Friday, February 17, 2023

Gopher State Rumpelstiltskin forms a community

I'm always amazed how fast middle and high school students can put a play together. Especially when you consider how many other activities--sports, student council, science club, and the ever-dreaded homework--already fill their day.

Take Fairmont Junior High School in lovely Fairmont, MN. After checking out a bunch of fractured fairy tales scripts, Helena Johnson and Katie Hoaglund, who serve as co-director, selected Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye for the school's only show of the year (good choice!).

They held auditions on January 5, started rehearsals on January 9 and gave two enthusiastic performances this week. Not a lot of time!

But it was enough time to form some close bonds. The Fairmont Sentinel interviewed the cast members for their article promoting the play, and more than one talented young actor said the best part of the whole experience was the teamwork.

"I think it's really fun working with everybody," said Bella Coan, who plays the loquacious Snow White. "I feel like everybody is just such great people to work with."

Hailey McConnell, who plays one of snarky Cinderella's stepsisters, goes on. "I like the people involved in it, they make it a really nice community."

But then anyone who's ever been involved in theater already knows that. The rehearsals and performances might only last a few weeks. But the relationships formed can last a lifetime.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

A look ahead to 2023

It's been tough coming up with goals this year. I guess it's because I'm pretty happy with my life. Or maybe it's because the parts I'm not happy with I don't really see a way out of.😄

Of course, I want to focus on my writing. But after two years of being stuck in the house, I'm ready to stretch my wings and fly. Or something. So I'm limiting myself to just one writing-related goal this year and trying to think outside the box to come up with things that will expand my figurative (and hopefully literal) horizons.

1) Publish four new plays

I can't count on beating or even matching my record of five new plays published last year. And besides, I'd be really happy with four. So that will be my first goal.

I'd like to become a better writer as well. Over the last few years, I've moved away from the smart alecky, zinger-type humor of Million Dollar Meatballs toward the more heartwarming, character-based humor of Whole Latte Love and It Happened on Route 66. And I'd like to continue down that path. But it's hard to quantify. So let me jus keep that as an informal goal.

2) Hit 10K Steps Every Day

As I've previously mentioned, I started working out on an elliptical half an hour a day at the start of COVID. What else was I going to do with the extra time not needing to commute to work?

Well, now that I'm back at the office, I'm glad to say I still manage to carve out time every day to run or ellip or whatever you call what you do on an elliptical (besides sweat).

Now it's time to step it up. And no, I'm not getting a stair climber (pun very much intended). Instead, I'm going to walk more. And the Google Watch my wife got me for Christmas is going to help me keep track.

Already, that 250 step per hour goal that came as a default with the watch has worked wonders to get rid of the leg stiffness that's the bane of my very sedentary day job (my sedentary night job too). But it's impossible to hit that goal every day, what with hour-long meetings and movies and church. Si I'll aim for something I believe I can learn to hit each day: that magical 10,000 steps.

3) Work with an Online Italian Tutor

The other daily practice I picked up during COVID was studying Italian. I started with Duolingo, which I've found to be much more useful than a lot of critics have claimed (for one, choose typing over those all-too-easy word tiles).

But it helps to have other sources of learning. For me, that has been Coffee Break Italian, a podcast in which the ever entertaining Mark and Francesca explain all those grammar rules that the green owl leaves out out and which allows me to hear la bella lingua spoken by a native rather than a creepy assortment of computerized voices.

What I haven't done is converse with a real live person. But I've discovered that Instagram is teeming with Italian teachers charging reasonable fees for personalized courses, most of which include the opportunity to chat in a friendly, non-judgy environment. All I need is il coraggio to sign up and--gulp!-- really talk. This is the year to go for it.

4) Travel to Hawaii

One of the biggest regrets in my life has been the lack of traveling I've done. I took a couple of work trips to Singapore earlier in my career and I've traveled fairly extensive around the United States. But I've never been to Mexico or Europe or Africa or any of a hundred other places you could name. There just never seemed to be enough time or money.

But COVID wakened something inside me. A wanderlust perhaps. Or maybe just the desire to get out of the house. Like way far out of the house.

My wife's and my first pick? Hawaii. We've never been there either, but my daughter has. Just last year, in fact. And she loved it (even if she did skip the must-see Pearl Harbor Memorial).

Palm trees. Beaches.Volcanoes. What's not to love?

Italy next year. But this year, it's got to be the Aloha State.

Can anyone recommend a good resort?

Saturday, December 31, 2022

A look back at 2022

Another year come and gone. Normally, about here, I would start to wax poetic, but this year I don't have time. I'm too busy writing.

Really. This was the year I decided to refocus my writing efforts on plays after a two-year hiatus during which I was lured away by the siren song of Hollywood and New York, writing screenplays and novels that got me both a manager an agent but zero traction in either of this fabled cities.

But those two years weren't a total bust. I learned that I love writing plays. And I love everything that goes along with that. The production photos. The newspaper reviews. The emails from directors asking for advice. And, last but far from least, the generous royalty checks.

And so I spent the entire year writing plays, plays, and only plays. But was it a success? Well, let's take a look against the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

1) Complete three new full-length plays

Success. I completed exactly new full-length plays:

  • My coffee shop/magic potion comedy, Whole Latte Love.
  • My roadside diner romantic comedy, It Happened on Route 66.
  • My Enchanted Bookshop prequel, How the Enchanted Bookshop Began. 

In between these plays, I wasted maybe a total of three months on plays that never went anywhere. But that's par for the course.

Actually, "waste" may be strong a word. No time writing is ever truly wasted. If nothing else, it's good practice. And besides, I may come back to these plays later and figure how to make them work. It took me years to get Million Dollar Meatballs and Trouble in Paradise Junction right.

2) Publish four full-length plays

Success. At the time I set this goal, it was very ambitious. The most plays I'd ever published in one year was three, which I achieved in both 2015 and 2017. So I wasn't quite sure I could get there.

But I did, publishing not just four but five new plays. Of course, it helped that one of the plays--The Last Radio Show--had been accepted by Heuer Publishing over a year ago and was way overdue. It also helped that my regular publisher, Pioneer Drama Service, proposed that I make a smaller cast adaptation of my play It's a Madhouse! shortly after it was published, allowing me to crank another whole play in just a few weeks that was guaranteed publication.

That one was called--wait for it--Madhouse!, a shorter, punchier title that matches the shorter, punchier feel of the play.

The other two plays? That would include the aforementioned Whole Lotta Love and It Happened on Route 66.

The best part is that all three plays are off to a super strong start, and I expect them to maintain a Million Dollar Meatballs level of success over the next few years.

3) Lead a workshop at the Arizona Thespian Conference

Failure. Sadly, this didn't happen and I don't know why. I applied to be a workshop presenter through the official website and I heard nothing back. Not a word. No a squeak. Not a peep.

I'd still love to present my popular workshop on the three-act structure in Star Wars and Legally Blonde, which was a big hit at the Colorado Thespian Festival, but at this point I'm at a loss as to how to proceed.

4) See more plays

Failure. Can you believe this didn't happen either? I never heard back from the ariZoni Awards committee, with whom I'd applied to be a judge with. I'm starting to think the Arizona theater scene it very cliquey and closed to newcomers, which is crazy considering that the vast majority of people here came from out of state.

But I'm not going to cry into my pillow--or anyone else's. Not going to plays has left me more time to keep up with the cast amount of new stuff getting pumped out by the streamers every month. And I watched some great ones. Life and Beth. The Crown. Dead to Me (my favorite of the bunch--wasn't that finale amazing?). And yes, despite an initial resistance, I too have fallen completely under the sway of The White Lotus (how can you go wrong with a bunch of Richie Riches vacationing in Il Bel Paese, especially when there are dead bodies involved?).

Anyway, I've found that watching these shows has inspired my writing even more than plays used to. I only have one problem.

What am I going to watch now?

5) Be more present

Half success. This hasn't been an easy one, but I can honestly say I've made significant strides in this area. I take the time to enjoy my meals rather than rushing through them. When I walk the dogs with my wife Tammy, I make the effort to look around and really appreciate the sights and sounds of our suburban neighborhood.

My stress level at work and home has improved as well. When I feel those old tense feelings well up inside me, I pause, take a deep breath (or ten), and remind myself that, as they say, this too shall pass.

I give the credit to my daily meditation practice through Insight Timer. And that was just with meditating five minutes a day.

I've since bumped up my average to ten minutes a day and have started focusing more on sound baths rather than guided breathing exercises for that extra boost of calmness and stability.

Even if this next year isn't the most productive in terms of writing or publishing plays, it's guaranteed to my calmest.

And that's a very good thing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

It Happened on Route 66 is now available!

Just under the gun (for the year, that is), Pioneer Drama Service has released my 21st play with them, a full-length romantic comedy titled It Happened on Route 66. That makes five new plays for me this year, blowing past my previous record of three.

Of course, it helped that one of the five plays was held over since last year (having been accepted for publication in September 2021) and another one was a small-cast adaptation of different play that was also published this year, allowing it to be released with just minimal tweaks. But still, a play is a play. I'll take the win.

Here's the funny thing about It Happened on Route 66. I honestly believe it's the first play ever set along the Main Street of America, the Mother Road.

That's crazy, right? Route 66 is an American institution, a symbol of freedom and the open road, made famous on TV and in song.

But I checked the catalogs of Samuel French, Playscripts, Dramatists Play Service, Dramatics Publishing, and Eldridge Plays and not a single one of them had a play that mentioned Route 66 in its blurb (other publishers not listed here don't allow a search on keyword, just the title and author's name, so it's hard to check).

Let me back up. So it turns out that Dramatists Play Service publishes the official stage play adaptation of John Steinbeck's great novel The Grapes of Wrath. And while a significant part of it takes place on Route 66, that's not what the story is primarily about.

So let's call my play the first original play set on Route 66. Or the first comedy. Or the first play that really tries to capture the sweet nostalgia wrapped up in that famous ribbon of asphalt.

Pioneer's web site provides a free script sample for you to peruse. So just for fun, let me leave you then with a different scene from my play. This one comes from early in the second act. Glamorous movie star Lovey Lamour's car has broken down outside a diner in Winona, Arizona is desperate to get it fixed, only she has trouble finding competent help in the tiny town:

LOVEY: Oh, Babs! Please tell me you're done with my car!

BABS: Not quite. But I did find the source of your squeak.

LOVEY: What squeak? My car wasn't squeaking before.

BABS: It wasn't?

LOVEY: No, it wasn't!

BABS: Well, that would have been good to know before I took it all apart.

LOVEY: You took my car apart?

BABS: I had to. How else was I going to find the mouse?

LOVEY: Wait a minute. Are you telling me the squeak came from a mouse?

BABS: Yep. The little rascal thought he could get away from me, but I found him hiding in the tailpipe.

LOVEY: Have you considered an exterminator?

BABS: Oh, no. I tried one of those once. That's how I lost my Fluffy.

LOVEY: I'm sorry. Was Fluffy your cat?

BABS: No, she was more like a cockroach.

Want to read more? You can order the full script or book your production on the play's web page. But don't wait take too long. The play is so brand new it hasn't even been produced yet. Act now and your school or theater could be the first!

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Arkansas Bookshop Christmas shows its colors

Arkansas's Siloam Springs Center for the Arts came up with a clever promotion for this weekend's production of An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas. They held a coloring contest. The winner gets two free tickets to the show, a free book from the local library, and wwill see their masterpiece featured on the cover of the show's program.

What a great way to build excitement for the show!

The winning entry is shown above. A big congratulations to Zeni, the talented artist who won the contest. I hope you enjoy the show (and the book)?

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Washington Bookshop Christmas is the cat's meow

Photo by Sebastian Moraga / The Quincy Valley Post-Register

I know, I know. People don't really say that anymore. It's a relic from the Roaring Twenties, an era of flappers and gangsters and bathtub gin. But in this case, it's really true.

More on that later.

An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas is playing at fourteen schools and community theaters this holiday season. That's a little short of the eighteen production it got last year, its best season to date, but still good enough to keep it at #1 on the list of full-length Christmas plays in Pioneer Drama Service's catalog.

For a long time, I resisted the temptation to write a Christmas play. A lot of playwrights have them, and I love a good Christmas story as much as anyone (especially this Christmas story). But I only have a limited amount of time to write each day and I thought why spend that time writing something that will only be produced four weeks out of the year?

But as I thought about a follow-up to The Enchanted Bookshop (it would have to be a prequel, not a sequel, because we all know how The Enchanted Bookshop ends), I was taken by the idea of all the new characters I could introduce to that world.

Characters like the Ebenezer Scrooge and the Nutcracker Prince. The Velveteen Rabbit and the Little Match Girl. Even the bratty, self-absorbed, but always very real Amy March. Not all of these are strictly associated with Christmas, of course, but all of their works feature at least one key scene on that biggest of holidays. I couldn't wait to plop them down into A Likely Story and watch them interact.

It always feels that way, by the way. Watching. I never make my characters do anything. They have their own desires, their own agendas, and the freedom to forge their own paths. I just watch and write it all down.

All I needed now was a plot. It wasn't easy making all the pieces fit. There had to be a special gift. And it had to get lost. And old Ebenezer had to be the bad guy. But not too bad, of course, because this is a family-friendly play, after all. And the book characters had to face a real risk of disappearing, but not actually disappear.

I started and stopped several times. But when I finally hammered out something that worked, something that provided plenty of conflict while maintaining the proper tone and humor, the writing came easy.

The play was published by Pioneer Drama in September 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. And yet it did very well that year and has continued to shine ever since.

So what's the thing with the meow? Well, as reported in The Quincy Valley Post-Register, the recent production of the play by Masquer's Theater in Soap Lake, Washington was a big hit with audiences. So much so that one of the younger members of the audience got personally involved.

"We have an actor playing a cat," director Marla Allsop explains, referring to the bookshop's resident feline Bombalurina. "And during our show we had a kid who would start meowing every time the cat came on. It was really adorable."

To Allsop, that demonstrates the broad appeal of the play. "It's a show that everybody can get into and understand."

I may never wrote another Christmas play, but I'm glad I wrote this one, and I'm so grateful that it seems to have meant so much to so many people.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Okie Bookshop in the spotlight

Local TV stations don't give enough exposure to children's theater. Can we all agree on that?

I'm being (mostly) facetious here. Of course, local TV rarely covers children's theater. But then it doesn't give much coverage to any theater productions.

So it was a breath of fresh air to see KTUL out of Tulsa shine a spotlight on none other than Spotlight Children's Theatre and their production of The Enchanted Bookshop.

For the interview, they brought on three actors--one adult and two very charming kids--and asked them about their experiences with their show. It's a fun interview and well worth the four minutes it takes to watch it. To check it out, just click here.

Interesting side note: My daughter Ashley's first job out of college was with another TV station in Tulsa and my wife and I fell in love with this gem of a city when we visited her. Very clean and modern, with a ton of underused freeways (no traffic jams here!) and a wealth of excellent restaurants and cultural attractions (not the least being The Center of the Universe).

I had known about Spotlight Theatre's claim to fame as being the home of The Drunkard, the longest running production in American theater history (59 years and running) and I always meant to see it, but somehow I never quite made it. Now I doubly regret that.

My daughter has since moved to Tucson, another wonderful city. But Spotlight is performing two more of my plays next year, How I Met Your Mummy in October and An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas in December.

Might be time to go back...

you can bet that if I ever make it back there (perhaps for their amazing Oktoberfest), Spotlight Theatre is the first stop I'll make.