Friday, May 29, 2020

Zooming along

The last couple months have been brutal for amateur theater, with thousands of shows being cancelled or postponed.

Pioneer Drama Service and other publishers have done a great job bringing out tons of new plays designed to be performed over Zoom or other social apps, AKA "virtual theater". But I'm glad to see that some drama teachers are making Zoom work for traditional plays as well.

That's what's happening on Saturday, May 30 at the Chicago area's Kids W.A.Y. Acting Academy. Jossie Harris Thacker, a former dancer on In Living Color, founded the academy several years ago to provide a safe place for kids to develop self-confidence while practicing their performance skills. She also offers classes that teach kids how to use their acting tools to combat bullying.

In early March, Harris Thacker was deep into rehearsal with The Enchanted Bookshop when the statewide shelter-in-place order went into effect. Instead of cancelling the show, the resourceful director decided to move it online.

Her biggest challenge in rehearsing on Zoom? Getting twenty kids to sit still!

Their hard work paid off, and the production is now getting a lot of media attention, including a write-up on the Chicago Now blog and even a mention on local TV.

It may be the world's first Zoom production of this best-selling play.

Harris Thacker encourages everyone to watch tomorrow's Zoom broadcast. If you'd like to support these amazing kids by tuning in, please register on the academy's website (its free!). The show starts at 6 p.m. CST, and will be followed by what's sure to be an animated Q&A with the cast.

I know I'll be there!

Monday, May 18, 2020

My 9th year sales

It was supposed to have been my best year yet. Over the last twelve months, I had not one but two new plays come out--a musical version of my top-selling play and my first foray into the ever popular pirate genre. Add to that the steady number of hits my other thirteen plays had been getting and I should have seen a tidy increase in royalties over last year.

Then COVID-19 happened.

Schools and community theaters started shutting down in mid-March and the number of new bookings went to zero practically overnight. Although I haven't seen too many cancellations, most of the performing groups are pushing their already booked productions into next year. And that means they're pushing back the payment of their performance fees as well.

As they should. Nothing is more important than keeping every single person healthy and safe.

But I'm trying to make a full-time living as a writer, and this whole mess just pushed that goal out another year or two. If I was 25 or 30, that wouldn't be a big deal. But I'm 57. And I'm not getting any younger.

So the year was a tough one. But not as tough as it could have been. While most of my plays showed a dip in productions, the musical had a very strong start and several older plays show surprising strength, which bodes well for their longevity in the school and community theater market.

My total number of productions for the year was 309, a 14% drop from the 361 I had last year. That drop was entirely due to losing the last six weeks of the year, and if hadn't been for the COVID-19 crisis, I would have made it over the top.

For the third year in a row, my bestselling play was, of course, The Enchanted Bookshop. This year it had 119 productions, which is down from the record-breaking 156 it had last year but is a pretty good showing for an abbreviated year. And it's already got 27 productions booked for next year.

My #2 play for the year was Million Dollar Meatballs, topping You're Driving Me Crazy! for the first time. With its 32 productions, this restaurant farce is really proving to be an evergreen play, and I couldn't be happier.

One of my brand new works, The Enchanted Bookshop Musical, was #3 this year with 27 productions, an impressive number for a large-cast musical in the middle of a pandemic. Interestingly, although it was third in the number of shows, it was second in terms of revenue due to the additional royalties I get from the sheet music and CD sales. In fact, this musical and the play that inspired it generate more in royalties than my other thirteen plays combined. But perhaps the best thing about the show is that it got me two of my three new countries this year: Greece and India.

My #4 play was my collection of driver's ed shorts, You're Driving Me Crazy!, with 25 productions. That's a significant drop from the 39 shows it had last year and the high-water mark of 61 it had in 2016-2017, its first full year of publication, and is a much bigger drop than you'd expect from the quarantine hit alone. Recently, however, Pioneer Drama Service has been promoting it as something that can be easily adapted to virtual theater (think Zoom) so, with any luck, things will pick up soon.

Most of the rest held steady or showed only a slight dip so I won't bore you with the details. But I do want to mention Babka Without Borders, my quirky comedy set on the border of two mythical European countries. Although it only ranked #9 out of my 16 plays, it was by far my most improved play of the year, going from a big fat goose egg in its first year of publication to a respectable 11 this year. And to provide the icing on this coffee cake (ha! get it?), it also brought me my seventeenth country with a production in South Africa.

In their annual letter that accompanied the royalty check, Pioneer warned their playwrights to expect even fewer productions next year as large public gatherings are limited by continued social distancing requirements.

I hope we get a vaccine soon, for the health of theater as well as my pocketbook. But more important than those is the health of you, the actors and directors and crew members who make theater happen.

Be well. Stay safe. And keep the faith.

We'll get through this. Together.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Golden State trouble makers

Nearly all of this spring's theater productions may have gotten cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis, but some schools are digging into their archives and posting productions from the recent past.

That's the case with Valley Christian Middle School in Cerritos, CA. They performed Trouble in Paradise Junction way back in November and just posted a video of it to YouTube (seen above).

I have a soft spot for this school because this is the second play of mine they've done in the last year, having produced The Enchanted Bookshop last March (you can find their recording of that show on my Video page).

I'm super impressed with their production of Trouble. Here you've got a show that calls for eight widely different sets--from a diner to a dance studio to a sprawling town square--and yet they were able to make it all work by swapping out a few simple set pieces. The performances were great, and they got a ton of laughs from the enthusiastic audience.

Great jobs, guys! Stay healthy, and I hope to see you back on stage again soon!