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Saturday, August 31, 2013

COMMUNITY and SCHOOL THEATRE: A NO DIVA ZONE!

Former student Taryn Lane as diva "Passionella" in "The Apple Tree"  Fortunately, Taryn was not a diva in real life.
Photo and costume courtesy of Michaela Petrovich

Today at Theater is a Sport, I want to talk about something that I believe firmly.  The title of the post says it all:  Community and School Theatre should be a no diva zone.  When cast in a school or community theatre production, it is best to check your ego at the door and be ready to work as part of a cast. 

Remember, there is no "I" in C-a-s-t.  (I say this when directing, and then add, "But there IS an "I" in director!"--- this is a joke.  Even though the director needs to be the number one person in charge, there is still no excuse for acting better than everyone). 

The beautiful thing about school and community theatre is that one should be involved because they love it.  You're not getting paid for acting in community theatre, other than the joy that comes along with being involved, so there's no need to try to put yourself front and center at the expense of your cast mates--- this isn't the race for more work that professional credits are.  Your livelihood does not depend on being the "star" in a community theater or school production, so please, enter into the endeavor with the mindset of being involved with an ensemble.

I know this is wishful thinking on my part.  I, myself, have sinned in this regard, and yes, human actors, even in the "amateur markets", love the thrill of performing in front of a live audience and getting attention for it.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  Just make sure that you can love the process almost as much, if not more. 

In high school and college, there are other factors that can lead to a diva-like attitude.  Maybe you're a senior in high school who has paid their dues in chorus roles and supporting parts your freshman through junior years, and now it's your turn to be the lead.  I get this, I do. The same thing happens in community theatre--- you've been a loyal player with your local community theatre for years, when is it going to be your turn to shine?  Why did so-and-so, a freshman, or, so-and-so, who just moved here, get the lead part, when I've been working hard for these people for years? 

Don't beat yourself up for having these thoughts.  But, unless you want to annoy everyone around you, and perhaps risk any future involvement in upcoming productions, don't share them.  I know it's hard, but, if you must complain, complain discreetly and not at rehearsal.  I'm not going to say "Your Time Will Come", as a good number of directors might, because that's not necessarily true.  You may not ever get the lead.  Not everyone can, no matter how much they love being in plays.  You might always be the sidekick, the supporting role, the walk-on waiter in scene two.... if your ambitions are beyond that, or it makes you resentful to play those parts, then try other places or just take some time off.  If you take time off from community theater and miss it desperately, it will certainly help you appreciate any part you get when you go back to it.  If you don't miss it, and develop equally pleasurable hobbies, then, congratulations, there you go!

On the other side of it, if you're someone who often gets cast in plum roles, that doesn't mean you are the local equivalent of Marlon Brando or Meryl Streep.  There's no need to flaunt your success.  There's no reason to talk to the director differently than anyone else, or expect special treatment.  Nothing's worse than the leading school or community theater actor who likes to flaunt their resume every chance they get, or talk about all their "training".  Please, oh please, avoid this "big fish" attitude.  Don't misunderstand me--- training and an impressive resume is great--- acting like you're any more important than your cast mates is not. 

I realize there is no way to wipe out diva attitudes in school or community theatre.... almost every group I know has one or two.  It's kind of the nature of things, really.  However, the best way to decrease that kind of behavior is in the director's hands.  Just don't tolerate it.  If you see that a certain actor is taking liberties, making other cast members feel bad in any way, or acting superior, talk to them about it, and let them know that the most important thing you want to foster is a "team" environment.  If this certain actor can't deal with it, then maybe, no matter how talented they are, they are not worth casting again.

MOST OF ALL--- remember that you make the CHOICE to be a part of community theatre or a school production.  Please do it for the right reasons.  Keep a positive attitude of fun an ensemble-spirit.  Help each other out.  Be each other's cheerleaders.  Encourage one another and rejoice in each other's successes, no matter how small (so-and-so got that dance step they've been missing, or Johnny got that line that's been giving him trouble!)  MAKE EACH OTHER LOOK GOOD.  When you're onstage, it's not about you--- it's about your scene partners and the audience!  That's how you make a tight cast, and a tight cast equals a bonded cast, and a bonded cast equals a terrific production.  That's what makes your cast mates your extended family.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. 

Until next time, please remember--- theater is a sport.  A TEAM sport.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

SO YOU WANT TO BE A VILLIAN: Tips on how to play a bad guy (or gal)

Erin Boyer, a former student, playing the Serpent in a production of "The Apple Tree" that I directed for Foxcroft Academy.  Costume and photo courtesy of Michaela Petrovich.

Today at Theater is a Sport, I thought I would talk about something fun:  being a villain on stage.

One of the reasons people become involved with community theater is to discover a world outside of who they are, to pretend to be someone completely different.  And, since most average people are not villains, per se, being cast in a bad guy or bad gal role can be one of the greatest joys for an otherwise really nice actor. 

I have played my share of morally questionable people over the years, from a womanizing cross-dresser, to a one-eyed grave-robbing minstrel in the Middle Ages, but the most genuine villain I probably ever played was the part of Chillingworth in an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter.  As with every role I tackle, I took this role very seriously, and spent a good deal of time developing a believable character.  Whether I succeeded or not is not really up to me to decide, but I was proud of the work that I accomplished.  And, along the way, I discovered some things that helped me out in playing a villain, and I will share them now with you:

TIP #1:  IF YOU'RE PLAYING A DEVIL, FIND THE ANGEL IN HIM OR HER!  Even if you're playing the baddest of bad people, it is important as an actor to find some good in them.  Maybe you discover when doing research for playing Adolf Hitler, that he apparently loved and doted on his dogs.  Now, perhaps there is no scene in the play that shows him playing with his dogs, but, just knowing this tidbit as an actor can help you show the human behind the monster.  Remember, a villain is still human.

TIP #2:  REMEMBER--- A VILLAIN IS THE HERO OF THEIR OWN STORY.   By and large, for most plays, this rule is true.  Most bad guys or villains don't even realize that they are villains (except for a very few, like Iago in Othello who is perfectly aware that he is evil).  Remember that in most stories, the villain just happens to have a conflicting objective than that of the hero.  In their own mind, what they want and what they are doing to get it may be the morally correct choice from their perspective.  In a way, this makes the characters even scarier a good deal of the time.

TIP #3:  SOMETIMES, MORE IS LESS!  Unless the play calls for you to be a very over-the-top villain, you may not want to start practicing cheesy "evil laughs" or angry shouting.  Sometimes, the best way for a villain to show their power and control is to be a little understated.  A person can sound far more dangerous threatening a person in a low tone of voice than shouting at them.  Talk about these types of choices with your director.  After all, how often does Anthony Hopkins raise his voice as Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs?  Not very many. 

TIP #4:  HOMEWORK--- OBJECTIVES AND MOTIVATION (AND A LITTLE SUBTEXT)  These things are important to look at no matter what part you are playing, but they are particularly important to examine closely and precisely if you are playing a villain.  Objectives:  what does your bad guy or gal truly want?  Why do they want it?  What do they hope to gain by achieving this goal?  Motivation:  What happened in the characters life that made them the way they are (this may not be provided by the script).  Create a backstory to give yourself proper motivation and incentive if these ideas are not expressly identified in the text.  Subtext:  this is looking at every line, ever action, and finding clues about what makes your character tick and what they are truly saying.

TIP #5:  MUSIC, SWEET MUSIC!  When I was playing Chillingworth, who was  a very angry villain, I would listen to angry music to help put me in that mindset.  Since then, I have tried to find the right music for ever character I play.  This does not mean that it has to be music that your character would listen to (I listened to Eminem and Metallica to get angry for Chillingworth), but just something that helps you as an actor.  This, of course, is for everybody, not just for villains, I just happened to discover how effective it was for me getting me revved up to play the bad guy.

I hope you have enjoyed these little tips.  Perhaps soon, I shall write a post about how to play a saint. 

Until then, may you be truly and humanly bad, and remember--- theater is a sport.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

10 GREAT PLAYS FOR HIGH SCHOOL ONE ACT PLAY COMPETITIONS

This is me, your friendly host, Bobby Keniston
Hello, everyone!  With school starting right back up, and drama teachers all over the country (all over the world, in fact) will be wanting to order their plays for the year, if they haven't done so already.  That's why today I decided to do a post where I tell you about some plays that are perfect for high school one act play competitions. 

How do I know these plays I'm about to list are perfect for high school play competitions?  Because I wrote them!

Now, before you get the idea that I'm some kind of self-serving playwright, I want to assure you that I am also high school drama teacher who LOVES one act play competitions.  I always participated in them when I was a student, and I find the program incredibly valuable now.  One Act plays provide a deep potential for the education of student actors.  And I wrote each of these plays I am about the list with the intention of them being solid One Act competition plays. 

Heck, I wrote them to be WINNING competition plays! 

So, the title of each play will also be a link to read more or order the play.  If you like the synopsis, click on the play title to go to its official page and read a script preview if you like. 

Note:  I am listing these plays in the order in which I wrote them, not in any other kind of "superlative" order.

CONFESSION:  KAFKA IN HIGH SCHOOL
* available from Playscripts, Inc.  5 males, 4 females, simple unit set
Model student Connor K. wakes up one morning to find himself in his high school's conference room, being interrogated by the principal. How he got there, Connor doesn't know, but the principal is insistent that the only way out of the room is for Connor to confess to a crime that he couldn't have committed -- in fact, he doesn't even know what he is being accused of! Only ever meaning to be a good student, he learns that sometimes you have to speak up for yourself against injustice. This new twist on Kafka's The Trial brings the absurdism and existentialism of his work to high school with keen insight and dark humor.
Note:  This play has been used to great success in one act competitions in the U.S. and Canada since 2010!

CITIZEN'S ARREST
*available from Brooklyn Publishers   Flexible cast of 20, simple set
Dennis, an average guy, is caught littering by Dana, a “concerned citizen” who places him under Citizen's Arrest. While Dennis attempts to keep friendly about the situation, Dana stops every passerby to play a part in her "citizen's trial." Before he even knows what's happening, Dennis finds himself facing an out-of-work actress District Attorney, an ornery office temp Judge, a Jane Austen-obsessed construction worker Bailiff, and his own coffee shop employee Defense Attorney. As the "trial" progresses, a disgruntled tour group becomes the jury. Will Dennis be found not guilty at his "citizen's trial," or will he become victim to the will of the people? With plenty of laughs, mild social commentary, and a surprise ending, "Citizen's Arrest" is a perfect competition piece for high schools, and yet is simple enough to delight even at the middle school level. With twenty lively characters and one simple set, “Citizen's Arrest” is easy to stage and a hoot to perform!
Note:  Perfect to accommodate a large cast!

I DON'T MIND THAT YOU'RE UGLY
* available from Brooklyn Publishers  4 males, 5 females, simple unit set
Clyde is waiting at “The Only Fancy Restaurant in Town,” anxious to propose to his beautiful girlfriend, Kira. There is only one problem: Clyde is a very average-looking guy. When Kira arrives, looking stunning, Clyde's night is thrown into a whirlwind when everyone in the restaurant wants to gawk at his bride-to-be. When Kira accidentally makes the comment, “I don't mind that you're ugly,” to Clyde, the night really takes off in an unexpected direction. Will Clyde marry the girl of his dreams, or will his relationship be ruined at this wacky restaurant? Including several colorful characters, this one-act romantic comedy is sure to delight and make you say, “Awwww,” all at once!
Note:  One of my most produced one acts!

HOW I LEARNED TO STOP BEING AFRAID OF MY GYM TEACHER
*available from Eldridge Plays and Musicals  5 males, 7 females, 4 either, doubling possible, simple sets
Forget the school yard bully! There's always one teacher who can intimidate us! Will, an average high school freshman, used to love going to school…until he stumbled upon the terror of gym class under the formidable Mr. Breakwater's rule. Will's coddling mother and nervous wreck of a father (who hides out in the bathtub) are worried. Will's friends, who call themselves the Geek Squad, want to devise a plan to take Mr. Breakwater down. Can Will find a way to stop being afraid of his gym teacher? With a romance novel-obsessed principal, a jock chorus, and an unorthodox child psychologist, "How I Learned to Stop Being Afraid of My Gym Teacher" is a hilarious comedy with a touching and poignant ending.
Note:  My Number 1 produced play across the country!

THE DARK TOWER
* available from Eldridge Plays and Musicals, 5 m, 7 w, or with doubling 5 m, 4 w  Simple sets
Roland, a warrior and perhaps the son of a king, has reached the Dark Tower. After years of eschewing death, he seeks nothing but sweet release after lifetimes of wandering the Earth. At the Dark Tower, he is confronted by Three Sisters, each in her own window. While the Amber Sister taunts him, and the Silent Sister pities him, the Dark Sister encourages him to release his burdens by sharing his life story. As Roland travels through his memories, we meet classic characters such as Merlin and Nimue (the Lady of the Lake), as well as his wife, friends, and family that Roland has lost to the Dark Tower. Told in lyrical language and staged simply with theatricality, this adaptation traces the story back to its original roots, incorporating elements of the Arthurian legends, giving a depth and completeness to the tale that has never been seen before.
Note:  Also a great piece for community theatres!

FRANKIE AND THE GINGERBREAD BOY (ONE ACT VERSION)
* available from Brooklyn Publishers, 6 females, 5 males, simple settings
Frankie is an outcast, constantly put-upon by her peers. She is the quintessential loner. The only peace she finds is from her baking. One day Frankie decides to bake herself a companion, a perfect love who shares her soul and gives her joy. When her creation follows her to school one day, the social order of the high school is threatened, and the cruelty Frankie has known reaches new heights. Told by an energetic high school Chorus, this is a play that employs rhythm, dark humor, and high theatricality to tell its gripping story. With nods to Frankenstein, the Pygmalion myth, and even the Gingerbread Man nursery rhyme, this play will leave audiences riveted with its poignant tale of love, creation, cruelty, satire and tragedy. This one-act version of Frankie and the Gingerbread Boy is the perfect length for high school competitions.
Note:  Perfect social awareness play in regards to bullying!

MY PROM DATE WAS A FELON
available from Brooklyn Publishers, 4 females, 3 males, 1 either, 2 simple sets
Noah doesn't have a date to the prom, which, according to some, means he is missing out on one of the great milestones in his life. Feeling sorry for himself on Prom Night, he decides to get dressed up in a makeshift tuxedo (including the bow tie he has to wear for jazz band), and go out to a fancy restaurant, confronting what he's missing head-on. After a run-in with a rude waitress, he meets Indigo, a girl in a leather jacket and boots who decides to invite herself to dine with him. Indigo is a strange, sweet girl, who may or may not have just broken out of a juvenile detention facility. After Indigo helps him deal with a nasty bully, a smitten Noah asks her to go to the prom. Has Noah finally found the high school sweetheart he's been looking for, or will his prom date be escorted away by the police?
Note:  Can be a companion piece to How I Learned to Stop Being Afraid of My Gym Teacher, or stand alone.  I have seen this performed at one act competition, and it did very well.

AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA
available from Brooklyn Publishers, 2 females, 3 males, simple settings
A Good Doctor travels to an Unnamed Country that is in desperate need of help. He quickly learns that the government of this country distrusts all Americans, and that he is in great danger from the one called Peacemaker. After a bombing in the streets, the Doctor desperately tries to save the life of an injured girl, only to be apprehended by the Peacemaker on suspicion of terrorism. He is subjected to the questions of a sinister interrogator and then placed in a cell, alone, with only his thoughts of life back at home and the girl he tried so hard to save. This dramatic fairy tale is an emotional story of what it means to be good, and the strength we all have within, even when faced with dire circumstances. Perfect for one act play competitions!
Note:  I personally took this play to competitions with my school group to great success (2 acting awards, and a lighting award)

BETTY LOU TWINKLE'S TABLOID SCANDAL
* available from Brooklyn Publishers, 4-5 females, 3-6 males, simple settings
Betty Lou Twinkle wants to be a normal teenage girl and play soccer. Unfortunately, her mother has other ideas. Ever since Betty Lou was a toddler on “Divas in Diapers,” her mother has dragged her to every pageant or reality show she could find, determined to make her little girl the brightest star in the world. After winning “America’s Future One-Hit Wonders,” Betty Lou’s mother hires an obnoxious “Fame Mentor” who claims the only way to stay famous is to have a scandal in the tabloids. Tired of it all, Betty Lou escapes to the park to meet with her secret friend who hides under the bandstand, and appreciates Betty Lou for who she really is. Will Betty Lou find comfort and peace with her secret friend, or is this friend the very tabloid scandal Betty Lou’s mother has been waiting for? This laugh-out-loud satire targets the very notion of teenage fame, stage mothers, and the exploitative nature of the media.
Note:  New this school year!  You could be the first to produce it!

AVOIDING THE PITFALLS OF HIGH SCHOOL DATING
*available from Eldridge Plays and Musicals,  5 males, 5 females, simple unit set
Welcome to "Avoiding the Pitfalls of High School Dating," a seminar for high school students who have trouble going on dates. Your hosts for the evening are Lucky Daye and Starry Knight, two people who have invested their entire life savings into creating this simple system of five "never-fail" rules for dating success. Lenny and Matilda, two outcasts, have been brought in to demonstrate the system by going on a series of speed-dates to bring the five simple rules to life. Through a series of humorous and humiliating scenes and hilarious one-liners, we will see if the system is really all it is cracked up to be, or if Lucky and Starry are in for a long, long night. This one-act comedy is simple to produce, and will keep the audience rolling in the aisles-- even if they came without a date!
Note:  Brand new and lots of fun!

Thank you for reading my post today!  If you choose to utilize any of the plays on this list for your high school one act play competitions, let me say thank you in advance, and feel free to contact me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com with any questions or comments!

Have a great school year, and remember--- theater is a sport!

If you're interested, I've started a blog where I'm going to write a story every day for a year.  Each story will be between 100-250 words.  I call it Micro Fiction Experiment or Bobby's Short Shorts.
CLICK HERE TO READ IT!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

AN APPRECIATION OF LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (THE MUSICAL): an anaylsis from a playwriting perspective, Part 2

Yours Truly as Seymour Krelborn, and Cary Libby as Orin Scrivello, the Dentist, in a production of "Little Shop of Horrors" I directed and starred in for the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft

Greetings, everybody, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  Today is Part 2 of my analysis of one of my favorite musicals, Little Shop of Horrors, from a playwriting perspective.  If you haven't read Part 1, feel free to CLICK HERE to read it. 

Please remember, in this in analysis of Little Shop of Horrors (with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken), there will be "spoilers", so, if you're not familiar with the musical, and don't want it ruined for you, don't read any further. 

In yesterday's post, I talked about how LSOH was a nice modern example of Aristotle's rules for Tragedy, despite being a dark musical comedy.  I also talked about the rising action up through the end of Act I, where Seymour is feeding Orin Scrivello, the Dentist, to Audrey II, the hungry plant. 

Some might argue this is the major turning point in the play, or the climax, and that Act 2 is all falling action, catharsis and denouement (or, what would be Acts IV and V of a Tragedy).  I do not hold to this argument, and, most people I talk to agree with me.

You see, at this point, Seymour may literally have blood on his hands after feeding the dentist to his talking devil plant, but he didn't kill him.  He couldn't.  He wanted to, but his moral center is so strong, that he could not do it.  No matter how wicked and awful the dentist was as a human being, Seymour couldn't kill him.  Granted, Seymour could have done something to save Orin's life when he was in the midst of gassing himself to death, but, inactivity is not the same thing as murder. 

Act II begins with another thriving day of business at Skid Row's Florist, home of the ever-growing Audrey II.  After a frenzied bout of phone answering, Audrey and Seymour talk.  Audrey is racked with guilt over Orin's disappearance because deep inside, she wished for him to die.  Seymour comforts her, and they perform perhaps the most famous song in the show, "Suddenly Seymour", and effectively acknowledge their love for one another, and their intentions to spend their future together.  It is a beautiful moment, interrupted by Mr. Mushnik, who is acting very strange.  Once Audrey says goodnight, Mushnik informs Seymour of some evidence he has found linking his adopted son with Orin's disappearance.  At this point, Audrey II, unheard by Mushnik, lures Seymour into feeding him once more in the song "Suppertime".  Mushnik tells Seymour that he won't call the police if Seymour disappears.  Seymour, feeling trapped, especially now that he has the girl of his dreams, tells Mushnik that the day's cash deposit is inside of Audrey II.  Sure enough, Mushnik goes to get it and is eaten. 

It is at this point where I think the climax occurs.  Again, Seymour doesn't literally kill, but he must take responsibility for Mushnik's demise--- this is not a case of inactivity, but actually causing the death to happen.  And from this point, everything changes. 

In my opinion, the following number, called "The Meek Shall Inherit", is Act IV of a Tragedy in one long song.  Seymour is faced with all of these opportunities--- to be on the cover of life magazine, go on lecturing tours, have his own weekly TV show--- all of them presented to him by the actor who played Orin in Act I (although in the production I directed, only one of them was played by that same actor, so I could involve more people in the production).  These people, waving the contracts, are Seymour's Furies in a sense, leading him to his downfall.  You see, Seymour has a moment of conscience in the song, where he realizes that taking these offers would mean more killing, and he tells himself he can't do it.  But he changes his mind, because he's afraid Audrey won't love him anymore if he goes back to being poor and a nobody. 

So in this sense, Seymour, as a tragic flaw, has self-doubt and low self-confidence. 

Seymour signs the contracts with the Ronnettes, our street urchin Greek Chorus, egging him on. 

In the next scene, we see Seymour, almost mad with guilt and remorse, refusing to feed an angry Audrey II.  After Audrey comes to check on him, and assures him that she would still like him ("I'd still love you", she says) if he was poor, Seymour decides that after they pay him for the photo for the Life Magazine cover, he will take Audrey away from Skid Row, and buy her that house she always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, Audrey II is to smart for that.  After Seymour steps out to get Audrey II some ground beef from the butcher's, Audrey, who couldn't sleep comes back to the shop.  The plant lures Audrey, and Audrey is almost eaten.  Seymour rushes in, pulls her from the plant, but it is too late. 

Which leads us to "The Death of Audrey", a song, in my opinion, is the most poignant catharsis in musical theatre history.  Audrey implores Seymour to feed her to the plant, so that it will grow big and strong, and give him all the wonderful things he deserves.  And, if she's in the plant, she's part of the plant, so they will always be together, and she will, at last, be somewhere that's green. 

Just thinking of this scene brings tears to my eyes.  It is so sweet and intimate, so innocent yet sad. 

And here is where Seymour differs from Faust.  Seymour never cared about the money or the fame he was getting--- sure, he enjoyed it to some extent--- but all he wanted Audrey.  And when she is gone, there is nothing left for him.

In the final scene, a man named Skip Snip arrives, with a business proposal for Seymour, who is truly insane with grief.  Mr. Snip wants to take little cuttings of Audrey II, and develop little plants to be sold to every home in America.  It will be bigger than the hula hoop.  Seymour, realizing this has been Audrey  II's plan all along, world domination, climbs inside the plant with a machete, intent on destroying it from the inside--- although, maybe, to some extent, Seymour knows he is crawling into his own death... after all, what does he have left to live for?

In any case, Skip returns with the Ronnettes, and they begin to take their cuttings.  The Ronnettes tell us how Audrey II's plans have come to life all across America, and, in the final number, the cast warns the audience, "Don't Feed the Plant".    In this number, we see how Orin, Mushnik, Audrey and Seymour have all become part of Audrey II. 

What I find different about Seymour as a tragic hero as opposed to many classical ones, is that he really is somewhat passive in his downfall for the most part, and that every decision he makes is because he wants to impress the woman he loves.  He is so easily led and bamboozled.  He does not sell his soul to the devil consciously as Faust does.  He's a fella who gets in over his head.  Which means, when he loses everything, and goes to his death, in my mind, it makes the denouement all that much more effective. 

In any case, if you agree with my analysis that Little Shop of Horrors is a prime example of Aristotle's rules for Tragedy, feel free to comment below.  Feel free to comment even if you don't agree.  And if you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com

Thanks for checking out this post.  I love talking Little Shop.  I love it. 

Until next time, please remember--- Don't feed the plant, and theater is a sport.

Friday, August 23, 2013

AN APPRECIATION OF LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (THE MUSICAL): An analysis from a playwriting perspective, Part I

Cast of "Little Shop of Horrors" at the Center Theatre.  Perhaps my proudest moment as director and actor.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I admire a great number of musicals, but, the one I have the most special place for in my heart is Little Shop of Horrors, a musical with a book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken.  Ashman and Menken would also collaborate on a musical version of Kurt Vonngegut's God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and perhaps become most famous for their work on such Disney films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.  Sadly, Mr. Ashman is no longer with us, but his work with Little Shop continues to live on through countless community theatre and school productions every year.  A few years back, it had its Broadway debut (it originally was an Off-Broadway smash, and Ashman was happy to keep it as an Off-Broadway show in his lifetime), and, of course, their is the movie version starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, and Steve Martin, which has achieved a cult status.

Of course, Little Shop of Horrors the musical was based on a cheesy 1960 B-movie of the same name, directed by B-movie master Roger Corman, and featuring a young, unknown actor named Jack Nicholson in the role of a masochist who tastes of the sadistic dentist's talents. 

The story is basically a Faustian one:  poor insignificant fellow (in this case, Seymour, an employee of a flower shop on Skid Row) meets a shady character (in this case, a giant Venus Flytrap-like plant called Audrey Two) who starts to make all of his dreams come true--- success, love with his Helen of Troy (in this case, a sad and abused fellow flower shop employee named Audrey), and plenty of money.  Unfortunately, all of this comes as a price, and our poor hero loses everything because of the blood on his hands. 

All this in a musical comedy.

I was fortunate enough to direct and star in a production of this musical a few years back, and I can safely say it is the work I am most proud of as a director (and, perhaps, even as an actor--- forget perhaps, it definitely is).  I was lucky to have a wonderful and hard-working cast, fun and interesting puppets, and just great stage chemistry all around.  Perhaps one day, I will write a blog post about this wonderful experience, but tonight, I'm going to talk about Little Shop of Horrors from a playwriting perspective.

Howard Ashman presents Little Shop of Horrors as a musical comedy (albeit, a dark one), but, at the same time, he adheres to Aristotle's theories of tragedy.  In fact, this musical is a perfect, entertaining lesson of Aristotle's thoughts on rising action, climax, catharsis, as well as his notes on a tragic hero.  (I am discussing the stage version of the musical, not the movie, which changed the stage ending for a more upbeat one). 

The very first thing we hear in the stage production is an announcer's voice introducing us to the world of the show.  A prologue, if you will.  Next, we meet the Ronnettes, three young ladies on Skid Row, who serve as the musical Greek Chorus of the show.  Oh, what wonderful imagery in the very song, even!  What clever lyrics!  Do a 1950s sounding number, we have lyrics such as "Shang a lang, feel the sturm and drang in the air"... such a brilliant way to set up the dual aesthetics of the show!


I don't want to ruin the show for anyone, so if you are not familiar with it, please stop reading this post, as it is almost impossible to analyze it without giving away any major plot points.

We learn quickly that our tragic hero, Seymour Krelborn, is a bit of a nerdy putz, working at Skid Row florists (a dying business) for the formidable Mr. Mushnik, who took Seymour in when he was just a kid.  Seymour nurses a crush on the sweet, but terribly abused Audrey, who often shows up to work with black eyes or a cast on her arm. 

Seymour discovered a strange new kind of Flytrap after a total eclipse of the sun, which he has named Audrey II, in tribute of the woman he's in love with.  After showing it to Mushnik at Audrey's insistence, and displaying it in the shop window, business takes off.  Unfortunately, the only way for Seymour to keep Audrey II healthy is to feed it his own blood.  Suddenly, Skid Row Florists is a huge success, and Seymour is becoming a bit of a celebrity.  The shop is renovated, Mushnik is happy, but, alas, Audrey is still with her abusive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello, a sadistic, nitric oxide huffing dentist.  Yikes!

Of course, what Seymour doesn't know, is that Audrey reciprocates the crush, and dreams of living in a sweet matchbox home with the "sweet little guy". 

After being adopted by Mushnik (as Mushnik is afraid Seymour might leave the shop with Audrey II, thereby ruining his new thriving business), Seymour discovers that Audrey II can talk.  And it is HUNGRY.  Too hungry for Seymour to feed with his own bandaged fingers anymore.  Audrey II suggests that if Seymour kills someone so it can feed, Seymour will get everything he desires... even that "one particular girl", Audrey.  Seymour is horrified at the thought of killing anyone, saying that no one deserves to die and be chopped up and fed to a plant.  However, Seymour changes his mind after witnessing Orin hurting Audrey, and he decides to kill Orin.

Unfortunately, Seymour can't do it.  He goes to Orin's practice with every intention of shooting him, but his conscience won't let him.  Fortunately, he doesn't have to.  Orin overdoses on nitric oxide, and dies.  Act I closes with Seymour feeding his chopped up body to Audrey II. 

All up to this point is a brilliant example of rising action.  Unlike many musicals, Ashman's lyrics always advance the plot or advance character development.  Nothing seems wasted.  And the songs are so clever, seamlessly weaving character development and exposition, as well as forward-moving action all into one. 

One could do worse in learning to set up a play in classic Aristotle Tragedy form than studying the first act of Little Shop of Horrors.

In my next post, I will discuss Act II of my favorite musical, and how Ashman follows the rules of climax, falling action, catharsis, and denouement. 

UPDATE:  To read Part 2, CLICK HERE

Until then, thanks for reading, and remember:  Musicals are pretty awesome, and theater is a sport!

As always, if you have any thoughts or comments, feel free to comment below, or e-mail me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com







Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RULES FOR HIGH SCHOOL DATING: My New Play, "Avoiding the Pitfalls of High School Dating" Now Available!

My New Play, Available Now From Eldridge!  Click HERE to order!

Greetings everyone.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I'd like to welcome you to Theater is a Sport. 

I often like to read about writer, how they write, what inspires them, and even the nuts and bolts, day-to-day of their process.  In that tradition, I figured I would talk a little bit about the writing of my latest published play, now available from Eldridge, called Avoiding the Pitfalls of High School Dating.

As a high school drama teacher, I know how difficult it can be to put on a play with a limited budget and a cast full of kids who are busy participating in several activities. I wanted to try writing a play that was very simple to stage with a very limited set and props, and that consisted of a series of easily rehearsed scenes, something that could be put together in pieces, not necessarily requiring the entire cast at every rehearsal. 

One day, I found an article online that offered 10 tips about successful high school dating.  It was a good article with good advice.  My mind, which likes to take such things and push them to the most farcical and absurd extremities, immediately started to imagine a seminar or infomercial with two very fake hosts talking about their rules for "Avoiding the Pitfalls of High School Dating".  I could immediately picture these seminar hosts, a man and a woman, doing their best to sell this product.  I started brainstorming ideas for examples of their techniques in action, basically imagining how teenagers could take their advice too literally and destroy what could have otherwise been perfectly acceptable dates. 

This is where the fun really began for me as a writer.  Coming up with ideas for comically disastrous dates doesn't feel like work for me--- it feels like fun.  Even more fun, is coming up with the characters who will make these dates disastrous.

That's how Lenny and Matilda were born.  Lenny, a potential dater, is now what you call "typical dating material", with his odd quirks and obsession with Castles and Kingdoms, his favorite role-playing game.  Matilda, too, certainly has her eccentricities--- not least of which is a fondness for funerals.

Throw in the two hosts, Lucky Daye and Starry Knight, and some poor befuddled blind daters, and I felt I was cooking with a teenage comedy that would actually make teenagers laugh, and a script that ANY high school with ANY budget could easily stage and have the audience rolling in the aisles!

I'm not going to give too much away about the "dates" themselves, but, trust me, they are not dates that you will likely forget any time soon. 

Once I had figured out these characters, the writing came pretty easily, with only one big hiccup that was easily solved after some meditating (I like to meditate while I'm running, by the way.)

So, if you're a drama director looking for a simple one act that's a guaranteed crowd pleaser, I invite you to take a look at Avoiding the Pitfalls of High School Dating!  And if you do decide to try it out for a production, feel free to drop me a line to let me know what you think at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com

Thanks again, and remember--- theater is not just a craft or an art form.  It is also a sport.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

TIPS FOR PLAYWRIGHTS ON WRITING A PLAY FOR COMMUNITY THEATER PRODUCTIONS

Lakewood Theater, my summer home, initially designed as a Broadway-style theater in Maine, is now kept alive by hard-working community theater folks called Curtain Up Enterprises.  Who says Community Theater has to be little?

Yesterday, I gave some valuable tips about Writing for the school theater market in a way that will help you get published (to read that article, click here).   This was a lesson for the business side of playwriting, after having done so many posts on the craft of playwriting. 

Today, I'm going to do the same thing for playwrights interested in writing plays for the community theater market.  This is a wide and deep market to tap into, just like school theater.

I want to take a brief moment to say that there is no shame in being a playwright who focuses their energy on writing for these so-called "amateur" markets.  Yes, it would be nice for everyone if their plays could have successful runs at a Regional Theater, or, dare you even hope?, an Off-Broadway or Broadway Theater!  Truth is, I know many playwrights who write for the school and community theater markets, who still have professional productions of other plays quite often.  We must remember that if you want playwriting to be your career, it is also your job, and also your business.  As Tim Kelly, one of the most prolific and vastly-published playwrights in American history once said, "On Broadway you can make a killing, but you can't make a living".  This is true.  Either you're a smash on Broadway or a failure.  There isn't much room for in-between.  (Yes, I am somewhat generalizing here, but please stay with me)  Mr. Kelly had over 350 plays published for the amateur markets, and, at the height of his career, had over 6,000 performances of his plays a YEAR.  All over the world (his plays were translated into dozens of languages).  Now, while this might not garner a playwright the same respect as a Tom Stoppard or Harold Pinter (two writers I greatly admire), it will allow you to write for a living, and a six-figure living at that. 

And the truth is, it is difficult for any playwright to make a living from actually writing plays, so Mr. Kelly's advice has grown much more fascinating to me over the years. 

Let's get down to the tips.  You will notice that some of them are similar to the tips for the school theater market, but there are some important differences. 

TIP #1:  Statistically speaking, more females audition for community theater than males (why do you think Steel Magnolias is so popular in the community theater circuit?)  If possible, write more parts for females than for males.  Or, gender-flexible roles.  It has been an ongoing joke at many community theaters that I have worked at that if you're a male and come to an audition, you're most likely in. 

TIP #2:  Here are some of the popular genres for community theater, in, what I believe to be most popular to least popular:  musical, farce, comedy, mystery, "dramedy" (a comedy with some serious, poignant overtones), and drama.  There is also the ever-popular "Musical Revue" (see something like Ted Swindley's Always, Patsy Cline or Honky Tonk Angels, which are, honestly as they are billed, recession-proof).  As you can see, in my opinion, dramas are a harder sell, but, most respectable community theaters will do at least one of them per season, so they are worth writing.  Of course, I love writing dramas.

TIP #3:  While I do believe far more full-lengths are written for the community theater markets, there are community theater festivals that put on one-acts, so there is a market for one acts in community theater.  I have had two plays of mine attend festivals put on by the AACT (American Association of Community Theaters), and it is very exciting and a great way to network with other hard-working community theaters (who, by the way, put on some pretty professional-looking productions sometimes).  In fact, my play The Girl I'm Gonna Marry (read more about it by clicking here), did very well by attending one of these festivals. 

TIP #4:  Cast size is different for community theater than for school theater.  Unless a show is a musical or an adaptation of a classic (like A Christmas Carol), I don't recommend writing for a huge cast.  The reason is simple:  many people don't audition for community theater because they have jobs and kids and can't make a ton of time for other things.  It can be very difficult to cast a large play. (Obviously, there are exceptions, like Our Town or something, but it is also easier to cast a show most people have heard of than a new one).  I would not exceed 10 characters for a standard community theater straight play, and I actually try to keep it between 7 and 9, again, more females than males.  A farce in particular should be kept between 7 and 9.  Not a steadfast rule, some might disagree, but I'm talking in generalizations for this post.

TIP #5:  Community theater shows can be a bit more "racy" than high school theater shows, maybe a little bad language here and there, but I still would recommend, for community theater in-general, to keep it somewhat cleaner than an NYC theater district production.  No Mamet-like "F-Bombs" every other line.  You might get some productions, but you are shutting yourself off from a great many more.  In a sense, you should remember that you're writing for Middle America, or the grange houses and town halls as well as the Little Theaters.  Besides, the cleaner you keep it, the more likely you are to achieve...

TIP #6:  ... THE CROSSOVER PLAY.  A crossover play is a play that is not only done at community theaters, but also at high schools.  If you can keep it clean enough, and interesting enough, you may find yourself with a play that works in both markets, and increase your productions and royalties quite nicely.  The aforementioned Tim Kelly had a large number of crossover plays, as does Pat Cook, who I interviewed for this blog a while back.  (You can read that interview by clicking here--- trust me, it's worth a read if you're interested in this business)

TIP #7:  Keep the sets SIMPLE.  A unit set (one set for the entire show) or a representational set that can be moved quickly and easily to keep things flowing.  Community theaters by and large do not have huge budgets.

One last note that I think is very important.  AMATEUR THEATER (schools, community) is VITAL for our culture.  People who will never have the opportunity to see a show on Broadway or the West End, or even a Regional Theater with ticket prices of up to $50, will still be able to see their friends and family in a community theater production for $10-15.  I do not feel I am overstating when I say that COMMUNITY THEATER HELPS KEEP THE TRADITION OF THEATER ALIVE.  It is important, just as important as writing an in-depth piece of art for the more theater-going elite crowd.  You don't have to win a Pulitzer to make a difference in the field of playwriting.  Remember, Shakespeare wrote to please everyone, from the groundlings to the Queen. 

Let's keep that going, shall we?

Thanks for reading this article.  Feel free to comment below, or subscribe to my blog.  And if you want, you can even drop me a line at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com

Until next time, remember that theater is not only a craft, or an art form, or a business--- it is also a sport.


 
                   The Center Theatre, My Home Town Community Theater in Dover-Foxcroft, ME

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ADVICE FOR PLAYWRIGHTS: 10 Tips To Write a Play For School Theatre Programs (And Get it PUBLISHED)

This is me, Bobby Keniston.  This is my blog, Theater is a Sport.  Please read it and follow it.  Thanks.
Hello everybody, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and today I'm going to talk about writing a play for the school theatre market, and give you some tips about what might help it to get published. 

I have done a great deal of posts about the craft of playwriting.  In fact, you can see the very first lesson by clicking HERE.

This post is a bit different.  This one is all about tips to get a play published for the school market.  Playwrights like to earn money just like everybody else, and, while I can't know for certain that if you follow these rules you're guaranteed to be published, these are pretty basic guidelines for the market to help you along your way.

I'm not claiming to have all the answers, but I do have 24 plays published right now, most of them for the school market, with four different publishing houses.  I have learned by trial and error in the three-and-a-half years since my first acceptance for publication, and have also been fortunate enough to strike up online friendships with a great deal of playwrights for the school market, who have generously offered me advice and encouragement. 

So let's get started, shall we?

TIP #1:  Statistically speaking, more females than males audition for school plays and musicals (this is true for community theater productions as well).  Try to write at least a few more female characters than male characters, or, better still, it never hurts to have a number of gender flexible roles (roles that can be played by either male or females)

TIP #2:  Flexible cast size is also a good thing.  If you study the market and look at old classics by the wondrously prolific Tim Kelly, you'll notice how most of his full-length plays have cast sizes of 25 or more.  The more the merrier, right?  You will also notice that many of the roles can easily be doubled, or maybe even combined.  In this way, a play can accommodate a very large cast, or a much smaller one.  Hence, hopefully, more school groups will be able to produce your play. 

TIP #3:  This is not a hard and steadfast rule, but it is something I have found to be true for my work:  Lighter fare gets produced more often by schools.  This is not to suggest you should write nothing but comedies... far from it.  I'm just saying for myself, and for many of my playwriting pals in the market, the comedies sell more than the dramas.  Many of my friends have confided to me that the serious plays they worked so hard on and are really proud of get FAR less productions in a year than their lighter, fun ones.  That's the business.  Please don't mistake this as me advising you not to write dramas.  Dramas do get published and occasionally produced.  I'm just talking from a generalized, business-minded standpoint.  Two plays I'm very proud of, FRANKIE AND THE GINGERBREAD BOY, and AEROPLANE OVER THE SEA, do not do nearly as well as my plays I DON'T MIND THAT YOU'RE UGLY or CITIZEN'S ARREST.
(NOTE:  The one aspect of school theatre where this doesn't seem to be the norm is for the forensics market.  Serious monologues and serious 10-minute duets seem to do very well as a general consensus, sales-wise)

TIP #4:  Speaking of writing shorts, whether it be monologues or duets, remember, ten minutes is the maximum.  They are mostly selling for forensics' competitions, and they are strictly timed.  And also remember, the CONFLICT and CHARACTERS are what sells these pieces. 

TIP #5:  SIMPLE SETTINGS.  School drama teachers (and I should know, I am one), by and large, do not have a large budget to work with and do not receive a great deal of help to put a show together.  Because of this, a play with a simple unit set (which means one set for the show, without scene changes), or with representational set pieces (that can be moved on quickly and easily, like stools or chairs or boxes) are very attractive to drama teachers.  I don't blame them.

TIP #6:  Share the wealth when it comes to lines.  Make your supporting characters interesting.  Make sure that even the smallest part has some interesting feature or quirk that will make him or her fun and desirable to play.  School theatre is often about getting as many kids involved as possible, and we want to make sure that they are all having a positive experience, whether they have 100 lines or jut two.

TIP #7:  NO BAD LANGUAGE or EXPLICIT CONTROVERSEY.  Yes, it is good as an artist to sometimes push the envelope, and, yes, it is important to write plays that address issues that teenagers will face in their lives.  HOWEVER... if you write a play about teenage suicide (for example), it would probably be best not to have a kid with a gun to his head, a quick blackout and loud bang, and then bring up the lights with the kid laying in a pool of his own blood.  I apologize for the graphic image, and, while that image is certainly striking, and perhaps honest, most schools would not produce it.  Don't get me wrong--- some might, but most wouldn't.  And when it comes to language, it needs to be as clean as possible.  I have been asked by an editor to remove the words "hell" and "damn" from a high school-themed play.  Yes, I know many teenagers swear and curse, and we want to be honest--- I even wrote a blog about how young adult fiction can get away with so much more than young adult plays that you can read HERE.  But take my word for it--- you will most likely lose a whole bunch of productions, and maybe not even get it published, if you write a play with a ton of swearing for the school market.  The same thing goes with sexuality.  What you have to remember is that you are a creative writer, and that working within some of these certain guidelines can actually spark creativity and dimension, not destroy it. 

TIP #7:  While many plays for adults, particularly in the professional theater, do not appreciate in-depth stage directions, you have to remember that school theatre is often directed by people who see the value in the program, but might not have the most experience when it comes to directing.  There's an old adage about how many English teachers have been forced into the role of drama director over the years.  This is true for many different kinds of teachers.  Not every school has a separate theatre program with someone who majored in theatre in college.  So, stage directions can be very helpful to create a vivid picture for these folks.  The same is true for setting designs and costume and prop plots.

TIP #8:  The one play that I haven't managed to get published is called RAINBOW AND THE GOOFBALL.  It's a fairy tale I created.  Every editor who has read it has responded to me about how much they like the piece... some have even raved.  But each one has said there is no room for it in their catalogue.  If this play were called CINDERELLA AND THE GOOFBALL, it might have had a much more sporting chance.  If you're going to write a fairy tale, do something fresh and new with a name people already know.

TIP #9:  People often ask me if a play needs to be produced before it can be published for the school market.  Here's the honest answer:  only 2 of the 24 plays I have had published had a production before being published.  I know this goes against conventional wisdom, but it is the truth.  In fact, RAINBOW AND THE GOOFBALL was one play that had a production before being published, a successful one in fact, with great pictures and reviews, and that did not help it get published.  Now, obviously, a production doesn't hurt.  The reason some places strongly recommend it is because a great deal of rewriting can take place during the course of a production, making the script "tested for success".  So I don't know what to tell you.  What I will say, is that I ALWAYS read my plays out loud, often with a group of students, to hear how it sounds, and will make changes from that.  Hearing a play out loud does help one revise it.

TIP #10:  This tip will seem a bit like a cop out, but, it's true just the same:  KNOW WHEN TO BREAK THE RULES.  My advice is to get at least a few publications under your belt before you do, but, no one, not even editors, know for certain what can go through the roof and be a smash hit.  You just don't know.  You can do your best to follow trends (which isn't a bad idea), see what's big in the world of kids and teenagers, tap into all these different avenues, but, hey, in truth, it's all just a guess.  The number one job is still to please yourself first and to write something you can be proud of having your name on.  Plays are in print for quite a good stretch of time after being published.  Remember that. 

I hope you have found these tips useful.  To learn more about my plays, you can click HERE, and check out all the links (note, a few of my plays are forthcoming, so they are not yet available to check out). 

Remember, writing plays for the school market is tough, so it's good to get some advice here and there.  Also remember--- theater is not just a craft, or an art form, or a way to make some money--- it is also a sport.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

NOW AVAILABLE: A Salutatorian's Gratitude (how and why I wrote it)


Hello everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I like to talk about all things theater.  Why?  Because I love it oh-so-much.

Today I'm going to introduce you to a new script of mine that is now available and give you a little insight into how and why I wrote it.  I have always found it interesting to read about the "behind-the-scenes" of different writers, so I thought I would share a little of that with you, in hopes that you find it entertaining or informative. 

The script is a 10-minute comedic monologue called A Salutatorian's Gratitude, and it is available from Brooklyn Publishers.  Here is the description of it that you will find on their website:

After four years of hard work, graduation is finally here, and James (or Jamie) is about to give a Salutatorian speech that no one will ever forget! After discussing the importance of gratitude to his fellow graduates, he quickly begins to10-min drop the facade and let his true feelings come out, including jabs at the Valedictorian (who happens to be the Headmaster's son), his own father (who would have bought him a car had he been number one in his class), and about the "dinosaur" teachers who he feels should have retired long ago. Shakespeare once wrote "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." Well, James is going to show the world that a serpent's tooth ain't got nothin' on him!

So, first things first:  why bother write ten minute monologues anyway?  Obviously the royalties are much lower, so what's the point?

Good question!  Here's the answer: 
There is a pretty wide market out there for speech and forensics clubs, not to mention acting classes that may purchase monologues for in-class scene work.  Writing the monologues or 10-minute duets is not only a great deal of fun, in truth, they take less time to write, and can really help get your name as a writer out in different markets.  Heck, even in different countries.  I got an e-mail from a girl in Australia who was working on one of my monologues for her acting class.  Australia!  That's pretty cool, while I'm sitting here in Maine writing my plays.

From a financial standpoint, for those truly interested in the business-side of things, my 10-minute duets and monologues account for MORE THAN 20% of the royalties I have earned this year from Brooklyn.  That is more than my full-length plays account for. 

So yeah, they're fun to write, and they help earn money.

So, why A Salutatorian's Gratitude?  How did you get the idea for such a bitter graduate?

Okay, here's the truth.  I was Salutatorian of my graduating class.  And yes, being Salutatorian is a great honor that demonstrates a student's commitment to hard work and academic achievement.

But I was still number 2.

You see, I didn't have a whole lot to be competitive about when I was in high school, so academics were very important to me at the time.  And, I was only 1/100 of a grade point less than the Valedictorian of my class.  Such a small margin made it all the more difficult for me.

Of course, now, as a rational adult, I can see how things like class rank really have no bearing on a person's potential for success.  After all, I'm a bit of a struggling writer without much to call my own, while many people behind me in the class have far more real-world financial success. 

Also... as human beings, especially still as teenagers, do we really need to pay attention to a "ranking"?

On the other hand, I think competition can be could, and striving for success in academics is important, and, still in my heart of hearts, I wanted to be number 1 in my class and feel like I actually deserved it (All AP classes and such).  While this feeling exists, I do realize how silly and funny it is to have it. 

Hence, this monologue was born.

And I happen to think it is quite funny, and hope that people will agree.  I also happen to think it is a great piece for a forensics (speech) competition, or a night of monologues and scenes. 

Thanks to you all for reading this.  If you want to read a free sample of A Salutatorian's Gratitude, just click right here!

Until next time, please remember that theater is not only an art form, craft, and business--- it is also a sport.


Monday, August 12, 2013

Should Community Theater Worry About Accents?: When and When Not To Attempt Different Dialects in Your Production

My Cast for "The Importance of Being Earnest"--- I made them do British Accents
 
Greetings fellow theater lovers and drama geeks!  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I would like to welcome you to Theater is a Sport, the only blog I know of that maintains beyond a shadow of a doubt that Theater is, in fact, a sport.

Right now, I am in a play at the beautiful Lakewood Theater in Madison, ME, called "Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club" by Jeffrey Hatcher.  Recently, an issue has presented itself that I have encountered several times before in community and school theatre:

should we do the accents or not?

This is an important question, but the answer isn't always clear. 

In this play, I am playing duel roles, one is of a German man called Mr. George, the other, Inspector Micklewhite, a Scotland Yard British fellow. 

I have had experience with accents.  When I was in college, I was in a play called "The Baltimore Waltz" by Paula Vogel, in which I had to slip in and out of several different European dialects. 

I will say up front that I love accents.  I love working on them, learning them--- they can do wonders to add to the realism, the musicality, the rhythm and color of a production.  In a perfect world, I would say that every community theatre, when doing a play that requires accents, should attempt them.

The Key Word here is ATTEMPT.

When  I was in middle school, a film called "Robin Hood:  Prince of Thieves" came out to much fanfare and great success.  Blockbuster that it proved to be, there was not one review of the film that failed to mention that Kevin Costner, in the role of Robin Hood, did not use an English accent.  Surprising, perhaps, but, by all accounts, he attempted, and couldn't get the accent quite right.  I personally think the filmmaker made the right choice to have him just drop it, because a poor or inconsistent accent is troublesome and distracting. 

Others are brilliant at accents, of course.  Peter Sellers, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, to name but a few. 

Some thoughts:

WHEN YOU SHOULD USE AN ACCENT IN COMMUNITY OR SCHOOL THEATRE

1. When it is absolutely necessary for the play.  In the picture above (as it says in the caption) is of a lovely cast of people for a production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" by Oscar Wilde, that I directed at the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcrft, ME.  I made my cast learn English accents because I felt is was vital for the humor, rhythm and Wilde-ness of the play.  I was, and am, convinced that the humor in that show does not land the same way in plain old American dialect.  People are free to disagree, but as director, it was my call.  I am happy to report that I had a very hard-working cast who rose to the challenge with the help of a lovely dialect cd (more on those later)

2.  When you have a cast that is very facile with accents.  In that case, why not?

3.  If other characters make note of a character's accent.

4.  When it serves an educational purpose.  This last school year, I made a group of my students learn the English accent for a play they were in because it added to the play, but also because I felt it would be an opportunity for them to learn just how specific accents can be.  And, at the school level, EDUCATION should come first (especially in high school).


WHEN YOU SHOULD JUST NOT BOTHER

1.  If one of your actors cannot hold a convincing or consistent accent, let it go.

2.  If the accent is so bad that it is distracting, let it go.

3.  If the actors are only focusing on their accents and not their characters, let it go.
(Note:  *  For me, accents can be a key into finding a character, but, for others, they're head is so wrapped up in the accent, that they lose sight of everything else.  This is not advisable.  Character is more important.  Looking and listening is more important.)

4.  If the accent is making the actor almost impossible to understand, let it go.

These are just a few guidelines I've picked up over the years. 

It should be noted that an accent is what we would call a "given circumstance" of sorts, and, it is a lovely thing to achieve if possible.  However, it is important to remember that an accent ADDS to a play and character, and is not THE PLAY or CHARACTER.  In fact, in a sense, an accent, particularly at the community theatre level, is a garnish--- can be tasty, but with a real chance of being overdone.  Be cautious.  Sometimes, just adding a flavor of an accent can work and not jumping into the deep end.  For example, maybe instead of a thick English accent, an actor can just clip their words some to give the feeling of being upper crust. 

If you do choose to pursue accents, and there's never harm in trying, I have always had a great deal of success with David Alan Stern, who has a wonderful series of different dialect cds.  I know there are plenty of others out there, but he's a lot of fun, and he breaks it down simply, with many call and repeat exercises.  Google the man's name, and you'll find a bunch of stuff about him.

All right.  That's enough for today.  I have to go listen to my German dialect CD and see if I can get this thing down by opening night!

Until next time, please remember--- theater is a sport!

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To learn more about Bobby the Playwright, click here, or here, or here , or, finally, here.

People in the photo:  Front:  Raelene and Robert Keniston
Back:  Tracy Michaud Stutzman, Teresa Myers, Sandra Beaulieu, Frank Applebee, Chelle Atwatter, Lucas Boffin, and Mathias Ringle.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A SELF-PUBLISHING STORY AND SALE: Bobby Talks About His Experience Self-Publishing AND Tries To Sell Some Books!

Front Cover of a self-published collection of plays
Greetings ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Theater is a Sport, where I talk about all things theater!

Over a year ago, I decided to self-publish a VERY limited edition of a collection of some of my plays.  I did this for a number of reasons:

1.  I wanted to stick my toe into the world of self-publishing and print on demand.  It is a huge market for writers now who have not exactly had success through traditional publishing means.  And, while I have been fortunate to be published by a few different play houses, and am very grateful for that, I wanted to just check it out in a small way, to see if it would be something I would like to dive into head-on into the future.

2.  I wanted to have a book of my own plays to make available to friends, family, and anyone who might be interested.

3.   I thought this would be a good opportunity to check out the quality of a print-on-demand publisher.

4.  While I write a great deal of plays for children and high school students, I do still write a good number of plays that are geared toward a more "grown-up" market.  The three plays in this collection are a good example.  I am proud of each of these plays (I will discuss them more a bit later on), and wanted to see if it were possible to reach a wider audience.

So, with these very modest goals, I explored.  I chose to use lulu.com, because it required absolutely no upfront costs just to prepare the manuscript and have them sell it on their website.  The website is very simple to navigate, and I give them full props for the ease in actually creating a book to be printed.  Now, there are some services to help with your book and its marketing, getting it on Amazon, etc., for a fee, but, again, since my goals were modest, I did not explore any of that, so I can't comment one way or another for you folks looking to try it.  What I can tell you is that the website is easy, making the book was easy, and their is a huge forum on their website where you can find an answer to any technical problem you might have.  I literally started the process and had my book advertised on their site within a couple of days... (granted, I had already proofed everything and one all of my re-writes, etc.)  It is even simple to have a print version and an e-book of what you're looking for.  I will tell you, that it is best to have a PayPal account to receive your royalties, and you will get your money every month instead of waiting for a check that will come every quarter (unless they've changed this).  

I was happy with the printed product from Lulu.  My own personal photos were used to make a cover.  Lulu provides many different templates to choose from, so, again, simple. 

Based on what your goals are, I do recommend Lulu from my (admittedly) limited experience.  If you are looking to make a decent-looking paperback book, they did the job for me.  And, if you invest more time and energy than I did in making the product, I'm sure you can make something even better than mine.  So, yeah, if you're interested (and I am in no way a spokesperson and am in no way affiliated with them), check out www.lulu.com.  Of course, there are a ton of other ones, so, please, don't take my word as gospel, I just had a positive experience with them.

Okay, onto my product:

Here's the deal... I printed up some copies and sold some around.  The manufacturing costs vary, and Lulu did seem to have a number of promotions to save money on getting your own book printed. 

Now, one of the plays (I can't say which one, as all of this is forthcoming), has landed a deal with a traditional publisher, and, even has some people interested in making an independent film from it.  For this reason, I had to take my self-published book off the market.  Thus, there are a VERY LIMITED number of the books in print in existence.  (If I ever am famous, this will be a very rare thing to own... I am saying this with a smile, because, although I would love to achieve some fame, who knows?  It's not impossible, but I'm not necessarily holding my breath, either). 

So, right now, there under 50 copies of my book in existence, and it is already off of Lulu.  I have, in my possession, the last 15 copies.  Now, I never really worked all that hard at trying to promote the book or sell it, so, there you go.

However...

I would love to sell these last 15 copies or so.  Any money I get from it would go right into helping me produce and promote my own work. 

Let me tell you a little about the plays.  Here's the back cover synopsis:

"A grown-up fairytale about a Mother risking her own life to save her son from Death's grasp.  Two old fishermen, talking about life, sex, nature and their own relevance as the Lady of the Lake steers them toward tolerance.  Family and friends remember Jeremy, a gay teen who took his own life because he was bullied constantly at school and learned to hate who he was.  The three plays in this volume cover a vast arena, from fairy tales to comedy to tragedy.  Award-winning playwright Bobby Keniston presents three of his most powerful plays in this limited edition paperback."

The three plays:

A MOTHER'S WISH:  I originally wrote this long one-act when I was at Bennington College, where it was kind of a hit when I did a reading of it.  A few years back, still proud of the concept, I re-wrote it, making it a bit more theatrical and accessible.  It is a play that I am very proud of.

THE LADY OF THE LAKE PRESENTS:  THE F-G VARIATIONS:  Another play I wrote originally in college.  I am a big believer in tolerance.  I hate the word "f-g" or "fa--ot" or any other awful name used for homosexuals.  This play is about two old Maine fisherman, who, over a course of small vignette scenes, are steered toward tolerance by the Lady of the Lake, who they never see.  This play was taken to the MEAct festival, where it did very well.  It was directed by the brilliant Tracy Michaud-Stutzman (who also played the Lady of the Lake).  A year later, it was invited to represent the state of Maine in the New England Regional Festival.  It was well-received by the judges, and I won an award for Best Emerging Playwright.

THE RE-PROGRAMMING OF JEREMY: I self-produced this play myself at a few different locations.  It was a huge it and got great press in my home state of Maine.  This is a documentary style play, where characters, though a series of monologues, discuss Jeremy, a gay teen who has ended his own life.  A friend of mine told me, "I don't know how a straight guy can write so well about the gay experience... thank you for writing this."   I can't stand intolerance.  I just can't.  And when I think about all these kids who have killed themselves because of bullying, it breaks my heart.  That's why I was so gung ho to produce this play.  Producing it myself and performing it with so many wonderful and talented people was a tremendous joy for me.

So...

If you're interested in having one of the last copies of this collection in existence, you can e-mail me at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com and let me know.  Please put the following in the subject line:  I WANT TO BUY YOUR BOOK.  I am only charging $12 plus shipping and handling fee (if I have to mail it to you) of an extra $4 ($7 if you live out of the US).  Since my book is no longer available, I no longer have a PayPal account, so you'd have to send me a check or money order, and I'd then send you the book. 

I hate doing a commercial for this, but, I really would like to sell these last copies out there, and, if there are people interested who read my blog, why not see if any of you would like one?  Plus, $12 is actually a reduced rate-- they used to $15.  AND, of course I will SIGN your copy, if that's worth anything to you.  :-)

So, yeah, if you like, drop me a line at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com and I will let you know how to pay me and get a book.  Again, whatever I get from this will just help me keep doing what I do.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.  Hope you all have a wonderful day, and, remember, theater is a sport.