Hamilton and Safe Spaces

Recently, the Vice-President Elect, Mike Pence, attended the multiple award winning, critically acclaimed musical Hamilton. According to reports, upon arrival the VPE was greeted with a mixture of boos and cheers from the audience. There were points in the show where Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics and music caused the audience to respond in such a way that actors had to pause and refocus. Afterwards, during the curtain call, the cast addressed Vice-President Elect Pence voicing their concerns and their desire that the Trump administration remember them after telling the audience not to boo Governor Pence.

The President-Elect responded on Twitter with this message:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!</p>&mdash; Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/799974635274194947″>November 19, 2016</a></blockquote>
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As this blog goes out, many angry Americans are rating the Hamilton show as a 1-Star show and #BoycottHamilton is trending on Twitter. The point of this blog isn’t political. It isn’t about the Hamilton’s cast message to Vice-President Elect Pence nor about really about President-Elect Trump’s tweet. It is about the idea that theater is a “safe and special place”. theater can be a place of entertainment, but it isn’t solely a place of entertainment. Theater is also a place where ideas are challenged, where people are challenged. Shows like The Crucible and The Hairy Ape are designed to make people think within the context of theater. Even seemingly “safe” shows like Oklahoma, The Music Man, Wicked and Hairspray present ideas to challenge the ideas and notions of the audience. Look at shows like Rent, Angels in America, Dog Sees God, Book of Mormon, the list goes on and on.

So lets get rid of the idea that theater is a “safe” place, but it is a “special place”.

 

artoberfest

ARToberFest

Many people have heard of Oktoberfest, a celebration of German, Volga, and Bavarian culture. It traditionally runs 16-18 days starting in mid to late September and ending around the first of October in Munich. Oktoberfest has since spread to several major cities and college towns. My own town, Hays, KS, has been celebrating for almost 40 years and coincides with Fort Hays State’s Homecoming celebration.

The month of October is also National Arts and Humanities Month, a time to celebrate the arts. As President Obama has said, “The arts embody who we are as a people and have long helped drive the success of our country.”

That’s why I am suggesting a change in October, instead of celebrating Oktoberfest (or in addition to), I want to encourage you to celebrate ARToberFest. See a play or a musical, write a play or a musical, read a book or write a book, read a poem or write a poem, draw or paint or visit an art gallery. Find a way this month to celebrate the arts. Then end the month with “All Hallow’s Read” and give away books with treats at Halloween.

The Death Of Theatre

This week we lost two people important to theatre: Edward Albee and Charmain Carr. Albee was 88, Carr was 73.

Edward Albee was arguably America’s greatest living playwright, entering the world of theatre after the death of Eugene O’Neill and after Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams had released their most important work and continuing their legacy. His first play, The Zoo Story, opened in 1959 in Berlin. A year later, his work transferred to New York and was the progenitor to what we know as “off-Broadway”. His most influential work, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, came in 1962. Albee was a master of heightened naturalism that influenced generations of writers, actors, and directors. In a world of commercial, jukebox musicals, Albee’s works showed that high drama could still draw an audience, and influence them.

Albee won three Pulitzer Prizes in his career for A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975) and Three Tall Women (1994). His play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award’s drama jury, but was overruled by the advisory committee due to the play’s “vulgarity”. They elected not to give a drama award at all that year. The jury subsequently resigned in protest. Woolf ended up winning the Tony Award in 1963. Albee won his second Tony almost 40 years later for The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? in 2002. He was nominated for Tony Awards in 1964 (The Ballad of the Sad Cafe), ’65 (Tiny Alice), 67 (A Delicate Balance), ’75 (Seascape).

In addition to his original plays, Albee was also an adaptor to the stage of other’s works,  writing the stage versions of Truman Capote’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Vladamir Nabokov’s Lolita. As a writer who mixes in adaptations in addition to original work, it warms me to see that this amazing playwright did the same thing (Albee did two other adaptations; The Ballad of the Sad Cafe  and Malcolm).

This week we also lost Charmian Carr, best known for playing Liesel in The Sound of Music. Carr was primarily a film actor, but her portrayal as the eldest von Trapp daughter has influenced every ingenue to take up the role since. The daughter of vaudevillian actor Rita Oehmen and musician Brian Farnon, Carr had never taken a singing lesson or tried to act before taking the role of Liesl in Robert Wise’s 1965 film. The audition had been arranged by her mother, who did it without asking Carr if she wanted to do it. Carr agreed to do the audition, thinking her mother would consider getting a part in a motion picture more important than getting a college diploma. Carr got the role, beating out actors such as Sharon Tate, Mia Farrow, Lesley Ann Warren, and Patty Duke.

Director Wise thought the surname “Farnon” would be too long when paired with Charmian and so presented the young actor with a list of single syllable surnames, from which she chose the name “Carr”.

Carr did one other musical, the Stephen Sondheim piece Evening Primrose, which aired on ABC Stage 67 in 1966, before eventually leaving show business to start an interior design firm. One of her clients was Michael Jackson, who was a fan of her performance. But while she left acting behind, she never left Liesl behind, writing two books; Forever Liesl and Letters to Liesl. She also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey show in 2010 with many of her Sound of Music co-stars to celebrate the film’s 45th anniversary and recorded Edelweiss with the great-grandchildren of the real von Trapp family.

These two “theatrical” careers, one stretching out for decades, one very short, serve as a reminder, to me at least, that theatre, music, musicals, and performance, continue to influence and shape our culture and our society. The world of drama wouldn’t be the same without Albee and his body of work and the world of musicals wouldn’t be the same without Carr’s iconic performance.

Welcome Back

So, I’ve been gone for awhile. Not for lack of wanting to be, but just a lack of time. I’ve been devoting myself to my writing and to my life outside of writing and have put my website and blogging on the back burner.

So what has been happening? Well besides me listening to Hamilton obsessively?

Well first, we have a new, updated domain name. We are now a [dot]Com

3 Million.

Last October, I premiered a new play via Sherri’s Playhouse, a feature of the podcast Chatting With Sherri, called #JohnDoe. The last count of downloads I received was around 3 million downloads. #JohnDoe is a long one-act comedy about life, love and reality TV. A wealthy family, known more for their antics on television and reality TV, find themselves in a will dispute when their entrepreneur patriarch suddenly dies of cancer. What follows is a hunt for a mysterious friend of the deceased who is also a beneficiary of the estate so that they can all receive their share of the inheritance.  #JohnDoe starred Tonia Lee, Summer Patrick, Cathy Kutz, James McCollough, Everett Robert, Raymond Brent, David Koshiol, Jen Gray, Savy Gray, and Debbie Herriman.

Hays, KS

#JohnDoe was then staged on the stage with Hays Community Theater at the end of April. This production also starred me and some of the original cast members (Jen Grey, Savy Gray, Raymond Brent) but also Wendy Richtmaier, Tammy Watford, Tammy Freeman, Jerret Leiker, Brian Kingsolver.

Lawrence, KS

My short monologue, Warning Shots, was performed by EMU Theater in Lawrence, KS in November of 2015. My little play shared the stage with Will Averill, Robert Baker, Dan Born, Evan Guilford-Blake, Nick Stock, and (another Hays, KS resident) Catherine Trieschmann. Warning Shots recounts the two different attacks on Lawrence, KS during the Civil War from the perspective of a young girl who witnessed it.

Kalamazoo, MI

My new play, Thoughts and Prayers, went up this past August in Kalamazoo, MI from Fancy Pants Theater as part of their political play series. Thoughts and Prayers details several shootings across the United States over the past couple of years and how the phrase “you’re in my thoughts and prayers” isn’t wholly the answer.

What’s Coming up?

I’ve written two more short plays for Sherri’s Playhouse, one an original western and the other and adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club.  So be looking for more information on those as they come up.

Thanks again for sticking with me and embarking on this new adventure, once again

lowellarts

#PlaywrightRespect and #LowellArts

While on the Official Playwrights of Facebook group, I came across a call for submissions from the LowellArts, a group in Lowell, MI. This particular call for submissions is one of the worst I’ve seen (a $20 fee for a 10-minute play!) so I wrote them. What follows is a copy of my email.

To Whom It May Concern,

I recently came across your call for submissions and even though the deadline has passed, I am writing to you today to voice my concern that your contest is taking advantage of playwrights. To ask for $20 in the hope that my ten-minute play may or may not be produced is one of the highest, if not the highest submission that I’ve seen, particularly for a ten-minute play. Ten-minute plays, in the life of a playwright, are not money makers, are often given away for free as a way to help get a playwright’s name out there or to help benefit community theaters, schools, etc. who may not be able to afford royalty rights. As the playwright, we have already spent time, energy, effort that could be spent making money, into crafting this piece of art, for our own self-fulfillment and again for the promise of no money.

Asking the playwright to pay also raises the question, do you ask your actors to pay for the chance to audition, whether or not they get a part? What about potential directors? If you have 10 directors interested in directing one of the 8 plays you have selected, do you ask all ten to pay $20, use eight of them and keep the additional $40? You may say, and I’ve heard this as an actor myself, that the actor does pay for their part in ways other then in cash. Through bringing their own costumes, props, time, etc. The same with the director. I recently directed a musical for my local community theater and invested a lot of my own personal money into the show, by my choice. However, that argument is flawed when you consider the time the playwright puts into creating their play. A 10-minute play is not written in 10 minutes. Personally, I have spent days or weeks writing the perfect 10 minute play. If you do understand this, and still ask the playwright to spend $20 of their hard earned money, on a play that is not guaranteed a production, then you have great disregard for the art of playwrighting.

If you are targeting this call to playwrights who are not more experienced and are looking for a start, then this call is even more egregious because you are taking advantage of a group of writers who do not know better. In writing circles there is an adage, “money goes to the writer, not the other way around.” And that is the way it should be. in this case, money is going to ONE writer, while others who submit are not even promised a production, only the lucky eight.
I understand you are offering a substantial prize, but I’m not convinced that asking for playwrights to pony up the cash for the prize money and fund your theater is the way to go. There are close to, if not more, 9,000 working playwrights in the United States. If even just a fraction, say 100, send in a play to you, that is $2000 to fund your festival. Subtract the $500 purse, and you still have $1,500. Now I know from experience that putting on a play isn’t cheap, but where does that $1,500 go? Are tickets to the show being sold? What is the size of your house? And why are playwrights being asked to fund your festival? These may seem like hard questions, but as a veteran of the stage for over 20 years, I know some of these questions (cost of tickets and expected house size) are often asked by licensing agencies when rights are sold.  Most licensing agencies will charge you whether or not you are charging for tickets are not and still want to know an average cost and house size. you may not want to disclose this information to a playwright, but you should. Why should the average playwright, who is licensing his or her own material, not be privy to this information? If I put in $20 to your show, I’m essentially an investor in your company and should know how my money is being spent.
You may not see these points the same as I do, but it is the truth of the situation. You are taking advantage of playwrights, we are serving as investors and licencors, and we should know these things before deciding how to spend our money. We are NOT your patrons, we are your artists.
Thank you,
Everett Robert