Tuesday, November 29, 2016

See you at Thescon!

This weekend, I'll be teaching at the Colorado High School Thespian Conference for the fourth time. I always look forward to it as it's an amazingly well-run event as well as a wonderful opportunity to interact with some of our state's most creative young minds.

I'm especially excited this year because I'll be introducing a new workshop: Plot 101: Playwriting Lessons from Star Wars. In it, I'll examine how this blockbuster film followed the story milestones defined by Joseph Campbell in the Hero's Journey. I'll also work with the students to help them apply the same story milestones to their own plays.

I'm also reprising my popular workshop, Five Ways to Punch Up Your Playwriting. Here I offer five practical tips that are guaranteed to make your script stand out from the crowd (Tip #1: Give your story a hook). The workshop includes examples from published plays as well as opportunities for students to practice the tips we discuss.

Both workshops are on Friday, December 2. Five Ways to Punch Up Your Playwriting is at 12:45pm in Room 210/212. Plot 101: Playwriting Lessons from Star Wars is at 2:15pm in Room 210/212.

I would love to have you join me. Or if you just want to stop by and say hi, that's good too.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Three little words

Well, the new play I'm developing with Palmer Ridge High School has reached a major milestone. I've finished the first draft. And let me tell you, typing those three little words--END OF PLAY--never gets old.

The story ended up quite a bit different from my original synopsis, but that's pretty standard. As characters interact and scenes play out, you start to see what works and what doesn't and things often need to go in a different direction to make things work.

It has ten speaking parts, including 7 females and 3 males, making it the most female-heavy play I've ever written. Director Josh Belk was hoping for a little larger cast than that so I added up to four walk-in parts that I'll let him decide how to use.

As for the set requirements, I was hoping to keep it to a single set which would represent the main room of the Texas ranch house where's it set, but the needs of the story dictated that I include a couple additional sets to represent a kitchen and bus station. I purposely kept these sets simple so that they can be done on small side stages or in front of the curtain.

The script ended up around 80 pages, which means the play should be 80 minutes long, with an intermission at the 40-minute mark. This is just about perfect.

The play doesn't quite feel real yet. It won't until I hear the actors say the lines. But at least the hard part is done. The rest of the development process is pure joy.

I sent the script to Josh today. In my email, I included some guidelines to help him understand what I'm looking to get out of the development process. I consider the cast and crew to be equal partners with me, and I hope that shows here:

1) Wording

I always read my script out loud a couple of times before sending it out, but hearing ti spoken by the actors will uncover any awkward lines I missed. If the actors forget the exact words that I write and keep wanting to say a line differently, I'll probably go with what they say as it's usually simpler and/or stronger.

2) Gags

I never know what will get laughs until the first couple rehearsals. I'll play around with most of the gags that fall flat. I'm fine with ad libs from the actors, especially if they're funnier than what I came up with. Some of them may even end up in the published script.

3) Story inconsistencies

Actors are always great at catching inconsistencies in their characters or continuity errors in the plot. I plan to fix all of these.

4) Production Challenges

I want to make this play fairly easy to produce so it'll get done by a lot of schools and community theatres. I'm depending on you to tell me which stage directions are more trouble than they're worth.

5) Slow Spots

I can't tell where the slow spots are until blocking starts. I'm always happy to cut out or add stuff to fix these.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

How I met my mummy

I rarely see my own plays. This year, I expect to get around 200 productions, but I'll only see two or three of them. So when it does happen, it's special.

This week, my wife and I are visiting our daughter Ashley, who lives in Tucson, so I took a side trip to see a production of How I Met Your Mummy at the American Leadership Academy, a charter school in Queen Creek, a suburb of Phoenix. As Executive Director Bill Guttery told me, it's a hugely successful school, having expanded from just one campus and a hundred-some students in 2009 to eight campuses and thousands of students today.

The drama program is no afterthought here. The auditorium is state-of-the-art and theatre director Leslie Infalt is highly experienced, knowledgeable and fully committed to her students.

This was the first time I had seen this particular play, and after the show, one of the actors asked me if they had lived up to my expectations. I told her the truth. They had surpassed them.

The play has one of my simplest sets, but the stage crew, led by construction teacher Bill Pollard, made the most of it, employing a few elegantly designed pieces to capture the creepy atmosphere of an after-hours museum.

The cast was just as fantastic. The audience was small (the school's football team was playing that night), but the actors really put their hearts into their performances--and got a lot of well-deserved laughs along the way.

After the show, I spent some time signing autographs and talking to the students. Bill also showed me how he built the sarcophagus and the oversized lock used to fasten the sarcophagus (I wish I'd seen it before I'd written the production notes for the script!).

Visits like this always remind me what theatre is about. Sure, it's partly about the art. And it's partly about the entertainment. And it's partly about the skills that are learned as a result.

But more than anything else, theatre is about people. It's about learning to work with a team of like-minded artists to create something new--and discovering something about ourselves in the process.

I'd like to give a great big thanks to everyone at ALA. You really made me feel welcome.

And a special thanks to Assistant Director of Academics Raleigh Jones, who sent me the photos shown here plus a whole lot more. Believe me when I say I'll always treasure them.