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:


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.


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


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


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.


My First Show in Saudi Arabia

Last week brought a conclusion to my first show in Saudi Arabia. I was really proud of these kids as they pulled it off in ways I wasn’t sure possible. I have a very young new ensemble with minimal amount of experience and we were doing the type of black box genre that no one was familiar with. But it happened, it worked, I survived, and it was a great starting point for the program. Here are a few photos from our second show courtesy of a colleague.

The show was called “For All Generations” – a show I first produced in Penang in 2014. It’s a funny, yet poignant show that has a lot of tender moments. The feedback from the crowd was enthusiastic. The photos going clockwise are: “Jerome, the Malevolent God-King,” “Revenge of the Grandparents” (certainly a favorite), a reprise of the award-winning script “Words to Say at the End of the World,” “What Was It Like?” and my favorite, the kind-hearted  Beatrice who takes in a runaway slave on a cold winter night in 1852 – “If Love is a Crime.”

Up next: “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Coming April 2018 in Jeddah.

How to Improve at IMPROV (and Life)

I organized my first official drama event last night here in Jeddah–A Night of IMPROV.

I emceed the event where five members of my new drama group – The Sun & Sand Players – took the floor for a crazy night of improvisation.

A small but enthusiastic group participated, and we pulled in a slight profit to help fund our first real show in January.  Overall, it was a fun night.

The IMPROV performers are knew to the genre. They did a fantastic job – especially when taking into account the few opportunities that they’ve had to perform IMPROV, let alone IMPROV in front of an audience.

There were tense moments when their brains didn’t respond quickly enough, and they were flat-footed, unable to make that leap to the center of the floor to give a response. But that is normal. Natural, really. It’s to be expected no matter what you’re working on. The only way to improve IMPROV is to do it. Try. Jump in. Use the impulses. Feel the nerves in the gut and go for it. Mouth blazing, with little regard for self-censorship or self-consciousness. And as an actor practices, puts herself out there, let’s himself be put into different situations, he or she will improve. It’s a process. Sometimes a slow-moving one. But a process none-the-less.

It’s no different with my writing. It’s no different with life. If you have a goal, if you follow a passion, if you want to get better at something, put yourself out there. Play the fool for once, follow your pride, and jump right back in.

As an IMPROV actor, you might say something that people don’t laugh at. That can be painful. As a writer, I might write a cringe-worthy cliche that unleashes a whole slew of down votes. I won’t improve if I don’t learn to shake it off, learn from the misstep, laugh at myself, and move on.

This is the way life works. You will only attain that which you stubbornly shoot for. You’ll never hit the stars if your standing inside a barn. You’ll never cross the ocean if you don’t get into the vessel. You’ll … yeah, there’s all kinds of other corny saying I could add here, but you know the drill. You only improve at things which you are willing to work at, continuously, religiously, passionately.

That’s the only way you’ll improve at IMPROV, or at life in general.

I’ve got some writing to do.

Make Your Tools Sing

I’m teaching a Theatre Production class and our first project was to make some sawhorses in order to be able to make other items.

Sawhorses aren’t the most glamorous things to make. They are utilitarian, not praiseworthy pieces of art.

But who says you can’t combine both? That’s what we did. We made sawhorses which commemorate famous musicals, so you can say cool things like:

“Hey, bring me Mary Poppins!”   “I need Phantom of the Opera over here right now.”

Here’s a few shots of how they turned out.

catsmary poppinssawhorses