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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Upweek, High School, One-Act Plays, and Competition

A Student-Designed poster by a Student-Written Play

Greetings everyone, and thank you for checking in at Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and tonight's post is rather late.  Forgive me.  It is a busy week--- upweek.  Yes, all you theater people out there know what that means (some even like to call it H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKY-STICKS WEEK).  This is the week the shows I have been directing go up.  Friday and Saturday, an evening of one-act plays with my high school students.

You see, I am not just the playwright and theater blogger you all know and love, but I am also a part-time high school drama teacher, and the sole drama director at my old alma mater, Foxcroft Academy.   I teach a playwriting class, an intro to theater class, and I direct the school productions.  This week, I am presenting three one-act plays.  The first is a completely mixed up, weird and wild version of Little Red Riding Hood that came out of improvisations that my students have done over the last seven weeks or so, shaped (more or less) by me.  The second, is one I am really proud of, called Rabbits in the Garden (see poster design above) by a first-year student named Racquel Bozzelli.  She was in my playwriting class last semester--- Rabbits is her first play, and it deals with a young woman who is sent to an asylum, partly because of her experiments, which involve rabbits in the garden.  It is wonderfully creepy, and shows so much potential for a first play (let me put it this way--- I wish I could have written something this good when I was a freshman in high school).  I am super psyched, because the whole purpose of the playwriting class, aside from teaching the craft of playwriting, was to get student work on its feet.  I am a big believer in student-driven work.  And, finally, it is happening. 

The third play is a play I wrote called Aeroplane Over the Sea (which will one day get its very own blog post).  This play will serve as our competition play. 

Ah, yes!  Competition!  All across the country, high schools participate in one-act play competitions.  Here in Maine, of course, it is watched over by the Maine Principal's Association, and while I agree that everyone who participates in theater is a winner already, I am also a firm believer in competition pushing people to be the best that they can be.  Now, fortunately, in my experience, the competition festivals are very friendly... students are not cruel to one another, everyone is a good sport, every group gets applause and treated with respect.  This is important, and something I uphold with my students.

Having said this, I still go to win.  And everyone should.  Winning is fun, winning is good, but, most of all, winning is something that validates a program, something you can take home to your school and say, "See?  Theater's not THAT different from football, huh?"  Okay, so I'm kidding.  A little. 

I have found just in the short time I have been doing this that competition makes the kids snap to a little bit, makes them take things more seriously.  Like it or not, competition is a great motivator.  No one wants to go to any kind of competition,m even a friendly, good-natured one like a one-act play festival, with anything other than their A-game. 

Of course, these festivals can be frustrating for drama directors.  It basically boils down to three judges' opinions.  Three judges who are deemed "experts" by the MPA.  And don't get me wrong--- I've known plenty of fair judges, but I've also met plenty of mean ones.  Ones who, for whatever said reason, take their position as an opportunity to point out how they know SO MUCH more about theater than you possibly could. 

I guess that's why there are three of them. 

But even if you're lucky and get three really awesome judges, in truth, it is impossible for any one of them to take their personal preferences and separate themselves from what they simply like as people.  Yes, you can score things like volume and diction, but even scoring characterization opens the door to nothing but opinion.  Judges can't help but rate a peerson's characterization based on their own feelings of how a character should be portrayed.  Hence, Little Willy who played Hamlet with a bold choice of a lisp, probably has a lot going against him from the get-go, just like the director who decides to do a Cyrano without a big nose, or all sort of other choices. 

Still, it is educational for students to get feedback from these judges during the critique sessions.  It is a valuable lesson in learning how to take what is useful, and how to compartmentalize what is not. 

And, again, when I take my students to competition, just the very experience of them competing does make them winners in my eyes.

It's just that the goal is to be winners in EVERYONE'S eyes. 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Gotta deal with upweek, that just so happens to be during a huge blizzard that may cancel my dress rehearsal tomorrow (with performance dates that can't be changed--- Ahhhhhh!), and with making sure the kids are getting the most out of the performances here in town. 

I was proud tonight.  As I said, a big blizzard is in the process of occuring, and I told my students that if school is called off tomorrow, so is there rehearsal (school policy).  These are high school students--- what high school student doesn't love a snow day?  But, God bless them, they said, "We better have school tomorrow... we have so much work to do!"

That attitude, in my mind, is worth four good dress rehearsals right there.

Thank you for reading this late post of mine.  And remember... competition can be a good thing in the arts, and theater, oh yes, is definitely a sport.

See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How to Write a Play or How to Enjoy Repeatedly Banging Your Head Against the Wall: Lesson Three--- Conflict

Hello everyone and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  It's Tuesday, February 26th, so that means it's time for lesson number three in our playwriting tutorial.  Everyone ready?

The above picture is a public domain image that represents the word conflict.  Conflict, as I have said before, is what makes good drama.  Truly, you cannot write a play without conflict, or, at least you shouldn't.

So where does conflict come from?

Conflict comes from want.  One character wants something, another character wants either the opposite, or, to keep the first character from getting what they want.  And there you have it--- conflict!

Do the characters have to look as upset as they do above?  No, of course not.  Not all conflicts are huge conflicts. 

Kurt Vonnegut once said that every character in a story has to want something... even if it is only a glass of water.  (Vonnegut, aside from being a novelist, short story writer and essayist, also wrote a number of plays). 

To provide an example, let's take a look at an example of conflict based on Mr. Vonnegut's advice.  Take a look:

SETTING:  The kitchen of MARK and KAREN LASSITER.  It is a kitchen of affluent couple--- modern refrigerator, all the best appliances, etc. 

AT RISE:  KAREN LASSITER, a pretty woman in her early 30s stands near the kitchen sink, trying to turn on the faucet.  She stops after a few tries, sighs, and picks up a nearly empty bottle of water and finishes the last swallow.  As she does so, MARK LASSITER, a handsome young man in his early 30s, enters wearing sweaty workout clothes.

MARK:  Morning, sweetie.
KAREN:  Good workout?
MARK:  (Playfully)  Definitely got my sweat on. 
KAREN:  I can smell it from here.
MARK:  You love it!  Can you pass me a bottle of water?
KAREN:  (moving away from the sink)  Sorry, babe, just drank the last one.
MARK:  No problem.  (he grabs a glass from the cupboard and crosses to the sink.  He tries to turn on the faucet.  Nothing happens)  What's wrong with the sink?
KAREN:  Huh?
MARK:  Why isn't any water coming out?
KAREN:  (innocently)  Oh, is there something wrong with the sink?
MARK:  You didn't know?
KAREN:  No... I mean, I haven't really used the sink yet this morning. 
MARK:  Can I have a sip of your water?
KAREN:  I just drank the last swallow before you came in.  Sorry. 
MARK:  I need to hydrate.  I just did five miles on the elliptical. 
KAREN:  I don't know what to tell you. 
(MARK thinks, then opens the freezer)
MARK:  We must have some ice.  (retrieves an empty ice cube tray)  Why is there any empty ice cube tray in the freezer?
KAREN:  I like ice.
MARK:  Well so do I.  That's why I like to fill the tray when it is empty, so we can have a continuous supply of ice in our house. 
KAREN:  Mark, you stink.  Give me the ice tray and go take a shower.
MARK:  I'm thirsty!
KAREN:  Then lean your head back and open your mouth while you're in there.  Just try not to drown.
MARK:  I don't find that funny.

Okay, you get the idea.  And yes, this may not be the best play in the world so far (although I would argue that we are beginning to learn something about who these people really are and what their relationship is like, all because of water), but it is an example of conflict and how it can escalate.  Beforre long, in a real play, we would have to see some sese of stakes emerge, and, perhaps, a greater conflict be revealed. 

What are some good examples of conflict?  The examples are endless.  Human beings are good at conflict, large and small.  The world is full of people not getting what they want.  The world is also full of people who work hard to overcome obstacles in order to achieve what they want.  Some people never achieve what they truly desire, no matter how hard they work toward it.  It's all drama.  It's all part of the human experience.  From wanting a glass of water to preventing a nuclear apocalypse, conflict equals drama, so long as the stakes keep moving and the characters stay true. 

Those of you lovely readers who have been tuning in every Tuesday--- I'm sure you have been reading plays, thinking about structure, and have all written your very first monologues.  Good for you!  Your assignment for this week is as follows:
-Write a two-person scene dealing with conflict
-Make the conflict obvious (make it clear what each character wants)
-Try to think of this scene as its very own self-contained play with a beginning, middle and end.
-When you've finished writing your scene, find someone to read it out loud with.  Does the dialogue ring true?  Does the conflict feel honest? 

Length, genre, situation, and characters are all up to you.  Just remember:  "want" and "conflict".  Don't worry too much right now about sloppy dialogue or other mechanics--- this week is about focusing on want and conflict (though it is never a bad thing to pay attention to how the dialogue sounds, even at this stage). 

If you have any other questions about conflict, feel free to e-mail me at  If you would like to become a fan of Theater is a Sport on Facebook, follow this link:!/TheaterIsASport

Thanks you for checking out playwriting lesson number 3 at Theater is a Sport.

To go directly to LESSON NUMBER 4, simply click HERE

Until next time, remember:  theater is, in fact, a sport, and conflict doesn't always need resolution. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Full List of My Published Plays

Today at Theater is a Sport, I am going to take the opportunity to answer a few questions I receive in one giant swoop.  The questions are:  
1.  How many plays do you have published?,
2.  Who publishes them. 

I am grateful for these questions, because it shows an interest in my work, and I honestly appreciate that.  And, hey, what's the point of a blog if you don't toot your own horn once in awhile? 

Each of my titles will also serve as a link to go and read some about them (all of them have a script preview as well). 

I hope you enjoy.... (Oh, P.S.... I have tried to list them in order of acceptance for publication, but I may have goofed a few... particularly "Little Spaces").

1.   Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel  (Brooklyn Publishers)

2.  Confession:  Kafka in High School  (Playscripts, Inc.)

3.  Death and Pez  (Brooklyn Publishers)

4.  Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story  (Brooklynn Publishers)

5.  Citizen's Arrest  (Brooklyn Publishers)

6. I Don't Mind That You're Ugly   (Brooklyn Publishers)

7.  You Take it From Here  (a theater book of improv starters from Brooklyn publishers, co-authored wih Geff Moyer, Bradley Walton, Jerry Rabushka, and Chris Stiles)

8.  How I Learned to Stop Being Afraid of My Gym Teacher  (Eldridge Plays)

9.  Forgetful Remembrance  (Brooklyn Publishers)

10.  Frankie and the Gingerbread Boy (Brooklyn Publishers)

11.  The Dark Tower  (Eldridge Plays)

12.  The Girl I'm Gonna Marry  (Heuer Publishing)

13.  Little Spaces  (Brooklyn Publishers)

14.  Falling (And Not Getting Up)   (Brooklyn Publishers)

15.  My Prom Date Was a Felon  (Brooklyn Publsihers)

16.  Aeroplane Over the Sea  (Brooklyn Publishers) 

17.  Frankie and the Gingerbread Boy, One-Act Version   (/Brooklyn Publishers)

18.  End of the Movie  (Brooklyn Publishers)

19.  Bees are in the Park  (Brooklyn Publishers)

20.  The Limping Wolfman  (Brooklyn Publishers)

21.  Actor's Choice:  Monologues for Teens, Volume 2   (Collection of monologues from Playscripts, Inc.)

22.  Betty Lou Twinkle's Tabloid Scandal   (available now from Brooklyn!)

I have three other plays right now under consideration.  I'll let you know how that turns out.

So thanks for reading Theater is a Sport.  Tomorrow is lesson number three in the online playwriting tutorial.  You won't want to miss it.

Until then, this is Bobby Keniston reminding you that theater is not only an artform and craft--- it is also a sport.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rage Against the Screen--- How Theatre Fights the Zombie Apocalypse!

Pioneer Drama Service had this image on their Facebook Page the other day--- I love it!
Hello, everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I would like to welcome you to Theater is a Sport.  It is February 24th in the year of our Lord 2013.  Tonight is Oscar night, which makes it a perfect night for this post, I suppose.

Right now, at this very moment, my eyes are affixed to a screen as my fingers fly across the keyboard to type out my thoughts for this blog.  Somewhere, you, dear gentle reader, are looking at a screen at a particular moment in time to read my blog.  Perhaps it's a desktop computer or a laptop computer.  Maybe it's an I-pad.  Perhaps it is your phone.  In any case, yes, I still think it's pretty neat that my thoughts are flying out of my brain, captured onto this blog, and, via the miracle of the internet, reaching your eyes and, hopefully your brain. 

I need to say upfront that I use the internet on a daily basis, not only for this blog, but to check my e-mail, Google some information, keep up with friends on Facebook, perhaps even watch a video on Youtube or stream a movie on Netflix.  It would be hypocritical for me to say I am anti-internet or anti-TV. 

I am neither of those things (though I don't watch nearly as much TV as I used to when I was a youngin'). 

Yet, in all things, there should be a kind of moderation.  What troubles me about the convenience of instant communication devices (such as the aforementioned I-pad, and most phones) is that the notion of moderation is obsolete.  These devices lend themselves to a kind of dependency, and I don't believe this is a slight danger.

People joke about the Zombie Apocalypse--- in fact, there's huge business in that stuff right now.  I must admit, however, that some days I feel this is not a joke.  To be honest, some days, I feel like the Zombie Apocalyse is already here.

I teach at my old alma mater, Foxcroft Academy.  I teach an intro to theatre class and a playwriting class.  Every student at Foxcroft Academy is issued an I-pad for educational purposes.  I will admit that I-pads can be a wonderful educational tool.  Since I am willing to admit this, I wish more people would also just come out and admit that it can also be the most distracting toy in the Universe.  As I teacher, I was issued an I-pad, and I have to force myself not to unlock it during a quiet moment in class.  My first semester intro to theatre class had a real problem, a true, honest-to-goodness addiction to their I-pads.  There were twenty of them, and if my back was one way, half the class was on their I-pads (games, facebook, e-mail, texting), and then, well, guess what would happen when my back was the other way?  I finally had to make a compromise that no one could touch their I-pads at the beginning of class, but, if we got through what we needed for the day, they could have five minutes at the end of class to play on their I-pads.  Great, huh?  I think one of the scariest I-pad stories I could tell, however, is about a teenage girl from that same class, who was in DESPERATE NEED of an I-pad charger, and wanted to be dismissed from class to go borrow one from somebody.  When I said no, she BEGAN TO CRY and called me mean.  This was a student who had never given me a speck of trouble, but, faced with a dead battery of her I-pad, seemed to suffer a genuine bout of temporary insanity and regression into childhood (high school students usually don't call their teachers a meanie).   It was on this very day, when, later on, at the end of the class, I watched my students staring at their screens, blank expressions on their faces, and wondered how long it would be before they were going to try to eat my brains. 

The truth is, technology is a wonderful thing for the progression of theatre, particularly from a technical point of view.  But these kids were supposed to be working on an acting unit.  Yet they did not want to even talk to one another, except through their I-pads.

A play I admire very much is The Zoo Story by master playwright Edward Albee.  At one point in the play, the character Jerry is talking about some pornographic playing cards, and Peter, the man he is talking to, smiles knowingly... he knows all about those kinds of cards.  But it is revealed that there is no need for those types of cards when you "grow up".  Fantasy is replaced by genuine experience.  By reality. 

Now, Albee was not talking about I-pads or technology when writing this portion of the play, but I can't help but think about it when I see all of these teenagers, every day, choosing the screen, choosing the fantasy over any kind of genuine experience.  Who needs to go to a bowling alley when you can "bowl" on the Wii?  Who needs real confidants when you have over 500 friends on Facebook?  Who needs a significant other when you can have the virtual experience just the same.

I understand that what the screen is fighting much of the time is lonliness.  And yet, lonliness is an emotion worth feeling from time to time, because it is an emotion which makes us human.  I understand that the screen is also trying to provide some kind of "experience" for people who may never be able to have the real one:  a virtual tour of Ireland, perhaps for someone who can never travel there--- but, dear Lord, do we honestly have to pretend that this virtual experience is truly superior? 

The flow of information and misinformation, the text-speak that would make Orwell cry, the choice to live with a screen attached, filtering out unpleasant truths so that all of life can be distilled into a funny tweet.... yes, it is scary to me. 

I know it is not everyone.  I know plenty of people who, like myself, use these tools responsibly and try not to abuse them too much.  And the internet has changed they way so many things can be shared, how friends can be in better touch, how information can help people, and so much of this is positive. 

But thank God for theatre.  Real, live theatre.  Thank God for actors on a stage, maintaining eye contact and talking to one another.  Thank God for real-life audiences experiencing a piece of live theatre and contributing to its energy (please don't get me started on the recent fad of "Tweet seating" at some theatres, where it is all right to have your phone out during a show). 

You see, Theatre is all about being a communal experience, without distractions.  It began as a religious festival, and was a place for humans to be humans, to share in the human experience, to connect through the arts.  To purge, to laugh, to cry.  To FEEL.  The picture at the top of this blog says there is no app for theatre, but there is also no app for genuine human emotions--- please, let's not become a civilization where emoticons suffice. 

When I am done writing this blog, I am going to post it, let people know about it through some social networks, then I am going to go work on my play (I write longhand first).  Walk my dog.  Talk to some people. Connect with people.

It is difficult to tell young people that they should actually experience their experiences, even the painful ones.  Theatre allows this.  It is its nature to show us who we are through different means. 

I shall do my best to keep creating theatre that is relatable and will hopefully touch people in some way, whether through laughter or tears. 

This is my small part in keeping the Zombies at bay.

Until tomorrow, I hope you all feel your feelings, and remember:  Theater.  Is.  A. Sport.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

WRITING INSPIRATION: How and Why I Wrote "Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story"

A little princess peeling a potato (or, if you want to, imagine it's a grapefruit)
Hello, everyone.  It's Saturday, February 23rd here at Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and today, I'm going to share with you a little bit about the writing process of one of my published plays, a sweet little story with a fairytale element called Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story.

Once upon a time, I was blessed in my life to be in a relationship with a young woman who had a little girl.  I had never been in such a situation before, and it came with some nervousness.  After all, I wasn't the girl's father, and I really didn't know all that much about how to be such a huge part of a child's life.  She was one years old, with a pretty little smile and a cute, single ponytail on the top of her head when I met her.  She was just grasping the art of walking, and took wide little Frankenstein steps.  I liked her right away, and, of course, as my relationship progressed with her mother, I loved the little girl with all of my heart. 

It was my first experience with a love that can only be described as paternal.  I watched her grow from the age of 1 to the age of three, and was a part of her life on a daily basis for this time.  Eventually, the relationship between me and her mother came to an end, and I missed the little girl very, very much. 

Children teach us a great deal.  The greatest lesson they can give, if you are willing to pay attention, is how to see the world through their eyes, and, perhaps remember what it looked like when you were that age.  It is not always easy, and at times, the communication gap can be very frustrating, but it is a joy, all of it, and you see the joy in it all the more clearly when you are no longer a part of it. 

I have too many fond memories with this little one to pick a favorite, but there are some that stand out and always make me smile.  I remember picking her up at her babysitter's, and it was close to Easter, so her babysitter had given her a little gift baggie with some candy and some crayons.  As we drove home, she took one of the crayons from her baggie and and began to draw on my car.  "Sweetie, you can't do that, okay?," I said.  "You can't draw on my car."  She smiled, and told me, "But I can, Bobby!  I can!"  There was no hint of defiance in her voice.  She was assuring me that the crayons worked, and were, indeed, leaving a mark on my car.  It was just so adorable, that I couldn't help but laugh, and I let her draw on my car.  In fact, months later, when I was no longer a part of her every day life, I would look at those markings on the car and feel a new, bittersweet longing to see the girl who was not my daughter, but who I loved like one. 

So, in any case, it was missing this little girl and wanting to write a play for her that inspired me to write Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story.  I was back in my hometown of Dover-Foxcroft and had been for about a year.  Patrick Myers, the executive director of the Center Theatre at the time, recommended me to direct the one-act plays for Foxcroft Academy, my old alma mater (and also where I teach drama part-time now).  I was going to direct three one-act plays, and the caveat (something about a grant for funding) was that one of the plays had to be good for children, something we could perhaps take to local schools.  So I offered to write that one, and took the opportunity to write the play I wanted for the little girl who had changed my life.

In the play, the little girl, Sky (called Sky Baby by her mom), is 4 years old and a little bit of a genius.  She's a bit too smart to just be precocious.  Sky's mother and father are divorced, and her mother is dating a sweet guy named Barry, and it appears they are getting serious, because, when the play starts, Sky's mother is making clear that Barry will be telling Sky her bedtime story for the night.  Barry is very nervous, and is truly afraid that Sky just doesn't like him. 

After Sky's mother leaves Barry and Sky alone, Sky begins to make it clear that Barry cannot read her a story, but has to tell her a story.  So they begin to create a story together, and, as they do, characters from the story come into Sky's room, turning it into a fairytale land.  Sky becomes Princess Sky Baby, Barry becomes the Nervous Knight, and off we go.  As they create this story together (often stopping and snapping back to the real world), they get to know one another, and Sky starts to understand a bit more about her parents' divorce. 

Some of my favorite moments are when Sky instructs Barry on the art of telling stories.  I kind of made her expert.  She talkes about "raising the stakes" by creating a Giant Monster Person, and, when Barry worries that this is too scary and perhaps they should make the monster nice, Sky tells him, "He can't be nice from the beginning, or his character will have no place to grow from.  Gee whiz, Barry, don't you know ANYTHING about telling stories?"

Since I was writing the play for students at Foxcroft, I could tailor some certain parts and scenes.  For example, in the original script, I had two International Students from China who were involved, and so I made them the Mysterious Ladies of the Forest, who gave Barry and Sky Baby instructions in Chinese, with Barry and Sky Baby trying to figure out what they were saying... at the end of the scene, they spoke to them in perfect English, surprising the two.  "You needed to learn how to really listen," they tell Sky and Barry, before skipping merrily away.

I submitted the script to Brooklyn Publishers who had already published my plays Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg, Hip-Hop Minstrel and my ten minute duet, Death and Pez (which will have its own blog post sometime down the line).  David liked the script, but asked me to change the Mysterious Ladies scene to somehow make it work for schools which perhaps did not have International students.  So I made the scene with the Two Mysterious Ladies into a big charade scene, with Barry and Sky Baby trying to figure out what the Ladies are acting out.  Then, at the end of the scene, the ladies speak to them, keeping the same kind of surprise from the original.  David liked the change and agreed to publish the script. 

When we performed at the Center Theatre, Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story was a great success, but it was an even bigger success when we took it to Guilford Primary School.  We performed it on a small stage that was used as a strorage space, and even had a photocopier on it.  We covered up alot of the stuff, but I decided to leave the photocopier and had my actors add a few last minute lines about how Sky Baby was so smart, all she wanted for her birthday was a photocopier (these did not stick it out for the published script).  I think it was about a hundred kids who were there, grades 1-4, and they loved Sky Baby, the play and the character.  It was a high school girl named Vanessa Cousins playing the part, and many of them wanted her to come over to their house and be their friends.  Kids truly are the best audience for theater... they accept things so quickly, and, as long as you don't take a wrong turn in the writing, they keep that acceptance all the way through.  You tell them Sky Baby is four, and they believe you, as long as she keeps acting like a four year old (with a heightened vocabulary... but still with the occasional tantrum).  Barry, also known as the Nervous Knight (who was pretty obviously based off of me), was played by John Levenseller.  The rest of the cast included Paige Hobbs as Christine, Sky's Mom (and the Queen in the story within the story), and Patrick Taggett as the Giant Monster Person (who was half-person, half-monster, and who was stealing all the grapefruits in the village).  Kids loved it when the Nervous Knight confronted the Giant Monster Person at the end, but, not with violence (Barry wouldn't allow it), but with an epic round of thumb wrestling. 

Not only did the kids love it, but the teachers loved it for the lessons it taught about working together, not judging people, and the way it handled a sensitive subject like divorce.

I am proud of this one, not only because I wrote it for someone special, but because I know it works.  I saw it firsthand.  Sadly, of all my published plays, it is the only one that has never received a production (since the first one I had before it was published).  I don't really understand why not.  A playwright pal of mine told me he didn't like the title, but, who knows?  I'm hoping it will find some productions some days, as I do think it is a play of some good merit, funny, and, touching.  And I know for a fact, because I witnessed it, that kids absolutely LOVE it.

So, if you're looking for a sweet, funny one-act for kids, feel free to check out Sky Baby and the Bedtime Story.  You can find it by clicking here:

Thank you for checking out Theater is a Sport today.  If you would like to become its fan on facebook, you can just follow this link:!/TheaterIsASport

I'll see you tomorrow.  Until then, I'm Bobby Keniston, assuring you of this one thing:  theater is not only a craft and an artform, but is also a sport.

Friday, February 22, 2013


Emily Ciuffetelli as Kelly and Kevin Austra as Derk in Reedy Point Players' production of END O THE MOVIE by Bobby Keniston

Hi!  This is Bobby Keniston, and welcome to Theater is a Sport!  Today...

One of the great joys of being a playwrght is ocassionally being blessed to make contact with the people across the country who are prodcuding your plays.  For the last two years, I have been blessed to have been in contact with the Reedy Point Players of Delaware City, Delaware, ever since they put on a production of my play A Forgetful Remembrance.  This year, I learned they were producing my play End of the Movie, making them the first theatre group ever to produce more than one of my plays (my first repeat business, if you will)! 

I have been in touch with Gail Springer Wagner, who starred in A Forgeful Remembrance last year, via facebook, and she informed she would be directing End of the Movie for their annual one-act play festival.  I was overjoyed, and reached out to Kevin Austra and Emily Ciuffetelli, the two talented young stars, to offer to answer any qestions they may have while preparing for their performances.  I am delighted to say that I am now facebook friends with these three lovely individuals who worked so hard to come together and create a brilliant production of my play.  They received much acclaim with their recent performances during their one-act festival, by winning awards for Best Actress (Emily), Best Director (Gail), the audience's People's choice award, a special judge award, and an adjudicator's award.  And, most exciting of all, they were voted to repesent the Reedy Point Players at the upcoming Delaware Theatre Association's Festival. 

I asked Gail, Emily and Kevin if they would like to be interviewed for my blog, because I feel they exemplify some of the greatest joys community theatre has to offer.  I am very pleased they took the time to answer my questions.  So without waiting any longer, let me introduce you all to three talented, well-spoken, people who are truly passionate about the theatre they create.

BOBBY: Thank you Gail, Emily and Kevin for taking the time to answer some of my questions. As you know, the name of my blog is Theater is a Sport, because I believe that theater is not only a craft and an art form, but also requires the mental and physical commitment most athletes strive for. In your experiences, would you agree that theater is a sport? (feel free to give examples)

EMILY:  I completely agree that theater is a sport! Just like on a sports team we have to work very hard every day and "practice" to get a great final result. Being part of live theater in any aspect whether it's directing, acting, or being part of the crew requires you to constantly be on your toes and alert. I always say that rehearsals are like my yoga because they always calm me down and help me to relax. I'm actually doing my senior research project on music therapy and in one of the articles it talks about how arts in general are very valuable to having and maintaining good mental and emotional health which I could not agree more with.

GAIL:  I had never thought of theatre as a sport until you mentioned it in your blog.  Having been a serious athlete most of my life, I can now see how theatre is, indeed, a sport.  Superficially there are try-outs (auditions), the coach (director), the team (cast), equipment (props), field or court (stage).  We practice (rehearse) several times a week honing our movement (blocking).  Delving a little deeper, as actors we get into the zone the same as in sports and focus on the game (play).  While a play may followed a dictated course more than a sporting event, actors must be prepared mentally and physically for any turn of events such as a dropped or jumped line or malfunctioning props and recover to move forward with the play.  While we may not compete with other “teams” except in festivals, we do compete with ourselves to improve our stage skills.

KEVIN:  I would absolutely agree that theater is a sport! Just like an athlete would do prior to a game, theater has a lot of mental preparation and practice. It takes time to develop characters as it would take time to develop a "jump-shot" in basketball. Mental and physical commitment aside, it is VERY competitive!!!! Yes, I would definitely agree that theater is a sport!

BOBBY: You all appear to be regulars with the Reedy Point Players. Please give me some background on how you started with this fine group, a bit about the prductions you've worked on, and how the Reedy Point Players have shaped you as performers. Feel free to include details about the Reedy Point Players mission and their place in the community.

KEVIN:  The Reedy Point Players was the first theater group I've ever been part of. Originally, I got involved doing backstage work for community service hours for college applications! The first show I worked on was The Christmas Express (2004) which so happened to be the first show Gail Wagner did with the RPP. That was how Gail and I first met. It wasn't until the year after - 2005 - where I made my stage debut (in a cameo) as Harpo Marx on stage.  
RPP's mission is as follows:
“To present live theatre productions for the cultural education, entertainment, and inspiration of the community. 
To welcome and provide an avocational opportunity for all volunteers interested in the theatre arts to participate in the many activities of community theatre.”

GAIL:  When I graduated high school, I wanted to be an actor or a lawyer. I had never really been cast I much in high school because I wasn’t part of that “clique” or my sports schedule didn’t mesh.  Some coaches make you choose.  After auditioning for Ithaca University and tanking the audition, I lost my confidence.  I wasn’t aware of community theatre in my area or I may have been more involved.  After many years, I took some acting lessons locally and we worked on an indie film which brought the “bug” out of hibernation.   In 2005, I decided to jump back in with both feet and auditioned for 2 roles in different projects (1 with Reedy Point).  I was cast in four projects (2 through the other projects) which staged September, October, November, and December– the December project was my debut with Reedy Point and I was hooked.  Reedy Point has always been extremely welcoming without a lot of the cliques and “drama” that is sometimes prevalent in theatre. RPP is open and accepting of new talent both on and off the stage.  A few of our actors have taken a turn at writing their own plays – both full and one act –and have seen them staged by RPP.  Our Christmas shows cast children from the local community and helps them develop confidence and speaking skills.  Personally, the RPP stage has been my haven.  My parents both were very ill and passed within 6 weeks of each other – my father at Thanksgiving and my mother at New Year’s.  The Christmas show that year was my safe place to go and not be me for a little bit.  It helped keep me sane.

EMILY:  I first started with Reedy Point 4 years ago when I was a freshman in high school. Although having been at a performing arts school for middle school, I had only just started acting a few months before and only been in one show before. Matt, A friend also involved with the group, called me on the phone and said "Hey Emily, do you know the show Miracle on 34th street?"
"Well, I've seen the movie."
"Have any interest in being a part of it?"
"Yeah sure!"
"Great! You have an audition in two days!"
So I went and auditioned and was cast as Susan Walker (Natalie Woods' character) and  the rest is history. I've done 15 shows over the past four years, nine of which were with Reedy Point. I owe so much to Reedy Point Players. They introduced me to fabulous people who have provided me many opportunities and have helped me grow not only as a performer but as a person.

BOBBY: Emily, I see that you attend a performing arts high school. First off, I think it's very cool that Cab Calloway has a school named after him--- he was a great performer. Secondly, I have always wondered what the experience of a performing arts high school would be like (outside of playing Schlomo in a production of "Fame", I don't know much about them). Tell me a little bit about your experience at Cab Calloway and what the curriculum is like, and how it has shaped you as a performer.

EMILY:  I could talk forever about Cab but I'll try to be brief!  Cab Calloway School of the Arts has a middle school and a high school which you audition for prior to 6th and 9th grade. I have been there since 6th grade and have always been a vocal music major. This year I triple major in vocal, advanced acting, and triple threat. Being at a performing arts school provided a very unique experience and environment to grow in. While we are a performing arts school we don't just sing and dance around all day (like most people think) academics are very important to us and we are actually 2nd in the state for academics. No they were not exaggerating in Fame that there is constantly singing, acting, or instruments playing in the halls. There is always something happening. The best part about going to an arts school, is that everyone is talented, and the worst part about going to an arts school, is that everyone is talented. Meaning that you don't nearly stand out as much and there are very talented people who may never get cast in the shows but, you get an arts education like no other and that's something I wouldn't trade for the world. Also, oddly enough, there aren't really "cliques" at Cab. Everyone can get along with everyone else. In fact most of my friends aren't in the same majors I am. Before I came to Cab I was bullied and very shy and had very little self-confidence. Now they've "created a monster" and the real me can really shine. Being accepted and having the self-confidence I have now is something I could never thank them enough for.

BOBBY: Kevin and Emily: you both are young performers. What are some lessons you feel you have learned from being a part of theater that you can take with you as move on to the next chapter of your lives?

KEVIN:  I have learned SO MUCH from community theater. So many people who want to learn how to act go out and pay lots of money for lessons and such and in a way - I see that as a scam. Yes, those places teach upcoming actors "the ropes" of the business and offer them good advice, but take it from me, community theater gives you so much experience, insight and education of acting and theater and it's FREE! The lessons I have learned is networking (always keep in touch and stay on good terms with the people you work with), always show up on time - to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and most importantly to be humble.

EMILY:  Wow that's a great question. Of course working well with others of all ages is a big one. In a monologue a friend of mine performed recently there was a line directed to the invisible scene partner that said "Do you know why you can't act? Because you can't put yourself in someone else's shoes." That is so true. To be an actor you have to be able to put yourself in other situations that may have never happened to you. You have to be able to imagine how you and/or your character would react and feel to being in those situations. I think that alone could be the most valuable thing I could possibly take with me from theater.

QUESTION 5: Gail, you appeared in "Forgetful Remembrance" for Reedy Point Players last year, and this year directed "End of the Movie". Do you prefer acting to directing or vice versa? Why?
Gail Wagner in Reedy Point Players' production of "Forgetful Remembrance"

GAIL:  I love acting and usually when I act, I am still jazzed after I walk off that stage running on an adrenaline buzz similar to what I experience after a game. The audience gives me feedback and I know if the job I am doing is correct.  When I act, I really only have to worry about me and my character and making sure I perform well.  I may have concerns about the production as a whole but my focus is doing my job right.  Now, as a director, I love taking the seed of the play and watching it come to life.  At our theatre, the Director also usually ends up being the stage manager as well.  Our directors are very hands on.  No play is staged unless it has a director and the director takes the play from its submission through the performance and strike.  As a director, though, I worry about it ALL.  Costumes, lines, actors, set, lighting, audience, strike, parking, box office, etc.  It is an enormous job.  When I am done a show each night as a director, I am both physically and mentally exhausted.  It is the reason I try not to do any directing in a row.  I have encouraged actors to direct one acts or skits so they better understand the process and thereby, in my opinion, making them better actors.  I prefer acting but to see a particular piece staged, I will volunteer to direct.  It was the case with End of the Movie. The only caveat I wanted to add was that Kevin cast me as Sister Aloysius in Doubt.  It was the most mentally demanding role I had ever performed.  It was a challenge to be someone so against my own character and I was so exhausted (but satisfied) at the end of each performance.  It is a highlight for me.
BOBBY: This question is for all three of you: please tell me a bit about the rehearsal process for "End of the Movie".... though it is a short piece, there are a number of complex emotions involved. Gail, as the director, how did you guide your cast into building these characters, and Kevin and Emily, what are some ways you brought your own personal insights into the creation of these young people?

GAIL:  The actors needed to be able to carry those emotions and Emily and Kevin, or SuperKev as we refer to him, nailed it.  We worked on the show in chunks but always with an entire read or run first.  I feel it gets the actors into characters.  I also had Kevin and Emily write a bio for their characters – this, to me, helps gel the character in the actors mind and creates the back story.  We then discussed their backgrounds.  There were certain ways I wanted some things said or done but the actors also brought their own style to the characters.  They would try different ways of saying certain lines or moving a certain way.  I would ask for their opinion because the actor needs to be vested in the character.  We also worked on the pauses and silence and not rushing the lines.  It was one of the comments made to us about Forgetful Remembrance by a judge was to make sure we took advantage of the pauses.  In End of the Movie, they are powerful.  One item Emily and I incorporated was when Derek is looking at jumping the second time, she begins to use the fencing as a ballet bar.  To me it illustrated that Derek was trying to use the railing as an instrument of his death and Kelly was making it into something else entirely and distracting him.  Kevin and Emily are friends and have great chemistry together so they are willing to get into each other’s faces during the argument.  It really helped.   A conscious decision I had was for them not to touch until the end when they are leaving the stage.  Kelly hip checks Derek and playfully puts his arm around her.
KEVIN:  The rehearsal process for End of the Movie was - what I would call - 4 week boot camp! Although it was a simple One Act, we only had about 7 days total of rehearsal (not including Tech Week) which is not the norm. Emily and I had to pay strict attention during rehearsals and write all over our scripts with notes that Gail provided us. We were expected to use those notes in our performance - which required us to go home and practice and return for the next rehearsal and be better. Furthermore, Gail wanted us to develop a background for our characters so that we could relate to them and understand their pain - which we did, as well as presented them. The material for Derek I couldn't personally relate to it BUT I understood it - which is most important. By understanding the context, it's easier to fall into character and start "becoming." 

EMILY:  First off let me just say that Kelly is one of my favorite roles yet. It is one of the more emotional roles I've played and I love getting to play around with the levels her dialogue offers. Kevin and I have known each other and been good friends since I was in Miracle on 34th Street which really helped with building the relationship between Kelly and Derek because we aren't afraid to try things with one another and get in each other’s faces. Kelly doesn't have much of a background in the script. You know she's from the 80's and that she killed herself but you don't know why or what her life was like. So Gail asked Kevin and I to write bios for our characters. I had many options to go with Kelly but I decided to help with the bond between her and Derek that her story should relate to his. I had that she had never actually met her mom because she died when she was a baby from brain cancer and she also didn't have a very good relationship with her father. I saw Kelly as being an outcast at school and not having many, if any, real friends. She was bullied a lot except by one boy who had always been nice to her since kindergarten. But one day his friends pressured him into being very cruel to her and she had just reached her breaking point. In the beginning of the show I play Kelly as being on the verge of almost too peppy, then moving to very upset during her outburst, to being more of her real self after she recovers. I have her as overly peppy in the beginning because I feel as though after being depressed her whole life she is working on being more positive in her "group therapy sessions" so she tends to over-compensate. I had also decided that this was Kelly's first assignment on her own which makes her even more nervous and unsure of her own roundabout way of saving Derek. I really take the approach of how the lines make me feel and then relate them to how I think Kelly feels. Performing this show is exhausting with the amount of emotion that's stuffed into its short timeline. I loved and still love exploring Kelly and going on her journey.

BOBBY: I am happy that you will be taking "End of the Movie" to the Delaware Theater Association Festival. Would you say that the DTA is a good networking opportunity for the Reedy Point Players? Is it valuable keeping up-to-date with what other theaters are up to?

EMILY:  I personally have never been to DTA before but I am looking forward to going to meet more Delaware thespians and see what everyone else has to offer.

KEVIN:  Absolutely, it's a good networking opportunity! For the Reedy Point Players, DTA is a "promotional event!" It's our chance to get out there and show other theaters that we exist! It's also a way to recruit other actors/actress into our shows - which has happened before. Entering these festivals is NOT a money maker for us, rather it's a way for our theater to get noticed and to draw and bigger audience. It's valuable keeping up-to-date with what other theaters are up to because it gives the "artist" inspiration. Not only does it provide inspiration but there's nothing wrong with some healthy competitiveness. 

GAIL:  Yes, the 1st time we entered a competition 5 years ago, we had no idea what we were doing but we brought back 2 very accomplished actors to perform at our theatre in another show.  We make contacts at the festival and can borrow sets/costumes/props from each other.  It also allows other theatres to see the actors.  I was offered a role in a show w/o audition because the person has seen my Forgetful Remembrance performance. 

BOBBY: (Again, for all of you) What are your personal goals or aspirations when in it comes to performing? How important is it to you that theatre remain a part of your life?
 GAIL:  Very important – it fills my creative need
 KEVIN:  In a perfect world, YES, I would love to be a professional actor! Whether it be Broadway, film, or TV, I would love to be part of it! Regardless, of the road I take in life, theater will ALWAYS remain part of my life as it is my creative outlet! There is truly nothing like it. 

EMILY:  Theater will always be a part of my life. I have always known that. I will be attending Elon University (North Carolina) in the fall as either a Musical Theater or a Theater Studies major while taking the education courses so I can teach it. I have experience directing and love that as well. I've always wanted to try writing a script so I see that in my future as well. In a dream world I would be a working actor for as long as possible and then settling down and teaching theater at a high school or college level. Last year I created and taught the theater program at the Delaware School For The Deaf and perhaps would like to make deaf theater a part of my aspirations to teach or at least influence.

BOBBY: This is not so much a question, as an opportunity for each of you to share a story you feel exemplifies the best of your experiences with performing, whether with Reedy Point, or any of your other experiences.

EMILY:  As I said before when I was in elementary school I was bullied a lot and had very few friends. I never felt accepted anywhere or like I really fit in. Even my first two years at Cab I felt a bit like an outsider. But then I was given my first role at the end of 8th grade. I auditioned and got the role of Todd, a 5 year old boy in Check, Please! Being in that show and on that stage was the first time I ever felt like I was home. And that was when I knew theater was what I wanted to do. That's my favorite theater story of mine because although I had always been exposed to theater since very young that's where it really started for me.

GAIL:  I have so many but the ones that jump right up are 1) Kevin Austra’s grandmother saying that the acting is Doubt was as good as she saw in NYC; 2) hearing people cry in the audience during Forgetful Remembrance and having men tell me they were mad at me for making them cry; and 3) most importantly, watching the actors grow and mature, especially the younger ones.  I see them grow in confidence and ability.  I always have a sense of pride when I see that happen.

KEVIN:  Plain and simple, I have had the most fun experiences in my life in community theatre. The people I have done shows with in the past have been incredible actors and friends and the relationship's I've developed with them has been something I will always treasure. You become a "Family" doing shows and that is very important to us as human beings - having that connection. 

BOBBY: If you could tell people one thing about community theatre in order to convince them to become a part of it, what would that one thing be?

KEVIN:  Community theatre is FUN. You meet loads of new people and you get the pleasure of captivating an audience! 

GAIL:  It is fulfilling on some many levels
EMILY:  Do it. Just get up and try it. I guarantee you will walk away learning at least one new thing about yourself even if it's just that performing is not for you. It's an experience everyone should have.

BOBBY:  FINAL SHOUT-OUT: Please feel free to give a shout-out to some special people who have made your time in the theatre so wonderful! 

GAIL:  All my fellow players for helping me grow as an actor, RPP for getting me back into acting and giving me a shot at directing, my husband for lending a hand where needed, and my two sons who are great actors on their own.

KEVIN:  Kristina Lynn (former RPP President and Founder), was the director of The Christmas Express and was the one that got me on board to do the backstage work. If it wasn't for her generosity, I probably would have never discovered this artistic realm. 

EMILY:  There are so many fabulous people I have worked with over the past few years! Some of the standouts are of course Gail who has watched and helped me to grow as an actor and taking me to new levels. Kevin is always a pleasure to work with and makes relationships on stage so easy. David Reyne has been a mentor for me and I could never thank him enough for what he has taught me not only as an actor but as a young adult. My best friend Molly Keifer who is my best friend that I met through Reedy Point and I know if she's not in the show is always in the audience to support me and I can always count on her to give me an honest critique of my work. And of course my parents who have never stopped driving me to rehearsals and feeding the fire to me "theater- junkie" life style. Much love to you all!

Again, I would like to thank Gail, Emily and Kevin for taking the time to answer my questions, but, even more, to thank them for working so hard to bring my play to life.  If you would like to learn more about the Reedy Point Players, check out their website here:  To check out their facebook page and become a fan, click here;!/reedypointplayers?fref=ts

To become a fan of Theater is a Sport on facebook:!/TheaterIsASport

And to learn more about A Forgetful Remembrance and End of the Movie, visit and search for me, Bobby Keniston.

I am truly proud to be a playwright when I get to meet folks like Gail, Emily and Kevin.  They, and many others like them, are why I love to write plays, and it is their enthusiasm that keeps me working hard at it.  I wish them all the best at the Delaware Theatre Association's Festival! 

Until tomorrow, please remember:  theater is a sport!

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Charlie Chaplin, who knew a great deal about comedy while telling the truth
Today's blog at Theater is a Sport, comes to you from an essay I was asked to write for Brooklyn Publishers play catalogue.  The piece, called comedy and telling the truth, is a subject I have been, well, obsessed with for quite some time.  I believe comedy is funniest when it is honest.  This essay appeared in this year's Brooklyn Publishers catalogue as an introduction to the section on one-act plays.  I print it here with permission, and I hope you find it interesting!


By Bobby Keniston

             I’ve been told that I’m a funny guy.   When this happens during a social situation, I smile, say thank you, then have a nervous breakdown in my mind.  Suddenly, I feel a sense of pressure to perform, to live up to this person’s expectations.  I may toss out dozens of one-liners, hoping that a few will land.  My energy rises, my volume increases, and, before you know it,  I am attracting attention, mostly positive, the Silly Monster comes out, and no one can tell just how uncomfortable I’m really feeling.  After I go home, I tell myself that I’m never going to let that happen again, no more will I play the fool and work for cheap laughs.
            Of course, there’s nothing wrong with cheap laughs.  However, when I am being myself and behaving as I am honestly feeling, that’s when I believe I am at my funniest.  That’s when I get the most laughs, the easy and true laughs that come from a situation or conversation and not just some random silliness on my part.
            I read an interview a few years back in which Steve Carell (of TV’s “The Office”, as well as many funny movies) said that actors who are in a comedy shouldn’t be allowed to know that they are in a comedy.  I wanted to stand up and yell “Yes!  That’s absolutely right!”  Unfortunately, I was in a crowded diner, so my enthusiasm was limited to a knowing smile.  This is a quote that I share with my students whenever we take on a comedy.  At first, they may be confused--- how are we supposed to not know we’re in a comedy?  Everyone was laughing their heads off during the read-through!  I assure them that it is perfectly fine that they know that they’re in a comedy.  They just shouldn’t behave like they’re in a comedy.  This does not always lighten their confusion.
            By the end of the rehearsal process, I think it is safe to presume that they finally “get” what Mr. Carell and I were trying to say.  Whether an actor is performing in a comedy or a drama, they need to be telling the truth.  I would almost go so far to say that this is particularly important for comedy.  We’ve all seen people on the stage or the screen entertain themselves by hamming up every line, milking every laugh, and mugging shamelessly.   Such performances are good for maybe a chuckle or two at best, and grow particularly tiresome after ten minutes.  Real laughter comes from the connection of relating to a character as a fellow human being.  Real people in heightened situations is where humor comes from, because the audience can get lost in this person’s predicament and wonder what they would do themselves if such a thing were to happen to them.  Laughter then becomes a kind of commiseration and shared experience between performer and audience member.
            When I’m writing a comedy like “I Don’t Mind That You’re Ugly” or “My Prom Date Was a Felon”, I am always more conscious of creating believable, relatable characters than I am of “being funny.”  Please don’t get me wrong--- I want people to laugh, and I want them to laugh hard.  I even have a daydream of high schools and middle schools all across the country doing my plays to audiences that are laughing so hard that they require medical professionals to be on standby in case people begin passing out.  But if I write even one line that sacrifices a hint of truth for a laugh, I feel like I have failed to some extent.  Noah, the male lead from “My Prom Date Was a Felon” is in a very unhappy place at the beginning of the play, dining alone on Prom Night because he couldn’t find a date.  He even gives an impassioned speech about how awful he is feeling, and how afraid he is of missing out on what should be a milestone of his high school life.  There isn’t much funny about that, right?  However, when fate decides to team him up with Indigo, a tough girl who just broke out of a juvenile detention center, the outlandish situation gives us permission to laugh at the proceedings, because we begin to see these characters as real people and not just clowns for our amusement.
            In this catalogue, you will find many, many plays that have hysterically funny situations that are relatable to young actors and audience members of all ages.  So my advice is to just relax, build your characters, and keep telling the truth.   Let the playwrights worry about whether it’s “funny” or not. 
            As for me, I’ll try to take my own advice next time I’m at a party.  I prefer honesty over the Silly Monster any day of the week.

Thank you for reading today's edition of Theater is a Sport.  To learn more of the wonderful scripts Brooklyn Publishers can provide for school and community theatres, please visit there website, which you can get to by clicking here:   Here, you can also find many of my plays, as well as many terrific plays by a number of my colleagues. 

Theater is a Sport's Facebook Page:!/TheaterIsASport

Tomorrow, I will be presenting an interview with three wonderful people who, for me, exemplify how important community theatre is to our culture.  Until then, remember:  theater is a sport. 

See you tomorrow...