Writers: Screenplays and stage plays. Boy, are your rights different.

I’ve been watching with great interest the Netflix documentary The Movies That Made us. In its two seasons, it has delved into eight different blockbusters from the 80’s and 90’s, which redefined genres and succeeded even in the face of many production challenges. As a writer myself, I’ve especially been interested in how the scripts were developed and the myriad ways writers were hired, fired, cast aside or used in various ways. What I found to be especially fun to see is how scripts for the stage and scripts for the screen are used in different ways and go through completely different processes. There are certain expectations that a playwright will have that, for example, a screen writer will not. I’d like to dive into some of these differences I thought were interesting.

First, let’s go over a few of the rights a dramatist would have when their play is being performed in a professional or amateur setting. This particular list comes from https://www.dramatistsguild.com/rights in case you went to find out more. Here are a few highlights:

  • Playwrights own the copyright to their work. When it goes into production, they don’t give that up.
  • Scripts for the stage should not at all be altered or changed WITHOUT the consent of the playwright. A director does not get to change the script or language to suit his or her own needs. It must be in conjunction with the playwright. The playwright has the final say.
  • If the playwright does agree to some changes, and allows the director to add some dialogue, for example, those changes belong to the playwright’s copyright, not the director. There is very specific case law about the only circumstances in which a dramaturg or director would get co-writing credit.
  • The playwright must receive royalty from a performance if done by a professional troupe or if tickets were sold.

What about screen plays? What was fascinating for me about watching the documentary is that options for scripts are purchased by studios. At this point, they own them. They may get the original writer of the script involved in the movie-making process, or they may not. Once the studio owns them, they have complete autonomy over the creative process of turning that script into a movie. The screen writer might be fired. It happens all the time. The director might decide to hire a new writer and the script will go through many revisions, sometimes daily, until it morphs into something quite different from the original. The original screen writer has no recourse or say in this process because he or she forfeited their rights when the script or book or whatever source was purchased as an option.

In one of the episodes about Pretty Woman, the writer, in heart-wrenching fashion, said that was my baby. They were changing it beyond recognition. That’s the way movies work. When the director gets a screen play, that’s the starting point and he or she sets the vision, changes the tone, brings in past experience, and then revamps, remakes, rewrites it in their own image, so by the time it arrives on the big screen, it is as much a story of the director (if not more so) than the original writer.

But the stage is different. The stage preserves the rights and vision of the writer in a very specific way. What you see, hear, and experience is very much how the playwright intended. Of course, the director of a play will certainly make their mark and set the vision, but the language and story is very much that of the writer.

If you wrote something that a movie studio purchased as an option, would it sadden you to see it go through a transformation? It would for me. But you know what, I’d still be willing to do it in order to see one of my stories come alive on screen.

Any takers?

I’ve Written a New Show: Finally. “Within Reach”

A colleague in the theatre industry reached out a few months ago about collaborating on a new theatre project. After some discussing back and forth, it was decided that I would write the entire show. It would consist of 10 short plays similarly themed. Today, I finished writing it. My first new full-length theatre show in two and a half years. It’s titled: Within Reach.

Before I outline what the show’s about, I’d like to look back at the other shows of similar format that I’ve written over the years. I was put onto short-form drama about ten years ago, formed a teen drama troupe, and proceeded to write and produce a number of shows over the years. I love this type of show: short plays, light sets, various genres, similar themes, and one cohesive unit. They are super fun and audiences love them. Here’s a list of my previous shows in this format:

2011 The Road Less Traveled (Penang Performing Arts Centre)

2012 Drive All Night (Penang Performing Arts Centre)

2013 Captured in Time & Space (Penang Performing Arts Centre)

2014 For All Generations (Penang Performing Arts Centre; restaged in Jeddah in 2018)

2015 Tales of Wonder (Christmas show) (Penang Performing Arts Centre)

2016 Tales of Wonder II (Penang Performing Arts Centre)

2017 Tales of Christmas (Penang Performing Arts Centre – only one not produced by myself)

2018 Stories, Vol 1 & Stories Vol 2 (Jeddah – Mix of new and older scripts)

2019 Crazy Love (Scheduled to be produced in April 2020 until pandemic cancelled it)

So that brings us to my brand new show: WITHIN REACH.

Here’s a short description about the show: WITHIN REACH is a poignant and challenging look at the past and present. It ponders the possibilities of life, the obstacles that hold us down, the inspiration that moves us forward, and the power of hope and reconciliation that come from unexpected places. WITHIN REACH is a full-length, theatrical production consisting of ten similarly themed short plays meant to empower youth and women, while encouraging everyone to engage in the human stories around them.

I’m super excited about these 10 plays. I had so much fun writing them. They were challenging and meaningful to put together. They include two historical pieces which I love. Several pieces about teen issues and four pieces specifically written with strong female roles. Here’s a quick overview of the individual pieces are about:

Booker T. Sweeps the Floor: A historical piece based on an episode from Booker T. Washington’s autobiography. Booker learns a tough lesson about hard work. But when the ex-slave dreams of going to school, he has a strange entrance exam that he was prepared for: sweeping the floor.

The One True Sport: A young teen boy is petrified when he has to take his shirt off and play a basketball game in front of a girl he likes.

Dark Social: Two teens decide to create a false, malicious video about a girl from school they are upset with. Dark Web helps make it viral, causing untold misery to all involved.

Awake & Unchanged: At the funeral of her unfaithful husband, a woman comes to grip with her life choices as her bitter daughter questions why her mother never left him. 

Four Chairs: A woman examines her life choices and tries to better understand why she made them.

Auditions: Three women show up to audition for a role in a play, only to discover that they are actually auditioning for the roles they currently play in their lives.

Life’s Choreography: Two women dancers are working with a difficult choreographer, who keeps riding one of the women particularly hard.

The Other Side of the Wall: A young couple celebrate the night when they get engaged as their neighbor is going through an emotional breakup. Each one doesn’t know what’s happening on the other side of the wall.

Write Therapy: A creative writing teacher volunteers to mentor youth in a juvenile criminal center. But she targets one intelligent yet jaded detainee for a surprising reason.

America’s Game: Based on the true story of Octavius Catto. In 1871 Philadelphia, teacher and black activist Octavius Catto is meeting with his students when he hears of tension at the local polling place. As he goes to investigate, he is assassinated by merciless Frank Kelly. Both Kelly and Catto are whisked into another dimension to Cosmic Court where Catto chooses a strange form of justice: baseball.

Where and when will WITHIN REACH hit the stage? Well, that’s yet to be determined. Stay tuned.

If anyone is interested in learning more about any of these shows, please feel free to reach out to me.

It’s a good day when a new show has been written. It will only get better once the lights turn on.

A Year on Zoom

I finished teaching my final drama class today via Zoom. As I waved goodbye and wished a happy summer to the final stragglers who lived through a year on Zoom, the magnitude of the year hit me. I taught an entire cohort of students and I met them only once in person.

The bizarreness of this year doesn’t have to be explained to anyone. Each person has their own stories of how life has changed and how our human interactions have changed along with it. Two weeks ago I was able to bring in small groups of students to the school’s stage for them to have one opportunity to feel the lights in their eyes and perform a script to an empty auditorium.

Here’s what struck me the most about this experience:

  1. I didn’t recognize some of my students. Many were taller than I had pictured on Zoom. A few were shorter. Of course the masks didn’t help.
  2. The fun of being in-person and doing real drama can’t be duplicated on Zoom. Sure, there are adaptations that were made and some stage drama became filmed video drama, but that’s a paltry replacement of the real thing. The movement, the laughter, the jokes, the physical acknowledgment, the face and not the screen – all of these were so wonderful to experience once again.
  3. It won’t take long to get back to normal. Now, I’m not predicting when this will all end, but I firmly believe that once the masks are off and we are back in person, that slowly, slowly things will become normal. Our pre-pandemic actions will emerge and we’ll get the hang of crazing human interaction. It’s who we are. We’re not meant to be distant creatures, half-seen, with shorts and barefeet hidden out of site (as good as that all feels notwithstanding.) We will move on, we will forget, we will touch, and breath, and feel fully human again. I think this because as we interacted in our scripts, we all loosened up and it felt right – and that was only after 45 minutes together.

I’m happy to leave this year behind, and as the summer months fade, may we all be one step closer to remembering human experience in all its glory.

World Premiere of “Covid Chips” this weekend. Watch online for free!

My new play “Covid Chips” will be part of Gallery Players (Brooklyn) Black Box New Play Festival starting tomorrow, Jan 28 and running through Sunday Jan 31 – streaming daily @ 7:30PM EST.

It’s very easy to watch the show. Click on the link below.

I wrote this over the summer. It’s a fun little piece talking about one of my favorite topics: government overreach perhaps? We shall see.

I watched a sneak preview of the final cut of the play and it turned out great. Enjoyable and funny. Director Mike Mroch did a fabulous job as did both actors. I was reluctant to write a play for Zoom because, well, it’s Zoom. No play belongs there! But I did it anyways because that’s what I do, and it was fun to see how it turned out.

Please tune in and enjoy, and let me know what you think.

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.

Now Available: Theatrical Monologues

I just published the fifth volume in the Short Play Collection: Theatrical Monologues for Audition, Classroom, or Stage.

It includes more than 50 original short monologues. Most of them were chosen from my myriad plays, but I did end up writing some special ones just specifically for this edition. They are divided by comedic and dramatic, and they can be used in a variety of settings. Great for both teens or adults!

And that’s my former student on the cover. Yeah, she’s awesome. Please pass along the link to those theatre enthusiasts among you. The other volumes in the collection include duets, Christmas, Christian-themed drama, and high school-themed drama.

A Week of Musicals

Boy, I miss live theatre! It must really be coming to a head within me because this has been a week of musicals for me.

Yes, I’m one of those rare men who LOVE musicals. The music, the singing, the storyline, the choreography, the dazzling sets, the mood-shifting lights. THE SPECTACLE! and how it affects you. Love everything about musicals.

In the past week, I’ve watched OKLAHOMA (the 1999 Hugh Jackman live London version), Carousel (the Live from Lincoln Center version), and the West End version of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. I loved them all for different reasons, But let me just say that An American in Paris was absolutely stunning. The choreography and set pieces, let alone the flawless performances, made it one of the best produced musicals I’ve ever seen. Truly spectacular. And Gershwin’s music is great. I would love to see it live!

But this wasn’t the end of my musicals for the week. I even watched that Netflix Dolly Parton musical that I can’t remember the name of. Yeah, I know, it’s not going to knock any of those blockbusters listed above off their pedestals, but hey. It was Christmas. There was singing. There was a storyline. There was choreography. So ’tis the season!

Now in my earbuds, I’m listening through the 1992 recording of The King & I featuring Julie Andrews, Ben Kingsley, and Lea Salonga. There’s a reason. I’m already plotting my first post-Covid musical, and I want to go back to one of the classics . I’m pondering how The King & I might play out in my particular setting. It’ s an interesting option, which I’m seriously considering.

What’s next for my viewing pleasure? I think I’ll keep working through the Rodgers and Hammerstein collection. Sounds like a plan.

How about you? What’s your favorite classic musical from Broadway’s golden era?

And what musical would you like to see first when the craziness of 2020 is finally finished?

Three New Play Volumes: Now Available!

I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally compiled and released three new volumes of plays.

“Dear High School” is a complete show – with bonus material – all about the trials and triumphs of high school.

“Tales of Wonder” is a collection of three complete Christmas shows and 29 plays, which can also be used as individual sketches for a variety of settings both secular and sacred.

“Tales of Redemption” is a collection of short plays about the Christian experience – perfect for a variety of settings.

The Short Play Collection:

Volume 1: Theatrical Duets for Stage, Competition, or Classroom

Volume 2: Tales of Wonder: Sacred & Secular Christmas Plays for Stage, School, & Church

Volume 3: Dear High School

Volume 4: Tales of Redemption: Christian Themed Drama for Stage, School, or Church