Sunday, November 27, 2022

No strings attached

 Leave it to the Footlighters Theatre Society of Creston, BC. They always put their own twist on the plays they produce.

Last June, when they performed my restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs, they set it in the 1970's and gave it a disco theme, complete with tacky leisure suits and tie-dye T-shirts.

And now, for their upcoming production of An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas, they're having the sassy bookshop cat Bombalurina played, not by a young actress in cat ears, but by an oversized puppet specially designed and built for the show.

According to this article in the Creston Valley Advance, Becca Musso is the creator of the puppet and Kailynn Gill is the performer who'll bring her to life.

Why An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas? Director Brian Lawrence explains that after producing an adult farce last year, they decided to do something more heartwarming this year.

"For many families, it has been quite a long time since they've been able to go out and enjoy a show together," says Lawrence. "This is definitely one to enjoy together--the storybook characters are a blast, and the Bombalurina puppet alone is worth the price of admission."

Yep. That cat definitely has resting sass face.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Madhouse! is now available!


Pioneer Drama Service has just released my 20th play with them, a crazy treasure hunt caper titled Madhouse! As I explained in a recent post, this play is a shorter, smaller-cast version of my 19th play, It's a Madhouse!  

Where It's a Madhouse! calls for a cast of 40, the much more succinctly titled Madhouse! requires "only" 28 actors. And while the original play is 80 minutes long, this new one is 60 minutes. But don't worry. Madhouse! keeps the craziest bits and all the best gags.

Want to learn more? Then just hop on over to the new play's web page, where you can read a free sample including the cast breakdown, production notes, and the first 11 pages of the script.

And if you really like whopping huge casts, you can find all the same information for the original play here.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Gettin' my kicks on Route 66

So I wrote a play about that most famous of America's highways, Route 66. And for a short time, I even thought about calling it Route 66. But I didn't. And that happens to be another whole story.

But first the good news.

Twenty-Three and Counting

Pioneer Drama Service has just accepted the play for publication. It's my twenty-third play to be published, and only my second romantic comedy (after Babka Without Borders).

I first came up with the idea when I was brainstorming ideas for a play set in a diner. In my research, I found out that Pioneer has only five plays set in one of those classic roadside restaurants (one is my own Trouble in Paradise Junction). And that surprised me.

After all, everyone loves diners. They're as American as apple pie (many serve up some excellent apple pie!). One of our best-loved paintings features a diner. A ton of popular movies have been set in a diner. And diners, as a meeting place for rich and poor alike, offer a wealth of opportunities for conflict and humor. 

But if I wrote a diner play, what would be story be about? Well, diners make me think of the 1950's. And if the play's set in that carefree, innocent decade, then it would be only natural for it to revolve around an up-and-coming rock 'n roll star.

Maybe this Elvis wannabe is supposed to perform, only he doesn't show up, and the owner forces somebody to pose as him. That would be funny, and it would provide enough conflict to carry the play for an hour or more.

I had my plot. Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, when I checked Pioneer's web site, I discovered that years before, Tim Kelly and Bill Francoeur had written a similar musical titled Nifty Fifties. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd read the synopsis for that play and that it had burrowed itself into the deepest recesses of my brain, only to pop back up when I started brainstorming.

So it was as great plot. But I wasn't about to rehash it.

Back to square one

So I started brainstorming again. And I thought to myself, what if I flip it? What if, instead of a regular person posing as a celebrity, I had a celebrity pose as a regular person, maybe even one of the servers?

I liked that idea, a real fish-out-of-water story. Forcing a celebrity to learn all that crazy diner lingo, and how to take orders, and how to deal with difficult customers offered a lot of possibilities for humor.

I also changed the him to a her and made the celebrity a movie star to differentiate my play even more.

But why would a movie star want to hide her identity? Well, maybe she's fleeing her own wedding and the press is hot on her trail. And, oh yeah, her brand-new Ferrari breaks down, so now she's forced to pose as a a waitress until the car can get fixed.

Bingo! That story had everything I was looking for. Now all I needed to do was figure out the location. Of course, it had to be set in a small-ish town and it helped that the famous song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66, listed several of them.

Joplin, Missouri.

Amarillo, Texas.

Gallup, New Mexico.

Flagstaff, Arizona.

Don't forget Winona.

Hold on. That was the perfect setting. Winona was the smallest of the towns mentioned in the song. In fact, it's barely more than a gas station, cafe and garage (much like my play).

Also it's located in Arizona, and I was excited about the opportunity to finally set a play in my own state.

Not only that, but it gave me my title as well. Don't Forget Winona. It sounded sweet, wistful even. And Route 66 fanatics would immediately recognize it as a lyric from the song.

C-C-Changes

I wrote the play in about three months and sent it off to Pioneer, who quickly accepted it for publication. Yay!

There was only one problem. They weren't crazy about the title.

Oh, they thought it was clever enough. But they felt it didn't do the play justice. Don't Forget Winona sounded like a sappy drama about a girl named Winona, instead of the fast-paced, action-packed comedy that it is.

Also, they weren't convinced that people only mildly familiar with the song would make the connection between the title of the play and the highway where the play is set.

The title Don't Forget Winona would miss the very customers it was meant to attract.

I couldn't argue with them. Googling "Don't Forget Winona" revealed that there's a picture book with that title. And yep, it's a sappy drama about a family making the trek west during the Dust Bowl. In fact, it isn't even set in Winona, Arizona. Winona is the name of the little girl at the heart of the story.

Ouch.

So I brainstormed other titles. Get Your Kicks. Cookie's Diner. Down and Out on Route 66. Please Forget Winona.

Nothing clicked.

The answer

Then one night, at dinner, I mentioned my struggle to my wife Tammy. And she immediately came up with the best title yet.

It Happened on Route 66.

In fact, it was just about perfect (don't tell her that)! It sounds like a comedy, with its echoes of the 1934 film It Happened One Night. The "It" will definitely pique some interest (what exactly is the "it" that happened?). And there's no mistaking the setting. "Route 66" is right there in the title.

So that's what we're going with. I haven't been given a date yet, but I expect Pioneer will want to bring it out by the end of the year so that schools can perform it for their spring semester.

But I can say I learned a few things from my experience.

Be open to collaborating.

A clever title doesn't help if people don't know what the play is about.

And always, always listen to your wife.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Trimming the Madhouse

Speaking of slimming things down, my friend Gemma from New Zealand emailed me a couple weeks ago. She'd seen the announcement of my newest play It's a Madhouse! and wanted to read it but the script but wasn't yet available from Pioneer. Could I email her an electronic copy of my script?

Silly question. Of course I could!

Gemma ended up loving it, but she was concerned about the length. Standouts, her Wellington-based theater school, has very short rehearsal periods (often as short as a week!) and while that's worked for previous plays of mine that she's done, she felt that a 90-minute play would be a stretch. 

No problem, I told her. I structured the play in a very modular way, stringing together an array of independent, small-cast vignettes. I did this to make rehearsals easier, but it also makes it easy to remove one or more vignettes. She thought she'd cut out the vignetter involving some desperate-thespians and a hokey family searching for their lost pet.

Ironically, eight days later, my editor at Pioneer, Brian, had an interesting offer. As it turns out, It's a Madhouse! has been getting a ton of interest from their customers and he was wondering whether I'd be willing to adapt it for a smaller cast. He felt a lot of schools would love the physical action and humor but be unable to field so many actors (the play calls for 40--count 'em, 40!) or stage so long a show.

Silly question. Of course I would!

So I dove in. And that's when I realized that cutting the thespians wouldn't work because one of them, a verbose, self-absorbed actor playing Romeo, played a vital role in the climax. But there was another vignette I could cut without any loss of flow: one involving a demanding tour group and some hyperactive cheerleaders. 

And then I found two more characters that could be cut, and a major scene, and lots and lots of lines from, well, pretty much everyone.

By the time I was done, I'd gotten the play down to 28 actors (25 with doubling) and 60 minutes. And that's the version I just emailed to Brian for publication.

I don't know when it'll be released, but it shouldn't take long. After all, the play has already gone through editing once. But you can bet you'll hear about it here first.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 8, 2022

A slimmer Bookshop

I got an interesting email the other day. Kevin, an assistant theater professor at a small midwestern college, wants his students to perform The Enchanted Bookshop for area youngsters.

Wait. That's not the interesting part. No, the interesting part is that he was only able to recruit 12 actors and he wonders whether this play (with its cast of 23) can still be done.

Schools and community theaters usually have the opposite problem. They get so many actors trying out that they have to add characters.

But cutting the cast size? Well, I had to think about that one a bit.

Of course, there is some obvious doubling. In fact, the script itself suggests that the actor playing Fagin can double as Dr. Dolittle and either Frankenstein or Hopalong Cassidy while the actress playing Lady in Red can double as Queen of Hearts and Wicked Witch. Take on all that doubling and it brings the cast down to 19.

You can also have the actress playing Dorothy operate Toto as a hand puppet. The dog only appears in the first and last scenes anyway. Now you' down to 18 actors.

Next, have Mom and Timmy double as Eddie and Fingers (this could be kind of funny, actually). It's not suggested by the script, but it doesn't pose any particular challenge other than a quick-ish change in the last scene. Also, have one of the six main literary characters (Sherlock Holmes would work best) exit the last scene early and have that actor double with Officer Ketchum. Now you're at 15 parts.

This is where it gets tricky, as you'll have to adjust the script. So forget what I said earlier about doubling Wicked Witch, Frankenstein and Hopalong. Instead, cut them out entirely. They're only in the last scene anyway.

Then delete the scene between Long John Silver, Queen of Hearts and Book Fairy in Act Two, Scene Three. This allows you to eliminate the Queen of Hearts. Of course, you'd have to rewrite the last scene to have one of the other characters tie up or otherwise immobilize the smugglers (Tom Sawyer?).

What this buts you is that you can now have the actor playing Fagin and Dolittle double as Long John and the actor playing Lady in Red double as Book Fairy. Bingo, 12 parts.

For a while, Kevin was considering changing Tom Sawyer to a female character for the statement it would make. But who could it be? Well, it's not a one-to-one match, but independently (believe it or not) we both came up with Jo March from Little Women, as she shows many of the same spunky, rebellious and rule-breaking traits as Tom.

As I've said before, I'm open to letting directors modify this popular play, especially since it has proven so successful in encouraging young audiences to put down their Gameboys and cell phones and pick up a book.

If you need any quggestions as to making this play fit the special needs of your production, be sure to contact me. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

The Last Radio Show is now available!

After five and a half years of rejections and almost a full year in the editing queue at Heuer Publishing, my 1940's radio comedy The Last Radio Show is finally available!

It's my twenty-first play to be published, but only my first with this particular publisher, so I'm excited to see what they do with it.

The play runs 90 minutes, requires only a single set and features a cast of 10 (5M/5F). Here's the blurb:

It's 1948, and KUKU Radio is in trouble. Their broadcast tower keeps falling over. The electric company is about to shut off their power. And they're losing actors, one by one. Can this ragtag crew keep the show going? Or will they be shut down for good?

This hilarious farce brings back the Golden Age of Radio, with crazy commercials such as Kindling Krunch ("the cereal that's like having your own national park--in a bowl!), and even crazier shows, like The Thing with Two Spleens and Tex King, The Humming Cowboy. 

Of course, the best part of those old-time radio shows was the sound effects, and this play features over two dozen of them, most of which can be produced from simple household items.

Don't touch that dial. This is radio like you've never seen it before!

I truly believe this is one of my funniest plays, if not the funniest. The radio sketches feature a seemingly endless array of rapid-fire gags, the behind-the-scene action is crazily frenetic, and each of the characters are over-the-top in their own quirky way.

So why didn't the play get picked up right away? Well, it can be a bit of a challenge to produce. Just as in those long-past days of radio, the actors have to hold the scripts they read from, and that requires some juggling when those same actors have to make the various sound effects in the sketch.

The nice thing is that the use of those scripts means that the actors have much less to memorize than they would in a regular 90-minute play. 

Also, the climax of the play features a single character--the geeky office boy Jimmy--performing the final sketch, including nine different voices and over a dozen sound effects, all by himself.

But it's well worth it. At the end of his bravura performance, Jimmy collapses to the floor in triumph, and this is the one moment in all of my plays that always earn a show-stopping ovation from the audience. 

Up for the challenge? If so, be sure and visit the play's web page, where you can read a sample of the script and view photos from the original production.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

It's a Madhouse! is now available!

 
Just in time for the new school year, my twentieth play has now been released by Pioneer Drama Service. And according to my editor JJ, they wanted to rush it out because it's been getting requests ever since they posted it on their website a couple weeks ago.

The reason? It's hard to say for sure, but he thinks it's because the play was specially designed to be episodic, with lots of roles that are small but high-energy crazy. In fact, the entire middle section of the play is almost like a collection of five-minute skits. Not only does this give each actor an opportunity to take the spotlight, but it makes the play a breeze to rehearse.

In fact--and I probably shouldn't be telling you this--the play is so episodic that you can remove entire scenes of the play without missing a beat. This came up last week because was one of the first potential customers to show an interest in the play was my friend Gemma from Wellington, New Zealand.

She wanted to do the play with her younger kids but was concerned that it was too long for the one week of rehearsal that she usually gets (I don't know how she does it either). I told her that was easily fixed. Just cut one of the scenes.

Sure, it means some of the roles are gone. But the play starts with 40 of them so you can easily lose a few and still have lots of parts to fill.

Here's the blurb:

Best-selling mystery author Byron Pembroke is dead. Soon after, his highly dysfunctional family gathers on a dark and stormy evening for the reading of the will. Each family member has their own reason to believe they'll receive the bulk of Byron's estate, but the family soon funds out that the deceased didn't think much of them. Instead of naming an heir, Byron instead condensed his fortune into one mysterious object and left it to... whoever finds it first!

Before greedy family members are able to put together individual plans of their own, the mansion is overrun by a horde of strangers seeking shelter from the storm. And once the strangers find out about the hidden treasure, they soon join in the hunt.

Who will find the treasure first? Byron's spoiled, self-serving family members? The bickering trio of ghost hunters? The nosy news team? Or the busload of obnoxious tourists? Loaded with small parts and several small-cast comical vignetters, this madcap mystery gives every actor a chance to be part of the madness!

For ordering info or to read a free sample, please visit the play's web page.