Saturday, December 31, 2022

A look back at 2022

Another year come and gone. Normally, about here, I would start to wax poetic, but this year I don't have time. I'm too busy writing.

Really. This was the year I decided to refocus my writing efforts on plays after a two-year hiatus during which I was lured away by the siren song of Hollywood and New York, writing screenplays and novels that got me both a manager an agent but zero traction in either of this fabled cities.

But those two years weren't a total bust. I learned that I love writing plays. And I love everything that goes along with that. The production photos. The newspaper reviews. The emails from directors asking for advice. And, last but far from least, the generous royalty checks.

And so I spent the entire year writing plays, plays, and only plays. But was it a success? Well, let's take a look against the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the year.

1) Complete three new full-length plays

Success. I completed exactly new full-length plays:

  • My coffee shop/magic potion comedy, Whole Latte Love.
  • My roadside diner romantic comedy, It Happened on Route 66.
  • My Enchanted Bookshop prequel, How the Enchanted Bookshop Began. 

In between these plays, I wasted maybe a total of three months on plays that never went anywhere. But that's par for the course.

Actually, "waste" may be strong a word. No time writing is ever truly wasted. If nothing else, it's good practice. And besides, I may come back to these plays later and figure how to make them work. It took me years to get Million Dollar Meatballs and Trouble in Paradise Junction right.

2) Publish four full-length plays

Success. At the time I set this goal, it was very ambitious. The most plays I'd ever published in one year was three, which I achieved in both 2015 and 2017. So I wasn't quite sure I could get there.

But I did, publishing not just four but five new plays. Of course, it helped that one of the plays--The Last Radio Show--had been accepted by Heuer Publishing over a year ago and was way overdue. It also helped that my regular publisher, Pioneer Drama Service, proposed that I make a smaller cast adaptation of my play It's a Madhouse! shortly after it was published, allowing me to crank another whole play in just a few weeks that was guaranteed publication.

That one was called--wait for it--Madhouse!, a shorter, punchier title that matches the shorter, punchier feel of the play.

The other two plays? That would include the aforementioned Whole Lotta Love and It Happened on Route 66.

The best part is that all three plays are off to a super strong start, and I expect them to maintain a Million Dollar Meatballs level of success over the next few years.

3) Lead a workshop at the Arizona Thespian Conference

Failure. Sadly, this didn't happen and I don't know why. I applied to be a workshop presenter through the official website and I heard nothing back. Not a word. No a squeak. Not a peep.

I'd still love to present my popular workshop on the three-act structure in Star Wars and Legally Blonde, which was a big hit at the Colorado Thespian Festival, but at this point I'm at a loss as to how to proceed.

4) See more plays

Failure. Can you believe this didn't happen either? I never heard back from the ariZoni Awards committee, with whom I'd applied to be a judge with. I'm starting to think the Arizona theater scene it very cliquey and closed to newcomers, which is crazy considering that the vast majority of people here came from out of state.

But I'm not going to cry into my pillow--or anyone else's. Not going to plays has left me more time to keep up with the cast amount of new stuff getting pumped out by the streamers every month. And I watched some great ones. Life and Beth. The Crown. Dead to Me (my favorite of the bunch--wasn't that finale amazing?). And yes, despite an initial resistance, I too have fallen completely under the sway of The White Lotus (how can you go wrong with a bunch of Richie Riches vacationing in Il Bel Paese, especially when there are dead bodies involved?).

Anyway, I've found that watching these shows has inspired my writing even more than plays used to. I only have one problem.

What am I going to watch now?

5) Be more present

Half success. This hasn't been an easy one, but I can honestly say I've made significant strides in this area. I take the time to enjoy my meals rather than rushing through them. When I walk the dogs with my wife Tammy, I make the effort to look around and really appreciate the sights and sounds of our suburban neighborhood.

My stress level at work and home has improved as well. When I feel those old tense feelings well up inside me, I pause, take a deep breath (or ten), and remind myself that, as they say, this too shall pass.

I give the credit to my daily meditation practice through Insight Timer. And that was just with meditating five minutes a day.

I've since bumped up my average to ten minutes a day and have started focusing more on sound baths rather than guided breathing exercises for that extra boost of calmness and stability.

Even if this next year isn't the most productive in terms of writing or publishing plays, it's guaranteed to my calmest.

And that's a very good thing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

It Happened on Route 66 is now available!

Just under the gun (for the year, that is), Pioneer Drama Service has released my 21st play with them, a full-length romantic comedy titled It Happened on Route 66. That makes five new plays for me this year, blowing past my previous record of three.

Of course, it helped that one of the five plays was held over since last year (having been accepted for publication in September 2021) and another one was a small-cast adaptation of different play that was also published this year, allowing it to be released with just minimal tweaks. But still, a play is a play. I'll take the win.

Here's the funny thing about It Happened on Route 66. I honestly believe it's the first play ever set along the Main Street of America, the Mother Road.

That's crazy, right? Route 66 is an American institution, a symbol of freedom and the open road, made famous on TV and in song.

But I checked the catalogs of Samuel French, Playscripts, Dramatists Play Service, Dramatics Publishing, and Eldridge Plays and not a single one of them had a play that mentioned Route 66 in its blurb (other publishers not listed here don't allow a search on keyword, just the title and author's name, so it's hard to check).

Let me back up. So it turns out that Dramatists Play Service publishes the official stage play adaptation of John Steinbeck's great novel The Grapes of Wrath. And while a significant part of it takes place on Route 66, that's not what the story is primarily about.

So let's call my play the first original play set on Route 66. Or the first comedy. Or the first play that really tries to capture the sweet nostalgia wrapped up in that famous ribbon of asphalt.

Pioneer's web site provides a free script sample for you to peruse. So just for fun, let me leave you then with a different scene from my play. This one comes from early in the second act. Glamorous movie star Lovey Lamour's car has broken down outside a diner in Winona, Arizona is desperate to get it fixed, only she has trouble finding competent help in the tiny town:

LOVEY: Oh, Babs! Please tell me you're done with my car!

BABS: Not quite. But I did find the source of your squeak.

LOVEY: What squeak? My car wasn't squeaking before.

BABS: It wasn't?

LOVEY: No, it wasn't!

BABS: Well, that would have been good to know before I took it all apart.

LOVEY: You took my car apart?

BABS: I had to. How else was I going to find the mouse?

LOVEY: Wait a minute. Are you telling me the squeak came from a mouse?

BABS: Yep. The little rascal thought he could get away from me, but I found him hiding in the tailpipe.

LOVEY: Have you considered an exterminator?

BABS: Oh, no. I tried one of those once. That's how I lost my Fluffy.

LOVEY: I'm sorry. Was Fluffy your cat?

BABS: No, she was more like a cockroach.

Want to read more? You can order the full script or book your production on the play's web page. But don't wait take too long. The play is so brand new it hasn't even been produced yet. Act now and your school or theater could be the first!

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Arkansas Bookshop Christmas shows its colors


Arkansas's Siloam Springs Center for the Arts came up with a clever promotion for this weekend's production of An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas. They held a coloring contest. The winner gets two free tickets to the show, a free book from the local library, and wwill see their masterpiece featured on the cover of the show's program.

What a great way to build excitement for the show!

The winning entry is shown above. A big congratulations to Zeni, the talented artist who won the contest. I hope you enjoy the show (and the book)?

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Washington Bookshop Christmas is the cat's meow

Photo by Sebastian Moraga / The Quincy Valley Post-Register

I know, I know. People don't really say that anymore. It's a relic from the Roaring Twenties, an era of flappers and gangsters and bathtub gin. But in this case, it's really true.

More on that later.

An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas is playing at fourteen schools and community theaters this holiday season. That's a little short of the eighteen production it got last year, its best season to date, but still good enough to keep it at #1 on the list of full-length Christmas plays in Pioneer Drama Service's catalog.

For a long time, I resisted the temptation to write a Christmas play. A lot of playwrights have them, and I love a good Christmas story as much as anyone (especially this Christmas story). But I only have a limited amount of time to write each day and I thought why spend that time writing something that will only be produced four weeks out of the year?

But as I thought about a follow-up to The Enchanted Bookshop (it would have to be a prequel, not a sequel, because we all know how The Enchanted Bookshop ends), I was taken by the idea of all the new characters I could introduce to that world.

Characters like the Ebenezer Scrooge and the Nutcracker Prince. The Velveteen Rabbit and the Little Match Girl. Even the bratty, self-absorbed, but always very real Amy March. Not all of these are strictly associated with Christmas, of course, but all of their works feature at least one key scene on that biggest of holidays. I couldn't wait to plop them down into A Likely Story and watch them interact.


It always feels that way, by the way. Watching. I never make my characters do anything. They have their own desires, their own agendas, and the freedom to forge their own paths. I just watch and write it all down.

All I needed now was a plot. It wasn't easy making all the pieces fit. There had to be a special gift. And it had to get lost. And old Ebenezer had to be the bad guy. But not too bad, of course, because this is a family-friendly play, after all. And the book characters had to face a real risk of disappearing, but not actually disappear.

I started and stopped several times. But when I finally hammered out something that worked, something that provided plenty of conflict while maintaining the proper tone and humor, the writing came easy.

The play was published by Pioneer Drama in September 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. And yet it did very well that year and has continued to shine ever since.

So what's the thing with the meow? Well, as reported in The Quincy Valley Post-Register, the recent production of the play by Masquer's Theater in Soap Lake, Washington was a big hit with audiences. So much so that one of the younger members of the audience got personally involved.

"We have an actor playing a cat," director Marla Allsop explains, referring to the bookshop's resident feline Bombalurina. "And during our show we had a kid who would start meowing every time the cat came on. It was really adorable."

To Allsop, that demonstrates the broad appeal of the play. "It's a show that everybody can get into and understand."

I may never wrote another Christmas play, but I'm glad I wrote this one, and I'm so grateful that it seems to have meant so much to so many people.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Okie Bookshop in the spotlight



Local TV stations don't give enough exposure to children's theater. Can we all agree on that?

I'm being (mostly) facetious here. Of course, local TV rarely covers children's theater. But then it doesn't give much coverage to any theater productions.

So it was a breath of fresh air to see KTUL out of Tulsa shine a spotlight on none other than Spotlight Children's Theatre and their production of The Enchanted Bookshop.

For the interview, they brought on three actors--one adult and two very charming kids--and asked them about their experiences with their show. It's a fun interview and well worth the four minutes it takes to watch it. To check it out, just click here.

Interesting side note: My daughter Ashley's first job out of college was with another TV station in Tulsa and my wife and I fell in love with this gem of a city when we visited her. Very clean and modern, with a ton of underused freeways (no traffic jams here!) and a wealth of excellent restaurants and cultural attractions (not the least being The Center of the Universe).

I had known about Spotlight Theatre's claim to fame as being the home of The Drunkard, the longest running production in American theater history (59 years and running) and I always meant to see it, but somehow I never quite made it. Now I doubly regret that.

My daughter has since moved to Tucson, another wonderful city. But Spotlight is performing two more of my plays next year, How I Met Your Mummy in October and An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas in December.

Might be time to go back...

you can bet that if I ever make it back there (perhaps for their amazing Oktoberfest), Spotlight Theatre is the first stop I'll make.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

No strings attached

 Leave it to the Footlighters Theatre Society of Creston, BC. They always put their own twist on the plays they produce.

Last June, when they performed my restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs, they set it in the 1970's and gave it a disco theme, complete with tacky leisure suits and tie-dye T-shirts.

And now, for their upcoming production of An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas, they're having the sassy bookshop cat Bombalurina played, not by a young actress in cat ears, but by an oversized puppet specially designed and built for the show.

According to this article in the Creston Valley Advance, Becca Musso is the creator of the puppet and Kailynn Gill is the performer who'll bring her to life.

Why An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas? Director Brian Lawrence explains that after producing an adult farce last year, they decided to do something more heartwarming this year.

"For many families, it has been quite a long time since they've been able to go out and enjoy a show together," says Lawrence. "This is definitely one to enjoy together--the storybook characters are a blast, and the Bombalurina puppet alone is worth the price of admission."

Yep. That cat definitely has resting sass face.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Madhouse! is now available!


Pioneer Drama Service has just released my 20th play with them, a crazy treasure hunt caper titled Madhouse! As I explained in a recent post, this play is a shorter, smaller-cast version of my 19th play, It's a Madhouse!  

Where It's a Madhouse! calls for a cast of 40, the much more succinctly titled Madhouse! requires "only" 28 actors. And while the original play is 80 minutes long, this new one is 60 minutes. But don't worry. Madhouse! keeps the craziest bits and all the best gags.

Want to learn more? Then just hop on over to the new play's web page, where you can read a free sample including the cast breakdown, production notes, and the first 11 pages of the script.

And if you really like whopping huge casts, you can find all the same information for the original play here.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Gettin' my kicks on Route 66

So I wrote a play about that most famous of America's highways, Route 66. And for a short time, I even thought about calling it Route 66. But I didn't. And that happens to be another whole story.

But first the good news.

Twenty-Three and Counting

Pioneer Drama Service has just accepted the play for publication. It's my twenty-third play to be published, and only my second romantic comedy (after Babka Without Borders).

I first came up with the idea when I was brainstorming ideas for a play set in a diner. In my research, I found out that Pioneer has only five plays set in one of those classic roadside restaurants (one is my own Trouble in Paradise Junction). And that surprised me.

After all, everyone loves diners. They're as American as apple pie (many serve up some excellent apple pie!). One of our best-loved paintings features a diner. A ton of popular movies have been set in a diner. And diners, as a meeting place for rich and poor alike, offer a wealth of opportunities for conflict and humor. 

But if I wrote a diner play, what would be story be about? Well, diners make me think of the 1950's. And if the play's set in that carefree, innocent decade, then it would be only natural for it to revolve around an up-and-coming rock 'n roll star.

Maybe this Elvis wannabe is supposed to perform, only he doesn't show up, and the owner forces somebody to pose as him. That would be funny, and it would provide enough conflict to carry the play for an hour or more.

I had my plot. Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, when I checked Pioneer's web site, I discovered that years before, Tim Kelly and Bill Francoeur had written a similar musical titled Nifty Fifties. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'd read the synopsis for that play and that it had burrowed itself into the deepest recesses of my brain, only to pop back up when I started brainstorming.

So it was as great plot. But I wasn't about to rehash it.

Back to square one

So I started brainstorming again. And I thought to myself, what if I flip it? What if, instead of a regular person posing as a celebrity, I had a celebrity pose as a regular person, maybe even one of the servers?

I liked that idea, a real fish-out-of-water story. Forcing a celebrity to learn all that crazy diner lingo, and how to take orders, and how to deal with difficult customers offered a lot of possibilities for humor.

I also changed the him to a her and made the celebrity a movie star to differentiate my play even more.

But why would a movie star want to hide her identity? Well, maybe she's fleeing her own wedding and the press is hot on her trail. And, oh yeah, her brand-new Ferrari breaks down, so now she's forced to pose as a a waitress until the car can get fixed.

Bingo! That story had everything I was looking for. Now all I needed to do was figure out the location. Of course, it had to be set in a small-ish town and it helped that the famous song, Get Your Kicks on Route 66, listed several of them.

Joplin, Missouri.

Amarillo, Texas.

Gallup, New Mexico.

Flagstaff, Arizona.

Don't forget Winona.

Hold on. That was the perfect setting. Winona was the smallest of the towns mentioned in the song. In fact, it's barely more than a gas station, cafe and garage (much like my play).

Also it's located in Arizona, and I was excited about the opportunity to finally set a play in my own state.

Not only that, but it gave me my title as well. Don't Forget Winona. It sounded sweet, wistful even. And Route 66 fanatics would immediately recognize it as a lyric from the song.

C-C-Changes

I wrote the play in about three months and sent it off to Pioneer, who quickly accepted it for publication. Yay!

There was only one problem. They weren't crazy about the title.

Oh, they thought it was clever enough. But they felt it didn't do the play justice. Don't Forget Winona sounded like a sappy drama about a girl named Winona, instead of the fast-paced, action-packed comedy that it is.

Also, they weren't convinced that people only mildly familiar with the song would make the connection between the title of the play and the highway where the play is set.

The title Don't Forget Winona would miss the very customers it was meant to attract.

I couldn't argue with them. Googling "Don't Forget Winona" revealed that there's a picture book with that title. And yep, it's a sappy drama about a family making the trek west during the Dust Bowl. In fact, it isn't even set in Winona, Arizona. Winona is the name of the little girl at the heart of the story.

Ouch.

So I brainstormed other titles. Get Your Kicks. Cookie's Diner. Down and Out on Route 66. Please Forget Winona.

Nothing clicked.

The answer

Then one night, at dinner, I mentioned my struggle to my wife Tammy. And she immediately came up with the best title yet.

It Happened on Route 66.

In fact, it was just about perfect (don't tell her that)! It sounds like a comedy, with its echoes of the 1934 film It Happened One Night. The "It" will definitely pique some interest (what exactly is the "it" that happened?). And there's no mistaking the setting. "Route 66" is right there in the title.

So that's what we're going with. I haven't been given a date yet, but I expect Pioneer will want to bring it out by the end of the year so that schools can perform it for their spring semester.

But I can say I learned a few things from my experience.

Be open to collaborating.

A clever title doesn't help if people don't know what the play is about.

And always, always listen to your wife.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Trimming the Madhouse

Speaking of slimming things down, my friend Gemma from New Zealand emailed me a couple weeks ago. She'd seen the announcement of my newest play It's a Madhouse! and wanted to read it but the script but wasn't yet available from Pioneer. Could I email her an electronic copy of my script?

Silly question. Of course I could!

Gemma ended up loving it, but she was concerned about the length. Standouts, her Wellington-based theater school, has very short rehearsal periods (often as short as a week!) and while that's worked for previous plays of mine that she's done, she felt that a 90-minute play would be a stretch. 

No problem, I told her. I structured the play in a very modular way, stringing together an array of independent, small-cast vignettes. I did this to make rehearsals easier, but it also makes it easy to remove one or more vignettes. She thought she'd cut out the vignetter involving some desperate-thespians and a hokey family searching for their lost pet.

Ironically, eight days later, my editor at Pioneer, Brian, had an interesting offer. As it turns out, It's a Madhouse! has been getting a ton of interest from their customers and he was wondering whether I'd be willing to adapt it for a smaller cast. He felt a lot of schools would love the physical action and humor but be unable to field so many actors (the play calls for 40--count 'em, 40!) or stage so long a show.

Silly question. Of course I would!

So I dove in. And that's when I realized that cutting the thespians wouldn't work because one of them, a verbose, self-absorbed actor playing Romeo, played a vital role in the climax. But there was another vignette I could cut without any loss of flow: one involving a demanding tour group and some hyperactive cheerleaders. 

And then I found two more characters that could be cut, and a major scene, and lots and lots of lines from, well, pretty much everyone.

By the time I was done, I'd gotten the play down to 28 actors (25 with doubling) and 60 minutes. And that's the version I just emailed to Brian for publication.

I don't know when it'll be released, but it shouldn't take long. After all, the play has already gone through editing once. But you can bet you'll hear about it here first.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 8, 2022

A slimmer Bookshop

I got an interesting email the other day. Kevin, an assistant theater professor at a small midwestern college, wants his students to perform The Enchanted Bookshop for area youngsters.

Wait. That's not the interesting part. No, the interesting part is that he was only able to recruit 12 actors and he wonders whether this play (with its cast of 23) can still be done.

Schools and community theaters usually have the opposite problem. They get so many actors trying out that they have to add characters.

But cutting the cast size? Well, I had to think about that one a bit.

Of course, there is some obvious doubling. In fact, the script itself suggests that the actor playing Fagin can double as Dr. Dolittle and either Frankenstein or Hopalong Cassidy while the actress playing Lady in Red can double as Queen of Hearts and Wicked Witch. Take on all that doubling and it brings the cast down to 19.

You can also have the actress playing Dorothy operate Toto as a hand puppet. The dog only appears in the first and last scenes anyway. Now you' down to 18 actors.

Next, have Mom and Timmy double as Eddie and Fingers (this could be kind of funny, actually). It's not suggested by the script, but it doesn't pose any particular challenge other than a quick-ish change in the last scene. Also, have one of the six main literary characters (Sherlock Holmes would work best) exit the last scene early and have that actor double with Officer Ketchum. Now you're at 15 parts.

This is where it gets tricky, as you'll have to adjust the script. So forget what I said earlier about doubling Wicked Witch, Frankenstein and Hopalong. Instead, cut them out entirely. They're only in the last scene anyway.

Then delete the scene between Long John Silver, Queen of Hearts and Book Fairy in Act Two, Scene Three. This allows you to eliminate the Queen of Hearts. Of course, you'd have to rewrite the last scene to have one of the other characters tie up or otherwise immobilize the smugglers (Tom Sawyer?).

What this buts you is that you can now have the actor playing Fagin and Dolittle double as Long John and the actor playing Lady in Red double as Book Fairy. Bingo, 12 parts.

For a while, Kevin was considering changing Tom Sawyer to a female character for the statement it would make. But who could it be? Well, it's not a one-to-one match, but independently (believe it or not) we both came up with Jo March from Little Women, as she shows many of the same spunky, rebellious and rule-breaking traits as Tom.

As I've said before, I'm open to letting directors modify this popular play, especially since it has proven so successful in encouraging young audiences to put down their Gameboys and cell phones and pick up a book.

If you need any quggestions as to making this play fit the special needs of your production, be sure to contact me. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 1, 2022

The Last Radio Show is now available!

After five and a half years of rejections and almost a full year in the editing queue at Heuer Publishing, my 1940's radio comedy The Last Radio Show is finally available!

It's my twenty-first play to be published, but only my first with this particular publisher, so I'm excited to see what they do with it.

The play runs 90 minutes, requires only a single set and features a cast of 10 (5M/5F). Here's the blurb:

It's 1948, and KUKU Radio is in trouble. Their broadcast tower keeps falling over. The electric company is about to shut off their power. And they're losing actors, one by one. Can this ragtag crew keep the show going? Or will they be shut down for good?

This hilarious farce brings back the Golden Age of Radio, with crazy commercials such as Kindling Krunch ("the cereal that's like having your own national park--in a bowl!), and even crazier shows, like The Thing with Two Spleens and Tex King, The Humming Cowboy. 

Of course, the best part of those old-time radio shows was the sound effects, and this play features over two dozen of them, most of which can be produced from simple household items.

Don't touch that dial. This is radio like you've never seen it before!

I truly believe this is one of my funniest plays, if not the funniest. The radio sketches feature a seemingly endless array of rapid-fire gags, the behind-the-scene action is crazily frenetic, and each of the characters are over-the-top in their own quirky way.

So why didn't the play get picked up right away? Well, it can be a bit of a challenge to produce. Just as in those long-past days of radio, the actors have to hold the scripts they read from, and that requires some juggling when those same actors have to make the various sound effects in the sketch.

The nice thing is that the use of those scripts means that the actors have much less to memorize than they would in a regular 90-minute play. 

Also, the climax of the play features a single character--the geeky office boy Jimmy--performing the final sketch, including nine different voices and over a dozen sound effects, all by himself.

But it's well worth it. At the end of his bravura performance, Jimmy collapses to the floor in triumph, and this is the one moment in all of my plays that always earn a show-stopping ovation from the audience. 

Up for the challenge? If so, be sure and visit the play's web page, where you can read a sample of the script and view photos from the original production.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

It's a Madhouse! is now available!

 
Just in time for the new school year, my twentieth play has now been released by Pioneer Drama Service. And according to my editor JJ, they wanted to rush it out because it's been getting requests ever since they posted it on their website a couple weeks ago.

The reason? It's hard to say for sure, but he thinks it's because the play was specially designed to be episodic, with lots of roles that are small but high-energy crazy. In fact, the entire middle section of the play is almost like a collection of five-minute skits. Not only does this give each actor an opportunity to take the spotlight, but it makes the play a breeze to rehearse.

In fact--and I probably shouldn't be telling you this--the play is so episodic that you can remove entire scenes of the play without missing a beat. This came up last week because was one of the first potential customers to show an interest in the play was my friend Gemma from Wellington, New Zealand.

She wanted to do the play with her younger kids but was concerned that it was too long for the one week of rehearsal that she usually gets (I don't know how she does it either). I told her that was easily fixed. Just cut one of the scenes.

Sure, it means some of the roles are gone. But the play starts with 40 of them so you can easily lose a few and still have lots of parts to fill.

Here's the blurb:

Best-selling mystery author Byron Pembroke is dead. Soon after, his highly dysfunctional family gathers on a dark and stormy evening for the reading of the will. Each family member has their own reason to believe they'll receive the bulk of Byron's estate, but the family soon funds out that the deceased didn't think much of them. Instead of naming an heir, Byron instead condensed his fortune into one mysterious object and left it to... whoever finds it first!

Before greedy family members are able to put together individual plans of their own, the mansion is overrun by a horde of strangers seeking shelter from the storm. And once the strangers find out about the hidden treasure, they soon join in the hunt.

Who will find the treasure first? Byron's spoiled, self-serving family members? The bickering trio of ghost hunters? The nosy news team? Or the busload of obnoxious tourists? Loaded with small parts and several small-cast comical vignetters, this madcap mystery gives every actor a chance to be part of the madness!

For ordering info or to read a free sample, please visit the play's web page.

Monday, August 22, 2022

P2K


Is this what hope feels like?

Across the country, schools are back in session. And for the first time in two years, things seem to be back to normal. Drama teachers are booking their plays for the coming season. And I've managed to reach a significant goal in my playwriting career.

My 2000th production (I call it Play 2K).

This particular production makes a lot of sense. It was for The Enchanted Bookshop, which has been my best-selling play since it was first published four years ago. And the school that booked it is located in a small, heavily agricultural town in Canada, very typical of the type of community that has provided the backbone of my support all along.

The school? Seven Persons School in Seven Persons, Alberta. How the town got that crazy name is another whole story.


It took me 8 years to go from production #1 to #1000 and only 4 years to get from #1001 to #2000.  

Here's hoping it only takes 3 years to get to #3000.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Hong Kong Bookshop is picture perfect

All of my productions are special. But I have to admit, they're particularly special when they're the first to be done in that country.

That was the case yesterday, when Hong Kong 3 Arts Musical Institute performed The Enchanted Bookshop Musical, making China my 20th country.

This musical theater school went all out. It seems they spared no expense on the technical elements.

The set was elaborate and colorful, with fully constructed pieces and lots of interesting places for the action to play out. The costumes were just as colorful and completely authentic to each of the characters.

I've always said one of my main goals in this play was peopling it with characters that are instantly recognizable from their costumes. I think this school achieved that and more.

Of course, it's funny because these photos make it clear that they added several characters not in my original script: Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Captain Hook (the latter as a replacement for Long John Silver?). I think I even see an Aladdin in the photo above--a first, as far as I know

And that's okay. As I've stated many times before, I encourage theater companies to add whatever literary characters they love. Alice of Wonderland fame has been very popular, as have other fairy tale characters such as Cinderella.

But what I like most about these photos are the dynamic poses and lively expressions on the faces of the actors. They're having a ton of fun, and you can feel it.

And did I mention that they translated the dialogue and lyrics into Cantonese?

Great job, everyone! You done me proud.

And to paraphrase another one of my favorite fictional characters, I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Hoosier Bookshop actors know their stuff

I have to admit, when I was writing The Enchanted Bookshop, I was worried that a lot of kids wouldn't know the characters.

I mean everyone knows Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer and Sherlock Holmes from the movies, if not the books. But even my own daughters didn't recognize a giant Robin Hood figure at a miniature golf course when they were kids--and I consider them to be well-educated (maybe I didn't expose them to enough Daffy Duck cartoons!).

As for Heidi and Pollyanna--well, there hasn't been a movie about them in a long time!

Of course, I didn't have much choice. Short of paying millions of dollars in licensing fees, I was forced to limit my characters to those in the public domain, many of whom were big in their day but are now largely forgotten.

I shouldn't have worried. At least not when it comes to the Jackson County Community Theatre of Brownstown, Indiana. Their Youth Artists group is performing my book-centered comedy this month and their local paper just gave them a great write-up.

"I like how it promotes how important books are and how important it is to read," said director Steve Deweese. "Growing up, if you're a reader, if you're bookish, you're a nerd, you're not cool, but this really shows that reading is an adventure, it's fun, it's exciting."

His biggest surprise? Many of the young actors already new the characters.

"I was really, really pleased that I have a cast of what appears to be readers who really in touch with the work," said Deweese.

Destiny Long, who plays bookshop owner Margie, had her own thoughts on the matter. "I really love how it's all characters that kids or adults even grew up reading about, and I love how this story kind of brings them all to life and puts them all together and they have to save a bookstore."

Long went on. "One of my lines is 'Oh, no, books are wonderful. They fill your imagination. They teach you about other times and other cultures.' It's really true, and so I really love how my character is literally what I would tell people."

Break legs, all! And keep on reading. That world of adventure is only a page turn away.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Whole Latte Love is now available!

Today is a great day. For the first time in two years, I have a new play out. I've discussed the reason for the dry spell before. But now it's officially over. I've got two more plays coming out this year (one from Pioneer, one from Heuer), a third play out for submission, and I'm close to finishing a fourth play.

So this promises to be my most productive year ever. And I don't know why. I have a very demanding day job, a noisy household, terrible sleep habits--and yet, when I sit down at the end of the day to write, all that goes away and the words just flow.

It only took me 59 years to get here. 

I think high schools and community theaters will have a lot of fun with this play. Whole Lotta Love is a sweet comedy filled to the brim with rapid-fire one-liners, over-the-top physical humor, and rich, quirky characters.

And yet I made sure it was easy to produce as possible. The play requires only minimal props, simple costumes, and a single set. With its two acts, it runs around 60 to 70 minutes and features of cast of 13 (a very flexible 5M/8F).

But the theme is what I'm most proud of. As the title suggests, this is a play about love in its many forms, how we demonstrate that love, and what kinds of things can get in its way. 

Here's the blurb:

Whole Latte Love is a coffee shop with a catchy slogan: "Where There's Magic in Every Cup." Only it's more than just a tagline. Each one of Isla's six special blends really has a magical power -- if only for the duration of the cup. 

Fuzz Buster turns you into a genius. Chill Pill relieves you of all your worries. Cupid's Arrow is a love potion. Miracle Manna fills even the emptiest belly. Ponce de Leon makes you feel twenty years younger. And Veritas acts like a truth serum. 

With "perks" like that, it's no wonder this coffee shop has such loyal customers! But Isla finds herself in hot water with her landlord, who gives her an ultimatum: pay the three months of back rent she owes or he'll evict her.

Isla hires "perk"-y Shelly to fill in while she boss ducks out to meet with loan officers. But when an overzealous health inspector flusters Shelly on her first day, she mixes up the coffees, leading to a hilarious "brew"-haha as each customer is served the wrong blend.

Will Shelly spill the beans about the magic coffee? Will Isla save the shop? And why is the landlord suddenly acting like a five-year-old? Don't worry, be frappé! Love and laughter are sure to win in this frothy, fast-paced comedy!

For ordering info or to read a free sample, please visit the play's web page.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Ontario theater proves its generosity

The last two years of social distancing have been rough of small town community theaters. Some closed for good. Some went on hiatus. And many, through a combination of creativity and grit, survived.

And then there's Hanover Community Theatre of Hanover, Ontario. As reported in the Wiarton Echo, they not only survived, they thrived. So much so that they were recently honored with the Not For Profit Excellence Award by their town's Chamber of Commerce.

They donate $1 from each adult ticket to local charities like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hanover and the Hanover Housing Support Program. During the pandemic, they sold a lot of them.

How did they do it? The same way so many theaters thrived: by learning to stream their shows.

Their first online production was Pioneer Drama Service's Ho Ho Ho! The North Pole Chronicles. As it turns out, they had a lot to learn. One big challenge was getting the actors to take turns when talking (never easy!).

"We also had tech problems like Internet connection issues out in the country," said HCP Chair Jenn Hillier. "It could be difficult to get everyone acting to focus and be audible."

But they eventually solved their problems, following up that show with my own You're Virtually Driving Me Crazy!

"Two weens ended up being two years," said Hillier. "But even though COVID we kept running plays any way we could do so.

A well-earned award indeed.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Kiwi dinosaurs come to life!

Tena koutou!

My new comedy The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct premiered in New Zealand at the end of April, and as much as I would have loved to travel to that stunningly beautiful country to see it, it just wasn't possible at this time. I like to blame it on their COVID restrictions, but the truth is I'm too poor.

So I did the next best thing. I contacted Gemma Shapleski, who runs the Wellington performing arts school where it was performed, and asked her to send me some photos.

Somehow, Gemma manages to put rhe shows together in just four days. That includes rehearsal, set building, costume making, and the performance. Gemma says the short rehearsal period makes her job easier. The kids seem to retain things better this way.

That may be true. But I thing the real reason is that Gemma and her talented staff of teachers are amazing.

I told Gemma to keep the costumes simple. There's no need to make complicated animal costumes, just baseball caps and T-shirts. This worked out great because it gave the kids an opportunity to decorate their costumes themselves, designing and attaching their own eyes and teeth.

The key in differentiating between the various animal groups was in the colors of these items. Green for the plant-eating dinosaurs.


Black for the meat-eating dinosaurs.


And brown for the oh-so-cute mammals (shrews, to be specific).


The play takes place in three separate locations: Fernville (the verdant home of the Plant Eaters), the Crags (the rocky abode of the Meat Eaters), a laboratory, and a classroom.

This could have been challenging since the show was performed in a very low-tech community hall (Gemma's words, not mine), but they made it work with just a few simple set pieces. Like the pine tree in the above picture (yes, Antarctica, where the play takes place, had pine trees in the Late Cretaceous Period!).

Or the whiteboard and rocks (seen on the edge of the stage) in the picture below.


The props are pretty easy too. There's the broken dinosaur model which clumsy young Snaggleclaw breaks, leading him to approach the two scientists, Professor Broadbeak and Doctor Duckbill.


And of course, the telescope through which the three of them first view the asteroid on a collision course with earth.


Gemma reported that the play was a roaring success (pun very much intended). The kids had a lot of fun and there was a ton of laughter from the audience.

Ka pai, everyone!

If you'd like me to email you a free perusal copy of the script, just email me here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Belmont diary: It's a Madhouse! to be published

I thought the three weeks it took An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas to get accepted for publication fast, but It's a Madhouse! blew that away. It took just seven days from when I submitted the play To pioneer Drama Service to them accepting it.

And I couldn't be happier. Not just for me, but for the kids and faculty at Belmont Day School who worked so hard to bring the play to life. I know it'll mean a lot to them to see their names as part of the world premiere credit in the script.

It'll be interesting to see how this play does. As I've said in my previous posts chronicling its development, the play was specifically written to meet school Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion requirements. It also has a massive cast--40 actors in total. It's one of the biggest full-length plays Pioneer has ever published. I know it's the biggest one I've published.

The script should be released in time for school this fall. In the meantime, let me tease you with this scene introducing the first of literally dozens of intruders who threaten the Pembroke family's search for the treasure:

HOBSON (Opens UPSTAGE DOOR. GEORGE and HARRIET ENTER, holding novels.): May I help you?

HARRIET: Look at this place, George. Isn't it just a dream?

GEORGE: Oh, it's more than a dream, Harriet. It's an absolute vision!  

HARRIET: This is exactly how I pictured his house, you know. All ominous and spooky.

GEORGE: Spooky indeed. In fact, I might almost call it "sinister."

HOBSON: Excuse me. Is there someone you'd like to see?

HARRIET: Oh, yes. Byron Pembroke, please. We're his biggest fans.

HARRIET and GEORGE hold up their novels.

HOBSON: I'm sorry, but Mr. Pembroke is... indisposed.

HARRIET: That's all right. We'll wait right here until he's disposed again.

HARRIET and GEORGE start toward the sofa.

HOBSON: No, no, no! Don't sit down!

HARRIET (Sits.): Oh, but we must. Our feet are simply pounding.

GEORGE (Sits next to HARRIET.): They're a virtual symphony of pain.

HOBSON: All right, fine. He's dead.

HARRIET: Who's dead?

HOBSON: Mr. Pembroke. The man you're waiting for.

HARRIET: Well, that was rather sudden.

HOBSON: Actually, it happened several days ago. 

HARRIET: Oh, dear! And to think we never got to tell him how much his books have meant to us! Isn't that tragic, George?

GEORGE: More than that. It's a genuine cataclysm of sorrow.

HOBSON: And now that you've made that point abundantly clear, I really must insist that you leave—

HARRIET: Oh, we can't leave.

HOBSON: What do you mean you can't leave?

HARRIET: Didn't you hear? The bridge is out.

HOBSON: Surely you're joking.

HARRIET: He doesn't believe me. George, dear, would you tell this nice manservant about the bridge?

GEORGE: Oh, you should have seen it. It was a disaster of the highest magnitude!

HOBSON (Calls OFF LEFT.): Mr. Pembroke!

HARRIET: I thought he was dead.

HOBSON: What? Oh, uh, Mr. Pembroke is dead. I mean that Mr. Pembroke is dead. I'm calling the other Mr. Pembroke. The one that isn't dead.

If you want to know when the play is released, keep checking back here. You'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

My 11th year sales

Well, it was a good news, bad news kind of year. The good news? I had 199 productions, which was up 28% over the 155 I had last year.

The bad news? That's still down 45% from the 361 I achieved in my peak year of 2018-2019.

My total royalties, however, were much better, being up a whopping 155% from last year and down only 32% from my best year.

Of course, that drop in the number of productions isn't totally unexpected. The fall semester was heavily impacted by the omicron variant of COVID, and while this resulted in milder symptoms than earlier variants, it still discouraged a lot of schools from herding a bunch of kids onto a stage for weeks of rehearsals. So yeah, I get it (although it is funny that sports never get affected that way).

There is one bright spot to all this. Those schools that figured out how to stream or record their shows during the darkest days of COVID are still doing it for their live performances as an option for those unable to attend. As a result, many productions are generating an extra royalty for that stream or recording.

Now that COVID has finally evolved into something closer to the flu, I expect that the school and community theater world will fully rebound and that in the coming year, all playwrights will see bigger royalty checks.

As it has been since premiering in 2017, The Enchanted Bookshop was my best-selling play for the year with 63 performances. That's up from 38 last year but down from the 156 it received its full year of publication. It already has 28 productions booked for next year so that's one sign that things are improving.

Last year, for the first time, The Enchanted Bookshop Musical was my #2 show. It had 25 productions l, which is very impressive for a large-cast musical in a COVID-impacted year. In fact, that's only a 14% drop from the 28 it received its first year. And it already has 8 productions booked for next year.

You're Driving Me Crazy! has always done well, and last year was no exception, with this driver's ed comedy coming in #3 with its 20 productions.  

Coming out in September 2020, just as the first COIVD wave was hitting hard, An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas has never had a normal year. Which may explain why this last year was its best year yet, with a very healthy 18 productions. Not only was this enough to place it at #4 on my list, but it ended up as the #1 full-length Christmas play at Pioneer.

To put it another way, my three Enchanted Bookshop plays got more productions than my other 18 plays combined.

Rounding out the top five, my perennially popular restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs received a respectable 15 productions,

Several plays only had 1 production, but unlike last year, none had 0 productions and none earned negative royalties (due to the cancellation of previously booked shows).

So yeah, I'm excited for the coming year. Productions of each of my existing plays should continue to grow. But I also have two new plays coming out (maybe more), which will add to my total.

Is this what hope feels like?