Friday, August 30, 2013

Everyone Needs a Mentor

So here's a tip for you guys. I haven't given out blogging advice ever because I've just been learning but here is one that I know that I can give you with absolute certainty. Ready for it? Well here it is...

Get a mentor. It's as easy as that. I had the good fortune when I started blogging to have access to the experience and blogging genius of one such as DragynAlly. When I was just having the idea that I needed to use social media to expand my audience as a theatre person she was the one that said, "oh, well you need to start a blog."

So I started off with just a basic blog and a dream and someone to keep telling me that I should be doing more. The way that it helped me was that I was learning in just a year what she had learned the hard way over the course of two years.  So it really was a kickstarter for my brand and my page views. While I stumbled and hit a few brick walls on the way DragynAlly could tell you that I probably never had it as bad as she did.

So I would definitely urge you if you wanted to get into blogging to find another blogger that has had some nominal success and have them guide you through the process. Learn their tricks and write for them if you can. And always be sure to do them a favor by helping them out whenever you can.

Another thing about my relationship with DragynAlly... Today marks one year since we first started dating. She has been the kindest and most generous mentor that I ever could meet. And since I've started dating her I've gone to places and done things that I never thought I would. I love her with all my heart and wouldn't change a thing. I can't wait to see where the next year takes us.

P. S.

DragynAlly if you're reading this, and I know you are, just know that I love you! Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Top Ten Favorite Plays

Here are the top ten plays that have influenced me and how I write. I've incl

uded links to where you can find them in case you want to read them yourself.

Me in Larry Shue's "The Foreigner"

  1. Star Spangled Girl by Neil Simon
  2. The Elephant Man by Bernard Pomerance
  3. Anne Frank and Me by Cherie Bennet
  4. The Sequence by Vincent Delaney
  5. The Voice of The Prairie by John Olive
  6. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
  7. The Foreigner by Larry Shue
  8. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot by Stephen Adly Guigis
  9. The Eight: Reindeer Monologues by Jeff Goode
  10. The Pillowman by Martin McDonaugh 
Me in The Pillowman
Like I said it's important to know who you like because it tells you something about how you view the arts and what you're likely to emulate as an artist. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Revision: Digging into your script

When you're done with your rough draft and ready to find out how to rewrite it use a trick that I have found useful. Read through the play once or twice and make notes on the side. These could be things like "this character doesn't work" or "this scene runs slow".  Now when you start to rewrite take four of the notes  and try to apply them into the revision. Now take another four notes and your rough draft and start to apply them in a completely new rewrite. Now you have two completely rewrites of your play.

Where am I going with this? Well now you've been able to remove your play from your own mind and biases and see it objectively. Now you can take the bits and pieces of each draft that you like and start a whole new draft.

A new play by Mr. T Of Mice and Fools I Pity
Borrowed from Movie Web
Sometimes we get too wrapped up in creating a full final draft that we stop trying to explore in our rewriting. We don't have to worry about getting stuff right that we don't want to think about writing a draft that is immediately going to have to be rewritten. So my advice to you (and myself sometimes) is don't worry about it. Go crazy in your drafts and explore all of the possibilities!

How far can you take it? Kill a character, swap genders, change ages and back grounds. If something sounds off in the script write a draft with the opposite thing happening. In the end you'll be able to better see what is waiting deep in the heart of your play that's ready to be unearthed! Keep digging and stir it up! when you do you'll find the dramatic gold!

Monday, August 26, 2013

I am Redneck!

Most people who know me already get this (and Lord knows that my girlfriend does) loud and clear. I am a redneck! You might think by that I mean that I come from the South and I do but that's not the point. I have what Jeff Foxworthy calls a "glorious absence of sophistication".  When you give me a choice between meat and potatoes and filet mignon I will pick the former all the time. I prefer a Moonpie and RC as a dessert of choice. I wear basic clothes and I can't bear to throw them away unless they're about to unravel into threads.

My gf and her favorite redneck bf at the zoo with lot's of critters!
Now I know as a theatre person who is pursuing an advanced degree I'm supposed to understand by now that popular theatre is used to the hoity toity. So I shouldn't be surprised that every time I go to a theatre event in my clothes and accent that people are often surprised that I'm a theatre person. I remember that there was a networking event over the summer where I was mingling in the room with my girlfriend (a beautiful black woman). She's a screenwriter and I'm a Playwright. I found it funny that as people would talk about us and ask us about our art that when she introduced herself as a screenwriter they would look at her and say "Oh I thought YOU were the playwright".

I've also gotten the comments from theatre people after a conversation of "you talk really well" or "you're ACTUALLY very smart" That always gives me a chuckle. I know that I bring this on myself by using colloquiallisms like "howdy" and "y'all" that my uneducated redneck brethren also enjoy. And I know that when I wear my cowboy hat and overalls that the first thing you want to do is sing a few bars of dueling banjos and make Deliverance jokes. But please when I make my intellect and love of the arts known please don't be shocked!

I'm saying all of this to say that many people think that I should just cover up my redneck nature in a professional setting. They think that it will bode better for me when I write a play or walk into an interview so that they won't see what I look like and talk like and make the "improper" judgments. Well here's what I always say to them. If you think you would really like me only if I stopped acting like me then you don't really know me at all. My plays would be good whether or not they were written by someone who wore a cowboy hat or not. Theatre is about embracing the creators and artists and our individuality, about being subversive and rejecting the social norms. It's not about making people cookie cutters of the accepted culture. So I proudly announce that I'm different and proud! Theatre would be a much better world if everyone accepted their differences and created from them. So be different and proud!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Revision: Parenting a Problem Play

When you first write a play it's like you're conceiving a child. It's all about how fun it is for you to do it. But then when you start to get it in front of people sometimes the ideas and good intentions that that went into the fun act of conception meet up with the complications of getting it on stage. You have to start pushing and straining to get it into some kind of shape where it will come out of the world in the right way.

Borrowed from the Meme Center

Then you have the problem like I've come to in rewriting 27 Days. Your baby just got birthed in a reading or production and now a bunch of people are giving you a lot of notes. They're looking at your baby and telling you how you should raise it. A lot of it's well meaning advice and few of it isn't. So you do what every good parent does and try to follow as much of that advice as you can in your revisions. You try to be a good parent and only do what's good for your baby. You take out harmful words and actions here and you snip away unruly dialogue here. It's still knocking around a bit but it's just learning to walk you have to be patient.  And so like a nice parent you're rewriting to make sure that your growing child has a place in this world.

Then you come to the point that I came to last night. Suddenly your play for the first time says "No! I'm not going to do that Dad! I'm not a sketch on a napkin anymore! I'm not just thoughts from your head I wanna what I wanna be." And your play starts rebelling against you and the revisions that you've been making and you have to learn the lesson every good parent does: that trying to follow the notes and the advice from colleagues is one thing but at the end of the day you and you alone know how to parent your own child! 

Some advice helps and you use it. Other notes that you get in development, while they might make the wisest sense, don't work for your play. They may be what every other playwright is doing. They may be the "hip" thing that might get your play into the "Ivy League" regional theatre. But at the end of the day they may just be plain wrong for your play. And, fellow playwrights, the most important lesson that you can learn is listening to your play and discovering when just following the notes is hurting it. And in the end it's your decision.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Five Ways to "Steal" a Rough Draft

So here are my favorite ideas about how to "steal" a rough draft when you have a bad case of writer's block. Now all writers love the joy of writing and starting a play from scratch is the most fun part of being a writer. But sometimes when you're in a mental drought or a time crunch rough draft just means a hundred and twenty pages or so. So when you just need the stack of paper here's what you can do.

5 Ways to "Steal a Draft"

  1. Write someone else's story: I'm not talking about plagiarism or copyright infringement here. I'm talking about a great exercise given by the great Mac Wellman. If you find yourself in a bout of writer's block find a play you either like of hate and to right that play from memory. You'll find by the time you've finished that you've forgotten the specifics of the story and used the plot as a template to build your own story. 
  2. Mashup Dialogue: We all know that every rough draft get's rewritten anyway so why don't you take two plays and mash up the dialogue. Take down one side and of a scene in one play and combine it with a side in another scene. Or if you want to follow the template of an obscure improv game take one side of dialogue and come up with your own written response to it. Yes you're going to have to rewrite it that it's all your own work but you were going to rewrite it anyway, right?
  3. Write your favorite movie backwards: Take your absolute favorite movie and flip the plot backwards. That means that your ending is the beginning and the beginning is the end. Again you're just using the plot as a template to help you with your draft. So feel free to take liberties as you go!

  4. Steal from the News: Take your favorite news story (or one that just irks you to no end and write that story. Challenge yourself to take the bad guy's side or take a perspective that you don't necessarily agree with. 
  5. Backwards and forwards: This is one of my own creation. Using only three minute scenes mashup two movies in alternating scenes. One of your plotlines you're moving forwards. The other one you're writing backwards. When you're done you'll have one complete draft that's all your own.
The key concept is that your are STEALING these drafts. Borrowing a draft is plagiarism. Act like a dramatic chop shop and make all of these ideas you're own. My biggest tip is to make a simple outline and drop the source material as soon as you can. You're just making a rough draft here, not a parody or an adaptation. Stay tuned later and you may see me using these ideas in projects and putting them on the blog as examples. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What I learned through re-writing!

One of my least favorite things when I was a young playwright was rewriting. I kept thinking that if I spent so much time and energy writing the play that the last thing that I wanted people to do is to start critiquing it. I think one of the biggest mistakes that playwrights can make (like I did) is thinking that once the rough draft is over that the play is finished. What you do is set yourself up for failure. You have so much fun writing the draft and it takes so much out of you to finish it that when you finally submit it and get it in front of people you're not ready for the kind of criticism it will receive. And then you start going through the self feeding cycle of: "They didn't get it! I'm a horrible writer, I should give up now!"

But look at it this way. Most of the time we're like fish out of water in our plays and don't know we're wet. When you put a play in front of other people who weren't there when you wrote it then they can see a lot of things and have a lot of question that you don't. One of the things that I have grown to love in my grad school is the Lab class or the festival reading or a myriad other classes where you get someone reading your play and then critique it later. At first I thought I would like the readings more because I thought it would stroke my ego to hear my plays read out loud and hearing people applaud. I actually found that I loved what could be described as the most humbling aspect of it. I loved sitting with a group of my friends and colleagues and tear apart the script to find out what needs to be clarified or fixed. It's fun to see the little nuggets that they found in the play that you never saw or questions that you never answered. These kind of things expand the horizons about what your play can be and how it can be better.

My biggest advice is to get your tribe together. Your tribe is a group of people who you trust with your work and trust you with theirs and are willing to devote themselves to this process of making your art better. That's the biggest lesson I learned in all of my grad career. That tribe that you build as you develop your work and help other people develop theirs is the greatest asset that you have as a playwright!

Monday, August 19, 2013

No Shame: A Mini Theatre Production School

So one of the greatest theatre movements that I've ever seen is something that was started by my grad program director Todd Ristau. It's called No Shame. What is No Shame you ask? It's only a mini theatre management school, open mic night on steroids, and theatre revolution all wrapped up in one.  Imagine having a night of theatre that only had to follow three rules and those three rules are...

The Three Rules Of No Shame

The first 15 people that give $5 get to do a piece onstage as long as they...

  1. Are completely original.
  2. They are less than 5 minutes long.
  3. They don't break anything (the law, the space, the performers, etc.)
So why is that so great? Here's why. Say you want to start a theatre company. Don't know how to do it? Start running a No Shame every Friday night in your home town. All you need are three people to help you out. In doing so you're going to learn how to get a venue, how to promote your company, and how to take money and budget it. And what better way to make connections with performers, artists, and audiences in town. If you ran a No Shame just for a summer you would know what's the minimum required skills to run a theatre company in your town and if it's right for you.

Borrowed from the Hollins Playwright's Lab Facebook
Taken by Todd Ristau
It also helps you become a better artist. Attending and Performing at No Shames is my favorite extra curricular event at my summers at grad school. If you try to have a piece performed every week it teaches you how you work as an artist. You'll find what works great for you in a hands on learning environment. You can experiment with your style. What if it stinks? No worries, just do something different next week. I haven't come out of a No Shame yet without learning something about myself.

Borrowed from the Hollins Playwright's Lab Facebook
Taken by Chad Runyon
So do you want to start your own No Shame up in your own town? Do you want to have your own hands on environment where you can dare to fail? Then try the No Shame website. Get the manual and try to find a No Shame near you to see what it's all about. Go do it and dare to fail!

Friday, August 16, 2013

27 Days Update: The Next Step of Production

So It's been a hectic ride since the last time we talked about 27 days. It's been a wild ride. Since the last time it's been through a lab reading at my grad residency this past summer. The Lab is a class where selected playwrights stage their work in a reading and then receive feedback on it. It's a massive learning experience! You learn how to be quiet and take criticism and really listen to what an audience has to say about what they see in your work, often things that you never saw. It also teaches you how to be a good observer as an audience member so that you can give better feedback to a playwright about their work. All in all it teaches you how to be a better developer of your work and a better observer of other people's work.
The wonderful actresses getting ready for their reading.

Anyway it had a great reading by two of my favorite colleagues and the response to it was even more epic! It was humbling to see how many people were touched and all the stories people were able to share how Human Trafficking as a whole had affected them.

And so 27days has gone a long way from being an idea in my head to something that people are connecting to as a piece of art. I'm steadily working on a revision and soon I hope to be delivering news about a world premiere production.

Ever the nervous playwright. Borrowed from the Hollins Facebook Page. Taken by Chad Runyon
So what are my goals now? Well hopefully on top of getting a few initial productions of it and making sure that the script is sound I'll be trying to find some ways to distribute it to the kind of organizations who would want to use it to raise awareness or stage it for a fundraiser.  There is also the option of raising the money for a few big productions across the country. As more develops I'll let you know and I hope to let you know very soon! And you know I'm going to continue to find even more causes out there to shout out! So stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Playwright's Compost

So I can hear you yelling at me from here, "But, Dr. Fronkensteen, compost is for gardening not writing a play." I know that, but there is a great tool in the playwright's belt that, like compost, allows a fertile environment for a play idea to be germinated.

A playwright's compost is a list of a few things that inspire and influence you artistically that you keep coming back to in your writing life. Unlike mood boards and character thumb nails which give you inspiration on one show. I'm talking about a working morgue that you keep adding to and coming back to for information every now and then for ideas. Here's what my personal compost includes...

A Playwright's Compost

Your Top Ten

  • Favorite Villains
  • Favorite Heroes
  • Favorite Movies
  • Favorite TV Shows
  • Favorite Plays
  • Favorite Books
  • Favorite Songs
  • Least Favorite of the Above


  • Scenes from past projects that never worked.
  • Inspiring Photos
  • Inspiring Quotes
  • Inspiring Newspaper/Magazine Articles


  • People that you've seen and never forgotten.
  • People that inspire you.


  • Favorite Moments
  • Moment's you've never seen but is good.
So what does this list do for you? Well the reason that you like these things is that they inspired or influenced you in some way. This is how you see and hear. This is also how you think artistically. So the next time that you have a major case of writer's block you can go back to what inspires you for guidance. Sometimes going back to my favorite stories tells me how I want my current story told.

Stay tuned for exercises that help you use your compost to create more stories.