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Monday, October 31, 2011

Upcoming Play-Dead Comedy Murder Mystery Plays

‘I’m Getting Married in the Morning,’ by Lee Mueller, is performed by some of Tonawandas High Schools finest student actors. Challenged by the improvisational skills needed to perform this play, students have risen to the challenge and been working diligently at rehearsals while under the direction of Andrea Flethcher.
The cast would like to invite its guests to an evening of dinner and mystery at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday Nov. 19 at 600 Flethcher St., Tonawanda, in the High School Auditorium. Tonawanda, New York

Admission for the show is $18, which includes show, dinner, and dessert. Tickets are currently on sale. To purchase, call 694-7670 ext. 2258, or E-mail dlynch@tona.wnyric.org to make reservations. For more details Click Here!

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Univ of Kentucky Actors Theatre present "Murder Me Always" on November 10th at 6:00 PM at Natasha's Bistro and Bar

"Murder Me Always" will also appear by the Middletown High School Drama Club in Middletown, New York on November 12 - two shows: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.2 at the Middletown High School Theater. The club will donate part of the proceeds from tickets to the school's annual Thanksgiving fund, which provides gift cards and food baskets to district families in need. For more details Click Here!

Dupo High School proudly presents "Death of a Doornail on Sunday, November 13th. Dupo, Illinois. Doors open at 5:30pm Show starts at 6pm. More details Here!

Sebastian River High School production of "I'm Getting Murdered in the Morning" Saturday November 5th at 2 p.m. and is followed by a second performance at 7 p.m. - Special note - this is the third play of mine that Sebastian High School had done. I must be getting big in Sebastian! Full story Here!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Upcoming Productions of Play-dead Murder Mysteries

October 20th at 6 p.m. running through Nov. 12 (Thursdays-Saturdays) Longview Stageworks in Longview WA is presenting Murder at the Mansion series with "Murder Me Always - a mystery comedy about a bad Murder Mystery Play that turns real. Director Phillip Kennedy and several cast members are back from last season for the new installment. The production will take place at the Rutherglen Mansion 420 Rutherglen Road. For more details Click Here

"Death of a Doornail” will be performed Friday, Oct. 28 and. Saturday, Oct. 29, by the Colfax United Methodist Church in Colfax California. Dinner will be served after the first act of each evening performance Proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit homeless programs in the Colfax area and other projects. Click Here for more information.

October 29th at 2:00pm and 7:00pm The Sebastian River H.S. Drama Troupe’s murder mystery production "I'm Getting Murdered in the Morning" will be in the SRHS auditorium. Vero Beach Florida Tickets are $2.00 dollars at the door. Click Here for details.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Upcoming Play Dead Productions

"Murder Me Always" pops up all over this month!

Wheeling Jesuit University presents Murder Me Always October 1st at 7:00 PM at the WJU Campus Troy Theater. Details Here!

The Cherokee Strip Players of Arkansas City Kansas are performing "Murder Me Always" at the Cherokee Strip Museum Oct. 12 through Oct. 15. Proceeds from play will be donated to The Burford Center for the Arts. Read more

"Murder Me Always" will also be presented in the Russellville High School lobby in Russellville Kentucky Friday October 14th. Only 100 tickets will be available for sale. To reserve a ticket, call the Arts Center at 270-726-1303. More Info

Finally, right down the road from my very own home, (seriously, I can walk to this one) - "Murder Me Always" will be presented by the Wentzville Chamber of Commerce October 22 at 7:00 PM at the Pitman Banquet Center 1545 Wentzville Parkway. Wentzville, MO

And now, for something completely different..

"Death Of A Doornail" takes a Holiday spin in San Rafael California, October 22nd through November 26th at San Rafael Joe's 931 4th St.
in San Rafael. After a successful run of "Murder Me Always" this past summer, director Adrianne Goff contacted me about "Holiday" infused mystery. I was able to comply by adapting the script around the Christmas Season. The production will part of the Marin Murder Mysteries and include two special New Years Eve shows!

"Death Of A Doornail" will also make an appearance at The Rock Youth Center and Coffee Shop, Clay City, Indiana. Friday, Oct. 7, at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 8., at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Fund raised by the play will go directly to the ministry at The Rock, a non-profit organization existing directly on donations. To see more information Click Here.

Irritation To A Murder - my most recent play will take the stage at Garden Villas North in Florissant, Missouri on Saturday Octorber 15th at 7:00 PM. See complete details Right Here!

Monday, September 12, 2011

"Death Of A Doornail" winning


The Fairfield Center for Creative Arts celebrated live theater in Solano County California at the 27th annual Arty awards.

A production of my play "Death Of A Doornail" by the Vacaville Gaslighters Theatre Group was nominated for 4 awards and won 2.

Under the category of Comedy Production won "Best Original production" and actress Naomi Vergara walked away with "Best Supporting Actress".

Congradulations to the Vacaville Gaslighters as well as all of the winners!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Upcoming Events For Play Dead Murder Mysteries

Auditions In Houston
Murder Mystery Dessert Theatre presents:
Some Show (about a murder)
by Lee Mueller

Auditions: Monday, Aug. 15 7-10pm and Tuesday, Aug. 16, 7-10pm
at The Country Playhouse Theatre, 12802 Queensbury Lane, Houston, TX 77024

Website: County Playhouse

Bring resume, head shot. Auditions will be reading from the script. Roles are NON-PAID.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT Director: Diane Edgar - diane.edgar@gmail.com

"Murder Me Always" in Forked River, New Jersey

Burning Stage Theater Company Presents A Murder Mystery Dinner Theater of “Murder Me Always” Friday, August 5 2011 6:30pm - 9:30pm

Ticket Price $30 Includes Admission and a 3 course sit down meal.

Tickets are available at the Lacey Recreation Office and the Captain's Inn

For more information call, (609)-290-5788




"Murder Me Always" extended in San Rafael California"

"Murder Me Always" by Lee Mueller and Directed by Adrianne Goff will continue into August at San Rafael Joe's -931 Fourth St., San Rafael, CA, 94901

Presented by Marin Murder Mysteries

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"Murder Me Always" over 5 courses


Marin Murder Mysteries is presenting "Murder Me Always" every Saturday at 6:30pm -June 18th through August 27th at San Rafael Joe’s in San Rafael, CA.

A 5 course dinner will be served with prices at $68.00 for adults $44.00 for children
but best of all a portion of all ticket sales goes to fund acting scholarships for children in Marin.

The production is directed by Adrianne Goff.

Tickets can be purchased Here

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Some thoughts on becoming an Indie Playwright (act one)

How does a playwright promote and/or market themselves? Specifically, an independent playwright -that is without a major publishing company representing them? This topic came up a few weeks ago on a writer discussion board and it lead me to consider my own history, philosophy and methods of self promotion. How did I do it?


History

Back in 2000 I got the idea to offer the murder mystery comedies I had penned for a local group to the world at large. Now here is where most Business/Marketing Guru types throw concepts out such as "Feasibility studies" and "Researching your Market" and other text book terms. I read those books and...pretty much ignored them.

I knew there were some big time play publishers out there such as Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service but at the time, I didn't feel confident enough to submit my quirky little plays to the big boys. No. I decided to try it myself.
I went on-line and searched for "Murder Mystery Scripts" to see how many other "indie" playwrights were dwelling in that genre. Hmmm. Not too many.
How much did they charge for performance rights and royalties?
How did they send the material to the customer?
OK. That 20 minute research session seemed feasible to me. No Power Point with nifty lines and graphs needed. My market research said I just needed a name and a website.

I had dabbled in a few amateur websites before, so creating my own site was not an issue. Of course, here in 2011, there are a multitude of Do-it-yourself Web Creation sites that hold your hand through making a website in a virtual click by number process. Back in 2000, not so much. I had decided on the name "Play-Dead" for the site. (There is a post here: Grateful For The Name that explains how I came up with "Play Dead".

I admit, the first version of play-dead.com was a bit over the top. As most people who create their first websites, we tend to go crazy with fonts, colors and designs. I was guilty.

As far as promotion went, well.. I submitted my site in a few Free "Get Your Site Listed on A Million Search Engines" type deals. That was it. Promoted. Remember in 2000, Social Networking was not around. I created and waited. And waited.

Almost a year to the day I first published my website I got a request from New Hampshire for a script. Wow! Cool! I was going to be produced in New Hampshire!
I printed out a copy of the script, drove down to the local Post Office and mailed it off. Here would be the test of my talent. A theatre group I did not know personally, would be mounting a production of a script I wrote. There would be no patronizing friends patting my back saying, "It's really good. It's very funny." This would be an impartial jury. It is this fact that ties into my philosophy.

Philosophy
You can promote the utter crap out of yourself with ads, billboards and every marketing trick in the world, but if what you do; your product or talent is not very good, no amount of promotion is going to overcome that fact.

I heard a story about the old Heavy Metal Hair Band called W.A.S.P Blackie Lawless was the lead singer and created this crowd pleasing stunt where he would shoot Roman Candle style fireworks from the saw blade-codpiece of his costume. One night, something happened and the device didn't go off but instead exploded. Needless to say, a minor implosion in that region of the body is not pleasant. As they carried him off the stage he said to his band (paraphrased)"See! If we could write good songs I wouldn't have to do this (stuff)!"

Sure you can resort to gimmicks that will create a buzz - but that will only last so long. It comes down to your actual product whether it's songs,books or plays. I believe the end result will be the measure of your talent. Not the buzz you create.

But doesn't "buzz" get you noticed?

Yes, of course it does. I'm not knocking creating a "presence" or a "buzz" about yourself, that's an important path which allows people to find you. But when they find you, the songs, books or plays you create need to be as strong as all the buzz. The bite needs to match your bark.

This was and is still is my philosophy. If I was going to make it as a playwright, I wanted to rely on the actual plays I write to be the litmus test. So you could say I chose the "organic" route of marketing. I wanted to make sure the work I created had legs to stand on before I resorted to the larger promotion arena.

A few years went by and I got more and more requests for my scripts. It began to appear it had developed legs. And I didn't to place a Roman Candle codpiece between them.


More on promotion (the bigger arena) to come.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Thoughts On Being an Indie Playwright and Promotion (Act II)

As I was saying in my last post, for the first several years I maintained a low profile insofar as promoting myself as a full fledged independent playwright of murder mystery comedies on line. It was around this time my old good friend Bob Baker of The Buzz Factor began his Indie Music Marketing and Self Promotion empire. Needless to say, (but I will) Bob is tremendously well versed on "branding and promoting" and all around Guerrilla Marketing for creative types from musicians to authors. He was always amazed that I wasn't actively marketing my site or myself on line.

But you see, the thing is - I didn't wake up one morning and decide I was going to become a Murder Mystery Playwright. I didn't spend all my energy everyday pursuing the dream of being a playwright and overusing the word PASSION. No, I had other things in mind and this playwright thing was just.. a goofy little hobby thing I did on the side.

This goofy little hobby kept getting bigger and bigger. And Bob would shake his head at me, "I can't believe you aren't marketing yourself!"

OK. So what IF I did market myself? What would happen? After all, I had essentially found a niche in writing Murder Mystery comedies and many theatre groups seemed to enjoy breaking up their production seasons of "The Odd Couple" and "Bye Bye Birdie" with something a bit different.

Clean the Dancing Kittens from your Home

An important piece of wisdom Bob instilled in me was: Keep Your Website Clean.
After all your website is your home base, your featured presence. This is the place all your marketing is going to point to. It should be clean and simple. No dancing kittens or flashing fonts dripping with blood. No embedded music players cranking out Death Metal. Your talent should entertain customers not your website. People want to find out your information and they want it quickly.
What do you have?
How much is it?
How do I get it?


If they have to click on the Skull that explodes into flying monkeys to see a list of your plays, then forget it. Look at the high commerce Websites out there such as Amazon or E-bay. A plain white background and plain font.

It's also helpful to provide as much information as you can in the most concise manner. Since I have play scripts, I provide a brief plot summary, the number of characters, how much it is and how it will be delivered.

Once my website was clean I began the process of promotion.

The Market

So I began reading various SEO, Marketing Tips and Promotion articles on line and taking the advice of my friend Bob. Now, granted, there is a lot of information to learn out there, but not everything applied to my particular field.

No Newsletters, Thank You Very Much

Many Marketing magnets will insist you get people to sign up for a Newsletter. Yes, sign up is the key. Create an email sign up form. This is called "Permission" marketing. You must ask very nicely if you can send out a newsletter with updates and all kinds of cool stuff. You must get permission otherwise it's called SPAM. I personally do not subscribe to the Newsletter philosophy. Sure, it keeps your name out there and reminds customers of your presence but for someone like me... Why? I could not imagine what kind of updates and cool stuff a playwright can send in a newsletter.

Update: I was at the store today and had an idea for a play!
Cool Stuff: I wrote 3 more pages of that one thing I've been working on!

But again that's just me.

I have found a Blog accomplishes the same thing. I can post updates, performance information and news. Establish a presence on-line that's here if you want to read it and saves everyone from hitting the delete button or filling up the Spam folder.

Hello World

So the main point in promotion is letting to world know you exist. The first method is letting people find you. How do they find you? One way is advertising.

One of the first forays I explored in advertising was Google Adwords. You know, those little ads that occupy the right side of Google's search page. If you are searching for Left handed Octagon Widgets, you will see ads related to 'Widgets'. It is easy enough to set up and there are plenty of tutorials and pages devoted to Adwords. Every time someone types a few keywords, such as "Plays", "Scripts" etc.. your Ad will appear. If your ad is clicked, you pay a small fee. You do not have to spend a fortune. I have my budget set for the absolute minimum and you can "pause" or "stop" your ad at anytime. The bottom line is that anyone searching for "Murder Mystery Plays" will see my ad on the right side. An association begins to develop: "Murder Mystery Plays" = "Play-Dead.com".

Another Link in the Chain

I found quite a few theatre websites that would link to my site for free. Doollee.com allows playwrights to list themselves and their work for free.
Stageplays.com offers a Banner Exchange program where you create a free banner for your site in exchange for allowing other theatre sites to display their banners on your site.

These are just a few of the avenues I pursued, there are many others out there that will link back to you if you link to them. The more links you can get, the higher your rankings will appear in search engines. Again the bottom line is letting the world know you exist.

If your work is published by a major or minor publishing company, they may do some of the promotion/advertising for you. But again, they may not. I personally chose not to let an unknown entity handle the work I created. Sure they may have inside roads to promote your work with a full color ad in Playbill, but then again, they may not. Who better to let the World know about you than you?


Next: The Social Scene

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts on the Social Scene Self Promotion Service (Act III)


There are some major avenues of "Hey Look At Me" you can drive your self promotion bandwagon up to that were not around when I started as a reluctant marketer. These streets do have names and they are located in the Social Network section of Info highways. Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter to name a few. If you're an independent artist and would like to flash your work to the world, it is beneficial to expose yourself. (Yes, write your own joke here)

You are the person who creates something: a play, a song, a book or any piece of art and in many cases, the public is familiar with the people behind the work: Van Gogh, Van Morrison, Picasso, Warhol, Neil Simon, Neil Diamond, Dostoevsky,Tolstoy etc.. We hear or see these name and usually we can call up something familiar about their work, because we have become... well, familiar with their work. They have been around the block a few times and may have passed us on the sidewalk. I mean, if a car keeps going around the proverbial block, sooner or later you will notice it.  And none of these people had access to social media because it had not been invented yet. No, Tolstoy didn't have Twitter account - "Wrote about War today- thinking about writing about peace next. #longnovel".

If you wanted people to become familiar with you and your work - the best you could do is hang a poster or leaflet up in the local cafe or hoped to be mentioned in the newspaper. Perhaps someone read your book or saw your painting, heard your song and told someone else about it - who then told someone else....    Bottom line - now that we do have social media -- as an independent artist, getting your "Name" out there increases an association between you and what you do. (And of course, "Links" to your site)

Public I

One drawback of creating a Profile on Facebook or Twitter is that while you are creating a presence that associates your name with your work, it also allows room for you to expose your true nature and feelings that may not delight the world at large. Example: One day you post your "New play is produced in Sheboygan this weekend!" Which is fine. The next day you post that "Rush Limbaugh is a big Fat Fart head!" Which is fine also, but may alienate a few potential patrons. It's best to keep your politics, religion and old photos of yourself sharing a bong with GG Allin to a minimum.


Essentially, putting your face and your name out there on Social Networks with the subtext of your "Brand" (music, poetry, writing, photography etc..) while at the same time, putting your "Brand" out there,(your Website), with the subtext of yourself, you create two paths in which the public can find you and maybe follow you. I believe it's best to keep the Brand of "You" to a minimum.

Well Done vs Over Done

While it's a major benefit to promote yourself on-line and in Social circles, keep in mind the idiom from Henry IV, Part One in which Falstaff says: "The better part of valour is discretion". I have seen many Self Promoting Indie types go overboard posting about themselves and their work.
It's as if a point of reference to be noticed is drawn from a 6-year old at the Supermarket, standing in front of the impulse-buy Candy display. Repetition of a desire may wear the parent down into letting a child have the Gummi-Worms, but repetition of a self promoting artist can get annoying, (depending on the topic). I mean sure, if your work is being published, your play is being produced or you have a headlining gig at club, great! But if you're telling us that you're having coffee with Uncle Otis again and that you need to color co-ordinate your sock drawer, ummm, OK. Didn't really need to know that. It should be about "Here is my work. This is what I do" and NOT "Here is me. This is my organized sock drawer."

As a member of the public and potential fan of your work - tweeting or posting about your work will spark my interest. A photo of what you ordered at a deli - does nothing in the end. What it boils down to is what you do not who you are. Don't allow yourself to overshadow your craft. Two essential writers in the world of literature -  J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon - can you immediately see them in your mind? Do you know anything about their personal lives? Read their latest tweets? Liked a band they checked out on Facebook?  Did it really matter?

Post Toast

There are many schools of thought on what you should post on-line, how often you should post and you can find self proclaimed experts on line.  For me and my work -  I have found it best to stick to matters related to theatre, writing and all related matter. Friendly not familiar. Personable not personal. Well done and not over done.

A few final thoughts later. I'm meeting Aunt Bunny at Costco. She finally buying me that 3 gallon vat of Gummi Worms.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Making it fit your Niche and the Personal Side of Self Promotion

Making it fit

One of the problems with being a "niche" artist is that when it comes to promoting yourself, you have to find "niche" methods. As I stated in a previous post, there are countless numbers of folks out there writing about tricks, tips and methods of marketing yourself. I know because I do read them. Not every piece of marketing advice is going to apply to you, so you will have to run much of it through some heavy duty filters. As an example, here are a few decent websites:

Social Media Examiner
How To Market Yourself
For Musicians: (my friend Bob Baker's) The Buzz Factor
And one of my favorite blogs -Seth Godin's Blog

As for myself, a comedy murder mystery playwright, I have to sift through much of the information, on-line and in books and twist it to fit what I do. Years ago, my friend Mr. Baker hosted an "Indie Music Boot camp" and he asked me to come and video tape the various presentations. There were some great guest speakers offering insight into the "indie" world of self-promotion including Derek Sivers, founder/creator of CD BABY and Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity. As I listened to the speakers pontificate on marketing and promotion, I found it was easy to replace the word "musician" with the word "playwright" and apply the advice to myself. (except the bit about creating an email list for a nifty Newsletter -everybody is on that bandwagon!)
I encourage any artist, whatever your niche, to read the information available about promoting and marketing and modify it to fit yourself.

The Human Element

One popular topic the speakers discussed was "Social Marketing". The major factor of social networking sites is the personal interaction or human element. Back in High School, when I was a minor actor in "The Miracle Worker", the playwright William Gibson did not have a Myspace or Facebook page. He did not have a website. You could not jump on-line and find out if he "Liked" anything or played Farmville. If you really desired to interact with him, you could write a letter and send it off to his publishing company and maybe, just maybe, they would forward it to him. Perhaps, years later, he might respond.

These days, you can find and interact with almost anyone on the internet. Many of the theatre groups and/or actors that have been involved with my scripts, are my "friends" on Facebook. I get emails from High School students who are involved in my plays and have questions about characters or dialogue, which come straight to me (not forwarded from a publishing company) and I always respond personally.

Lee Mueller at Freedom High SchoolI have even visited a few High Schools during productions and held Question/Answer sessions and lead the students through some improv games. I'm not telling you all this to toot my own horn, but only to claim that "personal interaction" is one of the best methods of "self-promotion" you can utilize. People will remember you from the interaction of answered email, phone call or personal appearance more than they will remember the name from a byline.

The Discussion Interaction

There are many websites such as Linkedin that have "groups" related to your field. These are "discussion" groups where people just like you come to seek advice, introduce themselves or maybe even rant. Many social networking sites have discussion groups for your field of interest. Be careful about jumping into any group full throttle as an advertising billboard for yourself:

"Hi I'm an Amazing Playwright and have 500 scripts your Theatre needs to produce!"

Gee, thanks Goober! But this is a Playwriting Discussion Forum and we are all amazing playwrights that have scripts theatres need to produce. It would have helped if you were familiar with this fact. I believe the appropriate response involves the phrase "preaching to the choir". Read over the threads in the groups to get a good idea of what the topics are about before you jump in guns a blazin.

Anyway, I encourage artist to interact with other artists. Lend advice or participate in any discussions that may be posted. Stay away from the Smarmy Salesman approach. Use it to "network" with others in your field. I have met other playwrights who specialize in certain types of plays, (musicals, children's plays)and have had inquiries from Theatre groups looking for that exact type of material. I will immediately forward this onto the playwright and in turn they will do the same for me.

In fact, prior to writing this blog, I posted a question on the Playwrights Group, seeking other writers to share "How They Promote or Market" themselves and hopefully will get some responses I can include in my next blog. There is also a comment section below if anyone wishes to contribute.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Thin Is the Line between Murder and Comedy? Will a Fruitcake fit?

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day which was spawned by a "keyword" search phrase that pointed to my website Play-dead.com; the search term was "how do murder mystery and comedy differ?"

I have actually pondered a similar question myself which is: "How can I (and others) get away with writing Murder Mystery Comedies?" I mean, we are writing about someone being murdered and yet, the whole thing is steeped in the compound of the comedy genre and people actually laugh. Come on, if you think about it, there is no way that should work. Murder is a horrendous thing, right? Especially when not viewed through a comedic filter. How did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe, or Raymond Chandler make a living writing about murder in a serious fashion?

How do you explain it?


O.K. First of all, when it come to murder mystery comedies, it's not as if I'm writing something like "Abbot and Costello Meet The BTK Killer" or Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "On The Road to Jonestown".
That would be using something very serious and well known and trying to add comedy to it. That wouldn't really work.

Here's the deal:

The "Poetic License", if you will, for Murder Mystery Comedy has to do with "context". That is, in what "context" do you base something that on the surface is normally a "horrendous thing"?

We can watch cartoons, we know the Road Runner is not causing grave injuries to the Coyote in real life. We are quite certain that Moe is not poking out the eyes of Curley on the Three Stooges. We have a mental facility that distinguishes between real and unreal. Serious and not so serious.

Is everything in a play set up very seriously? A murder mystery play. Is the atmosphere and tone of the story very stark, dark and dramatic? Is the victim a very kind and caring person that the audience can identify and sympathize with? Is the crime tremendously brutal and violent? If so, the context of the piece is similar to "The Diary Of Anne Frank" or The Laramie Project. If so, the context is serious.

What would be correct context?

Well, how about moving the context 180 degrees. Set up the play in a "not so serious" mood. Establish a tone and atmosphere that is light and slightly satirical. Create a victim that no one has room to identify with or spend one iota of sympathy upon. A character that is perhaps pompous or shallow, or better yet, not very realistic. And when the "horrendous" act occurs - it has all the impact of Aunt Helen belching at the Dinner table. You are not shocked by it, but instead, want to laugh.

Speaking of food, I heard a quote attributed to Alfred Hitchcock - I don't know the exact quote so I will paraphrase: - A good suspense thriller should be like a Fruitcake, full of nuts - (again, it was something akin to this) The point is, right from the start of the story, you should get a good idea of what's about to be served. If the ingredients - that is the characters are not rich and developed as in a thick layer cake, but no, instead they're a bit nutty and there are bits of fruit thrown in. Once the brain registers this concept, (this is not an Angel food cake) -  the "serious" factor moves out. The context changes to "not" serious and when your context moves away from taking it seriously - this leaves room for humor.


The bottom line is that if the characters and the story are removed from reality - everything you see and hear is written and presented as being over the top, humorous fashion, tongue in cheek -  it is hard to react to the material in a somber manner.

Once the tone is established as superfluous or unreal;  you remove the reality from the audience's perception. You place their expectations in the correct context and give them permission to laugh. Even at the subject of "murder" or "death".

Context and tone are most important when walking the thin line between what appears on the surface to be a serious subject and allowing laughter to prevail. If done correctly, the horrendous can become hilarity. But the danger lies in taking the subject "out" of context. Yes, you may say that "Murder" in and of itself is not something to be made fun of or laughed at.  While this statement is true, the context of the subject is shifted and therefore creates an alternate conclusion.  That thin line can be crossed very quickly depending on how you look at it. The bottom line here is that I do not use my talent to belittle, disparage or ridicule the seriousness of murder or any crime, nor do I believe any famous artist who ever tackled the subject had intended to do. They only intended to put the subject matter into a certain context, using their craft to present it a different way.  If someone remains on the other side of the line and cannot look at it in a different way, while they certainly have that right to do so, the point of many things will be lost, and remain unseen in that narrow field of view.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Upcoming Production - Nagoya Players Japan


The Nagoya Players in central Japan have been producing English theatre for 36 years. I am very honored that they have chosen "Murder Me Always" to kick off their 2011 Spring Season. I was contacted by Daniel Ostrander in January of this passed year about obtaining the rights for the play, which was well before Japan suffered from the earthquake and tsunami and I really wasn't certain they would go ahead with production, but a note on Facebook later confirmed, they were determined to press on.

"Murder Me Always" has been around the world a few times and even spent a month at "The Laugh Factory" on West 42nd Street in New York - so I could almost claim, it played "off Broadway".

It's funny to think that this was the first "murder mystery" script I ever wrote and it was essentially a reaction to suffering as an actor in very bad murder mystery at the time. It took me just under a week to knock out the first draft of the script. I had written several "non-mystery" one-acts that had been produced locally, but this was the first attempt to write a play within a certain niche. I was surprised it came to me so easily. I must admit there is something about planting your tongue firmly in your cheek that helps the words pour out on the page. My biggest fear was - would anyone else find it funny? Would they find it entertaining? Was my humor too esoteric? Were most "murder-mystery-dinner-theatre" audiences too accustomed to low brow innuendo, grade school puns and paint by number plots? Would they accept this new playwright influenced by British Humor, Woody Allen and Kurt Vonnegut?

Well?

Yea, OK, I guess.. maybe so. After all, the play is premiering on the other side of the world in Japan now. I've been accepted.

Details: Nagoya Players Production:

Aqua Alpine Hotel
Saturday, April 30 at 17:00
Sunday, May 1 at 12:00

Shooters Sports Bar & Grill
Saturday, May 14 at 14:00
Sunday, May 15 at 17:00

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sometimes Laughs Lie Below the Surface of the pudding in Comedy

I was trying to explain to someone why a recent theatre piece we saw didn't really work as a comedy. Yes, it was meant to be funny but despite a few giggles, groans and that odd blowing sound people make, like a strangled sigh, the work didn't really get any honest belly laughs. Why?
I had to consider the material for a while until I could pin-point the issue. It was chocked full of local and pop cultural references. Sometimes an audience will acknowledge 'familiarity' with a laugh and sometimes they won't. I think the proof is in the pudding. The what? Well, what I mean is - if you lay something right out in the open on the surface, something familiar to people, of course they will get it. But is that funny? Well, no. However, if you make them work a little for it, think about it, dig into the pudding to uncover it, the laugh will be there.

Let me explain further. OK. Maybe stand up comedians simply use material that we all can relate to. Our acknowledgment or more specifically, our recognition of it, can make us laugh. We hear something within the joke that we identify with - "Oh I have done that!" etc..

Example: George Carlin was infamous for pointing out simple things we could relate to- such as a simple statement like: "Have you ever been wearing a hat for a while and then you take it off, but it feels like the hat is still on your head?" Or "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?" - In essence, these are very simple observations that most of us can relate to and admit - "Yes! I have done that!"

But as simple as these observations are - each takes a moment to think about, we have to dig down a little further and uncover a memory of "wearing a hat" or calling someone an "idiot" while we were driving. Note: we had to think. We need to call up a mental image of ourselves or maybe someone else, and when we find a memory that allows us to recognize the image - we laugh. Why do we laugh? Well, maybe because we realize we are not the only one who "thought" about it. Wow! A whole room full of people have felt the phantom hat!

Now, if you merely sprinkle your dialogue with blanket references, such as mentioning a popular game show, or presidential candidate or local radio jingle, sure the audience may "relate" and/or "recognize" it but their "thinking" doesn't have to go very deep. It's nothing very personal, it's merely a recollection.

Here's another example of a cultural reference that I saw just recently in the film "Rango". Near the beginning of the movie, there is a traffic accident in which the chameleon, played by Johnny Depp is tossed through the air on a desert highway and for an instant, lands against the windshield of a car driven a character who appears to be Hunter S. Thompson. Why is that funny? Well, anyone who has read "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" will be familiar with the beginning passage where the character "Raoul Duke" is having vivid hallucinations as he drives through the desert. OK that's one level. Let's dig down in the pudding further - the film version of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" had Johnny Depp starring as the character Raoul Duke. So, in essence we have a Johnny Depp character interacting with... yes, you guessed it, a Johnny Depp character. This very quick visual reference or joke works on two levels, but you had to processes a bit of mental thought and recognition to get it.

The bottom line is the reference will be funny if your audience has to think for a moment or to actually work to "get it". That is why the theatre piece we saw didn't invoke much laughter. Having one character say, "Wow, she's a real Sarah Palin" - doesn't do much. Just saying the name Sarah Palin isn't really funny. Maybe if the line were, "Wow, she would make a great Governor of Alaska!" - could work better. We would have to think and provide the reference for ourselves - in other words, do the work to make the joke.

So, simply throwing out references on the surface your dialogue, on top of your pudding, will lay there somewhat flat. Give the audience some spoons.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Upcoming Production of Play-Dead Murder Mysteries

The Galva High School Theater Department will present “Murder Me Always,” a play by Lee Mueller, on March 25-27 at the school.

Galva Illinois which is not too far from a place I spent a whole lot of time as a youth, that being - Galesburg Illinois. Stomping grounds of my Grandparents and birth place of my mother -not to mention Carl Sandburg. Also site of one of the Douglas-Lincoln debates at Knox College and as rumor has it - the city where the Marx Brothers created their infamous nicknames of Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo and Gummo! Apparently it was during a poker game.

Anyway, the play, details are as follows:

Murder Me Always - Galva High School

The story line features a wealthy banker and merchant, Mr. Swanwallow, who has invited many prestigious guests to his dinner party to celebrate the birthday of his dear friend, Widow Vanderventer. But not all of the guests were invited – and some of them seem very suspicious.

After a guest is suddenly murdered, the remaining dinner guests (and audience) must solve the mystery and find the murderer.

1020 North Center Avenue
Galva, Illinois 61434

Curtain times are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for kids. Dessert can be purchased at intermission for a $2 donation.

Also I received some great news from Daniel Ostrander in Nagoya-Shi, Aichi, Japan. Despite the recent events in that country The Nagoya Players planned production of "Murder Me Always" will go on as scheduled.

This is indeed a courageous decision of "show must go on". But truly there is nothing like a few hours of light hearted escapism to give your thoughts a rest. I can recall being a part of a comedy sketch/improv group that was scheduled to preform the night after the Challenger shuttle explosion. Although the crowd was sparse and there was a very tense gloomy cloud hanging over everyone's head, the show went on. I know it has been said before, but sometimes Laughther is the best medicine.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Review of "I'm Getting Murdered In The Morning" in Clifton,VA

Sold-Out Crowd Applauds Clifton Dinner Theater 'Whodunnit?'
By Elizabeth Vittori
-Fairfax Station Patch

If ticket-holders didn't know better, they might have thought they were crashing a real wedding reception at last night's sold-out performance of Lee Mueller's "I'm Getting Murdered in the Morning."
Thanks to Aida's Events, the usually spare Clifton Town Hall was transformed for Clifton Dinner Theater's inaugural performance, bedecked in lavender tulle and topiaries. The atmosphere was authentic, right down to the antique Bentley limousine parked in front.

Aside from its dedicated cast and crew, this very funny, even somewhat silly, murder mystery drew on recognizable references to the people and places that make the tiny town unique.

Several volunteers, including Julie Thompson, owner of the Clifton Wine Shop, tended bar during a very social cocktail hour. Act One opened as guests (audience members) were served dinner by a group of local students and Clifton residents Felicia Wright, Gail Gertner and Lisa Graine.

Disc Jockey (Sonarak "Rak" Ieng) announced to the guests that the spoiled bride and her cloddishly endearing groom (played by both Nichole Klocke de Rodriguez and David Barnett) have been delayed, due to a flat tire on the Fairfax County Parkway.

As guests awaited the not-so-happy couple's arrival, they became acquainted with their well-heeled host and hostess (Harold and Mildred Montegieu) and members of the bridal party, Benny and Bunny, played by Hilary Rinke and Terri Grimes Marin. An obvious veteran of community theater, Marin was particularly engaging in her role as the "know it all" Maid of Honor.

As traditional reception rituals played out, a "murder" occured, threatening to sully the Montiegieus' already compromised reputation. After all, this is their daughter's third (or is it her fourth?) trip down the aisle. Lorraine Hoppe of Fairfax Station is delightful as Mary Burger, the society reporter who steps in, along with "fact-finder" Parker (former Clifton Town Council Member "Brant" Baber) to solve the quizzical crime. Wayne Matten is dryly funny, if quiet, in his role of Alfonsius P. Buckley, the victim. Stand-out performances were given by Helen Rusnak in her role as Mildred, mother of the bride, and Jolanda Janczewski in her role as mother of the groom, Sheila Coquette.

The crime-solving process inevitably reveals many motives for Buckley's murder. It is the play's cataclysmically coincidental and hilarious solution that "made" this production and had guests falling out of their seats with laughter. Without spoiling the conclusion for tonight's "guests," suffice to say that in true murder mystery form, the killer is the very last person anyone would suspect.

Cast and crew concede the production was intentionally colloquial. That is where its charm lies. While one cast member admitted to missing more than one of his lines, he said fellow cast members were quick to adjust. "It's not just about the performance, it's about the whole community," Lorraine Hoppe added.

Producer Dianne Janczewski said the group is still considering future productions the group will tackle, and her pleasure in a job well done by all was evident last night.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Upcoming Production of Play-Dead Murder Mysteries

The Sentinel Upstage Players of North Florida Community College present “A Plot of Murder” on Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at NFCC’s Van H. Priest Auditorium. Tickets for this hilarious murder mystery are only $6 and available now – call (850) 973-9481 or email belld@nfcc.edu. Tickets will also be on sale at the door each night before the show.

The play begins at a Fleur Estates Neighborhood Association meeting; the scene of several uproars. Lou Braunhorst, friendly neighbor and conspiracy theorist, has information that the quiet streets of the neighborhood will soon be sold and re-zoned for commercial development. He also believes that Black Helicopters are buzzing his house and transmitting signals through his satellite dish that put a "liberal spin" on all his television programs. But Lou's concerns do have validity - the rezoning, not the helicopters.
There is a 'secret' real estate scheme to institute "Eminent Domain" over the subdivision to make way for a Family Fun Pizza Parlor and a Strip Mall. But Board President George Holmes' is having problems with his hearing aid and his young lovely wife Fannie Mae wants the whole "rezoning" matter ruled out of order and dropped. Councilman Ratcliff who knows more about the neighborhood 'take-over' than he wishes to reveal, can't stay around because he is participating as an Elvis Impersonator at Elvis-O-Rama and must leave. But before Elvis can leave the building, he turns up dead. Was it foul play or the ultimate Elvis impersonation? Special Secret Agent McManshon is quick to arrive and conduct an investigation. It seems Secret Agent McManshon knows a lot about this plot of murder, but unfortunately, it's a secret. For now…

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Don't Even Ask

In my last blog I went on a bit of a rant about rules of writing. More specifically, I went on about other "writers" who offer up their own rules, tips and tricks and expect everyone to follow them. Well, I took issue with that idea. I'm from the Robert Frost school of taking the road traveled. It aides originality after all.

Having established that, the question must follow: are there any rules that I do follow? Yes, there are a few but one in particular that I find useful. And that rule is this: no matter what, when writing, don't tell anyone any details about it. I mean, sure you can say, "I'm writing a book, working on a play, a song" or whatever -- but stop right there! For your own mental and creative well being.

Why?

Well, from experience I can tell you that everyone has an opinion. Oh sure, anyone asking will listen with interest for a few minutes, but gradually they will transform into a critic, an editor or someone with an even better idea than you have. Trust me, it happens.

A few years ago I was sitting in local restaurant with a friend who asked me about a short film project I was working on. Unfortunately I broke my own steadfast rule about "not telling anyone or giving up details".

It went like this:

FRIEND: So tell me about this short film idea you're working on.


ME: Well, it's one of those 'kids in the woods' horror type of deals.


FRIEND: Like a Friday the 13th-y kind of deals?

ME: Yea, kinda.

FRIEND: And they get lost and are chased by axe wielding maniac?

ME: Well no, it's more like... you know the old premise about a snipe hunt? Where you take some innocent person out into the woods at night. Telling them you are hunting the elusive snipe and their job is to hold the bag open while everyone else forages through the woods and chases the snipe toward the bag?

FRIEND: Yes, and?

ME: Well, and... what if there really was such a thing as a 'snipe'? You know? But it was this mammoth creature, sort of like Big Foot? A monster. Only the kids weren't aware of that.

FRIEND: So they get chased around by a creature?

ME: Yes. Sort of like that.

FRIEND: Interesting. (long pause) You know what would be funny? If the kids were actually from the IRS, and this Snipe they were hunting was actually Wesley Snipes and they were tracking him down on Tax Evasion charges.

OK Sure that is somewhat funny, but my quirky little idea for a horror story suddenly became an SNL skit. It was totally rewritten before my eyes into something completely different. It's one thing to ask for advice or ideas on a story but it's something else to have your own idea ripped from your creative happy place and fitted with new parts and a new paint job.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Upcoming Productions Around The County

Chase Wright sent me a note letting me know the cast of Standing Room Only Players were having a blast with my play "Dead Air". Here are the details if you are in the Montello, Wisconsin area:

ARE YOU READY for chills ,spills and other assorted insanity? Come see the Standing Room Only Players' winter play "Dead Air" by Lee Mueller. Directed by Chase Wright This comedic murder mystery is a fun filled romp thru the anniversary show of an aging radio station. Can you help the cast figure out who the murder is? Come Join the fun!!!!!

For reservations or more information, call B & B’s Country Store, in Montello, 1-608-297-7511. Store hours are 10:00 to 3:30, Mon. Tues. & Thurs.; 10:00 to 5:00, Fri., Sat., and Sun. Closed Wednesday. You can also contact Marit Klapoetke at 608-345-8339.

Wakefield Theatre Company in Raleigh , NC is featuring "I'm Getting Murdered In the Morning" on February 19 & 26th. Details: During the garter toss at Brenda and Eddie's Wedding Reception, a mysterious man falls dead on the dance floor from a gun shot. Luckily the bride's father -the wealthy Harold Montague -invited Damage control expert Mr. Parker to the event. Parker tries "spinning" the murder as "nothing to worry about" but Society columnist Mary Berger insists "something be done". Something like - hold the presses because this could be the "Society Scandal" of the year.

And Northpointe Prep Academy's Falcon Players are presenting "Murder Me Always" on February 19th at 5pm. I must say I had a chance to drop by Northpointe a few weeks ago when I was out in Phoenix Arizona. I got to meet the cast while they were in production and hold an informal Q and A session. They invited me to stick around and watch the rehearsals. What a great bunch kids and it looks like the show is going to be great!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Writing Rules. How annoying is that?

I find that talking about the craft of writing can be a bit annoying. I should say, "to me" it can be annoying. Why? Well, because I truly believe that for each individual writer the method, process and execution is subjective.

What I really find annoying is other writers who firmly believe there is only one way to do it and they will teach you how! Oh boy! Really? I see posts from writers all over the internet with claims such as:

"The 5 things you must know about writing good characters"

"The 10 essential things every good story must have"

Sure, they may think they are being inspirational or even empowering, but really they are annoying. They fill me with wonder. First, I wonder why these writers are sitting around compiling lists of handy dandy tips and not actually writing? Why are they all up in our face with lists instead of working on their story, novel or play? Secondly, haven't they heard the old adage, "Those who can't Do, Teach"?

Yes, I realize that there are essential facts each new writer must know and understand, but I also know that it's essential for a writer to find his or her own voice and attempt to be original. As Judy Garland once said:

"Always be a first -rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else".

Bottom line: these oh so helpful writing tips were developed by somebody else. I want to write like myself not somebody else.

When I decided to write a short play for the first time, I did just that - I wrote a one act play. I did not immerse myself in "10 Cool Things Every First Time Playwright Must know Before Writing a One Act", no I just did it. I am not saying every new writer should get all "Nike" and "Just Do it" , I'm just saying that's the approach I took. (read: subjective) * I should also point out that I had quite a few years of experience as a stage actor and had a pretty good understanding about the structure of plays, so you could say I became a playwright through osmosis.

My point is this - if every writer followed all the methods proposed by every other writer, you know - the 5 things you must know about this and 10 things you must do about that, then we would all be writing in the same style. But the fact of the matter is that Hemingway's style was not like Steinbeck or Fitzgerald. Neil Simon style is a tad different than Ibsen or Mamet.

Now having said this so far, I can hear some urging the point: "But you have to know the rules of writing otherwise it would be chaos!" True. I would agree with that. I mean you have to know how to use words and where to put the periods. You have to know how to tell a good story. But what I am saying is be aware of the rules so that you can bend and break them.

Take for instance the French film maker Jean-Luc Godard. Take a look at his film "À bout de souffle" or as we Americans say "Breathless". This landmark French New Wave film caused quite a stir in 1960. Why? Well, the rules of film making went right out the window. Godard made use of "jump cuts" - instead of smooth linear scene of two people talking, we witness a virtual ADD event.
Jean-Paul Belmondo is standing as he speaks, suddenly he's sitting, then standing. Jean Seberg is riding in a car, her position and the background abruptly change over and over. Why did Godard do this? Because he could. The cinematic rule about continuity in a scene was broken. Godard knew it. He was well versed in all things Cinema. He was well aware of the rules - you must do this and you can't do that - and he said, So What?

When I began writing Murder Mystery plays, I was aware of the formulas of that genre. I also aware those formulas had been done to death. (no pun intended, well maybe a little) I set out to shake up the traditional must dos and should nots of Murder Mystery plays. I believed the only way to find my own voice and create my own style was to run as far away from "tradition" as possible. Sure, some would say to me, "but you don't have a red herring here and no real foreshadow there" and like Godard, I said, "So what?"

My advice is simply this, yes, be aware of the rules, how people write, what methods are out there, structure, plot, character etc.. and then throw them all away and just write. You can read the inspirational tweets and must do lists, but realize they are the thoughts, ideas and practices of someone else who probably learned them from someone else. If it's a really hot day outside and little Suzie from next door sets up a Lemonade stand out front, yea, that's a good idea. Should you then follow her idea and set up your own Lemonade stand next to Suzie? Or should you shake it up a tad and offer Kool-Aid? Really, it's whatever you want to do. It's subjective.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

New One Act Play "The Snow Day Monologues"

Thought I would re-post this piece since we have had nothing but snow day after snow day here in the Midwest.  This was originally posted in 2011.


It was a major coincidence that January 10th was a Snow Day here in St. Louis and I launched a New Play called "The Snow Day Monologues". No really it was.


I had been working on this One Act play for a few months now. I had been thinking the excitement I underwent as kid upon learning my school was "closed" due to "snow" and the different stages of emotions I would experience such as: joy, boredom, intrigue, cabin fever, delusions of grandeur and finally exhaustion.

I began writing from the point of view of a few characters who are stuck at home on a snow day and explored their individual thoughts as short monologues in a one-act structure. The characters eventually grew into six separate individuals; three boys and three girls and what they did to pass the time. Some would face issues or problems they had at school, others would fight boredom and try to entertain themselves and while others would use the time to reflect. There is nothing like being stuck in a confined space for a long period of time to activate the imagination.

I also wanted to create a funny yet insightful piece for young actors to interpret and explore. I've read enough grade school/high school scripts to realize there was a place for something a bit different. Many of my original Murder Mystery scripts are very popular with High School groups so why not create something funny and relevant they could relate to - that wasn't in the Murder Mystery genre?

Also instead of the standard "monologue" style where one character stands up and speaks at length for a while, why not break that convention up and spread it out? For example, as one character begins his or her monologue it then flows into another character who begins and on to another character. A common theme would tie them all together and we could jump around from one monologue to the next and experience each as a whole through various scenes. Perhaps a reflection of ever shortening attention span to which we humans are growing accustomed. Yea, anyway, I have to go shovel the driveway now.

Check out a short sample to play HERE

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Auditions, Perfomance and other such

Auditions

Auditions for the murder mystery dinner theater “I’m Getting Murdered in the Morning” will be held Monday and Tuesday (Jan. 10 and 11) from 7 to 9 p.m. at Bradford Area Public Library. (That's Bradford PA)

The Production will be directed by Kristin Asinger. Kristin is looking for
"14 people who can play together, as well as work together. There are roles for both men and women from late teens to their 70s, and both experienced performers and first-timers."

Performances will be Feb. 25-27 at St. Bernard Educational and Social Hall on East Corydon Street.

More details can be found here 1490 NewsBlog

Performance

The Monroe Township High School Footlights club will perform Some Show (about a murder) Jan 13th and 14th. The MTHS Footslights club is located in Monroe Township New Jersey. More details Here

Review

I found a nice review of my play "Stay As Dead As You Are" from the Cheraw Chronicle (Cheraw, South Carolina). Here is a snippet from Gregorio Padilla's article:

"The production was a light, almost murder mystery involving outlawed recreation toys, class clowns, high school sweethearts and a twist that left the audience crying in their seats from the nonstop laughter."


You can read the whole story here The Cheraw Chronicle.