Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Writes

I have completed a new murder mystery script called "Irritation To A Murder". A few blogs down you can read about the basic idea for the play and at the time of that posting, I was halfway finished. I am fortunate as playwright to have a theatre group willing to produce my plays as soon as they are complete. Actually, the group more or less "commissions" a new play from me and assigns a deadline, which I always try to meet. "Try" being the key word.

Yes, I admit, I work best under pressure. Ever since I can remember, it has been my "modus operandi". I can recall countless late nights as a kid in grade school, sitting at the kitchen table across from my grandmother, trying to squeak out a book report or an essay that was due the next day. My grandmother would constantly question my "last minute" writing habits and I never could supply a good answer other than, "I forgot about it."
If fact, I can even recall a few oral book reports, where I would have to stand in front of the class and tell everyone about a book I had read. I would always fail to mention that in actuality, I had only read some of the book. I developed a certain knack for 'filling' or 'stretching' certain aspects of the book and even "making up" subplots that didn't exist. I would talk until the teacher felt I was running too long and informed me my time was up. I believe this helped me later in my stage career to become adept at improvisation.

Sword of Damocles
My creative powers seem to shine under the pressure of an impending deadline. I can only write with a 'Sword of Damocles' hanging over my head. I remember a composition class in college that further fueled my last minute tendencies, by providing actual proof that I produced better under pressure than with preparation. (sorry about the alliteration there.)
Anyway, for one essay I chose a topic and set about writing a paper in the 'proper fashion'.
I went to the library and did research. I compiled notes on 3x5 cards, formed an outline, spent several weeks writing, revising rough drafts into a first drafts into a second draft, until I created a worthwhile essay complete with footnotes, references and a bibliography all contained in a slick plastic binder. I got a "C" on it.
For our next assignment, we watched a short film in class and then were required to write a paper within the short time remaining. No preparation, no 3x5 index cards or drafts; just straight forward, stream of consciousness composition. Just like my hero at the time, Jack Kerouac. I got an "A" on it. Of course, I had to show my Grandmother that one.

So, as I was saying, I finished the new script. Most of the play was on paper, I would say 3/4th by the time my theatre group held auditions. I frequently hold off finishing a script for a few reasons, one is to prevent the auditioning actors from reading "how it ends" and the other reason to see what actors the director will select for the various roles. Sometimes, a selected actor will influence the script. On several occasions, I have refined a character in a play based on how a particular actor read for the role. I may have envisioned the character one way, but an actor takes it in a different, new and better direction.

So it seems, having said that, I have finally constructed a reason not to finish something on time. Although, I no longer sit at the kitchen table across from my grandmother frantically trying to finish, at least now I begin writing plays in advance and revised as I go. However, I leave just enough to bring Damocles' Sword into view above my head and get the creative juices to flow.
I sometimes pictures my grandmother up in Heaving sitting at a kitchen table across from Jack Kerouac asking him, "Why?".

Monday, December 07, 2009

"Anybody For Murder"

My friends at Exit Theatre in the the UK are premiering "Anybody For Murder" at The Charles Cryer Studio Theatre, Carshalton February 17th-20th 2010. Check out their website Exit Theatre.co.uk for more info. Here is the trailer:

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Murder Mystery Double Feature - Twice

Recently I have had the honor of being a double feature, twice. What I mean, is that one theatre group has staged two of my plays at the same time. Last month, Lawrence High School in Lawrence Kansas ran Some Show (about a Murder) and Dead Air. One play takes place during a low budget cable TV show and the other takes place during a Radio broadcast. Charles Goolsby, theatre director at Lawrence High talked to me about the concept of doing both plays on the same set. I thought it was a great idea. Each show ran alternating nights. In essence, a double feature.

This month (December) it is happening again. West Valley High School in Hemet,California is featuring Death Of A Doornail and To Wake The Dead using the same basic set.

Here is a news article about the event:

Special to The Press-Enterprise

Murder and mayhem are not typical dinner table topics, unless you are a guest at the West Valley High School Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre.

As part of the event, guests will dine on roast turkey, mashed potatoes and vegetables from Greg's Catering in the banquet hall, which is the temporarily transformed band room.

Then, they will be escorted to the theater to watch the first half of an interactive murder mystery. During intermission, guests return to the banquet hall for dessert and coffee and a chance to discuss all the clues they have witnessed. After returning to the theater, they will be able to question the suspects and try to name the killer. Prizes will be given for correct guesses based on a random drawing from a basket of all correct answers.

"This production was the idea of band and technical director TJ Hepburn," said Stacey Bailey, who is directing the program.

"He will be turning his band room into a mysterious banqueting hall reminiscent of the Haunted Mansion."

"Wake the Dead" is set at an Irish wake and "Death of a Doornail" takes place in a British drawing room setting.

Each play has about 12 characters and will be presented on alternating nights.

Christopher Malandrinos is dual cast and said his characters are pretty different.

"You have to really know your role and stay in character with accents and everything," said Christopher, 15. His role of Edward requires a British accent and Chief Wambaugh is Irish.

Students had to learn improvisation skills along with their lines so they can stay in character while answering audience questions and casting suspicion on their fellow actors.

"I've never done dinner theater before but I like it because it's straight up drama -- singing is not my strong suit," said Sarah Pettis, 15, who plays Inspector Bukowski in "Death of a Doornail."

Sara Barnes plays the exotic dancer and suspected killer Peaches Crabtree in "Wake."

"I'm a big fan of mysteries," said Sara, 15. "I like musicals a lot but with my passion for acting I just couldn't pass this up. It's a lot of work but it's worth it."

"I did a lot of research to find two plays that allowed me to use the same basic set," said Bailey. She said Hepburn, with help from Joe Hameister and Patty Chavez, designed a set for the banquet hall that is "over the top" and can seat 180 people.

Bailey hopes local businesses and organizations will use the whodunit as a holiday celebration -- a way to reward their staff and have fun together. A 10 percent discount is given for 10 or more tickets.

Cost is $25 per person or $45 for two people. All guests receive a complimentary copy of the production's memory book, which is a $15 value.

Performances are at 6 p.m. today, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the school's theater at 3401 Mustang Way in Hemet.

Information and reservations: 951-765-6420.