Archive for category Playwrighting
There is one thing that I didn’t anticipate about being a playwright.
The theatre is all about acceptance. It is a safe space. It is about sharing. It is…a community.
Being accepted into this group, fills one with warmth.
I didn’t anticipate this. It is enough to have someone select your play for performance. It is wonderful to be invited to see this performance. It is astounding to know that a whole group of strangers have volunteered their time and efforts to work on your play, and memorize, and practice, and rehearse, and on and on. There are cues for them to learn. They have to set up lighting and sound cues. The stage managers have to set up the stage in seconds – and they have to get it right. The actors have very limited time in the performance venue to get used to the ins and outs, work their blocking, work with their scene partner, and still “sell the performance”.
I am only the playwright. In a sense – I have the easiest job. I sit – (probably in my pajamas) – in my easy chair – with my laptop on my lap. And I write. I can do this at my leisure. On my own time. I can take as long as I want to craft the play. I can rewrite. I can throw out the elements that don’t work. I coordinate back and forth with my writing partner. We bounce ideas off of each other.
It is a thrill when we, as playwrights, get to go to a theatre and see our play performed.
I had such an honor this past weekend at the 2019 Stillwater Short Play Festival. They utilize blind selection, and I consider it an honor that they have chosen our play to be performed. This is the fourth time they have chosen us.
Our play this year is a comedy called “Speed Dating” by playwrights Amanda Ball and Karen Ball. It has four speaking parts – one male and three female.
I had the opportunity to meet two of the performers in the lobby,
Klayton Valega and Veronica Allen.
The other performers in the play with speaking roles were, Sharyl Pickens and Courtney Octoo-Lee. Extras were Jacob Boyd and Archibald Octoo-Lee. The play was directed by Debbie Sutton.
It was fun. I laughed out loud! So did the rest of the audience.
What fun! To see something that began as a seed of an idea, to be brought to full fruition by a group of strangers…strangers who become a group-with-a-purpose and accept me as one of them!
I thank you!
Out of this community, like a spiderweb, lines grow between other plays, groups, peoples, projects, and theatres.
Mr. Valega and Ms. Allen (pictured above) told me that they met because of our play. And because of that, they ended up doing another play in the festival called “Last Dance” by playwright Len Cuthbert.
And, in my humble opinion, this play “Last Dance” was the best play of the night. I had tears in my eyes.
Whether you laugh or whether ‘your eyes commence to puddling up’ – it is The Theatre that brings us together!
Thank you all for including us.
Below are some photos of the day:
We are thrilled and honored that one of our plays has been chosen for the Stillwater Short Play Festival.
The play is a comedy written by myself and my writing partner, Karen Ball.
The festival will be held the weekend of May 4 and 5, 2019 at the Town and Gown Theatre in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
I got a call on Tuesday night. One of my plays was going to be performed as a staged reading on Saturday night.
I did some rearranging and on Saturday, I was prepared to go to the theatre.
So, I get in my little car and off I go to Oklahoma City. I have not been to this particular theatre before. There is an element of the unknown on these situations: you don’t know where you are going, or what you are getting into, or what the event will be, or who the people will be, or how the play will be performed.
As a playwright, I put words to paper. I create a story. I build the *start* of each character.
It takes a theatre troupe to make a play happen, and it takes real actors to bring the play to life.
On this night, October 13, 2018, I had the experience of seeing REAL actors, inhabit these characters that I had dreamed up, while they performed my play.
I must confess…I made a total fool of myself, gushing over these actors. I probably gushed at them three times each. It was over the top and it was too much. I am used to limiting my behavior when something is bad (not letting on that I am disappointed, etc, not showing criticism in how a play goes down)…but I need to practice some form of restraint when things are too good.
The event was at Carpenter Square Theatre.
There was a reception at 7:10. They had a large offering of international foods in the lobby. While there, they were having a silent auction. The lobby had a showing from a local artist. Already the evening is off to a good start.
The theatre had reserved table seating for the playwrights. This was something I had not seen before, but to have a seat reserved up front. Wow!
The theatre itself is small. The audience is close to the action. As a result, the audience response is immediate. It is right there. The actors have a feedback to play off of.
Five plays had been selected for this play festival. Out of 45 that were submitted, one of my plays was chosen?!? One of my plays that I have submitted EVERYWHERE and has been rejected EVERYWHERE? It has been rejected so much, that I was starting to get a complex. Maybe it wasn’t any good? Maybe I should shelve it. Maybe it didn’t “Translate”. Maybe it was too depressing.
But part of being an artist (part of being a writer) is to say: I have a voice. I have something to say. There is a story here. Let me tell it!
So, with trepidation…I had submitted this play to Carpenter Square Theatre.
Imagine my surprise when a play that has been rejected dozens of times….finally gets…Accepted? Gulp!
I had made arrangements to be free on Saturday. Saturday rolls around. I don’t want to get out of bed. My stomach is upset. I trundle out to my easy chair and put on a Netflix video so that I don’t have to think about the world.
In general, nerves are not a part of my creative experience. If I am performing, be it musically, singing, acting or emceeing, I don’t get nervous. Try as I might, I don’t understand stage fright. I wish could understand it (to help others who do suffer), but I don’t.
The only things that have made me nervous in show business (so far) are playing music at weddings (I freaking hate weddings!) and…being a playwright. That seems to be such an odd situation. Playwright, nerves? I mean…I am not producing. I am not acting in the play. When we had our play performed in May (which also had great acting – 2018 has been the year of good acting) I didn’t have the nerves. I figured….great! I have conquered that issue. Onto the next issue.
But, nope! All I wanted to do on Saturday was to go hide under the covers.
I didn’t want to gas up the car. Didn’t want to check the tires before the long drive. Didn’t feel like eating. But you need to eat, and then what is that going to do to your stomach? I had one last can of chicken noodle soup and I was panicked thinking I didn’t have any.
But you go. You put on your ritziest outfit and you get your cameras and you go. Because this is what you wanted to do. You wanted to be a playwright, so go be a damn playwright!
Once you are there, in the moment, you get your plate of food, and you sit at your lonely table, apart from the crowd – who all seem to know each other, and you kind of go….”I shouldn’t be here. I’m too small-time. Have I paid enough dues?”
Then people start coming over. This was one of the most welcoming theatre troupes I have experienced. The sense of community in the theatre warms my heart. Because the theatre is not about cliques and exclusion. The theatre is about inclusion.
And…to my extreme surprise…the people in this theatre embraced me. I have spent my whole life as an outsider (mostly by choice). When people include me as a part of them…and welcome me with open arms…THAT is something!
Actor Richard Ridley, Playwright Amanda Ball, Actor Al Bostick.
The play is entitled: The Girl on the Tractor.
My cell phone just rang.
It was a number I didn’t recognize. Since the majority of those are telemarketers, I didn’t pick up. Then the voice mail beeped.
One of my plays has been chosen to be performed this Saturday at Carpenter Square Theatre!
I gotta tell you – this does not get old!!!
Playwrighting is something that we came to late in our creative dreams. Growing up, I wanted to be a 1) country music singer, 2) mystery author 3) actor in major motion pictures 4) movie director….and then at some point after that…then came The Theatre!
I pursue each and every one of those goals (and a lot more besides). But as a writer…it is astounding to see your creation -which exists as words on a sheet of paper – come to life in front of you. It is a thrill to see an actor interpret your words. Yes…there are sometimes when you want a scene to play out a certain way. But…I enjoy the thrill of seeing someone find some interpretation in those words that I have not even considered.
Besides which – theatre people are cool! As a collective group: they share: they share their talent with the world. Being an actor means that something inside of you is bursting forth. That takes guts. Theatre people are courageous. Most of us avoid uncomfortable situations – but theatre people will play any situation or any character. Theatre people don’t mind the spotlight, in fact, they welcome it. Theatre people are about inclusion. They are all about embracing our differences and finding some way to be a bridge to human connection.
It is a huge honor to get to be a part of this community!
To the Carpenter Square Theatre troupe – thank you!
When you are a writer, there is nothing quite like having an actor bring your stories to life.
This weekend, we went to the theatre to see our play, “The Stevens Sisters” performed.
The organizations that presented the play festival are the Town & Gown Theatre and Troupe d’Jour in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The proceeds from the festival went to benefit a local charity called Kickin’ Childhood Hunger.
This was the finest acting that I have seen on one of our plays thus far. It’s wonderful to see how talented actors can bring words to life. Before this, the play only existed as black ink on white pages.
Then you see it live and see it embodied. I don’t care how many times you see your work performed…this does not get old.
Theatre people are fun people! It’s fun to get to be around people who “do what we do”. For a couple of hours this weekend, we saw stories come to life in front of our eyes. The outside world drops away. You forget your troubles. You forget your cares.
“The Stevens Sisters” is by Amanda Ball and Karen Ball. This was the first time that Karen has had the opportunity to see one of our works performed live.
As a matter of fact, it was the first time she has been asked for an autograph!
Actor Shelli Aliff, Playwright Amanda Ball, Playwright Karen Ball, Actor/director Sharyl Pickens.
Long live the theatre!
Part of being a creative artist – is receiving rejections. I received this letter earlier in the week:
I hope this finds you well. First, I want to apologize for the delay in getting our feedback to everyone — we were hoping to complete this process much sooner, but, since we don’t send “yes” or “no” form letters, it takes us a good deal longer than most companies to read through submissions and get back to every creative professional with individualized feedback.
In the case of Paula/Poly, we found your story and your characters very compelling. Of course, the story is not brand new, but it seemed as though the heavy use of sociological labels in your piece (“poly[amorous],” “triad,” etc.) — which are socially and ethically challenging concepts to be sure — make the subject matter a little uncomfortable. You call the piece a comedy, but, to be perfectly honest, it didn’t feel like one as we were reading. The emotions that Paula felt came across as very genuine, as did the emotions of the other three principals, and their words were very heartfelt — we genuinely felt badly for the people whose hearts were hurting, and that’s a testament to your strong writing.
Of course, whether it’s a comedy or drama is not really a big issue. The piece could work fine as a drama, or as something in between (like the Netflix series Love, which portrays some very tumultuous relationships). There have certainly been attempts in recent years to portray polyamorous relationships in the performing arts (including a failed recent series on Showtime), but, while the concept of polyamory is by no means new, it is still a challenging issue for the public to grapple with (the way marriage equality still was 8-10 years ago), especially in a relatively conservative state like Kentucky. We also felt that the title, while verbally witty, didn’t really do the piece justice – it just highlighted the controversial nature of the subject matter.
Now, I should note that some stage works, especially those involving music (which seems to transcend many of our artificial barriers), are able to overcome the intrinsic challenge of their subject matter when the music/art is strong enough – Rent is a good example. Unfortunately, we didn’t feel that was the case in this piece. The character of Paula wasn’t developed enough to be someone that we wanted to “root for” – perhaps if she’d had a back story and had experienced some public or professional success, that would invest us in the character enough to want to ride out her challenge with her (sort of akin to the recent PR campaign showing successful public figures saying something to the effect of “Oh, by the way, I’m a Mormon.”). Or, if the music had been truly sensational, it would have carried us beyond the surface level of the challenging words — but in this case, we didn’t have any printed music to look at or sing from, and we found the audio that you provided a little monotonous. Speaking of which, is the female voice in the recording yours? If so, you have a truly beautiful instrument. As a record producer, I would put a voice like that in the studio in a heartbeat. But it does have an unusually low range, and it’s not representative of most female musical theater voices, so it would be difficult for most groups to use this audio as a basis for judging how the music will work for their voices (especially without any printed music). We would humbly recommend, if you’re going to continue sharing audio demos of this work, that you invest in a few singers who have the timbres and ranges that you ultimately envision for these roles. (If you don’t have access to the singer-actors where you are, we might be able to help with that, and I’d be glad to talk further about some sort of recording collaboration if that were of interest to you – we’ve done this with several composers).
Artistic Director & Conductor
The Bluegrass Opera
So, um, yeah. June 29, I complete the finalization of the last musical, code named P/P.
And as I blogged about last time, I was worn out, used up, gutted, and unable to stand vertical. The project was that big. It took that much out of me.
And what do I need to do next? Rest. Take a Break. Recharge.
What do I actually do next?
Well…it’s been in the back of my mind, that I am perhaps a bit uncomfortable with not having more musicals planned, in my head, waiting to come out. When P/P got finished, we had 2, which is still quite an accomplishment, but…
So, what if we conduct an experiment? Take existing songs from the catalog (I have composed over 400. There’s plenty of material there to work with.)…and build a musical around it.
But this last one took the stuffing out of me. So, why not try for a one-act. Maybe 3 songs, and just 25 pages or so, and write TO whatever songs I chose – which are already composed?
I mention this to my writing parter, as an experiment, and which songs do we pick?
She came back with a novelty song, we had composed some time back.
And immediately inspiration kicks in. And I compose 2 new songs, to go with the 1 existing one.
My next segment of days off from the day job, and without prior planning or thinking it up, or anything at all—I write the damn musical. In its entirety. I went slow and would do a scene, then walk around and think and come back to it. And the thing just…was there.
I am AMAZED when that happens. The first new song, I could remember all week. And I’d go to the piano and just sing the living daylights out of it. It’s one of those that is super fun to sing and perform. Some songs are like that–they just soar out of your soul.
But, problem. I could not remember the music for the second new song.
When I compose at the piano, I have a procedure I have used for years. I write the lyrics on paper, and I sing and play into a cassette. Then you have to have some sort of cataloging system to be able to go back and find them. But this is a chronological thing.
If the time comes when I compose in a digital realm, and have to store these on a hard drive, I think I’d go mad. Yes, the work eventually ends up digitized. But my system works and I can’t deviate from it.
So, when I can’t remember the tune, that isn’t a problem, because I have an initial composing and notes in the cassette.
But it baffles me that I have these lyrics and I can’t remember the tune. So…finally I get to my days off again. I edit the manuscript. I need to record demos. I go to the cassette: which has NO MUSIC on it. I didn’t WRITE the music in the first place. Just the lyrics.
So, I compose music, which happened rather quickly and then that gels around in my head for a couple of days, and boom! I lay down demos. Boom, I finalize the manuscript. And…
BOOM! Another project is done.
17 days, start to finish.
This is #23.
23 plays in our catalog. Some I solo wrote. Some I co-wrote.
Why do I keep doing this?
Beacuse, of all the aspects of creativity in which I work: Playwrighting is the most open. There are so many opportunities to submit your work and places to be heard.
All the other aspects of creativity:
Screenwriting: damn hard to break into
Songwriting: the corporate controlled music business has taken the ‘soul’ of an artist out of the equation. They have killed anything “human” from the music, and it’s all about hook, groove, beats, vocal manipulation, etc
Try as I might, I can find no wedge to break in. Not to mention the fact that my music has soul. My music touches people. That is the opposite of what is happening in the current music environment.
Poetry: Yes, there are opportunities, but, really, if you are a poet, how much of a future can you build out of your art? I love poetry and love being a poet. But it isn’t a life that can sustain itself.
Filmmaking: This one is tough. Yes, there are tons of opportunities. If you make films, there are so many places to send them, share them, etc. But, at the present time of my life, I can’t seem to pull that off. I can’t seem to have a day job and make a film at the same time. When I make a film, it needs to be the ONLY thing I have going. And for now, that isn’t an option. But, there was a time, when I could not write a book and have a day job. If I was writing a book for however many months, I could not have split focus. Well, I built up the…whatever, and now I can have a day job. I can write on my days off. I can write on a day when I actually work day job, but on off duty hours. So, I agonize that I am not making films, enough. We do one, maybe two small projects a year. I just try not to drive myself crazy with the ‘waiting for the time to come’ when I can make more.
Acting: Acting is a passive business. As an actor, you do your best to build and hone your craft. But, ultimately, you are the one waiting for the phone to ring. Someone else makes a decision about whether to hire you or not. As an actor, I get 1 or 2 gigs a year. I enjoy it.
Photography: Fun to do. Amazing to work with. And there is a future in it. But I haven’t taken the time to invest in turning it into a profit. You only have so many hours in a day. And photography seems to be a creative hobby, rather than a full-focus opportunity.
Fiction novelist: So yeah, this is where I’ve had the most success. And it’s a solo gig, which means I can write on my own time without having to adjust to the time management needs of others. So, writing is where I seem to be spending the most of my creative time as of late. And I’ve been lucky, that people have found my books and the ebbs and flows are still working. But it’s really easy for things to go the opposite way: to put all the effort into a project, and it just sits there. You can’t make a person read a book. They have to want to.
So, to recharge the recharge? Here we are again. 17 days later, and I have poured my soul into a project, and what is left, but an empty shell?
And as difficult as it is to “get thru” that gutted phase of a project…
What is even more difficult? Not having a front burner.
I had thought about moving a video project to front burner.
But it’s 100* out. I can’t work outdoors (not since the heat stroke a few years back). I cna’t take the heat. Even by 9 am, it’s too hot to be outdoors, and to try to film? Yeah, we could film indoors, but lighting sucks, and we don’t exactly have a studio set up as we need. And my garage and my parter’s shed, both of which we have used for filming in the past, are not air conditioned. And I would really hate to subject other actors to working conditions that I, myself, cannot tolerate.
I don’t know that I have enough “umph” or whatever you call it to go to the recording studio. It, too, takes “insides” and mine are kinda jumbled and depleted at the moment.
Oh well, the next project will leap to the forefront.
In a way, the not knowing is rather amazing (and scary), but you never know where this journey will take you.
I am but a vessel, floating along on the shifting currents of the universe’s ocean tide.