Ponderings on My First Show in 2 Years

Live theatre gets into the blood. When the curtain opens, and the nerves take over, and the hair stands on its end, and the bumps on your skin realize that it’s time, finally, after such a long hiatus, one begins to understand just how much the cult of theatre has seeped into the blood stream.

Last evening, we finished our final show of the Rodgers’ and Hammerstein classic “The King & I.” It ended just days past the two year anniversary of the closing of my last show in December 2019, Seussical. Yeah, two very different shows.

In April of 2020, my nearly produced show “Crazy Love” was washed away by that thing we all know about. I’ve been in theatre hibernation since then, but what a life-giving experience to have to wait so long to get back on the stage. I typically go from one show being finished to starting almost immediately on the next show. It’s been that way in my life for years. But being forced to pull away and not do live theatre made me realize just how much I missed and how I always want it to be part of my life.

The Palace. I built this with my students.
We took the colored panels I had made for the show “Crazy Love” and then tried to retrofit them into the palace design that I had. I had some talented students who created the color textures.

When I do a show, I’m typically doing it all. And I love it all. Stage design. Lighting design. Sound design. Of course, to accomplish this, I basically fall off the grid for a couple months just trying to get all of the work done. I’ve had people tell me they think I’m crazy. I am. Obsessed, even. But when the students hit the stage, and the bows are over, and the tears start flowing from students who didn’t know it was going to feel like this; who didn’t know theatre would seep into their being; who didn’t know how much satisfaction and benefit they would finally get from all those long and boring rehearsals; it makes it all worth it.

So I LOVE it. And I’d be CRAZY not to continue. And that might just be a reference to my next show. The students started clamoring recently about what the plan. “What about next semester? What are we going to do? Are we going to have another show?”

How can I say ‘no’? That’s not an option. Not with the ghosts of the stage pulsing through my body’s every beat.

(PS: But I will take some time before starting the next show. I need to get back to writing. I miss that too. I’m a man divided. And I like both halves equally as much.)

Audition Day

The day I hate to love. The day I love to hate.

Both of these are true.

I love audition day because it’s incredibly fun to see students come out and give you their best shot in attaining a role. But I hate that I love it because it’s a painful day. It’s painful because I have to choose one person over the other. Why can’t everyone join and we all get participation awards, patting ourselves on the back in celebration like a youth-league soccer team.

But no. Audition is competition. Fierce. Brutal. It leaves behind sadness and tears for those who don’t achieve their goals. But it also builds character and perseverance. I just hate being the bearer of bad news, but that’s what I’m meant to do.

So here goes.

Monday. 40 students have time slots for auditions. 13 guys, 27 girls.

Roles available?  13 total (6 guys, 7 girls)

So I will have to turn away 27 talented actors. Brutal!

But it also means that the cast of my new play, “The Secrets of the Magic Pool,” is going to be incredibly strong. And I’m very excited about that.

So who to choose when there are so many for that many roles?

First, it has to be based on the audition. That puts everyone on the same playing field because everyone has to do the same thing to impress the director.

But other factors certainly come into play. Some actors I have worked with before and that gives them an advantage (or not) because I knew their strengths and their level of commitment.

Commitment is also a big factor. If someone is too involved with other projects or events, I might shy away from them, thinking they won’t be able to give all their time to the show.

Passion is also important. If a person’s passion for theatre comes through, it’s definitely to their advantage, as is someone who has a learning and humble attitude.

In my school setting, I also weigh grade level. Seniors are in their last semester of eligibility, so if they have a stellar audition, they might get preferential treatment.

I also have a soft-spot for the underdog. The young student who may have never done it before but shows passion and raw ability. I love to see kids blossom on stage.

So, today’s the day. I will thrill some and disappoint others. But that’s part of the drama game.

And let the games begin!

books picture

Author Interview with Kasten Ladner

I’ve given interviews before to a variety of bloggers, authors, and websites. But when a senior student at my school interviewed me, it was one of the best I’ve ever encountered. His questions were thoughtful and well-planned. He showed genuine interest in my boring rantings about writing, and he wrote an excellent article for their blog, Senior Scribble.

Here’s a snippet:

“It was only the second year of Mr. Sasse’s tenure at the school that he began writing–and directing. When the previous drama director left, Mr. Sasse rose to fill the vacancy, having absolutely no experience as either an actor or a director. Sasse, rising to the occasion, not only directed the production but also wrote the entire script with a motley band of eager students. Since beginning in 2007, this remarkable teacher has continued to write and direct the scripts, heavily investing in the lives of students under his tutelage.

In addition to his full-length productions, Mr. Sasse has written numerous short skits, even beginning a new acting band, the Road Less Traveled (RLT) Players. The RLT Players, modeled after the Footstool Players, a crew of actors and actresses who perform short three to five minute sketches centered around one theme, have quickly become a Dalat favorite among students since its inception three years ago. The themes have varied widely from exploring the interaction of generations to probing the extremes of life, yet the skits continually stagger the audience with their poignant messages.”

You can read the full interview HERE!

You have a good show. Now make it great.

I’ve been working real hard with my drama group, getting ready for our Christmas show coming up the first week of December. We’ve spent a lot of hours working the 10 different scripts we’ll be performing that night, and I’ve been really happy with how they are coming together. It’s going to be an enjoyable evening of drama and music. The audience is going to laugh and cry.

But today, as I was starting to see the entire show coming together, I finally had time to start looking at the little details of the show which could make it even more memorable and enjoyable for the audience.

I thought of a between-sketch one-minute dance number which could be added to help introduce one of the sketches. The actor of the sketch, who loves to dance, loved the  idea and is now working on the choreography. A minute minute dance bridge which will keep the audience enthralled.

I thought of other things as well: light dustings of snow in some of the sketches to help with the visuals. A painted stage which will have two red and green triangles which will look like the outline of a Christmas tree. Candy or gifts for the audience. I’m simply at the beginning  of ideas now; I’m sure many more are to come.

I firmly believe it’s these little touches which will add tremendous depth and enjoyment for the audience. So if you’re producing a show, perfect the script, but then dig deeper. Where else can value be added without breaking the bank or without taking too much time?

This will help make a good production into a great production. If you come to our show, be looking for these little touches. I hope everyone enjoys them.

Rlt christmas poster 4 sizeA5

My Afternoon Poster

I was supposed to finish my novel this afternoon,  but I just received some photos from our drama photo shoot, so I couldn’t resist putting together my new show’s first poster.

I’m no photoshop expert, but I’m learning, and it is quite fun. I hate fonts, and need to learn about them. But I was happy with how it turned out. Lots more design work needs done, but this gives me my first promotional tool.

I’m real excited about this show. I wrote it over the summer and we’ve been rehearsing since August. Now only 5 weeks away and still a ton of work to do. But I love it! If you are going to be in Penang …

Rlt christmas poster 4 sizeA5

Ten Reasons My Re-staging was Better than the Original

I don’t know how many times a director or an artist gets to re-produce one of their own works. I did recently – re-staging my musical “A Tad of Trouble.” I wanted to make it better – much better than the original. And here’s 10 reasons why I think I succeeded:

1. Plot holes plugged – This was a huge one, for me, the writer. When I looked at the 2009 script, I cringed in many places. I loved the basic backbone of the story – naturally, or  I wouldn’t have wanted to do it again. But there were many plot issues which needed to be addressed. There were some random lines which meant nothing. Those were streamlined. What didn’t make sense or seemed unrealistic was completely redone. I’m real happy with the final product.

2. Set – Day and night! We had a simple backdrop for our first production. With this one, we created a cool above-ground-walkway structure for the angels which worked really well. We added a hanging fabric structure behind the angels and we had some amazing artwork from our art students. Not even close on this one.

3. Venue  – Our restaging was at penangpac. The original at Wawasan Open University. While the original venue was nice, the stage was very small. Penangpac enabled us to do it right. State of the art enjoyment!

4. Dancers – We had 5 experienced dancers for this production. Wow, what a contribution they made. We had a choreographer who worked tirelessly with this group. Excellent addition.

5. New Songs – I decided I wanted to make it a full-fledged musical so we added about 7 new songs to the mix of other original songs. They worked. Really worked. The saloon drinking song was excellent. The opening songs added so much! And the ending song was so touching, I cried every time I saw it! Wow!

6. Revising Scenes – There was a scene we deleted from the original. I brought it back and re-worked it to fit in and it was a nice addition.

7. New Ending – I decided that a re-staging needs to have a new ending. We rocked this ending. Loved it! (though I don’t want to give it away)

8. Bigger Cast – We had a cast of 29 this year, my largest ever. It created some great synergy on stage.

9. Bigger Crowd – We had big, rollicking crowds. Enough said!

10. I’m not the same director – I’ve learned a few things since 2009. This experience was invaluable for raising the bar and creating a great drama/musical.

So there it is. The re-staging was a huge success. So much fun. I shall miss “A Tad of Trouble,” but now it’s time to move on.

Oops! My fault: A Director’s Mea Culpa

My new show opens in one week. It’s a series of 10 individual dramatic sketches. As I watched all ten performed as a whole on Monday, I realized that one of them was bad. Really bad.

It’s not the script. Actually, it’s an award-winning script which will soon be performed in Sydney. No, it wasn’t the scripts fault.

So what was the problem.

It’s easy to blame the actors. They are the ones performing it, right? They are the ones in the spotlight. If the intensity or timing isn’t there, that’s on them, isn’t it?


It hit me on Monday evening that the fault rested entirely on me, the director.  And so I told them Monday we needed to meet today and plug up the many holes. Yep, it was my fault.

I often joke with my actors that when the lights come up, my job is done and I sit in the back next to the exit, ready to make a quick escape if something goes wrong. Hands off, I say. But like it or not, a director’s hands are all over a production and if it doesn’t work, chin up and take the tomato in the face.

When a script is good (and this one is) and the actors are talented (yes, this not a problem either) then there’s only one person to blame.

So I got myself back in the game today to figure out what could be done. First, we tightened everything. The dialogue has got to zip. We worked on the chemistry between the actors. Much better. We repeatedly worked timing on three of the more technical scenes which live or die with perfectly sequenced sound effects and actions. Then we put it all together and turned on the stopwatch.

We shaved off a whopping 2 minutes, or 18% from the running time! That’s huge, and suddenly the script started to soar for the first time. At the end of our hour and a half, I was quite pleased at our progress and we are once again ready to insert it into our lineup as an asset, not a drag.

Sometimes there is nothing to do but blame yourself, but make sure you don’t stop there. Reassess, readjust, rework, and get back in the game. It’s the only way to improve, and that’s what we are all striving for, isn’t it?

Gearing Up: Final Weeks before my Next Show

I’ve been on break this past week and what a gift it has been. I’ve had substantial time to write, enabling me to get a fair chunk of novel five written in my Scrivener. I also wrote a short play and dabbled in a few other projects I’m working on.

But as my precious break comes to an end, it’s going to be all drama from here. I have my new show I wrote for my group of young amazing actors – The RLT Players – and it’s coming up quickly. What’s it take to put on a great show? A lot of time and cooperation. Here’s a brief run-down of what will be keeping me busy:

Oct 27 – full rehearsal followed by photo-shoot Oct 30,31, Nov 1 – more rehearsals

Nov 3, Nov 5 – rehearsals

Nov 8 All Day Rehearsal

Nov 10, Nov 12 rehearsals

Nov 15 All day rehearsal

Nov 18 Stage Painting

Nov 19 Lighting design and set-up at theatre

Nov 20 Afternoon dress rehearsal – Evening Preview Performance

Nov 21 Evening performance

Nov 22 3pm and 8pm performances

All of that is focused on the acting and performances. What else do I need to do?

Ticket sales: We must cover our costs, so I’ll be running lots of promotions starting this week.

Design: I’ll take the photos from the photoshoot and create a display board for all nine of the skits we will be performing.

Programs: Can’t forget about the programs. Need to be designed and printed.

Cue: Cue sheets. The dreaded cue sheets. Must be created for both sound and lighting.

Front of House: Must find some people to take tickets and usher.

Sound FX: need to find and edit appropriate sound effects

Music: Must choose and edit music for before, during, and after the show

Hmmm. Is that it?

And this is all on top of my normal teaching job. No worries!

“The RLT Players present: For All Generations” – Nov 20-22 @ penang performing arts centre.