Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My 5th year sales

I just received my annual royalty statement from my publisher, Pioneer Drama Service, and I'm thrilled to report that I had another record-breaking year.

Actual comparisons to previous years are difficult to make as Pioneer Drama Service changed the way they reported productions. In previous years, they provided a hardcopy report of all productions that had been paid for through April 30. This year, they provided access to their online system that tracks productions as they're booked, whether they're paid for or not.

The system works pretty slick. I can get a running total of my royalties to date. I can see the location, date and number of performances for each upcoming production. I can even sort by title, production date or when ordered.

This is a fantastic development. For the first time, I'll know about each production before it happens, making it possible to attend local productions and to send good wishes to those that are further away.

The only drawback is that for this one year, it's impossible to compare apples to apples. I no longer know which productions have been paid for, so from this point on, I'll only include productions that were performed in a particular fiscal year. This understates the totals for FY 2016, but the year was such a good one that it doesn't matter too much.

My total number of productions for the year nearly doubled from 78 in 2015 to 150 in 2016. This was the first full year for Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye and, as expected, this large-cast comedy was my big seller, with 63 productions--a new record for me.

You're Driving Me Crazy! was released in November, but it's already doing phenomenally well. It was my #2 title for the year with 27 productions. However, it didn't earn as much in royalties as the next two plays on my list because this short one-act tends to get only one performance per production while the full-length plays get two or more.

Million Dollar Meatballs came out in August, and that did almost as well, bagging 25 productions. As reported earlier, this play got me my 8th country, the United Arab Emirates, with a performance at an American school there in March.

The Butler Did It! was my #4 seller and showed a huge drop, with the number of productions decreasing from 34 in 2015 to 14 in 2016. However, it already has 9 shows booked for next year so I'm hoping that was an anomaly. The fun thing with this title is that it's been popular all over the world and this year added a ninth country to my life list: Oman.

Long Tall Lester was #5 with 9 productions this year compared to 14 last year. I'm excited to see how popular this one-act continues to be in Canada, with a really strong showing at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival for St. Peter's Catholic Secondary School of Barrie.

How I Met Your Mummy came out in December and was a little slow getting started, with just 6 productions in its first four months. I expect this one to do much better this fall as schools select plays for Halloween.

Finally, The _urloined Letter, my first play, also had 6 productions this year compared to 10 last year.

I have several more plays waiting for a response from publishers and I'm hard at work on another. I can't wait for you to see what's coming next!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Putting the community in community theatre

I just got back from a trip to Leoti, Kansas. Janelle Downs of the Wichita County Arts Alliance had invited me out to see their production of Million Dollar Meatballs (she was the director). And while I was there, she thought it would be a good idea if I spoke at the local high school.

I wasn't quite sure where Leoti was, but I jumped at the opportunity. I love visiting small towns--they remind me of my own hometown in Wisconsin-plus it would be the first time I had seen this particular play performed by adults. I was interested to see how it stood up.

To get to Leoti, as any resident will tell you, just head east from Colorado Springs, turn onto a couple of different highways, and when you come to the first flashing light--213 miles later--you're there.

As I headed out late Thursday night, however, I was doubting my sanity. They'd been predicting a winter storm all day, and I should have left earlier, but I stayed in town to catch a performance of Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye--my first opportunity to see that show. 

The show ended around 8:30 PM and I immediately got on the road for the 3 1/2 hour drive. Fortunately, the winter storm held off until I left town so I managed to avoid most of the snow and only had to deal with rain and cold and wind for the rest of the trip. If I kept a good speed, I figured, I should be able to get there by midnight, leaving me plenty of time for sleep before getting up for a full day of teaching.

And then, just 12 miles west of Leoti, I saw the sign. Central Time Zone. I had lost an hour.

So around 1:30AM (the weather delayed me as well) I pulled up to the place where they arranged for me to stay for the three nights of my visit. When Janelle told me it was an apartment attached to a seed warehouse, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it turned out to be wonderful--clean, new and more spacious than a five-star suite.

I crawled into bed and caught what little sleep I could before the alarm went off four hours later. The day dawned gray and rainy, but I was raring to go. I jumped out of bed, showered and drove a couple of blocks to the high school.

Julie Conard, one of the school's English teachers, escorted me to her classroom, where I was to speak to the first class of the day. As it turned out, Julie was in the show too, playing the part of the obnoxious telegram deliverer Tammy Tonedeaf.

I knew ahead of time that the school didn't have any writing or drama classes or so I created a brand new presentation just for them. What I came up with was "A Playwright's Journey, or 48 Hours to Overnight Success". In it, I talk about my decades-long struggle to get published and the over 200 rejection I had received before I got there. I also offer some life lessons that I hope aren't too preachy, thinks like Practice, Practice, Practice and Don't Fear Rejection, Embrace It.

I ended up speaking to five different English classes, from 7th grade through juniors. The students seemed to enjoy my talk, although many were shocked when I told them it takes 10,000 hours to master any subject (thank you, Malcolm Gladwell!). I figure it took me at least that much time before I saw any success in writing. But then I'm a slow learner.

After lunch, Julie brought me into the auditorium to talk to the choir kids, who also happened to be the theatre kids. The school doesn't put on a show every year (it depends on class size, and in a small community like this, class size can vary 4X from one year to the next), but when they do, it's the choir kids who do it.

Many of the kids had heard my talk earlier in the day so I had to come up with something different--and quick. I grabbed my scripts of You're Driving Me Crazy!, threw some chairs on the stage for a car and, in a matter of minutes, we were doing cold readings of this driver's ed-themed play. The kids were great--so funny and talented--and after the impromptu performance I was gratified to hear one of the boys say he couldn't wait to get involved in the school's theatre program next year.

After school, I had a short break, then headed to the First Presbyterian Church for the final dress rehearsal of Million Dollar Meatballs. Normally, I don't offer feedback to the casts of my plays--I figure that's the director's job--but when Janelle herself asked me what I thought, I knew I had to share. And I told them the raw, unvarnished truth.  They did a fantastic job. Sure, there were a few places where they needed to pick up the pace and their delivery of some of the lines needed tweaking. But they were having a lot of fun with the play, and I knew the audience would too.

The next day was Saturday, and I spent most of the afternoon exploring Leoti. There wasn't a lot to see--even the residents will tell you that--I did get some nice pictures of downtown and the courthouse. Another highlight was a mural that the Arts Alliance had only recently put up. Between the sunflowers, the cows and the quilting patterns, it did a great job of capturing the down-home spirit of the town.

That night was the opening performance. The First Presbyterian Church had donated the use of their stage and the Arts Alliance squeezed in several large round tables for the audience. A long table was set up for the pre-show pot luck dinner, and soon it was filled with a wide and very tempting selection of casseroles and pasta dishes.

Of course, many of the cooks were inspired by the meatball theme of the play and brought their own version of those beefy orbs. There was a chipotle meatball dish that I found especially tasty.

The show didn't quite sell out, but it was close. We were sitting elbow to elbow as the house lights went down and the stage lights went up. The play started, and within minutes, the house was filled with laughter. I smiled. To me, it's the most beautiful sound of the world.

At intermission, there was a brief concert as some of the local children sang solos and duets to the accompaniment of a piano. As I sat there, soaking it all in, I was filled with a warm glow. This, I thought, is what community theatre is all about. Good food. A fun-loving cast. Hearty laughter. And the most talented kids in town.

Scratch that. This is what community is all about.

I heard somebody say they wish that more people had attended the show. I quickly did the math in my head. Leoti has a population of 2000 people. The church fit about 100 people, and with two performances, that meant 10% of the town's population would see the show,

I'd kill to get 10% of Colorado Springs' population to one of my shows.

The second act started and the laughter, if possible, was even louder and more enthusiastic. After the show, I talked with the audience, autographed a few programs and then said goodbye to my new friends, who already seemed like old friends.

I left the next morning. The rain had finally stopped, though the sky was still a somber gray. I glanced in my rear view mirror, and as I watched the houses and the grain elevator growing smaller, I said one final goodbye.

You know, it's funny. A couple of months ago I had never heard of Leoti, Kansas.

Now I'll never forget it.