Friday, September 27, 2013

Best Original Script -Somewhere else not here

Follow up to my previous post about entering a short script (12 min) into a competition in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh India.  Well through social media and Skype I talked to the actors to find out how it was going - and then learned that our play did not make it to the Finals. Oh well....

But apparently that was not the end of the road. The scripts themselves had a second life - yes, some were chosen to be judged simply on writing and were submitted to a category for best Original script.  I received a message from one of the actors in the play, Shashank Karmarkar : 

 " I just returned from watching the Finals and am writing to tell you that you just WON FOR BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT!!! Congratulations!! I knew it was a winner when I first read it agreed to do the part!! Apparently, all 22 participating scripts were sent for judging to various writers in Bombay and Bangalore, none of whom actually watched the shows in Hyderabad, so their verdict was unbiased, and based purely on the merit of the scripts!! "

There is a variation of Luke 4:24 (" And he said, Truly I say to you, No prophet is accepted in his own country." ) - that states an artist is never recognized (for talent etc.. ) in his/her own town and must travel away from home to be discovered. E.G. - T.S Eliot, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs etc.. all had to leave Saint Louis to be recognized for something - OK I am not lumping myself in that crowd, I am just saying that the old twisting of Luke is correct. In this case, I had to go to India. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Short Play Rises Again - On the Other Side of The World

Long before I became known (if I am known - who knows?) for the Comedy Murder mystery plays over on Play Dead -  I wrote music reviews for a local entertainment newspaper as well as comedy sketches for a local improv/comedy group that I was a part of.  (yea, I know that was a preposition)

I eventually evolved into trying my hand and words at something a bit longer - such as a one act play. I tinkered around with it for a few months and cranked out something called " In Between Days" - which was about a few arty college grads who realized they had useless degrees.  Through the generous guidance of college professor who taught playwriting - my one act was produced and staged for a writing conference. What a better way to learn than to see your play and hear your words in front of a live audience.

Fast forward a year, I entered another one act called "The Favor" - about a suicidal man seeking his own demise and death in a bad neighborhood - into a One Act Play contest in St Louis. The Favor was picked as the one the finalist - hence produced and staged in front of a live audience. I also received a nice review in the local paper.

Here is where I somehow jumped the shark as it were -  on a whim or a bet - I wrote a murder mystery for a local group and well - the rest is a cliche.  I became known as a murder mystery playwright. (In some eyes this is NOT a real playwright. The kind that Adam Szymkowicz  would never even ask to interview for his "I interview Playwrights thing.  Whatever. It's fine. )

Rahul Reddy - an actor from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh in India -( who had appeared in one of my Murder Mysteries over there) - contacted me and asked if I would like to submit a work into short play contest held by Dramanon Hyderabad .   A short work? You mean a Real work... not a murder mystery? But an honest to goodness real play - the sort of play I started out writing? Before the shark jump? The kind that I have kept on working on even though the whole..


Ok. Yes, I would very much like to submit something. I did. It was accepted and it is called "The Thing That Happened."  And here is a short trailer for it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Is Acting Lying?

I have always enjoyed a good debate and one that rears its head frequently is the philosophical question: Is Acting Lying?
I have always found myself on the "Yes, yes it is" side of the debate. Why? Well, for one thing I have always maintained the reason I was a decent actor is I was a decent liar. I was an only child and therefore had no siblings to shift blame upon. If I didn't want to admit guilt for some occurrence: how the lamp got broken, how the hole got in the garage door etc... I created a story to diminish the truth. And while spinning my yarn I had to sustain a poker face. I could not smirk or divert my eyes, in essence I had to create a character to pull off this nonsense I was spewing. I was acting. 
When I tried out for Dramatics class in High School and received my first small role, it became quite clear to me that the easiest way to do this part was pull out the old poker face I used back  when I was 6 years old and spew the nonsense written in the script. But in this world. the world of theatre it was called, "playing a character" and "speaking lines" - I was acting. 
It wasn't until College that the acting/lying debate first came up. You see, in College you tend to get a tad more philosophical than you were in High School and of course you meet people who take their art very seriously. In High School, most kids get into theatre for fun or what they think will be an easy A - it is by no means a serious career calling. If you continue the theatre curriculum into college, the percentage of people taking it seriously goes up sharply. And it is here with the sharply serious you encounter the sharply serious debates. 

It was with a very serious theatre major I constructed my first debate at a cast party. I relayed the story about being an only child and drawing the lying/acting conclusion and this was met with heated resistance. "No! Acting is about creating Truth! Truth on the stage! How dare you call it lying!"  At some point, I ran and got a dictionary to provide exhibit A for my testimony: 
LIE:  intransitive verb 1: to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive 2: to create a false or misleading impression
There! I said. When we are on a stage, our goal or intent is to convince the audience of something that is NOT true. If we are doing Ibsen you are NOT Hedda Gabler, if we are doing Death Of A Salesman , I am NOT actually Willy Loman. But my intent is to deceive! By definition, by acting my goal is to create a false of misleading impression that I am Loman. Ergo I am lying! 
"But!" the serious artist said, "You have to create the truth in order for the audience to believe it. You have to believe it and that is acting!" 
"But!" I said, "Inherently I don't believe it. I know that I am creating a fictional portrayal. I know deep down that the words I am speaking on the stage are not my own words. They are not my thoughts and motivations. They were written on a page in a script by someone else. And as far as we know, Arthur Miller wasn't Willy Loman either. The character and plot came from his own imagination, so in a sense, again by definition, he was lying as well!" 
Well this went back and forth for hours and neither one of us convinced the other. I think what shut up both up was a third person who jumped in with a story they read (it may have been from An Actor Prepares by Stanislavski or another of his books) but the story was about an actress who had to play an emotional scene on stage where her character receives news that her father died in accident. After the scene Tortsov, the director, tells the actress that he didn't believe the emotion she portrayed in the scene. The actress breaks down and says actually, just before the performance, in real life she learned her own father had been killed in a very similar accident. The emotion she brought to the character was indeed real and in fact truthful. The director says, that's great. You knew that truth, but you didn't convince any of us of that truth. 

In the years that followed, as I grew as an actor with various groups and roles, and conversations with other actors, I have found everyone has their own truth about what "acting" is by definition to themselves. I don't find that one is any truer than another and that's all right. Whatever your own truth is that allows you to create is exactly what you need. Acting can be some glorious self journey of inner discovery whereby you create truth on stage, or it can be nothing more than a childlike game of playing house or lying to your mom about how the dog ended up with a GI Joe strapped to its back, the point is to be decent at acting you need conviction. And wherever you can muster that ability up, use it.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Advice on How To Protect Your Plays

From an email:

I’ve been to multiple websites and they all have fees for additional performances. But there’s one thing I don’t understand.  Once I sell a script, what’s to stop the customer from stealing by performing my play indefinitely or “sharing” it with other groups?
Is there a way to track it or is it pretty much an honor system?

I would really appreciate your advice. - S.

That's a great question but truthfully, beside the protection of copyright, the bottom line, it really is an honor system. Once you send your play out into the world, in whatever form: pdf, print version etc..  who knows what happens to its remains once produced. Yes it could be recycled without your knowledge.  Having said that there are methods you can use such as the standard legal disclaimer - you may have seen inside the first page or so of any play that states: 

"Caution: Professionals and amateurs are hereby advised that (title of your play) is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America ..etc..."    This could install a little fear or guilt into any guerilla theatre troupe that stages an outlaw production. Maybe.

Beside that legal verbiage - a few methods I also use is "Search Alerts" such as the one Google has -    I believe Yahoo and Bing also have this feature. 

You can define Keywords -such as the Title of your play - because theatre groups need to advertise and most likely will use the Web/Facebook - etc.. and the Search Alert will notify you with an email when it finds your Keyword (or Play Title) listed. This is a nice automated way to monitor where your work is being produced and by whom.  Of course, you can just type in the title yourself and search - but that takes a bit of time. This can help a playwright keep track - as long as they use your original title. 

Another site is: - which searches blogs and other places.  

I have been putting my work out there for over 10 years and never really had a problem with unauthorized performances. I am sure there may have been groups who did a extra performance and didn't let me know or pay for it - but I have had just as many contact me and say, "We want to do an extra show, how do I pay?" or " We did an extra night we need to pay you" - therefore I have found the honor system really does work sometimes.

I believe in this day an age of information technology and social media - it's much easier for people such as us - playwrights/musicians and others to find out who is performing our work (and IF they should be) - than it was way back when. If a high school snuck in an extra weekend of George Bernard Shaw or Neil Simon - who would know? There would only be a small blurb in the local paper and the Samuel French Police would never find out.  There was no Twitter or Facebook for the actors to post "Come see me in this play".  

Anyway, those are a few thoughts on the subject. I hope it helps. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is It the Words You Say or How You Say The Words?

Here's a bit of a conundrum that's been circulating in mind for a while: Is it the actor that makes a role or play great or is it actually the material?

Here's what lead me to this deliberation:
A while back, I attended a local Community theatre production of a play adapted from a famous novel. (without upsetting any friends by giving away the title - a clue would be - the novel was by a Southern female writer who has only ONE book to her credit published in 1960)

Anyway, the overall production was OK. I mean to say, it was a very amateur production with some mediocre performances, laughable set design, but you know, sometimes you must adjust your judgement to fit the presentation. Of course, in the case of this play, the material is the strong point, plus I am a major fan of the book and the movie so perhaps, my judgement wasn't as adjusted as it could have been.

Afterwords, word began to spread and filter from from others who saw the production and the consensus was pretty much off the charts - rave reviews and positive judgments. I began to wonder if we all saw the same play? Of course we did, perhaps my maladjustment was to blame. Maybe the patrons of this play just appreciate theatre in whatever form they can get and don't have lofty or jaded expectations. They aren't affiliated or associated with performing arts, nor do they have much experience with theatre in general. Maybe. I don't know.

So, I began to consider the material again, it's powerful stuff and I considered the performances, they were all right but.. the material - the performance - the words on the page - the words spoken on stage - oh Wait A Minute! I get it now! Perhaps the "rave" reviews could be directly attributed to the play or more specifically: the structure, tone and language of script. The message of the source material is dynamic and sure, the lead actor did a decent job in his role but consider the dialogue he had to work with - that could lift almost any performance up a few notches. (I said "some", not all)

I have heard that great actors could simply read the phone book and make it sound interesting, then would it follow that a well written role could make a mediocre actor sound brilliant? Through the ages, have there been inspiring or even award winning performances by unexceptional actors because the material lifted their perceived talent up to notable heights? Maybe.

But is this really the case? Could Don Knotts have played Hamlet? Could he as an actor captured the nuance and depth of the character just by uttering the dialogue? Could Richard Burton or Laurence Olivier have played Barney Fife and rendered the correct comic timing the role calls for? Maybe. I doubt it.

The take away is this - at times a well written play can vault the appropriate actor, regardless of their individual talent, over the hurdle of a less than stellar production. Also, it helps to consider the material within each performance as an entity of its own. You know the saying, "a whole being the sum of all its parts" or in this case a play being the sum of all its parts. And a big part is the script.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's The Story on Your Story?

From time to time I will be the victim of the proverbial question:

Did you always want to be a playwright?

And depending on what frame of mind I am in, I will give any number of answers that segue into obscure explanations.
Example: I will say, Yes. Why? Well, you see I was an only child. When you'e an only child, whatever mischief or havoc you may cause rests solely on you and your excuse making skills. There is no sibling in which you can toss the blame.
"Well, ummm see, the lamp fell over because...ummm.. Johnny was running with scissors and I tried to make him stop and.. and.. then.. he looked at me and ran into the table, bumping it just so..tipping the lamp. Ergo, it fell and broke."

No sir. No Mam.
The art of the (non-sibling) excuse gave birth to storytelling in my adolescent brain.
"Well, see the lamp fell over because... a gypsy caravan came by offering wares and tinker trades. I refused their offer and when they turned to leave, the elder gypsy's long coat brushed the lampshade, tipping the lamp. Ergo, it fell and broke."

Now in some strange way, it is possible that this only-child-excuse-embellishment-ability did provide fodder for my imagination faculties. Maybe possibly.
Another contributing factor points to something I found while clearing out some storage bins in my basement - a dusty yellowed 8 x 10 album entitled: "Baby Record Book (Our Child's First Seven Years)" - of which my mother managed to fill up the first Four years.
Apparently, it was a book provided by the hospital as a gift for new mothers, (to off-set the trauma of childbirth and medical expenses I guess.) The idea of this book was to capture each new special moment in diary entries, questionnaire and photos of your offspring.
First tooth. First words. First steps. First questioning of existence, you know, the ususal.
In one chapter of this book there is a category for "Development" such as "keeping time with music" and "placing meaning to words" - and I noticed a extra note my mother wrote next to the category of "Storytelling", after 3 years old she added "Loves to make up his own".
Honestly, I can remember this. I recall rambling on about nothing at an early age, pure stream of consciousness, as if I were a pint sized James Joyce. I have a vivid memory of sitting with my mom and dad at neighborhood hangout called Miller's Confectionery and entertaining them all evening with my imagination. There was a Miller Beer advertising clock on the wall of the confectionery that had a back-lit waterfall as part of its display, I remember creating a complete fictional story that related to the waterfall. It had something to do with Yogi Bear finding survivors of a car accident in the falls. I guess I was big on tragedies at the time.
A side effect of being an only child lends you ample time to spend alone. According to my mother I created an imaginary friend name "Bobby", (I don't remember this fact) but I do remember spending time by myself lost in my own imagination and I guess my imagination gave birth to Bobby. I don't think Bobby had his own Baby Record Book, but perhaps he did, I haven't found it yet.

Now I'm sure that studies will show that most children, whether "only" child or one of many siblings, share an "overly active" imagination period and once they become acclimated to lager social groups such as grade school, high school and so forth, the "overly active" side of the imagination regresses into the background.
However, for some of us, this chain of imagination evolution doesn't happen. Either that or we continue to cultivate it throughout our lives, in essence, keep it alive as we continue through life and it manifests itself through each of us in different forms: Artist. Writer. Actor. Musician. Film maker. Playwright. So forth.
Our craft in a sense, becomes our imaginary friend and we simply choose the outlet or profession that accommodates this friend.
Did I always want to be a playwright? Well, no. I just found a place that I could spend time by myself and tell stories. I just found a branch of that world called theatre. So, that my long answer. That's my story. And it's not a tragedy.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It's What You Do not Where You Live

While cavorting around various Playwright websites and Twitter accounts, I noticed a particular trend among some writers and that is to attach a location to their vocation such as:
New York City Playwright!
OK. And? So?
Yes I know, living in NYC affords you certain opportunities as a playwright such as...umm.. Ok yea, access to a plethora of independent theatre works, artists and other trendy inspirational fuel that setting up camp in Des Moines would not afford you.
All right, I get that, but still - does that make you a better writer?
I've known several people who declared their calling to be a writer. They immediately deem it necessary to decorate their writing desk with a bottle of bourbon and a pack of filter-less cigarettes and dream of moving to NY or Paris. Because, you know, that's what writers do. That's how they roll.
Also, writers wears second-hand tweed sport coat with leather patches, chinos or a long black overcoat with a well worn copy of a Kalfka or Camus paperback in the pocket. Grow a beard and top it off with a beret. And then you need to hang out in coffee shops or better yet, outdoor cafes talking to other writers, exchanging witty literary jokes and criticisms about John Dos Passos and Henry Miller. Of course, however esoteric it gets, you pretend to understand. What's important at this point is to "look" like a writer and do and say "writer" things.

Yes, OK, I am profiling just a tad here, but the truth is - I have known (and still know) these people, these "writers". And what have they written you may ask? Go ahead, ask! Well, nothing yet, but believe you me, they do have the lifestyle down! Oh yes indeed! They are in love with the "look" and "lifestyle" of a self declared artist, but do they love the actual art itself? Well, truth is they're just "friends" right now.
Most have a play or a book they are working on and yes, they have been working on it for years. It's sitting in a shallow pile of papers on their desk. It's under the bourbon bottle right next to the ashtray.

And yes I admit it! I was one of those pretensive chotchkies sitting around with my head full of Kerouac, Vonnegut, Herman Hesse, and Dostoevsky, sipping on Seagrams listening to Coletrane and Charlie Parker at an outdoor bistro in the West End of St. Louis, (which was only a few blocks from the apartment where Tennessee Williams had lived and based the location for "The Glass Menagerie" -how cool was that right? Because you know, proximity breeds talent.)
I could talk for hours about literature and even pretend I fully understood Thomas Pynchon and James Joyce. Back in those days, I believed that's what writers did! (Which was everything but writing.) But hey, I had the lifestyle thing down. And sure, I dreamed of moving to New York, just so I could add that "brand" to my psyche.

I'm not sure when I woke up from that dream, but one day, I sat down and just started writing. No bourbon or smokes. No tweed and Chinos. No cafes and Coletrane. I just wrote.
And I discovered what I really loved was the actual process of writing. I enjoyed creativity and imagination. It didn't matter what I was wearing, drinking or really even really where I lived. After all, my creativity lived inside my mind, it didn't live in a particular city or have a specific lifestyle. Being a writer was being alone in a room putting thoughts down on paper, it really didn't matter what skyline loomed outside my window.
One of my old "artsy" friends from college named Jason Wells has done very well for himself as a screen actor and a playwright. No he doesn't live in LA or New York, he lives in Chicago.

I know playwrights who live in Louisiana, Montana and yes even Des Moines. They all do very well because the bottom line is their talent and inspiration lives in their thoughts not their city.

Of course I realize that generations of playwrights will still dream of living in New York and hanging out at Elaine's discussing Bergman with Woody, a small part of me is still in love with that fantasy, but really, I've moved on to being more than just "friends" with the art of writing than I am with the style of living.