Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fifth Time's the Charm

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

I'm kidding, of course, but the thought recently crossed my mind because I got word that Johnston Heights Church in the Vancouver, BC suburb of Surrey has booked a fifth play of mine.

We've had a long, fruitful relationship going all the way back to 2014, when the church's drama group 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 I sent her a play that Pioneer had just published, Million Dollar Meatballs. That one was perfect for them and became play number 2.

In 2017, Carol emailed me again, asking what else I could send her. I'd 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 Lights! Camera! Murder! (changing the name to Lights! Camera! Action! so 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.

Which brings us to this year. On my suggestion, they decided to go back to 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 chunk of their proceeds 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 make life a little easier for people in need.

Keep up the great work, guys! Would you have any interest in a pirate play...?

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"!


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.