Pages Navigation Menu

Theatrical Publisher and Performance Rights Licensing of Plays and Musicals for All Audiences and Theatre Groups, Amateur, Educational and Professional

Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers BLOG

Playwrights, Lyricists, Composers BLOG

Leicester Bay Theatricals often receives questions from playwrights on what we are looking for in the construction, writing, development, and producing of plays and musicals across all performance platforms.

  • What does a play need to be accepted by a publishing company?
  • What can I do to get my play produced?
  • Should my play be a musical?
  • Should my musical be a play?
  • Should I write for a particular audience?
  • Should I write for a particular theatrical market?

I will try to distill onto this page advice we have given and received from playwrights and friends. If anyone has advice or experience that they would like to share, please e-mail me with your comment. I have been reluctant to open this up as a true blog, as I have been a little leery of that form, due to so much spam and vitriol. After all, I do not want a Facebook battle happening on my site. But, the blog should be working.

Posts will be intermittent.

10 Things from The Playwrights Center about Script Submission–BLOG January 2, 2019

Posted by on Jan 2, 2019 in PLC BLOG | Comments Off on 10 Things from The Playwrights Center about Script Submission–BLOG January 2, 2019

10 Things from The Playwrights Center about Script Submission–BLOG January 2, 2019

Ten Things a Reader Wants You to Know (or, How to Keep Your Script in Consideration)

1. A script is not a musical score.

2. There is a distinction between a play and an experimental theatre piece.

3. Send the right project to the right theatre.

4. Remember, theatre is theatre. Be realistic about what can be accomplished in theatre.

5. The stage directions are not there to demonstrate your literary ability or creativity.

6. Start at the very beginning, or set the scene properly.

7. Don’t submit the first draft of your first play.

8. Know what you are writing.

9. Spelling and grammar count. So does formatting.

10. Don’t send a musical to a play contest and don’t send a play to a musical contest (and so many other scenarios…).


For the full article — which is very informative, and should be read carefully, please click HERE.

2301 East Franklin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55406-1099
(612) 332-7481


 

Musical Theatre: The Craft of Composing Lyrics — BLOG — December 28, 2018

Posted by on Dec 28, 2018 in PLC BLOG | Comments Off on Musical Theatre: The Craft of Composing Lyrics — BLOG — December 28, 2018

Musical Theatre: The Craft of Composing Lyrics — BLOG — December 28, 2018

Crafting a Lyric

Lyrics have the same forms as the music(1) — but which comes first: the music or the lyric?
Usually — the idea.

What follows depends entirely on the method of collaboration, even if the collaborator is yourself as a Composer-Lyricist. Sometimes a lyric will burst forth completely or nearly formed and just vomit itself onto your page. That is a rare blessing. Many times a lyric is constructed, shaped and moulded like a mini-play. Then you compose the music to it. Often times, a Lyricist is handed music, or music is played for him or her (sometimes over and over again) until he/she finds the rhythm and meter of the song. Then there are those instances where a bit of music or a bit of lyric begins the process followed by a bit more of lyric or a bit more of music and the song is created in total collaboration with both writers in one room in perfect sync (or not)! I have also conducted writing sessions over the phone and over Skype or some other synced platform, and it works just as well. Most lyricists and composers work in different ways depending on the song. Let it flow as it will.
If you are a Composer-Lyricist, all of these methods of writing can still happen. I’ve been there and done that with even more than I have put in this document. However, if your stated craft for this show is as a Lyric Writer, stick to it and don’t try to compose. If you are a Composer, don’t try to write the lyric. Now, re-writing what has been written, by composer or lyricist, is also what collaboration is all about, as you discover the germ of the song you have set about to create. A pre-composed melody may need an extra syllable for the lyricist, or may need the drop of a syllable here and there to accommodate the other’s idea. Be flexible, if you can. A pre-written lyric needs to also be flexible, in that words may be omitted or added to what you wrote out of need for the construction of the music. Music seems much less flexible as we must fill the beats of each measure in a mathematically satisfying way. The play, and the over-arching purpose of the song, is what should control what is done at all times. Remember also, Playwrighting is re-writing. This applies to lyrics. We cannot escape it.

CAUTION:
As a composer, I have surprised many a lyric writer with the melody of a song that wasn’t what they heard in their heads, but still fits the moment of the song well. And they love it. Or they grow to. Don’t be married to your meter if you heard the song in 4/4 and it comes out in 3/4 or 6/8. A composer has the job of creating a musical program that has variety in it. The lyricist is secondary in that instance, but has been primary in the creation of the lyric and its future song form. Sometimes the music must take precedence.

A theatrical Lyric usually tells a story, so, it must be created just like a play — with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes that story is merely a feeling, a thought, a list of items to act upon, or a plan to get what a character wants/needs. Sometimes it is a full story necessary for the understanding of either the over-all story we are in or the character who is singing at the time, in that moment.

A fine lyric, according to Lehman Engel, a Dean of Musical Theatre, is comprised of “images that are fresh and precise. Generalizations achieve no effect and are the hallmark of amateurs.”

WORDS. WORDS. WORDS, WORDS. Choose the correct ones.

Theatrical lyrics are identified by several common characteristics: they tell a story, they reveal character, they support and extend dramatic action, and they have PERFECT RHYMES. A theatre lyric is generally much more inventive than its ‘pop’ counterparts, with their near rhymes and less-complicated meters and rhythms. This is because a theatre lyric must do MORE than a pop lyric. [In my opinion, while the songs to SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS THE MUSICAL were fun to listen to, the show could not sustain an audience with the ‘pop’ form of the lyrics (and sometimes the melodies) of each song. Hence, the show closed early — no matter how delightful the performance, it was missing something.] If a theatrical lyric writer has learned his or her craft, he/she will be able to write to a rhyme and have that last rhyme payoff as the lyric stanza’s button or cap. “Again” and Brain” do not rhyme just because they are spelled the same, unless, of course, your character is British, as in “The Rain In Spain” from MY FAIR LADY. But there, it is used for comic effect.
This, then, must give the theatrical lyricist pause, as there are only so many words that rhyme with ‘love.” Many other words have very few, and often-heard rhymes. Avoid them if you can. If you can’t, use them in a new way, a surprising way. Each word is chosen carefully for its addition to the rhythm of the words, the inherent meter of certain words, (like Shakespeare and his ‘iams’, ‘trochis’, ‘dactyls’, and the like) these are tools and can be misused if you are careless. Don’t avoid made up words, or mashed together words (The Sherman Brothers come to mind on this one. They are masters at it!) The made up word can be such a surprise and a delight as it pops out of a performer’s mouth, punctuating the punch line of a stanza.
Lyric writing is a craft. It is a most difficult one. For you must be storyteller, poet, psychologist, comic, and rhythm master all in one.

CONSTRUCTION
I recently listened to a score that had the form of a limerick in every verse of nearly every song. But it worked. I was surprised. This created a pattern for the show, and you began to look for the limerick form within the lyric of each song and were satisfied when it appeared and you recognized it and laughed. That was the author’s intent, I think. It was as if the lyric tricked you into paying attention, and you did, and the story unfolded more easily for you because of its delivery system.

We generally create rhyming schemes. The most common is:
A
B
A
B
(Basically, rhyming couplets)

But there are others:
A
A
B
B

A
B
C
B
A

Even the limerick:
A
A
B
B
A

This only scratches the surface. A rhyme scheme is whatever you create it to be, but it MUST be consistent within the song. Every time that section of the song is sung, the Rhyme scheme should also appear. It is a fascinating and achievable challenge. ALSO — fill each beat of the meter each time that meter appears in the song. Don’t drop out syllables because you haven’t found the way to fill it (Pop lyrics, again.)

There are rhymes that don’t just happen at the end of the lines. These are called interior rhymes:
(2)PICTURE ME, BY THE SEA
BASKING IN LUXURY
SERVANTS AT MY CALL.
COULD I BE, ON A SPREE?
WANDERING ON AN ES-
TATE WOULD BE ENTHRALLING.
(This gives a feminine ending to the last line, and calls attention to itself by that use.)

There are some rhyme schemes employing a double quatrain, thusly:
A
A
A
C

B
B
B
C
The “C” becomes the surprise and therefore should be carefully and uniquely constructed, as the audience has heard an unattached rhyme in the first stanza and will be waiting for it to appear again. Surprise and delight them.

We lyricists may also use a chapter from the Actor’s Canon of ‘methods’: Take the Risk, make the Risk as big as possible. Whether the character fulfills that Risk or not will tell you something about him or her, and about the show. An unachieved Risk can say several things: that the character was ‘pie-in-the-sky-dreaming’, or that they were incapable of that achievement, or that they were supremely confident (or at least hopeful), or that the lyricist was not in tune with the throughline of the play. Always present the Risk — the payoff will surprise you as it heightens the ‘drama’ of the situation. I can guarantee you that when you find a way to have the character believably achieve that goal, surmount that obstacle, the resulting catharsis for characters and audiences will be electric.

As Sanford Meisner, a fine teacher of acting, said: “Find a way of doing it.” That may sound simplistic, but it is not easy — because the easy way is rarely, if ever, satisfying. He asks the actor (read lyricist here), to search out not just the why, but the how of character portrayal. As a playwright, working, of necessity, on a very small artistic canvas — the lyric — this is your principal task: to find a way of doing it, and make it strong and delightful. Hey, maybe a beneficial educational task is to take an acting class or two. Understand what an actor needs to work with, then give him or her those tools in your lyric.

There are as many forms for a lyric as there are ideas in your imagination. The biggest things about Lyric Writing require you to
1) tell story,
2) reveal character,
3) advance plot,
4) entertain,
5) use perfect rhymes,
6) inform.

Traditionally, perfect rhymes are requested in writing for the theatre, because once a rhyme is set up, the audience is listening for the rhyme and they want to be surprised each time they hear it. So take the risk and find new ways to surprise them.

© 2018 by C. Michael Perry

(1) read, “Musical Theatre: The Craft of Composing Music” — another blog title on our site.

(2) from AN ENCHANTED APRIL a musical by Elizabeth Hansen and C. Michael Perry © 2003, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2018 by the authors.

CLICK BLOG12282018Musical Theatre The Craft of Writing Lyrics for a PDF of this BLOG TITLE

Musical Theatre: The Craft of Composing Music — BLOG — December 6, 2018

Posted by on Dec 6, 2018 in PLC BLOG | Comments Off on Musical Theatre: The Craft of Composing Music — BLOG — December 6, 2018

Musical Theatre: The Craft of Composing Music — BLOG — December 6, 2018

The Theatre Song

TYPE (not an exhaustive list)

The Overture — in olden times, as in Opera, and Operetta, the Overture was a separately composed, self-contained melody meant to get us ready for the action. Its transition to Musical Theatre enabled the composer to tease the audience with ‘gems’ from the score. And who is not happily teased by one of the greatest overtures in all Musical Theatre: GYPSY.
The Showtune — (a particular type of Theatre Song, usually with a score full of them, and can appear in any of the forms below)
The Reprise — a repetition of a song in the show to echo or remind us of the Protagonist’s, (or other character’s) want or need, or stumbling block.
The Dance Number — a sung song with inherent need for dance, accomplished in a dance break and while singing. Dance will usually lift a number emotionally, past what it could be on is own.
The “Ballet” — usually, it is NOT sung, it is danced only and tells a story, illustrates a point of dramatic action, or heightens the emotion of a stage situation.

 

FORMS

The Opening Number — the song that gets our attention and lets us know what the show will be about, who the main character(s) is(are), and what we can expect — we must expect something to happen; either a change or a fulfillment. “I Put My Hand In” from HELLO, DOLLY, give us everything an opening number can have. It explains, character, current existence, and expectations for the future. It sets up the show splendidly as we watch everything that Dolly Levi talks about take shape and play out.

The I Want Song — explains what the protagonist needs (wants) “In My Own Little Corner” sets up the expectations for Cinderella nearly perfectly, while letting us in on wants, needs, hopes and current situation. It gives us somewhere to work from to either achieve the goal, or fall short.

The Charm Song — any song which uses humor to convey it’s message, it can come in any format with any purpose, it is not, however, restricted to purely COMIC numbers, it can merely have a fresh approach that must contain some humor. It should be optimistic, it can be delicate, its music should be rhythmic in nature. The Charm Song, more than any other form, depends on just the right lyric to help convey its message. Maybe it has a unique construction, as well. A good example is “A Puzzlement” from THE KING AND I. Another, “The Sadder But Wiser Girl” from THE MUSIC MAN, “I Whistle A Happy Tune” from THE KING AND I, “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top” from OKLAHOMA. I did not mention MY FAIR LADY, but it has more Charm Songs than any other musical. We owe this term to Lehman Engel. He feels that this type of song is most often able to stand on its own, apart from other comedy songs, which depend on their lyrics.

The Ballad — usually about loss or hope, it is the LOVE SONG, or TORCH SONG, but it can also be a narrative, a soliloquy, or a character song. Rodgers and Hammerstein popularized, if not invented, the “Conditional Love Song” in “People Will Say We’re In Love” from “OKLAHOMA, and “If I Loved You” from CAROUSEL.

The Production Number — A large group of singers and dancers will usually perform this number. “Mame” and “Hello, Dolly” really typify this form, but there are many other worthy entrants as well.

The 11-o‘clock Number — A specific placement of a song that leads us to the resolution of the musical. Its name derives from the nearness of its positioning as related to a clock-face containing 12 numbers — just before the ending. Today it can be sung by any number of performers, but classically, it was a solo signifying that the Protagonist finally got it! It is usually shaped around the talents and strengths of the original “Star” who sang it. But then it lifts any performer who attempts it. It allows authors to supply a late-in-the-show “Lift”. “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” from GUYS AND DOLLS, “Anything You Can Do” from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, “So Long, Dearie” from HELLO, DOLLY!, “Send In The Clowns” from A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and “Being Alive” from COMPANY, are all excellent examples of solos that occupy the “late” spot. “Krupke” from WEST SIDE STORY, is an example of a group 11-o’clocker. A “Ballet” in CAROUSEL, and “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” are other group versions of this form, accomplished through dance.

The Musical Scene — Song and Dialog interspersed from the beginning to the end of the scene. “If I Loved You” (a conditional Love song) from CAROUSEL, is a near perfect example of this form. “Pore Jud Is Daid” from OKLAHOMA, is a comic musical scene.

The Comic Number — its inclusion is just to make us laugh, sometimes as a break to previous action, sometimes placed in line to heighten the action. “Gee, Officer Krupke” is a fine example of a song used to lighten the moment and distract us from the drama, while still focusing on character and attitude. “I Cain’t Say No” from OKLAHOMA! is not just a funny song as the last phrase of each lyric stanza drops a bomb, but it beautifully outlines Ado Annie’s character and philosophy. There are two major forms of this song: the Short Joke, usually using a for bar phrase to set up, the extension and the punch line; and the Long Joke, which may take the entire verse or even song to deliver the punch line, but the action and story and set up keep you involved until the end. “Adelaide’s Lament” from GUYS AND DOLLS is a brilliant long form comic song.

The Rhythm Song — propelled by a regular, musical beat. “Luck Be A Lady” from GUYS AND DOLLS or “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” from SOUTH PACIFIC are excellent examples of this form.

 

DEFINITIONS

  • Introduction — begins the song, but not all songs have an intro
  • Verse (Part A) — usually is the first sequence of musical phrase in a song, free in form, it sets up the subject and is melodically secondary to the Chorus
  • Refrain (Part A) — another name for the Verse.
  • Chorus (Part B) — usually the second sequence of musical phrase, but sometimes a song leads with the Chorus. This part introduces and develops the main theme.
  • Release (Part B) — another name for the Chorus, which is meant to release us from the melody of the Verse/Refrain.
  • Bridge (Part B) — yet another name for the Chorus, which is meant to bridge us back to the melody of the Verse/Refrain.

CONSTRUCTION

  • Verse/Refrain (A) – Chorus/Release/Bridge (B) – Verse/Refrain (A)
  • A-B (original Classic), coming from the Viennese Operetta, adopted by most of the early Musical Theatre composers prior to, and slightly into, The Jazz Age, OR
  • A-B-A, an intermediate construction, still sometimes used, OR
  • A-A-B-A (Classic now) is the most satisfactory of the constructions as it gives completion to the form as the most prominent (A) is repeated 3 times and the (B) then gives release (relief) from it.

Each A or B:
8 bar phrase — Bali Ha’i from SOUTH PACIFIC — It’s Today! from MAME
16 bar phrase
32 bar phrase — Melody from Maury Yeston’s PHANTOM has one of the best rising statements in the business

Each Phrase, no matter how many bars:
statementrestatement rising statement2nd restatement, make up one Verse or one Refrain, or One Chorus, or one Release, or one Bridge
Bali Ha’i has two 4/4 measures as each statement, needing four statements to complete the 8 measure phrase. It’s Today! is similar. Someone To Watch Over Me is also constructed in this manner, as are most of the songs from the 20s, 30s, and 40s.
Melody has eight waltz-time measures that comprise each phrase and each phrase perfectly fits the statement-restatement-rising statement-2nd restatement model. Textbook.

THE MUSICAL PROGRAM

This is the job of the entire creative team, but primarily falls on the Composer and the writer of the Book(script). Ballads should not follow ballads. There should not be several production numbers coming one after another. A show full of comedy songs, becomes a comic revue, not a musical. If every scene is a musical scene, there is no variety. Setting up the musical program of your show (and it is different for every musical) can help to assure that, as you mix the various forms and types of songs available to you, you will have a satisfactory program of varied music by the end of the show. The beats in each show will be different, hence the need for a different song program for each show.

HOW DO YOU BEGIN COMPOSING THE MUSIC

I know that I have approached this in several different ways, sometimes very consciously and deliberately, other times quite by accident. I love it when a melody is thrown at me out of the cosmos by whatever muse is there. For some it is God, for some it is not. It doesn’t matter, as long as you acknowledge the source, for that acknowledgement lends a certain perpetuity to the process, and the melodies keep coming. I have awoken from mid-sleep with a fully formed melody in my head. I get up and write it down, thankful for the happening. Do NOT ignore these gifts. Sometimes, it is just a snatch of a melody that comes at me, leaving me the rest of it to discover at the piano. I love this, too, because I am searching for the creative input and using my skill and talent to assist the Muse.
Sometimes, I get an idea for a musical motif. it may be a bass riff, or a rhythmic lick expressed in some sort of musical figure. I write that down. Entire songs have developed from these outward musical experimentations. Sometimes it takes a long time before the lick develops into something useable. Just keep at it.
It is sometimes easier to accomplish after a long collaborative session with your co-writers. You have invoked the Muse, invited her in through discussion. Now — sit back and listen. There is profound solution in silence.
Don’t be afraid to adjust the little things, including melody, phrasing, and accompaniment — especially accompaniment. That is what gives your music an emotional subtext, much like the underlying meaning (subtext) in dialog. The craft of the composer, lyricist and playwright are very similar, just using different media.

I know that some composers write a lot of the songs based on the ‘Scenario with songs’ put together by the Book Writer. (Or maybe this is put together by the entire Creative Team?)  This can be very valuable, but it will always be malleable. The scenario, like the future script, is not written in stone. So, you compose a melody for a moment in the play that is cut. So, what — another song in the trunk. I have a very large trunk. I once had the pleasure of working with Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, authors of “The Fantasticks”, “I Do! I Do!”, and “110 In The Shade.” They mentioned that they had written over 150 songs — music and lyrics — for “110 In The Shade.” They only used 25 musical numbers, plus an occasional 5 or so because of who is producing the show, or who is starring in the show.

Besides, we love this work! Writing a song is one of the greatest joys, for when someone sings it and it works, your heart is full; you got it right.

We must remember that what we create has an intended life beyond our piano, or our office, our studio. It is intended to be performed — in a theatre — in front of an audience — who just may love it as much as you do.

by C. Michael Perry
© 2018 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
May by used in the classroom for educational purposes.

NEXT TIME: The Theatre Lyric

CLICK BLOG12062018MusicalTheatreTheCraftofComposingMusic to download a PDF of this BLOG POST

The Perfect Play? — BLOG — November 27, 2018

Posted by on Nov 27, 2018 in PLC BLOG | Comments Off on The Perfect Play? — BLOG — November 27, 2018

The Perfect Play? — BLOG — November 27, 2018

THE PERFECT PLAY?

Is a play ever really finished, done, thrillingly able to live on its own forever without tinkering?
No.
Each of us could fix, rewrite, tinker, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, any script we have ever created. The perfect play does not exist.

A play will never be perfect. Just as a human being will never be perfect. But we can get as close as is humanly possible. There is always something, because the target of perfectionism is a moving one. A moving target is very difficult to hit at the very center each time. With every shot you take, the aim gets closer to the center, but there is always a stray round or two, because unlike your aim with a gun or bow and arrow, there is no skill that you can learn to make everything work every time you fashion a play. Each new play is fraught with the same questions of form, content, message, delivery. But no two plays turn out the same. Even sequels. Each play must stand on its own. There is no formula that exists to guarantee a perfect play. A good play, yes! A great play, even, of course.

But a play can never be finished. It is merely words on a page as it sits there, even after it is produced. It takes humans to breathe life into it at every performance. Imperfect humans. You can get it to a place where it works and works well, but it will never be perfectly finished. Instead, you get it to a point where it is producible, then where it meets an audience. If the audience understands, reacts with enthusiasm, your play is good enough to go on. A play may be even great, or fine, or brilliant — but never perfect. It is as good as you can make it. That is good enough for it to deserve a life beyond your first production.

When there is more to be gained by starting a new project than ‘finishing’ an old one, it’s time to move on. You must let go of your baby, now that it is a child walking and talking on its own, and let it go out into the world to live and grow. If people have loved it the first time, new audiences will love it, as well.

There is always another play, or musical, hiding in that ether ready and waiting just for you to pull it down, shape it, mould it, fashion it, be the playwright who will wrought it in the fire of the process mis-labeled writing. You bend, you shape, you twist, and the characters begin speaking, living onstage. You don’t just put words on a page. You choose the most optimum risks for the most optimum outcomes. You give your child its sense of humour. You give your child its flaws, as well; those things that must be there to teach it. Your child grows with hopes and dreams––not all fulfilled.

Those are the things that an audience anticipates. That is what gets an audience to react to your play on both a visceral and spiritual level. That is why an audience will love and remember your child; because it had an influence on them, allowed them to understand something better, more completely — but not perfectly. Crying is not perfect. Laughing is not perfect. Even love is not perfect – because we are human beings who are imperfect. Each action or reaction has its positives and negatives both for the character, the actor, and the member of the audience. Why do we cry? Why do we laugh? What leads us to understanding? What gives us the catharsis to move ahead? Your play with imperfect people, and words, and structure; one that is good enough to let your ‘message’ be felt and then understood, making all participants better––but not perfect.

While you are crafting your next play, send the previous one out to theatres. List it on NPX or other Theatre Callboards. Get it to friends — friends you trust. Get a table reading. Get a staged reading. Find a theatre, or a group of theatres, who produce plays like the one you have wrought. Get it in their hands. It is through the collaborative opinion and critique of others – actors, designers, directors, musicians, audiences – where you get to school and enhance your child, teaching it to be its best self. The work of perfection is merely the work of getting your play ready to live successfully in the world, not be perfect at doing so.

Getting a play ‘on its feet’ will allow you to make the play good enough to have a life of its own –– apart from you. Those are the things you wish for your own child, and your child will never be perfect in this life. But they will grow up good enough to live a fulfilling life. So will your play. You have created it and own the rights, but it also becomes a part of the world–as we do not create for ourselves, we do it for an audience. Your play has touched and will touch many on its journey through life––long after you are gone. But first you have to reach the point where it is good enough––ready–– and you can let it go!

© 2018 by C. Michael Perry

May be used in the Classroom for Educational Purposes only!

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

CLICK BLOG11272018PerfectPlay to download a PDF of this BLOG POST

Proofreaders Marks — BLOG August 30, 2018

Posted by on Aug 30, 2018 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Proofreaders Marks — BLOG August 30, 2018

This is for all those who have tried to decipher what the heck they are supposed to do with the return of a manuscript from a proofreader.

Half-serious, half-in-jest, it is something to think about. But, oh, as an editor, the things you wish you could say!

This is not copyrightable, but use it for a release of tension in your class, workshop or seminar.
CLICK BLOG08132018Proofreadersmarks to download this BLOG POST

 

Capturing Characters Onstage — BLOG August 28, 2018

Posted by on Aug 28, 2018 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Capturing Characters Onstage — BLOG August 28, 2018

I had the privilege to be called down to Ferrum College and the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre in the summer of 2002. I had just gotten back from writing a commissioned musical for the Salt Lake Olympics that did quite well there, and was just setting back in to life in Nova Scotia when I got a call from Rex. He asked me to come down and be the dramaturg for a week or so to  help him get his new script on its feet.

Well, I went and loved it! This article appeared sometime later. It was an interview with Tina Hanlon and Rex, the founder of BRDT at Ferrum and a close friend. — C. Michael Perry

Capturing Characters on Stage for the College and Community: An Interview with Playwright Rex Stephenson

By Tina L. Hanlon, associate professor of English at Ferrum College and the Hollins University Summer Graduate Program in Children’s Literature. She is a co-editor of Crosscurrents of Children’s Literature: An Anthology of Texts and Criticism (2006) and director of the website AppLit.

Originally appeared in Virginia Libraries (Vol. 54, No. 3-4), a quarterly journal published by the Virginia Library Association).

Most people probably think of theatres and libraries as being worlds apart, but Ferrum College’s Sale Theatre and Stanley Library are next door to each other. Thanks to recent renovations on campus, only a few steps will take you from the library’s back door into the theatre, across an attractive patio that theatre-goers enjoy during summer plays. Many of those plays have been written by R. Rex Stephenson since he founded the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre in 1978. Even during years when getting inside the library required more steps, there was plenty of traffic between the two buildings. Drama majors writing and performing their own senior plays over the years had no excuses for shirking on their research or writing skills, with librarians and tutors next door in the library. Among many dramatic requests for library resources, the most unusual one was probably a trash can borrowed once for a prop. Librarian George Loveland had fun putting a bar code on it, checking it out, and later sending an overdue notice to get the trash can back from the theatre. Faculty members, librarians, visiting actors, and local children who come together to perform in summer plays pop into the library to read a magazine, use the Internet, or do a little background research during short breaks from arduous labor in the theatre. And Stephenson’s remarkable career as a playwright, director, and actor often takes him to libraries and archives for research and performances.

Soon after he came to Ferrum to teach drama in 1973, Stephenson began adapting Appalachian Jack Tales, traditional folktales about the magical adventures of a country boy named Jack. In his seventies in the late 1970s, the renowned storyteller and folklore collector Richard Chase visited Ferrum as a consultant for Stephenson’s Jack Tale Players. Chase’s books The Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales have made mountain folktales from Virginia and North Carolina popular throughout North America since the 1940s. “Wicked John and the Devil,” about a mean blacksmith who tricks the devil, is a tale that Chase told orally to Stephenson so that he could dramatize it without permissions expenses, and it is still a perennial favorite with the Jack Tale Players. Since 1999 Stephenson has also adapted tales with female heroes, such as “Ashpet,” “Catskins,” and my favorite, “Mutsmag,” about a spunky girl who defeats a giant and a witch. Stephenson’s own roles in “Mutsmag” range from playing a door and a giant’s ugly daughter to a one-eyed robber and the king of Virginia.

In December 2005 the Jack Tale Players gave their thirtieth anniversary performance at Callaway Elementary School, in the same auditorium as their first public show in 1975. They have performed more than 3,000 times in 35 states and England, at schools, veterans’ hospitals, parks, churches, conferences, and community centers. One public performance last summer kicked off a library summer reading program, “Tales, Legends, and Lore,” at the Spencer-Penn Center in Spencer, Virginia.

In 2007 the Southeastern Theatre Conference honored Stephenson with one of the most prestigious awards in the field of child drama, the Sara Spencer Award. Nellie McCaslin, who remained a mentor after supervising his doctoral work at New York University in the 1980s, dedicated the eighth edition of her creative drama textbook to Stephenson in 2005 just before her death ended a distinguished career as a dramatist, scholar, and professor. She called Stephenson’s summer plays for families “a unique and highly successful example of intergenerational theatre,” praising the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre for the professional and social benefits of productions in which local and professional actors, young interns, teenagers, and children work together, drawing in parents, tourists, and others to enjoy the plays. [1] This collaboration is also led by Executive Director Jody D. Brown, a retired English professor and excellent actress. Emily Rose Tucker, who started as a summer college intern, is musical director, composer, and often a lead performer in BRDT plays.

Many characters that Stephenson brings to life from the pages of folklore archives, historical documents, and classic literature find themselves back on library shelves in his published plays. His folktales appear in six published scripts and several textbooks and journals. Eighteen other published plays are based on historical events, from Galileo’s scientific discoveries to a trial that freed a woman from slavery in Franklin County, as well as Bible stories and literature by Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain. Stephenson has also portrayed the American master of fiction and social satire for many years in An Evening with Mark Twain. [2] One of the first times Stephenson asked me to serve as a script consultant, for The Jungle Book, he ignored my protestations that I was not a Kipling expert, so I went off to the library to read more about Kipling. Subsequent research has taken me to Dickens’ homes in southeastern England and to the OED to figure out whether words such as “Dad” and “teenager” were anachronistic in nineteenth century dialogue. When I found myself on local television with Stephenson and McCaslin in 2000, the interviewer was amazed to hear how many variations of “Snow White” we had studied. Thus I learned firsthand that these plays involve varied types of research and offer interesting possibilities for educational projects. I prepared study guides for several of Stephenson’s plays published by Pat Whitton Forrest at New Plays for Children in Charlottesville, who likes to integrate teaching materials with the scripts she publishes. I enjoyed digging deeper into the playwright’s views on drama and research for this interview. SEE A CHRISTMAS CAROL or THE CRICKET ON THE HEARTH or JUNGLE BOOK

VL Were libraries important to you when you were young in rural Indiana, before you became a playwright in Virginia?

RRS Because I was a commuter at college, when I had free time, I went to the library; and the more I was there, the more I discovered things. My biggest discovery during my freshman year was the reference room. I found answers to every question I have ever had in there. As a matter of fact, the reference librarian got to know me by my first name. I didn’t make very good grades my freshman year, but I learned a lot.
I like a library. I like the smells of a library. I like the feeling of being in a place where they have everything I want. There’s something about a book—you hold it and you look at the words and you read it out loud. Then you go to the bibliography and you get to find more books. Sometimes when I’m in a library I just pull out a book at random and read a couple of paragraphs to see if the author is an ordinary writer or a wordsmith. I worry that kids today don’t appreciate a library. It’s gotten to be a generational thing. When my daughter Juliet thinks of doing research she goes to the Internet. But libraries are important for kids; they are safe, and generally filled with people who enjoy reading and helping people find what they’re looking for.

VL I know you started dramatizing Appalachian folktales in 1975 after your daughter Janice brought home a copy of Richard Chase’s The Jack Tales from school. I’ve heard that many other storytellers and writers were inspired by hearing a librarian or teacher read these same folktales during their childhood. Do you encounter many people who know the folktales from books?

RRS It is amazing the number of people that will come up to me after a show and say, “My third grade teacher read us these stories when I was in elementary school.” I remember once we were playing at a festival in Newport News and a lady showed me her copy of The Jack Tales. She had asked for it for Christmas because the copy in the library was always checked out. I’m also astonished at the number of people I’ve met that had heard Richard Chase tell stories. And all that have talked to me speak of their encounter with Chase almost reverently. [3] I can say honestly that Chase was the finest storyteller I ever heard.

VL How important has research been since you began writing your own plays?

RRS When I first started dramatizing the Jack Tales, our library got me all kinds of books on interlibrary loan on folktales and Appalachian history. Back then, Appalachian Studies wasn’t “in.” I was over there every other week bugging them. They were good about getting every book or article I was looking for. Luckily for me later, I met Richard Chase, Cratis Williams, and members of the Hicks family of North Carolina storytellers. This combination of hearing the stories and listening to the background of the tales plus the scholarly research included in books by Chase and Williams gave me an appreciation I try to capture when I dramatize a folktale. When I went to the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, that’s when I discovered the work of earlier Appalachian storytellers and collectors, such as Jane Gentry and Isobel Gordon Carter. Raymond Sloan was another excellent collector of folktales and folk songs in Franklin County. He told me stories, explained how the Virginia Writers’ Project worked when he collected for the WPA, and gave me names of people to interview.
Another fortuitous thing that happened was just pure dumb luck. I was tracing back some of Chase’s informants and I went to Wise County in search of Dicey Adams, who had told Chase a number of Jack Tales. She was the widow of James Taylor Adams, who had headed the Virginia Writers’ Project in southwestern Virginia. When I talked to Dicey, she told me that everything they had on folklore had been given to a local library. At the library, I found the “lost” folklore collection that had not been published when the Virginia Writers’ Project closed in 1942. It was thousands of pages packed away in boxes, with all the WPA collectors’ original stories from southwestern Virginia. Most of the folktales that I have dramatized came from this collection.

VL And the same James Taylor Adams Collection is now archived in Ferrum’s Blue Ridge Institute. The links between the oral tradition, archives, and books are fascinating. I’ve read that librarians spread the art of telling traditional folktales to children around America and Britain in the early twentieth century. In Chase’s books and many other collections by storytellers, the authors encourage readers to tell the tales out loud in their own way after reading them. In your story theatre performances with the Jack Tale Players, I’ve heard you encourage audiences to read the tales in books by Richard Chase or the Grimm Brothers. How do you view the relationship between your adaptations and stories in books?

RRS At every show we try to do a little plug for reading. After we tell the audience about the books, librarians sometimes say, “We don’t have it but we’ll get it before you come back next time.” I just want kids to discover reading and Mr. Chase’s books. Once I had a rare invitation to say a few words to the audience when I attended a production of my adaptation of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I used this opportunity to encourage them all to read Twain’s version. To me, an adaptation of a classic story should just be the springboard that encourages children to go back to the original source.

VL Tell me about your summer performances at the Franklin County Library. I’ve seen the meeting room there packed with enthusiastic audiences of all ages at Jack Tale shows.

RRS We used to perform at the Rocky Mount Community and Hospitality Center in the old train station, too, or the courthouse, but since the new library opened a few years ago, we have performed there. The meeting room is not an ideal space for a performance, but to do a show surrounded by books—it is a great environment. Getting to know and working with a good children’s librarian is important. Franklin County has one of the best in Joyce Tuckloff. One of the good things about performing at the library is that children and parents come to the shows together, or children and grandparents, unlike our shows in the schools.

VL I agree with what you’ve said about the joys of libraries and books. But librarians also make valuable electronic resources available to us these days. When my website AppLit was created during a workshop sponsored by our library and the Appalachian College Association in 2000, you ran over to the library several times bringing me material for AppLit’s first bibliographies and study guides. How has the Internet contributed to your work as a dramatist?

RRS There are things on the Internet that would not get wide distribution if it were not for sites like AppLit. The example that comes to mind is the story Raymond Sloan told me, “Jack and His Lump of Silver.” I had published his story in a small journal, and I doubt if many people read it there. However, when it went on AppLit, I know a number of people read the story. For example, my sister-in-law, Sharon Stephenson, heard a storyteller in Indiana tell “Jack and His Lump of Silver.” She said, “My brother-in-law tells the same story.” And the storyteller said, “Yes, I got it on a website from a little college in Virginia.” Whenever we do kids’ shows, we like to provide teachers with background information. Now we just recommend the website, and not only do teachers use it, but we’ve also discovered their students go to it.

VL Writing your adaptations of classic literature requires getting to know the books very well. Sometimes you even include the author as a character in the frame story of a play. What kinds of research are involved in writing these plays?

RRS Most of the classics I have dramatized came out of my youth. They were the books I read and reread as a child, like Treasure Island, or books like Alice in Wonderland that I read to my girls. Then, because I love them so much, to try to stay objective a little bit, I’ll usually go over to Stanley Library and spend an afternoon with criticism and biography so I can see what other people have said about the story, or just sometimes to try to get in the author’s head, to find out why he wrote this story. I try to tell the same story the author told.
My research on Robert Louis Stevenson led to the frame story about him and his stepson in my play Treasure Island. I discovered that he wrote the book chapter by chapter as a gift for his stepson when he didn’t have money for anything else. It seemed like a logical frame, more appealing to modern children because the relationship was through a divorce and remarriage. They got along so well that they make good role models for families today.

VL How do you research your plays based on historical events?

RRS In most of the history plays I’ve written, I’ve had historians that provided a lot of guidance for me. Historians by their very nature always send you to the primary sources. What constantly amazes me is how many primary sources you can find in a library. When I was writing a play about Cecil Sharp, the English folklorist who collected folk songs in the South and came through Franklin County in 1918, I think I spent three days in London doing research at the Cecil Sharp House (home of the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library and the English Folk Dance and Song Society). After that, the play wrote itself. (MY TRAVELS WITH CECIL)
My most recent endeavor, When the Lights Go on Again, is a musical revue about World War II. I not only wanted it to encompass the music of the era, but I also wanted the story line to be about something. Now, I grew up in a time when people talked about the war a lot. Most of my relatives had been in the service or had worked in defense plants, and I remember always listening to their stories. And oftentimes the name Ernie Pyle came up. One day in my high school library I ran across a copy of his book Brave Men. I’ve been an Ernie Pyle fan ever since. I think part of the reason that I almost memorized some of Pyle’s newspaper articles was so that I could be included in the conversations with my relatives about the war. It was just logical for me to go back and include excerpts from his wartime articles in my musical revue.

VL Your family plays have been supported by the Nellie McCaslin Endowment each summer since your mentor at New York University died in 2005. Tell me about the special relationship between Nellie McCaslin and Ferrum College.

RRS Dr. McCaslin was always a strong proponent of inter-generational theatre—in other words, blending performers of a variety of ages into one production—so it was not really difficult for me to talk her into becoming one of our actresses in some summer plays. She was, I think, eighty-four when she did her first play for me in 1999. The youngest member of that cast was seven, so it was truly cast in a manner that she had long advocated.
We were very fortunate at Ferrum that Dr. McCaslin left her personal library to Stanley Library. She had all the primary books from the early history of children’s theatre and creative drama plus so many modern reference works and plays. Because Dr. McCaslin’s tenure at NYU was so long, whenever one of her students would publish something, they would automatically send her a copy. If you add into that the fact that she probably knew personally most practitioners of creative drama in the United States and England, and they would also send her books, it was indeed quite an impressive and unique collection.

VL I admire the way you capture the language and rhythms of the original text when you adapt classic works of literature. Book lovers often criticize dramatic adaptations or films because they don’t include everything in the book. How do you handle this problem when adapting a novel?

RRS Little Women: A Musical is the play we are working on now and it’s been the most difficult adaptation I’ve done since Alice in Wonderland (1995). I think this is true because everything in Louisa May Alcott’s book is so interrelated; everything depends on something else and the characters’ relationships are so complex—yet they seem so very, very simple. Deciding what to put into the play to capture the spirit of the book in an hour and a half is challenging. In addition, there is her use of language; it is very honest and yet it is emotional and detailed and creates pictures. When I read the book, I had these images in my head of how it would look on the stage. I also asked readers of the novel which parts they most remembered. For most playwrights, their job is to create a character; in an adaptation you have to capture a character. Alcott’s words are also melodic and we used some of them in the songs. Some things just can’t be said any better than her exact words. For example, there’s no better way to write about Beth’s long illness than to describe it as a tide going out. Shakespeare couldn’t have done better. What’s always in the back of my head, especially during this play, is that on opening night, Louisa May Alcott has a seat right next to mine.
Jo March’s last line at the end of Stephenson’s Little Women illustrates the continuing relationship between his plays and the books he adapts. Telling the audience a little about her future, Jo says, “If you want to find out more about what happens next in my life, you can read Little Men.” LITTLE WOMEN A MUSICAL

Notes
1. Nellie McCaslin, “The Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre: A Recipe for Success,” Stage of the Art, Winter 2002, http://www.ferrum.edu/news/ArchivePreMay02/brdtstageart.htm; Nellie McCaslin, Creative Drama in the Classroom and Beyond, 8th ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2005).
2. Tina L. Hanlon, comp., “Dramas and Tales by R. Rex Stephenson,” AppLit: Resources for Readers and Teachers of Appalachian Literature for Children and Young Adults, Ferrum College, http://www.ferrum.edu/applit/bibs/bibrex.htm. Provides details about publications.
3. Sandy Shuckett, “Regarding Richard Chase: Two Memorable Meetings,” California Libraries, August 2004, http://www.cla-net.org/events/newsletter/aug04_RichardChase.php. Coincidentally, while this article was being written, an email from California author Kerry Madden brought us a copy of librarian Sandy Shuckett’s article about meeting Chase.

 

© 2006 by Tina Hanlon and R. Rex Stephenson

Used by permission.

CLICK BLOG08282018CapturingCharacters to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

Submitting a Script to… Anyone — BLOG — August 9, 2018

Posted by on Aug 9, 2018 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Submitting a Script to… Anyone — BLOG — August 9, 2018

Submitting a Script to Festivals, Theatres, Anyone BLOG August 9, 2018

  • 1 Your script is your calling card. It speaks for you and for your characters. If it doesn’t LOOK its best, it might not even get read.
  • 2 If it doesn’t read well — it will get put down.
  • 3 If the ending isn’t satisfiying, the person who read it will wonder why it was ever submitted, and you may not ever get another chance with them.
  • 4 If there is no specific appeal — to some group of people — then how can anyone market it, including yourself.

1) TO DO:

  • Send your script in PDF format. Don’t send Word docs, Final Draft files, or anything else. PDFs look far more professional, and they can be read anywhere without compatibility issues!
  • Let your script speak for itself. If your story requires lots of explanation in your application, a 3-page Author’s Note, or more stage directions than you have dialogue, then either (A) your script isn’t strong enough or (B) it is strong enough, and you’re overthinking things. The audience won’t be able to read your application; they’re just seeing the show. Make sure your dialogue stands on its own two feet.
  • Make sure your writing is easy on the eyes, out of respect for script readers who have to read a dozen scripts in a row. That means not using any crazy fonts or colors, making sure it’s formatted uniformly and is free of grammatical mistakes. (HINT: A lot of people think their script has no grammatical mistakes, but it really does. Have a grammar-nerd friend proofread it for you!) I spend a lot of my time editing the careless mistakes of a good author, but a sloppy typist. If I cannot get through a script for its spelling and formatting errors — I stop reading! Spelling matters! (Believe it or not — I have had many of these types of submissions. I open the document, scan through it and — toss it!)
  • Related to the last point: if your characters speak in a specific dialect, it’s cool to write out some of the basic figures of speech of that dialect, but don’t write out the accent phonetically in every single line of dialogue. It becomes impossible to read! Just say in the character description what type of accent that person should have.

2,3) About the story and characters:

  • It’s straight out of your fifth grade English class: every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It seems simple, but the deeper question is: why did you decide to begin and end the story when you did? Why did your first scene incite this story, and how does your last scene make the story feel complete? There’s nothing better than an ending that makes you have a real “aha” moment.
  • Don’t say things in ten words when you can say them in two. (My biggest pet peeve — overwriting!) (There are some 40-page scripts that I could pare down to 10-page scripts and not lose anything important. [Well, that may be a little over-exaggerated, but you get the idea.])
  • Put yourself in someone else’s body when reading your script or watching rehearsal. When you’re watching a run through, pretend your mom (or your best friend, or your 8th grade English teacher, or your mentor) is sitting next to you. What would she be thinking? How would he be reacting? Is there anything that makes you cringe at the thought of them watching it? Edit that before you submit your script to a stranger!
  • Make sure your story is inherently theatrical. We say it about scripts all the time: This story is great, but it reads more like a TV show or an indie film. Why does your story need to be told onstage, specifically? Stephen Sondheim sums it up best in one of his cardinal rules: Content Dictates Form. The content of your show — the story, the characters, the style — must dictate that the form of theater is the absolute best way to display this content or tell this story. You can see the results of this advice bearing fruit on Broadway right now. Look at the silliness of the SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS cartoons on TV. Yes, they’re fun, but they are short little vignettes for children’s attention spans. The Producers/Writers/Directors were very smart with this one — they created a “THEATRICAL EXPERIENCE.” The same can be said of the new focus of ANASTASIA, and many other successful stories adapted from the screen. The shows that do NOT work are the ones that stayed too cinematic in structure.
  • Similarly, make sure there’s a reason for any audience member to care about your characters. “Of course an audience cares about my characters, because how could you possibly not care about [insert description of your character: a woman with a deadly disease, a character discovering its sexuality, a baker who accidentally poisons his hometown with a disastrous new cinnamon bun recipe]?!” People don’t care about characters just because of what category they fit into. They. Just. Care. (At least they want to.) I have walked out of performances where I was not engaged emotionally. It is a waste of my time. (Except for certain types of theatre companies whose job it is to stimulate us intellectually and make us think and not feel. But still, that can be theatrically antithetical.)

4) WHOM TO SUBMIT TO:

  • Well, the first thing you need to determine is who is your audience? What people will come to see this show? Men, women, children, teens, wealthy, middle-class, gay, straight, the business person, the artist only, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons — break it down. It not only sharpens your marketing, it sharpens the focus of your play.
  • I hear you thinking, “But if I zero in on that tiny little market, what are my chances at reaching a broader market?” A script will always reach someone. Focus on the largest group of ‘someones’ and the little things will fall into place.
  • Then find theatre groups, festivals, competitions that market to the same audience.
  • If you say that your script appeals to EVERYONE, you will never sell it, even though that statement will be somewhat true. Every play has a market. I would not market a play like “LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT” to a community or professional theatre that produces mostly comedies and musicals. It’s a waste of expectations, let alone time — yours and the person who reads what you submit.
  • Why did you write the play? What did you want it to say? And to whom?
  • These questions, once answered, will help you focus the target market for your show.
  • This lets producers, agents and other industry professionals know that you have done your homework.

by C. Michael Perry
(with ideas by Danielle DiMatteo as submitted on The Producers Perspective BLOG) (She said things so well that I used her words, even though I think along many parallel lines, then I added other areas of submission — because I read a lot of scripts.)

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG08092018Submitting to download a PDF copy of this BLOG POST

Three Questions for EVERY Writer BLOG — July 28, 2018

Posted by on Jul 28, 2018 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Three Questions for EVERY Writer BLOG — July 28, 2018

Three Questions for Every Writer

  • What is the event that propels me to the next scene?
  • Why did I care about this story?
    What is it that makes me want to write it?
  • What does the character want?
    (In each scene AND over all.)

by C. Michael Perry

I keep this on my wall, over my computer.

May be used in classroom situations

CLICK BLOG07282018ThreeQuestionsWriter to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

 

Theatre As A Compass — BLOG July 21, 2018

Posted by on Jul 21, 2018 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Theatre As A Compass — BLOG July 21, 2018

Theatre As A Compass

The reason I publish for others to produce (maybe even the reason that I write what I write) is to not necessarily ‘teach’ an audience some lesson, moral or pedagogical, but to present to a gathered group of thinking-feeling individuals, human beings on a stage in their sometimes-wisdom and oftentimes-folly, as unique, interesting, thinking, caring, if flawed individuals.

Every so often I come across a script that embodies, nearly perfectly and totally, what I value in a theatrical experience. I try to fill my catalog with those types of plays. Yes, I value entertainment –– laughter and tears –– without the value of being entertained, audiences become disengaged. If there is no entertainment the message to thinking-feeling beings is lost.

Theatre changes lives. The lives of the performers and production staff, AND the lives of the audience watching it. Characters are inhabited by a performer, shaped by them and those who aid in constructing the performance, so that each character can touch individual members of an audience in ways that seem to reach only the individuals in a group. An audience is there to be moved. Why else would we attend? We learn –– hopefully –– through visceral, secondary experience. Life would be really difficult if we had to go through each of these things, personally, directly. Theatre offers us this chance at change. Self-betterment.

The Greeks knew what they were doing as they shaped and molded their plays over a century to reflect those ideals best suited to their society; to effect individual change, to empower right-thinking decisions that would benefit a society, not just the individuals in it. It provided an encouraging direction for individual lives, if they would only find the courage to travel there; towards that place outside of themselves, while at the same time re-envisioning that place deep inside themselves.

Our society today is not so different. Oh, the technology has changed, but the nature of a thinking, breathing human being has not. Not really. We may think we are more sophisticated, more educated, more liberated, more anything-ated. But we seem to keep revisiting what earlier civilizations had already learned to their peril; like lemmings heading toward a cliff.

This is where thought-provoking, emotion-arousing theatre comes in to play. It solidifies us as a people. It modifies us as does the softness of a mother’s voice, singing to her child of her love and concern. It paternally shouts at us to awaken, arise, step forth and do battle with ignorance, intolerance, ignominy, prejudice, ego, self-interest.

There is something concrete yet ethereal about a group of people sitting in the same room and experiencing the same production––differently. Theatre allows that. It lets us each bring different thoughts, life-experiences, even the vicissitudes of our daily lives to a large darkened room; it helps us let those things drop off of us as a snake shedding its skin; it gives us a time and a place to build and grow a new skin, with new thoughts and experiences inside that will improve and temper those that are waiting for us as we step outside of that room again to become our normal selves, yet somehow changed, altered, improved.

That is why I attend theatre. That is why I create theatre. That is why I publish theatre.

— C. Michael Perry

© 2018 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

 

CLICK BLOG07212018TheatreAsACompass to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

Realistic Dialog BLOG — March 8, 2018

Posted by on Mar 9, 2018 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Realistic Dialog BLOG — March 8, 2018

Have you ever heard the term “Realistic Dialog”?

It is a very misunderstood concept.

There is a huge difference between words sounding like someone could say them, that they come from a characters heart, and out of their mouth after hopefully passing through their brain; and speech that is directly off the streets, out of the boardroom, the school, the hairdresser’s salon, or any myriad of other types of locations where playwrights set the action of their plays.

It is a good thing that the words being spoken by a character sound like that character would sound — logical, regional, conscious of their class and place in the world (unless of course, they are lying or creating a subterfuge).

It is not a good thing for the words to sound like they just walked in off the streets, or out of the boardroom, or the boss’ office, and slapped the character in the face with their ordinariness, their sense of commonplace, their utilitarian slang-ness, and then popped out of their mouth.

When we playwrights wroght a play (like an ironworker wroughting something out of metal: shaping, twisting, hammering, stretching, reheating and reusing) we do not take just ordinary words as our arsenal. We, like all good fiction writers––whether it’s truth or fiction that is the basis of our story––must build a world for the characters of our plays to inhabit. That includes language. Even the character of lowest social standing will, in a play, have words chosen for him that fit the time, the place, the emotional subtext, and nuances of his personal life and education, or lack of it. But they are not the words of a person similar to our character, who could be sitting in the audience, listening to this character so much like him or her; wondering how this character sounds so right and yet not just like the person sitting there, but so appropriate for the character speaking to us out of the created and heightened world of a play on a stage in a theatre.

It is NOT reality, folks. You should never use words or phrases simply because they ‘sound real.” Each word, clause, phrase, main thought or subjunctive, is carefully chosen by the playwright to help the character inhabit his or her world; give insight into thought and feeling; give rise to action.

There was a movement in the early part of the 1930s where producers went to Europe, and other places, and actually cut the room of an apartment, and other locations, out of a building, and brought it back to NYC and put it on a stage as the habitation for the actors of the play they were producing. The actors felt out of place. The dialog created for them did not work in a ‘real’ environment.

Neither does ‘real’ dialog work in the wonderful physical creation of a playwright aided by a brilliant scenic designer.

Listening to real people talk CAN give you rhythms, a cadence of speech, sounds of vowels and consonants, accents, regionalisms, speech defects –– all those things that make people interesting to listen to. But these words, in and of themselves, do not belong on a stage. Unless they are ‘chosen’ by the playwright because they need them to ‘live’ for a moment on a character’s journey.

In almost all cases, the time of a play is between 20 minutes and two-and-a-half-hours. The time span of the play may be days. Our dialog cannot be ‘real’ because we are not dealing with ‘real’ time.

A character’s life on the stage is heightened, sped-up, made up of carefully chosen moments of a day that are edited together by a skillful playwright. I think you would, as would I, be bored to tears if we attended a two hour play and the action was just like a real two hours just excised from the lives of a group of associated people. Not interesting. Not DRAMATIC.

We have language. It is a gift. The purpose of dramatic writing is to time warp along the tesseracts of a character’s life, hit the high points and the low points, in some sort of artful and meaningful imagined arrangement, and cause an audience to be compelled along with these characters on their ‘pretend’ journey. We cut the mundane in order to present the moments that will elicit a laugh or a tear or a gasp or a sigh. This can’t be done with random everyday words.

Actors are not the people they play. They are actors. Language is a tool for all disciplines in the theatre, even those who do not speak onstage. Everyone on a production team focuses on the words. Lighting punctuates scenes where emotion is brewing in a roiling sort of way. Costumes often are constructed based on what one character says about himself, or about someone else. There are strange angles and levels on the set to heighten the emotion and the perception, telling the audience where to focus.

If the play wants to be ‘real’ just put an overhead ceiling light on and let the actors perform under it in jeans and a t-shirt, with the back wall of the stage open to view. See how many tickets you sell to that one.

— © 2018 by C. Michael Perry

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG20180328RealisticDialog to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

A Playwright’s Potential to Excellence — BLOG August 10, 2017

Posted by on Aug 10, 2017 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

A Playwright’s Potential to Excellence — BLOG August 10, 2017

Apply this to you, the Playwright (Composer, Lyricist) and to each of your characters. It sort of goes along with what I wrote last time, but since humans have been talking about this for at least 2000 years, I thought it would be good to mention it again.

“Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes.
Therefore give yourself FULLY to your endeavors.
Decide to construct your character [yours and those in your play] through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths.
Remain steadfast…and one day you will build something that endures; something worthy of your potential.”
–Epectitus,
Roman teacher and philosopher — 55-135 AD

I think Epectitus should have been a playwrighting teacher. This advice is perfect for creating characters in your plays and musicals who live and breathe in the moment, who strive against all odds for their goals, and who keep going through every setback. [A playwright can use this to shape his or her life, also.] This is not necessarily a rose-colored-view. Our characters can do all this and still fail. [Tragedy] They can try again and again and fail and fail until they finally succeed [either Comedy or Drama]. Or they can succeed admirably, having learned the lessons along the way, and having survived the process of life. [again Comedy or Drama]

TENTATIVE means, of course, half-hearted, not fully committed, hesitant, not thinking they/you are up to the task. They/you must believe, even if the goal seems impossible.

FULLY, above means a depth of commitment to achieving whatever it is your characters or you have set for themselves/yourself.

EXCELLENT means that only the best actions will get them/you where they really want to be. Anything less than EXCELLENT and they/you will not come close to the realization of their/your needs. As a teacher in a drama classroom for over a decade, one of the mantras on the wall was “What is easy is seldom excellent.”

PAY THE PRICE means that they/you choose to take the risks, even if those risks seem impossibly high, for those are the ones which most often help a character achieve success.

Engage yourself in the work. Engage your characters strongly. Allow your characters to engage each other with zeal and that do-or-die attitude. That will make excellent theatre, whether it is traditional or experimental in form.

— C. Michael Perry © 2017 All Rights Reserved

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

 

CLICK BLOG20170810Excellent to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

Why Do You Write For The Theatre — BLOG 27 July 2017

Posted by on Jul 28, 2017 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Why Do You Write For The Theatre — BLOG 27 July 2017

Why do you write for the theatre?
A Playwright, a Lyricist, a Composer?
What gets you up in the morning to begin?
What keeps you up at night, because the words or melodies in your head won’t leave you alone?
What can interrupt any moment of any day, just so you can jot something down?
Why won’t they leave you alone? What have you done to insure that you will always want to write?

Can you define why you write? What drives you?
If you can you will be on the road to a long and satisfying career, whether amateur or professional––or somewhere in-between.
If you cannot, then don’t bother.
Dedication and commitment are the two things that are necessary for any writer, let alone a writer of theatre. (Or should that be a ‘wrighter’ of theatre?)
Your answers to these, and other questions will help you keep going when either the writing or the re-writing is getting tougher and tougher.

You are just like an actor/character in one of your plays. That actor/character has a goal––an objective. It has to be strong. Personal. Motivational to keep him or her interesting and productive on stage. That same something can keep you going even when you want to quit!

  • Do you merely want to express yourself through the medium of drama/theatre?
  • Do you want to explore new ways of doing and thinking?
  • Do you want to inform an audience of theatre-goers, or even readers?
  • Do you want to propose new ideas, or solid older ideas in a new way?
  • Is it the beauty in life, or the trials of life that you want to expose?

Do you want to change lives?
Then keep writing! You have at least the correct questions that you are asking. Get as specific as you can when you provide answers to these questions. The more narrow and pertinent your answers are, the more likely you are to not only keep writing,and writing well, but to succeed at it.

  • Do you want to see your name in print? In lights? On a marquee?
  • Do you want to rub shoulders with the elite?
  • Do you want to leave your mark on the theatre?
  • Do you want to be in control of the words on your page?
  • Do you want to sit back and wait for the fat royalty checks?
  • Do you want to be famous and looked up to?
  • The stop writing and get a job.
    I am not saying that all these things cannot come with the life of writing for the theatre — they certainly can — but they will never keep you motivated to churn out scenes and songs, scripts and scores, attending endless rehearsals with interminable re-writes, day after day.What are the rewards?
    Certainly there is the satisfaction of getting it right. The trust you engender in others when you persist. The occasional ‘yes’ as you submit a play! The reaction of an audience to some of your favorite moments in your play or musical. The reading of your play. The Premiere Production of your musical. The licensing agreement!
    Believe me — these are results that can keep you going. However, when these results are still in the future, what can keep you going? Your thoughtful and honest answers to the questions above, along with any others that you may want to ask yourself.
    You know yourself better than anyone else! Write every question down on a piece of paper (on a computer screen) FIRST. DON’T ANSWER THEM — YET! After you have about 12-20 questions — then start going through them and creating truthful, workable, motivational answers.
    Post them around your workspace.
    Tape or glue them to the inside of the folder of the script or score you are currently working on.
    Post-it note them on your computer desktop?
    Or on a post-it note that you stick to your monitor!
    Or on the bulletin board behind it.
    On the mirror in your bathroom.
    On a kitchen cabinet where you keep your most often eaten foods.
    On the fridge!
    Give yourself every chance to succeed by asking yourself the right questions and asking them often!

Thanks for reading! Thanks for listening!

© 2017 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
May be used for classroom/educational purposes

 

CLICK BLOG20170727WhyDoYouWrite to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

Conflict — BLOG July 20, 2017

Posted by on Jul 20, 2017 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Conflict — BLOG July 20, 2017

You know — many playwrights struggle over conflict. Some even wonder if they can do without it. Some think it is fine, but how do they use it? Some don’t like conflict, so they try to avoid it. Others prefer to just let their characters talk things out.

In just trying to decide if you want, need or should write conflict, you have proven that conflict is essential and inherent in every story, in every relationship, in every thought process.

You cannot do without conflict.

Every scene, every ‘moment’ must have some level of conflict in it; some relationship to the story of the play.

If we look at the acting system distilled from the Stella Adler school of acting, we come up with: Objectives, Obstacles, Tactics. (Which, of course, is based in The Method of another great acting teacher.)
In other words, each character should ask:

  1. What do I need?
  2. What or who stands in my way?
  3. What am I willing to do to get what I need?

A playwright is well-advised to study this ‘method’ (any acting method really) because then all of the action that a particular playwright concocts will be character driven and story centered.

OBJECTIVES
We must also separate the character’s wants from his or her needs. Needs are stronger and last over time,  driving us to a final goal. Wants are often intense (think of impulse buying), but then they usually fade quickly. Now, also, as a playwright and as a character, a want can be employed as a sub-division of a need. Often, a want can get a character through a scene, where a need may be too intense, be too big too early. But the want may be constructed to feed the need, and thusly help the character achieve their objective — at least in the scene or the moment.

OBSTACLES
Each want or need met in a scene either propels the character forward, or sets them back. Both of those are good and build to the next want or need.

Also — each character that is placed in the script will have some interaction with the principal character’s need, or objective. By varying degrees, the central character will be impacted by each of those obstacles and characters differently — but especially the obstacles which the principal antagonist sets in the path of the central character.

The importance of these obstacles and their relationship to the need should tell the playwright that the most difficult-to-overcome obstacles should be saved for later, lest the play build too quickly, or too unevenly, or actually be resolved too soon.

TACTICS
As the principal character navigates around those obstacles, some may be easily hurdled, some may take some effort, or little effort — others require everything that the character has in the moment.
Each way that a character chooses to step around a hurdle, or uses to confront and do away with a hurdle, or employs to plow through but is then bounced off a hurdle, gives a method, or if not so organized as that, a pattern, to his or her journey through the story arc.

We are complex beings, sometimes obtuse beings. Our characters must be likewise and like-minded. We don’t always see the best way to achieve our goals. Sometimes we never find a way through — that is tragedy. Sometimes we try something that every other character knows is wrong — that is comedy.

If you consistently ask yourself, “What does my character want in this scene?” you will be ahead of the game. When you employ the question, “How far is my character willing to go to get what he or she needs?”, then you will have drama of the first order.

CONSTRUCTION OF THE PLAY*
The great Russian acting teacher, Konstantin Stanislavski, called the major story arc a “SuperObjective”. It is the backbone-thread of any play that links all characters to it, but it is driven by the need seen as vital to the principal character/central character/protagonist. Everything is seen through that need.

A need must be strong — vitally important. It cannot be ambivalent, peripheral, dispensable, or unfocused. The need must be clearly seen by the protagonist. It must be intense enough to drive him or her. The things that are NOT seen by the protagonist are the obstacles that will be placed in his or her way, and the choices of the tactics that he or she will employ in the moment to achieve that vital objective, or goal.

I mentioned another important concept about tactics in the previous paragraph. They occur in the moment. They must seem spontaneous. They cannot appear convenient or pre-conceived in any way. Some times the tactic will seem well-suited to the situation. Sometimes not. Sometimes when chosen in desperation — meaning that the antagonist has clearly unsettled the protagonist — a desperate tactic may lead to so many wonderfully deep or dark places for the protagonist to explore. These are called RISKS.

Always take risks, even if it is just to see if they pan out or not. A play full of risk-taking, on the part of the protagonist as he reacts to what the antagonist has done, or on the part of the antagonist as he creates ever-inventive road-blocks for his nemesis, is a play that is fulfilling, worthy of the time which the actors and director will spend to put it together, and the time (and money)that an audience will invest in coming to see it.

So maybe a good title for this little rant is: Use “Objective-Obstacle-Tactic-filled risk-taking.” It will pay off every time with a riveting play that has explored all of its possibilities. A fully explored play will be most satisfying to an audience, leaving them without the ability to ask the question, ‘What would have happened if…?”

* remember we are called, ‘PlayWrights’ people who, like iron-workers, heat-up, hammer, twist, shape, bend, the material we are working with and fashion it – or “Wright” it [like wrought iron] into something from its separate malleable elements– not merely PlayWrites, where we simply “write’ words on a page.

© 2017 by C. Michael Perry

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG20170712Conflict to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

Character Arc What and Why – BLOG May 25, 2017

Posted by on May 25, 2017 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Character Arc What and Why – BLOG May 25, 2017

What is a Character Arc and Why is it necessary?

A Character Arc is the journey that a character takes through his or her life in the play. It encompasses backstory, yes, but it’s biggest focus is what happens to the character during the course of their two hours on stage, and maybe secondarily, what their future might hold after the play ends.

I believe each character has an arc. Others would disagree. Some arcs are huge, covering a lot of ups and downs, plenty of emotional shifts, wide changes in behavior and/or thought. Others may have very little movement; but no character is entirely static. If you have a completely static character, why have them in the play at all? Their interruptions, distractions – conflicts with others – might best be handed by another character.

Each character has a beginning point in your story. They start somewhere, physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually — there is a place for germination or fertilization. The conflicts that character either endures, fails to endure, ignores, or succeeds in defeating, make up the character arc.

Character arcs interact. If each character does not connect in some way to your principal character, then they might be superfluous. One character may not interact with every other character in the play. That is all right, since, it is the principal character’s arc that becomes centric, all others flow to it, through it, or away from it. There is a causality. Each arc affects other arcs, but all arcs should have a cause and effect on the principal character’s arc. If they don’t, why are they in the play? Well, there might be a secondary character who’s arc is affected and in turn affects the principal character. That gives levels of arc.

Not every play will need all of this arc-interaction. But I feel most do.

Some characters may not seem, or even look, as if they do anything! But examine them closely. If you say that a character does not change, that may, in itself, be an arc, because their NOT changing causes reactions in others. They are not static. They may not, in themselves, grow; but they cause either growth or stagnation in other characters. So they have an arc as measured against the over-all through line.

Character Arcs are based in the character’s wants, needs, desires, likes, and dislikes.They center around what a character does to achieve those aims. All theatre/drama/comedy is centered on action; the physical/mental/emotional/psychological/spiritual raison d’etre for each character, but especially your “principal protagonist’ and his or her ‘principal antagonist’; how wants are undertaken, and how obstacles delay or even halt forward progress.

These different tactics give variety to a character, and fully-drawn characters give interest and purpose to the play. Call it a well-made-play, or not. Most involving drama benefits from solid arcs for each character. Remember this: once you know ALL the rules, then you will know which ones to break for your play. (If you feel you need to break them at all!)

 

© 2017 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG20170524CharacterArcWhatWhy to download the PDF version of this BLOG POST

Submitting To A Theatre – BLOG May 5, 2017

Posted by on May 5, 2017 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Submitting To A Theatre – BLOG May 5, 2017

Submitting a Play or Musical to a Theatre

There are many opportunities for this to happen, here are just a few:

If you write musicals, then there is a very good resource for you to join with, or become aware of. The Musical Writerzine by Carol DeGuire is an exceptional help in discovering quarterly who is accepting what and from whom. Contact Carol: carol@musicalwriters.com VISIT:(www.musicalwriters.com)

For writers of all sorts of theatrical enterprises the New Play Exchange offers a lot of visibility for your product. You register as a writer (I think it’s a $10 yearly fee). It is a database with notifications depending on what you select as categories. You will get email notifications from the producers/theatres who are listed and looking for new plays like the ones you write. VISIT: https://newplayexchange.org/

Also Ken Davenport, a Broadway/Off-Broadway producer of note (GODSPELL, THE VISIT, KINKY BOOTS, & DADDY LONG LEGS, SPRING AWAKENING, ALLEGIANCE, to name a very few — also recently named as Executive Producer for North America at the Really Useful Group [Andrew Lloyd-Webber]) — offers many services (some free) at his Producer’s Perspective site. (https://www.theproducersperspective.com/) He offers a lot of insight into the world of Broadway (and beyond). His podcasts and blogs are of special interest. He also takes script submissions, and has a database where you can register as a writer or director.

If you want to submit to a certain Theatre Company, then it is always best to search that company’s site for submission information: dates submissions are taken, whom to submit your material to (dramaturg, artistic director, play selection committee — or other — get a name if you can! — make your cover letter/email stand out by personalizing it), types of material they are looking for, types of material they are NOT looking for. Suggestion: do check on the plays and musicals they have produced, study their mission statement and who they are as a theatre company — then you can see if your title can fit their mission — and you market it that way. What can your play/musical do for them? That’s a pretty good hook. Compare your show to shows they have already produced, not in quality (don’t toot your own horn too much) but in style, audience base, familiarity or uniqueness of the piece. Relate to them without too much buttering up. No one likes a slice of bread with too much butter.

Be sure to track your submissions, having seen the length of their response time, contact them about a week after that time expires to see if they have gotten to your project yet. But don’t badger them. Respect their time.

It is a long process, sometimes an involved one, and you have to get used to waiting; but you can succeed at it if you are willing to take the time and put effort into it to get it as right as you can.

C. Michael Perry

© 2017 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG20170505SubmittingToATheatre to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

The Process of Theatre Writing – BLOG April 20, 2017

Posted by on Apr 20, 2017 in PLC BLOG | Comments Off on The Process of Theatre Writing – BLOG April 20, 2017

The Process of Theatre Writing – BLOG April 20, 2017

What can I say about playwrighting that can take you from the ideas, to the words, to the page, to the stage? Not a lot in one sitting.
BUT–
I have written the scripts for a dozen or so musicals and written the music and lyrics for more than 30 more. I was commissioned at the age of 18 to write my first musical. At age 19 I finished it, together with some of my closest friends, and the commissioners actually produced it and it was quite successful. That was in 1973. I have won awards, been produced across the world, and have spent more hours inside a theatre in rehearsal, than some people have been alive. I have quite enjoyed the process of writing.  I spent years as a professional actor, then a director/choreographer, then a teacher in the public schools. It has all brought me great joy, but writing is my passion.
It must be yours to be good at it.
There is nothing more satisfying than to hear a laugh (in the proper places) at something you have written that was supposed to be funny. There is nothing more awesome than being able to evoke an emotion from an audience, even a tear or a gasp, when they see something that you have created and it touches them in those places that only the spirit can reach.
Writing is a process. For the Theatre writing is THE process. It begins with a concept, an idea, a story. Don’t ever ask, “what story am I going to tell?!” Ask, instead, “whose story am I going to tell?” Each story is added to, refined, reworked. The writing is not done once it is on the page, because a script is not a novel. Living actors must be able to inhabit the characters you write for them. The process is not complete without rehearsal. In rehearsal you learn what does and doesn’t work the moment your actors start speaking your words. LISTEN to them. If you keep saying, “They’re not getting it,” maybe you should consider that it is you who didn’t get it. A written script is not even a road map without the actors. It is only a guide book. If you think your script is perfect before the actors get a hold of it, stop writing because you will not be successful.
An open mind is a terrible thing to waste. It is also a major hurdle to have a mind so full that you know everything there is to know. Even Shakespeare did not always get it right.
The process of theatre writing is re-writing. It is listening to what is happening on the stage. It is sometimes more important to listen to what is NOT happening on the stage. Then make sure that what needs to happen is what does happen. The theatre is not made up of words alone, but words that embody action. Nobody wants to go to a play or musical and hear words that lead nowhere. Hyperbole? No!
Active, progressive stories and characters that take us on a journey; that is what you have to create. Every word must contribute to the overall arc of the play. Every character must fit into that arc. Each word moves us forward into some action that is inevitable. This means that you must choose each word very carefully. One word out of place and the story is broken, delayed, unfulfilled. Not shattered, but ineffective. Too many words and the story is clouded, over-burdened. Too few words and there are gaps, chasms, in the through-line.
Characters have wants and needs. Sometimes the plot is as simple as the character going after what he or she thinks they want rather than what the audience comes to understand that they really need. This is one thing that binds an audience to a theatrical piece: they are discovering something before the character does and long to have that character find out what it is. The needs and wants of the characters work on several levels. Each scene has a want and/or a need. Each conversation can be broken down into wants and needs — these are things that are immediate. Then there are the long term goals, the over-arching wants and needs.
Where does your character want to be at the end of the play? What do they want to achieve? Each character must want something or someone, or has a need to do something or be someone. These must interrelate; must either contribute to or take away from the main character’s ability to obtain what he or she wants. Each character is either a help or a hindrance. They are colleagues or enemies, and all the shades that go with that. Sometimes they can be both friend and foe at different times. Ambivalence in a character is acceptable. Ambivalence in an author is not.
At the end of the play does your central character achieve his or her Objective? Then you may have a comedy, or a serio-comedy, or maybe even just a drama. Do they not get what they want? Then you might have a tragedy, or at least fine drama.
Every bit of dialog is an interaction with a chain of reactions to what is said and/or done. It all must work together for the viewer. The audience members are the reason we are all there in the first place. If you are just writing for yourself — that is fine — but send it to a therapist.
Most times we find ourselves as a playwright or a composer locked away in a room. That’s what it sometimes takes to create the kernel or the nut of the concept or idea. But it is only through collaboration that the true writing process of the theatre expands your piece into something stageworthy. Sometimes this collaboration works with yourself if you have a really open mind and a propensity that leads you away from schizophrenia. This collaboration can also be in the form of working with actors and directors and designers who all bring something to the table for you to sample. You, as the playwright, must decide on what ingredients work best in your play. It is yours, after all.
I love collaboration, with the actors et.al, but also with another writer. Some of my best work has been sitting in a room with one of my collaborators (or even lately Skyping with them — not quite as good but it still works) and bouncing ideas off each other and becoming inspired by the comments and contributions of your fellow writers. (This is how TV writers work together in a group. Not that all television writing can be held up to an acceptable standard.) One word or thought can lead to a new lyric or a better-constructed scene. Put lots of words together that lead to action, or reveal character maybe through their inaction, and the play starts becoming a better-constructed play overall.
After all is said and done, you must serve the play. What is best for the play is what you must write. Sometimes you have an idea or a concept that becomes unworkable. You have to be willing, as a writer, to let go of what does not work. Jettison the refuse. Start over if you have to. A friend just talked to me, after the premiere of her new play that I attended, that a show I was in that she wrote many years ago was being conceptualized and a first draft written while she was Assistant Directing another original show (not written by her) that I was performing in. She got a script together. Then read through it. She was so disgusted that as she walked by a trash can she just let the pages fall from her fingers and started over again. She didn’t like a word she had written. She told me it was ‘awful’. You have to set your ego aside for the betterment of the child you are trying to give birth to. You want a healthy, walking, talking, laughing, crying child. Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents, church leaders, teachers, community members — all contribute to the raising of a child. But it is the parents that eventually filter what the child sees, feels, hears, experiences. The same process works in the theatre except that these ‘relations’ are replaced by your colleagues; the people you work with. But you must be the parent.
There is also an important concept that lies within working with collaborators, or colleagues: Working with. They don’t work for you. The Director is also not your boss. The theatre is nothing more than a collaborative process with each person doing his or her part to contribute to the whole. It is like a built-in society operating under a law of communal living: everyone with their strengths and talents contributing equally; having an equal chance to be heard.
If you want to write, sit down and write. Do it longhand, use a typewriter, use a computer — speak your notes into your phone! Whatever. Just start the process. Gather your friends around and read it together often! Feedback on what works and what doesn’t work, will come from the strangest and most unexpected of places. Have an open mind. Be willing to accept that you don’t do everything correctly.
Remember this, that the title of the show we know as Oklahoma! was Away We Go! as it entered Boston on it’s tryout tour in 1943. The title song had not even been written yet and it was only two weeks before the New York opening! Remember also that the song Bali H’ai from South Pacific was hurriedly scribbled on the back of a restaurant napkin during lunch between the morning and afternoon rehearsals of ‘preview week’. Richard Rodgers left the afternoon rehearsal and by dinner time had the song written and arranged and in the show.
Seek inspiration. Then listen to it. Don’t always pretend you know better. You don’t. There is a guide out there. Call him God, call her Muse, that doesn’t matter. Just listen.
Seek information. Don’t be afraid to research. Ask questions. Solicit opinions. Change your mind.
Use words that lead to actions. Solicit actions and thoughts from your performers. Watch them. And listen.
Use thoughts that express desires, wants needs. Listen.
It is all part of the writing process for the theatre.

C. Michael Perry

© 2017 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG20170415ProcessOfTheatreWriting to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

Submitting to a Publisher – BLOG April 13, 2017

Posted by on Apr 13, 2017 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

Submitting to a Publisher – BLOG April 13, 2017

Well, this one can be complicated. Each publisher has different requirements for play and musical submission. Some are agented, (which means that only if you have an agent can you be placed with that particular publisher). Some only publish from certain markets, (which means if you have not had a New York City production you can pretty well count on not being read, let alone accepted, by some publishers (especially in the Musical market). Some accept unsolicited manuscripts! (not many).

If your play has not been produced — do not send it to anyone but an agent or directly to a producer. (Those are entirely different strategies than submitting to publishers.)

For open submissions policies, there are usually 3-steps you have to go through. Never send anything unsolicited! Ever! Nyet! Ka-put!!! Even if they say they accept unsolicited manuscripts. It will sit forever until the reader gets around to it. Believe me, they have stacks and stacks of material to wade through.

First, is the research.

Check online for their submissions policies, types of scripts accepted, and times of the year that submissions are accepted. You might also stroll through their catalog to see what titles they have and what titles they do not have, paying particular attention to titles that are NOT in the catalog. Notice what audiences their plays cater to, which performing groups seem to be targeted by the Publisher. You may have the best adaptation of Little Women ever!!! But if a publisher already has one or two versions (play, musical, short, full-length, small-cast, large-cast) you might want to consider not submitting to that publisher, unless your adaptation can be easily distinguishable from their current options and made to stand apart from all others.

Second, is the QUERY LETTER.

This is more than just a letter of introduction (in which you tell them about yourself in as few words as possible), you should also include a more formal BIO or VITAE SHEET.  Your query should include a cast list (with description of each character), a list of previous productions, letters of recommendation from producers, any reviews, a good synopsis (with song placement, if a musical) that describes the uniqueness of your particular version (See “Writing a synopsis”, below), and a sample 3-8 pages of a scene for dialog purposes (including a song lyric, if a musical). If a musical you may be asked to submit either a sample mp3 AND a sample page of sheet music and/or a lyric sheet.  There may be other requirements, so check with each publisher.

Third, is the FULL SUBMISSION.

This will be an entire script and score with possible CD or download of mp3s. There may be other requirements, so check with each publisher.

As to formatting your document.

Each publisher has its own way to format for print purposes. Do not worry terribly about the format of your submission, as long as it is clean and readable and LOOKS professional. White space on the page is preferred. (Wide borders) You can use the Samuel French format with character names centered (ALL-CAPPED, BOLDED), stage directions tabbed close to center and possibly parenthesized (and italicized), with dialog flush left. You can also submit in the format of all character names (ALL-CAPPED and BOLDED) and dialog in paragraph format, flush left, with stage directions indented and italicized. If a musical, you should indent your lyrics to a different setting than the stage directions, which could be italicized.

Ease of the read is what a publisher wants out of your formatting. You must also know that playreaders, acquisitions editors, read fast. If you know your play isn’t ready — don’t submit. I have too often read the first 4-8 pages of some full scripts and just placed them in the ‘NO’ pile. Most publishers can tell when a play is not right for them within those few pages. Sometimes it is not about the quality of the play. Your play may be great, but not right for their market, or what the publisher is looking for at that particular moment, sometimes because of its similarity to other material already in the catalog. (Do your research)

Don’t be disheartened. Even though you may not get all sorts of notes from a publisher, they still may include something in their rejection letter. Read it carefully. Do not contact them to ask what was wrong with your play. Another ‘NO’. It is NOT however, time to throw your play into the round recycler or stuff it through the shredder! Do not react emotionally. I know that one of your children has just been pronounced not bright enough to be promoted, but the time has come for further education!

Get a table reading together, with colleagues, if you can — and with friends, if you must. Rework the play after the first read, then take suggestions from the readers (and any listeners you invited), especially if you had some from the Publisher, and make improvements. Then do another table read. Query the cast to see if you have met the hurdles set for you by those rejection notes.

Get another production — even if it is by a small company, or is only a staged reading — all productions are valuable. It doesn’t matter if the producer is amateur or professional or educational — it is a production. All playwrights should be interested in is getting the play up and on its feet. You can’t do that without involving actors and a director.

WRITING A DYNAMITE SYNOPSIS, TEASER, LOG-LINE.

Avoid self-praise. Let the reviews you send do that for you. Tell about the story, who the characters are, what their struggle is, why producers might be interested in this title. You might even tell them how it all works out. Create mystery and excitement without hyperbole. Give a sense of the style in which you write or the style of performance that you feel is best suited to your script. Give them help to see it on the stage of their imaginations. Get them interested in reading your script! Focus on what you think your script can do in their marketing programs. How does your title fill a niche in their market? What audience? Which producer? Does it fit with other pieces in their catalog with similar marketing goals and strategies?

Above all — keep promoting yourself! Getting your play into the hands of producers may help your chances at getting published. Find its audience! Find its market! Promote! Promote! Promote!

Don’t be mad at the Publishers, they don’t always get it right, but they do know their market. They read for that market. They are focused on ‘who would produce this play’ while they are reading it. That phrase plays over and over in their minds while the words slip by on the page.

So, Break A Leg!

© 2017 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG20170413SubmittingToAPublisher to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST

How many characters should I write for – BLOG 3 March 2017

Posted by on Mar 30, 2017 in PLC BLOG | 0 comments

In a recent post on a Facebook Playwrights page the number of characters in a play or musical was discussed.

Now: Number of characters does not necessarily mean the number of actors needed to play them.
Double-casting, or multiple casting, is usually a directors choice, but sometimes a playwright may choose the device of one, or all, of his/her performers, playing multiple characters, including opposite gender casting. It is wonderfully theatrical!

My collaborator and I are working on a musical that is looking like 8 characters will be portrayed by 8 actors. Our previous musical ended up having 8 characters needing 8 actors to tell the story. Anyone see a pattern developing?

If you are expecting professional and regional theatres to produce your play, the cast numbers (not necessarily character numbers) must be lower (musicals can get away with a few more bodies onstage than plays can).

But if you are writing for the school or community market — and most plays end up there anyway through licensing — then you can be a bit more generous in involving characters to tell your story. Even if the roles could be doubled, some/most schools and community groups have the numbers of performers to fill the cast.

I am not saying that you should write for a market, but it does not hurt to keep a market in mind. After all, a play is not meant to be read, but performed. If your piece is too unwieldy because of an overly large cast, it might satisfy artistically, but may never be produced. Remember: Sophocles and Shakespeare wrote to be produced, not read later and appreciated throughout time. Write what your piece demands. Listen to the muse, even though sometimes you may have to put a muzzle on him or her.

 

Serve the show, first. Then look at the markets. See how many of them your show covers (as far as number of performers is concerned — you may be surprised), then get your play or musical produced.

 

© 2017 by C. Michael Perry ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

May be used for classroom/educational purposes

CLICK BLOG20170403HowManyCharacters to download a PDF version of this BLOG POST