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Thursday, October 3, 2019

A Great New Play For The Holidays: How and Why I Wrote "A Wicked Christmas Carol"

Cheyenne Sandau as the Wicked Witch and Elisa Schine as Glinda in "A Wicked Christmas Carol" at the Center Theatre
Greetings everyone, and welcome to Theater is a Sport, my much neglected blog about community and school theater.  Today I wanted to write about my latest published play, A Wicked Christmas Carol, a full-length holiday play that makes me proud.  It is a play that takes the world of Charles Dickens classic story and sets in L. Frank Baum's magical world of Oz.  In my play, the Wicked Witch of the West serves as the Scrooge-type character, and, true to the structure of Dickens, is visited by spirits to send her on a path toward redemption.  The difference is, these spirits are all beloved characters from the Oz books.

This idea had rolled around in my head for a few years.  I don't have many Christmas or other holiday plays published, and was brainstorming ideas for possibilities.  I cannot recall exactly how I first thought of the idea as the Wicked Witch of the West as a Scrooge-like character, but when I did, it was fun to imagine other Oz characters in different roles--- naturally, the Wicked Witch of the East could make a perfect Jacob Marley, I thought, only, instead of bearing heavy chains, she would be laden with pieces of the house that fell on her... that was an image that really stuck out in my mind.

Cheyenne Sandau as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Michelle Fisk as the Ghost of the Wicked Witch of the East in Center Theatre's production of "A Wicked Christmas Carol"
 Despite having this idea for some time, I didn't really act on it, even though I thought it was an idea that could pan out and work successfully.  I was busy working on other plays.  Still, this idea would bubble up every now and then, and I found myself almost looking for an excuse to sit down and write it.  And one day, I had a meeting with Patrick Myers, the Executive Director of the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, about a completely unrelated topic, but I asked in passing if they knew what they were doing for their Christmas play.  This was in late May, if I recall.  He told me that they were once again going to go with "A Christmas Carol," though something in his tone suggested to me that maybe he wasn't thrilled with the decision, so I said, "You know, I've been meaning to pitch you an idea about a new adaptation 'A Christmas Carol' but it would be set in Oz, with the Wicked Witch of the West as the Scrooge."  Patrick liked the idea, said he would pass it along to the group who pick out the plays.  I went home from that meeting and began to write a synopsis and story treatment for the play.  I sent it along to Patrick, and told him I could have pages for them to read by July. And so, my excuse to write it was alive!

Cheyenne Sandau as the Wicked Witch of the West and Laney Reardon as Tip/Ozma in Center Theatre's Production of "A Wicked Christmas Carol"

I thought "A Wicked Christmas Carol" was a clever title, and people seemed to agree.  I immediately went back and started reading Baum's fourteen Oz books, paying special attention to the first book, of course, the only one in which the Wicked Witch of the West appears.  I wanted to make sure everything in my play was based on Baum's work, as those are the works that are in the public domain.  Though I admire Gregory Maguire's "Wicked" books, and the Broadway musical adaptation, I certainly didn't want to be sued for using their work in any way.  The same is true for the MGM classic, "The Wizard of Oz."  Which is why, in my play, you will find the details are taken directly from Baum:  no ruby slippers, for example, but Silver Shoes.  In my play, The Wicked Witch of the West (who has no other name in the book) is named Lina, though no one calls her this anymore.  It was a name she gave herself in her youth, after the great Fairy Queen Lurline.

I should note that if you have never read Baum's fourteen Oz books, I cannot recommend them enough.  They are a true joy, and it was such a journey getting to live in them for a time.  I hope to revisit my citizenship in Oz at some point.

The challenge when adapting not one, but two very famous pieces of literature is to be find the balance of being true to the source material, but also being true to your own voice.  I set about writing by going to my local library every day with my laptop, my notebook with all of my notes from Baum's Oz books, and a pair of headphones (when I am in a public place, I can only write if I have some way of blocking out the sounds of the rest of the world--- in this case, I was listening to "focus" binaural beats music).  I enjoy writing in the library.  When I take breaks, I can wander through the shelves at all of the other books that started by someone sitting down with an idea.

Will Stecher as Jemkiph, Axel Carlson as Wee Willie, and Cheyenne Sandau as The Wicked Witch of the West in Center Theatre's production of "A Wicked Christmas Carol"

The Center Theatre, similar to most community theaters I have had the pleasure of working with, likes to have large casts for their holiday plays, including children.  Fortunately, this story and setting lends itself to having many characters.

And one of the things I am most proud of?  The fact that the play, like the world of Oz, is populated by so many strong female characters.  Outside of the Wizard in the Emerald City, the power structure of Oz is very female-centered:  The Good Witches rule the North and South, the "Bad" Witches rule the East and West.  And of course, after the Wizard is exposed as the humbug he is, and after a brief rule under the Scarecrow, even the Emerald City is ruled by it's rightful heir, Princess Ozma.

While I love "A Christmas Carol", I have always found it somewhat unfair that some of the biggest and most complex iconic roles are for men.  I cannot even begin to describe how it felt to watch the scene where the Wicked Witch of the West is haunted by the Wicked Witch of the East, based on the infamous Scrooge and Marley scene, and to see these terrific actresses in my production get the opportunity to play this new version of such a classic moment.  I honestly got goosebumps.

Lee Wilber, Cary Libby and Dan Sharrow as the Ghosts of Christmas Present, Cheyenne Sandau as the Wicked Witch of the West, Will Stecher as Jemkiph and Kathleen Reardon as Joslyn Soforth
Clearly, I could go on about this at great length--- this one was kind of my baby.  Getting to write then immediately get to watch it stand on its legs is a dream come true for any playwright.  The cast I assembled were all so into the journey we were taking, and worked so very hard.  Not enough can be said about the volunteer actors who make community theater possible, who donate so much of their time and energy because they love to perform and to be a part of something magical.  Watching them bring my script to life stands among the proudest moments of my career as a playwright and director.

Elora Kares as The Ghost of Christmas Future, Cheyenne Sandau as the Wicked Witch of the West, Jasper Makowski, Will Stecher, Kathleen Reardon, and Abby Kemp as the Soforth family
Though my intention on this blog has never been to just plug my work (that's only a side intention!), this time around I can't help myself.  I wrote this play in mind to be accessible for community and school theaters of any budget, for the setting to be simple (the original production worked well with simple settings and projections as back drops for different locations), and to involve a diverse group of actors.  I was truly touched and grateful by the reception the play had in its initial production, and am truly honored that it has been published by Playscripts, Inc., one of the finest publishers of plays today for so many different markets.  If you would like to learn more about the play, and even read a sample, you can CLICK HERE

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and a big thanks to everyone who helped me along the way with "A Wicked Christmas Carol."  You all hold a special place in my heart.

Now let's try and make this a holiday classic, what do you say?

Friday, May 12, 2017

CONNECTICUT BANS CONVERSION THERAPY!


I would like to thank Connecticut for being the 7th state to ban Conversion Therapy for LGBT youth! Governor Dannel Malloy signed it into law, after the bill received a unanimous vote in the Connecticut Senate. This makes it illegal for mental health professionals to practice conversion therapy on LGBT youth!

You may be asking yourself why I am writing about this.  This is a theater blog, after all.  Well, as a former theater educator, and lifelong theater participant, I have met a great deal of homosexuals involved in the theater, many of them like family to me now.  Don't mistake me--- I don't think of them as my "gay friends"--- they are my friends.  Their sexual preference is a part of who they are, but doesn't completely define them as human beings.  As J.K. Rowling said, she thinks of gay people simply as "people".

As someone who has witnessed (and even experienced) a great deal of bullying in my life, I have been sickened over the years to hear stories about LGBT youth being bullied, even to the point of self-harm and suicide.  That is why I wrote my play, "The ReProgramming of Jeremy."  I have also read a great deal about religious "straight camps" and the mental health practice of "conversion therapy"--- one is to "pray the gay out", the other is to try to wash your brain clean of the homosexuality in it--- and, from what I have learned, both practices are dangerous, and have also led to self-harm and suicide.  Naturally, both the religious and psychiatric methods I have mentioned have what they call "success stories"--- but then, we can never truly look inside and see how someone is feeling, can we?

Personally, I think the practice of trying to fundamentally change how a person was born because they are attracted to the same sex as themselves is wrong. It is not an illness.  Some may argue that people who are gay are not born that way, that it is learned.  To those people, I say, "I'm sorry, but you are wrong."  This is not a matter of opinion, no more than 2+2=4 is a matter of opinion.  We can no longer allow people's opinions to bear the same weight in an argument as facts, especially if the matter is not up for opinion.

If you are a heterosexual, try to imagine, just for a brief moment, a psychiatrist working hard to realign your attraction from the opposite sex to the same sex. To be taking that deeply personal and deeply rooted part of yourself and trying to change it, to flip it around.  Now imagine a minister telling you using different methods to achieve the same thing.

Ask yourself, did you ever choose to be straight? I can't remember ever choosing.  I remember distinctly realizing that I was attracted to the opposite sex (which is a story for a different time), but never choosing.

Already on my Facebook, I've had people disagree with me.  One person asked, "What about those teens who want to change who they're attracted to?  Shouldn't they have a legal method to do so?" (I am paraphrasing).

My answer is this:  Most young people who want to change they're homosexuality wish to do so because of societal or family pressure causing them shame and guilt.  A mental health professional would do better to assure these young people that they have nothing to be ashamed of, and that it is okay to be gay.

"But these young people should have the freedom to try conversion therapy if they want to...!"

Actually, the government puts plenty of restrictions on potentially dangerous activities on youth.
Cigarettes, alcohol, driving (until they pass a test). If an adult wants to get into conversion therapy, than they can... they have, supposedly, weighed the options.  It still makes me sad, but, hey, it is their right.  Adults aren't going through the same hormonal changes that can make young people even more mentally vulnerable for such therapies.

In fact, this law protects parents for putting using conversion therapy on their kids against their will, which is a good thing.

"But, Bobby, just because you think it is dangerous..."

I am not the only one.  Click HERE to read more about it.  Or HERE.  There are countless others, too.

In 2000, Colorado outlawed Rebirth Therapy, after a little girl was smothered to death accidentally.  I don't remember as much of an outcry saying that young people in Colorado should have the freedom to seek rebirth therapy if they wanted.  In fact, shouldn't the government protect citizens from pseudo-psychiatry that is harmful to people?

My opinion is yes.  Feel free to disagree.

No LGBT youth (or adult for that matter) should have to hate who they are and how they were born. We are passed this as a society.  Or at least we should be, shouldn't we?

Thank you for reading my thoughts.  If you do choose to comment, I don't mind if you disagree, but any name calling or hate speech will be deleted by me.  Dissenting viewpoints are fine.  Thank you.

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Check out my play, "The Reprogramming of Jeremy", on Amazon!


Friday, May 5, 2017

The Long Journey A Playwright Can Make: Finalizing My Play, The ReProgramming of Jeremy.

The Cover of the published edition of my play, The ReProgramming of Jeremy, available HERE and HERE.

And so it is, folks...
It started a number of years ago, roughly six to be exact. I had an idea for a play. I had an image in my mind of a young man, and I knew that I would name him Jeremy, after a dear college friend of mine of mine named Jeremy (Mimi) Bradley. (Yes, she's a girl). I always loved her name...
In any case, I went over to the Thompson Free Library with my laptop and pounded out a draft in two days or so. The aesthetic of the play was influenced by "The Incident at San Bajo" by Brad Korbesmeyer, and by one of my favorite novels, "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner. I've had people since tell me that it reminds them of "The Laramie Project", but I am almost embarrassed to admit that I had not read nor seen that play at the time that I wrote "The ReProgramming of Jeremy".
I produced the play myself (which I was proud of myself for accomplishing, as I had never done such a thing before), and had two performances at Lakewood Theater, and a few at the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft, all performances followed by a discussion. My little play made the cover of the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, above the fold, with a headline, "A Play For Our Times". The initial cast included myself, Alyson Saunders, Raelene Keniston, Michael Pullen, Hannah Louise (and later, Marisa Bradford in that part), Lucas Boffin, and Sue Burke McKay. The play, which is about a gay teen named Jeremy who has ended his life after being sent to a "straight camp" was written in reaction to terrible stories I kept reading in the news. After we had such good press, I received a bunch of emails, calling my play (which hadn't even been performed yet) a "gay puff piece", while others questioned the definition of bullying, and others still saying gay teen suicide wasn't an issue.
Shortly before we premiered at Lakewood Theater, a young man named Jamey Rodemeyer ended his life after being bullied constantly at his school. This really hit me and my cast in a big way.
So, anyhow, that was the beginning of my "Jeremy" journey, and Jeremy has not been out of my head much since. The play has been performed by a brave and wonderful high school theatre teacher named David Valdes in both New Hampshire and Florida. And there is a motion picture adaptation of the play coming from one of the scripts biggest fans, Gail Springer Wagner, who has worked hard and put a lot of love into the project, with a great group of people.
I decided, with the motion picture so close at hand, to at last lay down a definitive edition of the play. It has changed a great deal since the first production. There are two new characters who now seem to me as vital as the original characters always were. Even since writing the screenplay, I have gone back to the play and changed and tinkered, and, hopefully deepened the characters--- especially the teenage ones.
I probably shouldn't say this, but 7 publishers turned down this play. I tell you this in part to explain why I am releasing it myself, but also to share what is the weirdest thing that has happened to me in my publishing career. Everyone who turned down the play sent me a personal note. 5 of them told me that they loved the play, loved the writing, but didn't think it would sell because of the subject matter. One publisher (I won't say which one), told me that the play made them weep at the end. And one offered to publish it if I removed any talk of religion from the play and cut it down by fifty percent, and I simply couldn't do that.
So here it is--- the definitive, final draft of "The ReProgramming of Jeremy"... let's call it the movie tie-in edition. Now I can put the poor boy and his haunted family and friends to rest. 
I don't know if this is my best work to date, but I do think it contains some of the best writing I have ever done. I appreciate anyone who wants to read it purchasing a copy, and anyone who might be interested in producing it to purchase a copy, read it, and contact me. 
For every copy that is sold, I am donating $1 to The It Gets Better Project, a great project dedicating to helping LGBT youth and preventing teen suicide. 
Thanks for listening to my rambling note. I hope you like the play.
If you would like to read the play, you can purchase it online at its CreateSpace Page by clicking this HERE
Or you can purchase it online at Amazon by clicking HERE
Thanks again!

Monday, December 14, 2015

A COLLECTION OF PLAYS ABOUT LOVE



As a playwright, it is always an honor to be included in an anthology of plays.  Particularly when it is an anthology of plays about love.

It's a terrific subject, isn't it?  According to the musical Aida, or, at least the lyricist Tim Rice, every story is a love story.  While I agree with this to some extent, there are certainly plays that stand out as either a celebration or close examination of the human spirit in love.  Certainly their are classics from Shakespeare like Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream, to name but a few.  And contemporary theater is chock-full of plays examining love, from A Streetcar Named Desire to Barefoot in the Park, from Same Time, Next Year to Angels in America.  Don't even get me started on musicals!

That is why I was honored when my play A Forgetful Remembrance (click the link to learn more or order) was recently included in an anthology of ten minute plays about love called Head Over Heels.   I wrote the piece as part of a longer play made up of ten minute scenes about love called Bees are in the Park.(click the link to learn more or order)  It is all about an elderly couple, sitting in a park, remembering their life together.  As the play progresses, we learn that the elderly gentleman, Colin, is in a bit of denial about a very important event.  I wrote the play as an expression of what I consider to be the truest kind of love.  At the time, I felt this short play said everything that needed to be said about love and devotion that I could possibly say.  Whether or not this is true, I can say that the the play is packed with emotion.  I have received countless messages from people who have performed the piece, telling me about how the audience was in tears by the end, both guys and gals.  I find this gratifying, as, I must confess, I still can't read through the piece without tearing up at the end.  It is one of those rare plays that I can read and almost forget that I was the one who wrote it.

A photo from a production of "A Forgetful Remembrance" by the Reedy Point Players in Delaware

 I think ten minute plays are great way to put together a night of theater on a small budget, and with cast restrictions. Because they are short, they have a clear conflict, and are usually pretty dynamic.  Ten minute duets in particular give actors a chance to really delve into a character, and make it shine, without having to worry about carrying an entire evening.  This is a gift for student actors and experienced actors alike.

I don't only recommend Head Over Heels  because my play is in it.  There are eleven other short plays that deal with love, ranging from the hilarious to the dramatic to poignant and touching.  Here's a look at the table of contents:

Coaster of Doom by Lisa Cestowski
Lunch Date by Sally Jane Kerschen-Sheppard
Dance in Venice by John Shanahan
A Forgetful Remembrance by Bobby Keniston (Me!)
He Loves Me by Tim Mogford
Say it With Flowers by Jim Gustafson
Real Beatlemaniacs by Leslie Bramm
1st Floor, 2nd Floor by Olivia Arieti
Almost by Krista Dalby
Leslie and the Boys by Tim Mogford
Measuring Matthew by Patrick Gabridge
First Impression by Matt Thompson

Again, I don't just say this because I'm featured here (although, that is a plus), but in all seriousness, this is a terrific anthology that would be a great addition to any drama teacher's collection, any community theater's collection, or just for anyone who loves to read plays.

Who doesn't want to experience an evening full of love at the theater?

You can order Head Over Heels from Brooklyn Publishers by CLICKING HERE, or from Heuer Publishing by CLICKING HERE.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

APPRECIATING THE LITTLE (BIG) THINGS

a VERY cool production photo from a school group in Virginia who did my play "Confession:  Kafka in High School"

It is easy making a life for yourself in the arts. I don't say this to discourage anyone from trying--- indeed, if it is what you love, and you can't imagine yourself being happy doing anything else, then I encourage you with a whole heart to pursue your passion and follow that dream.

Just know that it's not always easy.

My first two plays were published in March of 2010.  One of them was Rumplestilskin the R-Dawg: Hip-Hop Minstrel, from Brooklyn Publishers and the other was Confession:  Kafka in High School, from Playscripts, Inc.

Now, almost five years later, my plays have been performed in 44 different states and 4 different countries.  I have 32 publications in four different catalogs, and my work has been chosen to be a part of three different anthologies.  I have self-produced a few plays for adults, been to different festivals and competitions, met some really great people, and even have a script that some kind folks in Delaware are working hard to make a movie from.

Best of all, I hear from students every now and then from all over the country (and, sometimes, all over the world).  They'll drop me a line on my Facebook Page or at theater.is.a.sport@gmail.com, and ask me questions, or just say hi.  Sometimes, they'll send me cool pictures like the one above.  Or, this one below:

A poster for a production of my play, "Avoiding the Pitfalls of High School Dating"

All of this is super cool, and I love it.  But, still, it is easy to get down on myself many days.  After all, I'm 37 years old and I don't have a "steady" job (or, according to some, a "real" job--- but that's for another post), I struggle financially a great deal, and have no money put away for the future, because I barely have money for the present.  Such things can make one lose faith in themselves a little from time to time--- while I'm grateful that my work is produced, and I'm thankful for every group who chooses my plays, I've yet to have a definite "hit" per se.  A few have come close, but not quite.  And that's okay.  My playwriting career grows a little every year, and it feels wrong to ask for more than that.

But, in my defense, it is human nature to want to climb to the top of your field, or, at the very least, have a good view of the top from where you are.  And everyone wants stability, as well as a reward for hard work (and writing plays can be very, very hard work).

So when I get down on myself, I'll look at the messages I have received from students, or at the many cast photos and production photos.  I'll stop and remind myself of something very important:  the productions of my plays aren't just a list on a piece of paper I receive from my publishers.  They are teachers preparing a group of students.  These students practice to memorize words that I put on a page to tell a story.  They stand backstage before a show, feeling that same excitement and energy that I feel when I'm in a play, and they are feeling it for my work. My work!  This group of kids have come together to CREATE, they have formed a CAST BOND, all revolving around a play I WROTE!!

When I think of my work in these terms, I smile, and feel very special and honored and lucky.  No, I am not rich.  But my work is important.  In some small way, I have touched lives.  My work has taken on a life outside of me, and belongs to all of these other people now, and not just me.

And that's something that money can't buy.

Friday, December 11, 2015

HOW THEATER CAN SAVE YOUR SANITY

Yours Truly as Jacob Marley in "Scrooge and Marley"
Welcome to theater is a sport.  My name is Bobby Keniston, and I will be your host.

When I first moved back to my home town of Dover-Foxcroft, ME, about seven years ago, I was in a pretty bad way.  I had just gone through a broken engagement, couldn't keep a job where I was living, or, at least not a job that paid enough for me to have my own apartment.  I came back to my parents house, and, to be honest, I was pretty depressed.  My days consisted of the following:

*Eating
*Filling out applications for jobs I didn't really want
*Staying in my room, watching TV
*Missing my ex
*Staring at the TV without really watching
*Eating

Not a great time in my life.  I rarely went outside, even though it was getting close to autumn, my favorite season, I didn't really talk to anyone except for my parents.

Since I had been gone, a place called the Center Theatre had come to fruition in my hometown.  I knew a little bit about it--- when I was in college, a group of people had started the dream of fixing up the decrepit old theater of yesteryear, and creating a facility to celebrate the arts in our small town. I was now in my early thirties, and the place had been functional for a few years by the time I got home.  I noticed the difference in high school kids I would run across.  Theater was now something they were being exposed to, which is a very good thing.

There was a casting notice for the Christmas play.  It was an adaptation of A Christmas Carol called Scrooge and Marley by Israel Horovitz.  It's the story that everyone knows, only in this adaptation, Jacob Marley serves as a narrator, or Greek Chorus if you will, to the audience.

I had no intention of auditioning.  That would mean leaving my room.  My parents kept encouraging me to just go down and audition, to get out of the house.  "I don't know any of these people anymore," I said.  "Why should I bother?," I said.

But, whether it was because of my parents' prodding or some inner voice that knew me too well, I did end up auditioning.  And, since I was auditioning for someone who I had never worked with and who didn't know my work (now a dear friend named Rhonda Kirkpatrick), I was nervous.  For the first time in a long time, I was nervous to audition.  And that's a good thing.

Why is that a good thing?, you may ask.  A few reasons.  It gave me a sense of inner stakes.  I wanted to do well, which means, all of a sudden, as I waited for my turn to audition, I wanted a part.  I wanted to impress this new director I'd never worked with.  And, the right amount of nervousness ensures that you are taking it seriously, want to do a good job, keeps you on your toes.

Long story short, I got the part.  Now, this did magically turn my life around and make me a shiny, happy person again over night.  No, not necessarily.  But it gave me something to focus on.  And I was focusing on something that I love to do--- create a character, work towards a performance, and lose myself for a little while.

And, as days went by, and I attended rehearsals, I met more and more people, made some new friends, reconnected with some old ones, and, yes, I was smiling and laughing again.

Don't underestimate this one true fact:  THE ACT OF CREATION CAN SAVE YOU.  It has me, time and time again.  It is an outlet, a chance to work with people from all different backgrounds with the common goal of CREATING SOMETHING GOOD.  Something positive.  Something to share with the world for moments in time.

My funk lifted.  I felt better, stronger, appreciated.

So if you're blue, or going through a rough time, or just bored with the same old routine, keep your eyes open on local community theater auditions.  Get involved.  If you don't want to be onstage, volunteer to work backstage.  You will automatically become a part of something that will transport you.  It won't solve all your problems, nothing does that, but it will help your problems seem less intense, more manageable.

And that's why I love the theater so much.

Monday, June 15, 2015

MY PLAY "BEES ARE IN THE PARK" IS FREE E-SCRIPT AT BROOKLYN PUBLISHERS

Hi Folks,
My play "Bees are in the Park" is the free e-script this week at Brooklyn Publishers.  It's a full-length play made up of 10-15 minute duets, all set in the same park on the same day.  It's a great script, easy to produce, and perfect for high schools and community theaters on any budget.  To read more about the play, I have written a post about it... read it HERE.

To get a copy of the free e-script, you can go to www.brookpub.com and check it out!

Thanks for considering my play, "Bees are in the Park"!

All the best,
Bobby Keniston