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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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.”

 

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.

Are you prepared to go unexpected places?

You know how it goes: “If someone told me 10 years ago that I would be such and such, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years.”

I know the feeling. Very well. This notion of unexpected outcomes came to the forefront of my mind this week because I found myself saying that above line nearly verbatim. Mine goes like this:

“In 2002, if someone told me that in fifteen years that I would be a drama teacher in Saudi Arabia, I wouldn’t have believed them in a million years. I would have thought they were experiencing severe mental delusions.”

You see, in 2002, I was living in Vietnam, teaching English at the college level to Vietnamese students studying to be English teachers. I was a frustrated, wannabee, writer who never wrote. I was immersed in Vietnamese culture and language, and I had even contemplated (for a few seconds) going on for a PHD in Vietnamese history. I had never acted in my life. I had never been involved in any drama productions. The extent of my dramatic experiences involved writing a play which I read to my mother when I was twelve, and writing a couple small skits which were performed in some low-key settings. Oh, I did act as Forrest Gump in a skit, so I take that acting bit back.

But I had nothing in my background that would have indicated that I was destined to be a drama teacher.

And I had nothing in my background that indicated that I would ever end up in Saudi Arabia.

So therefore, the combination of those two–teaching drama in Saudi Arabia–would have seemed too implausible to even ponder.

However, as I sit in Jeddah on the heels of my first week of teaching theatre at the American school, I am quite taken back at the loops and rabbit-chasing trails my life has gone down in the past fifteen years in order to arrive at this point. And to think it all happened because that frustrated writer sitting in Vietnam became inspired by a group of students in Malaysia.

I’ve told this story before, but I still like it. I moved to Malaysia in 2006 to teach history. (Yes, that’s a whole different story of how I suddenly switched from English to history!) As the drama director at the school was leaving, I volunteered to start a drama-writing group where I would collaborate with a group of students and we would write and produce a play for the next school year.

That was the genesis of it all. The interesting point in my mind is this: what was the impetus for me wanting to write and produce a drama with students? I don’t actually know the answer to this. It’s something that just popped in my mind, and instead of dismissing it, which I can’t believe I didn’t, I embraced and proposed it to the school. That was the crucial moment. For some reason, I stepped in to try something that I had never tried before. If I had not jumped in at that moment, I am fairly certain I wouldn’t be teaching drama in Saudi Arabia. If I had not jumped in, someone else would have eventually filled the drama void at our school and I would have sat in the audience enjoying the shows, never fully understanding how much I loved theatre.

I know now that I wasn’t meant to observe theatre. I was meant to create it, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

The only advice I have as I look back on my journey is that if you get an itch or an urge that you should jump in and try something, don’t delay. You never know where it might lead you. It could make you change careers in mid-stream and send you to far off lands to do things you never would have imagined but now couldn’t ever live without.

Where might you be in 15 years? I hope the answer surprises you.

Farewell, Penang Performing Arts Centre (penangpac)! I will miss you!

At the conclusion of my last show at penangpac yesterday, I was highly honored by my friends there with this amazing parting gift. This was completely unexpected. I was bowled over by their thoughtfulness. I have grown my theatre arts background and experience at their famous stage 1 and stage 2 venues. So I thought, as a way of reminiscing, I’d list all the shows I had a part in since penangpac opened in 2011. It’s quite a list, and I completely enjoyed everyone of them.  But first a look at this amazing gift – a commemorative pewter Malaysian kris (asymmetrical dagger). It’s so awesome!

penangpac gift

So here’s my chronological, penangpac drama/musical list. I’m so grateful for everything.

  • November 2011 – Stage 2 – “Romans on the Couch-INTERACTIVE” (writer, director, producer)
  • November 2011 – Stage 1 – “Romans on the Couch” (writer, director, producer)
  • December 2011  – Stage 2 – “RLT Players’ present The Road Less Traveled” (first RLT show ever! – writer, director, producer)
  • May 2012 – Stage 1 – “Life with Stewart” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2012 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer)
  • November 2012 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Drive All Night) (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2013 – Stage 1 – “Grandparents’ War” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2013 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • November 2013 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Captured in Time & Space”
  • May 2014 – Stage 1 – “Boardwalk Melody: A Musical” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2014 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • November 2014 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “For All Generations” (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2015 – Stage 1 – “A Tad of Trouble: A Musical” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2015 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • December 2015 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Tales of Wonder”
  • May 2016 – Stage 1 – “The Secrets of the Magic Pool” (writer, director, producer)
  • September 2016 – Stage 2 – penangpac Black Box Experiments “How to Build a Dictator” (writer, actor, producer)
  • November 2016 – Stage 2 – Short & Sweet Theatre (writer, director)
  • December 2016 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “Tales of Wonder II” (writer, director, producer”
  • January 2017 – Stage 2 – “The Last Bastion: A Staged Reading” (writer, actor)
  • May 2017 – Stage 2 – RLT Players “A Collection of Our Best” (writer, director, producer)
  • May 2017 – Stage 1 – “RLT Musical Revue” (writer, director, producer)

Wow! That’s 22 theatrical productions I had the privilege of being part of at penangpac. I shall miss it all very much.

Thank you, penangpac! Hopefully we shall see each again one day.

 

 

#19

This weekend, I’m producing my 19th full-length theatrical production in the past ten years. This one is called RLT Musical Revue, a compilation of the best musical moments and short musicals that I’ve produced in the past. It’s an eclectic and fun show, filled with talented singers, dancers, musicians, and actors. I’m so grateful for my brilliant co-director Christopher Ramos who actually knows music, while I simply pretend. But between us both, we’ve seen the show come together, a rough dress rehearsal last night notwithstanding, and I’m excited to see what will happen this Saturday. Two shows only. My last on in Penang. I’m going to miss it. Here are a few snippets which will be part of the show. (photos by Jonathan Steffen)

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The Show Ends

Last night, we capped off an amazing weekend of drama at the Penang Performing Arts Centre. Good responsive crowds watched as my amazing young actors perform everything from comedy, to dramatic storytelling, to hard hitting drama. It’s such an emotional thing for a writer and director to see the work they’ve toiled on for months finally come and then quickly go. But satisfying. So satisfying.

Once again, watching the shows these past couple of days, my belief in teenage drama has been reinforced. I don’t believe in high school drama. High school drama has such a negative stereotype, at least in my eyes. When you put the term ‘high school’ in front of drama, suddenly you aren’t taken seriously. The awards folks won’t look your way. There’s a connotation of inexperienced acting which ends up being nothing more than photo-ops for parents and relatives.

I believe in nothing like that. Actors are actors, whether aged 16 or 45. Whether they’ve have years of training under Adler and Meisner or whether they’re in their first theatre arts class. The requirements are the same. Preparation. Characterization. Mining the script. Making choices about movement, vocal qualities, and backstory. And when it’s all put together, any actor, with the right preparation and the right script, can impact an audience in wonderful and unexpected ways.

That’s what happened here the past couple of nights. And it happened with actors ranging from 15 to 18 with varying levels of experience. When expectations are high, the actors will hit it. I’ve seen it over and over. And the comments are amazing.

“I can’t believe these are kids.”

“They are so amazing.”

Yes, they are. Whether playing a grandpa or a child, a piece of fruit or a government bureaucrat. They rise to the occasion time and time again.

I stand amazed. And proud. So proud.

I’m going to miss this group so much!

At least I was smart enough to realize that doing one show in my final semester here would not be enough. RLT Musical is coming next week. It’s my saving grace. It has kept me from falling into drama depression.

So let’s do this, one more time.

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