Friday, December 20, 2013

Free copies of my 10-minute plays

By popular request, I'm now offering free perusal copies of my 10-minute plays. Please email me if you'd like to receive a PDF file of one or more of the following scripts.

These scripts are free to use in a classroom setting, but a performance fee is required if you produce them on a stage or in competition.

Students are encouraged to use these in competition. Teachers are encouraged to use these in production or for classroom use. In fact, I know of one high school teacher who has been using my plays to teach his students subtext (You're Driving Me Crazy #3 is fairly dripping with it).

The plays include:

You're Driving Me Crazy
Comedy, 5M/8F, 40min
Individual plays: 2M, 1M/5F, 2M/1F and 2F, 10min each

A collection of four 10-minute plays exploring the wacky world of driver's ed class. (Read a sample.)

Fear of Clowns
Comedy/Drama, 2M or 1M/1F or 2F, 10min

A clown seeks help from a psychiatrist for his lifelong fear of people. (Read a sample.)

The Wanderer
Drama, 2M, 10min

A middle-aged businessman seeks an explanation from his father after the old man is arrested for shoplifting. (Read a sample.)

If you like what you read and want to receive a copy of any or all of these plays, just email me your request and I'll send you a PDF. All I ask is that you give me the name of your school and the date and location of any performances.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Playwriting opportunities for young playwrights

One of the most popular parts of my playwriting class at Thescon was my handout listing several playwriting opportunities for high school playwrights and younger. I thought I'd made enough copies for everyone, but then I never expected to get over 60 students between the two classes and the handouts disappeared before you could say "Thespian Playworks". If you'd like to get your own copy, you can print or download it here.

A couple of things to note. First, I've only included opportunities that are open to all students regardless of location. However, some of the best opportunities are local. Do a Google search or talk to theatre folk in your area to find these.

Second, the opportunities I list are specifically designed for young playwrights. But there's nothing stopping you from entering contests for adults. In fact, I've never come across a single contest that said it was only for playwrights age 18 and older. The competition may be tougher in an adult contest, but that may be just what some young people need to hone their craft.

I'll add opportunities as I find them so keep coming back for the latest updates. And please fell free to make copies for any budding Shakespeares or Durangs you know.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

My day at Thescon

Yesterday I taught my first playwriting class at the Colorado State High School Thespian Conference. The class was titled Writing the Play Inside You. And it was pure joy.

The kids were smart, creative and unerringly polite. They asked great questions. They responded enthusiastically to my writing prompts. And when it was over, several of the students couldn't wait to get home so they could finish the plays they'd started.

The focus of the class was how to use your personal experiences to write deeper, more satisfying plays. I've often found that the most boring, most pointless scripts I've ever based on real life.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Real life is a great source of material. It's just that we're often tempted to stick too close to the facts.

We're not reporters. We're artists. The story comes first. The truth--well, that comes way down the list.

So I read to the students from a couple of my 10-minute plays and explained how I've taken the people I've known and the emotions I've felt and shaped them into something that served the story. I also spent a large part of the class trying to convince these young Shakespeares that they shouldn't be afraid to open their hearts and let the blood spill onto the page.

I shouldn't have wasted my breath. In their writing, the students wore their hearts on their proverbial sleeves, and the snatches of dialogue that they wrote bristled with passion and conflict and pain. There were scripts about shoplifting. There were scripts about alcoholism. There were scripts about anorexia. And you could tell that every one of these stories came from a very dark and personal space.

What the students needed was guidance in the more advanced aspects of playwriting: using subtext, exploiting your concept, developing subplots, defeating the second act curse.

So next time, I'm going to change the focus of my class and work on these kinds of things. I just wish I didn't have to wait a whole year!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Show me the Butler again

I just love seeing photos from high school productions of my plays. This weekend, South Callaway High School (Go Bulldogs!) in Mokane, MO did a two-night run of The Butler Did It! They also got an excellent write-up in their local newspaper, the Fulton Sun. Nice job, everyone!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Butler down under

And check this out. The Cowra Musical and Dramatic Society of Cowra, New South Wales, Australia is having a reading of The Butler Did It! on November 23, with an eye toward doing a full production next year.

The best part? The reading is taking place at a boutique winery named Kalari Cellar Door. Wish I could be there to enjoy some great Australian Shiraz with the reading.

Break a leg, everybody!

The Wanderer wanders east

Got a nice mention today in The Day, the newspaper for New London, CT. My 10-minute play The Wanderer is having its 2nd production this weekend and next by the Stonington Players as part of their Table & Chairs festival of minimal-set plays.

It also happens to be my Connecticut premiere. 24 down, 26 to go.

I've always liked this play about an elderly man trying to reconnect with his son after getting arrested for shoplifting, if for no other reason than it's my lone drama in a long list of comedies. And the article backs this up, using it to show the breadth of the offerings at this year's festival.

I wish lots of broken legs to my director Vic Panciera and the casts and crews of all the plays at this year's festival.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Show me the Butler

A big Show Me State shout-out to Selath-Hornersvlle High School Drama Club in beautiful Selath, MO. Not only are they doing my new play The Butler Did It! this weekend, but they got written up in the local newspaper for it (love the costumes!).

Break legs, everybody!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Judgment at Nuremberg

One of the best parts of being a playwright is reading articles about productions of your plays. If the plays we worked so hard to pen are our children, then those articles are like letters from our kids. And we all know how rare those are...

Yesterday, I got news of a production of The Butler Did It! by the Nuremberg Community Players in Pennsylvania. It's the second production for my play. Or maybe the third. The world premiere was done by the Eureka Community Players of Eureka, MT back in August.

But the PA production is the first one to get written up in the local newspaper. And from the looks of it, the cast is having a ball.

I think the audience will too. The theatre company had the clever idea of having the audience vote on who they think "did it" during intermission, with prizes going to the winner (Hint: Buy a script!).

But if you hear news of a severe dinner plate shortage in the Wilkes-Barre area, I had nothing to do with it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bright young minds

I'll be leading a workshop titled "Writing the Play Inside You" at this year's Colorado State Thespian Conference. I believe everyone's a playwright, which is why I'm so excited to work with the bright young minds at the conference. I'm not going to teach them how to write a play. I'm going to guide them along their own creative journey so that they can pen their stories in the boldest, most meaningful way.

The conference will be held December 5-7 at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. I'll be leading two sessions: 8:30am and 10:00am on Saturday, December 7.

If you're one of those bright young minds, please stop by. We're going to have a lot of fun. And you may just go home with the beginning of a great play.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Two new playwriting workshops

The Pikes Peak Writers Conference just gave me their decision on my workshop proposal for next year's conference. Not only do they like it, but they want me to do a second workshop on playwriting.

Last year, I taught a basic class on breaking into playwriting. It was your standard marketing class covering what kinds of plays publishers are looking for and how to submit to them.

As mentioned earlier, I was disappointed in the turnout. Only six people showed up, although I have to admit they were a great group, enthusiastic and attentive.

Still, the low turnout bothered me. It may have been because my workshop was scheduled for Sunday morning--the tail end of the conference--when many people had already taken off and everyone else had their braisn fried from listening to a weekend's worth of talk talk talk. Or it may just have been because most of the attendees weren't interested in playwriting.

I decided to find out. I came up with a workshop that would play on my strengths in theatre while appealing to the novelists who make up the bulk of the attendees. The title? Theatre Games for Writers.

My thought was this: Writers expend huge number of grey cells to craft their characters. But there's a group of people who spend just as much as writers: Actors.

Their techniques differs, of course. While writers are usually told to fill out long, boring forms detailing their characters' strengths, weaknesses, secrets and favorite ice cream flavor, actors are taught to think on their feet, to do improv, to act out of impulse and emotion.

So what if a bunch of cerebral, introverted writers used the same techniques as more impulsive, extroverted actors?

The results could be disastrous. Or they may be exactly what some writers need to break out of their creative straitjackets.

Either way, we'll find out next April, when the 22nd annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference is held at the Marriott Hotel in Colorado Springs.

My second workshop? I'm going to focus my marketing class a little more tightly while adding an enticing parenthetical to the title: Writing Plays for the (Surprisingly Lucrative) School Market.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Free copies of Kill the Critic!

Now that the world premiere of Kill the Critic! is wrapped, I'm focusing all of my marketing efforts on getting a second production. (And third and fourth...)

Any playwright who's ever gone this route knows how difficult and frustrating it can be. Most theatre companies won't even read new works, and those that do often take a year or two to get back to you.

But I know my play is good. Damn good. Everyone who saw it loved it, and that includes teenagers and old-timers, theatre professionals and people who never go to shows. In fact, it got more laughs than just about any play I've ever been to.

So I know that if I can only the word out, it'll be a hit.

That's why I'm giving out free copies of the script. If you'd like to read the play for possible production, email me your address. I'll send you a bound, lovingly printed copy of the script.

Or you can read the first 20 pages of the script by clicking here.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Everybody's a critic (but me)

Just like that, I quit my job as a theatre critic. And I couldn't be happier.

I've reviewed theatre on and off for five years now. I was the theatre critic for the Colorado Springs Gazette from 2008 to 2010 and the Colorado Springs Independent from 2012 until now.

It was a great learning experience, and I don't regret a moment of it. Thinking deeply about a play and then putting those thoughts into words is one of the best ways to improve your understanding of theatre as an art form.

The free tickets were too not shabby either.

But it just got too time-consuming. I'm a slow writer, and a 500-word review could take me 10 hours. With my playwriting career taking off, I just can't afford that time sink anymore.

What's more, the pay is terrible. Ten cents a word isn't much to begin with, and it doesn't take a math whiz to realize that at the snail-like speed I write, I was making well under minimum wage.

But the worst part was the havoc it wreaked on my relationships with theatre folk. Critics in New York can stay isolated from the artists they write about, but in a theatre community as small as Colorado Springs', it's impossible. You run into each other constantly: at plays, at parties, at fundraisers.

Most of the actors and directors I wrote about were real professionals, maintaining a cordial front whenever we ran into each other.

But I don't want to be cordial. I want to be an integral part of the theatre community, and I want to develop a close, creative relationship with the gifted artists who make their home here.

I realize the vital role that theatre critics play. Despite the decline of the newspaper industry, people still rely on print reviews to help them decide what to see. And for a playwright, getting your play professionally reviewed is a requirement before you can even submit your play to many of the big publishing houses.

But someone else is going to have to take that job. I'm just a playwright now.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Kill the Critic! gets an encore

Good news for those of you in the Pikes Peak region who missed the world premiere of Kill the Critic! in June. The play will get an encore production next weekend--Thursday, August 22 through Saturday, August 24--for four performances only. All performances will be at Black Box Theatre, 1367 Pecan St., Colorado Springs.

This production is directed by Nancy Holaday, as was the premiere, and features almost entirely the same cast. But if you did attend the premiere, there are some key differences that may make it worth seeing again.

For one thing, the venue fixes a lot of the issues we had at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts. It's air-conditioned. Trains don't roar past every 15 minutes. The back row is much closer to the stage. And it's a true black box theatre, making the entire stage visible.

This last one isn't always an important consideration, but it is for this play. In case you haven't figured it out yet, one of the characters is dead for most of the play, and when the stage is raised, as it was at Tri-Lakes, people sitting in the back of the house miss much of the all-important floor action (at one point, a cop inadvertantly uses the blanket-covered corpse as a footstool).

And there's one other thing about this production. The actor who plays the hapless kidnapper was unable to make the last two performances so Nancy cast a new actor in the part.

I liked the original lead. Although he struggled to learn his lines, and ended up ad libbing most of them, he delivered them with panache, giving the character a childike charm despite the self-centeredness that seems to define him.

Responses from the audience were more w. Half of the people I talked to thought he was a brilliant comedian, but others thought he was painfully hammy.

Early reports from rehearsal indicate that the new lead is much better, a natural comic who is also much more disciplined in his line readings.

For complete info on the production, visit

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kill the Critic! takes 2nd again

I just found out Kill the Critic! placed 2nd in the McLaren Memorial Comedy Playwriting Contest. This is on top of the 2nd place it took in the Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence.

I won't lie. I was really hoping for a win as that would have almost guaranteed me another production and at least one published review--something I'm still seeking.

But I'll happily accept 2nd place. The McLaren is one of the best known comedy playwriting contests in the country and the competition was tough.

Friday, July 19, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 10)

And so we come to the last and possibly second most important when it comes to producing your own play (second olny to Rule Number 1):

10. Don't sweat it.

Of course, as producer, your job is to make sure everything runs smooth and problem-free during the rehearsal and performance of your show.

But guess what. It won't. Despite your best efforts, things will go wrong.

And that's okay. As long as your show is good, your audiences will leave happy. And in the end, that's all that counts.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 9)

9. Don't be afraid of the media.

This is a biggie. And by media, I mean newspapers.

Yes, newspapers are dying. But good luck finding TV station that will actually do a piece on a local playwright. Despite their imminent demise, newspapers are still the best free advertising you can get.

But many people feel they need some secret key to unlock the gateway to the world of publicity. They need to write the perfect press release. Or they need to know somebody already in the biz. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Of course, if you live in a city with a ridiculousy rich theatre community like Colorado Springs (cough cough), the likelihood of getting a review is practically nill. But it doesn't cost you anything to contact the media. And even if you don't get a review, you might get a preview.

Wait, what?

All right. Let's step back a bit. Reviews and previews are two completely different animals, but few people are even aware of the difference, including those who are active in the theatre community and whose livelihood depends upon knowing the difference.

What is that difference?

First of all, previews are written and published before a show opens, hence the prefix "pre". They're generally written by a reporter, not a critic (although on small newspapers, those two positions can be held by the same people). They're factual, i.e. the article restricts itself to talking about the history of the play, what it's about and what the director's vision is for this particular production, with a few choice quotes from the director or an actor sprinkled throughout. And as a fact-based article, there is no critique of the production itself, although they're often given a mild rah-rah tone).

Reviews are written and published after a show opens. They're written by (hopefully!) an experienced and knowledgeable critic. The critic should not have spoken to anyone involved in the production (that could have an undue influence and their judgment). And the piece consists largely, if not entirely, of opinion. Does the show suck or does it rock?

You may think you'd rather have a review. After all, you're taking a risk on getting slammed in print. But I have it on good authority that reviews sell many more tickets than previews and even a negative review attracts more people than it repels.

So how do approach the media? Emails are fine. Editors and reporters are used to getting emails, so one more doesn't phase them.

But that's also the main problem with emails. Yours can easily get lost in the shuffle, especially if yours is long. Chances are the editor or reporter will scan the subject line and the press release title to look for the hook. If there isn't one, they'll hit delete sooner than you can say Kinky Boots.

What's a hook? It's something that sets your play apart form all the other plays opening that weekend (and yes, it REALLY helps if you scheduled your production so no other plays open at the same time).

Ask yourself this: Why should people see your play? "Because I wrote it" isn't a good answer.

Do you have "star" casting (a highly regarded actor or some local celeb?). Does it have a tie-in to local history (newspapers love all that local crap)? Does it explore some controversial topic that's been in the news (post-traumatic stress syndrome among combat veterans is a particularly juicy one)?

I don't care what your hook is. But you've got to have something.

So forget the press release and send just a short two- or three-sentence email. That way you can put your hook front and center. And your friendly newspaper person will love you for it.

Or just skip email entirely and phone directly. Yes, it's a little more annoying to the editor or reporter. But everyone last one of them knows it's a part of the job.

And to be honest, newspaper people are feeling awfully lonely these days.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 8)

8. Skip the posters.

I know. I know. Everybody loves posters. They're familiar. They're eye-catching. They're cool. And that makes them the go-to advertising medium for both small-budget and large-budget theatre companies alike.

But here's the dirty little secret about posters. They don't work.

Think about it. Where do you put up posters? Coffee shops. Libraries. Places where there are probably already a boatload of posters.

And let's face it. With posters, you're focusing your advertising efforts on the general public, most of whom have no interest in seeing any play, let alone yours.

The answer? Postcards.

VistaPrint will sell you a stack of 500 oversized postcards for just $75. That may seem steep at first, but consider this: If only 1% of the cards motivate someone to come to your show who otherwise wouldn't have, you've just paid for the cards. And your success rate will probably be much higher than that.

The great thing about postcards is that you can carry around a stack of them at all times. Then, when you have the chance to tell someone about your play, you can hand them one of your postcards. Now they've got something to stick on their fridge or bulletin board which will serve as a constant reminder of your show.

And give a stack of postcards to your cast so they can do the same.

Just make sure you've got your ticket-selling website on the postcard so that you can convert all those eyballs to $$$.

Oh, and there's one more thing about postcards. They're a great way to reach theatregoers you don't know. Just leave a stack at the box office of theatre companies opening plays just before yours.

You'll have to ask permission, of course. But the theatre community is nothing if not supportive, and you'd be surprised how willing other theatre folk are to promote your show, as long as you're willing to promote theirs.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 7)

7. Leave the director alone.

I know you want to watch rehearsals. I wanted to. Badly.

But I forced myself to stay away as much as possible. In my case, that meant attending one rehearsal a week. But looking back, I see that even that was excessive.

Attending rehearsals served no earthly good. It made me worry about the progress of the rehearsals--unnecessarily, as it turns out. And it intimidated the actors.

So hire a director you trust, then get out of their way. You'll learn everything you need to know about your play during the actual performance.

And besides, you've got enugh to keep you busy as producer. Why aren't you out there selling tickets?

Monday, July 15, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 6)

6. Don't be afraid to annoy people.

You're a producer now. You're expected to be a jerk.

Okay, maybe you don't have to be a complete jerk to get things done. But it's important to remember that you're the one putting up the money. You have every right to expect excellence from the people around you.

Case in point: the web site error I mentioned in Friday's post. It was a simple bug, something the arts center should have been fixed in 5 minutes.

But it wasn't. I had to email them and call them and email them and call them. Agian and again. In fact, it took about a month from the time I first contacted the arts center about the problem until they got around to fixing it.

Did they find me annoying?


Do they want me to go away?

A big fat no. In fact, now they're begging me to come back and do another two shows this year.

So don't worry about annoying people. If you do a good job, people will want to work with you anyway.

Friday, July 12, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 5)

5. Pay attention to details

You're the producer now, so you're ultimately responsible for everything that happens with your show. The most surprising thing I learned about producing is how really wide-ranging the job is. Here are just some of the issues I had to handle.

Can people buy tickets easily?

As I described last in my post, I allowed the venue to sell tickets to my show through their own website. When I went to check out the website, however, I found that their drop-down menu only allowed people to purchase tickets for the Friday show, not the two Saturday shows. I could have missed out on some significant ticket sales if I hadn't checked this and gotten it fixed.

Where's the toilet paper?

During rehearsal, the director complained that the women's bathroom didn't have any toilet paper. Guess who got to talk to the box office person about replenishing the bathroom supplies and making sure they well well-stocked for the run of the show?

Is the venue safe?

This by far the most important issue of all. At our opening performance, one older lady stepped took a tumble when she took a shortcut from the bathroom and didn't see the low step that was there. You better believe that for the rest of the run, we had that step blocked off so no one could use it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 4)

4. Keep your eye on the goal.

And as producer, your goal is to sell tickets. Sure, you have to review the rental contract and choose the performance dates and pay your actors, but every single one of those decisions should be made with an eye toward getting butts in seats. And at the lowest cost.

We went through Brown Paper Tickets. Their web site is kind of wonky, but their services are free, easy to use and they offer buyers a boatload of ways to order tickets: Will Call, Print-at-Home, Mobile E-tickets and more. To maximize your ticket sales, choose them all.

Your venue may sell tickets on their own web site. Should you let them sell tickets to your show?

I would say yes. You may feel squeamish letting someone else handle your money, but if you're counting on the venue to bring in their regular customers, then those customers are going to want to buy tickets through their usual channels.

On the other hand, it's now two weeks after my own show closed, and I'm still trying to get the venue to send me my proceeds from their sales. So this isn't without its pitfalls.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 3)

3. Choose a good venue

And by that, I don't mean a venue that will provide the best environment for your play. I mean one that will make you the most money.

After all, your single biggest expense is going to be the rent on your venue. And if your play is any good, your audience won't care if they're sitting on folding chairs, if the place is non-air-conditioned on a blistering hot summer day or if trains rumble past at regular intervals (all of which happened during my production).

Of course, if you have free access to a usable venue, then more power to you. You're already well on your way to profitability. The rest of us, however, have to make some compromises.

When I went theatre-hunting for Kill the Critic!, I quickly found that most theatres won't rent at all and of those that do, many charge exorbitant rates. I ended up with two that charged a reasonable flat fee.

The first venue was a 50-seat black box theatre that offered me their space for $500 a week (Sunday to Saturday). Even though the performances were only on Friday anbd Saturday, my director was adamant that the cast be able to rehearse on the actual performance stage the full week before opening night.

The performance space was intimate, so the acoustics would be a dream, but you have those awful folding chairs. And while it was located in Colorado Springs, it offered only limited parking and was unlikely to steer any of its regular clientele my way (the theatre company that owns the space does mostly serious dramas, while my play is a farce with no socially redeeming value whatsoever).

The second venue was a large art gallery. They wanted $1000 for 8 days (Saturday to Saturday), giving us an extra day to set up. The space nominally holds 100 chairs (folding, again), but if the crowds got too big I could set out another 50 seats or more.

The stage was tiny, it was tucked away in the corner of the room, and we had to contend with those annoying trains rumbling by just across the highway (about five per 90 minute performance!).

Also, it was located in a small town about 15 miles north of Colorado Springs. That means I couldn't count on a lot of my friends and neighbors attending.

But the art gallery had it own contact list of 1200 members, many of whom would love to see a farce, a drama, a Kabuki performance or, really, just about anything (they're seriously starved for culture up there). In fact, they had sold out the place for an original musical production of Sense and Sensibility just the month before.

Oh yeah, and the art gallery's insurance covered our group, so we didn't have to buy any of our own.

Guess which one I picked?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 2)

2. Do the math.

How do you plan for success? Simple. By putting together a budget.

It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but it does have to include a reasonable estimate for each of the expenses you expect to incur. For us, those were rent, salary, set, costumes and advertising.

Here are our numbers:

Rent: $1000 (not including $200 security deposit)
Set: $500
Costumes: $500
Cast and crew: $800
Advertising: $200

Total: $3000

Now the big question: can you sell enough tickets to cover your expenses? We were overly optimistic. We thought we could sell 300 tickets at $15 a pop. That would have given us a total of $4500.

We ended up selling only 210. But our expenses came in a little lower too, which is what allowed us to turn a profit. I'll go into more detail in a future post.

Don't spend a dollar of your money until you've put together a budget. And make sure the numbers are realistic.

Monday, July 8, 2013

So you want to produce your own play (Part 1)

On top of the wonderful response I got on my play Kill the Critic!, it now looks like my business partner (the director) and I are going to make a little money (about $250 each on a $2500 production, but who's counting?).

Not only was it my first full-length production as a playwright, it was also my first full-length production as a producer. So yeah, I'm feeling pretty good. But mostly I'm feeling pretty lucky.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to share some of the lessons I learned along the way. I made plenty of mistakes, and yet everything worked out in the end. If I can produce a play--and I am the least businesslike person in the world--then anyone can.

So here we go. The first lesson is far and away the most important one. And that's because it's all about attitude. Even though it may seem obvious, it bears repeating.

Every. Time. You. Produce. A. Play.

1. Expect success.

Don't go into this planning to lose money. Sure, you may end up burning a whole pile of greenbacks on your way to opening night, but that shouldn't be your goal.

If you're in this for the long haul, and by that I mean you intend to produce more than one of your plays, then it's important that you try to make at least a little money. Otherwise you're going to quickly lose enthusiasm for what could be viewed as a vanity project.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Kill the Critic! named finalist in the McLaren

Just got word that Kill the Critic! was named one of three finalists in the McLaren Memorial Comedy Playwriting Competition. All of the finalists will get a reader's theatre presentation by the Midland Community Theatre in Midland, TX on August 3. The audience fave will then get a full production in 2014.

In the meantime, I've got some work to do. The theatre needs my play cut down to 60 minutes for the reading. They offered to have the director do it, but I'd rather do it myself. After all, it's my baby.

And really, it shouldn't be too hard. The play is only 80 pages as it is, and I'm sure I can get it down to 60 pages with some judicious trimming. I may not even have to eliminate any scenes.

As for the reading itself, I'd love to drive down for it, but there's something even more important going on that weekend. My daughter Brooke will be performing in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Youth Rep production of Pippin. And she's got a lot of magic to do.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Kill the Critic! kills it

Okay, so now I feel stupid. A week ago, I was stressing out about how few tickets had been sold for the world premiere of my play Kill the Critic!

I shouldn't have. As I discovered with my reading of The Butler Did It!, 95% of the audience waited until the last few days before the performance to order tickets, and almost 50% bought at the door.

We ended up with a huge turnout: 105 on Friday night, 25 on Saturday afternoon and 108 on Saturday night. In fact, so many people streamed in for that final performance that I was still scrambling to set out chairs after the play had started.

Even better, the show was a monster-sized hit. The audiences ate it up, laughing uproariously in all the right places and in a bunch more I never intended to be funny.

But the best part of the evening were the people. One of the reasons I love theatre so much is that it brings people of such varying backgrounds together, and this production in particular enabled me to connect with old and new friends alike.

My editor at Pioneer, Brian D. Taylor, drove down from Denver to see the show. Although we email each other frequently, I had never met him before, so it was nice to be able to chat face to face. And, great guy that he is, he even gave the play a fabulous review.

Also, a couple who were the first friends my wife and I made when we moved to Colorado were there. We haven't seen them for probably, oh, 18 years. Sure, we could have met for dinner or drinks over the years, but we didn't. Instead, it took a play--and a pretty silly play at that--to bring us together.

And then there was the entire contingent from my day job (believe it or not, I'm an electrical engineer for a semiconductor company). I have no idea how most of them had heard about the play, but there they were on Saturday night, laughing and cheering as much as the rest of the audience.

Life is good. Theatre is even better.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Photo shoot

It's hard to believe, but the world premiere of Kill the Critic! is just one week away. We've sold a few tickets--not as many as I would have liked--but enough to guarantee a reasonable crowd. And I know that most of my friends are waiting to buy at the door.

But, if you want to demonstrate a true pioneering spirit and buy your tickets now, just click here.

Last Saturday, we did a photo shoot and it was a blast. I was planning to take the photos myself. Unfortunately, I have only a cheap Fuji and that isn't even talking to my computer anymore

Riding to the rescue was our lead, Uriah Werner, who happens to be a part-time wedding photographer. He owns a top-of-the-line Canon, and he was both kind enough--and unwise enough--to trust me with it.

As a theatre critic, I often have to sift through promotional photos, and I'm constantly surprised at how unprofessional they can be--even from the swankiest, most professional theatre companies.

The worst of them fall into one of two categories. Either they're artificially posed or they're just plain dull, giving no sense of what the play is about.

To get around both of these problems, I had the actors perform scenes from the play. Then I just aimed the camera and clicked. A lot.

I ended up with a lot of junk. But I also ended up with some real gems, like the one above. There's no mistaking this play for something from Chekhov or Ibsen.

Now I just hope the photos help sell some tickets.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Another NYC production

Just got word that my 10-minute play You're Driving Me Crazy will get a reading next month as a part of Core Artist Ensemble's Summer Shorts in NYC. This two-person comedy about a driving instructor from hell has been popular with kids--it's been done at a theatre camp in Illinois and a high school in New York state--but this is the first time it'll be done by adults.

I originally conceived it as one of a quartet of shorts about hellish driving lessons. I've got two and a half of them done, and this success makes me think I should go back and finish them as soon as I wrap up the full-length farce I'm working on.

Which at the rate I'm going, should be some time in 2033.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Free sample of The Butler Did It!

A sample of my newest play The Butler Did It! is now available. To read it online or to download it, click here.

If after reading it you'd like to order a copy, click here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Jumping back into directing

After the frazzling experience at my staged reading of The Butler Did It! last September, I promised myself I would never direct again. Too many decisions, too many headaches.

Well, it only took me 9 months to go back on that promise. I just got an offer to direct a short play for Funky Little Theatre Company's 24SEVEN: All-Stars. It's an evening of the best plays from their first three 24-hour theatre events.

Am I crazy? Well, no. As far as directing gigs go, this one is as close to wading into a baby pool as you can get. The play--Kentucky Chickens by Oregon playwright Cricket Daniel--was produced before on the same stage and with mostly the same cast. It's only 10 minutes long. And we have just 3 hours of rehearsal before the play goes up.

But it is a big step out of my comfort zone and I hope to learn a lot from it. The very fact that it's written by someone else will get me out of my own head for a few hours and into someone else's. I'm also looking forward to working with real live actors. You miss that human connection when you're holed up in your office day after day. And most importantly, it should help me become a better playwright, if only because it's a new theatrical experience for me.

So if you're in Colorado Springs this Friday, check out 24SEVEN: All-Stars at CIVA, 4635 Northpark Drive, at 7:30pm.

I guarantee you'll have an awesome time.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The butler is born

My first full-length play The Butler Did It! has just been published by Pioneer Drama Service. This is a comedy/mystery about a butler who's falsely accused of murder and must find the real culprit before the police arrive.

The problem? He has to do it while tied to a chair.

The play got a fabulous reaction at its first staged reading in Colorado Springs last September, and at the Cheyenne Little Theatre Players reading in Cheyenne Wyoming in November. It's perfect for high schools and community theater looking for a fast-paced, laugh-a-minute comedy.

And I bet you won't figure out who really did it.

To order your copy, visit the Pioneer web page.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Critic gets a readthrough

I love readthroughs. It's the first time my characters escape the padded confines of my skull, and it's always a blast to find out what they sound like.

We had the first readthrough of Kill the Critic! last night, and it was everything I had hoped for. The cast was enthusiastic, the characters are already showing some definition and the dialogue moved along at a farceworthy clip, keeping everyone in a near-constant state of laughter.

It's been two months since the disappointing end of my Indiegogo campaign (I raised only $120 toward my $1000 goal) and it feels great to get back to work.

Not to say that we haven't had some excitement. Over the last few weeks, we lost two of our cast and had to scramble to find replacements.

The biggest loss was the critic. The guy we originally cast in the title role is a professional stunt man--not an absolute necessity for the part, but it would have allowed us to push the envelope physicality-wise. It also gave us a nice hook for our marketing efforts.

The hunt for a replacement went on longer than I liked, and things got so desperate that I actually thought about playing the part myself. But I soon came to my senses, and Nancy was able to find an actor with the right combination of arrogance and a willingness to take abuse.

Oh, and did I mention we went through a trio of Officer Schwebnicks?

Well, that's all behind us now. The cast is complete, the script is frozen (for now) and everyone is excited to dive into rehearsal.

There's no time to waste. We've got only 36 days until opening night.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Get your free sample

Always trying to stay on the cutting edge, Pioneer Drama Service recently started offering free samples of their scripts. It's a great way to give customers a taste of a play while preserving the playwright's right to make a buck.

And believe me, we need it.

To read the sample for my film-noir parody, The _urloined Letter, click here.

If after reading it, you'd like to order your own copy and help send my very talented daughters to college, click here.

Friday, May 10, 2013

My 2nd year sales

I've always loved May. The end of the school year. The warming weather. The budding trees.

But since my first play was published two years ago, I've got one more reason to love this month: my annual royalty check from Pioneer Drama Service.

This year's check was the first one to include sales from Long Tall Lester, which came out last May. It looks to be a minor hit. In its first year, the western comedy received 15 productions. Not too surprisingly, nearly all of these productions were done west of the Mississippi (or, if you're in Canada, west of Hudson Bay).

Sadly, The _urloined Letter dropped significantly in popularity. Last year, it received just 4 productions compared to 8 in its first year. I hope that's not a sign of things to come. Nick Bullitt and Trouble Maecker deserve better!

In any case, my plays have now been produced in 20 states and one Canadian province. The best part of all this is seeing photos from the productions themselves. The kids pour everything they've got into the plays, and it shows--in the sets, in the costumes, in the pride beaming from every face.

I can't wait to see what next year brings.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Another milestone

And if yesterday's announcement wasn't enough, Google Alerts just emailed me about another milestone: last week, Long Tall Lester received its second Canadian production at the Milestone School in Milestone, Saskatchewan.

I'm starting to think Saskatchewan is like the Canadian version of Wyoming--lots of cowboys. Anyway, you can read the glowing review of the show here.

And this is a great time to remind all of you writers out there that if you haven't already created a Google Alert for all of your plays and books, you'd better get on it.

Yes, it can be tricky coming up with a search string that delivers exactly what you're looking for and not a boatload of similarly named items (which is why I love to include made-up words in my titles like "_urloined").

And it doesn't catch everything. It completely missed the Broadview production mentioned yesterday. But at least it catches some of my shows without me having to Google myself every day.

Not that I would ever do that. ;)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

O Canada!

I've gone international. My western comedy Long Tall Lester had its Canadian debut at the Broadview School in Broadview, Saskatchewan.

Actually, it happened a couple months ago, but the Pony Express mount only arrived today.

These talented (and very wise) students took Long Tall Lester to their regional competition and it was named runner-up for Best Visual Production. Congratulations, all!

And if you want to win the big prize next year, I've got a great little play that will do it for you.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What I learned in class

I had a blast yesterday teaching a playwriting class at the Pikes Peak Writing Conference.

Although I was disappointed by the turnout--only eight people showed up, and that number is inflated by the fact that the moderator and the sound person had to be there--the students were very enthusiastic and asked a lot of great questions.

The class was titled "Breaking into Playwriting". My hunch was that beginning playwrights would rather learn how to market their plays than how to write one.

My hunch was correct. When I asked for a show of hands, nearly everyone had already completed a play but had no clue what to do with it.

The gist of my talk was that it's easier to break into playwriting than novel writing. It's cheaper to print scripts than hardcover books, and play publishers aren't hung up on finding the next big "hit". They just want stuff that their customers will want to produce. Especially in the school market, if the play is fun and easy to stage, it will find a home.

Of course, getting that first production can be tricky. That's why I recommended that the students follow the path that had worked for me: submit your works to contests until you get a production, then submit it to small but respected publishers like Pioneer, Eldridge or Heuer.

Nothing really ground-breaking. But it was practical. One student was especially excited to learn that her informal shows at a local elementary school counted as productions.

And then it hit me. These budding writers weren't looking for advice. They were looking for permission. They needed to hear that it was okay to submit to publishers.

After class, as I was cleaning up, I came across one of the feedback forms that all attendees are supposed to fill out. I know, I know. I shouldn't have peeked at it, but I did.

Her comments were brief and to the point. One item stood out from the rest. To describe the instructor, she wrote a single word: "motivational".

I couldn't help but smile. That's exactly what I was aiming for.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Everything in its season

Besides my regular theatre reviews for the Colorado Springs Independent, I also write the occasional blog post for them. These usually cover small but interesting news items in the local theatre community.

I especially enjoy commenting on season announcements. This helps build excitement for the coming season and allows me to give my take on the theatrical offerings.

Without further ado then, here's the start of my post on the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's 2013-2014 season:
I would guess that most of the 30-plus people who gathered in the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center's SaGaJi Theater on Wednesday wondered at first who that stranger was greeting us from the stage. It was none other than Producing Artistic Director Scott RC Levy himself, almost unrecognizable without his trademark goatee. Turns out he shaved it off for his official local acting debut as Man in Chair in the upcoming production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Oh, the sacrifices we make for the theater.
To continue reading, click here.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On getting old

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams. ~ John Barrymore
Today is my 50th birthday--a day that, if nothing else, should calls for some serious navel-gazing. Where have I come from? Where am I now? And where did I expect to be?

Today is the first day I've truly felt old. Of course, it didn't help that my teenage daughter greeted me this morning with a cheery, "Now I can call you old!"

Turning 40 didn't bother me. I felt young, or at least youngish, and I still believed that my peak years were before me. And they were. In 2003, I was an unpublished writer struggling to break into middle-grade novels--a goal that is still out of reach.

Since then I:

Had my first play produced

Had my first play produced in NYC (which I consider a singular achievement in itself)

Had my first (and second) play published

Won my first (and second) playwriting contest
Launched a thriving playwriting group

Became the theatre critic for the Colorado Springs Gazette and later the Colorado Springs Independent

Became a judge for the Colorado Theatre Guild, enabling me to see 10x as much as theatre as I ever have before

Made boatloads of new friends through the wonderful world of theatre.

In fact, other than my day job, about everything that occupies my time these days originated in the last ten years. And, amazingly enough, 7 of the 8 items above all occurred in the last 3 years (I started out as a theatre critic 5 years ago).

There's no reason to expect this won't continue. But I'm still haunted by an undeniable feeling of dissatisfaction. As I look over this list, I can help but feel these are things I should have achieved 10 years ago, if not 20 years ago.

But then, I drifted through life for so long--dabbling in one hobby here, another there--that I should be grateful I ever found My Purpose (as cheesy as that sounds).

It's that darn day job that throws me. If I had had this success 20 years ago, I might be a full-time playwright by now. As it is, I may never achieve that goal.

But if 50 has taught me anything, it's that life is full of surprises.

And I'm going to be ready for them.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The truth about rejection

I came across a great blog post today from Bitter Gertrude, the funny and, yes, bitter artistic director of Impact Theatre in Berkeley, CA. If you've been submitting your play all over creation and you're not getting produced, Gertie's got tough news.

It's not them. It's you.

Or should I say, your play:

I would make it even simpler than this. In my own reading of unproduced scripts, I keep seeing the same two faults. Faults that would prevent an otherwise well-written script from ever seeing the glorious light of production.

The first is generic dialogue. This is closely related to one of the items Bitter Gertrude raises: undifferentiated character voices. Yes, every character should reveals their personalities, backgrounds and goals in every line of dialogue they speak. But my concern about generic dialogue goes beyond this.

Each character should also sound different than the people you meet each day. We go to the theater to see interesting people say interesting things. Why would we fork over $25 or more to hear a bunch of people talk who sound just like the co-workers at our day jobs?

"How's it going, Bob?"

"Not bad, Jim. How about you?"

"It could be better."


The second fault is lack of direction. No, your story shouldn't follow a formula (that's what film is for). And no, we shouldn't be able to see the ending of your play coming from a mile away.

But from the very first scene, we should know where it's headed. What is the main conflict? How does the main character intend to resolve it? And how each of the secondary characters aid or resist that intent?

Fix these two problems and you're well on your way to seeing your play come to life.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Big night in the Big Apple

After one production got cancelled and another production got delayed when the director pulled out, I'm thrilled that tonight I'm making my off-off-Broadway debut.

Thespian Production is producing my comedy Fear of Clowns as part of their March Madness compilation of one-act plays. The show runs tonight through Sunday in a little third floor theater on W. 36th St, just a couple blocks west of Broadway.

I wish I could be there, but it's kind of hard to justify a $1500 trip for a 10-minute play. Still, I'll sleep well tonight knowing that my baby is in good hands and starting to take some big steps.

Break legs, all!

Friday, February 15, 2013

And away we go

I just launched the Indiegogo campaign for the world premiere of Kill the Critic! I've never done a crowdfunding campaign like this before, so I hope things go well.

I estimate the total production costs to be $3500. Over the 45 days off the campaign, I'm hoping to raise $1000, which will just cover the week's rent at the Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts.

We've got some really great premiums. For $50, you get an autographed copy of the as-yet-unpublished script. For $100, you get a one-of-the-kind Kill the Critic! coffee cup (see above).

We'll even be thrilled to take the spare ten-spot off your hands. So please help any way you can. After all, no one wants a live critic.

The campaign is at:

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The best way to learn

They say the best way to learn something is to teach it. If that's the case, then I'm about to learn a whole lot about playwriting because I'll be leading a workshop on it at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

I attended the conference a couple times back in the early aughts when I was trying to break into middle-grade novels (Edison Young and the Ravenous Robosaur is still looking for a publisher, by the way). I thought it was a wonderful conference, filled with knowledgeable instructors and friendly, enthusiastic writers, so I'm honored to be a part of it this year.

I also appreciate the fact that they're in inviting me to speak about playwriting, they're willing to step outside their traditional focus on novels.

The conference runs from Thursday, April 18 to Sunday, April 21, with my hour-long workshop being held on Sunday morning. If you're going to be there, please stop by and say hi.

Better yet, sit in on the workshop. I guarantee we'll have a great ime.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A critical development

My backstage farce Kill the Critic! just took 2nd place in the Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence. This comes fast on the heels of the news that Pioneer Drama Service will be publishing my comedy/mystery The Butler Did It!

I've got to wonder. How much more successful would Tennessee Williams have been if he'd put exclamation points in all his titles?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Back in the saddle

Tonight's a big night for me. I get to be a real theatre critic again.

It's been two years since I wrote my last review for the Colorado Springs Gazette. Sure, I've spent these last twelve months writing for the Colorado Springs Independent, but those reviews only appeared on their blog.

Not a lot of readers. Not a lot of respect.

Over the years, I've asked actors and other theater folk what they want in a review. It turns out they all want the same two things.

No four-star grading system. It's demeaning and arbitrary.

And they want to see the review in print. The newspaper industry may be a dinosaur, but the fact remains people put more stock in inky squiggles than blinking pixels.

My reviews for the Indy meet both desires. The weekly publication has always refused to use a grading system for their reviews.

And as of next week, my reviews will be appearing in their print edition.

Of course, I still may not get much respect. But at least now I'll succeed or fail based on the strength of my writing, not the medium that delivers them.

I'm jumping in with both feet. This weekend, I've got not one but two shows to review: Red at TheatreWorks and Prelude to a Kiss at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

So on Sunday, while you're gnawing on buffalo wings and watching all those wonderful Super Bowl commercials, I'll be holed up in my dim little office, slaving away at my 8-year-old laptop.

After all, I've got a deadline to meet. And I couldn't be happier.

(Oh, and so far I've stayed true to my New Year's resolution: 31 submissions in 31 days. I'm going to get some productions this year, or die trying!)

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Butler Did It! did it

Well, that was quick. Just 10 months after I finished writing it, and 2 months after I submitted it, Pioneer has agreed to publish The Butler Did It! This comedy/mystery is my third play with them and my first full-length.

I'm actually kind of surprised. Pioneer Drama Service is known for light-hearted, wholesome plays, and while The Butler Did It! isn't exactly adult fare, it is a little dark. Unlike a lot of  mysteries intended for the high school and community theater market, the victim really does get killed and in a rather bloody way (though discretely offstage). Adultery is briefly mentioned, and the play culminates in some exciting gunplay.

But the language is clean, and from my experience at least, audiences will never go more than 30 seconds without a great big gut-busting laugh.

So I'm glad Pioneer is taking a chance with it. Ironically though, it still hasn't received a full production, just a couple of staged readings that were very helpful in punching up the dialogue.

Who will give it its world premiere? I can't wait to find out.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A picture paints a thousand words...

but sometimes it only needs to paint three:


It's ironic, if you think about it. Theatre is primarily a word-centric art form. Film is about action, movement, visuals. Theatre is about language, speech, dialogue.

And yet, when it comes to promoting your play, you often have to rely a single image: the poster. The success or failure of that poster depends on how well you can answer a few key questions.

Is it eye-catching? Does it capture the essence of the play? And is that essence appealing enough to make people part with their hard-earned cash?

Which is why I'm so pleased with the poster that was created for my new play, Kill the Critic! It was designed by a talented local artist named J. J. Fierro.

This play is darker than my Pioneer plays. Not a lot darker, but dark enough. After all, the protagonist spends most of the play trying to hide the corpse of the man he poisoned. And yet, it's still a comedy. A wild and wickedly funny farce, in fact.

I think the artist nailed it. The bold colors and comic book-like style is extremely eye-catching, light-hearted, even whimsical. And yet there's no mistaking the fact that this is comedy is a black one.

I especially like that hand reaching for the bottle of poison. That gives you a glimpse of what the play is about, while begging a whole bunch of questions that can only be answered by seeing the play.

Anyway, I'm happy with it. And now that I've got my poster, it's time to go raise some cash.

Oh, and you can buy your own tickets by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


People don't seem to make New Year's resolutions like they used to. Some say that if you do recognize the need for change, why wait until New Year's to do it? Others say they'll only fail anyway, so why start?

I understand both of these viewpoints. But there's something about New Year's Day that makes me want to improve myself. Maybe it's the clear, cold weather, maybe it's turning the calendar seeing all those clean, white pages of potential, but the start of a New Year always inspires me to start a New Me.

This year is no different. Besides the vague, health-related resolutions that a lot of people to seem to make (eat less, exercise more), I've committed myself to one very specific, writing-related resolution.

I'm going to submit one play to one market each day.

It doesn't matter if that market is a theatre company, a playwriting contest or a play publisher. I'm going to submit a play to one of those markets each day.

The need is dire.

I'm good about writing. I get in my hour each day, no matter how crazy busy that day may be.

And I'm good about researching markets. I check the NYCPlaywrights blog and the Playwrightbinge Yahoo! Group regularly and spend hours each month loading all of those opportunites into a huge Excel file I maintain.

What I'm bad at is actually submitting to those opportunities. There are just so many of them that the task seems overwhelming. And I never get the free weekend I need to catch up.

So I'm going to break that tasks into bits and submit to one market at a time.

Oh, I doubt I'll be able to keep it up every day for the next 365 days. But I started early and already have 4 submissions under my belt. And even if I run out of markets or give up long before Punxsutawney Phil pops his head out of that hole, the submissions I do make may be enough to jumpstart my career.

I'll let you know on December 31 just how close I came.