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?

Saturday, May 14, 2022

Copper State Bookshop opens new theater


While many community theaters continue to struggle just to stay open, it's heartening to see a plucky young company not just succeed but actually build stylish new digs.

That's the case in Prescott Valley, Arizona. After bopping around from one borrowed venue to another for every twenty years, Prescott Valley Performing Arts is thrilled to finally have a home to call their own.

An article at the local SignalsAZ website tells the tale. A true labor of love, The Main Street Theatre was funded and built by volunteers from the community and will feature a wealth of artistic opportunities: acting classes, improv performances, after-school activities, and more.

It all begins May 13 with a production of Gilligan's Island: The Musical. Shortly after that, the theater will offers its first theater camps with productions of The Nifty Fifties for teens and The Enchanted Bookshop for younger folk.
 
I hate to admit it, but I've only been to this lovely burg once, and then only when I was passing through after a weekend in Sedona (it's about 60 miles north of Phoenix). But with a snazzy new venue like this, I'm going to have to start going up there a lot.



Friday, May 13, 2022

Hoosier Bookshop builds confidence


When the Washington Times-Herald of Washington, IN wrote up a preview of Veale Street Theatreer's upcoming production of The Enchanted Bookshop, they got as many quotes from the kids performing the play as they could.

Many of the young actors describe their character's roles in the play. Others mention how much fun they're having. 

"I'm the oldest of four kids so this role was pretty easy for me," jokes Kianna Smith about her role as the Wicked Witch of the West.

But my favorite quote came from Brooklyn Schofield, who plays the Book Fairy. "It's done so much to help me embrace myself and find my confidence."

That's what youth theater is all about.

Break legs, everybody! And may you all find the confidence that's already inside you.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Tarheel Murder finally takes the stage


Community theaters are run by busy, day-working volunteers, so they often have to spread their rehearsals over an extended period. Three, even four months isn't uncommon. But that's nothing for the Good Time Players of Mayberry--oops, I mean Mount Airy, NC (famous for being the hometown of Andy Griffith). The Mount Airy News has the scoop.

After their initial shutdown for COVID, this plucky little theater company started rehearsing last June for my Hollywood mystery Lights! Camera! Murder! Unfortunately, they were forced to shut down later that year when omicron reared its much more contagious head. That production is finally taking stage this weekend, a whopping eleven months after rehearsals first began.

Broken legs to all! I'm sure it's a great feeling to finally have an audience again.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Cotton State Bookshop funds Ukraine rescue group


I've seen some great photos from South Baldwin Community Theatre's recent production of The Enchanted Bookshop, but none have warmed my heart as much as this one from today's edition of The Mullet Wrapper. If you can't read the fine print, that right there is a check for $1722, and it was raised by the young cast for Project Dynamo, a non-profit rescue group working in Ukraine.

According to the article, director Sharon Watson (L) and assistant director Linda Miller (R) were thrilled when the youthful thespians approached them with the idea. "I feel it's important to instill the spirit of giving in young artists," Watson said.

As a result, they quickly learned to become effective fundraisers. Miller persuaded 23 local businesses to donate gift cards. Meanwhile, families of the cast and three area libraries donated books to sell at the performances.

No doubt, there's a lot of bad stuff going on in the world today. But it's generosity like this that gives me hope for the future.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Whole Latte Love to be published

Just got the word that Pioneer Drama Service has accepted my play Whole Latte Love for publication. It's an important milestone for a couple of reasons.

First, this is my 20th play to be published. Second, it's my first play to be accepted in almost two years.

That dry spell was largely my fault. After snagging a literary agent in early 2020, I spent much of the next two years trying to break into novels.

Well, that didn't work, and looking back now, its seems like a big waste of time. But it was something I had to try.

Now I'm back to writing plays--and even that's had some fits and starts. My first play back was It's a Madhouse!, but because it was written on commission, I had to wait until it had premiered at the school that commissioned it before I could submit it to my publisher. That premiere happened late last month, and I'm just putting the final, post-performance polish on the script now.

Next I wrote The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct, but after it got rejected by Pioneer, I decided to approach some theater companies directly before submitting it to another publisher. That play will get its premiere this weekend in Wellington, New Zealand.

It was my third play back that got accepted. I'm hoping now I can keep the pipeline full. 

Whole Latte Love was a play I've wanted to write for a while. With the unending popularity of coffee shops around the country and, well, pretty much everywhere, I was surprised to find there were no plays actually set in one. So I knew there was a need.

The first question was: do I make it a mystery or a farce? I actually started writing it as a mystery (it would have been called--what else?--Whole Latte Murder). But I soon hit a wall with the plot. And I really didn't want to spend three months writing about murder, even if it was a funny one.

Then I thought I'd make it a You've Got Mail type story, where a big unfeeling corporation tries to stomp out the little guy. But I didn't know where to take it.

Then I thought, I'd make it a magical coffee shop (echoes of The Enchanted Bookshop?), in which the coffee casts a spell on the customers. But which spell? Love at first sight, as in A Midsummer Night's Dream?  Eternal youth? A truth serum? 

It wasn't until I realized I could include all three spells, plus three others--and have the scatterbrained new barista mix them up for the customers--that I had my story.

Here's the opening:

ISLA: So tell me, Shelly. Why do you want to work at Whole Latte Love?

SHELLY: Oh, it's because I just love coffee! All kinds of coffee! I love the taste of it! I love the smell of it! I even love the way it feels against my skin.

ISLA: (Joking.) What do you do? Bathe in it?

SHELLY: Why? Is that weird?

ISLA: Huh? (Realizes SHELLY's serious.) Oh. Well, it's not exactly normal.

SHELLY: I can stop.

ISLA: That won't be necessary. (Scans the resume.) I see you've worked at quite a few coffee places.

SHELLY: Oh, yes! Practically every one in town! I started out at Starschmucks. Then I went to Ditch Bros. After that came Cocakpoo Coffee. And my last job was at Munchkin Donuts.

ISLA: So why did you quit?

SHELLY: I didn't quit. I was fired.

ISLA: Fired? From all of them?

SHELLY: All but Munchkin. They filed a restraining order against me. Said I was too intense!

ISLA: Imagine that.

I think the story's a lot of fun, perfect for both high schools and community theaters. It has lots of female roles, it's easy to produce (single set! few props! no special technical requirements!) and it's got a positive, upbeat message.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love. And Whole Latte Love has plenty of it.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Wolverine State Butler finds the Python


I was a comedy nerd before the phrase "comedy nerd" was even a thing. I was a fan of all the old comedy teams: Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. The Marx Brothers. But nobody made me laugh as hard as Monty Python's Flying Circus.

I was eleven years old when reruns of this groundbreaking show were first shown on American TV. And I adored them. I didn't always get the humor. Some of the jokes were too British. Other jokes were over my head maturity-wise. But I knew they were funny and I watched them over and over again until I could quote them from memory (the exploding penguin sketch was my favorite).

So it thrilled me to learn that a director in Michigan compared the humor in my play The Butler Did It! to those bad boys. The director is Brad Kenyon and he's directing the show next month for the Athens Community Theatre. The Daily Reporter has the story.

"It's not Bob Hope snappy punchline-pacing, but a delightful blend of physical and verbal comedy that makes it hilarious," Kenyon said. "There's influence from classic Hollywood productions, old-time vaudeville and Monty Python."

The article also notes that the actors contributed plenty of their own comedy nuggets, which always makes me happy.

Check it out if you're in the area. The show may not contain the funniest joke in the world, but I guarantee it'll make you laugh.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Peach State Bookshop gives it away


Another day. Another writeup.

This one comes from the august pages of the Valdosta Daily Times. The Gingerbread Players (love that name!), the youth arm of Theatre Guild Valdosta, is performing The Enchanted Bookshop Musical over the next two weekends. And, as the article makes clear, co-directors Pauline Player and Sandy Parrish and the rest of their crew have come up with a couple of clever twists.

One is that they built doors that are disguised as giant books on the bookshelves of the set, making it appear as though Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer, and the rest of the beloved literary characters appear by stepping directly out of their books. That's a great idea and kind of my original vision for the play, but I know how difficult it can be for cash-strapped schools and theater companies to build elaborate sets. I'm so glad Theatre Guild Valdosta was able to pull it off.


The other twist is more of a promotional one. In order to promote reading among its young audience, the theater will give a book to each child attending the performances. Now that's a fantastic idea!

Break legs, everyone! I hope you find all sorts of new young fans--and readers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

British Columbia Meatballs gets funky

 

 
Schools and community theaters have made some very creative choices with my plays. But nobody has ever given one a disco spin.

Until now.

According to a local newspaper articleFootlighters Theatre Society in beautiful Creston, British Columbia is performing my restaurant farce Million Dollar Meatballs this June--and they're setting it in the 1970's disco era.

Does that mean a glittering disco ball hanging from the ceiling of Chez Monyeu? Bell bottoms on the bus boys? The sounds of ABBA playing between scenes? The article doesn't say. But it does make clear that director Jason Smith is a man of exquisite good taste.

"We looked at a lot of scripts before choosing this one," Smith said. "It's just so ridiculously funny and will be a lot fun for audiences of any age."

This is just their third show since reopening after the pandemic. And they have only one goal.

"We wanted this season's productions to make the audience laugh," Smith continues. "And Million Dollar Meatballs will definitely do just that." 

Sounds groovy to me!

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Belmont diary: Curtain up!


It's real now. The play that Belmont Day School commissioned me to write back in June, It's a Madhouse!, received its world premiere last night. 

And I didn't get to see it.

I never planned to visit the school for the world premiere. That was neither in my or the school's budget. But they had planned to stream the performance for me and the many friends and family members of the cast who were unable to attend on person.

They even asked me to record a video of myself introducing the play. That part I saw (as painful as it was).

But when the time came for the play to start, the stream went dark and silent. And try as I might, I couldn't get it to work.

Oh, well. It's not the first time I've missed the premiere of one of my plays (to be honest, I've only seen the premiere of of seven of my 21 plays). And I've already received all the feedback I need to know what worked and what didn't so that I can give the script a final polish. Still, it's a little disappointing.

But that's not important. No, what's important is that the play get published, so that all of you can have the opportunity to see it--or better yet, produce it!

Stay tuned. I'll be submitting to my publisher soon.

Friday, March 11, 2022

The end of the world as they knew it


I've got exciting news! I've just released a new large-cast comedy that's perfect for elementary and middle-school students and your school or theatre group can be one of the first in the world to perform it!

The play is titled The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct and it's about two dinosaur scientists who try to save the world from an asteroid hurtling toward earth (yes, that asteroid).

Old Far Side fans may assume that the title was inspired by one of the comic strip's most famous panels. And they'd be completely right. (I changed the "became" to "went" to improve the flow when pronouncing the title).

Other people might assume that the play itself was inspired by a recent Adam McKay film. And they'd be completely wrong.

Great minds do what now?

As a matter of fact, I started writing the play in September of last year. I didn't even know about Don't Look Up until November and I didn't see the movie until a week after I completed my final polish on the play.

Still, I'm surprised by the parallels between them. I guess if you're going to write a story about the imminent destruction of the earth by a speeding space rock, you're going to use a lot of the same elements:

A pair of scientists--one highly emotional, one more serious--who first detect the danger and try to warn the world about the risks.

A populace that refuses to heed the risks because they're too wrapped up in the trivial concerns of their daily lives.

A desperate, all-too-late attempt to save the earth.

And a final, important lesson that we can't solve the global problems we face as a species until we start working together.

But they are also some key differences.

Just the facts, ma'am

First, my play is about dinosaurs. I mean, come on. Kids love dinosaurs. And in my research for writing the play, I was unable to find a single other play in which kids get to portray dinosaurs. It's a natural.

For this reason, I crammed as many scientific facts into the play so that teachers could use it as a launching pad for discussing the world of the dinosaurs and how it differed from own.

For example, did you know that grass didn't appear until the Late Cretaceous Period, shortly before that fateful asteroid struck? Or that at the time, Antarctica (where the play takes place) was covered in rain forest? Well, those facts get mentions (humorous, of course) in the course of the play.

Also, there's a lot of talk about the asteroid itself: its size, its speed, even its impact location. All great stuff for post-play discussion.


Smile!

Second, my play has a happy ending.

I know, it's hard to imagine how an asteroid striking the earth could result in anything but misery for the creatures that survived (I wasn't about to change history to make the asteroid miss the earth!).

But there are ways you can slant the ending to provide hope for the characters--and the audience. What I did was show how the Plant Eaters and the Meat Eaters--who spent the whole play fighting each other--finally decided to work together to migrate to a warmer location.

I also think the way I had the Mammals take over the stage--in the ash-induced, half-light that followed the asteroid's impact--makes for the most powerful ending to a play I've ever written. 

After all, we're mammals. And if that asteroid hadn't struck, we wouldn't be here today.

Climate change, schlimate change

Finally, the play isn't really about climate change. It's about mankind's inability to work together. If the parallel to climate change is inescapable, that says more about mankind than the play.

Of course, if you want to address the issue of climate change in your classroom, this play makes the perfect launching pad.

Operators are standing by

The play is easy to produce, with few props and set pieces. I even keep the costumes simple (color-coded T-shirts and ball caps) so you don't have to stay up late sewing twenty-plus brontosaurus and T. rex suits.

Even better, all of the twenty roles are unisex and there's plenty of room for extras so you can be completely flexible in terms of casting.

The play will receive its world premiere in April at Standouts in Wellington, New Zealand, a proud member of my Five Timers' Club which also premiered my play Doggone Detectives in 2019.

If you're interested in doing the play, or would just like to check out the script, email me here and I'll send you a PDF of the script for free. The licensing fee is $50 per performance and you can make as many copies of the script as you want, also for free.

The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct is an important play--perhaps the most important play I've ever written--and a natural follow-on to The Enchanted Bookshop in terms of its humor, its message, and the way it ties into the school curriculum.

I thank you. And your dinosaur-loving kids will thank you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Amateur!

So I finally got around to watching my two-year-old DVR recording of an acclaimed 2018 West End production of Red by John Logan.

It's not that I don't like the play. I actually love it, having seen two local productions before. It's just that there's so much stuff in my viewing queue. And I thought I already knew the play.

I didn't. Alfred Molina's performance as abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko was a revelation. Never had this brilliant yet egotistical figure seemed so bitter, so angry, and yes, so vulnerable, as he railed against the culture and the deluge of younger artists threatening to overthrow his generation of trailblazers.

But as good as Molina was in Red, I have to say his finest work was in this short from the comedy website Funny or Die.

Have you seen this thing? It's almost ten years old now, but I don't think it ever got as much notice as some of the site's other videos. And it's hilarious. Seriously, Molina's facial expressions alone can send me howling.

And don't worry. It's not making fun of children's theater. It's making fun of the pompousness of theater critics who believe only they hold the key to recognizing and appreciating quality theater. (As a former theater critic myself, all I can say is: Nailed it!)

Enjoy!

Friday, February 25, 2022

Kenya dig it?


Tonight will be my Kenya premiere as Rosslyn Academy, an international Christian school in Nairobi, performs The Enchanted Bookshop. This represents my 18th country and only my second in Africa (Babka Without Borders was performed in South Africa two years ago).

I don't have any pictures from the production, but the poster looks great. Of course, if you license a play from my publisher, Pioneer Drama Service, they'll provide all the artwork you need, but it's always fun to see what the teachers and students come up with.

Break legs, all!

Friday, February 4, 2022

Nerdle

 ⬜🟨🟨🟨🟨

🟨🟩🟩⬜🟩

⬜🟩🟩🟩🟩

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩

Yes, like millions of others, I've become a total nerd for the online word game Wordle. I love all sorts of word games, but there's just something simple, elegant, and oh-so-addicting about this one.

(Boggle is another favorite, but my family refuses to play that one with me any more because I never lose. Unlike games that involve a modicum of physical coordination like Jenga, which I've never won.)

The key to Wordle's unprecedented popularity is due to two things. First, you're limited to just one puzzle a day, preventing obsessed fans from burning out. And second, the game provides a colorful graphic of your results each day, which you can share on social media without spoiling the puzzle.

Not that I would ever do that.

But what I really appreciate about the game is that it doesn't just test your knowledge of the English language. It also tests your logical abilities.

In fact, there's also a whole strategic approach to the starting word. I've seen articles posted about the best words to use, but I refuse to read them. I'm worried that if I do, I'll get stuck in a rut, always depending on that optimum word to start each day's puzzle.

I'd rather keep it lively, changing my starting word every day. Also, I want to do it myself.

I suspect that those articles are basing their recommendations on standard letter usage in English. But here's the thing. Wordle doesn't use "normal" English words. The game's creator, Josh Wardle, wants to trip us up, so the database of words he programmed into his baby are unusual words, weird words, words that don't follow the common letter patterns found in English.

Words like WHACK or ROBOT.  Not necessarily obscure words. Just words that don't put the letters where you expect them (and they almost never contain the most common letter in the English language, "e"). So it's important to keep that in mind as you solve each day's puzzle.

That's why for my starting word, I include as many common vowels and consonants as I can. Words like STALE. ROAST. ALOUD. On my second guess, I try to include the remaining vowels.

After two guesses, I have a pretty clear picture of which vowels are included in the answer and four or five possibilities of where they might be located. Just plug in the remaining consonants and you're all set.

At least this strategy has worked for me. As of today, I've won 42% of my games in three guesses and 81% in four guesses.

Now I know a lot of people are confused by the proliferation of Wordle clones online. Don't be. The one at https://www.powerlanguage.co.uk/wordle/ is the original game and, for now at least, it's free.

Many of those other versions require you to pay, are loaded with annoying ads, or--worst of all--allow you to keep playing over and over again until you're guaranteed to get sick of the game.

And then there are those people upset by the recent news that Wardle sold the rights to his million dollar baby to the New York Times, with the looming threat that it will some day be placed behind the newspaper's infamous paywall.

But never fear. There's actually a way to play Wordle for free forever. You see, everything you need to play the game are already coded inside it. All you have to do is right click on the web page itself and save the program to your desktop. Then, when you want to play, click on your desktop icon rather than going through your browser.

Tada! You've now got your own personal copy of the game. It'll even keep track of your statistics, just like the online version. Unfortunately, this will reset your stats the first time you play, so if you're been playing the game from the website, you'll lose that history. But if you start playing this way now, as I have, you'll have a nice new streak going well before the Gray Lady decides to take away everyone else's free access.

One more thing. If you're learning another language, you can turbocharge your learning by playing one of the handful of foreign versions.

I'm currently playing the Italian one. I'm still a beginner in this bella lingua, so there are a lot of words I don't know. But the nice thing is that all of the versions of Wordle prevent you from guessing combinations that aren't real words so you're not going to waste any guesses. And you're going to learn a whole bunch of new words.

Here are the other versions of Wordle that are available:

Spanish

French

German

Swedish

Enjoy! Or should I say divertitevi!

*** UPDATE ***

As of February 17, several media outlets are now reporting that the New York Times has started to modify the list of Wordle words, with some people even claiming that they've made the words much harder (I'm not convinced that's true).

That's not a big deal unless you downloaded the original version of the game and like to share how you do each day since the two lists of words will now diverge. On the bright side, it does give you twice as many Wordles to solve each day!

And for you geography nerds, there's not a Wordle-inspired daily puzzle called Worldle. It's either very hard (Liberia) or very easy (New Zealand).

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Tarheel Bookshop is music to my ears

Love seeing these talented kids working so hard as they rehearse for their upcoming production of The Enchanted Bookshop Musical. The group is the Jacksonville Performing Arts in North Carolina. The song is "What's Inside?", a catchy little number that Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer, and the rest of the literary characters sing after discovering a mysterious book with a hidden compartment.

If you want to know what's inside that book--or you're eager to hear more great songs from my partner in rhyme Stephen Murray--be sure to visit the musical's web page. One-minute clips from all the show's songs can be accessed from that page and are free to listen to.

The show itself runs March 11-12. Hearing how good the kids sound already, I'm sure it'll be a huge hit.

Much more than that groundhog was today.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Students helm Centennial State Lester

While many schools still haven't brought back their theater program, Fort Morgan High School in Fort Morgan, Colorado is not only doing shows, they're letting their students direct them.

Nothing helps you learn a subject as much as teaching it, and nothing helps you become a better actor, set designer, stagehand, as directing. But it can be a challenge, as reported in today's Fort Morgan Times--and not just for technical reasons.

"You can be your actors' friends outside of rehearsal," says director Rayne Weiler, "but during rehearsal you have to learn how to be in charge."

The students will be performing my one-act western Long Tall Lester with two other Pioneer Drama plays, After Hours and In Memoriam, tomorrow night. They originally planned on doing only two shows, but they had so much interest from aspiring directors that they decided to add a third show.

Smart kids.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

A look ahead to 2022

I can't lie. I'm excited for the New Year. Despite the various crises threatening to destroy our way of life, and there are a lot of them--climate change, increasing political extremism, and the neverending pandemic--there are a lot of good things too.

I truly believe most people are good at heart. Technological advancements are allowing us to make progress on many of the health and environmental problems we face. And then there's puppies. You've got to love puppies.

On a more personal front, 2022 offers a fresh opportunity for me to pursue my newly rekindled passion for playwriting. For this reason, I've focused almost entirely on playwriting goals this year--with one personal goal thrown in for good measure.

New directions

1) Complete three new full-length plays

My last two full-length plays took me three months each to write. And I've got a good start on my next play. If I can maintain this level of productivity--and there's no guarantee that I can--I should be able to finish four plays in 2022. But I'll keep my goal to a more manageable three.

2) Publish four full-length plays

This would represent a new record for me. My previous record was publishing three plays in one year, which I achieved in both 2015 and 2017.

But I've got a head start here too, since Heuer Publishing has already accepted The Last Radio Show of publication. And I've got two more plays completed: The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct, which I submitted to Pioneer Drama Service in December, and It's a Madhouse!, my commissioned play which I plan to submit to Pioneer after it premieres at Belmont Day School in March. There's no guarantee that those will get published, but if they do, I would only have to publish one play that I have yet to complete.

3) Lead a workshop at the Arizona Thespian Conference

I loved teaching at the Colorado Thespian Conference when I lived in that state. The interaction with students was so much fun and their enthusiasm for all things theatrical was infectious. I've been aware that AZ has its own version of the conference, but I only recently learned how to apply to be a workshop presenter. You can bet I'll be submitting my application in time for this year's conference in November.

4) See more plays

This shouldn't be hard to achieve. I haven't seen any plays since the beginning of the pandemic. But things are starting to open up again (or they were before omicron reared its ugly, spike-covered head, and I figure it's time to start venturing forth. Toward this end, I recently volunteered to be a judge for the ariZoni Awards, the AZ version of the Henry Awards which I judged for when I lived in Colorado. I haven't gotten my assignments yet--that won't happen until the new season is planned out in June--but I look forward to returning to the theater this fall. 

5) Be more present

I'm actually pretty happy with my personal life these days. My health is excellent. I work out on an elliptical for a half hour every day, which has enabled me to shed 25 pounds from my peak weight. And my daily meditation practice, which I started in October 2020, has really helped me deal with the stress of my day job.

Sidebar: Need a good meditation app? I really like Insight Timer. It features a ton of internationally recognized meditation experts, its massive database of meditations is highly searchable, and it costs nothing to join.

But I need to start applying some of the lessons I've learned from meditating to the times when I'm not meditating. And the most important of these is being present. Whether it's eating, going for walks, or talking on the phone, I tend to rush through things, focusing on getting to the next item on my to-do list rather than on the here and now.

This goal differs from my goals in the past because it's not measurable. There's no target value--no Being Present Factor--that'll allow me to determine whether I achieved this goal or not. But that doesn't mean it's not important. In fact, for this very reason it may be more important, even critical to my mental health and my enjoyment of life.

Therefore, I'm going to make focusing on the present my personal goal for the year. And next New Year's Eve, when I look back to see how well I met my goals for the year, I'll have to keep this one subjective.

Or am I focusing too much on the future again? 😉