WAVES – A Black Box Experience

I’ve been down the rabbit hole of theatre the past month, producing my new show “Waves.” We had a successful three performance run which concluded Thursday night with a great, responsive crowd, and a group of young actors who had loosened up to show their grit on the stage. It was a great experience.

For the production of this show, I decided to create a black box theatre experience. I was introduced to this concept more than a decade ago when I walked into the now-defunct Penang Performing Arts Centre. Their black box theatre had seating for 120 max, and it was modular and could be shifted into different configurations. I was intrigued by the intimate setting and quickly fell in love with minimalistic shows which brought the audience right to the cusp of the action.

My new show “Waves” was a one-hour show featuring three dramatic duets and then the 30-minute one-act entitled “Waves.” My school does not have a black box theatre, but it does have a large stage and many platforms which had been constructed for graduation ceremonies. Hey, why not create my own black box theatre? I did, for the second time ever, and it turned out great.

Let me walk you through the photos below. Let’s start with the middle top one. That gives you the perspective of where the black box theatre is: on the stage. The empty chairs in the auditorium look on, wondering what is happening. It’s the same look the audience members have when they enter the auditorium and ask: “What? I go up on stage?” Yep. The photo on the top left gives you and idea what the audience perspective is like during the show. It seats 80, so it’s intimate, and the actors are just a few feet away from the audience. It’s creates an urgency and an energy which couldn’t be duplicated if the audience was WAY DOWN BELOW.

The photo on the top right shows the complete set-up. It had three acting areas – two on platforms and one in the middle. We created the waves backdrop and these strange cage-like structures on either side, with beautifully painted waves on a wooden ramp. Everything worked great and the audience loved the lighting effects and the intimate setting.

The last photo shows some weary-looking director who needs a couple days to recuperate from a crazy, intense week. But these are the kinds of weeks that this crazy director lives for. Watching students come into their own on-stage, in as close to a professional setting that we can give them. Waves was a great success. Now let me rest. Be back soon.

Batter up! THE LOST LINEUP on pre-order.

The editing process is over. (But it is really ever over?) The formatting complete. Thirteen months since the release of A Diamond for Her, the sequel and book 2 of the Myths & Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses is in pre-order. It’s set to release on Kindle and Paperback on July 1, 2022.

As I had mentioned before, I always wanted to write a baseball book in the vein of WP Kinsella, so now that I’ve written two of them, and WP Kinsella is an actual character in the sequel, I’m beyond happy! It’s turned out better than I hoped. I had so much fun writing this quirky story with intrigue, adventure, and absolute hilarity — all around the greatest sport ever.

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this book. It’s true! I’ve heard from many who thoroughly enjoyed it without following baseball. But if you do like baseball, I hope you feel like you’ve dripped yourself in the pool of nostalgia.

The Lost Lineup Kindle ebook pre-order:

Novels 11 & 12 Releasing in 2022

It’s official. This will be the first year I’ve ever released two novels in one year. I’ve been remarkedly steady since I began publishing in 2012 – one novel a year. I believed the trend would continue. I finished my 11th novel on writing trip to Tbilisi back in late October. It’s the sequel of my baseball series: Myths & Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses. This one is entitled The Lost Lineup.

I had no inkling what the next story would be. I was busy doing the final edits of the book over the Christmas holiday when it hit me: I should write a Christmas novel. People love to read Christmas books. I had previously published three Christmas short stories and thought it might be fun to try a novel-length Christmas story. But what about?

I often head back to history for ideas and I thought of a simple premise: a nine-year-old girl finds out that her father was killed in WWII on Christmas Eve 1944. The book would be about how the girl processed the death until the next Christmas – thus the title would be Christmas in ’45. Okay, I had the idea. Now would I have the time to write?

Well, on March 27, I finished the first complete draft of this novel. Novel #12. It’s a short novel, my shortest, but I kept it short on purpose because of how I only told the story from the girl’s perspective. I’ll write more about that process on a later post, but I’m really happy how this challenging story turned out, and I decided that it will release on October 1, 2022.

Lots of fun to look forward to in the coming months as I prepare these novels for release. The Lost Lineup is currently with my editor, and I should have the edited version ready soon. Then ARCs will be sent out as I continue to hone my Christmas story.

Stay tuned! 2022 is going to be a great year.

Verdi’s NABUCCO – and on Never Giving Up

I had the rare privilege to attend the marvelous opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi at the fabulous Tbilisi Opera House. It’s one of those old world European style stunners of a place as you’ll see from some of my photos of the evening. Nabucco is about the story of King Nebuchadnezzar from the book of Jeremiah. It was presented by the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre. A remarkable fact is that this opera company first produced Nabucco for their 1859-1860 season. The American Civil War hadn’t even begun yet. And here I am, in 2022, coming out of two years of pandemic enjoying this Verdi masterpiece in a truly remarkable place.

A few notes from my programme caught my eye. Nabucco was Verdi’s third opera. His second one was a failure and he was determined to never write operas again. How many writers and composers have been there? It took him five months to be convinced to take the libretto and try to compose for it. In his own words, “I took it home, and threw it on the table violently …” He was not optimistic. He persevered and composed it, and it became “a real watershed in Verdi’s creative life.” Again in his own words, Verdi writes, “My real artistic career started with this opera. And though I had many difficulties to fight with, one thing is certain, Nabucco was indeed born under a lucky star.”

And there you have it from an opera master. You do need talent. You do need perseverance. But even that sometimes isn’t enough. You sometimes need a lucky star to help the writer break out to career success. But the thing to remember is this: without the perseverance, the lucky star would not have appeared.

I was encouraged by these words and inspired by this opera. It’s a joy to see opera and ballet troupes still performing these classics and please try to support it whenever you can. You never know, you might just get inspired to compose something under your lucky star.

W.P. Kinsella & My 11th Novel

I emailed my manuscript of my 11th novel off to my editor yesterday. That’s always a momentous day! It’s entitled THE LOST LINEUP and it’s Book 2 of Myths & Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses. Have no idea if there will ever be a book three. No plans at the moment, but then again, I had no plans on writing a sequel to A DIAMOND FOR HER (book 1) until I was finished writing it. The genesis of book 2 is in the person of deceased Canadian author W.P. Kinsella – best known for his novel SHOELESS JOE which was filmed as the classic 1989 film FIELD OF DREAMS.

I had been an admirer of Kinsella’s writing, having read another of his baseball novels THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY. It was the mystical and magical realism that I loved. Baseball to me had always risen above the mundane. There was something magical about it. When I used to pitch, and I stood on the mound and stared down the opponent, I felt something deep within me that seemed right. A settledness – even if the big bruiser lined a rocket off my shines. It was still meant to be.

When I started writing novels, I always knew that I wanted to write a baseball novel one day, and I knew that Kinsella would be an influence. What I didn’t know is that W.P. Kinsella himself would end up as one of the characters in my novel.

In the novel, Kinsella is the brash, no-nonsense caretaker of the game who is protecting it from historical evil forces. Can’t give too much away. The protagonist, Charles Henry, who is the literary author of the books – it’s written in the style that the protagonist is writing a memoir of his favorite team the Winasook Iron Horses – and as he is searching for clues to a certain field in Iowa which may possibly be a portal to the gods of baseball – yeah, it’s a crazy ride – his path crosses with Kinsella and they have a series of run-ins as they discover a lineup of forgotten historical players who want one more chance to play again.

I must say, however, that I have fallen in love with this Kinsella character, and it is my hope that he would have enjoyed his character’s role in this novel. If it was a movie, his character would be a hoot to play. What gave me the idea to use Kinsella was Kinsella himself. In SHOELESS JOE, he used J.D. Salinger as a character, so I thought it would be fun to pay a little homage to the idea and bring Kinsella himself into the story. I hope readers will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

It’s a mixture of adventure, thriller, magical realism, fantasy, and sports fiction.

Releasing summer 2022: THE LOST LINEUP.

Here is the exclusive, unedited foreword to the novel written by the protagonist Charles Henry. Enjoy:

I regret it has taken me so long to write a follow-up to the Raymond and Rochelle Blythe’s story. What I expected to have taken mere months, especially after finding a copy of W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy at the Rochelle Blythe Memorial Library in Winasook, has taken me years. There are reasons, the biggest being the death of my wife merely two weeks after the publication of A Diamond for Her. I had wallowed in her death for far too long (or perhaps not long enough) when I decided I needed a change. That’s when I left for Iowa.
What ensued became this book. It is difficult to articulate everything that has happened to me or even to conjecture the meaning of it all, but I will attempt, chapter by chapter, to explain the bizarre tale.
I don’t ask for your belief. That would be silly of me. But I do ask for your understanding, for in empathy we may all glide a step further towards the truth (hopefully, without over-sliding it).
Again, the shifts in point of view are meant for your reading enjoyment. Plus, I do want to distance myself from the story as much as possible, because it is not about me. Except in the sense that it is about all of us.
With earnest in the mythical properties of ball,

Charles “Shoeshine” Henry
Winasook, Pennsylvania
May 1989

What Makes a Second-Rate Movie Second-Rate?

Flew home today. 11 hours. Means two things: I’m gonna be tired for the next week, and I had to endure a string of probably-not-great movies. The final film I chose to watch today was a 2021 western from Lionsgate titled “Catch the Bullet.” It was not great. It wasn’t even very good. I watched the whole thing. Thus, the life of a traveller. At least it scored me a blog post.

What is it about a movie that makes it second-rate? The acting? The story? The filming? The music? It can be all of the above. It was the acting which caught my eye (not in a good way) right at the beginning of the film. What makes acting bad or at least not good? It’s not always obvious right away. There’s a very subtle line between believable and not believable acting. After the first words of the film were spoken, I could tell there was something off. The intonation not right. The facial expressions flat. These were, for the most part, actors who would never make it into a big budget film. They had limited range and they were showing it off. The most well-known actor in the group was Tom Skerritt. Skerrit is a good actor, no doubt, but he wasn’t given much in the way of dialogue to show off his chops much.

The story? Cliched. I often wondered what the point of the movie was. Nothing original going on here. It could have been a ’50s B-movie western and it would have fit right in. A marshal’s son was kidnapped and I didn’t feel much of anything for either of them. I’m a sucker for an emotional film – especially involving children, but this was just flat. Why couldn’t they have contacted, for example, Mark Sasse and said: “Hey, Sasse, can you do something with this script for us?” I would have been delighted. Maybe could have even given it a theatrical release instead of straight to VOD. Yes, I’m that confident that I could have improved it. There was nothing much likable about any character, and the actors kept doing stupid things that seemed unrealistic. But my dark-pouched eyes watched every second of it. Couldn’t look away.

The filming? The Indian attack scenes were ridiculous. So simplistic. They didn’t even look like real native Americans, but I couldn’t tell for sure since the Indians all died very quickly without much fuss. For being excellent trackers and knowing the land like none other, they were not good at hiding from gunshots. It was like: I will stand up from this rock so he can shoot me. And he did.

But for me, the most cringe-worth part of this movie was the music. I pondered it this evening, and this movie made me create a movie-score rule of thumb, which I had never thought of before. The score of a movie shouldn’t set the tone of the film. It should accentuate the tone of the film. The film’s tone should come from the acting and the style of filming, and the music should add needed depth and warmth to it. But that’s not how this movie’s score played out. The music was so obvious that it was telling the audience directly what they should be feeling and what was coming. The music didn’t seem to be created specifically for this film. It seemed like stock music that was plugged in without much afterthought. When a viewer spends much of a film critiquing its music rather than the story, well, there’s a problem on the prairie. Call the marshal and arrest these film imposters! They are WANTED for poor film-making.

There are many facets which can make a movie second-rate, and “Catch the Bullet” had them all.

West Side Story: A Worthy Re-Make

I don’t make it to the movies much these days. Mainly because what Hollywood puts out typically bores me. But musicals, yes, I can’t resist. My last film was IN THE HEIGHTS which was fabulous. When I heard Steven Spielberg was remaking WEST SIDE STORY I had two reactions: 1) why? It’s such a great film as is 2) Hmmm, but I still want to see what the talented director does with it.

I’m glad I did.

West Side Story 2021 is a glorious pull-back to the original era. The scenes are gorgeous – the show-stopping dance routine in the street was mesmerizing. Of course, we know how good Leonard Bernstein’s music is and how invigorating Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics are, but what would there be left to tell?

Plenty. There were some wonderful new settings to many of these familiar songs. Gimbel’s department store even made me “Feel Pretty.” The pacing, though sometimes a little bloated by Tony Kushner’s dialogue which could have been curtailed a little (but hey, he’s a dramatist and I know those dramatists love to drama, so I’ll give him a pass), there was a slow and steady build to the payoff. The tragedy of the rumble, the lies which were meant to protect which end up hurting, the almost horrific rape scene when the white Jets, minus their two leaders, almost do the unthinkable until Rita Moreno inserts some right-headed morality into the mix. Then the ending. The pay-off was worth it.

The film’s theatre roots are undeniable. You might catch yourself saying that is not believable, or they rushed that too fast, or how could they fall in love so quickly, or how could she forgive him just like that … but it’s theatre, man; it pushes the dramatic envelop for the wonderful feelings at the end. And by wonderful, I don’t mean happy. I mean tangible. It has heart, as all good pieces of theatre should.

This is a beautiful, well-made film. Spielberg showed his magical touch of heart and tenderness in bringing this to a re-birth. Both films tell the story in wonderful ways. Highly recommend.

Ponderings on My First Show in 2 Years

Live theatre gets into the blood. When the curtain opens, and the nerves take over, and the hair stands on its end, and the bumps on your skin realize that it’s time, finally, after such a long hiatus, one begins to understand just how much the cult of theatre has seeped into the blood stream.

Last evening, we finished our final show of the Rodgers’ and Hammerstein classic “The King & I.” It ended just days past the two year anniversary of the closing of my last show in December 2019, Seussical. Yeah, two very different shows.

In April of 2020, my nearly produced show “Crazy Love” was washed away by that thing we all know about. I’ve been in theatre hibernation since then, but what a life-giving experience to have to wait so long to get back on the stage. I typically go from one show being finished to starting almost immediately on the next show. It’s been that way in my life for years. But being forced to pull away and not do live theatre made me realize just how much I missed and how I always want it to be part of my life.

The Palace. I built this with my students.
We took the colored panels I had made for the show “Crazy Love” and then tried to retrofit them into the palace design that I had. I had some talented students who created the color textures.

When I do a show, I’m typically doing it all. And I love it all. Stage design. Lighting design. Sound design. Of course, to accomplish this, I basically fall off the grid for a couple months just trying to get all of the work done. I’ve had people tell me they think I’m crazy. I am. Obsessed, even. But when the students hit the stage, and the bows are over, and the tears start flowing from students who didn’t know it was going to feel like this; who didn’t know theatre would seep into their being; who didn’t know how much satisfaction and benefit they would finally get from all those long and boring rehearsals; it makes it all worth it.

So I LOVE it. And I’d be CRAZY not to continue. And that might just be a reference to my next show. The students started clamoring recently about what the plan. “What about next semester? What are we going to do? Are we going to have another show?”

How can I say ‘no’? That’s not an option. Not with the ghosts of the stage pulsing through my body’s every beat.

(PS: But I will take some time before starting the next show. I need to get back to writing. I miss that too. I’m a man divided. And I like both halves equally as much.)

Reading, not writing, with the end in mind.

On my fabulous writing retreat to Tbilisi, Georgia (which I’ll have to post about another day), I finished the first draft of my 11th novel. This one is a sequel to novel 10, my first baseball novel. I’ve had so much fun writing both of these stories, and now that I have an ending, I get to read it for the first time with the end in mind.

What? I don’t write with the end in mind? Not a chance.

This will tell you everything you need to know about my writing process. While others will outline ad nauseum, I just write. Seat of the pants kind of stuff! Just hang on, let the ideas flow, start chaining them together, start to figure out what the characters want, and then they lead me on the chase to the ending.

Last week I wrote two endings. The first was horrible and I hated it. Then I had one of those brilliant moments, the kind that occur too infrequently and I knew, just knew, what the ending should be. The characters finally told me. I, as the writer, had goofed it all up because I wanted to finish it. The characters knocked me on the side of the head and said, “You idiot! We never would have done that!” They were right. So I changed it, now I love the ending.

So with complete draft on hand, I get to read it through for the first time with the end in mind. This is my revising process. I will begin to scour through the details and see if anything doesn’t fit now that I know where the story ended. Then once I get a solid revised draft, I’ll read it again, this time out loud to focus on the language and how it sounds and what could be improved. And then I’ll read it again … you get the point. Eventually I’ll get tired of reading it and send it on to my editor to let her do her magic.

But it’s always a good day when I get to read the entire story now knowing the ending.

I’ll post much more about the story later on, but it does have a title: THE LOST LINEUP.

Subtitle: Myths & Tales of the Winasook Iron Horses, Book 2.

These two books were inspired by the writings of Canadian writer W.P. Kinsella, best known for his novel SHOELESS JOE which was turned into the movie, Field of Dreams. (Coincidentally, this happens to be my favorite movie!) Anyways, I did a Kinsella. In SHOELESS JOE, he used a real-life writer, JD SALINGER, as a character in his book. So to play tribute to that, I use Kinsella as a character in my book. What great fun I had crafting his character. If he was still alive, I hope he would have enjoyed how I portrayed him. It would be a very fun role to play if it ever was turned into a movie.

Coming in 2022.