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.

 

The Awesomeness of Show Week

Again. I’m privileged. I write, and I’m in a situation where I can produce it for the stage. And it’s awesome!

Show week is coming up. It was obvious last evening as I put in six hours on set and light design. It’s not a finished product yet, but here’s what I have so far.

No. “ORIE” doesn’t have any meaning. It will actually eventually say “Stories Vol. 2” – just not there yet.  I’ve had so much over the past couple of years learning lighting design and I still have SOOO much more to learn, but it’s a pretty cool thing to work through your own script and plot out the lighting cues and imagine what the final product will look like.

This is a black-box theater type of show. I don’t have a black box theater at my disposal, so I’m making one. I’m putting the audience on-stage on platforms overlooking the small rectangular stage I created by using four ellipsoidal lights. You can see it in the picture on the left. That area is the stage for this show. It’s tiny. But that’s the way I like it. The audience will be crammed all around that area. Even the lighting console has been moved to stage right. Intimate in the extreme. In my mind, there’s nothing like intimate theater.

When I told people that the audience is going to be sitting on the stage, they look at me and shake their heads. “What is wrong with this guy?” They look out over the 650 seat auditorium and ask, “What about those seats?” They will be empty, is my reply. But they’ll understand when they see it. When they experience it. When the actors are so close you can see the veins popping out of their necks. When they see the intensity, and feel the emotion up close. Then they’ll know why I did what I did. Or at least I hope.

It’s show week. I only get about three of these a year, so I’m going to enjoy the stress, the last minute to-do list, the horrible dress rehearsal, the myriad details, the dropped lines, the dead crowds, the scared look on the faces of the young actors backstage … I’m going to enjoy it all, because it’s awesome.

 

Play Submissions Much Easier after a Few Years of Writing

I am consistently sending my plays out to festivals and theaters with the hope of getting produced. Sometimes I’m successful. Many times not. The competition is fierce, to say the least.

But now that I’ve been writing consistently for the past 7 or 8 years, I have a volume of plays (especially short plays) at my disposal to send to festivals. One minute play festival? No problem. Got it. A play based on the lives of senior citizens? You bet. Just sent one of my favorites, REVENGE OF THE GRANDPARENTS, to just such a festival. Short play with a strong female lead? You betcha. A unique take on Shakespeare? Got it covered.  Typically, in no time, I can have my submission off into the pool of potential. Then I cross my fingers.

Full-length plays are much more difficult. I’ve been pitching my play The Last Bastion the last two years. I’ve received some good feedback, even a recommendation from another festival, but still no bites. Must keep at it. Recently, I’ve started pitching my new full-length play For the Glory of Nat Turner as well. Only time will tell.

I’m fortunate enough that I’m a theatre professional in a school setting so I get to produce a lot of my own plays which is really cool. I love seeing my work come to life. But it’s even cooler when a festival or theatre decides to produce my shows out of their own free will. I hope that will continue in the future. I currently have two of my plays set to be produced around the world.

GRADE SEMANTICS will be part of the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang, Malaysia in November.

SAFE SPACES will be part of the Conservative Theater Festival in Columbus, Oh in January.

Besides that, I’m producing two of my own shows in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in the next few months.  STORIES VOL. 2 will be on October 30 and the world premier of CRAZY LOVE will be in April.

So now you’re up to date. Hope there will be much more on the horizon.

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.

 

Play Feedback: Drive-By

Play Feedback: Drive-By

I regularly submit my plays to theatres and festivals around the world. Some are chosen for production. Most are not. The competition is fierce. I love receiving feedback which is why I always submit to the Pittsburgh New Works Theatre. They have a fantastic process in which two unnamed judges give detailed feedback about all the pieces submitted.

I recently received feedback about my piece entitled “Drive-by” – a poignant short play about about a young teen losing her sister to a drive-by shooting.  Ultimately, the play wasn’t chosen by the festival. Why? I’m not sure since the feedback was great. It was rewarding to hear that my play resonated with the judges. I’ve put their comments below.

Now I just have one question: Who wants to produce my play?

Judge #5 – score  93/100

A very timely topic, gun violence. The plot development is very interesting. The idea that as the action moves forward on finding out who the person was that shot the little girl, everyone around fines what they need except the sister. Although not new thematically, a strong take on the subject. What is most interesting is the staging possibilities. Having the story being told in past tense, flash backs provides a challenging and most interesting staging possibilities. This play needs to be seen. I am sure a staged read was powerful but an all out performance with strong production qualities would/will make this play shine.

Judge #6 –  score  90/100

Wow…this one hits you right in the solar plexus!
Very concise and well written dialogue…I could feel the emotion pouring from all characters. A real challenge for the director and actors, but one that could, ultimately, produce a very nice piece of theatre!  Easily produced because of the simple set (lighting is crucial though).  Good job!

Wearing a New TECH Hat

My role as drama director has shifted as I now produce my shows in a brand new theatre-style auditorium. In the past, I’ve had a dedicated theatre tech staff, professionally trained in lighting design for dramatic shows. I used to tell those fine professionals what I wanted and they worked their magic.

Well, no more. I’ve had to add lighting tech to my list of responsibilities, and shall I say, I actually love it.  Here’s a photo of me doing design work from the ETC Element console in our auditorium.

Lighting Booth
I designed that setting red sun along with a blue wash for my play “No in Spite of Itself.” I added a starry gobo to it as well though not noticeable in the shot.

 

Lighting design is just the type of creative activity which I love to do. Along the course of my theatre journey, I’ve had to learn graphic design on photoshop, audio editing on Audacity, and now I’m knee deep in the wonderful world of theatre lighting.

I have a lot to learn, and I have to learn how to do proper lighting with the limitations of our new theatre.

Drive By
In this shot, spotlight on stage left focused on the mayor’s press conference. A scrim at center stage is lighted by a Source Four ellipsoidal and the cyclorama is lit in blue and red by our Source Four LED par lights.
dress rehearsal
Distant view of the same shot.

 

I was happy with the results of my first lighting design. I can’t wait to do more!  There’s really an unlimited type of creativity offered in this type of work–especially with the high-end LED lights that we have. The color, oh my, is tremendous. Every scene can be shaded differently to help set the tone.  So much fun!

I’m fortunate to be able to run the whole gamut of theatre in my current setting – writing, producing, directing, and now sound & lighting design.

Let’s keep it going! I have three more shows planned for next year.

LED Lights and Theatre

Most of my experience in doing lighting design for theatre was drawing a sketch of what I needed and handing it to a talented technician who actually knew what to do to make it happen.

The systems I worked with were good but old school. You know, strip lights, parcans, colored gels, fresnels, and ellipsoidals. All that stuff did the trick and I was, in conjunction with those talented technicians, able to create some pretty cool lighting landscapes for shows over the years.

I got my first taste of LEDs a few years back in a small venue. I was not impressed. These were obviously cheap LED lights. Some of the lighting nodules stopped working after a while. We had a terrible system for controlling them, and I kept thinking: give me a parcan any day over a LED. At least I can blast the stage with reliable light!

I have now switched my opinion about LED lights in theatre because of the brand new auditorium I’m now working in which installed the Source 4 LED. Wow! And double wow!

Our auditorium is equipped with 20 of the Source 4 Lustre units – 10 of them having the ellipsoidal zoom lens and 10 of the them having the Fresnel adapter. We also have 20 of the Source 4 LED Par lights and four of the magic dot.

Forty-four lights for theatre is not a lot. Probably will need another 20 at some point, BUT what these lights can do is impressive. I’ve been spending all of my free time learning the ETC Element console for controlling these bad boys. It’s a little overwhelming but also really fun.

Here’s what sticks out to me about the Source 4 LED. Brightness. These babies are bright and the zoom lens creates crisp outlines. The Fresnel lens creates beautiful soft light, which when coupled with the barn door attachment, can be directed in a myriad of ways.

Next. COLOR. Oh my goodness. The color that comes out of these LEDs is unparalleled. I wowed my students the other day but doing a color wash of the stage from a deep blue  to a vibrant green to a hot red to every combination in between. All with a click of a mouse. No more changing gels!

This is impressive stuff, and I feel fortunate to be able to work with this system into the future.

Source 4 LEDs give theatre so many new options never before available to lighting designers. Imagination is the limit, so I hope my imagination will take-off and do something really special in this venue.

I know I’m going to enjoy the ride.