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Showing posts from 2012

STEALING FROM CHURCHILL

It's snowing today in Denver. The high temperature will be in the twenties. The wind is blowing hard, and it cuts through your clothes and shakes your bones- as I just discovered while walking my dog Padfoot. Most of the state has either a winter storm warning, or a blizzard warning. By most standards, it's pretty miserable outside. And yet,  I love it. Hamlet may have found providence in the fall of a sparrow, but I find it in a snow flake. Whenever the gods send the white stuff, as it starts to slowly drop down, I take it as a supernatural sign, a medicine for melancholy sent by Raven and Loki and all who have gone before me. I am not alone in this belief. Countless movies use snow as the signal that all is right in the world; as do songs. Look at the end of "It's a Wonderful Life". George Bailey is on the bridge where earlier that very night he was contemplating suicide. Now, he desperately wants to live, regardless of what happens. He pleads, "Please God…

MEMORY GAPS, THE S.O.K.F., AND A STORY

I have a few gaps in my memory- moments that have been sucked into the great Black Hole of the Universe, never to be seen again by waking eyes. One of those gaps is when I got a concussion in the third grade. Or was it the second grade? It was the result of a pretty bad bike accident. Or so I'm told. I don't remember any of it. I remember clearly right before it happened. My brother and I were riding our bikes around the block as part of the initiation for our club, the S.O.K.F., which stood for Save Our Kids Future. To get in the club, we had made up a bunch of things you had to do- initiations, if you will. The initiations all had something to do with dealing with adults, dealing with their quirks and strangeness and what seemed to be a mass case of crazy. To be in the S.O.K.F.,  you had to walk through a room full of adults unseen; go to the store, shoplift a candy bar, bring it home and show everyone, then go back to the store and put it back; climb on to the roof of Straw…

THE DEMON BARBER OF STRAWBERRY PARK

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I had long hair when I was a kid. This was the 1970s, and long hair was cool. Hippies, the Grateful Dead, the musical Hair- these had all paved the way for young men to have long hair. And I lived in San Jose, California- part of the liberal, cutting edge, new age love fest that is known as the Bay Area. Not that I was in the middle of Haight-Ashbury, walking around quoting Timothy Leary to my fellow fourth graders. Life was fairly subdued in my neighborhood of Strawberry Park. Still, I loved my long hair. It was brown, and turned sort of blonde in the sun, and groovy. Often, I'd run as fast as I could down our suburban streets just to feel my hair fly behind me. My hair was my joy, and belonged solely to me. My enemy was the barber, and I visited him as little as possible.

One Sunday morning in February, 1976, my mother announced it was time for us to get hair-cuts, handed my older brother Jerry some cash, and sent us off to the dreaded Strawberry Park Barbershop. If barbers were…

AFTER THE WOMBATS

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Things were pretty rough after Daddy Jay headed north to Alaska pursued by Wombats. Money was tight. Mom had been an elementary school teacher before she had us, and hadn't worked in years. Now, she had three kids, a mortgage, and an ex-husband who wasn't paying alimony or child support. At this time, there was a glut of teachers in Strawberry Park, meaning no work in that field other than some substitute teaching- which doesn't exactly pay the bills for a family of four. We didn't know any of this. My brother, sister and I were busy being kids, and things seemed pretty much like before. Maybe we all got hand-me-downs more often when it came to clothes, and maybe we didn't go out to eat pretty much ever, but life didn't seem too weird. Yet.

Then, things started to disappear. That was a little strange. First, it was all the old stuff in the garage. Mom had all this old furniture in the garage- things she had inherited after her mother died, a beautiful set of  m…

A WOMBAT ATE MY FATHER

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It's funny the things I remember. Crickets, tomato soup, Lincoln Logs. Good things. Red wine with ice cubes,  long silences, knives. Bad things.  I grew up in San Jose, California, at the time a quickly growing city nestled in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley, which used to be called the Valley of the Hearts Delight but was morphing into the urban sprawl of Silicon Valley, land of strip malls, tract housing, and freeways. I can still smell the cherry trees that grew near my house, see the weathered barnyards covered in moss , hear the sound of thousands upon thousands of crickets at night- so loud they'd wake me up in the middle of the night from time to time. My mother used to tell me that when she first came to San Jose, in 1953, a person could tell where they were by the scents of blossoms. Peaches were one area, oranges another. In my first memories, the area we lived in was surrounded by orchards of all kinds- but each year, more and more of them disappeared,  replace…

I HAVE MANY GODS, AND THEY'RE ALL A LITTLE CRAZY

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I'm a quasi-pagan, magical thinking believer in Bigfoot, UFOs, and the Loch Ness Monster. Whenever I do a show, on opening night I go backstage, find a quiet corner, and say a prayer to Thespis. I've seen ghosts. At times, like Ghandi, I am a Muslim, and Christian, and a Jew. And a Hindu, and an atheist, and an agnostic. My pantheon includes Superman, Batman, and the Avengers- along with Loki, Raven, and Cassiopeia, Queen of Elsewhere. And I don't see this as in any way illogical.

I am pondering my own gods because I came upon a book the other day that I hadn't read since I was in fourth grade and took part in M.G.M. at Strawberry Park Elementary. M.G.M. stood for Mentally Gifted Minors, although most of the kids at school said it stood for Mentally Goofed-up Morons. There were students from several different schools in M.G.M., broken into several groups of about 20 each. Each group would have class once a week for a whole day. My group met on Wednesdays. In M.G.M., we…

MAKE YOUR BOTTOM MORE APPEALING

That's not advice from the latest exercise guru, it's a line from my play LOVERS, LUNATICS, AND POETS, which just got published by PLAYSCRIPTS, INC.  The play is the direct result of a writing contest; and also of my long-standing love affair with the theatre. The contest put on by Playscripts, inc. and called  Pitch-n-Play, and was in two parts. In part one, people were asked to tweet a pitch, or idea, for a new play that was somehow connected to the line "the course of true love never did run smooth" from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. My winning pitch was "real life Puck messes with teens in high school prod of Misdummer Night's Dream". That pitch, along with two others, won the first part of the contest.  In the second part, people wrote short plays based on any of the three winning pitches. I decided to write a play on my own pitch. And while it didn't win the grand prize, the very wise folks at Playscripts decided it was so g…

A FIGURE OF SPEECH

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So we decide on some knights for comic relief in ROSE RED. We  being Kari Kraakevik and myself, Rose Red being the new musical we are creating based on the fairy tale Rose Red and Snow White. Kari and I have sat down, and I've come up with a basic plot- which will no doubt change during the creative process (and already has). In the plot, there's a lost prince who has been turned into a wolf by Endorra Belle, a powerful enchantress who has turned bad ever since her ruby heart was broken into pieces. In the notes, I have "a trio of knights enter, looking for the prince, sing funny song".



Okay. Now I'm writing the script based on my notes. Funny knights. Hmmm. When I think funny knights, I think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Silly, absurd, over the top. And maybe they can use language in a way that's amusing. Maybe they can have goofy names. Somehow, I decide to name them Sir Lost, Sir And, & Sir Found. This makes me laugh. So I keep it. And I figure, …

THE LEAR OF MUSICAL THEATRE

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I have seen the best stage version of the musical Gypsy I've ever seen. I saw it Saturday. It was directed by Scott RC Levy. It was at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. It was epic. It was funny. It was full of spectacle, but also intensely intimate. I don't say this lightly. I don't say this off the cuff. This show was fantastic, and this company is consistently putting up the kind of theatre that reminds you why you go to theatre in the first place: in the hopes that you will be transported to another level of being, where strangers who are hauntingly familiar alternately titillate, endear, enrage, confuse, and ultimately enlighten you a tiny bit on the huge mystery of what it is to be a human being. Again, the company who is doing all this is the theatre at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, where Mr. Levy is the artistic director.



While Gypsy ostensibly about the early days of the girl who would grow up to become the famous stripper Gypsy Rose Lee, it's really…

MORE COWBELLS, WITCHES, AND KNIGHTS

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So I was set to meet with Kari Kraakevik- composer, genius, and friend who I have agreed to write a musical with. The meeting is at Starbucks, and we're going to sit down and I'm going to tell her my basic ideas for the plot. The show is based on Rose Red and Snow White, an old Norske legend immortalized by the Brothers Grimm. We've talked a bit about the basics- two main characters are sisters who are very different. There's a cranky Imp, and a bear who comes in from the cold. We want to make it all about Rose and being different, being something other than what your parents want you to be- in her case, being wild and needing to go out into the world and find whatever she finds. We've talked about making the bear a wolf- a Wolf Prince, and giving him an older brother- a Wolf King. Now we need a basic structure, with places for songs and over 20 characters.


And go!

Okay- let's start by giving the Imp a back story. Why is he so mean? How about: once, the Imp was…

RAISED BY WOLVES

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So as most of you know, I am writing the book and lyrics for a new musical called ROSE RED. It's based on an old Norske legend made famous by the Brothers Grimm. We had a story book of it when I was a kid, and I can still see the illustration of the ungrateful dwarf in the story, struggling to get his beard free from a tree stump in which it had been inexplicably stuck. I never could figure out how his beard got in there. It just didn't make sense. But I digress.



So, it was April, and I had agreed to write a musical with Kari Kraakevik based on Rose Red and Snow White. In short order, I needed to take a short fairy tale with five characters and expand it into a full length play, with at least 20 characters. The original story is pretty short: two sisters, Rose Red, who is sort of wild,  and Snow White, who is very domestic, live with their mother in the woods. One day, they meet a dwarf who is always getting into trouble- like having his beard stuck in a tree trunk- and they a…

ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF DANGER

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Had our first read through of ROSE RED on Saturday, and it was pretty friggin' fantastic to be sitting in a room once again, hearing a new script being read out loud by the people who are going to be performing it. Lots of things to do- scenes to tighten, plots twists to introduce and/or rework, songs to reprise, and of course, things that I don't even realize yet are out there, waiting to help transform this rough gem into a brilliant ruby (I would have said diamond, but it's cliche, and ruby is more appropriate for this show- come see it in December at Actor's Academy for the Performing Arts in Boulder to find out how).  I don't know if I can properly convey how exhilarating it is to hear a play you've written get a full read through. Exhilarating and terrifying and magic. The exhilarating part is when a line or scene comes across as you envisioned it when you wrote it. The terrifying part is when something you think is brilliant falls flat. The magic part is…

THE GIVER

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So I went and saw a production of Lois Lowry's The Giver last night at the Denver Center Theatre Company, and I am so glad I did. This is a fantastic production, from top to bottom. Story, direction, acting, design- it's damn near flawless.



The story is your classic Sci-Fi, in the vein of such cautionary classics as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guinn. In the story, set in the distant future, the world has become very safe,  very easy-going, and a little bit creepy. There are no colors in this world, no hard decisions to be made- nothing that could possibly cause strife. Not even music exists. Everything you do- including what family you live with and what career you follow- is pretty much chosen for you by a set of rules made long ago, and that's the way it is. What is supposed to be Utopian turns out, of course, to be Dystopian. The story follows a young boy named Jonas, who is chosen for a v…

MAKING A MUSICAL, part 1

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I think I'll use this blog to chronicle the birth of my new musical, ROSE RED. Seems that my writing about how I write might be of interest to some folks.



So, late last spring, Kari Kraakevik- who has been teaching with me at Actor's Academy for the Performing Arts up in Boulder for the past few years- told me that I should write a musical with her- a musical either for, or to be performed by, young people. Something that would appeal to the kind of audience who likes Wicked.

For those who know me only by my plays, this might sound a little strange. My plays, by and large, deal with lost, crazy, and/or angry people who drink to excess, get high, and swear with authority.  My first play, LAST CALL, had two guys run around naked for about ten minutes of the show, and I used the F word so much that we seriously considered putting the catch phrase "a f#$@ a minute" on the posters. I don't set out to write plays with so much "adult" material- but that seems …

RED AND WHITE

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So I'm working on a new musical based on the Grimm fairy tale Rose Red and Snow White. And no, it's not that Snow White. Same name, different girl. I'm doing book and lyrics, and Kari Kraakevik is doing the music.



It's sort of a full circle thing for me, to be writing the book and lyrics for a musical based on a classic of children's literature. The first thing I ever got paid to write was the book for a musical based on Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen. This was long ago, before I considered myself a "real writer"- I've always written things, but only in the past ten years have answered the question "what do you do?" with "I'm a writer". The Snow Queen that I worked on was a musical, composed by John Jay Espino in the early 1990s for The Childrens Theatre Workhop in Pleasanton, CA. The music is awesome, it was a blast to work on- and I don't even have a copy of it. I suppose I should hunt it down.



Anyhow, the n…

I COULD GO CRAZY ON A NIGHT LIKE TONIGHT

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Man, how can it already be this close to the end of summer? What happened? Where was I? Who was I? Who were you? Did any of this happen, or was it all some sort of freaked out dreamscape, a vision a butterfly saw while drying its wings? On days like this, I feel like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five- unhinged in time and all over the map.



Still, there were some really groovy things that happened, are happening, and will be happening.

First and foremost, this Friday at 7:30 at The Western Stage in Salinas, CA there will be a staged reading of the latest version of my new play, RIDDLE LOST presented by 2X4 BASH. I have this really good feeling about the reading- I don't know why, exactly, but I do. And whenever I get a good feeling about one of my plays, something amazing happens. Every time. I don't know if that means I'm psychic, or angels whisper in my ear, or I'm crazy. I only know this it is so. The cast looks amazing from the photos I've seen…