My New Show: “Crazy Love”

This afternoon, I was thinking ahead a little bit about my new show coming up at the end of the year. It will be my first, all-original production since December 2016’s “Tales of Wonder II.” Not that I haven’t produced anything since then.

May 2017 – RLT “Our Best” did include some original content though it was mainly a best-of show.

May 2017 – RLT Musical also was a re-hash of old musical numbers except for one new piece.

January 2018 – “For All Generations” was a re-designed show based on my 2014 RLT Players’ show.

April 2018 – “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” – the Broadway Musical.

So finally, it’s coming, the new show:  “Crazy Love.” This is a MOSTLY original show. It does include two of my award-winning scripts from previous shows, but it is mainly new. Six new dramatic sketches and one mini-musical. This 9 piece production will be about one and a half hours long and it will be performed in our brand new campus’ brand new theatre! I can’t wait. Lots more to come on this later. But here’s the lineup.

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Crazy Love – The New Show

One of my tasks for my residency at Greywood Arts in Ireland was to complete my new show entitled “Crazy Love.” The world premiere of this show will be performed by my drama group The Sun & Sand Players in December 2018 in Jeddah.

In addition to the two full-length plays I completed this week, I’m thrilled to see “Crazy Love” come together. It’s a collection of 8 dramatic sketches and one mini-musical all themed around crazy love.  The show will consist of 7 brand new pieces plus two of my award-winning sketches from other years which fit perfectly in this collection.

Yesterday, I wrote the entire script called “Bridge Watchers” which completed the show. I also finished the script “Young Love” and did some final editing on some of the other scripts as well.

Here’s the way the show is looking:

  • A Pinch of Fate, A Shot of Destiny – Best Script Award Winner – the death angel comes for Rebecca but wasn’t expecting fate to get in the way
  • The Talk – New – snippets of parents talking to their kids for the first time about the birds and bees
  • Bridge Watchers – New – seven bystanders watch a tragedy unfold from  on top of a bridge. Who will get involved?
  • Fruit Punch – New – Banana tries to setup Olive on a date with an actual Date. (yeah, it’s crazy)
  • Shame on the Moon – New – a reworking of Romeo and Juliet, every time Romero and Julia look at the moon, they fall in love
  • Young Love – New – snippets of love from the perspective of kids
  • No in Spite of Itself – Best Script Award Winner – a young man stands on a cliff having a conversation to himself, lamenting the fact that the girl he loves doesn’t love him
  • Love is Not a Straight Arrow – New – a fictionalized version of a true story about my grandmother in 1924, when she came to Pennsylvania to marry Otto Sasse
  • Crazy Love: The Musical – New – a mini-musical about a family falling apart, and a child who thinks she is to blame

I think it will be a great show! Because love is always funny and dramatic. Who can resist it?

 

Spring Break in Ireland

I’m officially three-quarters finished with my first year of teaching drama in Saudi Arabia. Spring break has arrived. It couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s been a challenging year in many respects – a good year – complete with unique challenges I had not expected. The show that I’m currently producing and directing – You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown – has proved to have more downs than ups with a revolving cast and a myriad of obstacles. It’s been exhausting. I’ve never had a production like this. The show is April 18-20, so what better time than now to take a break from it and go to Ireland? The time away will do me a world of good.

I’ve never been to Ireland, so the promise of overcast, chilly temperatures coupled with the famous Irish green will be a delightful change from Jeddah’s taupe and arid make-up.

What led me to Ireland? I always wanted to have a writing residency. It sounded so idyllic – a time set aside on my own for one singular purpose – creativity. Last fall, I started searching worldwide opportunities since my job here affords me the flexibility to travel where I want at certain times of the year. Perhaps I could find something in an interesting place?

I did. I found a call for submissions from a small arts center in Killeagh, Ireland called Greywood Arts. They were selecting three individuals for their Winter Writing Residencies for poetry, play-writing, and visual arts. My submission was my full-length, yet-to-be-produced play “The Last Bastion.” One delightful November day, I received an email from Greywood that they had chosen that play to be the recipient of their residency program. That was a glorious day. When I proposed to them that I use my spring break for the purpose, it fit their schedule perfectly, so here I come!

Killeagh is a tiny village east of Cork in southwest Ireland.  It has a population of 500. It has a Catholic church, a famous thatched roof pub, a couple other pubs, a river, a convenience store, a Chinese restaurant (!?), and Greywood Arts.

Greywood hosts artists and writers throughout the year, promoting the arts in various creative ways. I’m thrilled to be a part of what they are doing.

But what will I be doing? Writing, mainly. I have tasked myself to finish two full-length plays which have been languishing for a while – one more than the other.  Several years back, I wrote an unfinished play themed on the tensions arising over the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. It’s an interesting two character play which explores evangelical Christianity’s struggle to come to terms with the SC’s decision. I’m convinced that there’s something there in this play. It has some interesting angles, and has been difficult to write in many ways because it’s raw. Grittier than I usually like to go. But it felt needed. Until I abandoned it. But now, it’s time to resurrect it. And finish it.

The next play which I started about a year ago and haven’t got back to is a historical piece related to Nat Turner’s slave uprising in 1831.  I have quite a ways to go on this one, but hope to finish it.

I’m also working on my next ensemble show which consists of a series of similarly themed short plays which I will produce for my show in December. I am mostly finished with this show, but I’d like to spend the week editing what I have and writing any pieces which the show lacks.

Also, I want one more. I want one more brand new idea for a full-length play that I can start during my week in Ireland. I’m waiting on the idea to hit me. Perhaps my new setting will be exactly what I need.

Oh, and if you happen to be in Killeagh, Ireland on April 5, I have an event!

READING @ Greywood Arts by playwright Mark W Sasse

Hope to see you there!

Gearing Up for Greywood Arts Residency in Ireland

I’ve found myself virtually walking main street of Killeagh, Ireland using Google Maps Street View, trying to imagine what it will be like to stroll down it in person. I won’t have to wait too long. That makes me so excited!

Through a submission of my play “The Last Bastion,” Greywood Arts – an arts residency house in Killeagh – awarded me with the Greywood Arts Winter Residency 2018 for playwriting. My reward is a one-week stint at their place to do one thing – write. Yes, it’s kind of like a dream come true. I’ll have my own room plus a writing room overlooking the Dissour River.  Right across the river is the Old Thatch Pub – a family establishment for 300 years – one of the oldest in Ireland, and I’m getting the feeling I’m going to be surrounded by Irish quaintness.

The strangest thing I’ll have to adjust to is my reasoning for being there – writing. I’ve never had a week, let a lone a day, when my only responsibility was writing. I have no other pressures, distractions, or responsibilities. Simply writing. Doesn’t that sound like bliss?

Oh, and I have a reading. Here. Look:

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I’ll get to present excerpts of what I’ve worked on that week with the local arts community. I’ve been told there may even be some local actors willing to help me out with the reading. How cool would that be?

What will I be working on? I have a lot.  I have two full-length plays I’ve started but have not finished. I’d love to knock them out this week. One is a historical play related to the Nat Turner slave uprising in 1831. The other is a social commentary piece highlighting the conflict between the conservative Christian church in America and the issue of gay marriage.  Third, I am mostly finished with my brand new ensemble show “Crazy Love,” so I’d like to polish off those 8 short plays which comprise it. Other ideas include an embellished play of my childhood which walks through small town America in different time periods of the 20th century.  Oh, and knowing me, a new idea will pop in my brain and perhaps supersede all of these. Who’s to say?

Anyways, I head out for Greywood Arts on March 30.  I will certainly be posting photos and highlights of this week. Stay tuned.

In Production: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

I’m excited to bring this small cast musical to life this April. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a terrific Broadway musical which captures the spunky insouciance of  the beloved Charles M. Shultz characters known collectively as Peanuts.

This particular musical, the revised version, focuses on 6 characters: Charlie Brown, Lucy, Sally, Schroeder, Linus, and, of course, Snoopy.

I have a young, exuberant cast I’m working with, and we will put our best foot forward to bring a rousing, fun show to Saudi Arabia.

Of course, behind the scenes, LOTS of work is on the way. I have two production classes totaling 35 students who are hard at work to provide the backdrops and scenes to bring this musical to life.

Here’s a couple photos. Much more to come.

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The ladies hard at work creating Lucy’s Psychiatrist Booth. Yes, they’re doing an awesome job!

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Schroeder’s Piano Crew. The top of the baby baby grand in the foreground.

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And a sneak peak – the first look at our amazing Charlie Brown. He’s standing in front of an unfinished Broadway flat will eventually create the show’s backdrop. Photo shoot next week. More to come!

Theatre Arts: The Open Art Form

In my estimation, there’s nothing like live theatre. It’s the most intimate art form. The most personal art form. The most human art form. The most ephemeral art form.

Unlike a painting or a sculpture, the theatre arts is an open art form. When was the last time the Mona Lisa changed her smile? When was the last time Michelangelo’s David scratched an itch? In contrast, when was the last time you saw a play two days in a row and it was exactly the same? Never on all three counts. This is the beauty of the dramatic arts.

When I talk about theatre with my new students who have never acted before, I ask them these two questions:

  • At the intermission of a play, what does the audience talk about? Invariably, the answer is “The first half of the play,” or “What they liked or didn’t like,” or “What’s going to happen next.

Then I ask them the follow-up question?

  • During intermission, what are the actors talking about backstage?

The answer to most of them who have never acted before is not as obvious. But if you’ve ever been backstage during intermission, it’s very clear what the focus is on. The actors are talking about the audience. Is it a good audience? Is it a bad audience? Why didn’t they laugh at that certain part? Why did they laugh at that certain part.

Those are fun conversations to take part of because every audience is different, which means that every show is different. In an open art form, the audience impacts the performers and the performers impact the audience. It’s that interaction, that synergy which, in my estimation, raises the theatre arts to a whole new level of artistic expression.

Live theatre displays humanity in all its glory with all its warts. It can reach deep inside someone’s heart and affect them in ways you would not imagine. A few years back, I had a woman come to me after watching one of the shows I had written and directed. I had never seen this woman before. She had tears in her eyes, and she gave me a huge hug, thanking me for what she saw. She said it meant so much to her. I was flabbergasted to say the least. There’s no greater compliment as an artist than to affect change, encourage conversation, inspire action, and impact a member of the audience.

That’s why I can’t understand when people say they don’t like drama. That drama is too boring. To me, it’s the same as saying “I don’t like humanity.”

 

No Costumes + No Set = Terrible Show, Right?

“Honestly, I expected it to be terrible. When you told me that the actors don’t where costumes and that there is no set, that they only use these black boxes, I expected it to be the worst show I ever saw.”

This is what one of my students said to me after he saw my first show in Saudi Arabia. Then he added this:

“But, wow, I was impressed. It was so good.”

Drama, theatre, stage plays, musicals – they are not about spectacle. It is not costumes or elaborate set pieces or impressive special effects that make or break a dramatic performance.

At its most basic core, successful drama connects a story to an audience.

That’s it. All the bells and whistles in the world won’t make a lasting impact if this most basic fact isn’t adhered to.

That is why I have fallen in love with the concept of black box theatre. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m always struck by the fact of how many people tell me its their favorite type of drama performance after they see it.

We do small vignettes or sketches, short plays, actually, that are connected around a certain theme. Our actors all wear blue jeans and ensemble t-shirts, typically black, and we use minimal props and no set pieces at all except for our black wooden boxes. The boxes are 2 ft X 2 ft X 18in high. They have handles cut into the sides for easy movement. The boxes can become anything at all. A single box can be a chair. Two boxes can be a love seat. Three a couch. They can be stacked to create a staircase. Two stacked boxes can be a podium. Add a few more for a counter. The uses for them are endless. It allows seamless scene changes between sketches and provides the audience with more than enough visuals for their imaginations to take over for them.

This type of storytelling gets rid of distractions and allows everyone to focus on the content of what we are trying to communicate.

This type of drama is unparalleled in giving the actors unique and difficult material to grapple with. It’s raw. It’s intense. It’s face-paced. It’s meaningful. It’s griping. The ensemble nature of my shows give all actors challenging and varied roles which gives the terrific opportunities to grow in their skills.

I will probably be doing this kind of drama for the rest of my life.

It’s not all I do. There’s a time and place for elaborate productions and over-the-top costumes. I love spectacle as much as the next drama enthusiast.

But you don’t need spectacle to make an impact, and in fact it may oftentimes inhibit its formation.

Try striping down a show. Go minimalist. No costumes. Only black t-shirts. No set pieces. Only black boxes. Let the story be the focus.

You might just be amazed.

I always am.