Friday, March 29, 2024

Belmont Diary: To Life!

Four hours to rehearse and mount a brand new musical? No problem!

So I received the final feedback from Christopher Parsons, who directed the world premiere of Bringing Down the House (for a synopsis, cast info, and 20-page sample, click here), and I was glad to see that his recommendations for improving the play were fairly minor. In fact, he had just four: two about adding more one-liners for certain characters, one about shortening a serious scene, and one about the handling of the dynamite crates.

I also went through the script a few more times myself--the first time I'd looked at it since I sent it to Chris back in October. This time away was immensely helpful, as it allowed me to look at the play with brand new eyes. And made it painfully clear what needed to be fixed.

I was relentless in my edits. I beefed up the humor. I trimmed the fat. And I was surprised to find one embarrassing error in which one of the characters couldn't be where I said she was because she'd previously exited from the opposite side of the stage. That forced me to rethink her whole movement and I ended up adding a brief little scene with her that's not only funny but should really boost the tension as we head into the third act.

Protesters battle the demolition crew for control of the stage.

I'm really, really happy with the script now, which is why I submitted it to Pioneer yesterday. But what made me even happier than finishing the script was receiving over 100 photos from the show (111 to be exact) and seeing the fantastic set Chris and his team came up with.

I wrote the play so that only the barest of sets is necessary, making it easier for cash-strapped schools and community theaters to produce. Since the entire play revolves around the rehearsal for a musical, all you really need is a stage, a table, a chair, and a couple of building columns that the demolition crew prepare to drill into for the dynamite (no holes are actually drilled).

Narcissistic movie star Yvonne stops the show (quite literally).

I got the idea from a production of Gypsy I'd seen years ago at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. They used tables and chairs as needed for some of the scenes, but there was no backdrop. The whole show was performed on a bare stage so that the cinder block wall at the back of the theater--which I'd never seen before--served as the backdrop. It was one of the coolest sets I'd ever seen, and it really punched up the theatrical feel of the show. We weren't just watching a musical. We were IN a musical. 

You can easily do the same kind of thing with Bringing Down the House.

Assistant director Robin learns that "the Twizzlers are everything."

Of course, if you're feeling creative, you can build a theatrically-inspired set, adding whatever random  stage detritus you can throw together for authenticity. And that's exactly what the Belmont folks did, building a faux brick back drop to make the set really look like an old, abandoned theater in lower Manhattan, which you can see in these colorful photos.

Anyway, it's a beautiful set. And I'm thrilled that the play has finally been brought to life and that it was received so well.

A great big kudos to everyone at Belmont Day School and especially co-directors Christopher Parsons and Susan Dempsey for a job fantastically done.

Let's make this a regular thing, shall we?

Every good musical needs a kick line.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Chi-town Bookshop sends a message

J Shuman Photography

It's not often one of my plays gets mentioned in a major newspaper like the Chicago Tribune.

Okay, it had never happened before. But it has now.

The Kirk Players of Mundelein, IL, who I posted about three weeks ago, are back in the news with their upcoming performance of The Enchanted Bookshop (April 5-7 at Mundelein High School). Although it's billed as their annual children's show, it features a mixed cast, with 15 roles played by kids and 8 by adults. But first-time director Nat Brautigam is quick to point out that the show isn't just for kids.

"There are new things that I find every night in rehearsal that get a laugh out of me and make me really invested," he said. "It's the actors, it's the story, it's the kids. It's so beautiful."

As for the message of the play, it couldn't be simpler. "Read a book," says Brautigam. "Find your next adventure there and bring the characters to life in your home."

I couldn't have said it better myself. To read the whole article, click here. Better yet, if you're in the Chicago area, check out what is sure to be a magical production.

In all its beauty.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Chi-town Bookshop makes reading fun


When I lead workshops at schools or theater conferences, one of the most common questions I get is: Which of your plays is your favorite? I'm not the first writer to say that choosing a favorite play or novel or story is like choosing a favorite child. You just can't do it.

And that's what I tell them.

But they never let me off the hook, so I usually turn the answer around to something like: This is what I like about some of my plays.

I truly believe The Last Radio Show is my funniest play, especially with the way the skits-within-the-play capture the rapid-fire cadence of those old-time radio shows.

Million Dollar Meatballs is a perennial favorite of producing groups, remaining as popular today as it was when it was first published nine years ago, and has the best physical humor of any of my plays.

I'm really happy with how my latest play, It Happened on Route 66, turned out. While it has a similar humor to my other plays, this 1950's-set comedy adds layers of romance and nostalgia that seems to hit a sweet spot with audiences.

And of course I have a special fondness for The Enchanted Bookshop. Not just because it's my best-selling play, but because schools and community theaters have found a ton of creative ways to use their production to encourage kids to read.

Some theaters give a free book to each child in the audience. Others encourage kids to attend the play dressed as their favorite book character. Still others have characters from the plays read books to the kids, either before the show or in on online promo.

The Kirk Players of Mundelein, IL have found yet another way to make reading fun.

This long-running community theater (58 years and counting!) is performing the show April 5-7, and to encourage kids in their community to read, they're holding a drawing for two free tickets to the show. To enter the drawing, kids need to read one of the books referred to in The Enchanted Bookshop and comment on the theater company's Facebook page as to what they liked about the book.

That's a lot of books to choose from. For those keeping score at home, these are the books on that list:

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz



Oliver Twist

Treasure Island

Doctor Doolittle

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


Hopalong Cassidy

White Fang

Moby Dick

Robinson Crusoe

Little Women

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Crime Never Pays

20,000 Years in Sing Sing

Mary Poppins

Don Quixote

Gone with the Wind

Not all of these books have characters in the play, of course. Some, like Moby Dick and Don Quixote, are only mentioned in passing (although the Don Quixote character does play a major role in my lighthearted prequel, How to Enchant a Bookshop).

Anyway, I love the idea of this drawing. I'm sure it'll motivate a lot of kids to read, although there's at least book on this list that I hope no kid picks up.

It could really be a slog.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Belmont diary: Another Op'nin', Another Show

What could possibly beat the excitement of an opening night?

How about the excitement of an opening night for a brand new play?

That was the case for me yesterday as Belmont Day School in Belmont, MA premiered the play that they commissioned from me, Bringing Down the House. I wasn't able to attend, but director Christopher Parsons filled me on the deets. 

"The performance went off with a hitch," Chris said in his email, "and I'm thrilled to report that everyone thoroughly enjoyed the show. The cast delivered outstanding performances, and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive."

With a report like that, I couldn't be happier.

Of course, the play isn't perfect. No play is right out of the gate. But Chris will be sending me his recommendations for improving the play over the next few days--based on his rehearsing it and performing it and basically living with it for the last five months--and that'll allow me to give the script one final polish before submitting it to Pioneer.

By the way, that "an explosive comedy" in the poster isn't mine, but I kind of love it. Going to have to work that into the blurb.