My Play This Weekend in Penang: Grade Semantics

My play “Grade Semantics” hits the stage this weekend as part of the Short & Sweet Theatre Festival in Penang, Malaysia.

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This is a play that I’ve produced twice myself, and it’s a hit — especially with students and teachers. I’ve even had a HS counselor tell me after watching it that the farcical aspects of the play very much played out as true in those fun one-on-one chats with students.

Here an excerpt from the play. Enjoy!
STUDENT: That’s it. I’m going to tell the principal.
MR. S.: What are you going to tell the principal?
STUDENT: I’m going to inform the principal about your discriminatory grading practices.
MR. S.: I do not have discriminatory grading practices!
STUDENT: So, you are saying that everyone in your classes get the same grade?
MR. S.: No, of course not.
STUDENT: Just as I suspected. You look over the tests, and you discriminate. You say ‘that test goes into the good pile’ and ‘that test goes into the bad grade pile’ where all of mine always end up.
MR. S. Because—
STUDENT: You always have reasons, don’t you? Because. Because. Because. Because you don’t like words that start with the letter B.
MR. S.: That’s ridiculous.
STUDENT: This is anything but ridiculous. Let me ask you a question, Mr. S. Do you think bad grades will affect my future?
MR. S.: Yes, I absolutely think that’s true.
STUDENT: Ah, ha! Caught you! You are purposefully affecting my future.
MR. S.: That’s not what I said.
STUDENT: My bad grades might misrepresent who I am to the Ivy League schools. I might not get into Harvard because of your discrimination. Employers are going to look down upon me because of my bad grades. My future earnings are in jeopardy because of your grade discrimination. We are living in an age when grades just separate people into the achievers and the non-achievers. The passing and the failing. I thought we as a society were beyond this type of blatant discrimination, holding people back because of word that starts with B. But apparently, in some corners of education, there are still the vestiges of entrenched systemic discrimination. I thought you were better than that, Mr. S. I thought you were woke to the realities of the modern world. I’m ashamed to be your student and I do not under any circumstance acknowledge the authority of your grades over my life. I am, from this moment on, grade-free.

 

Penang. It’s official. The setting of my new novel.

I’ve been contemplating using Penang in one of my novels for years. I lived there from 2006-2017, so I got to know the place well. But for some reason, I don’t like to write about places where I currently live. So two years after the fact, my first Malaysian-based novel is happening. It’s a curious little novel for me – an unexpected one for many reasons. Once I finished my trilogy, I had fully expected to write a alternative history novel about the Vietnam War of which I have already written the first chapter. I will get back to it at some point. But, as ideas often do, the muse paid no attention to my intentions and planted in me a seed for a completely different story. A story of music, of teenagers, and an old man. No, don’t worry, nothing like the old man of my trilogy series. (insert chuckle)

Since the story centers around four teens, it is, in a way, my first YA novel, and I’m a little excited about that. Nervous, also. My protagonists have mainly been older adults in most of my stories, so hitting up the teen years is a little challenging. Thankfully, I work in a profession where I deal with teens on a daily basis, so that helps.

It’s natural for me to use exotic settings for my stories because I’ve been fortunate enough to live in many exotic places. So it just comes out from experience. I hope I can do Penang justice. Long way to go on this one, and I will definitely keep you posted. But here’s an overview of the main settings of my novels so far.

  1. Beauty Rising – northern Vietnam & Pennsylvania
  2. The Recluse Storyteller – nondescript USA and several other settings like Vietnam, and time settings like the USA of the 1800s
  3. The Reach of the Banyan Tree – Vietnam  (1945 & 2000)
  4. A Love Story for a Nation – a fictitious nation
  5. Which Half David – the fictitious nation of Sulu in Southeast Asia
  6. 7. 8. The Forgotten Child Trilogy – Manhattan, Scotland, Romania, Cambodia, South Pacific, Rwanda, and nearly out of this world

9. TITLE STILL UNDER WRAPS – PENANG, MALAYSIA

In future posts, I’ll revisit what makes Penang so great! And, by the way, I miss it.

 

Intersection of Meaning

I snapped this in Georgetown, Penang a while back. I suppose I was just be nostalgic. But what a meeting of forces.

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Kapitan is on Pitt Street.

Two of the best. One one street. Amazing.

Okay, explanation needed. Pitt – as in William Pitt – as in Pittsburgh, the city near and dear to me, a mere 25 miles from where I grew up. I have been a Pirates fan since 1976 when I discovered them on the radio at the age of 9. I’ve never looked back since. Modern Pittsburgh has grown into a wonderful city. I love going to PNC park in the summers whenever I get a chance.

So to find Pitt Street as the location of the famed Kapitan, wow! The stars have aligned. Kapitan is regarded as one of the best, if not best, Indian restaurant in Penang – and Penang has many wonderful Indian restaurants. Crispy chewy naan bread (mine with butter and garlic) to dip in chicken tikka butter masala. Or hey, why not some briyani rice. You can’t go wrong and you’ll walk away with a tone of flavorful overtones which will last a long time.

Two important impressions in my life – one on the palate – one on my memory and heart. And here they are together in the place where I’ve lived for eleven years.

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#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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A Short Narration #1

A Short Narration #1

RLT  Musical Revue is a special show of musical theatre (May 20th) which highlights the songs and short musicals which I’ve written or co-written over the past eight years. It includes 21 pieces of varying lengths, including 3 short musicals of 10 minutes or less. To tie the show together, I’ve written a few narrative pieces which introduce certain segments of the performance. Here’s a short one entitled Sacrifices & Hope. It introduces one of my favorite pieces, the short musical “A Woman at War” which tells the story of Sarah, who fights World War II in her own way on the home front.

Sacrifices and Hope. Hope is a platitude which means nothing without sacrifice. Hope doesn’t bloom alone in a barren and frozen winter soil. Hope requires sacrifice. For who would trust in a man who isn’t willing to lay does his life for his love? Who would trust in a God who wouldn’t firsthand understand the pain and sorrow holding back the spring’s green growth? Hope grows in the soil of sacrifice, on the distant battlefront, on the lonely home front, in the dead cold mud of the first day of March. As sacrifice is planted, hope grows.

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Twenty Shows: A Ten Year Lookback

Go back eleven years and drama wasn’t even in my radar. It may not have been in my galaxy, and if it was, it certainly wasn’t connected with original drama.

Now, in 2017, looking backward I see that I have written (or co-written) and produced 19 original, full-length dramatic productions in the past ten years. Here’s my wall to (kind of) prove it:

dramaboxes

I painted 21 squares on my wall and randomly colored them with whatever colors of paint I had. Now I’m going back and printing out a poster from all of my productions and inviting all my students to sign in any square in which they participated in. It’s a way of recalling what we have accomplished as I head out of Penang for good this coming June.

It’s been a wild and crazy ride. Moments of joy, laughter, tears, and euphoria — some of it even on stage! It’s been so fun to see young actors develop their confidence and soar through a production to impact the audience in unexpected ways. It’s also been rewarding to develop my skills as a playwright. I’m not finished developing, not by a long shot, and in fact I know I will never be finished  growing and experimenting in my craft. I’m in it for the long haul because I thrive on creative ideas and the challenge of bringing them to life. So as I work on completing my drama wall in my classroom, let me list off the original productions I’ve had the privilege of writing and producing at my school. An asterisk* denotes a script I co-wrote with student writers.

2008 What I Wouldn’t Give for a Monkey Love Potion*

2009 A Tad of Trouble*

2010 Take Two*

2011 Spy Blue*

2011 Romans on the Couch

2011 RLT Players present The Road Less Traveled*

2012 Life with Stewart*

2012 RLT Players present Drive All Night (Back into your Arms)

2013 Grandparents’ War*

2013 RLT Players present Captured in Time & Space

2014 Boardwalk Melody: A Musical*

2014 RLT Players present For All Generations

2015 A Tad of Trouble: A Musical (updated and re-written)

2015 RLT Players present Tales of Wonder

2016 Secrets of the Magic Pool

2016 How to Build a Dictator: A Black Box Experimental Piece

2016 RLT Players present Tales of Wonder II

2017 RLT Players: A Collection of Our Best

2017 RLT Musical: A Journey Down the Road Less Traveled

2017 RLT Musical: Tales of Christmas

 

 

Show-time!

Show-time!

Months of work is finally coming to a head. This past summer, I wrote the script for “Tales of Wonder II,” and I started rehearsing with the cast in August. It can, at times, get long and tedious, and the end goal can get lost in the minutia of the day-to-day preparations.

But then, it’s time. Excitement builds. Every little thing now matters, and the big things matter too – like bumping in, light rigging, front of house, ticketing issues, and display boards.

It’s worth it 100% to see these young actors take the stage, to see the audience walk in with anticipation, to see the wide-eyed delight on the kids when they hear the stories and fall in love with the entire experience. There’s nothing quite like putting on a live theatrical event.

Today, I started the process of setting up the display boards. I also checked in to see the progress on the staging. See below. Tomorrow morning, it’s lighting then sound, and by evening we’ll be painting the stage.

Wednesday is technical and dress rehearsal. Thursday – showtime!

If you are anywhere in the world close to us, you aren’t going to want to miss it.