Tuesday, June 23, 2020

An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas to be published

Hearing yes never gets old.

Especially when it comes quickly.

That was the case with my latest submission to Pioneer Drama Service. I had been wanting to write a Christmas play for a long time. Christmas is my favorite holiday, and every year my family and I gather around a roaring big-screen TV to binge-watch our regular lineup movies and specials.

It's a Wonderful Life. A Charlie Brown Christmas. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff and Jim Carrey). A Year Without a Santa Claus. And you'd better believe we run A Christmas Story on continuous loop all Christmas Eve.

But how do you come up with something original? All the "Santa Claus threatens to cancel Christmas until kids learn to shape up" stories have already been done. And I'm not interested in adapting classics like A Christmas Carol. Unless...

My play The Enchanted Bookshop put a new spin on some well-loved literary characters  What if I did the same with some of the great Christmas characters from literature?

I knew the play would be called An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas. But that's all I had. I struggled for a while to come up with a concept that would capture the spirit of the original while heading off in a whole new direction (for one thing, bumbling burglars were completely out).

I tossed around ideas for almost a full year, jotting down thoughts, starting a outline or two, only to dump everything in a junk file when I got sick of it all.

It wasn't until I put the play aside for a few months and came back to it fresh at the beginning of this year that the ideal concept came to me. Once I nailed down the outline, the writing of the play went very quickly.

I submitted it to Pioneer at the end of May, thinking it was already too late for this year. After all, it generally takes three to six months to get an acceptance, and another three or four months for editing. And theater directors often start planning their Christmas shows in the summer.

But despite the pandemic, the good folks at Pioneer moved lightning fast. They accepted the play in 24 days, and said they'd try to get it out by fall.

Like I said, the plot is entirely new, but I wanted to keep some favorite bits from the original. There's a new gag about some damage to a book that becomes very personal when the protagonist of that book comes to life (similar to Sherlock Holmes' broken "spine" in the original). There are more close calls as a human character nearly catches a glimpse of the Lits, which would cause them to disappear into their books forever. And there's another humorous debate as the characters argue about their backstories (I think you can guess which literary Amy appears in the scene below):
AMY: My sisters and I are so poor. We barely own anything! 
DOROTHY: Wait. Don't you live in a big house in the country?

AMY: That drafty old shack? Please. 
LITTLE MATCH GIRL: I wish I had a shack. 
DOROTHY: And a whole wardrobe full of gowns and dresses? 
AMY: Rags. 
LITTLE MATCH GIRL: I wish I had rags. 
DOROTHY: And plenty of firewood to keep you warm? 
LITTLE MATCH GIRL: Oh, I really wish I had firewood! 
AMY: I know a manuscript I could give you. 
I think the play's a lot of fun, and I know it'll put you in the Christmas spirit.

If you'd like to be one of the first schools or theater groups to put on the play, keep checking back at this blog. I'll be sure to post the link here as soon as it's released.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Mini Meatballs

This week, we've been talking about some of the challenges keeping theater alive in these days of coronavirus.

I've been really impressed with the resourcefulness that actors and directors all over the world have shown. But perhaps no one has impressed me more than the teachers and students of Sherman High School in Sherman, NY. When their production of Million Dollar Meatballs was cancelled by the state's stay-at-home orders, they came up with a totally ingenious way to let the show go on.

A little thing called Lego.

Their handiwork can be seen in the video above. I don't know if it was inspired by The Lego Movie or one of my favorite shorts of all time, but it's a lot of fun. And I've got to say, that's one of the most detailed sets I've ever seen--of any size.

You may not want to take on such an intricate, manually demanding technique. But let their creativity be an inspiration for you.

In theater, there are no bounds to what you can do.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Centennial State Zoomers

So that Chicago area production was not quite the world virtual premiere of The Enchanted Bookshop. Montezuma-Cortez Middle School in Cortez, Colorado streamed their Zoom performance of the play on May 9, which you can view above (the play itself starts at 12:37).

This production was different in a couple ways. First, it was more of a reading. Most of the kids memorized their lines, and they all wore costumes, but the stage directions were read by a narrator.
And second, the cast used screen sharing to show all speakers in a scene at once.

The Chicago production only showed one actor at a time, which gave it a slick, movie-like feel but required each of the performers to turn their camera on before they start speaking and turn it off after they're done.

Screen sharing gives the production more of a theatrical feel because it allows the audience to keep track of who's in the scene. It's also easier to manage since each actor only has to turn their camera on when they enter and turn it off when they exit.

I think both are great choices. It's really up to the director as to what they're going for.

Like the Chicago kids, the ones in Colorado did a Q&A after the show (that starts at 1:53:19). If this is a new trend, I like it! Maybe we can keep it going after the pandemic is over and we can all perform live again.