I'm still waiting to hear back from that one. And a couple plays that I submitted to other publishers got rejected.

Chalk this one up as a Fail.

4) Lead a workshop at the Arizona Thespian Festival

This year, I made a new push to get into this Phoenix-based conference, contacting all three of the organizers who were listed on their website. But I didn't get even so much as a no from them.

I don't know why it's so hard to break into this conference--the Colorado one was a piece of cake--but I'm guessing I need a personal recommendation form someone already involved with it.

If an opportunity opens up in the future, I'll jump at it. In the meantime, I'm going to move on from this one.

Another big fat Fail.

5) Develop one new play with a school or theatre group

At the end of 2017, a local teacher who had previously produced How I Met Your Mummy expressed an interest in working with me on a play. She wanted something that could be presented as a dinner theatre, and I came up with a play that pretended to be an awards dinner but would turn into a farce when a giant lobster escaped from the kitchen and attacked the wait staff.

While she loved the idea, in the end, we decided to go our separate ways. It would just take too much work for both of us, but we agreed to pursue something in the future. And I'm still looking for other schools to work with.

But in the meantime, we have to call this one a Fail.

Summary

One and a half hit out of five? Not a great percentage, if you want to look at it this way. But the one hit I got was a game changer, and I can't wait to see what the New Year brings.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

All in the family


I never wanted to be one of those dads who expected his kids to follow in his footsteps.

My wife and I were blessed with two beautiful girls, and part of the joy of raising them was finding out who they were, what they liked, what they would choose to do with their lives. I would never insist they become writers.

Of course, that doesn't mean I wouldn't encourage them to become writers. After all, I'd wanted to be a writer since I was eight years old and all those years when I was struggling to break in, I kept thinking that if I couldn't do it, then maybe they could.

There was just one obstacle to my plan.

"I hate writing!" they'd tell me. "Why would I want to do that all day?"

And that's how dreams die.

So what did they become? Ashley, the older one, got a job as a news producer at a TV station, where she was paid to crank out news scripts under the tightest deadlines imaginable.

Brooke, on the other hand, was just hired as a publicist for a PR firm, where she's learning to craft economical yet elegant prose extolling the virtues of their clients.

In others words, writers.

So how do they unwind after a long day of writing? More writing. Blogs, to be exact.

Which is why I'm writing this post in the first place. Both girls have recently launched new blogs and I'm hoping that some of you find them worth following.

Brooke's blog is Roses and Rouge. It's a beauty and fashion blog and, in her lighthearted, inimitable way, Brooke offers a ton of tips and product reviews that'll help you look your best.

Ashley's blog is The Quarterlife Crisis. While she also writes on beauty topics, her posts reflect her growing interest in vegan and health issues. She also discusses the professional and emotional challenges she has had to face after being laid off twice in one year.

Check them out. I think you'll like them.