Sunday, November 12, 2023

The teacher's journey

So yeah, I was a little nervous presenting my workshop on the Hero's Journey at the Arizona Thespian Festival on Saturday. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I hadn't presented it in seven years, and although I'd practiced it several times in the last couple weeks, I was worried something would go wrong. Either the projector wouldn't work, or the attendance would be next to nil, or the kids wouldn't be responsive.

It didn't help that the staff member who checked me in had me sign an agreement that said, in his words, I wouldn't hit any of the kids. (He added that if any of the kids acted up, I should report it to the staff--and they wouldn't hit them either.)

But like most things, the experience was not as bad as I had feared. Funny how life works out that way.

The first of my two sessions was fairly lightly attended, with only about 25 students and adults sitting toward the back (waaaay back) of a long, narrow room meant for 90. But then came the second session and it was completely different. The kids poured in and poured in and kept pouring in until nearly every seat was occupied and the latecomers had no choice but to sit at the front (mwah ha ha!).

The discussion was lively too, with both students and adults eagerly answering my questions, such as which event in Star Wars represents the catalyst?--and particularly fanatical Star Wars fans filling in details I'd forgotten, even though I just rewatched the movie last week. (I can never remember the name of the creatures that Luke Skywalker practiced his sharpshooting skills on.)

Womp rat

The Q&A session that followed was especially lively, with lots of questions fired out me from all sorts of directions. My favorite question came from one girl who asked whether the Hero's Journey can be applied to an entire series of films--the MCU, for example. Huh, I replied. I'd never thought about that before.

After a brief thunk, I went on to say that you can certainly apply individual stages of the Hero's Journey to a series of films, (Stakes Are Raised perhaps, or All Is Lost), but that it would be very difficult to fit all 15 stages into the entire series as well as each film and it's really in the individual films where you want to make sure you follow the Hero's Journey.

But maybe someone has already done it. I'll have to do more research (i.e. bingeing the tube).

If I had any doubts about coming back next year, they all vanished a few minutes after my talk was finished. That's when a shy young student from Mesa approached me to say that she'd played the Book Fairy in her school's production of The Enchanted Bookshop four years ago and that experience is what made her fall in love with theater in the first place.

She even asked to take a selfie with me--a first. (Ryan Reynolds eat your heart out.)

You can't buy moments like that.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend other playwrights and theater artists to get involved with this wonderful conference.

As for my plans? I believe Ahnold said it best...

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Belmont diary: The finish line

So last week I received notes from director Christopher Parsons on my "final" revision of Bringing Down the House. I'm always a little nervous when I'm waiting for notes because I fear that the changes are going to be many and painful. You know, like juggling the order of events. Or changing the ending to something more uplifting. Or making the main character a goat instead of a duck.

Fortunately, that hasn't happened yet. And Chris's notes were especially benign, as he requested only 12 minor line edits. 

I won't list all of the edits here, but there were a couple that I'd like to discuss as they raise some interesting issues with respect to theater and playwriting. 

The first is that early in the play I had Sidney, the show-within-the-show's book writer complain about the theater they rented saying, "It looks like it hasn't seen a show since Macbeth. And by that, I mean the original production."

I thought that was a funny line. But beyond that, there's a lot of things that go wrong in the show-within-the-show, and my idea was that this violation of one of the theater world's most pervasive superstitions--the uttering of the word "Macbeth" onstage--was what set the bad luck in motion.

But Chris felt uncomfortable having the word said as part of the play, and it occurred to me that a lot of other directors might have the same objection. Besides, the line would be just as funny with the title of any other play that's known for being old. So I changed it to Romeo and Juliet.

No, I don't have a trigger now for all of the disasters that happen to our happy troupe, but I also won't have any directors passing on the play because of a single word.

And besides, I think the new line may be funnier.

The other note is that at a later point, I had Cameron, the temperamental director, address the cast with, "All right, listen up, guys." Now to me, "guys" is a gender neutral term. It refers to both males and females. But I grew up in the Midwest where that's common usage. And apparently it's heard in Southern California as well because Legally Blonde: The Musical has the song,  "Omigod You Guys," which is something Elle says to her very female sorority sisters.

But Belmont School is in Massachusetts and that sense of the word may not be standard there. So no worries. I changed the script.

Still, I'm thinking of changing this and a couple other lines back before submitting the script to my publisher.

Oh, yes. There's another thing worth mentioning? The one line I thought for sure I'd have to change actually made it through the school's DEIB review.

It's when the show-within-a-show's lyricist Elliot informs Cameron that they're changing the show to a pirates vs. aliens thing. The new title? Invasion of the Booty Snatchers.

Anyway, I accepted all of Chris's change requests so my work is now largely finished. All that's left is to wait for the production in March, and to make one final, final revision based on Chris's last batch of notes from actually mounting the show and on my own viewing of the play (nothing like audience reaction to learn which gags work and which don't).

But it feels really good to reach this milestone, and to provide a script that Chris and crew are now eager to produce.

Wish them luck.

Oops. scratch that. Wish them broken legs.

I've got to brush up on those theater superstitions.

Friday, November 3, 2023

May the Force be with me

After two years of trying to get into the Arizona Thespian Festival, I'm pleased to announce that I finally got accepted this year. And I'll be presenting the same workshop that I did my last year at the Colorado Thespian Conference, all the way back in 2016.

It's titled Plot 101: Playwriting Lessons from Star Wars. In it, I talk about the Hero's Journey as first proposed by mythologist Joseph Campbell in 1949 and later expanded by Hollywood types Christopher Vogler and Blake Snyder.

My version is a little simpler. Instead of 12 or 14 or 15 steps, I slim it down to just seven. I don't want to overwhelm beginning writers. And I want them to absorb the seven steps so that it quickly becomes a part of their writing DNA. That's hard to do with 15 steps.

The workshop was a hit in Colorado. I had asked for an extra large room, but even that wasn't enough. Over 100 students showed up, and most of them had to find places on the the tables or floor.

The best part? The students were really involved. Like passionately, emotionally involved. They love Star Wars (and the other movie I discuss) and they really wanted to understand how the story was put together.

This year, I'll be presenting the workshop in the last two slots of the festival, 1:15pm and 2:45pm on Saturday, November 11. If you're attending the festival, stop by and say hi. Or better yet, come and join us. I guarantee you'll have an out-of-this-world time.

Even if I can't guarantee you a chair.

Update: If you attended one of my workshops (or even if you didn't) and would like to download a copy of my you can find the one for Star Wars here and the one for that other movie here.