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?

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. And the writing just flowed from there.

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!