My Final Two Penang Shows in the Works

I’ll be leaving my beloved Penang after 11 wonderful years. I decided to go out with a bang and produce two shows within one week during our school’s Fine Arts Festival in June. So this week, I fired up photoshop and did some mockups for both of the shows. I’ll have lots more to say about both of these shows as the dates approach, but suffice it to say, I can’t wait. It’s going to be really fun to go back into the archives and pull out a bunch of our most favorite material to say goodbye with. So here they are:

May 12-13:  RLT Players: Our Best

May 20: RLT Musical


Thank you society. You are a writing inspiration.

I have found over the last couple years that news and societal issues have turned so corny and interesting that everything that happens seems to be fodder for a new play. I’ve also noticed that in my short play writing (of which I do a lot of) my plays are more and more talking about societal shifts in a rather satirical way. It’s so easy and fun to write this way and there are so many issues to skewer. I would love to, at some point, put together a full-length show, using a series of my society-based dramas.

One of the first plays I wrote along these lines was called “Almighty Might,” about living under an authoritarian government. “GeneRations” was a take off of that theme, related to a government which is learning how to control it’s people. I recently wrote “Safe Spaces” about the issues of having safe spaces on university campuses where people won’t be offended by opposing points of views. I have another one in the works on cupcakes. I can’t wait to write this one. Last year I wrote “A Writer’s Satire” about a new government agency meant to help writers to conform to the prevailing political philosophy.

So first, I want to thank American society for being so weird and unique. You’ve given me great stuff to write about.

The great cultural struggle between the traditionalists and the progressives is a wonder tableau in which a writer can glean some amazingly fun and meaningful insights. I’ve never known how easy satire is to write until I began to apply American cultural progression to my writing practices. Wow, it’s quite easy. I love it.

Keep it up, America. You’re an inspiration.

PS: I especially like to thank our current presidential contenders: Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Cruz. Wow! Great stuff there!

I love my creative setting!

I’m in a school setting. So yes, I teach.

Whenever I’m not teaching, I write. But one of the things I love about being in a school setting is that I am given time-sensitive opportunities to write creatively, where my writing is immediately used and performed for audiences. The turnaround on feedback is amazing.

Example. Yesterday, someone at my school asked me if I might have an idea of a dramatic sketch which could be done for an Easter chapel which is coming up on March 25. I told him to give me a day or two to think about it, and I’ll see what I can do.

Well, it didn’t take a day (or two). Within  five minutes, I had an idea I already couldn’t shake. I jotted it down so I could come back to it later. Last night, I started working it up. This morning I added some more. Now, a little more than 24 hours after the request, I have a 2/3rd finished script, and I’ve already recruited the four actors I’ll need to pull it off.

Where else but in a school setting could I do this?

I’ll have the script finished in a day or two more, and then I’ll send it on to my actors. They’ll have 8-10 days to memorize it, we’ll meet a couple times to rehearse, and then they will perform live at on March 25.

It’s an amazingly fun and creative atmosphere I get to work in. I get to help others send out their desired messages through drama, I get to work with talented young actors who are eager to perform as much as possible, and I get to write. Creatively. According to my own wishes.

Very fun.

The play I’m writing is called “Dead is Dead.”

I can’t wait to see the finished product. Luckily, I won’t have to wait long.

Draft Done: Now Can I Hold It Together?

I’ve just finished the first draft of the first, full-length play I’ve written without collaboration in about 4-5 years. The title of the play is “The Secrets of the Magic Pool.” It’s an allegorical tale of good and evil – somewhat inspired by Sondheim’s “Into the Woods.” Well, for the sake of clarity, I was watching “Into the Woods” in the cinema when the idea for a play came upon me. The story is not in anyway related to “Into the Woods,” but stylistically and setting, the story would feel somewhat at home in the Sondheim landscape – minus the music – mine is a stage play. (Though I think it would be fun to turn it into a musical.)

Anyways, the first draft is finished. My overall feeling toward this play is at the moment somewhat underwhelming. It has potential, but has not remotely reached it yet. Honestly, the ending is rushed and uneven at this point. I pushed myself hard yesterday just to get a completed draft, knowing that it would have large gaping holes in it. But for me, getting the story completely fleshed out is important. It gives me the overall structure which will enable me to work on the nuts and bolts.

Here’s how I plan to attack it:

First, do a complete read-through from A-Z and fix glaring mistakes in plot and character.

Second, once that is complete, I going to do a second read-through, looking specifically at language, vocabulary, and word-flow.

Third, I will read-through again, re-evaluating plot and character issues, and doing any major re-writes which need to happen. I also will make sure all scenes are necessary and that the pace of the play meets the demands of the purpose of the play. Dullness not allowed.

Once I reach this point, I will start to polish, further smoothing the dialogue until it really flows. I’ll read it out loud to make sure it sounds good, and that I can imagine the movement on the stage. Will it be interesting and engaging?

Finally, I’ll get some feedback from people I trust to give me unbiased advice about the manuscript.

Then, final edit, formatting, and (if I’m happy with it) publication.

I want this all complete by December so I can order copies for auditions and production starting in January 2016.

Almost there!

Hey Old Writers, Have You Worked with Young Writers?

This afternoon, three young writers walked into my classroom and our little creative writing club was born.

I’ve been working collaboratively with young writers since 2007, and it’s a lot of fun. I highly recommend it. I remember what it was like as a young person who wanted to be a writer but was too afraid to step out and try. Any chance I get to encourage young writers to take new steps and courageously step out and write one’s thoughts, I take it! I don’t want them to end up like me – paralyzed with fear over how bad my writing was. It only cost me twenty years of idleness.

I’ve been conducting drama writing groups with students these many years. We’ve created a lot of cool plays and musicals which we’ve seen staged. The experience has been awesome and it has simply spurred on my love for writing.

Today, we started a new incarnation of a writing club. We each shared what we like to write. (They young writers like to write fantasy which is typical of young writers.) I shared with them my story of drama-writing which lead to novel-writing. I also shared my foray into independent publishing.

We agreed as a group that we would make this a creative writing group where we would actually write something together. Once teen said, “I like the thought of writing something that can be used immediately.” I do too. So we will probably be writing some short dramas together which will be produced in a variety of settings. This is always one of the main draws of writing with young writers. They don’t often get to see their writing USED! Often times it ends up in a drawer as a cast-off idea.

But not in my creative writing club. They will get to see their name in print in some program. They will get to see their creation come to life on the stage. Immediate feedback for what they have produced. It’s pretty cool!

So I’m excited to get rolling with our club and can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to produce.

If you haven’t worked with young writers, try it out. You’ll enjoy the experience and you’ll help spur on the next generation of great writers!

Finally, Back to Novel Writing

I checked. The last time I had written on my fifth novel was March 29, 2015 – more than four months ago. That would seem terrible for a writer but not necessarily. It’s not like I feel off the writing grid and threw in the towel, far from it. Here’s what I’ve been doing since I last tickled the keys on my latest novel:

April – I started writing my next full-length play called “The Magic Pool.” It’s about forty percent done, and I haven’t written it in a while either.

May – I was neck deep in producing my musical “A Tad of Trouble.” Writing had to take a backseat.

June – Priority was family vacation in Europe and America. I also started writing my OTHER full-length dramatic show.

July – Family and drama writing. Luckily, family drama didn’t give me any ideas.

August – Finished writing my latest show, “Tales of Wonder,” set to be produced this December as my first Christmas show.

August 8 – Finally, back to novel writing. It’s interesting how the characters were still there, waiting for me to finish them. It’s almost as if they are alive (they are in my head), and they have become quite perturbed at me for leaving them hanging so much. It’s been a fun return as I try to figure out what to do with this story. I’m about 60,000 words in and no end in sight. Could end up being my longest novel yet. I suspect it will be.

My goal for finishing this novel, which will remain unnamed for the moment, is before December. That’s also the goal for my play “The Magic Pool.”

Why December? Because I have a month break in December, and I’d love to get a head-start on novel #6 during that time. I have two or three strong possibilities. One that I’ve even started the first few hundred words of it.

So this is my tentative plan. I think it’s good to have an overall idea of what’s coming. It helps me to plan and think ahead. It also gives me ample time to start making new connections and ideas in my mind as I go about normal life in the meantime.

I have to admit it. I enjoy being a writer. Here’s to a productive second half of 2015.

Writing an Ensemble Piece

I find it to be a valuable exercise in determination and frustration to try and write a limited length ensemble piece. I do drama writing so that’s where my piece fits in. And yes, it’s causing me fits.

Here’s the situation: I’m writing a less than 15 minute piece that has 12 characters. Talk about not having much time for character development! It’s a challenge.

But it’s a great exercise for writing because it really forces you to get down to the nitty-gritty. There’s no way you can develop 12 characters in 15 minutes. So if you can’t do that, what can you do?

The first time I did a large ensemble piece was last year. It was called “The Will.” It had 11 characters and it clocked in at 15 minutes. It luckily worked really well. The main reason for its success (I am now just figuring it out) is that there was a very well defined plot, and each character had a specific role (very specific) that they needed to accomplish.

As I look at the piece I’m writing this year, I’m on draft four and it’s too long with too few developed characters. There a couple characters which I could completely take out of the plot and not change the story or meaning. That’s not good. How can I make all of them essential or at least beneficial to the storyline?

This shows me the benefit of ensemble writing. It makes me struggle. Honestly, not much of my writing makes me struggle. It usually comes easy and flows right off the keyboard.

But it’s good to be stretched. It’s good to be frustrated. It’s good to write draft after draft. It’s good to have the feeling of just wanting to deep-six the whole thing and start over. (Which I still might do!) It’s good to wrestle and struggle with your writing. What is actually important? Why is that character there? How can I make that character’s presence more meaningful? How can I shorten and tighten everything? How can I make all of the actors happy with their roles?

All of these questions need to be answered. And that’s a good thing for my writing.

UPDATE: This ensemble piece is still killing me!

Are Stories with a Moral More Engaging? (Take Two)

This is a post I originally published more than three years ago. I ran across it the other day and it got me thinking. Do I still think the same way as I did three years ago? Most definitely. Writing, for me, has to have a purpose. It can be fun (and should be), engaging, and unpredictable, but if it is ultimately not saying anything of importance, then I will walk away and say “so what.” I don’t want others to think that about my writing, though I’m sure some people do anyways. But I try. That’s what I love about my drama group. We have a blast, but we make sure to try to make people walk away thinking about issues in our crazy world. Engage and challenge while you entertain. That’s my goal. Here’s the original post. 


This is not a trendy post – especially in our post-modern world. But . . .

Recently, I attended several different live dramatic performances that got me thinking about how modern writers approach their subjects.

The first one was a one-man show about space.  The actor was talented with his vocal and facial impressions.  He was clearly someone who had worked hard at his craft, but as I left the show, I felt like there was something seriously missing.  I wasn’t too far out of the theater when I realized what it was – meaning.  The show was nothing more than a few snippets of different characters that followed no particular rhyme, reason or purpose.  I wanted to re-write the whole evening into a coherent, simple plot with an overarching message or moral.  It could have been really good.

The other show I saw was an off-Broadway hit that was reworked in our local theater  about a dead man’s cell phone being picked up and used by a stranger.  The stranger seamlessly weaves herself into the dead man’s life by dialing the last numbers used on his cell phone. It was an interesting premise, and I particularly enjoyed the beginning.  The acting was solid and the direction tight.  But then it just got weird.  The dead man came back to give his thoughts on the matter.  Other weird things happened.  The plot seemed to unravel and we left the theater thinking ‘what was that?’  I still don’t know.  Again, purposeless.  The plot devolved into a post-modern mish mash of pointlessness.

Now, I understand the idea of entertainment for entertainment’s sake and that’s fine, but what ever happened to the idea of a moral?  It doesn’t have to be preachy.  Actually, the less preachy-ness the more effective in my opinion. No one likes to be hit over the head with a message, but there is something to be said for making the audience think about purpose, moral, or the lack thereof.

I like to write with broad themes which explore different aspects of life to get people thinking.  My latest play deals with the power of forgiveness and what can actually happen when someone chooses to go down that often difficult path.  It also explores the vain and vapid nature of celebrity and modern media.  Hopefully, the audience will walk away thinking about these large issues.  The moral is understated, yet it is there.   (Whether I accomplished my goal as a writer is certainly another thing.  Hopefully I have.)   These are the kind of stories I like.

So are stories with morals more engaging to the mind?  More meaningful to experience?  More worthwhile an achievement for a writer or producer if one is able to subtly achieve that goal?  Perhaps.

Your thoughts?

An Approach to (Drama) Writing Part IV: Conflict & Resolution

Part I: Be Fearless LINK HERE!

Part II: Start in Your Mind LINK HERE!

Part III: Use an Image or Phrase to Create Your Characters LINK HERE!

Part IV: Mix in Some Conflict and Resolution

You now have a basic scene in your head, an image from which you’ve created some characters. Now we need to build the tension by introducing the conflict (if you haven’t done so already) and working it towards a resolution.

Conflicts can come in all shapes and sizes. Conflicts can be internal or external.

I want to walk through a couple examples which I recently wrote. An image I had in my mind was a man who was angry, packing his suitcase, and ready to leave. What situation was he leaving? Well, I decided not to make the conflict about what was actually upsetting him. I decided to make the conflict between a man and God. Whatever happened, he is upset and not wanting to hear the lecture from God in his head. He is packing up his life and walking away with his suitcase, and he keeps instructing God that he’s not allowed to come with him. The tension builds as the man keeps walking off of stage and then re-enters to have one more verbal shouting match with God. Eventually he storms off one last time, only to re-enter in a daze, acknowledging that he doesn’t know where he can go to get away from God. That, of course, is the resolution.

Another one I wrote recently was about two friends. One confronts her friend because she knows the other is involved in an abusive relationship. The two characters, one at a time, share the background story until the one in the relationship violently pushes her friend away, not wanting her help. This is the climax of their conflict – it breaks their friendship. The resolution occurs a few years later when the one in the relationship realizes how foolish she has been to turn away her best friend. Now as she’s getting married to “the man who taught her what true love really is” she can only think about her best friend from school, and she feels compelled to call her to make it right – the resolution.

So what needs to be done is:

  • Push the character(s) deep into the conflict. Keep it clear and concise. Build up the tension until the climax leaves the audience wondering what could happen from there.
  • Release the tension to bring resolution. (or semi-resolution or non-resolution). In my first example above, the man has a resolution about his issue with God, but he does not have a resolution about the issue on earth that causing so much angst. In the second one, there is a clear and tidy resolution when the two friends talk again on the phone for the first time in years.

When writing, if a conflict doesn’t feel right, try a new one. If a character doesn’t feel right, give him or her some new traits. Change the setting. There are so many options. Keep navigating along until you find just the right tone and tension that you want.