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.