Saturday, December 31, 2016

A look back at 2016

You know how they say if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans? Well, that was the story of my 2016.

A year ago, on New Year's Day, I said there was no way to get any more writing time than the 90 minutes I was currently spending and that the only way to improve my writing was by taking care of my body (lose weight, get more sleep).

What I didn't plan on was a whole new way to increase my writing time. What was that magical technique? Simple. I got laid off from my day job in April (I'm an electrical engineer).

I spent the rest of the year searching for a new job (I make a fair amount of money from my plays, but not enough to replace my engineering income--yet!). I got a few interviews, but I haven't received any offers yet.

In the meantime, I upped my writing time--a lot. I went from 1 1/2 hours a day to 4 1/2 hours a day. I didn't always meet that. On holidays and vacations (yes, I gave myself those), I dropped my minimum to 2 hours a day. But for most days, I met that aggressive 4 1/2 hour goal.

And my output increased dramatically (big surprise). Not only did I finish the two full-length plays I had aimed for on New Year's Day. I finished four more full-length plays, about one every six weeks. As they say, if you want to write, you've got to make your butt meet chair.

But let's get real. None of this was what I planned (laugh away, God). So how did I do against my plans? Let's take a look.

1) Get to bed by midnight each night.

Failure. I did all right until I got laid off. Now that I don't have a schedule, I stay up until 1 or 2 AM, and wake up late. Don't judge. As I said, I got a lot of work done during the day.

2) Successfully premiere my new play, The Last Radio Show.

Success. The Last Radio Show was a big hit, drawing respectable crowds, garnering lots of laughs and making me a little bit of money as well (a near miracle in the world of community theatre).

3) Get The Last Radio Show published.

Failure. The play was rejected by Pioneer Drama Service and Eldridge Publishing, but I have high hopes (delusionally so, perhaps) that I'll find a publisher for it in 2017. After all, it's one of my funniest plays

But at this point, I'm taking a step back to get more productions before I submit it again. It's currently being considered by two theatre companies that have produced other plays of mine.

4) Get Kill the Critic! published.

Failure. This year the play was rejected by Dramatic Publishing, who I think would have been a perfect for it. It did, however, receive a staged reading from LA's Theatre of Note in February, my first professional anything (reading, workshop or production) in the theatre world, so I'm very excited about that. In the meantime, I'm waiting to see if they produce it before I submit it to any more publishers.

5) Finish the school play I'm currently working on, my second large-cast play and my first one intended for high school actors.

Success. Trouble in Paradise Junction was completed in April.

6) Get that play published.

Success. Trouble in Paradise Junction was accepted for publication by Pioneer Drama Service in September and published in December.

7) Write a second play. I've got some ideas but haven't started any yet.

Success. The Stinky Feet Gang was completed in May and accepted for publication by Pioneer Drama Service in September. It should be published any day now.

8) Lose another 10 pounds (I'm going to need more than exercise now. I may actually need to--gulp!--eat less).

To be honest, I really don't know the answer to this one. When I was working, I was going to the nurse's office once a week to check my weight and once a day to check my blood pressure. I don't own a scale or a blood pressure monitor so I haven't checked either since then (bad, I know), but I've kept up with my 30-minute brisk walk each day and blood pressure medicine since then so I think I'm doing well (my doctor gave me a figurative thumbs-up at my annual physical in August). But I'm pretty sure I haven't lost 10 pounds.

Okay, so four out of eight isn't that great. But looked at another way, it's been a hugely successful year for me, much more successful than I would have ever dreamed. Yes, I'm living off my savings, and I'll continue to do so until I can either: 1) find an engineering job, or 2) publish a lot more plays. But for the last eight months, I've been living the dream--the life of a full-time writer--and it's been wonderful!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Trouble in Paradise Junction is now available

Just under the gun, Pioneer Drama Service has released my small-town comedy Trouble in Paradise Junction. It's my first new play since How I Met Your Mummy came out last December.

With a cast of 25 (10M/15F) and lots of opportunities for doubling and extras, the play lends itself to extremely flexible casting. Here's the blurb:
In this love letter to small town life, Paradise Junction is the "best little town in the world," a place where everyone gets along, the sun is always shining, and the tomatoes grow as big as beach balls. So when a TV network offers to film a reality show there, the townsfolk jump at the chance. After all, the town will receive five million dollars, while the publicity promises to turn the residents into TV stars. But host Wink Smiley has his own agenda. Secrets are revealed, old feuds are rekindled, and the town's annual pie-baking contest is turned into a massive food fight. Now it's up to Joe Goode, owner of the Rise 'n' Shine Diner, to save the town. Will he find a way to stop Wink or will the residents be tricked into destroying their beloved town on live television? Inspired by the films of Frank Capra such as It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, this heartwarming comedy will make your audience cheer while reminding them what really matters in life.
For a sample script and ordering info, click here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sunshine mummy

The Ideal School of Advanced Learning in the Sunshine State (Royal Palm Beach, to be exact) recently performed How I Met Your Mummy and they've posted the entire show on YouTube (see above). The kids did a fantastic job, making all of the characters bigger than life and getting a ton of laughs in the process.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mannequin butler

The mannequin challenge has been making the rounds of the Interwebs lately, and a lot of theatre companies are using them to promote their shows. Last month, Azusa High School in California took the challenge for their production of Long Tall Lester. And now the Kansas School for the Deaf is doing it for their production of The Butler Did It!

This one is especially tricky because it recreates several scenes from the play, with the camera panning away every few seconds to let the actors move into the next pose.

Oh, and the students will be performing the play in American Sign Language. Now that's awesome!

Break legs, everybody!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Hoosier meatballs

I'd like to give a big shout-out to Cloverdale Middle School of Cloverdale, IN, where Million Dollar Meatballs will be performed tomorrow night. The talented students there put together this video promoting the show, and I've got to say, I'm really loving it.

The bold graphics and retro music give it the feel of a 1960's mystery/comedy, like The Pink Panther. And check out the credit for the costume designers at the end ("the parents")!

Great job, everybody. And break legs!

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Hero's Journey in Star Wars

So I had another amazing experience at Colorado Thescon today. Around 25 students attended Five Ways to Punch Up Your Playwriting, and we had some good discussions, especially around loglines and how to make them unique.

But the response to my workshop, Plot 101: Playwriting Lessons from Star Wars, completely blew me away. I figured those magic words, "Star Wars," would generate a lot of interest, but I never expected over 100 students (and several teachers) to show up. Unfortunately, my room only had chairs for 30 of the students, but the other 70 carried on bravely, claiming a spot on the floor for the hour and 15 minutes of my lecture. (I'll ask for more chairs next year!)

Actually, it was less a lecture and more a free-wheeling debate. Most of the students had already been exposed to the Hero's Journey structure, and they all had very strong opinions as to what the catalyst is and why the destruction of Alderaan does not make a strong midpoint. Surprisingly, the students were just as passionate in their discussion of my alternative example of the Hero's Journey, Legally Blonde.

You know how people with a strange, terrible disease often think they're the only one in the world with that disease? And then they find an online support group and they realize there are actually hundreds of people like them? Well, that's how I felt today, only my disease is Story Structure Geekitis.

I didn't bring enough handouts for all of the students, but I promised them I would post the diagram I taught from on my website, so here is the PDF version. Or just download the JPG above. Either way, feel free to print it, email it, tattoo it on your forearm, or whatever floats your boat.

Yes, it borrows from both Joseph Campbell and Blake Snyder, but I've simplified it to include only the seven plot points most important to a well-told story (I don't want young writers to get overwhelmed by the numerous plot points in those other works). I also changed some of the terms to more accurately reflect their purpose. Most importantly, I added the corresponding plot points in Star Wars to guide them as they develop their own stories.

The class was so popular that I've decided to turn it into a two-hour workshop in which I'll work closely with each student to help them structure their story according to the Hero's Journey. Look for this class to pop up in Colorado Springs, probably sometime in January.

Update: If you'd like to read my take on the Hero's Journey in Legally Blonde, which formed the other half of the class, follow this link.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cornhusker cowboy does well

A big congrats to Perkins County High School of Grant, NE, which took second place yesterday at their district one-act play contest for their production of Long Tall Lester. This western comedy has done very well at the many play competitions in America's northern neighbor, and it's nice to see it do equally well on this side of the border.

Great job, everybody!