Tuesday, July 23, 2019

The Enchanted Bookshop Musical is now available!


After a year of development, the musical version of my hit play The Enchanted Bookshop is now available for purchase! It's got all the characters, action and gags of the original play but adds another whole dimension with Stephen Murray's score.

I have to admit I was a little nervous when Pioneer first approached me about musicalizing the play. I've never worked with a collaborator before and I wasn't sure Stephen would do my baby justice.

But I can honestly say that Stephen banged it out of the park. All of his songs are catchy and clever, from the energetic opener "A Novel Idea" through the comedic duet ""The Crook's Life" to the tear-jerking ensemble number "Goodbye".

Want to check it out for yourself? Clips from the songs and a sample script can be found right here.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

More fun with Okie Rumpelstiltskin

Linda Provost/The Duncan Banner

Well, that summer camp production of Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye keeps getting great press in its hometown of Duncan, OK. Today the Duncan Banner talks to several of the students in the camp.

And they all agree. It's been a fantastic learning experience.

"It doesn't matter if you haven't done it before because you come here and you learn a lot," says Tegan Watson, who plays Virginia Wolf in the shoew. "It cam seem scary because you are going someplace new with a bunch of people who have already been doing it--everyone is really supportive so it never hurts to try it out."

To find out what else these talented kids learned, be sure to check out the entire article.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Okie Rumpelstiltskin makes the news


I've never been interviewed on TV, but I still remember the first time I was interviewed on the radio. I think I was 13 years old. It was in my hometown of Beaver Dam, and the local radio station (WBEV--Your Hometown Station!) invited me and two other DeMolays to chat up the car wash we were doing.

We were all pretty nervous at first, but the interviewer made us feel at home, and before long, we forgot all about the microphones sticking in our faces and just started talking.

Of course, listening to a recording of the interview later, I realized I wasn't as professional-sounding as I'd felt. But it was a good time and the three of us learned a lot.

Well, I'm glad to say that the kids from Duncan Little Theatre's summer drama camp already sound like pros. This Oklahoma group is doing a production of  Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye on July 27 and their local TV station interviewed them about their experience.

The three-week camp is a wonderful opportunity for this sparsely populated region of the Sooner State, as it draws students from several small towns. And it sounds like the kids are in it for all their right reasons.

"It always cool to be able to do something throughout the summer. ," said Emily Trostle, who plays Smart Pig and ugly stepsister Minerva. "Instead of just sitting around being bored, you can learn more. Every year I've learned something new."

The show is free for kids and just $5 for adults, so if you're in southwest Oklahoma, I urge you to check it out.

I guarantee you'll see some real pros.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Five-Star Butler


Well, that Missouri director who based his production of The Butler Did It! on Carol Burnett's old show must be doing something right because it just got a five-star review in KC Applauds.

Critic Bob Evans had some nice things to say about the script, but what makes me even happier is hearing how the cast really threw themselves into their roles.

"But all of the cast were strong in their performances. They knew their characters and delivered the punch lines were flair," Evans writes. "The play does not demand a lot of physical comedy so the line delivery, facial expressions, and tonal inflections are paramount to the comedy's effectiveness."

If you live near Kansas City, you have three more chances to see the show this weekend. If you don't, check out my Productions page to see what other shows may be playing in your area.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Show me the funny


Summit Theatre Group of Lee's Summit in the Show Me State of Missouri is closing out their 2018-2019 season with The Butler Did It!, and that got them this nice writeup on their local news site.

Director Mark Hamilton first read the script five years ago and was drawn to the fast-paced humor and the oh-so-proper English setting.

"Think Downton Abbey, if Downton Abbey was a comedy," he says. "1930's English manor house, quirky characters, a dark and stormy night, murder in the kitchen with a paring knife, what's not to like?"

I can tell Mark and I have similar tastes in humor because he based his direction on the wacky parodies from the old Carol Burnett show--one of my great comedy influences growing up (you had to love that mid-1970's Saturday Night lineup on CBS).

If you're in the area, I strongly encourage to check it out. Performances are June 14-15 and 21-23 at the MCC Longview Cultural Arts Center in Lee's Summit.

Tickets? A mere $15 ($12 for students and seniors).


Tuesday, May 14, 2019

My 8th year sales


It's May, that magical month when Pioneer Drama Service mails annual royalty checks to its playwrights. It's also the month when I take stock of the year just past and compare it to the previous year.

The good news? In terms of productions, it was my best year yet. I had 347, an 11% increase over the 312 productions I had the previous year.

The bad news? The amount of my check actually went down. Sure, it was just a small drop (0.5%), but this was the first time I've ever seen a decrease.

That's largely due to the vagaries of school theater. Some schools pay when they book the show, some up to a month after it's been produced. If I get too many of the latter in April (the biggest month of the year for school plays), it can push my royalties into the following year.

Another problem was that I only had one new play come out -- Babka Without Borders -- and it had the slowest start of any of my plays to date. I can't say I'm too surprised -- it's an odd little play with an unusual setting -- but I love that play and think it's one my best so I'm glad Pioneer has stood by it.

One positive development this year was that 32 or almost 10% of my productions for the year were from schools and community theaters that had previously done my plays. I hope to see that percentage continue to grow.

Oh, and I was excited to see my plays make it to three new countries this year.

Without further ado then, here is the breakdown:

My #1 play was The Enchanted Bookshop, with an amazing 142 productions. Not only does that put it at the top of the list for Pioneer's plays, but that makes it one of the best-selling plays in the country. Normally, plays drop off after their first full year, but Bookshop has already booked 38 productions for next year--more than most of my plays get in an entire year--so I'm hoping it may see another uptick next year. This year, it was also my first play to be done in Ireland, making it my 12th country.

You're Driving Me Crazy! continues to do well in the #2 slot this year with 39 productions. This driver's ed-themed collection of shorts has been popular with high schools and middle schools. around the world, and this year it even got a production in Panama, my 13th country.

At #3, Million Dollar Meatballs pulled off the impossible this year. My plays have always done their best in their first full year, but with 37 productions, this restaurant-set farce actually set a new record in this, its third full year of publication.

After struggling last year, Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye rallied hard this year with a respectable 31 productions (a 63% increase over the 19 of the previous year). That puts it at #4.

My reality TV parody Trouble in Paradise Junction dropped a precipitous 70% from last year, its first full year of production. But it still ended up with 21 productions, which was good enough to make it #5.

This was also the first full year of publication for The Purrfect Crime (#6) and Wicked Is As Wicked Does (#7). Unfortunately, with just 17 and 16 productions respectively, they came in a little weaker than I'd been hoping. Maybe these will pull off a Meatballs miracle and show a big boost next year.

Going down the list, we find The Stinky Feet Gang (14 productions), The Butler Did It! (12 productions), Long Tall Lester (8 productions), How I Met Your Mummy (7 productions), and The _urloined Letter (3 productions). Although Mummy is down big-time from the 30 productions it got just two years ago, one of this year's productions was in Switzerland, which gave me my 14th country (only 181 to go!).

My new baby, Babka Without Borders (unlucky #13), did manage to book 4 productions during the year. But all of those occur this month, which puts them outside of the 2018-2019 season. The upshot? A big goose egg for the year just past.

So all in all, the year was a bit of a disappointment. But I've got hope! This coming year will see the birth of what could be two monster plays: The Enchanted Bookshop Musical, and my first pirate comedy, Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras.

Keep checking back here, folks. You can bet this proud papa will let you know as soon as they're born.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Oman Bookshop photo named finalist


So you remember that photo contest I was telling you about? Well, it turns out that a production of The Enchanted Bookshop at the American International School in Muscat, Oman (yes, Oman!) made the list of five finalists selected by Pioneer.

And I can see why. Their costumes look awesome. And I love the expression on Margie's face (Margie is the one seated on the sofa).

Now comes the fun part, as Pioneer is taking votes from the public to decide the winner. To participate, all you have to do is visit Pioneer's account on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (or better yet, all three) and click Like under the photo or photos you think are best.

Here are the links:

Facebook

Instagram

Twitter

Of course, I'm not about to tell you how to vote. That's up to you.

But I know which one I'll be voting for.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Babka on a shoestring


Babka Without Borders had its world premiere this last weekend with TheatreWorks, a homeschool group in Bloomington, IN, and I was thrilled to hear from Dianna, the nimble-fingered mom who'd made all the costumes.

Dianna got me in touch with Tara, the photographer, and Tara sent me an invite to the group's Shutterfly account, where she'd archived a whopping 275 stills from the show.

I wish I could share them all, especially since they show just how creative you can be on a shoestring budget. these penny-pinching moms and dads were.

Dianna told me that their stage was very small, so they only got rid of two tables on each side of the border that runs through the middle of the set. (The set diagram in the script shows four table on each side, but that is only a suggestion.)

Costumes were also a challenge, especially for a play set in 1910 Europe like this one is. But Dianna was able to get everything she needed at the local Goodwill, and she added embellishments as needed to make them period-correct.

It's resourceful volunteers like these that make youth theater such a positive experience for actors, stage crew and audiences alike.

As they say in Primwick and Bunkelburg, vielen dank!

Monday, April 29, 2019

A Purrfect case of gender bending


I'm always happy to have directors creatively cast my plays. After all, it comes with the territory.

Schools and community theaters don't always get the right mix of actors -- or even a sufficient number of actors -- at auditions, so they're often forced to combine roles or change the gender of the roles they're casting.

And sometimes they do it just for the fun of it.

That's the case with the Sheeptown Players Drama Society (love that name!) of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. They're performing The Purrfect Crime May 10 and 11 and, as this article in the Fort Saskatchewan Record makes clear, they're having a ball.

"We have a gentleman playing a female cat. We have a guy who is playing a female lawyer. We have a woman playing a male butler," executive director Stuart McGowan says. "This isn't the first time our group has bent the gender bar, but we are getting into it as much as possibly can."

Make you wonder what they'd do with Five Women Wearing the Same Dress.

Break legs, everybody. I'm glad you're having fun.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Badger Bookshop makes a trailer


Loyal followers of this blog know that I'm currently trying to sell The Enchanted Bookshop as a movie or TV series. Right now, it still looks like a longshot. I'm currently knee-deep in a page one rewrite of the movie based on feedback from a studio exec (turns out it's still not big enough).

But if the movie ever does happen, I couldn't make a better trailer than this colorful, action-packed one from Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wisconsin -- which just happens to be 20 miles from where I grew up.

Nice job, guys! I hope you sell out every show.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Pioneer photo contest returns


Lakeside Lutheran High School of Lake Mills, WI won last year's contest
with this colorful action shot from their production of The Nifty Fifties.  

It's that time of year again. From today through May 3, Pioneer Drama Service is accepting entries for their annual photo contest. The winner gets a $200 gift certificate for goodies they can choose from the entire Pioneer catalog. To see the complete rules, click here.

So give it a shot. I know there's a ton of great photos out there. I've seen 'em.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Writing Tip #2: Make Your Heroes Likable


One of the most common critiques I get about my writing is that my characters are often unlikable. My first impulse is to cry out, that can't be. That character was based on me!

I'm kidding, of course. My characters aren't based on anyone, living or dead.

But they are unlikable. And I think that's because I push their personalities so far toward an extreme that they stop being human. And that's a problem. If your characters are unlikable, then your audience doesn't have anyone to root for. You audience won't care what happens to them.

My soon-to-be-published play Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras is a good example. The story revolves around five pampered princesses who are forced to pose as pirates in order to save their skins. The princesses were likable enough, but I gave them princely beaus--and those guys were complete jerks: self-centered, lazy and, well, kind of dumb.

When I submitted the script to my publisher, they accepted it, but they also asked for changes. They thought the princes were fun, but they had no redeeming values. If the princes were so awful, why were the princesses even with them?

My publisher had a point. So I went back to the old drawing board.

There's a scene toward the end of the play where Blacktooth, the pirate who shanghaied the princesses in the first place, throws everyone--princes and princesses alike--into the brig. In the original draft, the princesses come up with the plan to rescue themselves:

                      EMERALD
          Oh, Norbert! I'd always hoped we'd be 
          together till the end of our days. I 
          just never dreamed the end would come 
          so soon!

                      NORBERT
          Don't be afraid, Emerald. I'm sure
          someone will save us.

                      RUBY
          Who's going to save us? Everyone we 
          know is knocked in this cell.

                      OPAL
          Well then, maybe we should get to 
          know more people.

                      RUBY
          Sure, Opal. We'll get right on that.

CRUSTY ENTERS. She goes to grab the key.

                      AMBER
          Wait. Maybe that's not such a bad 

          idea.

                      RUBY
          What idea?

                      AMBER
          Getting to know more people. In fact,
          I see someone we should get to know 
          right now.

                      DOROTHY
          Didn't you hear? That's the past due 
          notice from Mr, Skinflint. If Miss 
          Margie doesn't come up with three
          thousand dollars by tomorrow, Mr. 
          Skinflint is going to close the shop.

After I got the note from my publisher, I tried a version where the princes helped the princesses make their escape. But it didn't work very well. The play is about female empowerment, and there was no way to have them help without taking away from the princesses' independence.

So instead, I added some dialogue to have Donahue--the laziest, most cowardly prince of all--explain why he was the way he was. And the reason why was something that, I hope, we can all identify with:

                      EMERALD
          Oh, Norbert! I'd always hoped we'd be 
          together till the end of our days. 
          just never thought the end would come 
          so soon!

                      NORBERT
          I'm sorry, Emerald. I guess I've 
          failed you.

                      WILLOUGHBY
          We all did.

                      CARLTON
          That's right. We should have gone
          after Blacktooth like we said we 
          should.

                      RUBY
          Yeah. Now that you mention it, why
          didn't you?

                      DONAHUE
          Don't blame them. It was all my fault. 
          I'm the one who talked them out of it.

                      PEARL
          But why, Donahue? Why did you do that?

                      DONAHUE
          I don't know. I guess I was scared.
          Everyone expects prices to fight
          bloodthirsty pirates and evil knights 
          and hideous monsters with bad teeth. 
          But I don't know how to fight.

                      PEARL
                 (to the others)
          That's true. He's not much of a 
          fighter. But he does make me laugh.

DONAHUE makes a funny face. All the PRINCESSES laugh.

                      AMBER
          That's all right, Donahue. I guess we
          all feel trapped by the roles we play.

CRUSTY ENTERS. AMBER watches her as she goes to grab the key.

                      AMBER
          And I know somebody else who must feel 
          the way.

Following AMBER's gaze, NORBERT and WILLOUGHBY rise to their feet.

                      NORBERT
          Do you want us to knock her out for you?

                      WILLOUGHBY
                (pats himself all around)
          I might have a bottle of sunscreen on me.

                      AMBER
          No. Just stay back. I'll handle this.

And that's where I left it. The princes offer to help. The princesses decide to do it themselves. And even the least likable character reveals a touch of humanity.

That's what I call a win-win-win.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Talking Babka


I am just old enough that the Internet will never not seem like a miracle. Skype is one example. We actually had videophones in the 1970's, with Pittsburgh being one of the first places they were tested, but the technology never caught on. Besides being expensive, it turned out that people really didn't like being seen.

Well, Skype changed all that. Not only did they make it free (a miracle in itself), but they managed to get people to stop caring about that intrusive camera.

And that's great, because yesterday it allowed me to talk to the cast of a production of Babka Without Borders.

The school was Belmont Day School in Belmont, MA. Director and drama teacher Christopher Parsons was as excited to have his students meet me as I was to meet them, and other than one brief technical issue (mostly involving my forgetting to click my camera icon), the call went off without a hitch.

Chris was unable to set up his laptop to allow me to see everyone, so after each student ran up to the camera to introduce themselves, they returned to the bleachers so they could watch their intrepid instructor ask me the questions they'd submitted ahead of time.

Here are a few of them:

Q. How long did it take you to write the play?

A. Writing an hour and a half a day, I can usually finish a play in four months. But I struggled a bit with this one because it was difficult to get the tone right, and it ended taking me about six months.

Q. What was your inspiration for the play?

A. I once read about a town that straddles the border between Belgium and the Netherlands, and I was fascinated by a picture that showed the border wrapping around the outdoor patio of a cafe.

Well, that got me thinking. What would happen if the border didn't wrap around the cafe but cut right through it? And what if the two countries that divided the cafe weren't allies but enemies that went to war? It just seemed like a premise with tons of potential for conflict and humor.

Q. Why did you write the play as a single-set?

A. I love single-set plays because they're so theatrical. When you have one set to build, you can make it a lot more detailed and realistic. That was especially important for this play because I wanted the painted line that represents the border take a prominent role.

Of course, the main challenge with writing a single-set play is that you can't rely on scene changes to keep things fresh. So the way around that is to constantly shuffle the characters who are onstage.

Q. Are any of the characters based on real people?

A. No. My characters are always inventions. If they weren't, my family would have disowned me by now.

Q. Which character is most like me?

A. I don't know if Peter is like me, but he's the character I would most like to be. Between his idealism, his joie de vivre, and his gift of gab, he was a lot of fun to write, and I just love his whole approach to life.

Q. Which character was the hardest to write?

A. Luisa, for sure. She also had to play the sensible yin to Peter's romantic yang. But, as one of the leads, she also had to be likable. That's not an easy combination to make work. But I think as audience members, we also like characters who are earnest and well-meaning, so I tried to bring out those aspects of her personality as well.

Q. Why did you set the play in early 1900's Europe?

A. They're mostly forgotten today, but when I was a kid, I loved reading Leonard Wibberley's Mouse books: The Mouse on the Moon, The Mouse That Roared. They were funny books about a tiny European country ruled by a silly, pompous royal, but behind the funny was a very effective satirical take on modern politics. Bunkelburg and Primwick are very much patterned on that country.

Q. What do I want the audience to get out of the play?

A. I've always been struck by something John Glenn observed when he first orbited the earth. Looking down on that beautiful blue marble, he could see the continents as clear as day. But he couldn't see any borders.

Let's be honest. Borders are inherently arbitrary, and their main purpose is to separate people. As human beings, our goal should be bringing people together, not building a wall between them.

Q. Why did you choose babka?

A. I needed a pastry that was Eastern European, but "Kolaches Without Borders" didn't sound right and blintzes would be difficult to throw with the required precision (besides which, I've always been a big fan of Seinfeld).

Q. What kind of babka is your favorite?

A. Chocolate, definitely chocolate. Everything else is lesser babka.

I'm always available for Skype calls, so if you'd like to pick my brain about the play you're performing, send me an email by clicking here.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The show must go on


Nobody shows more resourcefulness than community theaters. And they have to. From shoestring budgets to time-strapped volunteers, these scrappy little performance groups face no end of challenges.

In the case of the Driftwood Children's Theatre, that meant the director quitting just days before opening night. But, as they say, the show must go on. And so stage manager Valerie Parker--who hadn't directed a show in decades--stepped up to the plate.

Not only that, but they had just four days to build the set. But they were all ready for their first of several special performances for area third-graders earlier this week.

If you're in the area this weekend, be sure to check out the show. And if you're not, you might want to check out this local newspaper article that tells the whole inspiring story.

And yeah, the set looks fantastic.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Rave review for Bay State Butler


Gateway Players of Southbridge, MA opened their 44th season this weekend with The Butler Did It! and I understand the cast did a fantastic job. At least that's the word from The Citizen Chronicle's theater critic Katie Alicea-Tilton in her enthusiastic review of the show.

The Butler Did It! was my first full-length play and my second mystery, so when I wrote it I was still feeling my way around this challenging genre. For inspiration, I turned to Agatha Christie, not just for the classic misdirection techniques she used in her novels but for the character of Edwina Corry, a world-famous mystery author who serves as the amateur detective in the story.

I soon realized there are two mistakes you can make in writing a mystery. One, you make it so easy that everybody figures it out. Two, you make it so hard that nobody figures it out.

Admittedly, the clues I planted were pretty hard--so hard that I worried I was veering too close to the second of those two mistakes. To make up for it, I added one line of dialogue that completely gives away who the culprit by showing that they know more than they're supposed to.

I know that some hardcore mystery fans have picked up on it right away. But apparently, the play still manages to fool most of the people who see it.

And yeah, I'm really glad that the critic and her mom were fooled.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Writing Tip #1: Raise the Stakes!


Stakes are important. They're what make us care about the story in the first place. Without stakes, there's no tension. Without stakes, there's no one to root for.

Every writer knows they need to give their hero a meaningful goal, but that's not what we're talking about here. Stakes go deeper. Stakes answer the question: what does the hero lose if they don't reach their goal?

This is a lesson I had to relearn when I was polishing the script of the pilot for The Enchanted Bookshop TV series.

In the teaser, Miss Margie is threatened with eviction because she's several months behind on her rent. Shortly after, the Lits have a brief exchange what they can do to help.

Pollyanna picks up the NOTE from the counter.


                      POLLYANNA
          What's this, Dorothy?

                      DOROTHY
          Didn't you hear? That's the past due 
          notice from Mr, Skinflint. If Miss 
          Margie doesn't come up with three
          thousand dollars by tomorrow, Mr. 
          Skinflint is going to close the shop.

                      POLLYANNA
          Oh, no! What's going to happen to 
          us?

                      DOROTHY
          Who cares what happen to us? It's 
          Miss Margie I'm worried about.

                      TOM
          Yeah. This shop is her life.

                      POLLYANNA
          Hey, I've got an idea! Why don't we 
          open a lemonade stand? I'll bet we 
          could raise the three thousand dollars 
          in no time!

                      DOROTHY
          You know we can't do that, Pollyanna.
          That would break the two rules the 
          Book Fairy gave us when she first 
          brought us to life.

                      TOM
          That's right! If we ever leave the 
          shop or are seen by any humans, we'll
          disappear into our books forever.

If you've seen the play, then you might remember that this is pretty close to what the Lits say soon after we meet them.

The scene does a lot. It introduces the two rules that the Lits have to follow. It describes what'll happen if Margie doesn't pay her rent. And it throws in a little humor by showing how the overly optimistic Pollyanna would address the problem.

Unfortunately, it failed do the one thing it needed to do: lay out the stakes for the Lits.

That's because I played it safe. In my mind, I knew that the Lits would disappear into their books forever if Margie lost the shop. But I didn't want the stakes to be about them. I didn't want the Lits to seem selfish.

So I made the stakes about Margie. And I thought if we saw how much the Lits care about her, then we'll be rooting for them.

The problem is that it doesn't make us root for Margie. As my manager pointed out, why do we care if Margie loses the shop?

And if I had any doubt about his wisdom (I didn't), I got almost the exact same criticism from a reader at a screenwriting competition.

John's suggestion was to add a scene showing Margie doing a reading to kids at a library. If Margie loses the shop, then the kids lose their stories.

It's a good suggestion, and I'm sure it would work. But one thing I've learned is that if you need to clarify something and your choice is between explaining it by providing additional dialogue or simplifying it by removing the source of confusion in the first place, the better choice is to simplify.

So this is what I came up with:

Pollyanna picks up the NOTE from the counter,

                      POLLYANNA
          What's this?

                      DOROTHY
          Didn't you hear? That's the past due 
          notice from Mr. Skinflint.

                      TOM
          If Miss Margie doesn't come up with 
          the money by tomorrow, that old miser
          will shut down the shop and we'll 
          disappear into our books forever!

Short. Punchy. And, I hope, more effective.

Yes, it leaves out the two rules and it leaves out the fact that Margie could lose the shop. But I can always drop those into a later episode.

Right now, in the pilot, I have one job, and that's to lay out the stakes that will keep viewers coming back.

What are the stakes in your story? What does your hero stand to lose if they don't reach their goal?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fifth Time's the Charm


If Saturday Night Live can have a five-timers club, then maybe I should start one too.

I'm kidding, of course, but the thought crossed my mind because I just got word that Johnston Heights Church in the Vancouver, BC suburb of Surrey has just booked one of my plays for the fifth time.

We've had a long, fruitful relationship going all the way back to 2014, when the church's drama group first produced The Butler Did It! They found it the old-fashioned way, by searching the Pioneer Drama Service website. Their production was such a hit that after it was over, Carol A., who oversees the play selection there, asked me to recommend another play.

At the time, I was trying to get a second production of Kill the Critic! so I sent her that, not really believing that a church would be interested in my naughty farce. They weren't, but Carol did think it was hilarious.

So a sent her a play that Pioneer had just published, Million Dollar Meatballs. That one was perfect for them and became play no. 2.

In 2017, Carol emailed me again, asking what else I could send her. I had directed a wildly successful world premiere of The Last Radio Show the year before, but was unable to get any publishers interested in it. Carol decided to take it on, and they gave it an equally successful second production. So successful, in fact, that she said the church was shaking from all of the laughter.


Last year, they went one step further. They presented the world premiere of my play Lights! Camera! Murder! (changing the name to Lights! Camera! Action! to that it wouldn't raise eyebrows when seen on the church's marquee).

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it out there for the show, but they sent me a video of it so I could gauge the response and use that to punch up the script.

And this year. Well, they took me up on my suggestion to do one my published plays and selected The Purrfect Crime.

More important than the plays, however, is the money that this vibrant, missions-oriented church has been able to raise through these productions. Every year, they choose one local charity to donate a large chuck of their proceed to. One year it was a homeless shelter. Another year, it was a group supporting Syrian refugees.

So yeah, I'm thrilled that they like my plays. But I'm even more thrilled to know that they're using my plays to help make life a little easier for so many people in need.

Keep up the great work, guys!


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

You can quote me on that

Photo by Lucky Penny

It must be performance season. Another article popped up in my alerts today, this one from the Williston (CA) Herald. Turns out that Lucky Penny Productions in Napa is about to open their first all-youth show, and I was thrilled to learn that they chose The Enchanted Bookshop for this honor.

The unnamed reporter who wrote the article got a great quote from director Taylor Bertolucci on why they decided to do a youth production in the first place. But I was surprised to find that the longest quote--in fact, the bulk of the article--came from my own blog.

I get it. When I was an arts reporter, I had to push myself to pick up the phone and get a quote (trust me, arts reporters don't have the killer instinct that reporters on the crime or city beats do). To be honest, it felt like an imposition. It was easier to just get on the Internet and pull a few words from a blog or Facebook page.

That's one big reason I maintain this blog. So please, reuse it as much as you want (though I do always appreciate a link back).

But consider this an open invitation. If you're writing about one of my plays, and you'd like to get a quote, please feel free to email me.

I promise, it won't be an imposition.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Hearing from the actors

Photo by Steve Hibbard

When I was producing my own plays, I always enjoyed talking about the shows on the radio. But I always made sure to bring along a couple actors.

After all, radio listeners don't want to hear some writer pontificate about their vision for the play or what inspired them to write it in the first place. They want to hear how much fun the actors are having.

With a youth play like The Enchanted Bookshop, that goes double.

So I'm really glad that in this latest article about that Arlington production (boy, do they know how to get great press!), reporter Steve Hibbard gave the young stars a chance to talk about how their roles.

"I wanted to get into my character as much as possible and embody that character," Emmie Vajda said. Dorothy is passionate and she's brave and clever, so I have to be all those traits when I'm acting as Dorothy."

The production runs through January 20 at the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington, VA. To order tickets, visit Encore Stage & Studio's website.

With passion like Emmie has, it's sure to be an awesome show!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras to be published


Well, this is a nice start to the New Year. Pioneer Drama Service just gave me the word that they're going to publish my latest play, Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras.

Like Million Dollar Meatballs and The Purrfect Crime, it's a farce. But this one has a twist. Instead of a pair of bad buys posing as good guys, Real Pirates Don't Wear Tiaras has a whole bunch of princesses (five, to be exact) posing as pirates.

The fun starts when the princesses' beaus sail off in pursuit of the dread pirate Blacktooth. Feeling a little jealous, the princesses decided to have some fun by dressing up like pirates themselves. They even try their hand at some piratey patois.

Well, who should show up but Blacktooth himself? Spying on the princesses, he concludes that they're really bloodthirsty buccaneers and forces them to join what's left of his crew.

That's when the princesses learn that life on the sea ain't all it's cracked up to be. The food stinks. The rats are rude. And Blacktooth--well, they quickly learn why he's so dread (it's his breath).

Of course, everything will be fine once their princes rescue them. But when Blacktooth captures the princes instead, the princesses come to a sobering realization. If they want to be rescued, they're going to have to do it themselves.

The play should come out this fall, just in time for the new school year. Until then, here's an excerpt from when the princesses first pretend to be pirates:

AMBER (Adopts a piratey stance.): Avast ye mateys! Hoist the mainsail and scuttle the jib! There be treasure afoot!

OPAL: What did she say?

EMERALD: I think she said something about our feet.

AMBER: Oh, that's just how pirates talk. You string a bunch of piratey words together like "matey" and "jib", then finish them off with a rousing "arrr"!

(BLACKTOOTH sneaks IN. He watches from behind the trellis.)

BLACKTOOTH (To himself.): Well, blow me down! I've never seen such a fearsome band of pirates!

EMERALD: Ooo! Ooo! Let me try! (Steps forward.) Scuttle the mainsail! Ye have a fine jib, matey!

AMBER: Don't stop now. Keep going!

EMERALD (Struggles to think.): Um, um, I used to have a fine mainsail, but one of me mateys jibbed me out of it.

AMBER: You forgot to say "arrr"!

EMERALD: Arrr!

AMBER: Good. Who else wants to try?

OPAL: I do. (Steps forward.) Matey jib jib matey! Matey matey jib jib!

BLACKTOOTH (To himself.): Well, shiver me timbers! They may look like pirates, but they sound like fools! (Steps out from behind the trellis.) Avast, ye mateys!

OPAL: Hey, look. He can do it too.

AMBER (Stage whisper.): Of course he can do it, Opal. He's a real pirate!

OPAL: Oh...

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Rave review for Arlington Bookshop


That Arlington production of The Enchanted Bookshop just got a big thumbs-up from DC Metro Theater Arts. Reviewer Betsy Lizotte had nothing but great things to say about the young performers, and she wrapped up her enthusiastic review by calling the production "a crowd-pleaser that mixes expert staging, dialogue, delivery and humor into a captivating show."

I've noticed that a lot of the productions add characters so that they can involve more kids. I think that's great (and no, you don't have to write me for permission, though I do love to hear from theaters doing my shows).

Normally they add other well-known book characters (Amelia Bedelia and Alice of Wonderland fame are popular choices). But here, director Sarah Conrad decided to split a couple of characters that already exist in the play. Fingers became Fingers and Toes, and Bombalurina became--what else?--Bomba and Lurina.

Hey, if it works, go for it!

Best part of the review? I learned that Robin Hood hat.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Arlington youth theater thrives


It's not easy running a children's theater company these days. From public funding cuts to competition from school sports and a gazillion other entertainment options, it might seem impossible to keep a theater program alive.

But Encore Stage & Studio in Arlington, VA has found a way--not just to survive, but to thrive. And they've been doing it for thirty years.

Executive Director Sara Duke and Artistic Director Susan Keady were recently interviewed by radio station WERA about their upcoming production of The Enchanted Bookshop, and they were given a very generous half hour to elaborate on how they've managed to be so successful for so long.

One key is that they try to recruit by on a "third-third-third" basis. That is, in any production, one-third of the students are returning students, one-third have theater experience outside of Encore and one-third are brand new to performing.

As Duke puts it, "That third-third-third is really a winning combination and puts on the best show but also has the best opportunities for peer-to-peer mentorship between cast members because we do really ask the kids, particularly the older ones, to really step up and show the younger ones the ropes and create friendships across grade levels."

What's more, they don't just look for artsy kids. Instead, they reach out to physics and engineering students and get them involved by having them solve technical problems with the sets or lighting.

Sounds pretty genius to me. To learn more, check out the entire interview on Mixcloud.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A look ahead to 2019

We're having an incredibly cold winter here in Arizona. For the first time since I moved here two years ago, we have snow.

Okay, the snow is 30 miles east and about 4000 feet up in the Superstition Mountains, but I can see it.

And that's as close as I want to get to it.

Anyway, it's New Year's Day. I've already taken stock of my goals from last year, so now it's time to lay out some goals for the bright, shiny new year ahead of us.

I'm going to go out on a limb this time. Most years, I post a list of five to eight goals, but this year I'm keeping it simple. I'm only going to set one goal.

It's such a longshot that I've got to focus all of my energies on making it happen to give it a chance of happening at all.

If it does happens, it changes everything. If it doesn't--well, the rest will take care of itself. Pioneer is bringing out the musical version of The Enchanted Bookshop later this year. I'm waiting to hear their decision on my pirate play. I've got a couple of plays with other publishers. And the original version if The Enchanted Bookshop continues to do well, booking about four productions a week.

What is that goal? Just this:

1) Sell The Enchanted Bookshop as a TV series

As I mentioned in my 2018 wrap-up, I wrote a pilot for a TV version of The Enchanted Bookshop. My manager really likes it, and after a couple more polish drafts, he's going to take it out on the town.

While the US film market is mostly closed to spec scripts right now, the TV market is wide open. This is mostly due to Netflix, which is flush with cash and snapping up everything--and everyone-- they can find. But other networks and streaming services are looking too.

If the pilot does get any interest, they're going to want to see a detailed pitch. So that's what I'm working on now. It includes a description of the characters, a detailed synopsis of the pilot, a brief synopsis of the first six to eight episodes and, most importantly, my vision for the show.

At that point, the decision will be made whether to greenlight the show or not.

So I'm excited. Whether the show happens or not, it's going to be an adventure.