Category: Plays

Progress OUTSIDE the Neighbourhood…

I’ve been sharing a lot about the second in the NEIGHBOURS Series that is currently releasing in instalments. Keeping Up With the Neighbours is into it’s third ‘episode’, with the release of the complete series in both ebook and paperback set for July 30.

But there has been lots of other writing related activity at my house!

I finally finished editing my novel AND THE BEAT GOES ON – the first book I had published way back in 2009. Once I got the rights back I knew I wanted to revamp it slightly, but I just couldn’t seem to find the time. Good news! it’s ready to go with a brand new cover and even a change in title. CONSPIRACY OF BONES is set to release sometime in the near future. I am waiting for the right time to give it the fanfare I think it deserves.

Also  ‘revamped’ is PLAY IT AGAIN and MY MOTHER THE MAN-EATER will hopefully not be far behind. Each release will come out when the timing is right.

I also have been submitting several plays that have been languishing on my computer for several years. It’s Your Life, Murder at the Paradise Express, and King William Travels the World have all been submitted to various play publishers so I am just waiting to hear back to see if anyone wants to publish any of them. I also plan to submit my Drama class’s newest play, Snow White and the Dwarf’s Revenge, very soon. If no one picks them up, I may even decide to self publish them…. although I have never done anything like that for any of my plays so far, so that could be a new adventure! (Especially the distribution and performance royalty end of things…)

You could say, I’ve been keeping myself ot of trouble!

NOTE: I wrote and scheduled this post several weeks before it actually went live here. Since then I have had a small heart attack and have had to slow things down a bit. Fortunately, all but the last instalment of NEIGHBOURS II are already in the queue and scheduled for release so that project should move forward with no blips! 

 

Plays the Ultimate in Recycling

Plays rely on recycling all the time. Parodies and adaptations of classic works, fairy tales, and even the Bible are a common way for playwrights to break onto the stage.

Most of my published plays are stage adaptations of familiar stories – fairy tales and other classics that have stood the test of time. I’m okay with being less than original when it comes to writing plays. There are so many fantastic stories out there that are begging to be rewritten for a live audience. I figure if Shakespeare can do it, so can I. For example, his play The Two Noble Kinsmen is a remake of Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. (If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to read them side-by-side.)

If you are new to writing plays, adapting a familiar story is a great way to get your feet wet. Of course, it is crucial that before you do anything, you check to make sure there are no copyright restrictions. In essence, anything published before 1923 is considered public domain. That’s why fairy tales, Shakespeare, Dickens, and even Bible stories are fair game. Many works are public domain even beyond 1923 due to various copyright registration rules.  You will want to do your research if in any doubt.

I find adapting classic stories for the stage very rewarding, even if the basic idea is not originally mine. Using the given framework of plot and characters still allows for a lot of creativity. It is up to me to make the story come to life – literally. In the previous issue of Fellowscript, I emphasized that a play is not the same as a movie. This is important to keep in mind, even when writing adaptations. The playwright must decide how the story will be staged without the use of complicated sets and scene changes, and how the motivation of each character will come across in their dialogue and actions without sounding contrived. It’s always fun to add some unexpected twists, as well. In my stage version of the Peter Pan classic called Hook’sNemesis, Captain Hook is a neurotic female who has her psychologist as well as her mother on board the pirate ship. My premise started with the thought, “What if Hook had Mommy issues?” and it went from there.  (Her mother always wanted a boy…)

Many Christian playwrights choose to adapt Bible stories for the stage, which is another way to hone your skills as a playwright. Another thing I mentioned in last issue’s column was the fact that plays are meant to be produced. Why not offer to write your church’s next pageant? Easter and Christmas are the two most popular, but there are hundreds of other dramatic stories that are easily adaptable to the stage. (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat comes to mind.) However, understanding the basics of dialogue, stage movement, and other theatrical dynamics can be FS spring issuethe difference between a ‘nice’ Easter pageant and a truly moving experience.

Writing plays is a skill set that takes some practice. Scripts also tend to require a fair bit of revision once they are test driven with real actors on a stage. That’s why recycling play ideas from other works is such a great way to start. There is enough to think about in terms of dialogue, action, scene changes, and just the sheer logistics of making it work without having to wonder if the plot has merit. As a bonus, audiences love watching their favourite stories come to life. It’s a win-win!

*Much of this article was originally printed in the May 2016 issue of Fellowscript Magazine.

Even Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Who knew after seventeen years as a Drama teacher I could still feel stage fright? (Not from being on stage, as I will explain…) In that time I’ve directed and produced somewhere around thirty shows, but my experience in drama goes beyond that to involvement in church productions, practice teaching, and my role as a playwright. Yet it never ceases to amaze me that I still learn new things with each production.

Recently my extra-curricular group, the ‘KodiActs’, performed one of my published plays called ‘Ali and the Magic Lamp’. It’s a twisted parody of the classic tale where Ali is a skateboarding teenager and Genie has attitude to spare. The troupe performed four shows over a two day period and by all accounts it was a smashing success. The audience had no idea the anxiety that took place before the show or the somewhat scary turn of events backstage during the last performance.
Crisis number one: My school does not have a stage so every show we have to rent one and construct everything from the ground up, including a complicated truss system for hanging the lights and every
thing else that goes with it. I have a lot of confidence in my ability to direct and produce a show. Inevitably, despite set backs and various crisis situations, everything seems to come together. However, I have no illusions about my abilities when it comes to construction. I’ve always relied on people who are more mechanically inclined (most notably my husband) to help me with these aspects. This year, however, my husband was away working and I had to rely on my own abilities to get the job done. I had a few sleepless nights just thinking about the logistics of ladders, and power tools…

Of course, I’ve seen it done dozens of times, but this time I was actually the foreman, showing students how to bolt together a thirty-two foot truss and then raise and mount it above the stage. I had to demonstrate how and where to screw all the stage flats together to make the backdrop, making sure the twelve foot centre archway didn’t come crashing down in the process. I had to help string electrical cable and hang heavy (and expensive!) stage lights, although I did find a brave volunteer to climb the ladder who was also stronger than I,  to make sure they were clamped in place and wouldn’t come loose during the show.

In all, it was a fantastic learning experience for me. it showed me that I could do this part of the job. I’d often wondered how I would manage without my right hand man there to help me, and now I know I can do it. It gave me a new sense of accomplishment.

But that’s not the whole story…  Enter ‘Crisis number two’: During our final performance, one of the actors had a seizure on stage. (She is being tested for epilepsy and had a similar incident last year backstage. But this time it happened on stage during a scene!)

I was so proud of how my other young actors handled things. They’ve been trained by the old motto, “The show must go on,” so her scene partner ad-libbed his way through the initial awkwardness and I immediately called for lights and music. When I got backstage, she was out cold. With the help of another teacher and a couple of other actors we managed to get her off the stage and out into the foyer. Her parents were called immediately, (we have a contingency plan in place since the incident last year) and the rest of the play went forward with her understudy completing the play.

Although there was a longer than normal scene break at one point, some of the audience didn’t even know what happened. I mentioned it at the end of the show and the student in question got a nice round of applause. Meanwhile, she had been ‘out’ for almost five minutes in total. Her parents took her to emergency and she was disoriented when she came to, but she was otherwise alright.

This was another first for me. I’ve had actors sick and throwing up backstage; panic attacks, last minute substitutions, and as I said, one similar incident with a seizure (but at least it was off stage!) It just goes to show that even when you think you’ve seen it all, something new is bound to happen. Like I said, even this old dog can learn a few new tricks.

 

A Pivotal Point In Time

Who doesnplay-bookmark-8’t love a good stage play? The immediacy and intimacy of a live performance beats a motion picture any day. Anything can happen – and often does. From an early age, I participated in school and church productions, and later, once I was in college and beyond, I started writing and directing as well. My ‘real job’ is teaching Drama at the secondary school level. You could say I lucked out when it comes to a career. I get to do something I love each and every day I go to work.

I credit my fascination with drama to a few key people. My high school drama teacher, Mrs. Rees, was an inspiration – albeit a taskmaster. Before that, though, I can pinpoint an exact moment in time when my love for the dramatic arts came into being. I wrote my first play when I was in Fourth Grade – a dramatized version of a book I’d read called Ghosts Don’t Eat Sausages by Marion Koenig. For some reason that now escapes me, I loved that book and decided to make it into a play. I then convinced several of my friends to act it out during recess time.

It’s a wonder the ‘actors’ could even figure out their cues, let alone read my writing. I corralled my chosen cast every recess – either outside or at the back of the classroom if our teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, would let us stay inside. I think I was a hard taskmaster as a director. I remember feeling frustrated on more than one occasion when people didn’t know their cues. No wonder – there was no such thing as photocopying at that time and I didn’t even bother with a typewriter. I just hand wrote the entire thing and then recopied individual parts and handed them out on scraps of paper.

Thankfully, the cast was patient, and there must have been something about the project that inspired them as well, since we persevered for weeks, perfecting and rehearsing a plot that was likely full of holes at its inception. When we started, I don’t think I knew exactly what the final objective would be – just that this was a good story and it needed to be told! Mrs. Sullivan must have seen something of merit, perhaps in my tenacity in doggedly whipping my actors into shape. It wasn’t long before she suggested that we perform the play for an actual audience – the entire school population, if we were up for it.

Say no more! That spurred us on to even greater efforts as we added costumes and props and continued to perfect the line delivery and action. Finally, the day of the show arrived, and an assembly was called. I don’t remember if we were the only item on the program or not. It really didn’t matter, since for me, this was like getting recognized at the academy awards. As I recall, the show went off well. We got a full page in that year’s yearbook and I was credited as the ‘writer and director’.

All these years later I still look upon that seemingly insignificant experience as a pivotal point in my development as a writer. I’ve gone on to write and direct dozens of stage plays, some of which are published and have enjoyed a measure of success across stages in North America. If it wasn’t for the encouragement I got from my Grade Four teacher, I wonder if I would have gone on to write another play. It’s something to ponder.

  • This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of ‘Bookfun Magazine’, page 163.

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