Sunday, September 15, 2019

On Program Pics

Tonight we saw a PLAY!
As Bertold Brecht might have asked, "What is social media for?"

We use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so on) to share opinions, to make jokes, to seek reassurance or express anger, and quite often we use it to post photographs of our pets, our dinner, and cocktail and our children, special events and even our injuries and accidents.

And we post photos of the programs for plays we are about to see.

This last has, from time to time, aroused snarky criticism, as if we are still insecure high school students mocking the theater dork ("Ooh! Did you see a PLAY?!") even when it's a theater dork doing the mocking.

Some take issue with this flagrant display of money and privilege, though little direct confrontation arises when our friends share pics from destination amusement parks, exotic vacations or ballparks.

Unlike those examples, however, audience members at plays are specifically asked not to take photos of the show itself, and there are reasons for this which are both legal and aesthetic. So taking a picture of your program is the only acceptable way to say, "I am here," which is ultimately what so much of social media is for.

And after all, isn't it a lovely thing to let the world know you are seeing a play?

Cleveland Play House presents "Into the Breeches" by George Brant at the Allen Theatre through October 6, 2019.

Monday, September 2, 2019

"The Witches" at Cleveland Public Theatre's Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy

Bryce Evan Lewis & Adrionna Powell Lawrence
in rehearsal for a scene from "The Witches"
Some years I have offered ten-minute plays to the folks at Cleveland Public Theatre for their annual Pandemonium gala, others scenes from full-length plays in progress. Eight years ago it was a scene from These Are The Times, in 2012 a brief sketch of a scene which would eventually become Adventures In Slumberland.

Currently I am working on a full-length play titled The Witches, a comedy which ties together my love of roadside attractions, American history and the world of non-profit education.

In the back of my mind I have wanted to write a play about the Colonial Witch Panic of 1692, but it’s one thing to want to have written something and another to know what it is that you want to say. Recent events have inspired me, and characters have been populating my mind. The plot has been slowly unfolding and I look forward to where it will all end.

A few weeks ago a colleague messaged me in the middle of the day asking, “We are in Salem. Any tips?” It’s always flattering when someone looks to you for advice as where to go in a certain location, you feel like a world-renown traveler. I quickly rattled off a short list of places appropriate for a family with teenagers and young adult children, places cheesy, stately, and of course a place to eat that would make everyone happy.

For this new script, however, I wanted to create a fictional city. Citizens in villages surrounding Salem, like in Andover, Beverly and Topsfield were also charged. What if we created a small city whose claim to fame was only one accused of witchcraft? And what if a popular YouTuber was on a cross-country road trip and stopped in to fictional Bradbury, Massachusetts to check out the state’s 27th most-popular witch-themed attraction?

The scene we are presenting Saturday evening is a midnight visit to the Bradbury Memorial Cemetery on the first day of spring, directed by Kim Seabright Martin and featuring Bryce Evan Lewis, Adrionna Powell Lawrence, Maggie Stahl and Lisa L. Wiley.

Cleveland Public Theatre presents "Pandemonium 2019: Alchemy" this Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sherlock Holmes: First Reading

Discuss.
Friday night about a dozen folks gathered on our deck for a first reading of Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street. It was a beautiful late summer evening, Chennelle made buffalo chicken dip and chili, and I found a suitable Victorian era cocktail for those who partake.

Seems that on Charles Dickens’ historic tour of the United States (when he wasn’t becoming increasingly aware of and outraged by the fortune he was losing across the pond by dint of the widespread copyright violation of his written works) he became quite a fan of the mixed drinks he had been tippling. The one I chose the replicate was that one called simply “The Cock-Tail” (yaas) a concoction of rye, sugar, bitters, water and nutmeg.

Readers were present and former actor-teachers, in attendance members of the production company (notably, production director Lisa Ortenzi), playwrights, educators and friends. Perhaps more than any previous script I have written, there are so many elements I am trying to “get right” and for which comment and feedback has been sought and appreciated.

One element of this script which made a universal impression on those present were the “choose your own adventure” moments. These are points in the narrative when a character turns to a member of the audience with a clear choice of two, specific decisions (“should I a. or should I b.?”) which result in the company performing one of two alternate pages.

In each case, the choice leads right back into the main story -- this isn’t like Clue, there aren’t alternate endings. But these adults were excited by the idea of getting to manipulate what happens, and no doubt children will, too. And these short scenes portray how different choices can produce different outcomes.

Having originally chosen to include three of these moments in the play, deeper discussion (as well as their evident popularity) has inspired me to create two more of these moments. I know where they should go, even if I do not yet know what will occur.

Four Pounds Flour: Historic Gastronomy

There was a lot of discussion about our narrator, Vicky. Characters in mysteries can be ciphers, characters who serve a purpose to the plot but do not have much background. And in a short play for children, we can lean on personality and type to carry a character through. However, she is our representative in the story, and while we know a little about her, we do not know yet what inspires her, or what she wants. We know what she’s running from, but what is she running to?

I would say more about character, but I would hate to give up the mystery to anyone who wants to be surprised when they attend a public performance. Suffice to say there was also confusion about the motivation of some of the criminals in the tale, and I will be taking a careful look at those.

Our teachers in attendance were frank about the reaction their students have when presented with programs such as these. “Oh, great, another thing about bullying. Bullying is bad, I get it.” The word hardly has any meaning anymore. “Someone called me a name today, I was bullied.” Were you? Ironically, it is because administrators and teachers are seeking programming to address repeated abusive behavior among students that they seek out shows with the word “bully” in the title. And here we are.

Part of the challenge is in addressing what “bully” even means. Another of our teachers remarked, “bully is not a noun, it is a verb.” It’s about labeling, and what happens to a person when we call them by what they do. A child might thieve something, but does that make them a thief?

The discussion was vibrant, and animated. Some of the comments will make their way into our teacher resource guide. I have a list of edits and changes and new ideas. It was a wonderful, wonderful talkback.

After we made a bowl fire and had s'mores.

To be continued.

Source:
Four Pounds Flour: “What Dickens Drank” by Sarah Lohman, 10/29/2010 

Auditions for the Great Lakes Theater "Classics On Tour" production of "Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street" will be Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The first draft of "Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street" is available for download from New Play Exchange.

Many thanks to Adam, Allie, Chelsea, Chennelle, Chris, Eric, Lisa, Luke, Marcie, Sarah, Tim, Toni -- and Kim!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

How I Spent My Summer (2019)

Providence, RI

For the past several years I have taken a moment before the school year begins to reflect upon the fleeting days of summer. What does "summer vacation" mean to adults? Well, we do have school age children, and are each professionally tethered to the academic clock. We work, but we also play, and enable play.

The opportunities during warm weather months are great, and we endeavor to take advantage of them. This year my wife and I celebrated twenty years married, my daughter and I watched all of Stranger Things 3 over the course of two days, the boy and I went fishing. And there was so much more.

Beck Center for the Arts
KING LEAR

Feels like a million years ago now, but the summer began with a five weekend run of King Lear at the Beck Center, directed by Eric Schmiedl. Performances were only three a week (Fri, Sat eve & Sun mat) and there was something about that schedule which made performance much less of a struggle than a traditional, non-professional four show a weekend schedule. Just that much more manageable.

And yet, the focus I needed to exhibit, the hyper self-awareness, to conduct myself as this stoic, wound-up character. At times it was maddening, walking out in the lead, having the first line for this three-hour ordeal. One night, I cannot even comprehend how this happened, my tongue lost control and I stuttered my first line, in its entirety. It was through a supreme effort of will not to lose all confidence right then and there. I do not know how I was able to remember the rest of my lines.

Contemporary Youth Orchestra
JASON MRAZ

Working as an actor in a play (as opposed to writing or directing one) is that you are compelled to attend every performance. This is one of the reasons I don’t like acting, but only one of them.

As a result of this selfish commitment, I missed out on the opportunity to see my daughter perform with Jason Mraz. As a violin player with the Contemporary Youth Orchestra, she had been working on his catalog all spring, taking three days of rehearsal with this incredibly charming pop star culminating in two sold out performances at Severance Hall.

I was welcomed to one of the rehearsals, which was a delightful consolation prize.

Great Lakes Theater
CAMP THEATER!

Teaching middle school students to improv can be very challenging, and for a very good reason. Young people can be emotionally abused for making themselves look silly.
A: Help me to milk this water buffalo!
B: Uh, no.
The basic tenet of improv is YES, AND which is to say, agree to what is being offered and then add something to it. This year during Camp Theater! we had a camper who was not only very good at this, he raised acceptance to a new level. Shaun and I noticed that whenever someone made him a suggestion, he would not only agree, he would say, “Excellent!”
A: I have created for you a new dress made entirely out of termites!
B: Excellent, they will go so well with my new maggot boots.
It was the introduction to an inspiring summer of discovery.

Culver City Public Theatre
ROSALYNDE & THE FALCON

While I have had a number of my published plays produced in other cities, this was a first -- one of the works I wrote for Talespinner Children’s Theatre was being revived, and on the west coast, too! Culver City Public Theatre produced Rosalynde & the Falcon. Not only that, but it was an outdoor performance, offered for free to area families! And you know I love free.

ROAD TRIPS

July was an odd month, in that I shared a bed with my wife for perhaps one out of every three days. This is no sign of marital tension or anything like that, we were simply not in each other’s presence. She spent a week on silent retreat in Kentucky, we traveled separately to and from Maine, and I took my daughter on an extended weekend to New York City.

We visited potential schools on that journey, something we also accomplished driving home together from our Maine vacation by way of Providence, RI. My son and I drove there the week before, enjoying authentic Buffalo, NY buffalo wings and spying fancy cars.

Come From Away
COME FROM AWAY

For three years we have been subscribers to the KeyBank Broadway Series at Playhouse Square, and in all that time I was never so unprepared to be completely delighted and moved by a musical like Come From Away.

Come From Away is a magical illusion, with songs that still echo in my head, a small company, their everyday wear belying the speed and specificity with which they assume dozens of characters, to tell a story of tragedy without leaning into the tragedy (we all know the tragedy) instead focusing on what the best people do for each other no matter who the other people are.

One of our dates for the evening pointed out how refreshing it was to see a cast of characters who were entirely adults, and I have to admit I hadn’t noticed. Was that it? I polled my friends on Facebook, wondering if younger audiences preferred, for example, the teen-directed Dear Evan Hansen, but I received almost universal praise from all ages for this special Canadian musical … which did not win the 2017 Tony Award for Best Musical, whereas that other play did.

Story Board
WRITING "HOLMES"

Just the other day, Missy asked me about my writing process, and I have had a number of different processes, which is only correct. I am a creature of habit, but breaking them is as significant as adhering to them.

To complete the new touring script, I spent just one working week away from the office. I gathered all the notes I had made, then went into the attic to find an old cork board so I had a place to post them. I used drawing paper to create a “story cloud,” connecting one plot point to the next and filling in all of the details in between, with lists of actors and characters and who would be available to do what when.

It was all mapped out before I had created a single word of dialogue. The entire thing was drafted in three days, completed just before heading out of town for two weeks.

Barnstable
FRIENDSHIP, MAINE

Actually, I spent only seven days in Flood’s Cove this year. Sometimes that happens, but it felt even shorter as my wife and daughter (and mother-in-law) were flying in on a Monday, only to have their flight cancelled at LaGuardia. They did not arrive until Tuesday evening, and their travel drama troubled me for the better part of those two days.

There was an interesting collection of folks, so much coming and going, and the weather was hot. I missed cool weather, mornings by the fire, a slow pace, and perhaps most of all my father. His absence has been felt the past several years, this time he was just absent.

Hofbräuhaus Half Marathon
SEVERE ALLERGIC REACTION

Last week I ate something which tried to kill me, or rather my body tried to kill me for something I ate. I’ve never had an allergic reaction, to anything. And yet, something in that sushi made my heart race, and my skin turn beet red.

I’m fine, but it was scary in a manner in which I am not used to being scared. The week that followed was one of dragging my ass from place to place as I coped with the side effects of medication meant to ensure that whatever was in my system had run its course.

That also meant not exercising for the better part of a week, so ironic following my time running the Hofbräuhaus Half Marathon just the day before my attack.

TRAINING FOR THE CHICAGO MARATHON

Which is where I am left today. Hotter days of summer are behind us, the days already noticeably shorter. I am currently training for the Chicago Marathon, October 13. Have been all summer, and raising money for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

Preparing for New York in 2006, and for the Twin Cities four years ago, August is when the training is supposed to be ramping up, pushing further across the city in preparation for the big day. Instead, I have had to take the better part of a week off, and it is discouraging.

But then, has it ever been easy? And isn't that the point.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Rough First Draft Complete

So, Wednesday night I did something impulsive. I had put together the final pieces for the rough first draft of Sherlock Holmes Meets the Bully of Baker Street. And by rough first draft I mean, I wrote all the words, put in all the puzzles, sprinkled all the clues, chosen all the songs, and created all the “choose your own” scenes.

Hadn’t read it over, not more than once. But it was all there, beginning to end, all the working bits and pieces. Time to edit.

But first, I announced on Facebook that “I have just completed the first draft of a new play for children,” adding that I would provide a copy for reading to anyone who wanted to respond with comments.

This was an impetuous act, but then, what is social media for? After all, these are my friends, my followers, my colleagues, and dare I add, fans of my writing. There will be development through the company in the weeks to come, but why not start out just sharing it with people, and letting them tell me what they think?

I have already received some very meaningful responses, and just what I would like to hear at this point in the process. The basics. Does it satisfy these two fundamental criteria:

  1. Is this a suitable and appropriate introduction to the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and the character of Sherlock Holmes?
  2. Does this piece convey a strong message anti-bullying that encourages self-esteem, confidence, and empathy?

Yesterday, I looked over the text for what I assumed would be copious errors and inconsistencies. And for the most part found only the occasional spelling or grammatical error. The detail with which I had storyboarded the plot seems to have paid off very well. I knew what I wanted to have written before I wrote it.

So now, how about you? If you are interested in reading this play, and providing feedback, I would be glad for you to be in touch!

To be continued.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Blackout of 2019

Blackout sunset down West 47th Street
Just returned from “vacation” which I state in ironic quotes because it was all too brief, arriving and departing on subsequent Sundays, a good thirty-six hours spent fretting about whether and in what shape my wife, daughter and mother-in-law would arrive in the cove. Their Monday night flight our of LaGuardia had been cancelled and they spent the evening in a hotel room in Queens.

I drove to Maine with my son (my daughter had obligations at home until Monday, hence the flight) and then drove her home by way of Providence, Rhode Island. My wife is currently still on vacation with our son. I do not mind having driven both ways, as plane travel is something I have (like my father, like my father-in-law) grown to absolutely despise.

We were visiting colleges; Brown, then RISD. I have now visited five schools with the girl, feeling more like a responsible, attentive parent than I have in years. Last month we toured schools in New York City.

For her sixteenth birthday I promised her a father/daughter visit to Manhattan. Originally I was thinking maybe we would camp out all night to get tickets to SNL, which she is devoted to, but summer, the off-season, seemed much more practical. And, anyway. Schools.

Times Square
Friday, July 11

We arrived at LGA early on a week day, the flight delayed just enough that we would be unable to stop at the Airbnb to drop off our bags first. Fortunately, and by design, we each had only one bag, backpacks, which we carried for most of the day.

NYU was the first stop, which impressed her especially with each of its satellite campuses. We had not signed up to tour the studio art school, unfortunately. We did, however, have a moment to slip into Caffè Reggio on MacDougal Street for coffee and salads. I asked if it were possible to charge my phone and was politely informed that the place was so old there were no outlets except behind the bar.

I have fond memories of relaxing here during the NY Fringe in 2004, where I would run lines for I Hate This. My performance venue at that time was a walk-down, way over by 11th Avenue. There was no modern development there at the time, the forty-seat site is gone, now part of the mammoth Hudson Yards development.

We then visited Parsons School of Design. I’m such a dork my only knowledge of the place is Project Runway. At the conclusion of our tours we jumped the C train to Morningside Heights. Our host was a lovely, accommodating woman named Ruth, whose apartment was decked with independent movie posters from the 70s, and for Broadway shows starring the young Al Pacino and signed by the entire company. She is a classic New York gal.

My wife and I would no doubt have headed out for some night life, but my date was a teenager and it had been a long day, so the plan was dinner and an early start on Saturday. The sun was not yet about to set and it was hot, but hit the patio at Harlem Tavern and it was refreshing and delightful.

Mount Rushmore of Art, Eduardo Kobra
Saturday, July 12

I rose early that morning, around six, and set out to get coffee, which was surprisingly difficult. All the cafes were closed and the bodegas I checked out were not accommodating. I had to settle for Dunkin’, a street person reclining out front asked for a Boston Cream, so I got him that and also a banana for which he was much appreciative.

The girl and I then set out on a three-mile run. We were just a few blocks from Central Park, and I’d never been to the Northwest quadrant. Even when I ran the marathon in 2006 we passed the statue of Duke Ellington on the east side. Here we entered the park by the statue of Frederick Douglass and did a couple laps before heading back, freshening up and stopping by Caféine for caffeine and sandwiches.

We headed downtown to attend the Whitney Biennial. I let my daughter set the pace, and we took our time on every floor. Three hours in one art museum, viewing, taking time for coffee and water, all dictated by her interest. It was amazing. We had some fascinating conversations about the work, and about art in general. She is such an insightful young woman.

The High Line, 2012
By the time we exited it was very hot, as we mounted the steps to the High Line. The family had last visited this place in 2012, when we were attending a cousin’s Central Park wedding, so the children were much younger but she had happy memories of the place. It was much more crowded on this day, and sunny and warm.

She and I are alike in our physiology, our endurance, but I still needed to check in, make sure it wasn’t all too exhausting. We came down off the trestle to find some lunch and the folks at Don Giovanni were a joy. We had a relaxing meal, checked out a gallery, and then walked to Times Square to attend a reading at the New York Musical Festival.

Not just any reading, mind you. We were there to catch a 6 PM performance of Everything is Okay (And Other Helpful Lies) written by Melissa T. Crum and Caitlin Lewins. The first thing the girl noticed was that she recognized one of the actors from The Bold Type.

“How can she be doing that, and also doing this?” she wanted to know. I told her that’s what New York actors do.

This was the final of three shows for Everything is Okay, and it was as though the entire administrative staff from Cleveland Public Theatre was there, which was pretty cool.

"I have no mind, I'm the village idiot."
During the performance the lights dimmed dramatically, but just as swiftly came back up. Following the performance we learned the power was out on the west side. The elevators were no working and the lights were out in the stairwell. It wasn’t until we made our way to the street and we passed the enormous crowd out in front of Aladdin that I realized what this all meant -- Broadway shows were being cancelled for the evening.

The girl had wanted to do some shopping around the square, but the stores were now closed and the sidewalks were crammed with tourists and New Yorkers going, where exactly?

The trains on the west side were down, so we walked across town. I tried hailing a cab, but they were all full. We finally made it to the 6 express train, which was packed, and took us past our stop all the way to 125th Street. So, more walking, just my daughter and I strolling through Harlem on a hot Saturday night.

We weren’t sure if restaurants in the neighborhood would be open by the time we got there, and besides, she was exhausted (her FitBit reported we walked twelve miles that day) and just wanted to collapse in our room, so she picked up carry-out at the Whole Foods at West 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard.

My wife took classes at CCNY in the early 1990s and just the phrase “the Whole Foods at 125th and Malcolm X Boulevard” made her laugh. It is a different city.

It took over two hours to get to where we were staying. A real New York experience. The kitchen was in fact closed at Silvana, a Middle Eastern place I was really hoping to try -- but the folks there did serve me dolmathes to go, for which I was especially grateful. I really love New Yorkers.

Central Park Carousel, 2004
Sunday, July 13

I’m training for a marathon, and my schedule dictated a ten mile run, which I took. All through Central Park, as far south as Bethesda Terrace and including several laps around the reservoir.

The girl slept until eight, which was only proper. We had a leisurely breakfast as Les Ambassades before heading back up the the train at 125th. On our way we noticed a film shoot between Manhattan and St. Nicholas Avenues. It appeared to be a period shoot, and by the cars and costumes, I guessed it took place in the late 50s.

Later we learned it was for the new West Side Story.

Anyway, the plan was to see a Broadway show, whatever was available at TKTS. I described each show as fairly as possible, only vetoing one or two I had absolutely no interest in. I assumed she would choose a musical, but once I had described The Play That Goes Wrong as Noises Off on steroids (I had no idea if this was true, but that’s pretty much accurate) that was at the top of her list. She played Poppy in a high school production of Noises Off her freshman year.

While we waited for the matinee, we did some shopping, and took a walk through Central Park. We took a ride on the carousel … which we had last done together in 2004. Can you imagine?

Fort Tryon Park
Also, The Play That Goes Wrong is fucking hilarious.

After the show, we took the train all the way uptown, had noodles at Tampopo, and took a stroll Fort Tryon Park, just before dusk. It’s a very special place for my wife, and now it is for me, as well. Someday I look forward to taking the girl to the Cloisters. Both of the kids, actually.

Monday, July 14

We packed up to go, having one last coffee at Caféine and taking our things into a cab for Brooklyn and a tour of the Pratt Institute before flying home.

It was a delightful journey, I hope to take my son on a similar one in two years. Maybe to NYC, maybe Chicago. He really likes Chicago. I'm not trying to sell the kids on cities other than Cleveland as a place to go to school or to live and work. I just want them to know there are other cities, and that they can go where they choose.

Tomorrow, the first of August, my daughter begins soccer practice for the new school year. While the summer isn’t exactly over, it has begun to end. And we’re ready for that, too.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

On Waiting

"Ten percent is putting paint onto the canvas. The rest is waiting."
- John Logan, Red
Down East Writing Desk
My preliminary draft of The Bully of Baker Street was written over the course of three, eight-hour days ("'Banker's hours,'" also from Red.) If this is an ordinary accomplishment, I do not know. Like sex, I only know how I do it (I do not know who I am quoting there.) But it was the fastest I have ever created a rough first draft.

Except it's not. Not really. Because I have been writing it in my head for months, writing about it, in journals, on notepads, in discussion with others. I made notes, mapped the plot, turned characters this way and that in my mind, created lists.

Then, when the opportunity presented itself to write, write dialogue, I merely had to follow the plot and plan I had set out for myself. Easy-peasy.

But not complete. Because there are plot holes, there are missing scenes. There are songs to be sung, and puzzles to be crafted.

And we require simplicity. We demand clarity. And these will come. There will be an informal reading August 23. The "official" first read, September 23. Plenty of time.

Currently, we are on vacation. But the work continues. I have written no less than four plays in this location, though it's a bit challenging this year, as there are ten people staying in the cabin. In spite of anyone's best intentions, there are meals to be made, cuts to be cleaned and bandaged, errands to run, loved ones to be served sandwiches, drinks and attention.

Yet, provided a window of opportunity to consider, to edit and to revise, I see today the front porch, these children, these elders, all reading. And I am inspired to read myself.

I pick up Mr. Logan's script.

To be continued.