My New Play “Covid Chips” Featured in Upcoming Festival

I’m thrilled to have my new play “Covid Chips” being featured in week 2 of The Gallery Players 24th Annual Black Box New Play Festival.

I was approached by one of the co-producers of the event about writing a play specifically for the Zoom format. I am not exactly thrilled about live theatre going online, so I wasn’t sure if I would feel the inspiration to write something or not. But shortly after that, it hit me. Just from reading the news, and I wrote the play “Covid Chips” to honor the many small businesses hit especially hard during this pandemic. I had a lot of fun writing it, and just last week I was able to sit in on a rehearsal and am really excited to see the final product.

Tickets are free! But you need to register in order to watch. Here’s the ticket link:

There are three plays being featured that week. Here are their descriptions. I hope you can take part in the event and support the hurting theater industry.

Second Week: January 28 – 31

  • Covid Chips by Mark W. Sasse
    Directed by Mike MrochAs restaurants in New York State begin to re-open during the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Jawarski, from Peppy’s Pub in Jamestown, receives a Zoom call from an Albany health official making sure that Peppy’s is compliant. As Mr. Jawarski continues complying with new regulations, the health official keeps making additional Zoom calls to bring attention to another matter of omission.
  • Women Underground by Kay Ellen Bullard
    Directed by Justin BraunThree women living lives of quiet desperation find themselves buried in the rubble of a bank explosion. Each has her own past experiences that could impact their survival strategy. Is any rescue even possible if you’ve already been
    living the equivalent of a buried life?
  • Every Single Sunday by Chris Karmiol
    Directed by Whitney StoneDifferent generations attempt to make a virtual connection and it doesn’t go too smoothly. But that’s okay… it wasn’t meant to.

Presidential Politics in My Hometown

In 1960, my father attended a political stump speech from a Democratic presidential candidate named John F. Kennedy. You may of heard of him. It was in the middle of the intense campaign season as Kennedy vied for the White House against Republican Richard Nixon. The speech was in Butler, Pennsylvania, a small city of 20,000 thirty miles north of Pittsburgh. For me, Butler was the place where I went grocery shopping with my parents on Friday evenings as a kid. On good days, we’d stop in Woolworth’s on Main Street and us kids would talk to the famed parrot in the animal section before having to decide which of the myriad candies would be ours for the ride home. But all this glory would have been nearly fifteen years after the speech my dad heard in 1960.

The speech was given on a platform in front of the magnificent courthouse in Butler. I must show you a picture. This is the building I marveled at weekly as a child.

Butler County Court House

There’s a reason I remember the Kennedy speech in Butler even though I wasn’t alive yet, and that’s because my father filmed it. He took his 8mm and recorded the live speech in that glorious home-movie kind of way – you know the kind: grainy, slow-motion, nostalgic. One of the highlights of my childhood would be when my dad would pull out the movie projector – once a year, perhaps – and show the old films of his army days in Germany in the 1950s, the years of us kids growing up, and the Kennedy speech. It was just a very cool glimpse of the historical past that I was able to live through my dad’s experience.

Now today, sixty years later, President Donald Trump will be appearing in Butler as part of his final week battle-ground state blitz leading up to election day just a few days away. I spoke with my parents yesterday and they asked, “Did you hear the big news? Trump is speaking at the Butler Airport tomorrow.” I hadn’t heard, at that point.

The Butler County Regional Airport is in Penn Township just a few miles from the house where I grew up. “It’s down route 8” is what the locals would say. It’s just a stone’s throw away from the Penn Township baseball fields, one of the visiting fields my Senior League Rams team would play at when I was in 9th and 10th grade.

I can picture the excitement and buzz that such a campaign event will create in my hometown. It’s a rural area – especially when I was still growing up in the region. But the southern part of Butler County has experienced a lot of growth as the Pittsburgh metropolitan area spread northward. A lot of former fields have housing developments. Butler has long been a blue collar area: steel mills, Pullman Standard rail cars, and other various industries. Now it’s in the center of the fracking renaissance which has provided income and jobs to many other the region. There’s even a fracking site just right down the road from my parents house.

This is a vital region for Trump if he expects to win Pennsylvania again as he did in 2016. His popularity in Butler and the surrounding counties – Allegheny County to the south notwithstanding – is tremendous as evidenced from the huge quantity of signs and memorabilia I saw firsthand this summer when driving through the region. The on-the-ground feel of the state bodes well for Trump. We’ll soon find out.

In the meantime, I am encouraged to see my hometown once again an important stop for presidential politics. I kind of wish I was able to attend the rally today, so I could have a common experience, spanning sixty years, with my dad.

Brutal Political Sport – Supreme Court Vacancy

This was a nightmare scenario for the Democratic Party – stalwart liberal and iconic justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing away before the November 3 presidential election.  Let the political sport season begin (like it hasn’t already).

One the one side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirming that he will indeed bring Trump’s nominee to a vote, regardless of election politics.

On the other side, Biden and the Democratic leaders insisting that the winner of the presidential election should chose the next justice. There are even some not-so-veiled threats to “pack the court” with additional justices if the Dems win and the GOP moves forward to confirm Trump’s nomination.

Who’s right? I think it’s easy to tell. The rightness of the situation, in my view, is using the shoe-on-the-other-foot-doctrine. Let’s break it down.

Many claim McConnell is a hypocrite for not allowing a vote on Obama’s nomination to replace Scalia in 2016 when Obama was a lame-duck president. But he clearly isn’t being a hypocrite. He is acting in 2020 the same as 2016 – in the best interest of GOP and conservative politics. In 2016, he was hoping for a Republican win so the new president could appoint the justice. In 2020, a Republican is president, so he naturally wants to move forward quickly in case Biden wins in November.

It is not the slightest bit hypocritical because if the shoe was on the other foot, the Democrats would be doing the same thing. How do I know? Look at Obama and Clinton’s tweets from 2016. Both of them told McConnell that the Senate MUST do its job and vote on Obama’s nominee. They are now saying the opposite in 2020.  There’s a clip of Biden going around showing him saying that there has never been an election-year nominee that didn’t receive a vote. Now he’s saying the next president should decide.

So we can all see what is going on here right? The Supreme Court picks have such importance in our polarized society that either party will use whatever advantage it has to further their views. There is nothing that states that a Senate majority can’t delay a nomination if they so chose. (like 2016)  There is nothing that says that a Senate majority can’t vote on a nominee in a presidential election year. (like 2020)

In this uber-politicized environment, there is no benefit for either party NOT taking advantage of the easy gains in front of them. The Republicans see a way to shift the balance of the court to a 6-3 majority, but in essence, since Chief Justice Roberts has been a huge disappointment to the conservative cause (Obamacare, etc…), they might feel that it at least gives conservatives a 5-4 edge. They have nothing to lose and much to gain by moving forward. But not moving forward, they will not have earned one smidgen of goodwill from the other side. They only will have lost their advantage.

It is crystal clear that either party, who would have control at this time, would press their advantage for maximum gain, regardless of the Nov 3 election.

This is not hypocrisy. It’s politics. Enjoy watching the craziness unfold over the next two months.

“Have an Emergency Fund”, they said.

Why do the sage financial planners have no influence over Washington D.C.?

Any financial planner worth their two-cents will tell you to build up an emergency fund, for, well, emergencies. One never knows when a person may lose a job or become ill and can’t work. There are myriad reasons why an astute planner will do their best to put aside at least a couple of months worth of wages to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

It’s prudent advice to follow. Unfortunately, it’s also true that some people are unable to put aside extras as they are living paycheck to paycheck. But if one can, it’s advisable.

And then there’s the government.

Now before I say anymore, I want to say that I was for a stimulus package to help Americans through this unprecedented pandemic. People lost real wages, businesses were shuttered–through no fault of their own. It is prudent for the collective–the government–to aid the country through such difficult times.

And so what has the government done? Passed more than a 2 trillion dollar stimulus with another nearly have trillion currently on the way to help small businesses. Fine. I’m a fiscal conservative. These are big numbers. I may not agree with all the targets of these stimulus packages, but fine. I’m okay with them.

But–and here’s the point–the government has NOT been following the sage advice of financial planners at all. Conversely, it has acted like a free-spending teenager with their parent’s unlimited credit card for decades now. When the American people needed it the most, the government did not turn to their “emergency fund” or their “rainy day” fund, because they didn’t have one. They had no insight or political fortitude to get their own financial house in order, and so all they can do is plop it mom & dad’s credit card. Deficit spending has driven the US debt into farcical territory. Oh, gone are the days of the “fiscal conservative” George W. Bush who racked up a “massive” 400 billion deficit in his last year in office. That amount was unprecedented. Too large to believe.

That, my friend, is mere pocket change compared the the spending which followed in the Obama years and now the Trump years.

2020 will dwarf them all.

BUT-there is a reason for 2020. The people needed it, and the government responded. Now because the established Washingtonites didn’t have their financial house in order, they have created a financial bubble which does not seem sustainable. Hey, I’m not an economist. I don’t dare say I have a crystal ball. But the financial planners tell us to PLAN.

There is no planning in Washington. They have let down the American people. Now as our debt will balloon beyond 25 trillion, we need to ask the question: What have they done to us?

My Play This Weekend in Penang: Grade Semantics

My play “Grade Semantics” hits the stage this weekend as part of the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang, Malaysia.

grade semanticsPenang

 

This is a play that I’ve produced twice myself, and it’s a hit — especially with students and teachers. I’ve even had a HS counselor tell me after watching it that the farcical aspects of the play very much played out as true in those fun one-on-one chats with students.

Here an excerpt from the play. Enjoy!
STUDENT: That’s it. I’m going to tell the principal.
MR. S.: What are you going to tell the principal?
STUDENT: I’m going to inform the principal about your discriminatory grading practices.
MR. S.: I do not have discriminatory grading practices!
STUDENT: So, you are saying that everyone in your classes get the same grade?
MR. S.: No, of course not.
STUDENT: Just as I suspected. You look over the tests, and you discriminate. You say ‘that test goes into the good pile’ and ‘that test goes into the bad grade pile’ where all of mine always end up.
MR. S. Because—
STUDENT: You always have reasons, don’t you? Because. Because. Because. Because you don’t like words that start with the letter B.
MR. S.: That’s ridiculous.
STUDENT: This is anything but ridiculous. Let me ask you a question, Mr. S. Do you think bad grades will affect my future?
MR. S.: Yes, I absolutely think that’s true.
STUDENT: Ah, ha! Caught you! You are purposefully affecting my future.
MR. S.: That’s not what I said.
STUDENT: My bad grades might misrepresent who I am to the Ivy League schools. I might not get into Harvard because of your discrimination. Employers are going to look down upon me because of my bad grades. My future earnings are in jeopardy because of your grade discrimination. We are living in an age when grades just separate people into the achievers and the non-achievers. The passing and the failing. I thought we as a society were beyond this type of blatant discrimination, holding people back because of word that starts with B. But apparently, in some corners of education, there are still the vestiges of entrenched systemic discrimination. I thought you were better than that, Mr. S. I thought you were woke to the realities of the modern world. I’m ashamed to be your student and I do not under any circumstance acknowledge the authority of your grades over my life. I am, from this moment on, grade-free.

 

Songs in Your Head: The Unintended Consequence of Producing a Musical

It sounded like a great idea in the abstract. A musical, I said. How fun will that be! A blast!

Let me choose one. Hmmm, I want one which would have cross-divisional appeal at our school. One in which, for example, if I didn’t get a lot of high schoolers auditioning, then I could still cast the roles using younger kids.

Okay, what about Seussical – the Broadway smash from 2000 with catchy tunes and colorful Dr. Seuss characters? Perfect. Let’s do it!

I finished casting the show two weeks ago and last week was our first week of full rehearsals. They’ve gone great, actually. Lots of fun, good excitement among the 20 student actors, and real progress. I have been pleased.

All’s good, right?

Well, I have run into one problem, the unintended, yet very real consequences of producing a musical, and that is this: I CAN’T GET THE BLASTED SONGS OUT OF HEAD! EVER! THEY HAVE TAKEN UP PERMANENT RESIDENCE.

I’m standing in line at the grocery store: “On the fifteen of May in the jungle of Nool …” I’m sorry, say that again. How much do I owe you?

My wife is talking to me about hanging the curtains in the house. “… when Horton the Elephant heard a small noise …”   I’m sorry, dear. How high do you want those hung?

These composer have created a hypnotic group of songs. No matter what I’m doing, where I go, or whom I am talking to, the voice of the Cat in the Hat is not far behind.

And here is the harshest of all harsh realizations: the show isn’t finished until December 13. I have two and half more months.

Now I have a question for you? “Who is the biggest blame fool in the jungle of Nool?”

I am. That would be me.

 

Supreme Court Confirmations – By the Numbers!

In a topsy-turvy two weeks of high political drama, the US Senate is on the brink of voting on the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the high court. If he does survive the FBI background check currently underway, and he is confirmed, it will be by the slimmest of margins. Perhaps even one vote. If he isn’t confirmed, he will be the first judge not confirmed by a floor vote since Robert Bork in the 1980s.

How does Kavanaugh’s possible confirmation stake up against those currently sitting on the bench. Let’s take a look at the intriguing numbers.

Of the previous nine Supreme Court justices confirmed by the Senate spanning three decades and five presidents, five have been nominated by Republican presidents and four by Democratic presidents. Two additional nominations during that time span were never voted upon. Harriet Miers, a George W. Bush nominee, withdrew from the process. Merrick Garland appointed by President Obama in 2016 never had hearings or a vote. With these two out of the picture, there are some voting patterns which are interesting to look at.

Let’s start with the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents: Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan.  Their combined confirmation vote tallies are 314 ‘yes’ votes and 80 ‘no’ votes for an overall approval rate of 80%. This clearly shows some broad non-partisan support from the Republic party towards Democratic nominees.

What about Republican nominees? The five appointed by Republican presidents were: Souter, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, & Gorsuch. Their combined confirmation vote tallies are 332 ‘yes’ votes and 166 ‘no’ votes for an overall approval rate of only 67%. However, if Souter, the only one of our list no longer on the Supreme Court, is dropped off this list, the numbers change to 242 ‘yes’ votes and ‘157’ which is only a 60% affirmative rate. Souter also is a bit of an anomaly because, though appointed by a Republican, he was widely viewed as a staunch liberal justice.

So, of the current Supreme Court members, Democratic appointed candidates fly through confirmation at an average of 80% affirmative votes but Republican candidates squeak by at only 60%, and this number will assuredly go down later this week when the Senate votes on Kavanaugh. Even if confirmed, it will likely be by a mere 1 or 2 votes. As a side note, a Democratic appointee hasn’t been rejected since the Grover Cleveland presidency. Yeah, it’s been a while.

What’s the reason for such a voting discrepancy?

Let’s pose a few ideas.

Option 1: Do conservatives have a more literal view of the constitution? As such, their role as “advice and consent” hinges more on whether a candidate is worthy of such a nomination regardless of whether they agree with his or her political persuasion? Ginsburg might be a good study here. She was clearly a judge with a very liberal voting record. She was even a member of the board of directors of the ACLU. Clearly liberal. Yet, qualified—even Republicans agreed by joining the Democrats in approving her appointment with an astonishing 96-3 vote. While something like that won’t happen today, you’ll still notice that Kagan and Sotomayor’s confirmations were much easier than all Republican-appointed justices since Roberts.

Option 2: Are liberals more aggressive in seeking their progressive agenda through the court systems? As such, they purposefully seek to confirm justices who they deem to be progressive and are more contentious with those candidates whom they deem will be a hinderance to progressivism? I think this is doubly true with the Kavanaugh nomination because of its significance related to Roe v. Wade.

Option 3. It’s all random?

Option 4: You make the call!

Here is a list of the last nine justices confirmed to the Supreme Court. What will be Kavanaugh’s numbers – if he makes it?

Gorsuch 54-45 (Trump)

Kagan 63-37 (Obama)

Sotomayor 68-31 (Obama)

Alito 58-42 (G. W. Bush)

John Roberts 78-22 (G. W. Bush)

Ginsburg 96-3 (Clinton)

Steven Breyer 87-9 (Clinton)

Thomas 52-48 (G. H. W. Bush)

David Souter 90-9 (G. H. W. Bush)

Whatever these numbers ultimately mean, Trump is going to have to fight and scrape for any of his nominations to get through, and if he did have to appoint a successor to Ginsburg, don’t hold your breath for 96 voting to confirm. Those days are long gone.

Dear Facebook Feed, Why so Political? (aka: bring back the cats)

You’ve probably noticed it too: Facebook has once again become overly political. I haven’t noticed it this bad since the 2016 election cycle. The uproar this time is about immigration and families and children and … you know, all that other political stuff that shouldn’t be in my Facebook feed.

Yes, we are friends, and I wouldn’t mind talking with you about politics, you know, like sitting down and actually chatting back and forth like a dialogue, of two people, who use logic, and reason, and discuss, even if they don’t agree … I wouldn’t mind that, dear friend, but what exactly are you proving or doing or saying by putting that politically charged article link or meme on my Facebook feed?

Are you trying to persuade someone? You aren’t?

Are you looking for a hopelessly purposeless argument? You may get one.

If you really want to affect change or convince people to act, then do it in an appropriate forum.

HINT: Facebook is not an appropriate forum.

What is an appropriate forum? Well, hey, go argue with someone in the comments on HuffPost or Fox News.  Go to a political rally. Go walk around with a sign in front of the White House. Preach all you want, yell all you want, show everyone how smart you are and how informed you are. Do it.

Just not on my Facebook feed.

Seriously, why are you preaching to your friends? If your friends agree with you then you aren’t changing anything only preaching to the choir. Amen!

If your friends don’t agree with you, you are just causing them angst that their feed is filling up with stuff they don’t want to see. And, no, you won’t change their point of view.

No, you won’t.

So really, my friend, your political posts on Facebook serve no purpose. None. Except possibly annoy people.

So from now on, please …

  • show me what you had for dinner
  • let me see the cake you baked for your daughter’s birthday
  • tell me about your trip to Spain
  • share with me your heartaches and what I can do to help
  • tell me where you are, maybe we can meet up
  • cats, go ahead, post stupid cat videos

I prefer a Facebook to be about friends, not politics.

Now, I do love talking politics. I’d be happy to meet and chat with you one day. But let’s do it face-to-face as adults.  We may not agree with each other on everything, but that’s all right. We will still end the evening as friends.

But if politics continue to show up in my Facebook feed, I can’t make that guarantee.

THE BIRTH OF TECHNICOLOR in Brooklyn

I had the privilege of watching the world premiere of my play THE BIRTH OF TECHNICOLOR at the Gallery Players’ Theatre Black Box New Play Festival 2018.

Here I am, excited standing outside the theater.

gallery

The play was adeptly directed by David Thomas Cronin and beautifully acted by two talented actors: Elizabeth Pickering Hopland (who played the character Black & White) and Danielle Ferretti (who played Technicolor). Here we are basking in the aftermath of opening night.

gallery1

You’ll notice Elizabeth was too quick with taking off her make-up since she didn’t know the nosy writer would be there requesting a photo after curtain call.  So I grabbed a promotional photo from dress rehearsal so you can see what she looked like.

blackandwhite

Yes, fabulous. Both of them. And they shined on-stage with terrific chemistry and point-on timing. It is always such a treat for a playwright to see a new work come to life. This is a quirky and funny play which honors the throwback golden era of cinema with loads of references to many of the great black and white films of all time.

This was the very first time I have ever gotten to see one of my plays in America. I’ve spent so much time overseas and produced many different shows in some unique venues, but it was special to finally be able to be there in the Big Apple at Brooklyn’s “premiere off-Broadway theater” to see a great show.

I tip my hat to all involved including Sue and Dominic who produced the show.

Hopefully, there will be many shows to come.

In Brooklyn This Week: “The Birth of Technicolor” @ Gallery Players’ Theater

If you are in the NYC area this weekend, don’t miss the world premiere of my play “The Birth of Technicolor” at the Gallery Players’ Black Box New Play Festival. It is one of four plays which will be performed Thursday June 14 through Sunday June 17. (Thurs-Sat @ 7:30 & Sunday @ 3:00)  I will be on hand Thursday and Friday evenings. Hope to see you there!

The play itself is a cute little thing. Black & White Film and Technicolor Film show up to give an audition to famed movie director DW Griffith. Each of them want the starring role in his next film. It doesn’t take long for Black & White to feel threatened by Technicolor’s brash and colorful personality. Eventually they each perform a death scene for the director, but the outcome is not what either of them expects.

Play: The Birth of Technicolor   Written by Mark W Sasse

Directed by David  Thomas Cronin

The Gallery Players
199 14th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215

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