WAVES – A Black Box Experience

I’ve been down the rabbit hole of theatre the past month, producing my new show “Waves.” We had a successful three performance run which concluded Thursday night with a great, responsive crowd, and a group of young actors who had loosened up to show their grit on the stage. It was a great experience.

For the production of this show, I decided to create a black box theatre experience. I was introduced to this concept more than a decade ago when I walked into the now-defunct Penang Performing Arts Centre. Their black box theatre had seating for 120 max, and it was modular and could be shifted into different configurations. I was intrigued by the intimate setting and quickly fell in love with minimalistic shows which brought the audience right to the cusp of the action.

My new show “Waves” was a one-hour show featuring three dramatic duets and then the 30-minute one-act entitled “Waves.” My school does not have a black box theatre, but it does have a large stage and many platforms which had been constructed for graduation ceremonies. Hey, why not create my own black box theatre? I did, for the second time ever, and it turned out great.

Let me walk you through the photos below. Let’s start with the middle top one. That gives you the perspective of where the black box theatre is: on the stage. The empty chairs in the auditorium look on, wondering what is happening. It’s the same look the audience members have when they enter the auditorium and ask: “What? I go up on stage?” Yep. The photo on the top left gives you and idea what the audience perspective is like during the show. It seats 80, so it’s intimate, and the actors are just a few feet away from the audience. It’s creates an urgency and an energy which couldn’t be duplicated if the audience was WAY DOWN BELOW.

The photo on the top right shows the complete set-up. It had three acting areas – two on platforms and one in the middle. We created the waves backdrop and these strange cage-like structures on either side, with beautifully painted waves on a wooden ramp. Everything worked great and the audience loved the lighting effects and the intimate setting.

The last photo shows some weary-looking director who needs a couple days to recuperate from a crazy, intense week. But these are the kinds of weeks that this crazy director lives for. Watching students come into their own on-stage, in as close to a professional setting that we can give them. Waves was a great success. Now let me rest. Be back soon.

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.

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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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 Play in New York City – June 8-11

I’m very excited to have my first play produced in New York. It’s a brand new short play entitled “Safe Spaces” and it will be performed at the Gallery Players Theater as part of their annual Black Box New Play Festival. I’ll write up more about the play later, but wanted get their poster out. Yes, my name’s on it!

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Tales of Wonder II: Coming soon!

We had our first of three all-day Saturday practices gearing up for “Tales of Wonder II” coming to penangpac December 1-3. We’ve been rehearsing since August, and today, for the first time, we put the entire show together. It’s a mix of 11 different original sketches themed around the joy and magic of Christmas. “Tales of Wonder” debuted last December and the response was so overwhelming that we decided to do another Christmas show. It’s been a blast putting this together. Here’s a glimpse into the opening of the show, “Tales of Wonder: A Drama Medley,” which highlights what’s it like to be a kid at Christmas.

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A wonderful narrative piece about a girl in the first snow fall of the season.

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A boy and his sled. And three pesky girls.

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The big talk. Three parents telling the truth about Santa, but can they overcome the power of a child’s imagination?

Tonight: “How to Build a Dictator” – Black Box Experiments

I’m very pleased to have my script “How to Build a Dictator” be part of penangpac’s Black Box Experiments Series for 2016. It’s a unique, audience participation piece which I can’t tell you much about because it’s meant to be experienced, not talked about. It’s not even meant to watched on video. Someone asked if they could record it, and after thinking a few minutes, I said ‘no’ because it wouldn’t be the same.

I can tell you that it is kind of like a political rally. There will be music. There will be food. There will be crazy antics and testimonials.

It’s directed by the wild and crazy Ysabel Loh, award winning young actor in her own right. She’s done a FABULOUS job with the piece as I knew she would.

Oh, and I’m actually on stage acting in this one. Strange, I know. But she wanted me to play a role and I agreed. It’s been a lot of fun so far.

I’ll be posting photos of the event later. It’s going to be a crazy night.

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Black Box Experimental is Coming! And I’m Acting!

We, my crazy drama group, had our first rehearsal this morning for our experimental black-box piece which is coming to the Penang Performing Arts Centre for 1 night only on September 6.

There are two earth-shattering things (for me) which make this very different. First off, even though I wrote it, I’m not directing it. Talented and young and award-winner actress Ysabel Loh is directing her first performance, and she did an amazing job this morning, as I knew she would. It was kind of fun for me to sit back and watch.

The second earth-shattering difference for this piece is that I’M ACTING!!! I’m one of those very strange people – I teach acting, but I’m not an actor. I just learned everything I know through writing and then directing. But this time, I’m on-stage. I had to go through the memorization process earlier this week to get down my lines, and I’ve had to do everything I tell my actors to do. Well, I must admit that I enjoyed it. So I’ll be making my acting debut in front of a paying audience. Pretty cool. It’s going to be a blast.

This is a UNIQUE and rather deep piece about what influences society. The audience is going to be totally confused, but it will be a ton of fun.

“How to Build a Dictator”

Written by Mark W Sasse

Directed by Ysabel Loh

Tuesday, September 6 @ 8:30 pm, penangpac Stage 2

Admission: 10RM at the door

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Black Box Experimental Theatre: Coming Soon!

An experimental, audience participation script that I wrote over Christmas has been chosen for production at the Penang Performing Arts Centre on September 6 as part of their Black Box Experimental series. I’ve hired my super-talented, former actress Yzzy Loh to direct the piece, and she came up with the first graphic poster for the event. Here it is. Really cool, isn’t it? It’s going to be a fun and interesting night! More info to come.

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