Successfully Built Dictator 2.0

Last night ended another show. We had two successful showings of HOW TO BUILD A DICTATOR 2.0. It was loads of fun and had two great, responsive audiences.

The premise of the show is a political rally where people show up to nominate THE ONE for world leader. I can’t get into the gist of the show without giving away the punchline, but it’s a tremendously fun evening which includes a full party with food and drinks, with the venerable Wael Sedky gracing us on the strings. Yours truly even had an on-stage role which I clearly loved. I got to scare two boys with my loud voice. They were talking, so they deserved it.

This is experimental, black box, interactive theatre at its best.

Now I’ll give myself a month break and get ready for our next show in April.  Here are a few shots of the evening.

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How to Build a Dictator 2.0

Two years ago I debuted an experimental theatre piece of mine entitled “How to Build a Dictator.” It was directed by my talented former student and theatre wizard Ysabel Loh and it was part of the Penang Performing Arts Centre Black Box Experiments series. It was tremendously fun to put on. We had a great audience and they reacted wonderfully to this unique audience-interactive show.

Now, I’m introducing “How to Build a Dictator 2.0” I start production on it this weekend with a completely revamped script I just finished writing. It’s 25% longer with even more insane stuff happening which will completely confuse (and hopefully amuse) the audience. I held auditions for it last Sunday and I have a dozen great actors ready to roll on this, though they have NO idea what they are actually getting themselves into. And that’s the beauty of it.

I haven’t had a show since April, so it feels good to get working on one. I’ll be sure to post many updates as we go along and get closer to the show dates of early December. But for now, I’ll leave with our mock-up poster – courtesy of Ysabel Loh who designed this for the first dictator show. I feel like the design is set in stone. This is the branding for this show. So here we go. Let the fun begin. dictatorPOSTER.jpg

Photos from the Show

Thanks to Jonathan Steffen for these shots from dress rehearsal for “How to Build a Dictator.”  We had 23 students for our dress rehearsal as opposed to 142 for the real show. But they were a lively bunch. I had a blast getting on stage and acting for one of my first times ever. Here’s a glimpse of our show:

Push and Pull controlling the audience.
Push and Pull controlling the audience.
The advertisement.
The advertisement.
The starer.
The starer.
Today's headlines.
Today’s headlines.
The seducer.
The seducer.
Testimonial.
Testimonial.

jstef-sep2016-8435

The revealing.
The revealing.
I'm ready to introduce our new leader.
I’m ready to introduce our new leader.
Selfies with the audience.
Selfies with the audience.
Q & A
Q & A
Here I am, in the zone.
Here I am, in the zone.
The party.
The party.
Our passionate announcer.
Our passionate announcer.

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.

black box

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

black box

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.

black box

Our Annual Readers’ Theatre

One of the major units of my Intro to Theatre Arts class is a readers’ theatre which the entire class has to produce. The script doesn’t need to be memorized, but the story needs to “pop” on stage as if it is memorized. A staged reading might be a synonym for what we do. We use the stage. We have motion, action, fight-scenes, you name it! It’s a real theatrical show with everything you would expect – except for the lines aren’t memorized.

We’re producing The Pink Panther this year. As you know, I do mostly original dramas at our school, but during the readers’ theatre, I like to do well known scripts to mix it up a little. Here’s what we did the past few years:

2013 “Pillow Talk”

2014 “Arsenic & Old Lace”

2015 “M*A*S*H”

2016 “The Pink Panther”

Another thing I insist on in our readers’ theatre is that the students are responsible for every aspect of the production. Student directed and student produced. I serve in advisory role as Executive Producer, collecting the big bucks but not doing any of the work.

Here’s our fearless cast:

pink panther 1
Clueless Clouseau
pink panther2
Doing a timed read-through.
pink
The actors and readers.

Theatre Review: Slow Sound of Snow

I was able to catch the Iranian drama troupe perform the experimental dramatic piece “Slow Sound of Snow” as part of the 2016 Georgetown Festival.

The story (if you call it that) takes place in a small shack with a slanted floor, huddled underneath a treacherous mountain cliff which is in danger of producing an avalanche. Any loud noise might be enough to set if off. During this particular winter, a pregnant woman has to give birth and the husband, along with his mother and grandfather, have to weigh the pros and cons and figure out what to do since having a crying newborn would threaten their actual existence.

It’s a scenario and setting which has enough meat on its bones to produce an engaging story. However, the execution of this piece was lacking. But before I break it down, that statement isn’t exactly true. I have no doubt of the talent of the actors. The concentration that they had to display was considerable. I also don’t doubt the talent of the director, who was good at emphasizing small details.

The problem I had with this piece is the same problem I have with so many other modern theatre pieces – they simply do not engage the audience in good storytelling.

The “Slow Sound of Snow” is much more of an actor’s exercise rather than an enjoyable night out at the theatre.

So this review is all about the genre that so many modern playwrights and directors decide to plop themselves into. This performance made me think of this post that I had rather recently re-posted because the same topics keep coming up again and again. People are hungry for stories, and modern theatre hasn’t done a good job of providing engaging and entertaining stories. Television has really become the place to tell stories. Look up what Kevin Spacey said about stories when he started his connection with Netflix. Theatre has so much potential to bring entertainment and exhilaration to live audiences, but I rarely experience that, even though I’m a regular theatre go-er.

This show was literally and incredibly slow moving. It was purposely written that way. The first 20 minutes of the show literally nothing happened. Hardly anything was said. It was a series of minimal movements. And yes, I got the situation after the first two minutes, I didn’t need to see another 15 minutes before anything remotely engaging happened.

As I said before, this was an exercise for actors. A good one at that. Impressive concentration and an interesting set. (Though the wolf was a little bizarre.)

If you are in to the strange style of modern experimental theatre then I recommend seeing “The Slow Sound of Snow” when it comes through your part of the world. It has garnered a lot of awards.

If you like theatre for strong storytelling, engaging characters, and an enjoyable night out on the town, you may want to skip this one.

Is Fictional Storytelling being Diminished in Theatre?

I enjoyed reading THIS opinion piece on fictional storytelling and verbatim theatre. Honestly, I know very little about verbatim theatre and have not had an opportunity to see any verbatim shows up to this point. What is ‘verbatim theatre’ you might ask? It’s theatre which uses the real words of people who have been interviewed. Actors here and use the real words of real people and then act accordingly based on the show’s direction. It’s sounds interesting to me, and I might even like to try it at some point. According to sources I have read, verbatim theatre has moved into the mainstream in the London theatre scene, which is why Ms.Gardner wrote her piece, somewhat lamenting the fact that fictional storytelling seems to be taking a backseat in the theatre, as if real words from real people are more correct in portraying authentic human experience. As Ms. Gardner points out, this is not the case. Fictional storytelling can and does portray human emotions and desires in vivid ways, relate-able to everyone.

While I am no expert about verbatim theatre, I have seen my share of experimental theatre over the years. While I often find the performances interesting, and I’ve even dabbled in different types of performances from time to time, this is nothing like a great story to make great theatre. Modern theatre seems to experiment with everything and anything. Well, hey, I have an idea, let’s experiment with some fictional stories. Some full-length dramas – a full length original musical. Let’s put on a show that has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

Boring, you say? Been done too often, you say?

Not by a long-shot, I reply.

I could be wrong, because I have absolutely no research to back up this statement, but perhaps the general public has pulled away from the dramatic arts because of this very reason – the lack of gripping stories. (Sadly, I’ve run into way too many people who tell me they do not like going to the theatre, but they love watching movies!)

I do have anecdotal evidence. I have heard comments like this from people who occasionally go to the theatre – “that was just weird” – “it was okay, but I didn’t understand it” – “what was the point?”

The fact is, people LOVE stories. People love to be drawn into a character with whom they can relate. They love a plot which twists and turns and keeps them guessing. They love endings which are satisfying. Many people don’t like head-scratchers, and when they see one strange drama too many, they often decide to do other things rather than go to the theatre. And you have to admit, there are an awful lot of entertainment choices out there.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all kinds of dramas – including unique experimental stuff.

But if I ever had a choice, I’d take a gripping, well-written, beautifully plotted out story-line on stage any day of the week.

Here’s hoping that theatre will never forget that we are in the story-telling business.