Saturday, June 19, 2021

Hurray for dads!

So that program of father-themed shorts I told you about is now streaming at Springs Ensemble Theatre's website. Titled Fatherhood Up Close, it features sketches, monologues, poems and songs--some funny, many quite heartbreaking--but all of them centered on fathers and our often difficult relationships with them. (Hey, I'm a dad. I can say that.)

Tickets are $20 regular price, $5 for dads. But you'll have to act fast. Streaming is no longer available after the show closes at midnight on Sunday, July 4. Like most streaming deals, you'll have 48 hours to finish watching it after you start.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Belmont Diary: Laying the groundwork

My mind was buzzing.

Ever since my first discussion with Belmont Day School about the play they're commissioning me to write, I was eager to get started, ideas of plots and characters swirling in my brain. But there was no point getting ahead of myself. I wouldn't know what plots or characters would be usable until the school told me what they were looking for.

That came today. Chris Parsons set up a Zoom meeting with fellow theater arts teacher Susan Dempsey and myself so they could go over their requirements and together we could toss around some ideas.

From our initial discussion, I knew that the play would have to meet the school's DEI (diversity, equality and inclusion) requirements, but I didn't know what that would entail. In my plays, I've always tried to stay clear of gender and ethnic stereotypes. In Trouble in Paradise Junction, I even provided a production note stating that the characters weren't meant to be real people, not hillbilly caricatures. But I didn't know what else the school would require.

It turned out to be pretty straightforward. As I expected, there are to be no stereotyped characters. And the female roles needs to be strong. I wouldn't dream of doing anything else.

Also there are to be no guns, which brings up an interesting point. When I started writing plays, I tended to use guns as a crutch, including them in four of first eight plays. Since then, I've made a concerted effort to exclude them, with the result that none of my next ten plays have included one. It hasn't always been easy (I really, really wanted to give one to the border guard on Babka Without Borders), but it's definitely a worthy goal.

Finally, any murders would have to occur offstage. As a matter of fact, only one of my plays has shown on an onstage murder (Lights! Camera! Murder!) has shown an onstage murder, and while that death is a relatively non-violent poisoning (at first, the other characters are convinced he's just acting), I can understand why it may be inappropriate for some schools.

The play needs to be full-length, between 80 and 90 minutes in length, with one act break. They already have 36 or 37 kids signed up and expect a couple more so they'll need a part for each them, with a healthy mixture of large, medium, and small roles. And the roles needed to be meaty. In fact, Chris and Susan said they liked Babka Without Borders because although the play was funny, it gave the young actors plenty of drama to sink their teeth into.

Beyond that, the kids have come up with their own wish list of items. They wants the play to be a comedy/mystery. They want it to be set in a mansion. And they want it to center on family and relationships.

Check, check and check.

The only real challenge is the number of roles. The largest cast I've ever written for was the 25 from Trouble in Paradise Junction so this represents a huge increase. And the fact that the play primarily takes place in one location adds another whole level of complexity. Not so much from a logistical viewpoint but from a story one.

What would be the rationale for that many characters meeting in one house? That's the challenge.

But then, I love a challenge.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Ten years and counting...

Well, it almost slipped by me without a peep, but I just realized that today is the tenth anniversary of this blog.

When I started it, I'd just received my first offer from publication. It came from Pioneer Drama Service and was for my one-act comedy The _urloined Letter, which had received its first production just eight months earlier.

I wanted to start the blog because I was excited to share this news (I'd been trying to get published for fourteen years). But I also figured now that I was a big-time published author (cough!), people would be clamoring for my insight, much as I'd clamored for insight from those writers who had come before me. 

Ah yes, The naivete was thick.

Of course, I quickly ran into Hurdle #1 for the new blogger. What to write about.

So many baby bloggers rush into their first few posts, flush with enthusiasm and buzzing with ideas. And then they discover that they really didn't have as many ideas as they thought. And they didn't get as many hits as they expected. And that writing is hard work.

I've never had a problem coming up with ideas. I just write about my career as it develops: new plays coming out, new countries where those plays are being performed, mentions in the media. And yes, the occasional piece of writing advice.

I also don't worry about hits. I get ten to thirty a day. Not as many as I'd like, of course. But I get enough emails from followers that I know the blog is proving useful to teachers and directors looking for additional information on my plays and seeking advice on their productions.

Of course, I also ran into Hurdle #2. Finding the time to write.

This has been more of a struggle. With a full-time engineering job and an hour and a half of writing every day--not to the mention the normal daily and household management stuff--my brain is often too mooshy at the end of the day to put together two more words. 

But early on, I made a promise to myself that I would write at least one post a month. And I'm happy to say I've kept that promise.

Ready for some stats? Sure, you are!

Over the last ten years, I've received a total of 86K page views. And sure, a lot of those were bots . I know this because, for a while there, they were spiking like clockwork every two weeks. But those have largely subsided now. Why, I don't know. Maybe Google has cleaned up their Blogger counter algorithm.

My most popular post of all time is The Enchanted Bookshop is Now Available with around 2300 views. It's the post that announced the release of my bestselling play and describes my process for selecting the six famous literary characters around which the play is centered.

I have no idea how people are finding this post because it doesn't show up very high in search engines. Maybe they're finding the blog first and then searching for "enchanted bookshop" within the blog. A good reason for those of you with your own blogs to add a search field, if you don't already have one.

After that, the number of views drops off dramatically. My second most popular post is The Hero's Journey in Star Wars with 563 hits. It's based on a popular talk I gave at the Colorado Thespian Conference and is one of my free really hard-core writing advice posts. If you need a quick intro to the three-act stroy structure, I highly recommend it (it even includes a downloadable 

My follow-up post, The Hero's Journey on Legally Blonde, has been more popular lately. I don't know. Maybe I should write a series of those. 

My third most popular post is Trouble in Paradise Junction to be published with 472 hits, no surprise there because that's another one of my bestselling plays. The post describes my three-year struggle to finish the play and ends with Ted Lasso-like hero Joe Goode's monologue.

Another post that isn't quite as popular as these but that I'm still proud of is So You Want to Do a Staged Reading with 301 hits. In it, I offer some advice from having produced the first staged reading of my play The Butler Did It! If you're in a similar position with your own play, I recommend you check it out.

So, will this blog last another ten years? Who knows? I don't even know if I'll last another ten years. And with the onslaught of Facebook, Instagram and other social media time sinks, blogs seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

But I can guarantee you one thing. I'll still be writing something.

Oh, and if you're interested, here's that first post.

Naivete indeed.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Belmont Diary: Out of the blue

You never know where a play might lead.

When I was writing Babka Without Borders, I almost gave up halfway in. At that point, I knew it would take me a couple more months to finish and the fear started to gnaw at me that the play would never get published. Or if it did, nobody would produce it. Its costumes were too challenging (it's set in the early 1900's), its language too stilted.

But the story wouldn't let me go. The characters begged me to bring them to life. So I took a gamble and finished it.

It turned out I was wrong on both counts. Pioneer Drama Service snapped up the plat and, while it hasn't gotten a ton of productions, it's done all right (11 productions in its best year). And it is, so far, my only play to have been performed on the African continent (the stunningly beautiful Knysna, South Africa).

Most importantly, the schools that have done it really love it. Its themes of love, world peace and pastries seems to resonate with a lot of people. 

Which leads me to Belmont Day School in Belmont, Massachusetts. They liked the play so much that they arranged for me to do a Zoom call with the students (the first hour is always free for schools and other theater groups that perform my plays!). I had a great time meeting the cast and crew and they had a great time firing questions at me, like where do I get my ideas and what is my favorite flavor of babka (chocolate, of course).

That was a couple years ago. And I hadn't heard anything more until this week, when out of the blue, Christopher Parsons, the school's theater director, emailed me. He He explained that the school has very specific diversity requirements, and that he's had a terrible time trying to find a play that meets those requirements. Would I write one?

I only needed about a half second to answer that one. It's been four years since I've developed a play in partnership with a school, and I miss interaction. Not only do I get feedback that helps make the play better, but the sheer energy of the staff and students pumps up my writing.

They would pay me my usual fee and I would own full rights to the play after they perform it. The only challenge was the time frame. They originally wanted it done by August 10.

Now I'm a slow writer. I usually take four to six months writing an hour and a half a day to finish a full-length play. Even if I squeezed an extra half hour of writing in each day, the soonest I could get it done was October.

Fortunately, they were willing to give me until the first day of that month as the absolute drop dead date. Of course, I promised to send them partial drafts along the way so they could start planning sets, costumes, that sort of thing. And having a deadline will force me to stop wasting so much time second-guessing myself in my writing.

Deal done.

Now all that's left is to discuss are the parameters of the play: Cast size, length, possible themes. But that comes next week.

I can't wait.