I received this email from a drama coach who had directed a production of one of my plays.
"During the performance last night, one of the audience members was laughing so loud, I thought he had been drinking (haha). He approached me after the play was over. It was a community member who lost his wife to cancer last fall, and his son, Casey, is an extra in the play. He said that since his wife had passed, he had been unable to laugh - until he saw your play. For a couple hours, he was able to forget everything and just laugh. He wanted to know who wrote it. He plans on coming again Monday.
Well, his son is an understudy. When I told the cast what Casey's dad said, the student for whom his is understudying decided to let Casey play Victor on Monday. It’s going to be a surprise for Casey's dad. I'll let you know how it goes!
FHS Drama Coach"
Dear Michelle and the cast and crew,
I can’t tell you how flattered I am to receive this email. Reading it reminded me of an exchange I had years ago with a really great improv teacher. I was bemoaning the fact that, because of the war, we had been adding more and more serious scenes into our graduation show. He asked me, “Why do you think people come to the theater?”
“To be entertained.”
“No, they come to be affected.”
I think most of us, when we realized we were destined to work in theater in some capacity, proceeded because we wanted to be part of entertaining audiences, and then, years later, we learned our relationship with the audience is a little more complicated than that.
Maybe the audience doesn’t think of it in those terms, but in truth they are there to be affected, manipulated, moved by the experience. Laughter is certainly part of that, but so are tears, anger, and heated conversations in the parking lot after the show dissecting the meaning of what they’ve just seen. We want to affect the audience, the audience wants to be affected. A perfect, symbiotic relationship.
But sometimes, sitting in that darkened theater, there is an audience member who doesn’t want to be affected. Sometimes that person needs to be affected.
A very smart actor with whom I often work once said, “The most important gifts you receive are the ones you give away.” Casey’s father has given you the most important gift someone in the theater can receive; He made what you do matter. And in turn, you gave him the gift of affecting him in the way he needed most at that moment. Many speeches are given by many theater practitioners about the importance, honor, and responsibility of the theatrical arts. I can’t think of a better example than this one. You never know when someone like Casey’s father will be out there, but you should always assume they are, and approach the stage as if tonight’s show can be a transformative experience.
(And just to be clear, I’m speaking of everyone involved in the show. Without the director, playwright, costumes, props, sets, lights, stage manager, running crew, or the person handing out tickets and programs, Casey’s father wouldn’t have had that experience.)
Speaking of gifts, I must applaud the actor who stepped aside so Casey could take his role for the evening. When you hear actors speak of other actors as “gifted” and “generous,” generally that refers to their onstage habits. Rest assured, your generosity and gifts were definitely on stage that night, even if you weren’t.
So, again, thank you for the email; thank you for choosing my show; and thank you for reminding me of what’s important about what we do.
Sean Abley is one of the founding members of the Factory Theater in Chicago. While there, he adapted the films Corpse Grinders, Reefer Madness, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians for the stage, and wrote the original plays Bitches, Attack of the Killer Bs, and Nuclear Family. He also contributed to the ensemble-created worksHooray!, Second City Didn't Want Us..., and P, a comedy adaptation of the "P" volume of the encyclopedia. Commissioned and published works include The Adventures of Rose Red (Snow White's Less-Famous Sister), Dr. Frankincense and the Christmas Monster, Bad Substitute, We Wish You a Marry Spendmas!, Historically Bad First Dates, Camp Killspree, Confessions of a Male Pin-up, The RISE of the House of Usher, Dracula's Daughters: A Family Comedy, Horror High, Elevator Games, Double Trouble on the Prairie and The End of the World (With Prom to Follow).
Visit Sean's website: www.playstoorder.com
I’m here to talk to you about that script. You know the one. That script you keep saying you’re going to write someday. I know, I know. You’ll write it later, when you have more time, after the kids graduate, when you retire, or whatever excuse you’re making this week.
Let’s be honest. At the rate you’re going, you'll keep putting off writing that story for the rest of your life. Your script doesn’t deserve that. It’s a good idea! Heck, it’s a great idea, and you know that or you wouldn’t keep carrying a torch for it all this time. An idea that is good shouldn’t be hidden away in your head; it should be shared with the world!
Which is what I’m here to talk to you about. That script? It’s time to write it. Forget about your mythical someday. We’re setting a real, concrete deadline, which is exactly what you need to finally get your idea down on paper. You’re writing that script this April.
See, every April, a whole bunch of us all over the world decide we’ve had enough of our own procrastination and take the Script Frenzy script writing challenge. It’s actually pretty simple. When you sign up for Script Frenzy (which those in the know call Screnzy for short), you commit to finishing a script in the month of April, no matter what other distractions you have in your life. That’s it. You get to tap into this huge worldwide community of writers all aiming for at least 100 pages by the end of the month and that international network of writers all focused on the same goal makes for a, well, frenzy of inspiration and camaraderie.
You’ll make some friends. Better yet, you’ll have a finished draft of your script in your hands by May 1st. OK, sure, it’ll be a rough draft that you rushed to finish in 30 days, but you can edit a rough draft. You can’t edit nothing.
And maybe you don’t have that one big epic script idea. Maybe it’s dozens of ideas. Maybe you’re just kicking yourself because you’ve got tons of ideas for short plays or one acts and you know they’d all be great if you just had the time to write them down. Maybe your Screnzy won’t be a single 100 page full length play but rather five twenty minute 1 act plays or some other combination. The April deadline could be just the thing to kick-start your new era in productivity.
Or maybe you’ve been hitting the writer’s block pretty hard and you’re in one of those funks where you feel like you’ll never write ever again. From one writer to another, let me tell you that there is no better cure for writer’s block than staring down a terrifying deadline. There’s just something about knowing you’ve got 100 pages to fill and only 30 days to do it that unshackles your creativity and really lets your imagination fly. When you challenge yourself, your mind steps up in ways that can surprise even us experienced scribblers.
So, come on over and join the Screnzy. It may seem crazy but sometimes amazing things happen when we just buckle down and finally do that thing we’ve been putting off. Sometimes you just have to jump out of your comfort zone and see what happens. Besides, it’s not like you’ll be going into this alone. There will be thousands of us all over the world making this same dash to finish by the end of April.
30 days. 100 pages. April. Are you in?
Hillary DePiano is a fiction and non-fiction author best known for her play, The Love of Three Oranges which has been performed in theaters around the world. For her other plays, books, and published works, please visit HillaryDePiano.com. For tips, advice and more about Script Frenzy, check out her blog Screnzy Pages.
A few decades ago, theatre educators in Texas looked around and said, “Why isn’t theatre more like football?” And thus, the one-act play competition was born. (I may be oversimplifying here.) Many states have followed Texas’ lead and developed one-act tournaments of their own, but the Texas competition remains the granddaddy of them all. Each spring, hundreds of schools from around the state compete in a bloodthirsty tournament of death, in which losers go home crying and winners advance in six rounds of competition that last months. If you keep advancing, you get lots of time off from school, which is a bonus to both students and teachers. Eventually, in the finals, you perform in a theater that seats thousands. It’s crazy.
When I taught middle school, we had our own minor version of this. Our district (typically 6-8 schools) would hire a judge, get together on a Saturday, and have a great, “not overly competitive” day of it. (By “not overly competitive” I mean that we didn’t adhere strictly to the Texas rulebook, which dictates how many uses of a chair you can have, what constitutes a “level”, and disqualifies you if you run one second over the allotted time.)
So here’s what I told my kids: This isn’t a competition. We’re here to have fun. We’re not here to beat anyone else. We’re here to celebrate theater.
What I thought was: DESTROY THEM! THE RIVERS SHALL RUN RED WITH THEIR BLOOD!
You see, I’m something of a competitive jerk.
Now, I figured I had an inherent and unfair advantage over my fellow teachers, which I intended to exploit fully: I wrote the plays I intended to direct. I could look at my actors, write parts specifically for them, and basically manipulate the process in order to make sure my school came out on top.
Here’s the thing, though: Writing plays for a competition I was going to be in, forced me to write better plays.
You know who else forced me to write better plays? Jen. (Not her real name. Okay, fine, it was her real name.) First, let me say that Jen was a much better theatre teacher than I was. It was ridiculous; every year she’d bring a group of thirty ridiculously enthusiastic and happy students, who would then proceed to beat the snot out of everyone else in the theater with the most amazing show anyone had ever seen. She always won. She had costumes, she had sets that looked like they had been built by union workers, and somehow her actors were always incredible. And they were nice, which made it worse.
I wanted to beat Jen. So every year I tried to outdo myself to write a better play that would offset my disadvantages ( my total lack of costumes, set, and after-school rehearsal.)
The first time I beat her was with The Audition. I had an extremely talented group that year (the kind of kids who show up to the first rehearsal with all their lines memorized) so I decided I was going to adapt a musical for the middle school stage. What better choice than A Chorus Line? (Incidentally, this was the show that I told everyone else I was bringing to the festival just to see the looks on their faces.) My kids that year, in addition to being talented, lovely students, were also just as bloodthirsty and competitive as I was.
They were thinking things like: OUR TOUCHING AND BEAUTIFUL PLAY WILL WIPE THE FLOOR WITH YOU AND BREAK YOUR SPIRITS!
Anyway, since The Audition requires no costumes or set and we could sing and dance, we took home top honors that year. I should mention here that no one officially “won,” but believe me, we all knew who “won” every year.
We won again two years later with Oz, when I again followed the formula of slapstick humor + heartbreaking sadness = win.
In any event, the plays I wrote in order to destroy my fellow teachers and send their drama kids home in tears have been some of my best plays. The seven plays I wrote – Miss Polly’s Institute for Criminally Damaged Young Ladies Puts on a Show, Snappy’s Happy Half-Hour, The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon, The Audition, The Greek Mythology Olympiaganza, It’s not you, It’s me, and Oz, have now been produced more than 1,750 times. They’ve won competitions, sure, but more importantly, they’ve been enjoyed by countless audience members, which is actually the point.
And really, theatre isn’t and shouldn’t be football. But sometimes, when you put the word “competition” in front of it, it really does bring out the best in you.
And remember: theatre began as a competition. If the ancient Greeks hadn’t named winners, the world might be an entirely different place.
Visit Don's website: http://www.donzolidis.com/
I was in a supermarket the other day and was shocked to learn that once again, I was not named People magazine’s sexiest man alive. How many times do I have to go through this? In any event, I plan to use this snub to fuel my creative process for years until that magazine comes to their senses and realizes that my sultry brown eyes and prominent forehead are every bit as attractive as that guy from The Hangover.
I’ve failed a lot in my life. A lot.
Anyone who tries to do something artistic, or something difficult, or something challenging, is going to face a lot of failure. If it were easy, everyone would do it. And the people who succeed are the people who allow failure to fuel them, rather than destroy them.
At this point, it’s easy to wander off into clichés. Such as:
Never give up. Ever. Even after you are dead. Especially not then.
I think we can all take a page from Hamlet’s father and realize that if he had given up after he had been poisoned and buried, he never would have gotten his hollow revenge from beyond the grave.
But clichés become clichés because they’re often true.
There are so many examples from my own life – here are a few:
- In college, I signed up to be in a short story writing class, and I was not even allowed to be enrolled in the class because my story was deemed to be too bad. (Who knew that a story about a talking bagel being attacked by a pigeon wouldn’t strike the fancy of the professor?) Now, I am a creative writing professor and I yearn for the day when someone writes a talking bagel story for me.
- I got rejected from every grad school I applied to. (except one.) In fact, one day I received a rejection letter from a school I really wanted to go to, and when I set it down, I realized I had also gotten a second rejection letter at the same time. I was so upset that I threw the opened letter as hard as I could against the wall. (Do you know what happens when you try to throw paper really hard? Yeah. A whole lot of stupid.)
- Every year my college gave out an award for the best humorous writing to a graduating senior. The year I entered, for the first time in a decade, no award was given because “no one was deemed worthy.” Yeah. That one stung.
I could go on and on. Now it’s not like I think about these perceived slights every day (only most days), but because the artistic life is so difficult, you need something to keep you going. And believe me, the desire to “show `em” is a pretty strong motivator. I still fantasize about those people who rejected me looking in the newspaper and cursing themselves as I win my fourth-consecutive Pulitzer Prize and, almost unimaginably, my second Nobel. Hopefully, they’ll all still be alive and will have just enough faculties left to rend their hair and wail piteously as I make yet another acceptance speech.
I want to make one other point, one that is perhaps less clichéd than my first point. Most of the time, the reason you fail isn’t because of other people not believing in you, it’s because you simply aren’t good enough at what you’re doing. I probably didn’t get into that short story writing class because my story was actually pretty bad, and I didn’t get into grad schools because my play wasn’t very good.
Happily for me, I got better. And the reason I got better is that instead of blaming everyone else (I blamed them a little bit), I also blamed myself. And while that can lead to lots of sad nights, it can also help you learn and improve. You can’t learn anything if you give up.
So – embrace failure. Learn from it. And show `em.
Darn you Bradley Cooper and your piercing blue eyes and boyish grin! (Notice, however, that we have an equal amount of scruff. Hmm.)
Visit Don's website: http://www.donzolidis.com/
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For the uninitiated, here are the basics of Texas' public high school one-act play contests, as administered by the University Interscholastic League. According to the U.I.L.'s website, "The League's One-Act Play Contest, founded in 1927, is the largest high school play production contest or play festival in the world. More than 14,000 Texas high school students in more than 1,000 plays participate in 300 plus contests, which take place from the beginning of March through the three-day, 40-production State Meet One-Act Play Contest in May."
The U.I.L. was created by The University of Texas at Austin in 1910 and it exists to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests. The U.I.L. has grown into the largest inter-school organization of its kind in the world.
Here is how it works: Every public high school is categorized by size, (1A schools are the smallest and 5A schools are the largest, with student populations at or above 3,500 students, in grades 9-12). Then, schools in each classification are grouped into "districts" based on location. If you are teaching in a 3A school in Houston, for example, you will be placed in a "district" with other 3A schools in the Houston area. Districts usually contain 6 or 7 schools. Districts with 8 schools are broken into two "zones". Each school prepares a 40-minute minute one-act play to be presented at the district or zone contest. To attempt to level the playing field, schools are limited to a simple unit set of gray cubes, columns, flats, ramps and stairs. The plays are performed back-to-back on the day of the contest, and a judge declares a winner and an alternate who then advances to the "area" contest. "Area" winners advance to the "Region" contest and "Region" winners advance to the “State Finals” where a state champion is crowned in each of the five size classifications.
What does this mean to the Playscripts author? Simply put, each year over 14,000 Texas high schools are looking for a 40-minute play to use in this competition. In my experience, the kinds of plays that are normally done at this contest include 40-minute cuttings of well-known and/or classic plays. A list of last year's plays from the state contest can be found on the U.I.L. website. Once a play has appeared at the state contest, it becomes a popular choice for teachers the following year. So, if a school has success with your play, it could lead to dozens more production around the state. If you have a play that can be cut to 40 minutes, I recommend doing it yourself. Teachers can ask for permission to cut, but your play is much more marketable if it is already in a format that can be used in this contest. The contest rules are rigid, and any school that exceeds the 40-minute running time is disqualified. So, teachers are looking for plays that have an established production history in the 40-minute format. Also, the U.I.L. has a list of approved publishers, including Playscripts, and a list of pre-approved plays, but the U.I.L. must approve each script submitted. Teachers sometimes must cast their one-act play from a class whose roster is not flexible. So, a teacher may need a 40-minute show with three boys and fourteen girls, for example. If your play fits those requirements it immediately gets to the top of that teacher’s reading list. Playscripts’ powerful search tool allows teachers to search by cast size, so be sure your plays are listed in every possible casting scenario. If it is possible to do your play with fewer actors (by doubling roles) or with more (by un-doubling roles) be sure your description on the Playscripts website reflect this.
The U.I.L. one-act play contest offers a unique opportunity for a playwright to have his or her work showcased at one of the largest contests of its kind in the world.
Just over a month ago, I received a phone call from a prominent Artistic Director at a major regional theatre. (As you can imagine, this is something like getting a phone call from Santa Claus.) It went something like this:
PROMINENT ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: What are you working on right now?
ME: Oh lots of things. Lots and lots of things. So many things it would blow your mind.
PROMINENT ARTISTIC DIRETOR: Can you send me a copy of a new play?
ME: Um… Yeah, just give me three or four weeks.
PROMINENT ARTISTIC DIRETOR: Great. We want to choose our season for next year by the end of the month.
Now, as you may have guessed from my suspicious use of the ellipsis, there was no such play in the works. At that moment in time I had exactly nothing in the works. I had essentially given myself four weeks to write a new play from scratch worthy of production at a major regional theatre. Not easy.
So, faced with an impossible deadline and the highest stakes imaginable, I did what I always do: procrastinate. I spent some time on facebook, I commented on writing forums I had no business commenting on, I checked the baseball stats from the 1985 season (I wish I were making this up – I was actually doing this), and generally wasted time until panic set in.
Panic is usually enough to get me going. I spent three weeks in panic mode, wrote about forty-five single-spaced pages of terrible notes, started and abandoned three terrible plays, and spent quite a bit of time smashing my head against the floor in hopes that such an action would result in a fine, well-made play that would win me awards and make me famous.
When I don’t have a good idea, my thought process usually goes like this:
I suck. I suck. I am a fraud. Coyotes will devour my corpse.
That was my mental state on Wednesday, two days before my deadline, with a pile of unusable garbage on my computer, and coyotes circling ever nearer. Then, as fate would have it, I came up with something. I can boil it down to this: I let go and decided to just have fun.
Fun is important. It’s what got me into playwriting in the first place. When I was writing ten-minute plays in college, the entire point was to make people laugh (and theoretically make one of the pretty girls in the audience laugh so much that she would fall in love with me). I had a lot of fun doing that, and over the month that I was breaking my brain trying to come up with something, I had forgotten about fun.
So I went for fun. And the idea came to me. Now, when I have a good idea, my thought process is this:
I am awesome. I am the best ever. I will eat those coyotes for lunch.
Happily, by the time I’m done with the play, I usually settle somewhere in the middle so I’m not completely insufferable.
Anyway, even armed with a great idea and convinced of my own awesomeness, 48 hours is too short a time period to write a 100-page play, so I begged for three more days and got them, and hammered out a play in five days. I don’t mention the five days by way of bragging, remember it took 30 days of mind-smashing to get to my five days, and eighteen years of writing for the theatre to get to those 30 days
The point, which I had forgotten, is that you can’t think of the outcome when you’re writing. You can’t say, “I’m going to write a funny and beautiful play that will be loved by all and provide jobs for six actors and win the Pulitzer Prize and some other kind of award that hasn’t even been invented yet.” If you think that way, you paralyze yourself.
I sent the play in. The Prominent Artistic Director read it with his actors, loved it, and might just produce it. Whew.
Now if I only I had another idea.
Here’s an artist’s rendition of me writing a play and thinking about how awesome I am
--by Don Zolidis
Visit Don's website: http://www.donzolidis.com/
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After nearly a decade’s steady diet of university theater productions in which at least one actor if not dozens required aging via makeup and mounds of gray hairspray, I got it into my head to write a play where no such tricks were required––where young actors could play people their own age. The result was Acts of God (now published by Playscripts, Inc.), in which a dozen high schoolers cope with the emotional detritus of an F-3 tornado strike.
My dislike of forcing young actors to “play age” has not diminished. Since the advent of Acts, I have penned four full-length efforts where adults, “Peanuts”-style, are largely left out. My considerations in tackling these scripts are quite different than when I conjure plays for “grown up” theaters. To wit:
1) When writing for a professional company, economics necessitates a small cast. When writing a play intended for college or school groups, the exact opposite is true. How will we train our next generation of stage artists if we only write one- and two-handers?
2) When designing plays to be produced by cash-strapped schools, I have to consider the possibility that the producing venue might have a very limited budget. Thus, it behooves me to rely heavily on props, the kind that can be found at garage and rummage sales. The sets I devise (or should devise) are flexible, dependent not on great big flats or slamming doors but on negative space, the clever use of lighting and sound, and scenarios sufficiently powerful to lift an audience (I hope) out of its natural state of cultivated disbelief.
3) When thinking about young actors and casting, it seems to be an ongoing fact that more girls than boys are ready to audition. It’s my job, then, to write a play that’s easy to cast––or, as my mentor Chris Kazan once said, “Write parts that actors want to play”––girls included.
4) When writing for school systems, I must consider the possibility that they have no lighting grid other than a table lamp, no sound system besides a boom box, and no control over their environment beyond, perhaps, the closing of doors. So what can I offer? Challenging material, first of all, with strong emotional stakes. The play has to be about the situation and what its characters stand to lose, not about technological gimmickry which, let’s face it, can be outdone any day of the week by Hollywood (or even, most days, by the worst app on my iPhone).
5) Make ‘em laugh.
Now that I’ve laid down the law, here’s how my post-Acts efforts break the above rules. (Not that I had any choice; the muses made me do it.)
Nightjars, with a large cast of seventeen, quickly found a production slot at the Y.E.S. Festival (Northern Kentucky University, 2009), but has failed to find a publisher or a second home. I cannot entirely account for this. It contains what to me is the finest scene I have ever written, one that I cannot read without crying.
These Lonely Daughters of Liberty has gone nowhere except back into a bottom drawer where it will hopefully never again be read by man, woman or beast. It’s an attempt to tell the story of a high school girl whose father is an Aryan Nations survivalist, but it’s a bad play. With a cast of seven (one adult, six teens) it should have worked like gangbusters. It didn’t. It doesn’t.
Two much newer efforts remain largely untested. Ten Red Kings deals with on-line gaming addiction, and its collegiate heroine, Margot, is sent in short order to a wilderness-style rehab camp. No phones. No computers. No iPods. Margot, a skilled World of Warcraft player, is so close to her on-line avatar that said avatar, Nightwatch, becomes part of the on-stage action (along with several trolls and a smitten wizard who thinks Nightwatch is the hottest thing since butter). By story’s end, Margot is back at home and ready to put the brakes on gaming, but Nightwatch, unsurprisingly, has other ideas.
So here’s a story that speaks, I hope, to young people’s actual experience. The subject is certainly ripe for hilarity, but it’s also quite serious, and I have made no attempt to provide a pat ending. Margot, just like an alcoholic waging an ongoing tug-of-war with drink, is engaged in a battle that will last a lifetime. Is this appropriate for teen drama? Absolutely. Teens, like most savvy adults, know that the really hard questions don’t come with ready-made answers, and they are rightly suspicious of those who provide them.
Not that the close of Ten Red Kings is grim. It isn’t. Negativity isn’t any more useful in theater than is Pollyanna optimism.
What else does Ten Red Kings offer? A flexible set designed around a few primitive benches, a “window,” a campfire circle, and a computer hutch or desk. The play also requires computers and peripherals, several fairly specific masks, and, to top it all off, a lethal-looking sword. I have rationalized my inclusion of these items as being A) artistically necessary, and B) less expensive, even in aggregate, than a “kitchen sink” set.
That takes us to My United Nations. Like Ten Red Kings, the play features a female lead and a mid-size cast (eleven). One character is intended to be played by a real adult, not a student; the rest play high schoolers. Samantha (Sam) Morgan is having trouble keeping her facts straight. Is she the Secretary General of the United Nations, or is she simply the Secretary General for her school’s Model United Nations, an involved but ultimately “pretend” after-school club? Either way, her classmates are behaving very strangely, as is her assistant, and there’s a voice in her head urging her to do some very scary things. Act Two begins on a quieter note, with Sam admitting to her in-hospital psychiatrist that she understands she is a schizophrenic, and that at least half of what she’s been experiencing is delusional. The question becomes, will continuing her United Nations scenario put her fantasies to rest, or will they send her permanently over the edge?
With My United Nations, I have shucked off my rule about solid sets. The play requires a realistic interior––half classroom, half hospital ward––together with one window and two firmly emplaced doors, one to be used by those who inhabit Sam’s fantasies, the other by those who are undeniably real (her physician, et al.).
Further, to really make the set successful, Sam should have a hospital bed. An impossible build for a high school, yes, but not so hard to rent (from a medical supply company). Is the play appropriately cheap to produce? Overall, probably still. At least it’s not a “costume drama,” requiring rentals of everything from ballroom gowns to top hats and bustles. But I have clearly strayed from the straight and narrow of my own precious playbook. (Wretched muses. It’s all their fault!)
So, in terms of sensible playwright behavior, I’ll give myself a B+ (or a C- if we count These Lonely Daughters…, which I do not). And of course I’m hoping that the dramatic merits of each piece outweigh any and all set-related, cost-related or cast-related drawbacks. Ten Red Kings has drawn serious consideration from two colleges so far, but is not yet set in stone for anyone’s season. My United Nations is too new to have reached beyond my basement office, although its first concert reading will be scheduled shortly (relying, as I always do, on the perennially talented performance majors at the University of Evansville).
Will either play follow in the footsteps of Acts of God, and appear under the auspices of either Playscripts, Inc. or some other publisher? Perhaps. But the Catch-22 of theater remains firmly in place: To get published, a play must first be produced. And to be produced, a play must first be published.
Now, if anyone would care to step forward and break that fateful chain, please, give me a shout. That’s how Acts of God got going. Two venues, the Evansville Civic Theatre (Evansville, IN), and Thomas Worthington High School (Worthington, OH) agreed to produce Acts despite its newness and despite my, at the time, marginal track record. (Thank you, Chris Tyner, and thank you, Bronwynn Hopton!)
Time now for me to get back to work. A grown-up piece, my current project, all of ten minutes long, featuring a state-employed arborist attempting to measure a whopper of an oak. Will it be good? Or, more to the point, will it have a cast of thousands, or require an on-stage tree the size of a house? I surely hope not.
Until next time, dream hard. Write harder.
--by Mark Rigney
Mark Rigney is the author of Deaf Side Story: Deaf Sharks, Hearing Jets and a Classic American Musical (Gallaudet U. Press), some thirty-five published stories and numerous plays including Acts of God, Cavers, Roots in a Grey Garden, Bears and Burning Mona Lisa in the Reptile House (winner of the 2004 Panowski Playwriting Contest).
Visit Mark's website: http://www.markrigney.net
Children’s Theater is just as absorbing as theater intended for adults. If you’ve never seen a TYA play (Theater for Young Audiences), then I challenge you to do so. Don’t worry, they allow grown-ups to attend children's theater even when not accompanied by a child.
Before you buy your ticket, though, you’ll want to ask one question: “Is this show For or By?” Meaning, is it for children or by children. TYA can go either way.
Don’t ask this question to determine if you’ll want to see the show or not, but instead so you’ll know what you’re getting into. Just as you’d like to know if you’re seeing a drama or a comedy, For or By are different genres - even when they’re using the same scripts.
Both have their own values and strengths, and it would be a mistake to assume that TYA performed by professional adults is always better than TYA performed by young people. Granted, a cast of adults will usually posses fewer fidgeting actors, and you probably won’t catch them scanning the audience to wave at a parent during a scene. However, a group of children actors who are engaged by the work they’re doing on stage - either because of how much fun they’re having, or because they have fully bought into the message of the play - can still carry the power of a professional production even when it’s not wrapped in the same polish and training.
So, does that say that By is better than For? Nope. I’ve seen some By productions that made me want to swallow poison, but I’ve also seen some For productions that caused the same reaction. Anyone who has seen more than three plays, knows that attending a live performance involves some risk for the audience. But that gamble is part of the fun of attending theater.
As for Nashville Children’s Theatre (NCT), we do theater for children and families. NCT is a professional, Equity theater, and our season of shows is performed by all adult actors. For the young who wish to enjoy stage time, NCT offers a vibrant collection of drama classes, and once any young person graduates high school they’re welcome to come to season auditions.
NCT was founded by the Junior League of Nashville in 1931, (making this 2011-12 season our 80th Anniversary), and is the oldest professional children’s theatre company in the US.
--by Steve Bianchi, Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Nashville Children's Theatre
I think it’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve done a lot of stupid things over the years. I’m going to limit this to my experiences as a director of my own work, though, to narrow it down.
To start with, I’ll admit that I’m not a great director. I’m decent enough at getting good performances out of actors, but I made a lot of mistakes in my first years. Here’s a few of them.
1. Use plastic chairs to stand in for your set. At the middle school, I didn’t have a shop. I didn’t even have a hint of a shop. There was no wood. So, if I needed a bed, I put three plastic chairs next to each other and draped them in a blanket. Problem solved. If I needed a coffee table, I tipped one of the plastic chairs over and put it in front of the couch, (which was also made of three plastic chairs next to each other.) The only thing I didn’t use plastic chairs for were walls, which I conveniently left off.
2. Tell kids to "find their own costume". Another facet of having no budget was having no costume budget. Our "costume closet" was really an underground space where someone left a pair of sweatpants once. Incidentally, that pair of sweatpants appeared on stage frequently. Of course, I hoped that kids would be able to find their own costumes and bring in amazing things. As you can imagine, results varied widely. Sometimes parents would spend hours and hours carefully crafting a tapeworm costume, (not kidding), or other times kids would bring in a pair of jeans to play Santa Claus. Some of my first shows looked pretty darn ugly.
3. Don’t practice lights and sound. I was lucky enough to have a light board – which was connected by a cable to backstage, so I could operate the lights by standing to the side of the stage. We had six areas we could use and no colored lights. If I turned all the lights out, the entire theatre went pitch black (which caused two things to happen simultaneously: 1. The middle school audience starts to scream "ooooh!" with the teachers threatening to send everyone to the office, and 2. One of the actors trips over a plastic chair thereby destroying the entire set and making a lot of noise.) My “sound system” was a boombox that I placed in front of the stage. Again, without practicing this, (and since I was both light op, sound op, director, and playwright), I made quite a few gaffes.
4. Don’t time your show. Our plays were normally performed during the school day, which meant they had to fit into a 50-minute class period. It usually took nearly twenty minutes to get three or four hundred middle school kids seated, so realistically, our plays needed to be thirty minutes or less. Well, since we were just finishing shows right before performances, I never had the time to actually see how long they really were. Most performances I kept one eye on the boombox, one eye on the light board, and one eye on the clock. I was never worried we were going to forget our lines; I was terrified that the bell was going to cut us off. (Because once that bell rings, it doesn’t matter if someone is saying, "and the killer is –" the kids are going to charge out of the theatre like a rampaging herd of water buffalo.
I didn’t make all of these mistakes for every show. In fact, I got a lot better at things. I started paying attention to costumes. I started finding ingenious ways to build sets – (I made an entire forest out of nine Christmas trees one year) – I managed to get some band kids to run light and sound (band kids are trustworthy, and they’re usually passing all of their classes, so you can pull them out to run the show.)
Eventually, I even figured out how to relax during the play. A little bit. Just remember: even if you have a great script (which I always did, thank you very much) and even if you’ve got a bunch of great actors (which I always did), mood and atmosphere are crucial to a truly exceptional show.
--by Don Zolidis
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At some point in college, I realized a truth about myself. As much as I enjoyed acting on stage, I wasn’t going to be Al Pacino or even Rob Schneider. It was around this time I was taking a playwriting class and that’s where I really found myself. I continued to perform when the opportunity came up (I got the roles a part-time actor would get like a mute character wrapped in bandages and beat upon during the entire course of the play, seriously), but it was always secondary to my writing.
When asked to write about monologues, my first thought is that I am not on the active hunt for a great one like my actor friends are. Nevertheless, I have written monologues that have ended up in collections such as Playscripts' Actors Choice: Monologues for Men and a number of collections for Smith & Kraus.
What I know is that I don’t ever actively try to write a monologue. I try to write plays -- mostly funny plays -- that happen to have monologues in them. In that respect, my play The Clawfoot and Hot Tub Interviews is really a series of monologues -- first by a series of odd men who are at Olivia’s house to buy a clawfoot tub but are really there for Olivia and then women who want more from Scott than the hot tub he is selling.
This play has a monologue in it by a character named Bliss that ended up in a collection some years back. Every year since then I’ve had actresses hunt me down to ask about the monologue. Bliss, bless her heart, is a neo-hippie and downright quirky soul -- she likes to spin around when she talks and she wants to give up being a hostess at a steak restaurant and follow jam bands around the country. My monologue for Bliss hits several sweet spots. It’s funny and it can give smart, young actresses (Dear young struggling playwright, write parts for smart, young actresses and you won’t be struggling for long, sincerely Werner) something to play.
That is my advice to both writers and actors in the monologue game -- find/write the piece that has the most play in it. The play part of that can be funny or it can be serious. But be a character and make your mark. What, you only have a minute or two to show off to a director why you are the bestest for the part? So show them.
--by Werner Trieschmann
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Visit Werner's blog: www.wernertplays.com