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5 Years Later: In Shadow’s Shadow; 9/11, Neil Gaiman, and me.

Five years ago, I wrote this piece about 9/11 and how it affected me. I think this year it is once again fitting to post as this year saw the release of Starz’s adaptation of Gaiman’s classic.

So without further ado, I give you my blog IN SHADOW’S SHADOW; 9/11, NEIL GAIMAN AND ME.

After the re-posting of this blog, I’ll embed a special video that fits the piece.


In the days before September 11, 2001 my family had much to celebrate. The adoption of my sister was finalized, we attended a wedding of a cousin in Colorado, and got to spend lots of time with family. During that trip I made it a point to make sure we stopped at a bookstore. I have always been kind of a book nut, so no one was surprised on that Sunday afternoon, September 9, when I walked out with two brand new books, an anniversary copy of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride and a newer book that I had recently read a review of called American Gods. I was familiar with the author, Neil Gaiman, but not versed in his writings. This was to be my initial exposure.

On Monday, the 10th, I read Goldman’s book and fell in love with Buttercup and Wesley all over again. The Princess Bride is an American classic that never fails to spark my imagination. I probably watched the movie that evening, although I can’t remember for sure, but that is usually par for the course for me, read a book and if it’s available watch the movie. I know I did some prep work for auditions at Colby Community College the next day. They were doing the play Heaven Can Wait. If you don’t know that story, it’s about a boxer who dies before his time and is sent back into the body of a dying millionaire. He finds love and his world is changed.

I woke up Tuesday morning, September 11, and didn’t turn on the television. I’m a TV junkie, so this was a little weird for me. I didn’t turn on the radio, I didn’t have the internet in my little studio apartment, so there was no doing that. What I did do was pick up American Gods and begin to read.

American Gods is a “desert island” book for me. It’s a book I find challenging and inspiring and a true classic. It tells the story of a man, Shadow, who is released from prison a week early due to his wife’s untimely death. On his trip home, he finds himself being pursued and followed by a strange, older fella named Mr. Wednesday. Mr. Wednesday offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard. With really nothing left to live for, Shadow goes along for the ride. Along the way, while his zombie wife follows him and warns him, he discovers that the world he knew, isn’t what it seems.

American Gods is about the death of one world pushing against the on coming push of a new world. it’s about gods, myth, and magic. It’s about technology and its hold over us today. It’s about change. It’s about being lost in a world that is changing itself around us, reshaping itself, molding itself into something new and scary.

I read this book, all day, never once did my TV click on or did I tune in the radio. This would be betraying Shadow, and Mr. Wednesday, and Mr. Nancy, and Mr. Gaiman. I set, in a complete media blackout, while the world around me changed in a moment.

I went to auditions that night, which had been cancelled, and that’s when I found out, at 7pm CST, I found out what had happened. I, like everyone else, was in shock. Everything made sense now. The leaked words through thin plaster walls, dividing me from my neighbors, that “it looked like something out of Independence Day.” The lack of cars on the streets, the lack of activity anywhere. The fact that the radio station I worked for at that time, was airing the Presidents speech, when they hardly ever did things like that.

I felt like Shadow, lost in the shadows, not knowing what was going on. Lost, confused, shocked. I could take you to one of my “thinking spots” I went to that night. The place my friends Shane, Lacy, and Becca found me at. I can take you to the parking lot where the news was first delivered to me. I could show you the apartment we all went to and watched CNN, and Fox News, and Headline News, and CNBC and every other channel that was airing news. I could take you to the small Baptist church I went to and prayed. And even though I’m not a Baptist, it seemed like the thing to do.

I remember pouring over my Bible, looking for answers that didn’t come easily. Of drawing conclusions that probably weren’t there. The world around me had changed and I was fighting that change. I wanted to stay locked in a small bubble, in Shadow’s shadow, where maybe things weren’t safe but I couldn’t get hurt. Where I was forced to think, but not put thoughts into action.

Good literature forces us to think and to act. A life changing moment causes us to act and to think. For me those two worlds collided as a tower fell in New York City.

How has the world changed in 11 years? We’re a much more global society then we were then. As high speed and wireless internet has been developed along with cheaper, faster, more mobile computers and smartphones, more people are “online”. Information is passed along, thanks to social media sites, as they happen. In 2001, there was no global Facebook or Twitter. There were no smart phones and instant Instagram uploads. No YouTube. No Netflix. That’s life on a global, technological scale. What has happened to YOU personally in the last 11 years?

At the time, Shane, Lacy, and Becca were my best friends. My only friends. The 4 of us were almost inseparable. We went to church together, we went out to eat together, we were always at one another’s houses. We were hungry for a fresh spiritual awakening. And in the years that followed, we did grew up. They all three are married now, to wonderful, godly people. Becca has two beautiful daughters. Lacy quit her long time job and moved to a small town when she got married. Shane just bought a house. I floated from job to job working in various media jobs (radio and newspaper) and hospitality fields (hotel and restaurant). Last year, I lost my job and decided to go back to college. I rediscovered my love of acting and theater. I’ve been privileged to travel over the world. I’ve made new friends and reacquainted myself with some old ones. I’ve had a play published. I’m trying to make this writing/acting thing work for me while I juggle a job and schooling.

In many ways I’m in a similar place to where I was 11 years ago. Then I had just moved back to my home town and made some new friends and sparked an old friendship. Today I’m in a different town with probably as many friends, some new and some old. I didn’t act in Heaven Can Wait in the fall of 2001, I dropped out for personal reasons. I really wanted to do the fall musical here,  Curtains, but I didn’t get cast. That’s life though. In 2001 I was a scared 24 year old kid. Scared, not that terrorists had attacked us, but scared of change and what the meant. Now I’m a 35 year old man, and while I’m still scared of change, and I think we all are, I no longer fight change, I embrace it. And that, I think, would make Shadow proud.


Thanks for taking the time to read that. I know it’s different then what I normally and nominally blog about. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to reblog it.

Now, I’d like to present to you my short monologue, WARNING SHOTS, as performed by Jocelyn Goodwin.

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New Year, New Goals, New Shows

2016 has come to a close and 2017 has begun. In the past I’ve talked about how I’ve wanted to spend the new year blogging more, writing more, producing more content. I think I write a variation of this blog every year. this year, the goals are the same; blog more, write more, create more content.

Lets look at what I’ve written in the past year though. I adapted my play  #JohnDoe from podcast format to stage format and had it performed by my local theater, Hays Community Theater, in late April/early May. You can watch these (not very well recorded but still) performances on my YouTube page.

In late May/early June I worked on three new short plays; The Suicide Club (based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson), A Knack For Living (a play set in the old west), and Moonlight (based on The Moonlight Road by Ambrose Bierce). At least two of these will be performed in the upcoming season of Sherri’s Playhouse, heard on the podcast Chatting With Sherri (the same podcast where Murder At Home and #JohnDoe premiered). In addition, I wrote some new 10-minute plays including Thoughts And Prayers in response to the Orlando shooting in June, which was performed in Kalamazoo, MI.

In December, I started work directing a new play for Sherri’s Playhouse as well, Sherlock Holmes and the Terror By Night Train. I came up with the story, my writing partner wrote the script, and I added in additional material. I’m really proud of this cast and can’t wait to share this story with you. It’s coming January 29th.

What does 2017 hold for me? I’m hoping to get Warning Shots, my monologue for young female actor, into the hands of some students for forensic competitions this year. I’d also like to get Superstar, a 10-minute two-hander, into some students hands as well. Both of these are available here on my website, along with some other free scripts. I’m working on an adaptation of the medieval poem The Owl And The Nightingale,  that I think would make for an interesting contemporary political themed piece.

Other goals include getting #JohnDoe into other theaters, seeing more productions of Tom Sawyer and Allie in Wonderland, getting a production of my adaptation of A Christmas Carol and continue writing about the arts and arts advocacy as needed.

So here is to more blogging, more writing, more content creation in 2017 (it probably won’t happen by the way 😉 )

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”.

 

#PlaywrightRespect and Moving Forward: Minnesota Troupe Responds to Critical Dramatist Guild Letter About Rules for New Play Fest – Playbill.com

Earlier this week, I blogged about a  youth theater program in Minnesota, their call for submissions and the backlash amongst playwrights that it was causing.

It started with a blog from playwright Donna Hoke (you can find that in my previous two blogs on this issue), followed by a blog from producer and advocate Howard Sherman, then The Dramatists Guild of America responded and both Playbill and BroadwayWorld picked up on the story. Within the small theater and playwright world on Twitter and the like, it was a hotly discussed topic with snark, anger, some disagreements, and genuine discussion.

So where do we stand today?

The artistic director, David Driscoll, has responded with a slightly more thought out message then we received last year at this time, which was “If you don’t like our guidelines, don’t respond.” What Mr. Driscoll has said is that they never change the playwright’s words without permission (Then why do your guidelines say you can? I ask) and that they plan on working with the Guild to rework their guidelines. That’s good, a positive step forward. Now we need to work on educating people that they cannot change any script period without the playwright’s permission.

That means if you can’t find a mauve dress for your production of INTO THE WOODS, you don’t just randomly change it to “purple”. It means when there is confusion in a song as to who sings Kate, Serena or Pilar, you contact the licensing company/publisher who can tell you (as I recently had to do). It means asking if there is a question, and collaborating. It means, as a theater, if the writer refuses to work with you, you either do it as written or you don’t do the show. It means paying for every performance and not cloaking some performances as “previews” or “sponsor nights” or dress rehearsal with an audience that pays.

#PlaywrightRespect isn’t about just respecting the playwright’s words, but respecting their craft and paying them for their art and educating the next generation of theater creators.

Minnesota Troupe Responds to Critical Dramatist Guild Letter About Rules for New Play Fest – Playbill.com.

#PlaywrightRespect and why it’s important

If you missed the hullabaloo over the weekend regarding the #PlaywrightRespect hashtag on Twitter, here is an overview. Saturday, the talented Donna Hoke posted a call for new, never produced, never published ten-minute plays from a group called Words Players. Donna went into great detail about WHY this call was offensive to playwrights in her blog post (which I linked to in a previous blog) and suggested tweeting about, using Facebook to spread the word, etc, using the hashtag #PlaywrightRespect. If you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you saw that I was madly tweeting and retweeting about it. Words Players responded by not allowing anyone to post on their Facebook page and ignoring the tweets and hashtag. When this same issue was presented last year at this time, the management at Words Players responded with,”if you don’t like it, don’t submit”. Which is a response many of us chose to not do last year and this year.

The respected theater producer and blogger Howard Sherman picked up on the issue and blogged about it himself on Sunday. In that blog, a commentator who works with Words Players asked why this was such a big deal.

This is why.

I’m a working playwright, involved primarily in Theater for Young Audiences and community theater. I work with a lot of bright kids, smart talented kids, with aspirations of being theater teachers, dance teachers, English teachers or performers. During a recent rehearsal of a big name Music Theater International (MTI) licensed musical, I noticed the actors were taking minor liberties. Skipping a word here, a line there, rearranging words. To most people, this would not be a big deal, but I wanted to take this opportunity to teach these 16-21 years old (with a few 30 year olds and older thrown in) something. I sat down and opened up MTI’s licensing agreement at the front of the script and read to them and had them read along, the agreement that we are not allowed to change words, etc as written. It was like seeing a light bulb go off. This was something they had never been taught.  As I explained, “even if I wasn’t a writer and this wasn’t a hot button issue with me, I would still be talking to you about this because this is what the license says we have to do.”

The #PlaywrightRespect hashtag was chosen because that is what theaters are not doing when they make blanket changes, lines, gender, etc. without at least consulting the playwright. There is a difference between interpretation and changes to the script. Here’s an example, I recently had a production of my TYA adaption of Alice in Wonderland done by a children’s theater education program in Atlanta. My script says this:

HATTER crosses to the table, sits down and the chair breaks. He sighs and begins to work on it.

What they did was one of the funniest, couple of minutes of physical comedy I’ve seen a young actor do. It wasn’t anything I had imagined, but it was a legit choice that respected what I wrote. However, they respected every written word. They had a chair break and they had the Mad Hatter work on the chair. They said every word of dialogue as written.

We could choose to not send in our plays, and many of us have made that choice. HOWEVER, the reason this is an issue to many of us is because we share the same goals as you and your company do, to educate the next generation of theater and art creators and that starts with teaching respect for the writer’s words. The writer’s who have spent hours, days, weeks, etc into crafting a play that you want to produce. By asking us to write a brand new work, even one that is ten minutes long, without respecting the words and the time it takes to write that, is insulting to us. It’s like asking for a gift and then breaking it because it wasn’t the right color, or whatever. It doesn’t teach children about the collaborative nature of theater but rather encourages a culture of entitlement.