Sunday, December 31, 2023

A look back at 2023


Stop the world, I want to get off!

Or maybe just slow the spinning a little bit. I mean, seriously. I've made it through sixty of these solar revolutions now, and I swear this was the shortest one yet.

Still, I have nothing to complain about. Theater is back and bigger than ever, and my playwriting career is thriving.

But how did I do with my goals for the year, which I proudly posted on this page exactly 364 days ago and have long since forgotten? Let's take a look...

 1) Publish four new plays

No. I ended up only publishing one, How to Enchant a Bookshop. And the only other play I finished writing this year (Bringing Down the House) was written on commission so I can't submit it to my publisher until after it premieres in March.

It's not that I haven't been writing. I have. In fact, I'm pretty sure I met my goal of writing 90 minutes every day. If there was a day when I knew I wouldn't be able to write (vacations, Christmas), I worked ahead to make sure I averaged 90 minutes per day.

And yes, sometimes that means writing in the back seat of the car while we're driving to our daughter's place in Tucson or a week at the beach in San Diego.

I just think I'm taking more time to write a play. I'm putting extra effort to develop my characters, and polish the dialogue, and make sure that everything flows in a natural way. I guess I like it that way.

In any case, I'm very close to finishing my latest play, a time travel comedy, so I'll soon have two plays in the publishing queue.

And then there's The Real Reason Dinosaurs Went Extinct. I finished that two years ago but it only got accepted for publication this year and won't actually be published until early 2024.

So I'm really excited for the new year. I may have fallen short in the number of new releases this year, but I've got a great head start on 2024.

2) Hit 10K Steps Every Day

Almost. I missed only 25 days over the year and 7 of those came in January when my smartwatch was new and I was still getting used to tracking my steps. By the time December rolled around, I managed to have a perfect month, hitting 10,000 steps every day. And I ended up with an average of 11,405 steps per day for the entire year. Not bad.

My informal goal of hitting 250 steps per hour (out of 10 hours per day) has been a lot harder to achieve. I only had four perfect weeks during the year, but I quickly discovered that this goal is wildly unrealistic and can actually put a damper on your personal relationship (nothing like getting up from a restaurant meal with your wife to squeeze in those extra 100 steps you need before the hour runs out).

 So while it's important to keep walking throughout the day, and has really helped me feel better and have more energy, I don't want to be obsessive about it either.

3) Work with an Online Italian Tutor

Not even close. I just got too busy. It was impossible to a weekly session with a tutor.

Or at least that's what I tell myself. The real reason is I chickened out. I know in my heart that the only way to become truly fluent in a foreign language is to speak it a lot, especially with someone who's native to the language. I just can't get myself over the hump of actually committing to a particular tutor and meeting time.

But I did continue to develop my reading and listening skills by following a boatload of Italian Instagram accounts.

4) Travel to Hawaii

Nope. It was a simple matter of money. I didn't have any.

But my plays are doing really well this year, and it looks like the royalty check I'll be getting in May will cover not only the usual debts I accrue over the previous twelve months and some desperately needed home improvements, but a week-long trip to the islands. (Thank you, Pioneer!)

We're now planning a trip to Oahu in September, when the weather is perfect and the tourists are largely gone. It's going to be kupanaha.

Wrapping up

So I went 0 for 4--not a great year for goal reaching. But it's not all bad. That's because I managed to achieve two goals that I'd failed to achieve in 2022 and which I'd left off my list for this year.

The first was leading a workshop at the Arizona Thespian Festival. I don't know what changed, but after submitting my Hero's Journey workshop for several years and not getting any response, they finally gave me a big thumbs this year. I've reported on my experience elsewhere, but let me just state for the record that it was well worth the wait.

The second was to see more plays. Similar to my experience with the Thespian Festival, I'd applied to be an adjudicator with the ariZoni Theater Awards last year with no response. Well, for whatever reason, I got accepted this yea. So far I've seen five productions, and while I'm not allowed to express my opinions on them here (the ariZonis are much stricter than Colorado's Henry Awards ever were), I can say that the experience has been a blast.

I finally feel like I'm getting plugged in to the local theater scene. And that's what makes this year feel like a huge success instead of a letdown.

Maybe I'm just bad at picking goals?

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Enter stage left

As I've mentioned before, it's rare when I get to see a production of one of my own plays. It's not that they're not being performed. Since I moved to the Phoenix area six years ago, there have been 21 productions of my plays here.

It's just that I don't want to insert myself in what is normally a private, educational experience. Most of my plays are performed by schools and, as I've been told many times by teachers, the presence of the playwright makes kids super nervous.

They don't need that kind of pressure, so I generally opt to skip those shows.

But it was different a couple months ago when I learned that Stage Left Productions in Surprise--a northwest suburb of Phoenix--would be performing An Enchanted Bookshop Christmas.

For one thing, it was being performed by the youth theater arm of a highly regarded professional theater. For another thing, it was being performed by a mixed cast, with Margie the bookshop owner, her sister Ellen, and billionaire Philip being played by adults with a ton o' stage experience.

Oh, and one more thing. I'd never seen the play performed before.

So I contacted artistic director Cody Dull and he set me up with a pair of tickets for today's afternoon performance (even better, I was able to attend with my wife Tammy, who sees even fewer shows of mine).

A weird thing happens when a playwright sees one of their plays for the first time, especially if it's been a few years since they'd written it. They forget they wrote it.

Or maybe that's just me. Either way, I saw the play with entirely new eyes. I'd forgotten the plot. I'd forgotten most of the dialogue. I'd even forgotten the ending. So it was a very eye-opening experience. In a way, I got to experience the play the same way a lot of the audience did (except for the one guy who said he'd been to performance to date).

And I really liked it. Sure, there were some implausible parts. And some of the jokes fell flat. But overall--in my humblest, most objective opinion--I found it quite funny and heart-warming.

Of course, most of the credit for that went to the supremely talented cast. Every single one of them got a well-earned laugh from the audience, from Margie all the way down to the Little Match Girl. And the direction was top-notch, a particular challenge in a mixed cast like this. The pacing was perfection and the cast really played together like a team. I was especially impressed with how they managed so many characters on what I thought was a fairly small stage.

Interestingly, Cody announced before the beginning of the show that the play was being performed in repertory with Jones, Hope and Wooten's Dashing Through the Snow, since they could use the same set (the lobby of an inn in the JHW play, a bookshop in mine).

Anyway, I enjoyed the performance so much that when I ran into Cody after the show, I told him that I'd like to work with him in the future. He was surprised, since he'd assumed I'd already had a relationship with the East Valley Children's Theatre in Mesa.

I didn't tell him I'd submitted four different plays to their Aspiring Playwrights Contest over the years with not even an honorable mention to show for it. What I did tell him, in an email after our conversation, was that I had a new play that was almost done. Would be interested in looking at it?

Yes, he would be.

Oh, happy day. I would love to develop a relationship with a local theater. Of course, I'm currently working with Belmont Day School in Massachusetts on Bringing Down the House, but the development process is so much more effective when the playwright can sit in on rehearsals.

So I'm putting a final polish on that play now. If he decides to develop it, great. If not, I'm no worse off than if I'd never sent it.

I'm just glad I discovered am exciting new (for me) theater company.