Monday, December 31, 2012

What will the Next Generation Little Theatre Look Like?

This isn't so much a blog post as a wish list. The theatre world was changed forever by the Little Theatre Movement that faced of against the Syndicates early in the last century.  The concept was that instead of us getting all of our theatre and culture from a few central hubs in the nation that every town should have a little theatre in their Downtown area that would provide theatre and cultural enrichment vital to the town and custom made for it. Now we're a tenth of the way into this new century and we're in desperate need of a new Little Theatre Movement. Broadway and all except a select few of the best regional theaters are nothing more than a theatrical Walmart. But instead of backing out of the fray it's time that the local artists stood up and took account of themselves. Here is my wish list of what the New Little Theatre Movement Should be....

The New Little Theatre Movement

  • Homeless: A new Little Theatre doesn't need to tie all of its resources into a building. Make theatre wherever you are, with whoever you're with.  Be flexible and move to wherever you can call home. Nowadays a stationary theatre company is dead.
  • Internet Savvy: In today's world if you're not on the internet then you don't exist! Every theatre artist and Little theatre should be engaging an online audience and not be shy about it. The internet and streaming video doesn't kill live theatre, apathy kills live theatre! Start a blog, have a youtube channel, get a Facebook page, etc. When used properly the internet builds community and a fanbase for your work. (And potential revenue...more on that later)
  • Don't be Ashamed of Merchandise: Put your name on anything you can print and sell. Get a t-shirt line. Publish your own plays. Get a CD out. Have your own action figure! Just get the swag out there.
  • Be your own boss/Advocate: Stop waiting for the big companies to hire you stop waiting for that moment when you're going to be "discovered" by someone and make it big. You discovered yourself and know you're own potential. Find your niche and try everyday to take that next step to reach your full potential. You are your own agent, publisher, producer, employer, publicity agent. Start acting like it.
  • Be friendly: Work with anyone you can find and team up with as many other companies just like you. Find your tribe of followers that wants to see work like yours done and create a network. 
  • Be a Consultant: Help other people and companies out there. Be an educator and have apprentices. There are traditions that need to be preserved and new innovations that need to be expanded upon.
  • Be innovators: Invent your own style and make sure that it's being seen. Define you're own philosophies and manifestos and share them with the world! What you create today will be what the next generation studies in the textbooks. Be diligent about it.
This wish list is quickly becoming my own business model and my manifesto for what real Small Town Theatre is. I encourage all of you to make your own manifestos and models about how your art gets made. The responsibility lies with you and no other. Make good art and above all else get yourself out there and do it!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thoughts on Newtown: Never Looking Away

So a couple weeks ago America took a big shot to the gut.  Anyone who had any connection to the world outside heard about he shootings in Connecticut. And just like the rest of the world I was shocked to hear the news...the horror that could befall a several lives were snuffed out at once.

That weekend was already hard for me. That Sunday I was going to be taking the stage with a wonderful group of kids in our Church's Christmas play. These kids were amazing and even though they were just beginners in their journey in the arts they had worked so hard to make everyone proud.

I don't care who you are or where you are. Tragedies like this hurt. You most likely didn't know the the victims and their families. You never can understand the kind of hurt that these people are going through. But you do know people. You do have or know children that are very close to you and the very possibility that this kind of thing can happen reminds you not of your mortality but the knowledge that your life is so short and that sweet innocence in your life can be lost instantly.

I saw a lot of the ways people reacted online. And I'm going to bite the bullet and say that neither reaction was completely wrong. Some people bring anger, some people bring tears, some people only bring more questions to the table. All reactions are welcome and bringing them to the forefront so that the world can process them is good.

But some of the people that I kind of envied were the people who chose to stay in denial. The ones that chose not to look at the footage, read a paper, or hear about the tragedy. These were the people putting their backs to the world and refusing to move forward in their grief. Refusing to accept that they don't have all of the answers and seek to find just a few more.

I forget who said it but one of my favorite quotes is "The true artist never looks away". No matter what the turmoil, the personal hurt, and the heart ache, the artist must force himself to watch and feel and PARTICIPATE in the world that he lives in. I pitied those people because they got to choose not to see it. They could choose not to face the emotions and grief tapping them on the shoulder. And the true artist can't make that choice. In our guts we can't not watch.

My heart goes out to all the families and friends of the victims. My heart goes out to all of those who weren't involved but are feeling their own version of survivor's guilt and hugged their children and loved one's tightly because you knew how fragile life could be. When we were done with our performance at church our pastor prayed and we took the time to lift up the families and victims in prayer. And then we and the kids had a big group hug. We didn't know where we were going but we did know that with God's help we could move forward.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas from Fronkensteen Lounge!

I've kinda had a soft spot for Christmas ever since I was born. In fact Christmas was the start of my acting career. At the very first Living Christmas Tree Pageant at my old church I was the Baby Jesus. I was only a month old, I was born a month premature, yellow with jaundice, and just out of the hospital. So what did my mother do? She put me in a show. There are no pictures of me that I can find wrapped in swaddling clothes being held by a young lady playing Mary, barely in this world playing none other than the infant  Jesus Christ. All I have is stories told by my mother and several other ladies from the church.

And that was where my acting career kicked off. I actually put it on my resume for a couple of years because of it's double take potential. I never had time to prepare for the role, and how do you prepare for such a role anyway? But I took the stage when I was called for and did what was needed.

And that's not much more different than how my life is now. I sit here. Christmas all but come and gone and when I look ahead at my life for the coming year I feel a slight bit of trepidation. I have a goal that I set for myself, 10 production credits in two years and I know that somehow my company is going to figure out how to do it. I'm going to be working on my thesis by then and this is the make or break time. I have to figure out how to make money in my trade and keep moving forward. I've spent my time  preparing in college but now, just like all those years ago I just have to take the stage and go.

So to all of you fellow artists out there I wish you a very Merry Christmas. Relish in your family and friends and loved ones and the period of togetherness that you have. Don't let the task ahead make you afraid of moving forward. Pursue your craft without shame and do the best that you can. Be ready to embrace the new year with pride.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Life with Tourettes in the Theatre Chapter 3

Chapter 2: Depending on the Cruelty of Strangers

The kids never really understood what Tourettes is. I grew up in the world where not that many people heard of it or knew that it existed. Even having a diagnosis and all of that never helped. People had never heard of it and therefore I was a freak. A lot of people say that kids can be very cruel and they are very right. I could get blamed for just about anything in class (someone makes a rude noise and I must have done it) and kids often felt that they got carte-blanche  on making fun of me because there was no way I was normal like them. There were often times where I would walk home and kids would be there ready to throw rocks at me.

I don't often relive these moments and as time passed I learned how to have compassion and live again. But it formed this irrational fear in me in my adult life. When were they going to start making fun of me again? When were they going to start excluding me? Were they getting close to me just to hurt me or were they really trying to be my friends?

This affected my early theatre career in a weird way. I felt that I had to be better than everyone else in my college department. I felt I had to be the super student. When you have a disability you can often feel that that's all that people can see. So I tried to excell to hide  my disability, rose above all of the other people. But because of that I didn't have that many peers in the department. The teachers knew and loved me but most of the students thought I was shy, withdrawn, or awkward. Being the super student meant that I was excluding myself, in effect bullying myself. in order to keep people from bullying me.

After time I corrected this behavior. I let people in and started educating people about my disability and focused on just being a person instead of a superman. It took a lot of doing and trying but it eventually all turned out well in the end.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writer Wednesday: Heroes and Villains 4

Last week we went through a writing exercise about how to make a good Hero out of a personal wound or trauma.  This week we will look at an exercise to make a fitting villain as a worthy opponent to your hero. Like I went over before writing exercises aren't about you being a good writer. It's about getting the juices flowing and giving you an idea. If the writing is bad don't worry, it's expected to be.

But first let's make some lists...

Take those lists and the exercises that you worked on last week. Today I want you to make a few lists about that hero that will give you all the inspiration you need to make a matching villain. Just get your pencil and paper ready, set the timer to ten minutes and start thinking about your character's...

  1. Physical Attributes: What does your character look like? Are they skinny or fat? Are they weak or strong? Pretty or Ugly? Think in broad, epic strokes. This isn't about specifics right now.
  2. Social Attributes: Where does your hero stand in society? Are they rich or poor? Are they famous or unknown? What race are they? Where do they come from? What do they find socially unacceptable?
  3. Psychological Attributes: What does our hero want more than ever? What makes them happy? What makes them sad? What scares them to death? What hurts them to the bone? 
  4. Moral Attributes: How far will your hero go to get what he wants? What rules will they never break to win the battle? What rules are they willing to give up? 

Now go to the opposite end of the spectrum

Now that you have this list I want you to take ten minutes to think on the opposite end of the spectrum. You're going to make these lists again and this time you're going to think the opposite. This list is going to craft a character that is so opposite your hero that he will have no choice but to be in conflict with him. 

  1. Physical Attributes: If your hero is big your villain will be small. If one is athletic the other will be a weakling. Remember think in broad strokes.
  2. Social Attributes: Where ever you hero came from your villain came from the other side of the tracks. If your hero doesn't have a penny to his name then the villain will be super rich.
  3. Psychological Attributes: You are your villain are going to want completely different things out of their world, their life, and their society. They will each be driven by separate things, will each have their own fears and desires. The goal of the villain is to destroy the psyche of the hero.
  4. Moral Attributes: The villain will scoff at the morals and the rules of the hero and push him to break them. The goal of the villain is to unmake the morals of the hero.

One exception to the rule...

One variation to this is to make the hero and the villain very similar in physicality and social status. This is very fine. Sometimes your worst enemy is the guy that grew up right down the street from you and was your best pal two years ago. They key factor is to make these two as morally and psychologically different as possible. These are the factors that will cause conflict.

Exercise: Evil Speech of Evil

Now it's time to write a monologue in the voice of your new villain. I call this the evil speech of evil. In ten minutes I want you to let the character outline every evil thing he does and how he plans to do it. But I want you to let the villain justify everything that he does. The important thing to remember is that the villain is always the hero in his own story. He always thinks that the things that he does are morally right. Remember to give your character plenty of action words and let him describe things. These give you a better idea of the characterization.

Exercise: Actions Speak Louder than Words

Next take that monologue and make your character do something... Write a description or long stage direction that shows your villain accomplishing as task. How does he hold things? How does he see people? How does he walk or look around? What does he notice? All of these things will give you practical information to help you write your character interacting with the world of your play.

Final Thoughts

Again this is just an exercise aimed at getting your juices flowing about a good character. Whatever you wrote isn't supposed to be "good" yet. You're just digging around to find things that you can use to write your story. Again I encourage you to destroy or lock these exercises up when you get ready to write the story. You'll always remember what you like and want to use. And as you right the story you'll be rewriting and revising as you discover knew things about your characters.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tech Tip: Make a Nice Package

This weeks Tech Tip is something I see all the time. The play is a great hit with solid writing, music, and professional acting. But the set looks like it was made by a bunch of elementary school kids. The set's all wobbly, the paint is splotchy, things are held together by duct tape and hanging from the ceiling by shoestrings. You have great actors doing your show and making the big bucks but your set just doesn't match that quality.

There are several reasons why this happens just a few are...

  • Not enough money to buy quality equipment or materials.
  • Not enough people to get the job done right.
  • Not enough time to make everything right.
The other problem is that people just focus more on the acting and the music than they do the lights, the sound, or the set. They know that they need it but they feel it just has to be standing. As long as it's there you get extra points. But it can make you look pretty amateurish. And when you look like amateurs people treat you like amateurs. Especially people who would be writing checks or recommending people to see your shows. Here are some easy points that will help the not-so-tech-savvy make their set into a "nice package".

  • If it wobbles or shifts when you walk on it/touch it/go anywhere near it fix it. 
  • Anything that looks like raw wood/fabric/chain/anything the audience shouldn't see should be painted black. Or it can be hidden behind some kind of black fabric. Black=Invisible in the theatre world.
  • All the audience really needs in the lighting world is lights is a full stage, zones, and blackouts. These can shift the play in the audience's mind to something else. Practical lights (candles, flashlights, lamps, headlights,etc.) help in the situations where professional lighting isn't a possibility. At any department store you can find cheap lighting fixtures that will get lots of light on the stage. Just make sure these things can be dressed up so that they don't look cheezy. 
Remember. The audience doesn't know a lot about what is done "right" in the theatre. But they CAN pick out a shoddy piece of work any day. All you have to do is dress it up nice.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Theatre Rant: Is Theatre supposed to make money?

I remember a personal idol of mine that I had the great pleasure to meet through an event at my Grad School. He's is the greatest inspiration and role model to me about what makes a great play. But during a conversation one of the most touching things that he told me was that he had lost faith in the theatre as a profession. To sum his comments up he basically said, "I turned to Corporate America for a living because the non-profit world has failed me!" It made me so disheartened because the only thing that I ever wanted to do in the world was to write plays just like his and he was the one telling us all that we shouldn't bother. I started wondering, there are so many theatre professional playwrights and theatre people out there! In all this world there has to be someone earning a living at this!

This is a common question or complaint that comes along whenever you get two or more playwrights in a room. "We spend so much money and time on these plays we write! Why can't we make any money on it?" But the problem is that the theatre world is just too scary right now. Money is a big problem in the arts everywhere. From very little government funding in the to the fact that solid theatre's in the industry just aren't taking the risk on New Works it's enough to make any newcomer dubious about making a career in the Theatre Arts. And the fact that thousands of older, more established artists are leaving the business because there just isn't any advancement opportunities in the theatre right now.

Here's my stand on it all... No, you can't make money in the arts anymore. But that's to say that you can't make money in the arts playing by the Old Rules. Theatre has gone through many revisions and format changes throughout it's history. The Greek Style was different than the Elizabethan Era. The Neo Classics were different than the Restoration. As society changes the arts must change also.

So yes you have this big movement that's making the theatre into a big Wal-Martization of the work of a chosen few. So what if you can't make money in the old style? How can you change it up? How can you become the counter culture that changes the face of theatre for the next generation? What you do for a career now will be what your grandchildren are studying in textbooks later. How are you going to influence them?

And I'll be the first person to admit that I don't really know the answers to my own questions. I do know what the definition of insanity is. We can't keep trying to live by the old style anymore and expect different results. We have to keep plodding forward and create our own style. What will yours be?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Life with Tourettes in the Theatre Chapter 2

Last week I started a journey on talking about my life with Tourettes Syndrome. It's a neurological disorder that I've lived with most of my life. I started sharing about the struggles I've had after learning that my story was touching some of the readers out there and being of some help to people. So this week I continue remembering some of the memories I still hold most dear.

Chapter 2: Someone that believed me.

It was in therapy with my psychologist (I'm going to call her by her fake name, Ms. Rose) I found a miniature heaven. She was an angel. To a nine year old that has only had friends abuse him and family members ignore him Ms. Rose was an adult that won my heart. But I would have fell in love with anyone who would have showed me as much attention as she did to me.

I was a mess from the moment she first met my grandmother and I in the waiting room. My grandmother explained my symptoms to her and then Ms. Rose turned to me. I had been making this noise (it's called a vocal tic) for the entire time but when Ms. Rose turned to me, she looked at me expectantly, wanting to make me do the noise. But I couldn't. I don't know whether it was stage fright or what but every time someone looked at me and wanted me to do the noise I couldn't. That was the point where they would snort at me and never believe that I couldn't help it.

So at this point I'm feeling low. I wanted Ms. Rose to hear it and be able to help me out. She had one of those kind faces that made me want to tell her everything. But Ms. Rose just looked at me with a kind smile and held out her hand. We took it and she led me to her office. An office with action figures on the shelves, a sandbox in the room, and a ton of crayons and paper. When I sat down she didn't ask a lot of questions about a disease, or a neurological disorder. She told me that would be handled by a friend she had down the hall, a neurologist.  She first wanted to ask me how I was doing.

And that's all we did that first meeting. She asked me about my home life, my family, my friends, but mainly about me. We talked about what I liked, everything about me while she gave me the warmest of all smiles. When I talked about something sad her face would scrunch up and look concerned.

As it was time for me to leave I had realized that from the few stray tics my Tourettes had decided to not make an appearance. I looked at her as she led me to the door and said, "I really can't help it, you know." Ms. Rose smiled widely at me and said, "I know, we'll figure it out."

Ms. Rose and I would have several such conversations in her office for the next year or so. By that time I was diagnosed with Tourettes and was given a course of treatment for the symptoms. Tourettes doesn't have a cure...yet. I was told that I was going to have to live with this for the rest of my life and while the different neurologists gave some different therapies and treatments to deal with the symptoms. Ms. Rose gave me the tools to deal with life. She never sugar coated anything and she helped me deal with a lot of the baggage that I had.

But what helped me a lot more was the fact that she, besides my grandmother, was the first person to believe me. I don't think I could have ever made it if it weren't for people like her who were willing to look past all of the trash going on in my life and see a scared kid that had no idea why his body wasn't working with him. Sometimes I miss her, but I'll never forget her.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Theatre Rants: Is the Internet Killing Live Theatre?

I read a lot of theatre magazines and blogs in the course of my work and like every industry it has it's share of annoying members. There seem to be only five types of theatre articles out there:

  • Reviews of certain shows.
  • History or Biographies
  • People Complaining that the internet is killing it. 
  • People complaining that the industry is dying.
  • People complaining that you can't make money at it.
I don't know how other industries work but it seems that this is true about just about all of the performing arts. When 60% of your articles, that means a majority of your leading professionals are complaining it's very hard to realize that there's hope or a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm not going to go through all of the complaints right now but lets start at the first one.

I personally don't believe that the internet is killing live theatre or performance. For that to be true there would have to be no one willing to go out and see a show. But people still go to gallery openings, people still go out to see their favorite band in concert, and people still go out to eat. Even with streaming video and instant downloads people still go out ot the cinema to see their movies. Everyone used to think that the internet would cause everyone to never leave the house and get all their stuff delivered to them.  But still people leave their homes? So what happened?

People still like going outside the home to get things. They just need a reason to go. And when they leave the experience they get when they arrive has to be something that they never could have gotten at home. People are experiential beings. They need to go out and get something. 

The question it seems that artists need to ask themselves the question, "Do I have a live event which is worth people getting out there to go see?" For a typical family to leave for a show they have to hear about it, get the tickets, hire a babysitter, go out to eat, and then see your show. If your show isn't worth all that time and money then not that many people will like it. 

Back in the day when there wasn't much to compete with the theatre people used to go because that's all they could do. Now there's a lot of things to keep their attention. You just have to offer them something that they can't get at home. You're selling them a night out on the time. Ask yourself what your audience wants on a night out? Where do they go out to eat? What are they doing afterwards? If your show was part of a package deal with a restaurant or other event what would they be? When you know how your show answers these questions then you know if it's worth coming to.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Writer Wednesdays: Heroes and Villains 3

So for the past two Writer's Wednesdays we've been talking about what makes good heroes and villains. Today I'm going to give you a writing exercise to help you make a great hero. Writing exercises aren't about being good or having a polished product at the end. It's all about getting the creative juices flowing and organizing your thoughts. So just get out a stack of paper and pencils and let the prompts take you into a writing fury. Relax and enjoy!

Making a Hero: The Wound Exercise

This is an exercise that I stole from Sean Christopher Lewis, a great writer and solo performer. I jiggered with it and made it mine.  Be sure to tell me how you like it.

  1. Think of an old wound that you've had (physical or emotional). Briefly write about how you got it. What were you doing? How did it make you feel? What were the other people around you? How did it make you feel? Take 5 minutes or so to write it out.
  2. Now take that story and turn it into a FAIRY TALE. It can be as flashy, showy, and epic as you want as long as it's completely FAKE! Put this story in a character that isn't you in a land that isn't yours and a place that you've never lived in with people you've never met. This is your chance to blow every little bit of the wound out of proportion and get outside the box. Take 5-10 minutes to do this.
  3. Now take that fairy tale piece that you did and make a GRITTY-ACTION FLICK out of it. Channel as much of your inner Quentin Tarantino and take that over the top epic fantasy into the grittiest. rawest, bloodiest slash-em-up that you can think of. This time take the characters that you were working on and make them the skankiest, meanest, most brutal characters you've ever seen. What changes about them? What changes about the place that you set this in? Where does this brutal side of things belong? Take about 10 minutes to do this.

Now for the Lists

After you have that stack of papers from the exercise it's time to make a few lists...

  • List all of the Characters that you created: Just give them a working name and a few notes about them. Especially note changes in the characters from one exercise to another. These can become story arcs.
  • List some of the  places your characters go in each story. What do they make you feel? How do they change? In mood? In style? Who lives in these places?
  • List very briefly (bullet points are best) what happened in the general story. Use as broad of strokes as you can. A good example is... "Sandra conquers_____" or "Victor wounds _______" Don't get into specifics. This is just a foundation, not your final work. 

Final Thoughts

Remember this isn't your final work. This is just a foundation for a story and a character that isn't made yet. By the end of this you should have the beginnings of a great hero. Notice in your writing how the character embodies all of the attributes we talked about in the previous Writer Wednesday and make a note of them. This could be the hero you need for your next work!

Also don't feel that just because you used a personal trauma in your life that you have to make this character anything like you. This wasn't a diary post or an autobiography. You're just using something that you can relate to to make a believable character. In fact I encourage to take your workings from this exercise after you did it and tear it up. You're going to be rewriting several more times so you don't need to get connected to things too early. In short you'll always remember the things that you want to keep no matter if you have it written down or not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nick Guess Who Review and Nickelodeon Giveaway!

Here are the bullet points of my Nick Guess Who Game Review

Who here doesn't like a few un-boxing pictures? 
So I've been a Nickelodeon Fanboy for ever and know just about everything about all the shows and characters. (I'm often known to sing out all the songs shamelessly in public too). So it was my pleasure to review the Nick Guess Who game for DragynAlly when she asked me too. It's already become a welcome addition to my game collection and it's going to be yours too! I just know it! Here are some points below.

Here's how the main pieces look out of the box. 

I was so glad to get these things, especially knowing that iCarly and Victorious are in their last seasons. These games make me feel that somehow the great memories of watching these shows are still going to be with me every time I play the game. 

This game is so easy to put together! Very little assembly required!


  • The Game is a great package for kids, has all of your favorite characters from the Nick Universe!
  • Parents will find this the easiest assembly ever! A pair of nail clippers and an emery board is all that you need to get the pieces apart and within three minutes you're ready to play!
  • This is an awesome game for all the Nick fans. Not only can you narrow choices down to things like hair color and age. You can also show of your Nick know-how in your questions (ex. is your mystery character a domineering "puppet"? If I met you character in an alley would they slap me with a stick of butter in a sock?" 

Me and my Brother Playing a Quick Game


  • The trap doors that hide your answers have a slight problem staying open when you want them to. I know that I would keep knocking them over all the time. This is a game made for little fingers.
  • Because all of the characters are so well known and there are only two sheets of them game play goes very fast before you've gone through all of them. And there isn't a lot of strategy involved. This is a game made for quick fun.

And if you want to win a Spongebob Clue game of your very own you can enter to win a giveaway in the RaffleCopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Thoughts from Ricky's Brain 10/9/12

A One-Sided Conversation

This Monday I happened to read this article of the Huffington Post that really irked me. Not because it was wrong but that it was far too true for comfort. I hate to say it but "Wal-Marting" of the theatre world has engulfed the entire nation. We have been programmed over the years to defer our artistic souls to big cultural hubs of the arts like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles etc. Think about it: where do all of our arts awards come from? Where are all of the major publishing houses for plays centered? the majority of these are in the major cities.

Now look at your local regional theaters. What shows are they doing? Have any of them been written by local playwrights or are they just remounts of the latest Broadway Plays or adaptations of some Movie? Are there local actors or theatre artist working in those shows? Are they even allowed to audition? If you look at any of the bios of the actors or staff you'll find that many of them have either just come from New York or are trying to get the resume creds to get to New York.

And don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with pursuing your training, living, or getting a job in the big cities. Like in every field you choose where you want to live and then you choose your career. But it disturbs me so much that our communities are being fed their theatre from a supply chain that trickles down from the big producers in New York to your regional theatres and then to your local theatres.  Our ideas of what makes good theatre and who is important in the theatre world have been told to us by books and plays published in New York. If I asked you to name your favorite musical you would probably name a Broadway Musical. Why? Because New York is the only place where musicals come from?

Theatre was and still is the art of micro media, members of the community fullfilling the needs of the community. I've said many times before that the majority of theatre in this world is done by highschools, churches, colleges, and small community theaters. But due to the national nature of the market and our umbilical cord to the big cities it's become harder and harder for these organizations to get funding or make a living doing what they do without becoming part of this big supply chain of big city theatre. Very often it's hard to get them to do new work or more enriching material because of fears that no one will show up because they don't have a big name attached. And thus...

I'm not worried about the mainstream market taking us over, I'm more worried that it's all a one-sided conversation. That in response to this mainstream movement, in this great age or global exposure that the theatre world can give you, that more local companies haven't risen to the occasion to carry on the conversation with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. etc. and share their artistic talents with them. And anyone who likes to talk knows that a one-sided conversation is never fun.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Life with Tourettes in the Theatre

Just a little while back I wrote a blog post and mentioned that I had Tourettes Syndrome. I have lived with it for my entire life and sometimes it's hard to remember that the struggles that I've had every day of my life can be touching to other people.  The response to just one little part of my post was overwhelming and told me that telling the whole story might be something worthwhile to do. I won't give a full autobiography just yet. These are just flashbacks of personal events that still hold some meaning or personal significance to me.  I just hope that somewhere someone who also has been struggling to make art while impaired with a disability can be inspired to follow their dreams.

Chapter 1: The Beginning 

When I was around nine years old I was taken by my Grandmother to a specialist in Nashville to diagnose a problem. I had been sent to the principal several times for "acting out". Several times I'd been reprimanded by family members for "being annoying". 

This annoying behavior and acting out that everyone thought I was doing was centered around one little noise. I kept making this loud grunting sound not just once or a few times a day, but several times a minute like I had a metronome inside of me that I was keeping time to. And that was all that started it. One little noise. 

I don't remember exactly how long it had been going on. I know it was long enough to get most of the family mad at me. Long enough for most of the kids in school to start treating me like some kind of freak. Long enough for my Fifth Grade teacher to call me "her little pig boy" and the principal to have my grandmother's phone number on speed dial. And that's what I was, just a problem. I was just another kid that would go out of his way to make everyone miserable. 

But my Grandmother didn't see it that way. I had lived with her since kindergarten and I had given her a good dose of grief on a number of occasions but she saw something different about all of this. She knew that I was a very dramatic kid (probably saw the theatrical flair in me before anyone else did) and would go to great lengths to have some fun at other people's expense. But she also knew that I wasn't one to hold on to something that was getting me in trouble. The minute that I started to get punished for it I'd drop it like a sack of hot potatoes. No I had endured too much punishment, ridicule from other kids, and torment from my family to just hold on to something so trivial as an annoying noise.

Thus why we were here in the waiting room. My grandmother reading a Better Homes and Gardens and me reading a Highlights and trying to do the mazes. We looked over the side table at each other and she gave me a sympathetic look and touched my shoulder affectionately. Of all the people who had written me off she never did and to this day she never would. We didn't know when we took this appointment that I had Tourettes and didn't know all of the hurdles that I was going to have to jump over to get where I am today. But I know that the first hurdle that I had to jump was knowing that there was at least one person that wasn't going to write me off and be in my corner. And that's the first thing that I remember. That even from the very beginning she was always there for me.

Do any of you know someone that is also struggling with a disability? Do any of you have a story to share? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Writer Wednesdays: Hero vs. Villains 2

What makes a great Villain?

  • A good villain does everything that you have always wanted to do but are afraid too. He's ultimately a wish fulfillment. Have you always wanted power? Sex appeal? The ability to crush everyone who's ever wronged you? That's everything a good villain has.
  • A good villain is all of your fears personified: A villain is everything that makes you squirm, you're nightmares realized. 
  • A good villain is the personification of injustice or evil in the world: Villains are always the representatives of the unpopular side of society. In the past the villains were robber barons and foreigners, now the villains are ceos. As society changes our villains change.
  • A good villain is a personification of morality: This might sound a little counter-productive. Or maybe the more accurate description is that the villain personifies the breaking of a MORAL RULE. Take the classic horror example... A couple making out in the back of a car...the man with the hook for a hand comes by to slaughter them. Why? Because they were breaking the rules. A good villain comes to punish us for our past sins.
  • A good villain is the personification of amorality: A villain does everything that society thinks is wrong and has fun doing it. He even makes fun of people that play by the rules.
  • A good villain is the personification of a certain philosophy: a good example of this is the Joker and Two Face from The Dark Knight. One is the epitome of anarchy, the other the epitome of chance and blind luck. The conflict between the villain and the goodguy becomes the struggle between two ideals.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tech Tip: Never Throw Anything Away

This may seem a little counter intuitive since I told you in my last Tech Tip to never become a pack rat. But where last week we talked about people keeping things that people were never going to use this week we're talking about never throwing away things that you know you can use.

Let's call these your assets. Your assets are the flats, platforms, furniture pieces, and backdrops/curtains that are sturdy, reliable, and able to be used again. These are your life blood for the company, more valuable than gold. When they're built right and have enough of them they'll never fail you. And more importantly you don't have to pay money to buy the material to make them again. And anything that helps you get the show done under budget is your FRIEND!

I would even encourage you to go further with this. Why should you have to even throw anything that you buy for the set away after the show closes? Should you just dismantle your custom set pieces and leave all of that would lying around in the shop? Should you just take all of your scraps at the end of the day and throw them in the dumpster? I think not! Plan now to have a second and a third use for everything!

I am a big proponent of not having anything lying around that's not serving a direct purpose to you. That means that custom builds can be dismantled and turned into stock units, oddly cut backdrops can be cut up into standard sizes, and odd furniture can be remade into a new use or put into the office or green room to liven things up! Even your saw dust and scraps can be reused to help you out with other projects. Someday I'll give you my recipe for "painters goop" which is made from sawdust and leftover paint.

If at the end of the day you take out the trash and have the peaceful feeling that everything in that can is something that is completely worthless to you, that none of it feels like you're throwing money away, then you'll know what I mean when I say it is a rush.

Keeping your assets well maintained is a great feeling. It saves your company money, build time, and causes less clutter. When you store up these little treasures and learn to use them well you'll start to realize, even if you don't have all of the money you need, how rich your shop really is.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Great Writer Steals!

Okay, I can hear all of the English Teachers and College Professors yelling at me from here. And let me assure them before their blood pressure rises any higher that I'm not talking about Plagiarism which is described as "intellectual theft". I'm not talking about stealing another writer's work. That I utterly deplore. What I'm talking about is the common and essential practice of every writer of stealing people's ideas! Here is an old joke that I found in an old magazine that will show you what I mean.

The Paradox of Writing

  • If you steal from only one author it's called plagiarism.
  • If you steal from two authors it's called literary contrast.
  • If you steal from three or more authors it's called "masterful discernment and mastery of the literary form and narrative techniques."
  • If you steal from a hundred authors and no one recognizes it then it's called a NY Times bestseller.
It's the elephant in the room every where that every good writer steals the ideas from everyone else. Whether they are plot points of the movie they saw last night, the argument that they overheard on the bus to work, or the conversation where a colleague will say, "hey, you know what would make a great story?". Everything that a playwright puts in a story is little stolen tidbits of life that will make up an "original play". 

Why do we do it? Possibly because there are no original ideas anymore. There are only so many things that human beings can do, so many permutations of words or deeds that we can perform on each other that the idea of creating something that no one has ever seen before is practically impossible. How many plots have you ever seen that remind you of a Shakespeare play you read in high school? A book you read last week? A movie you just watched? 

So what makes an original play? It's taking all of those stolen bits and putting them in different orders or executing them in different ways. How can you do a romance in a different way? How can you make conflict in a new way? What is different about the ways your characters interact?

In fact I believe that it makes the playwright's job a lot harder. We have to take things and tropes and situations that everyone has seen before and make them believe that they are watching it for the first time. Look back at all of the good stories you love. You can probably see that all of the great parts of the stories can be found somewhere else. It doesn't make the story any less good, does it.

As a playwright I encourage you to steal hard and steal often. The main idea is that you have to take the story and STEAL it. Chop it up and rearrange the parts. It's when you don't take pride in making the story yours and only "borrow" it that you've let the rest of us down and committed a crime against all of the arts. Please steal and steal well. And as always have fun!