Thursday, December 12, 2013

Basic On Stage Survival Guide For Amateur Actors and Free E Book

Spending countless years on the stage and the amateur community theatre circuit, I have seen my share of first time actors with sheer panic in their eyes. You see, there are some good things and bad things about "Community Theatre". One Good thing  is that it is open to anyone and everyone. One bad thing  is that it is open to anyone and everyone. Yes, experienced or not. Many times the case is not.

And since I had a plethora of productions under my belt, many acting noobies would seek me out with a multitude of questions ranging from; "What does 'Blocking' mean?", "Does stage right mean from my right or the audiences right?" "Why is it called up stage and which way is upstage?" "How in the world do you memorize lines?" et al. Therefore, I would become the self appointed mentor to all first timers.

A few years ago the idea crossed my mind to document all the basic bits of information a first time actor would need to know to feel comfortable on the stage. A literal "Survival Guide" for the novice actor.
So I began writing what would become "The Basic On Stage Survival Guide For Amateur Actors".

As I began writing down items such as what to expect at an audition and how the rehearsal process can be a very tedious event -  as well putting a halt to any social life you may have had - it also occurred to me that there are many "rules" of theatre an actor must learn a long the way.
What? Rules?
Yes rules. I must say that as I was evolving as stage actor, I  learned many of the rules the hard way. Example, I recall getting a 15 minute lecture from a director because in a particular scene, a pencil rolled off a desk and onto the stage floor. The pencil remained on the stage until the act break.  Well, you know, we never rehearsed a pencil falling, let alone, someone picking it up. It wasn't in my character to that - we had not blocked that bit.

WRONG! Rule -  "If it falls, pick it up!"
 There is a strange psychological dynamic with audiences - if something falls on the stage, a button pops off an actors coat , a feather from a boa floats to the floor, a pencil rolls off a desk:  the eyes of the audience will focus on the thing laying on the floor until someone picks it up. Many virgin actors believe it they don't acknowledge or look at something laying on the stage, no one else will see it.  Nope!  Actors do not possess the power of the Force - these are not the fallen objects you are looking for.....   Trust me. Save yourself the 15 minute lecture. If something falls, it is perfectly natural to pick it up. Don't ignore it.

There are also rules about upstaging your fellow actors; literally by standing in front of them or metaphorically by stealing focus  by waving to your mom from the stage.
 There are rules about not turning your back and not standing in a straight line and so on and so forth. As I said, I had to learn these rules the hard way. When you are a brand new participant in a stage production, there isn't a rule book handed to you nor is there time to go over everything you should know. Many directors will assume you have some basic knowledge since you are showing at the auditions but that is not always the case.

I wrote this book with all of this mind. I have attempted to provide the most basic nuggets of information that any first timer would need to know if they choose to venture into theatre. In some cases, I have worked with so called season professionals that could use some of this information. Anyway, if you are interested trying out for a local production and would like a head start in the theatre essentials - check out my book. And remember if you purchase and drop it on the floor. Pick it up!

Here is the link on Amazon Basic On Stage Survival Guide

Free Ebook  on "How To Memorize Lines For the Stage"

-Add to Cart

Friday, October 18, 2013

Meeting The People Who Create The Characters

Lee with cast of Murder Me Always
Had a wonderful few days driving up to Napoleon Ohio and visiting  Katie Meyers and the students of Liberty Center High School Drama Department. They will be presenting "Murder Me Always" next month and invited me up to sit in on a rehearsal, meet the cast, answer some questions and have fun (introduced a improvisational game).
 Of course, anytime I have a chance to attend a rehearsal and meet the cast there is some nervousness involved (on both sides- myself and the actors ) - but mostly for the actors. Normally after I have answered a few questions about the play and how  yes, even I started out by acting on the high school stage, just like them -- the nerves start to fade (on both sides).

I think it's important to allow actors both young and old to see the human side the name below the title of their script. The person that wrote the words they are memorizing and first imagined the characters they are creating -  the playwright or the man behind the curtain.  As an actor, I had a chance to meet a few playwrights whose work I was performing and there something very satisfying in the meeting and greeting. For one, having a face to go with the name on your script and an opportunity to glimpse the personality that created the world you are trying to re-create. Can you see a hint of the characters in the playwright own personality? Did they base the character on anyone they knew personally? Where did the inspiration or idea come from? How did they envision the character or plot? And so forth and so on.

Plus for me, I have an opportunity to see and hear how my words and ideas are translating to actors. Do they get the jokes or the subtleties?  Are the characters well defined so they understand how to portray them? -  It gives all of us an opportunity to learn and grow.  I have questions for the actors as well.

So the bottom line, (the line you don't have to memorize), is that I jump at the chance to visit productions of my work and allow the actors to question/analyse/talk (to) me and I  will question/analyse/talk (to) them. It is a large part of why I do what I do - that is the opportunity to interact with actors and theatre students. To get up from the computer and go forth and meet the people who give my words life. To check in once in a while and make sure we're all on the same page.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

Best Original Script

Follow up to my previous post about entering a short script (12 min) into a competition in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh India.  Well through social media and Skype I talked to the actors to find out how it was going - and then learned that our play did not make it to the Finals. Oh well....

But apparently that was not the end of the road. The scripts themselves had a second life - yes, some were chosen to be judged simply on writing and were submitted to a category for best Original script.  I received a message from one of the actors in the play, Shashank Karmarkar : 

 " I just returned from watching the Finals and am writing to tell you that you just WON FOR BEST ORIGINAL SCRIPT!!! Congratulations!! I knew it was a winner when I first read it agreed to do the part!! Apparently, all 22 participating scripts were sent for judging to various writers in Bombay and Bangalore, none of whom actually watched the shows in Hyderabad, so their verdict was unbiased, and based purely on the merit of the scripts!! "

There is a variation of Luke 4:24 (" And he said, Truly I say to you, No prophet is accepted in his own country." ) - that states an artist is never recognized (for talent etc.. ) in his/her own town and must travel away from home to be discovered. E.G. - T.S Eliot, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs etc.. all had to leave Saint Louis to be recognized for something - OK I am not lumping myself in that crowd, I am just saying that the old twisting of Luke is correct. In this case, I had to go to India. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Short Play Makes It All Happen Again

The Past

Long before I became known (if I am known - who knows?) for comedy murder mystery plays-   I wrote music reviews for a local entertainment newspaper (under the pseudonym Jim Cult) and later I wrote sketches for a local improv/comedy group. - Which of course only leads to the harder stuff...

I tried something a little stronger and a bit longer - a one act play. I tinkered around with it for a few months and cranked out something called " In Between Days" - which was about a few arty college grads who realized they have useless degrees.  Through the generous guidance of college professor who taught playwriting - my one act was produced and staged for a writing conference. What a better way to learn than to see and hear your play in front of a live audience.

Fast forward a year, I got ambitious entered a One Act Play contest in St Louis with  "The Favor" - about a suicidal man seeking his own demise and death in a bad neighborhood. The Favor was picked as the one the finalist - hence produced and staged in front of a live audience. I also received a nice review in the local paper.

Here is where -  I somehow jumped the shark as it were -  on a whim or a bet - I wrote a murder mystery for a local group and well - the rest is a cliche.  I became known as a murder mystery playwright. (In some eyes this is NOT a real playwright. The kind that Adam Szymkowicz  would never even ask to interview for his "I interview Playwrights thing. Whatever. It's fine. )

Present Day

Rahul Reddy - an actor from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh in India -( who had appeared in one of my Murder Mysteries over there) - contacted me and asked if I would like to submit a work into short play contest held by Dramanon Hyderabad .

 A short work? You mean a Real work  Not a murder mystery?
An honest to goodness real play - the sort of play I started out writing? You know, before the shark jump?


Ok. Yes, I would very much like to submit something. I did. It was accepted into the competition and will go through the preliminary performances this weekend. If it makes it there - it will be onto the finals.
The play is called "The Thing That Happened."   And really the thing that happened is someone from halfway around the globe snapped me back on the play path. We will see what happens.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Duncan Little Theatre wins with "I'm Getting Murdered In The Morning"

As reported in the Duncan Banner (Duncan Oklahoma) :

Darrel Ashford has a few reasons to celebrate. Not only was he and his wife, Tana, named the outstanding  Duncan Little Theatre  volunteers for the 2012-13 season during Saturday’s Limelight Awards, he won Best Director for "I'm Getting Murdered In The Morning" which also won Best Production.
And as he received the awards, Ashford gave credit to his cast instead of himself. This was his first attempt at directing, and “Murdered” was a rare dinner theater for DLT.
“This doesn’t belong to me,” Ashford said, as he accepted the Best Production award. “This belongs to my cast. It was a great production.” 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Up For Awards - Congrats to Vacaville Gaslighters

The Vacaville Gaslighters Theatrical Troupe in Vacaville California are among the nominees for the 29th annual "Arty" nominees for 2013. Categories range from High School productions to Community theatre: musicals, drama and comedy. Vacaville is up for 13 nominations in various slots from best director to best costume design.

Of course the reason I mention this is that a few of these nominations are for productions of my plays. Both "Last Call At Chez Mort" and "Dead Air" have found their way into the nominations. "Last Call" even made it into the category of "Outstanding Production in Adult Comedy".

Vacaville 's production of my script "Death Of A Doornail" did win in 2011 for Outstanding Comedy Production so here is wishing them all the best for this year!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Upcoming Play Dead Plays from Dinner Theatre to Comedy Horror

Moontree Studios  in Plymouth, IN presents dinner theater, Death Of A Doornail by Lee Mueller, with a talented cast of actors that will make you laugh and keep you involved! The dinner theater presentation is part of MoonTree Festival, and it will take place Saturday, September 21, 2013. The festive evening begins at 5:00 p.m. EDT with hors d’oeuvre in MoonTree Gallery, and continues at Cana Hall in the Ancilla Domini Motherhouse, with a scrumptious meal. Call MoonTree Studios at (574) 935-1712 to reserve your dinner theater ticket today, for this hilarious and totally relaxing evening at The Center at Donaldson.

Freedom Area Community Theatre present "Home Room Of Doom"  (a Comedy Horror) on August 1st and 2nd 7 pm.

Home Room Of Doom
Strange things are happening in Mrs. Abernathy's High school home room. More than half of her students are absent or late and there's strange chanting sounds coming from the hallway. Student Council President Heather Graves maintains the chants are coming from the creepy janitor Mr Crowley. Heavy metal Doom Core expert Scott insists the chants are are actually spells that will unleash a ancient Carpathian Curse upon the school. Cody believes the Zombie Apocalypse is about to begin. And Kelsey thinks everyone is overreacting to what is just a flu outbreak or senior prank. 
But what about those bizarre zombie-like students appearing in the doorway? Who wants to leave the safety of home room and find out?

 Home Room Of Doom  at Freedom High School Theatre, N4021 County Road E, Freedom, WI  Ticket Prices: $10 Call 920-659-0079 for reservations or more information.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

If You Can't See a Play - Read A Play

I enjoy reading most everything and every genre - fiction, history, sci-fi, fantasy etc... and one thing I reakkt love to read is  plays. Reading plays benefits myself as an actor and as a playwright. When I read other playwright's  work, I get a glimpse into how they structure plot, characters, dialogue and even stage directions . Having said that, it's surprising that my own plays haven't been published in a medium where anyone could just "read" it.  You know, so someone could get a glimpse into how I write.

I have slowly been converting my material over to the print medium (usually I sent out a pdf file to theatre groups to perform -quick,easy and cheap) but for those who aren't wishing to perform anything, but would like to read - here are the printed versions of the plays available on-line for a low price.

Buy the print format from us

Murder Me Always My very popular, world traveled play about a murder mystery that occurs during a murder mystery.
Click Here For Details.

Death Of A Doornail print format

Death Of A Doornail My other very popular, world traveled play. A tongue in cheek homage to drawing room murder mysteries with a twist.
Click Here For Details

Death Near Dead Man's Holler

Death Near Dead Man's Holler My newest play. A western with cowboys, gunslingers, saloon gals and school marms. Chock full o' obscure film and tv references.
Click Here For Details

Buy the print format from us

Last Call At Chez Mort A 1940's Night Club with intrigue, gangsters, dames, a French guy and a creepy Russian with a hatchet. Not to mention, every 1940's phrase I could remember.
Click Here For Details!

For those you enjoy a quiet night, curled up - because apparently when one reads, one must "curl" in some fashion - I usually sit, but hey that's just me, here are a few titles for you. No acting or performance rights required.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Starting the Summer by Playing Dead (upcoming productions)

Roswell Community Little Theatre will be presenting "Last Call At Chez Mort" June 22 at ‘The Liberty’ on North Virginia in Roswell, New Mexico.

This production will be directed by by Edie Stevens is an RCLT dinner theatre fundraiser. Reservations must be made no later than June 8 by calling 575-622-1982.

And Freedom Area Community Theatre (F.A.C.T) in Freedom Wisconsin will be presenting the world premier of "Home Room of Doom"! Home Room is my first official "non-murder mystery". The plot centers around a high school classroom, during Home Room (which is that very short period of the school morning where attendance is attended to and announcements are announced etc.. ) anyway, on this particular day, things begin to... well here, let me print the announcement if everyone is their seat:
Strange things are happening in Mrs. Abernathy's High school home room. More than half of her students are absent or late and there's strange chanting sounds coming from the hallway. Student Council President Heather Graves maintains the chants are coming from the creepy janitor Mr Crowley. Heavy metal Doom Core expert Scott insists the chants are are actually spells that will unleash an ancient Carpathian Curse upon the school. Cody believes the Zombie Apocalypse is about to begin. And Kelsey thinks everyone is overreacting to what is just a flu outbreak or senior prank. But what about those bizarre zombie-like students appearing in the doorway? Who wants to leave the safety of home room and find out?

F.A.C.T will present the premier of this "horror/zombie/comedy" on August 1st and 2nd at 7pm

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mothers Day and a Road Less Discouraged

When I look back on the path I have followed, I must acknowledge that my mother had a strong influence on the directions (Mom GPS). A road less discouraged.

She told me a story about my propensity to entertain at an early age, it seems she was feeling rather ill one day and decided to rest. She apparently advised me to remain clear of her resting area in case what she had was contagious such as the flu or some other nasty airborne virus. According to her story, I obeyed by sitting the hallway next to the bedroom which was ideal. I stayed clear, but apparently I didn't stay quiet. I decided to entertain her by spinning yarns and tales off the top of head, which according to her, lasted for an hour straight.

Now at any point she could have told me to be quiet or please shut up or any other number of silencing techniques but she didn't. She let me ramble. And from that day forward, that has been pretty much the case. That is not to say, there weren't times she would tell me to turn it down a few clicks, but still, the fact that she more or less allowed me to explore my imagination and let it take voice. I am forever grateful.

My mother has always been my most captive audience and critic. In my High School years, she didn't wince when I told her I was interested in the performing arts, in fact she encouraged me. At the same time I witnessed other parents of my peers pooh pooh the same dream: "You want to act? Write? Paint? Be a Musician?! What are you, out of your mind? Have you fell on your head? Learn a trade for crying out loud! Put away childish things!"

My mother also encouraged me to read books at a very early age, I think it was a way to keep me quiet for a few hours as well as allow her to escape for a time. I always recall a paperback in her hand, wherever we went so out of curiosity and of course encouragement, I was introduced to the Hardy Boys crime novels. The Hardy lads were way more interesting than the See Sally Run, Run Sally Run garbage I had at school.

When I began writing my own stories and later plays, I could always go to my mom and discuss a plot point or solicit ideas from her. "Hey Mom, I'm stuck at this spot. I'm not sure where to go from here." She would look it over and point out the most obvious path. "What if the character in the second act implicated himself. Or what if all the characters had the same occupation?" Mom's advice could always move the blocks out of the way.

To this day, my mother's advice and encouragement still leads me forward, down this same path. Never discouraged one step of the way. I can't thank her enough but I will try just a little this mother's day. She lives in a different state now, so I can't swing by on days she doesn't feel well and entertain her with stories. She finally gets to rest in absolute entertainment free quiet. But I'm sure she peeks out in the hallway every once in awhile.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Upcoming Play Dead Productions

The Winters Theatre Company in Winters California will present “An Audition for Murder” on Friday, May 17, Saturday, May 18, and Sunday, May 19. “An Audition for Murder,” a comic parody of both “who-dun-it” murder mysteries and amateur theater play auditions.

The plot of “An Audition for Murder” deals with an acting company which is holding auditions for its forth coming production of “Death of a Disco Dancer.” As the hopeful actors read for roles in the play, one of their members is suddenly found dead under suspicious circumstances. Is the death caused by medical problems or is it a homicide?
Does the curse of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” haunt the premises? An intrepid police inspector must deal with these questions and also with ham actors, dim witted divas, stage mothers, loud mouthed liberals and theater majors – all of whom have inflated egos. The laughs come even faster than the clues as the plot unfolds.

Doors will open at 6:30 on Friday and Saturday nights, with the dinner at 7:00 and the play at 8:00. The Sunday performance is an earlier evening presentation with doors open at 5:30 pm, dinner at 6:00 and the play at 7:00.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Upcoming Play-Dead Murder Mystery Plays

My friends out in California, Vacaville Gaslighters are presenting one of my older favorite scripts called "Dead Air" which at the time I wrote the play was a homage to the AM radio stations I heard around the St. Louis area. The type of station that was frozen in another decade. Not necessarily an "oldies" station, no I'm referring to a station whose heyday had blinked from relevance a long time ago but due to just enough market share, still plugs along. The music selection bordered on elevator music and the call-in-talk-show segments were nothing more than complaint rants from lonely grumpy people looking for cathartic relief.
"Dead Air" visits one such station on a live anniversary broadcast where the host has a melt down and the Bunny Bagel Boy is poisoned.
"Dead Air" runs the weekend of February 22-24 and March 1-3.

I'm not sure if they have such radio stations over in India, but they will have a production of Murder Me Always
by Caricatture productions in Chennai, Tamil Nadu at the Music Academy Mini Hall on March 3rd at 3;30pm and 7:30pm This will be the 2nd time this play has played in India. Must be good Karma.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"Murder Me Always"- still slaying after all of these years

Hard to believe that my play "Murder Me Always" is 18 years old now. It has come a long way since it poured out onto the page from my imagination. It's old enough to vote now. They grow up so fast.

Kearney Community Theatre in Kearney Nebraska, will present "Murder Me Always" in their 2013 Benefit Gala on Saturday, January 26, 2013 at 8:00PM - location is 83 Plaza Boulevard, Kearney, Nebraska.
Doors will open at 7:00 PM for hors d’oeuvres and refreshments. Pre-show and intermission music provided by Thalken, Tesdall and Thalken.

Theatre League of Clifton will also present “Murder Me Always” as their Fifth Annual Murder Mystery dinner theater at Mario’s Restaurant in Clifton, NJ on March 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, and 10, Friday & Saturday at 8PM and Sunday at 4PM.
Clifton Theatre's annual dinner theater helps to support TLC’s ongoing mission to bring the performing arts to the greater Clifton community.
Directed by Geoffrey Waumans. Produced by Maryann Irizarry. Stage Manager is Tara Freifeld. Sound by Nick Hawrylko. The cast is drawn from a diverse selection of northern NJ cities including Brenda Sherman of Bergenfield, Kurt Irizarry, George Kuch and Victoria Waumans of Clifton, Joe Romano of Glen Ridge, Craig Woodward and Kirk Woodward of Little Falls, Paul Carrazzone of Mahwah, Kimberley Merlo of Rochelle Park, Rich Torres of Union City, and Danielle Petrucelli of West Orange.
Tickets are $40 and include a 3 course dinner of Salad, Pasta, Sea Bass, Chicken, Potato, Vegetable, Dessert, soda, tea and coffee. A cash bar is also available.