Monday, September 29, 2014

'S P O I LE R' by Octopus Studios -Trailer

Once again I was honored to be invited to participate in SKITS 2014-Dramanon (So Keep It Short) - play festival in Hyderabad, India by the multi-talented Rahul Reddy. This year I submitted a short skit called "Spoiler" which is a very loose spin on the classic short story (parable) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky called The Grand Inquisitor.

I'm sure if Dostoyevsky were around today, he would not see any correlation between "Spoiler" and his tale but at it's heart, the intent is the same. Here is the trailer for the production.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Life Intimidates Art

When you write murder mysteries... actually make that Comedy murder mysteries, your words tread  a very fine line because,  you are dealing with death in a humorous way.  Realistically, death is not a funny thing, however, at a young age we have been conditioned by cartoons to accept severe injury and catastrophe in a part of our brain that classifies it as non-reality.

Most fictionalized (non-reality) movies, books and plays can deal with death in a humorous way if from the on-set - the plot, characters and action are a bit over the top or portrayed in non realistic fashion. Our brains understand that what we are taking in is not actual and it's quite natural to laugh it off. We get it.

In the past few years however, I have been getting something else and that is that real life can blur over and taint the most innocent of art. Here is one example, when I was a young inspired actor, in 1981 I was an extra in the John Carpenter movie "Escape From New York" - which featured Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken. If you are familiar with the movie, (or even if you are not) it takes place in the future (the future at that time was 1997). The US President's plane crashes in Manhattan, which was now a maximum security prison for criminals and Snake Plissken is sent inside the island to rescue the President.

Plissken flies a small glider over the wall and lands on top of one the Twin Towers (which in 1981 were still a part of the New York Skyline) and makes his way down to street and the adventure ensues - in a purely fictional method.  In a nonfictional  method I don't have to tell you what happened to the Twin Towers in 2001.  And now, in real life, it's disconcerting to watch that movie. Yes I know, 1997 came and went and Manhattan was not transformed into maximum security prison and in '97 the Twin Towers would have been there for Snake Plissken to land upon. I get it. It's not real. The fact is -  that what happened, in real life, now infiltrates the fantasy narrative of that fictional world.  That part of the brain that filters fact from fantasy incurs a slight hiccup when seeing the Towers in the movie.

In past few years, I have noticed the sensitivity trend, or blurring of fact/fantasy extending to others. Many of my murder mystery plays are produced by High Schools and tragedy has been rearing its ugly head in the hallways of many High Schools and the fallout takes many forms.

One of my more popular plays was titled "All Over But The Shooting". Note -was titled.  I received an email from a drama teacher asking if would be all right to change the title of the play, since it was being performed by high school students and many people in the community were a bit sensitive to hearing the words "Shooting" and "High School" in the same sentence - even it was only referring to play. I completely understood. I knew this could be a potential issue with other Schools so I went ahead and re-titled the play "An Audition For A Murder".

But it didn't sop there. Just recently a small theatre group in Oregon purchased the rights for one my other plays. A few days later, about 5 miles from where this group was located, a student walked in his high school and began shooting. I received an email from the group , no they did not have an issue with the title, but there is a comic scene at the end of the play where the narrator of the story gets fed up with a particular audience member who keeps interrupting the play, pulls out a gun and shoots.  They felt that in interest of the community, it may be a bit much right now to keep that ending and requested to alter it to a non violent conclusion. Again, I completely understood and allowed and alternate ending.

I realize that we live in violent society and tragedies will occur all the time. I also know, as I originally stated, that there is a fine line between fiction and real life and sometimes an event may blur or move that line slightly and something from realty will cross over and forever alter it. I do understand. It happened to me and I have been contacted by others who have also experienced the fall out. Since I do understand I am willing to adapt.  It just seems lately, that area of brain that separates or classifies the real and the cartoon is getting thinner. Also it seems I've been asked to understand and adapt quite a lot lately.  


Monday, April 21, 2014

"Basic On Stage Survival Guide For Amateur Actors" - learning the hard way is easy

Spending countless years on the amateur community theatre circuit, I have seen my share of  first time actors with sheer panic in their eyes. You see, one of the nice things about "Community Theatre" is that it is open to anyone and everyone. Experienced or not. Many times the case it not.

And since I had a plethora of productions under my belt, these acting noobies would seek me out with a multitude of questions ranging from; "What does 'Blocking' mean?", "Does stage right from my right or the audiences right?" "Why is it called upstage and where is upstage?" "How in the world do you memorize lines?" et al. Therefore, I would become the self appointed mentor to all first timers.

A few years ago the idea crossed my mind to document all the basic bits of information a first time actor would need to know to feel comfortable on the stage. A literal "Survival Guide" for the novice actor.
So I began writing what would become "The Basic On Stage Survival Guide For Amateur Actors".
As I began writing down items such as what to expect at an audition and how the rehearsal process can be a very tedious event as well putting a halt to any social life you may have had - it also occurred to me that there are many "rules" of theatre an actor must learn a long the way. Yes rules. I must say that I as an evolving stage actor learned many of the rules the hard way. Example, I recall getting a 15 minute lecture from a director because in a particular scene, a pencil rolled off a desk and remained on the stage until the act break. "If it falls, pick it up!"  There is a strange psychological dynamic with audiences - if something falls on the stage, a button pops off an actors coat and lays there, a feather from a boa floats to the floor, a pencil rolls off a desk, the eyes of the audience will focus on the thing laying on the floor until someone picks it up. Many virgin actors believe it they don't acknowledge or look at something laying on the stage, no one else will see it. Not true! Trust me. Save yourself the 15 minute lecture. If something falls, it is perfectly natural to pick it up. Don't ignore it.

There are also rules about upstaging your fellow actors; literally by standing in front of them or metaphorically by stealing focus by waving to your mom from the stage. There are rules about not turning your back and not standing in a straight line and so on and so forth. As I said, I learned these rules the hard way. When you are a brand new participant in a stage production, there isn't a rule book handed to you nor is there much time to go over everything you should know. Many directors will assume you have some basic knowledge since you are showing at the auditions but that is not always the case.

I wrote this book with all of this mind. I have to provide the most basic nuggets of information any first timer would need to know if they choose to venture into theatre. In some cases, I have worked with so called season professionals that could use some of this information. Anyway, if you are interested trying out for a local production and would like a head start in the theatre essentials - check out my book. And remember if you purchase and drop it on the floor. Pick it up!

Here is the link on Amazon Basic On Stage Survival Guide

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.