Friday, March 30, 2012

Just Published: "Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles"

The good people at Playscripts, Inc. have agreed to publish and distribute the rights of performance for my one-act adaptation of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles. This is my first play published in the United States, and so I am understandably very pleased and happy. There are other Cleveland playwrights represented by Playscripts, including works from Eric Coble and Larry Nehring. Very curious as to what kind of interest this will generate and where. But for tonight -- huzzah!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cleveland Critics Circle

When the subject of Tom Hanks formative years at Great Lakes Theater (née Shakespeare Festival) comes up, inevitably someone mentions the fact that he won the Best Actor Award from the Cleveland Critics Circle for his performance as Proteus in Two Gentlemen of Verona. But what was the Cleveland Critics Circle?

Before its demise in the late 1980s, the Circle was driven by Cleveland native and Sun Press critic Jackie Demaline (currently chief theater critic at the Cincinnati Enquirer) and its membership included Plain Dealer critic Joanna Connors and Northern Ohio Live's Marianne Evett before she assumed her position at the PD. Also on board were Chronicle Telegram critic Shannon Jewel, Art Thomas of WestLife and Roy Berko. Anyone who wrote criticism that was printed was welcome to become a member.

Their primary purpose as the Cleveland Critics Circle was to grant annual awards to area theater artists, meeting several times a year to debate the merits of all of the local theatrical productions, including productions that toured through Playhouse Square Center. These awards followed the traditional categories of Best Actor/Actress, Best Director, Best Musical, etc.

One interesting point I learned was that in order to have a voice in any given award, you must have seen all of that year's productions. If you hadn't seen every nominated performance in the Best Actress category, for example, you were not permitted to have a say in that category.

At the time of the Circle's disintegration, the Cleveland theater community itself was in the doldrums. With the demise of the Cleveland Press, there was only one daily paper with the facility to employ full-time, professional critics. Cleveland Play House and Great Lakes Theater were the only Equity houses in town, and the grand old days of high-quality, big name, professional drama coming through Playhouse Square were done. Every theater that you think of as a second-tier Cleveland theater (Dobama, Ensemble, Karamu, Beck Center) were either little more than community theater with high pretensions or in a period of awkward transition into the more-respected houses they would become. None of those companies at that time employed professional actors nor paid any of their staff.

This was all before my generation came on the scene, of course. Just saying.

The Cleveland Critics Circle has recently been revived, announcing last week the premiere of a new website Cleveland Theater Reviews. Their mission, as stated, is to "raise awareness and increase visibility of Greater Cleveland's vibrant theater scene." The fact is, there are more Cleveland theater critics now than there ever have been. The difference is, most of their readership is online. Most who are even published in the old fashioned way are carried in community papers with ever-dwindling subscriptions. Providing this website gives those interested in reading theater criticism one-stop to check out what everyone is saying.

Well, not everyone. While papers like the Cleveland Jewish News, the Akron Beacon Journal and various neighborhood Sun papers are represented in their membership, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is not. It has been over nine months since the PD retired their last chief theater critic, and has yet to name a successor, relying instead on writers from other departments. Through posts I have made on this subject other area critics reassured the community that they would take responsibility for filling that gap in area theater coverage. The reemergence of the new Cleveland Critics Circle promises to be positive step in that direction.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I Hate This (radio drama)

Me with Dorothy and Reuben Silver at the old WCPN studios.

The Velocity of Autumn is not the first opportunity I have had to work with Dorothy Silver. It's not even the first time we have performed a mother-son relationship. That would have been for the radio drama adaptation of my solo performance about my first-born, stillborn child, I Hate This (A Play Without the Baby).

The boy was born eleven years ago today, on the frigid first day of spring back in 2001. When I say that is a lifetime ago, I am not merely being hyperbolic. For my living children, it is more than a lifetime ago, and they have come to define so much of who I am. The next boy, the one who lived, was a couple months old when we began recording this show, in August 2005.

The first draft of I Hate This had emerged by August 2002, and was produced at CPT the following winter. I had already taken it to Minnesota and New York, and elsewhere, before I approached Dave DeOreo and the folks at WCPN ideastream about making it an hour-long broadcast.

As a matter of fact, it was the other way around ... in 2004 Dave had worked with my wife and I to create an audio diary of the Spencer Tunick installation which was ridiculous. The event was on a Saturday morning, and we worked around the clock to have it done by Monday's broadcast of Around Noon. Still delirious from lack of sleep, the show in the can (as they say) Dave turned to me and asked, "What do we do next?" I already had a good idea.

Tom Weaver & Nick Koesters

In its original, natural form, I Hate This is a solo production, where I tell not only the experience of discovering that the child we were expecting was dead, and his birth, but also the year that followed and how we and the people in our life failed or succeeded to communicate. In telling the story, I play all the characters. For this production, it was decided to get actors to play all the other people. And I chose some of my favorite people to contribute, including Dorothy and her husband Reuben, Brian Pedaci, Nick Koesters, Nina Domingue, Ali Garrigan, Thomas Weaver, Magdalyn Donnelly, Scott Plate, Betsy Hogg, Sadie Grossman, and a cameo by Around Noon host Dee Perry.

The radio drama includes the original music created for the stage production by Dennis Yurich. DeOreo, Al Dahlhausen and I went around creating original ambient sound and sound effects for the show that weren't already part of Dennis' sound design, including right outside the old WCPN studios on Chester, and even in the Old Stone Church to create the right echo for "The Cloisters" scene.

The show was originally broadcast on Friday, November 25, 2005 -- the day after Thanksgiving -- on Around Noon. Here is a sample of the online feedback:
"Thanks to David for sharing his story, thanks for the many local talents whose voices brought it to life, and thanks to WCPN for bringing it to us."

"I'm just blown away. It's like the most powerful piece of radio I've heard in a long time. I'm just stunned."

"It really captured me - so brutally honest, so heartbreaking, so well done. I was in tears by the end, and I certainly will not forget it."

"This topic is often lost in the abortion rights cacophony. It is refreshing to hear the first-hand perspective instead of the polished up political rhetoric."

"Broadcasting it the day after Thanksgiving was significant; it made me think about the births of my own children and how easy it is to take things for granted."

"An encore presentation, please, and when?"
One unintended result of the radio drama was that it actually helped to heal a misunderstanding in my own family.I wrote the play when I was still pretty raw in my grief, and as a result some of the representations of character are merely those I was feeling about certain people at that time. My brother in England (played here by Scott Plate) receives about three lines of dialogue, and when my brother first read his part in it, in the script, he just couldn't finish it without the rest being colored by his reaction to those three lines.

One of my lines in Velocity is "Is that what you think of me?" I can dig it.

And so that hurt, and he let me know, and I respected that but I wouldn't apologize for it, because theater holds a "potent truthfulness" or whatever Mike Daisey wants us to believe. And my brother was over there and I was over here, and he never had a chance to see the show.

However, he could listen. He may not have been able to do that, except his daughter, my niece, who was six during the events of the play, plays a special role in the production, and she wanted to hear it. So they listened, together. Hearing the entire story, from beginning to end (thank you, Internet) my brother finally understood what I was trying to say, and maybe even his place in it. And it was soon after the broadcast that we began to make arrangements for me to be able to perform the show, the way it was intended, for my brother and his family in London.

Appearance on 'Applause' (WVIZ)

This is part of the interview ideastream produced to promote the March 20, 2006 re-broadcast, celebrating my son's fifth birthday and shortly before our first trip to England to present the show as a benefit for a prenatal bereavement organization in Battersea.

And so here we are, the first day of Spring, again. There will be a birthday celebration today, these days it's a lot less quiet than it used to be, with growing children, and activities and cake. It's an important family holiday here. Last night I had a great conversation with the kids, telling them stories about the days all three of them were born. Someday I am sure we will share this this recording with them, which might be easier for them than having to watch me perform the whole thing for them in the living room. But I'd do that, if they wanted me to. I would.

Re:sound #61 The I Hate This Show - "I Hate This" re-broadcast on WBEZ in 2007

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Velocity of Autumn

Where is Pengo? What happened to his delightful blog entries, where is he?

Good question. Where am I?

Today, this beautiful, sunny 75 degree day I am in an all-day technical rehearsal at the Beck Center in Lakewood, preparing for the regional premiere of The Velocity of Autumn by local playwright Eric Coble.

Preparing for this Spring, planning for it with my wife, in addition to the annual outreach tour, which often takes a physical and mental toll (in spite of outward appearances, “acting” is very difficult for me) I was offered the opportunity to perform in this two-person, 90-minute play with Cleveland theater legend Dorthy Silver. My wife said, well … you can’t turn that down.

And so, two weeks after closing the outreach tour, we will be opening this play. At the same time, I have been training for a marathon. Yesterday I ran eighteen miles before breakfast. My thighs are very sore, and my calves. Spoiler alert, this show begins with my clambering rather awkwardly though a second-story window. I have bruises on my arms, my stomach, and my thighs. I am tired, sore and bruised.

And yet, I am so very glad I accepted this challenge and, now that I am feeling more confident with my lines, am becoming increasingly excited about the opportunity to share it with an audience.

The Velocity of Autumn had its world premiere at the Boise Contemporary Theatre a year ago, but this “regional premiere” is different, he’s rearranged it a lot, working to jack up the action without losing what the play is truly about.

From the BCT production. Dude has less hair than I do.
“Coble's dialogue is both playful and touching and had the opening night audience not only laughing but nodding their heads with understanding.” - Boise Weekly, April 13, 2011
It’s going to be a long week, I need to be careful to rest and take thing easily, giving necessary attention to each component, theater and work and home and family -- and me.

The Velocity of Autumn opens this Friday, March 23.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Peter Bergman


Peter Paul Bergman (November 29, 1939 – March 9, 2012)
was born and raised in Shaker Heights. He was a member of the absurdist comedy troupe The Firesign Theatre. Bergman died yesterday due to complications from leukemia. He was 72.

His father, Oscar Bergman, wrote for the Plain Dealer, and during the 1950s he and his wife Rita hosted a local radio program called Breakfast With the Bergmans on WSRS 1490 AM.

From a young age he was a writer of comedy. By the ninth grade he was composing a weekly humor column for the Shaker High newspaper, The High Hatters and later Look and See With Peter B.

His first radio success came as an announcer on the Shaker High intercom radio system, where he once announced that Chinese communists had invaded the school and that all students were to report immediately to a "mandatory voluntary" assembly. Principal Russell H. Rupp was not amused and ended Bergman's high school radio career. Principal Rupp was eventually immortalized as Firesign stalwart Principal Poop.

Russell H. Rupp as Shaker Heights Junior High Principal (1938)

Scene from "Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers
Peter Bergman as Mudhead
Phil Proctor as Principal Poop

Today, the Shaker High "Blue Bison" football team plays on Poop Field.

Cleveland Memory Project
Cleveland Classic Media
Michael Heaton

(More on The Firesign Theatre)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Styles: Firestone High School

"It will be the TALK OF THE TOWN!"

And we are out. Fixed up the set, performed for a couple hundred great students is Akron, loaded-out, dumped the set at the scene shop, returned the van. In between we had our annual end-of-tour stop at the Winking Lizard in Fairlawn.

Mr. Z. at Firestone, as always was quite prepared for our arrival, and he and his team of students were extremely helpful in getting the space and lights and everything right for our production. It's a big auditorium (capacity 850+) well preserved and a he runs a smooth operation. And I understand they will be tearing it all down in a another year or so. You'll never see this kind of high school auditorium again.

You know, I didn't even do most of the heavy lifting for this tour, I left that in James and Michael's capable, youthful arms. But I am tired, my neck and shoulders are sore, and I just want to sleep for several days. It was a very successful tour, everyone says so. The people who worked on it are simply the best. I am very happy. I am glad it is over.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Styles: Quirk Cultural Center


The Quirk Cultural Center in Cuyahoga Falls is a charming space, a former elementary school which is managed by the city to provide art instruction and facilities to their senior community, and also acts as a space available to the public for special events. The third floor features a cute little auditorium with a curtained stage and maybe one hundred fine theater seats.

That's right. I said third floor. And no freight elevator. Still, it had wide, public school staircases which made load-in less onerous than it was squeezing into the office space we navigated yesterday. Everything went very well until load-out. The weather today has been beautiful, but also very, very windy. Our largest, heaviest set pieces are the door units, but a great, surprise gust brought one panel that had been propped against one brick wall crashing down against another brick wall. The damage is not so severe than we will not be able to clamp it to its partner and add wall paint to cover the break for our final performance tomorrow morning. It will look and work fine. I think I speak for the company when I say we are grateful it happened now, and not at the beginning of the run. The Mousetrap opens this weekend, and no one in the scene shop has time to doctor the outreach tour.

Last year our performance of Decameron at Quirk, our first visit to this site, attracted an intimate audience of retirees, bussed from a nearby retirement community. That date was in the morning, and so it was agreed that this year we would present in the afternoon. Perhaps it was the time change, and no doubt due to Agatha Christie, but we had a much larger turnout today, a spirited, adult audience looking for a good time.


Today's talkback was fabulous, there were several Christie aficionados in the house, some who had even read Styles. They particularly favored our youthful Hastings to the rather reserved version in the David Suchet series. We had our first audience member today to announce she had suspected Cynthia, because of her male impersonations. Emily was so pleased!

Daniel said some extremely kind things before the audience today about the success of this show, and all the work everyone has put into it. I can say from experience how delighted and thrilled I have been to be working six out of seven with these four performers, who have negotiated the tour with humor and goodwill. Daniel announced that next year we will be presenting a new work, which I will be writing, and invited everyone to return next spring. The turnout for these public performances are really going to mess with our numbers next year ... I think I'm a good writer, and that this is a strong adaptation, but seriously, that's not why people were arriving in droves these past three weeks.

Tomorrow, one more performance ... and before I even begin to break down the sound system, I will be visiting the dressing room with a pair of scissors and an electric razor.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Styles: Cleveland Sight Center

Load-in, baby.

The Cleveland Sight Center is always one of my favorite stops on the tour, the audiences are always great, very vocal, and very appreciative. The talkbacks are also very interesting, just great questions, like we get nowhere else.

The actual site of the Sight Center is on Chester Avenue in Cleveland, but they are undergoing a major renovation, and have a temporary space a two-minte drive from my house in Cleveland Heights. Thank goodness this is the only year it will be necessary to schlep everything up that staircase, I commend James and Michael for their prowess in negotiating the tight spaces.

It was a good show. I was tense, I have been tense since yesterday, and it makes me snippy. Last night and this afternoon the load-in was labored and setting up in unusual spaces made for a great deal of discussion, which threw the timing of set-up. And I believe we see the end is near. One more public date tomorrow in Cuyahoga Falls, and a non-public school visit to close Thursday morning. We're tired. Proud and happy, but tired. Tired and sore.

Good show though. Very large turnout for the sight center, and we were visited by several friends who were new to the center. Great Lakes staff came, Charlie, Todd and Chris, and that's always a good to see. I always wish I could hear the audio description, this year provided by Robin (thanks, Robin!) because I think it would be fascinating. I was bummed two years ago when our Dark Side stop was cancelled due to a blizzard. I was left to only imagine how the audience would react to the description of all the vampire stuff.

Photo by Vivian Goodman

We have received a remarkable amount of media attention for this tour. Today WKSU broadcast the interview Vivian Goodman conducted at Lake Ridge Academy a week or so back. It's a really well done piece, with some great interview subjects, and sound from the performance. You can listen to the 6 minute piece here. In addition, Marjorie Preston wrote a great review of Styles in the Sun press, which you can read here.

Tomorrow we appear at the Quirk Cultural Center in Cuyahoga Falls at 1 PM. Last chance! Hope to see you there.

Styles: Lakewood Public Library

On the Dark Side ... again!

Okay. Tonight was cray-cray. That's the only way to describe it, backstage, in the house ... about the only place that was safe was onstage, during the performance.

Negotiating the space took a little more time than usual. Lakewood has a great auditorium, which is just a touch to shallow for our needs. We decided to go without the black masking behind the doors, we'd tried that before at Kendal, but figuring out our make-shift wings took a little time.

Meanwhile, a crowd was growing in the space outside the auditorium. A big crowd. Quite a big crowd. A few minutes after opening the house, we were full. Extra chairs were brought in. Children sat on the floor directly in front of the stage. People stood in the aisles, and in the doors at the rear of the house. We were packed.

However, those who did get in were a spirited crowd, in the mood for a good show. There were several actor-teachers there (thanks for the sweet text, Randy!) and relatives and friends I haven't seen in years.

The show began ... and the weirdness started. There were wardrobe malfunctions. Cues were jumped. Props blew away -- literally, blew from where they were supposed to be. Errors that had never happened before during the entire tour. And yet, none of this was noticeable to the audience. It was like insanity back there, but listening to what was happening for the audience, delivery was sharper than I have heard in days, much more spontaneous, the laughs were bigger, it was all fuel for a charged, energetic, slightly neurotic show. And a very good one.

I was amused, the moment I walked on, I heard some guy in the front say quietly, "He's skinny." Skinny for Poirot I guess, fat-padding notwithstanding. I stuck my belly out further.

Afterward, Michael, Emily and I went out with Dusten, former actor-teacher and member of the Dark Side cast (see above) for a beer and a burger. I won't say where we went ... again, there were errors. Still, awesome night, I am still wired. Many thanks to Ben and Rich at LPL, for all your assistance, loading in and out and taking such good care of us. Love Lakewood!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Styles: Akron Public Library - Main

Nice, big auditorium.

Pre-show set-up backstage. Lots of props.

Anne must be commended for her expert tea tray maintenance.

Love this; Michael, Emily and Anne play six characters at once (Michael is dressed as a seventh) providing offstage voices while James, onstage, listens on. Yes, Emily is at the same time changing her costume.

Good show today in Akron. Tomorrow we will be performing in Lakewood, which on any given year attracts a nice-sized house. This year it may be a madhouse. Several actor-teachers said they were coming tomorrow (I did suggest they pick another date but, you know ... kids) and a number of educators have informed us they are sending students to see the show there.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Styles: Our Lady of the Elms


What a bummer! One of our very favorite stops on the tour is at Our Lady of the Elms in Akron. We first joined them in 2009 with the Chekhov tour. We were presenting On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco and The Brute. Now, we had already visited a high school or two by the time we met the girls of Elms, and they thought it was funny as far as it goes. What we were not prepared for was the fact that these young ladies had already read both short plays, and had been schooled on why it was funny, at least on paper. In theory. They knew where the funny was and what to listen for. What they were not prepared for was how animated and outrageous it was to witness when played by actors. They got absolutely everything and loved it all. It was a joyous performance.

The following year, when we presented On the Dark Side of Twilight, well, between the Twilight-inspired scene and Dusten's pants, they were well-ready to explode. Last year was another big hit. And so it was again this year with Styles. They were a tremendous audience, very appreciative, and as expected, the "seduction" scenes (if you can call them that) between Hastings and Cynthia and Mary were points of great hilarity, and sympathy. I could feel that every girl out there just wanted to rip Emily's little head off. We were looking forward to the talkback, in hopes of generously embarrassing James with the adoration we expect he would have received from the audience.

Unfortunately,and this is the only downside, really, immediately after the performance they had to leave! The Elms basketball team is currently in the regionals -- first time in school history, they told me -- and were being honored that afternoon at the end of school. Good for them!

Oh, well. Still a tremendous audience, a great afternoon, and I look forward to returning next year!

The Elms Panthers play Mapleton this afternoon at 2 PM. Our tour visits Akron Main Public Library tomorrow at 2 PM.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Styles: Akron Public Library - Nordonia Hills Branch

Big boys tie their own bow-ties.

Nordonia is a great stop on our tour. They have one of our most dedicated audiences, and a delightful, helpful staff, but they always provide cookies and coffee after the performances! Thank you, Nordonia!

It is perhaps the most small site we visit. Not as narrow as Workshop Players (we could get the whole set in) but it is a small community room, that traditionally seats about fifty at maximum. Tonight we packed the place with 70 chairs, which included folks peering around corners from the kitchenette, and unfortunately we had to turn some unhappy patrons away. I hope they can join us at Akron Main Library this Sunday.

Big news today; Acorn Media Group has acquired a controlling share of the ownership of most of the Agatha Christie library, which includes novels, short stories, plays and many of the films and television programs managed by Christie's descendants.

However, that would not include The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which is in the public domain in the United States. However, a recent Supreme Court decision opens the door for Acorn or the Christie estate to reclaim copyright on this first novel, which seems very likely as the work is copyrighted in most of the rest of the world and the argument for this decision is based in good part of recognizing foreign agreements. So use of my own adaptation may soon be limited.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
One-Minute Set-Up
Nordonia Hills Branch - Akron Public Library