Arts in Education

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”.

 

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.

#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

@WordsPlayers #PlaywrightRespect and an open Letter

The following was posted in the comment section of the Words Players Facebook page, re: the recent controversory over their call for submissions.

There are some here who believe that the playwrights who have voiced our concerns have somehow “bullied” Words Players, Mr Driscoll, or their young actors and directors. I have been closely following the hashtag on Twitter and the @WordsPlayers twitter account and have seen snark but not bulling. We have not in any way threatened violence or made fun of you personally. We did not dox anyone or threaten to. We have not once, that I can find, attacked any of the young actors or directors. Many of us have stated, on Facebook, on Twitter, on Blogs, that our biggest concern is the education of these students. That we want everyone to treat playwrights with respect. In the original call, as it stood, many of us felt that we were not being respected, both by tone, word choice, and by the implication that our words would be changed with or without our permission. Mr Driscoll has graciously acknowledged that it could be read this way. But we still have questions and we still have concerns. I think just about anyone who has ever spent time in the theater has seen actors “go up” or have paraphrased because they either couldn’t be bothered to memorize or just couldn’t memorize. I have been involved in theater for a quarter of century. The majority of my life has been spent acting, writing, directing, producing, live theater. And most of that has been on the high school or collegiate level. I have worked in churches and in bars. And I’ve seen it happen. But just because it does happen does not make it right. As someone who has just finished directing a production of Legally Blonde, I strove every day to make sure that my young actors (most were between the ages of 16-22) got every word, word perfect. At one point there was some confusion, the book said one girl sang a part of a song, the score another. I contacted MTI and said, “hey we have a question here…” and they answered it within 24 hours and apologized for not answering it sooner. Does that mean we had a word perfect show? No. Because it happens. Bt my actors knew that was what I was striving for. In my training, I was taught “you aren’t the writer of this play, you cannot change the words no matter how much you want to.” And that has never limited my artistic ability to create something new and fresh and original. In my adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, I wrote “Hatter enters, sits down and the chair breaks. He tries to fix the chair” (that isn’t word perfect to the script btw I just don’t have it handy in front of me to copy and paste), when it was performed in Atlanta, I saw 2 minutes of some of the funniest physical comedy I’ve ever seen. That is not modification of the script, it is an interpretation.

There are those who have asked, why we have held this amateur theater to a professional standard. My first response is, don’t you want everyone to be treated like they are a profession, regardless if they are or not? Wouldn’t you want your children to learn how to act and react in a professional environment and learn the proper “professional” way of handling things in the theater? My second response is this, Mr Driscoll is a college professor and is a mentor to the young students of Words Players. As such, he should be aware of the current standards and practices in the theater world (which for decades have included not changing writers words without their permission, provided the writer’s works are not in the public domain.) As an educator, he SHOULD be held to a higher standard. Just because this is “art” doesn’t mean that there isn’t a professional behavior to be taught, and our main concern was that the next generation of theater creators (actors, writers, directors) were not being taught that. Surely you would want your business teacher to teach your children the proper way to do accounting, or build a computer or cook or whatever. Before you can bend the rules, before you can “break” the rules, you must learn the rules, I was always taught (and that there are some rules that shouldn’t be broken) and again, our concern, based upon this call, was that an unprofessional behavior would be taught.

I sincerely believe Mr Driscoll, North Words and Words Players have the very best intentions at heart. I do believe that they respect writers, but that respect isn’t reflected in the call for scripts that we saw (on your public website, and yes as I mentioned in my follow up comment above, it is a public website that anyone can access and does access. If you did not mean for this call to be spread, a simple “this submission opportunity is by invitation only” and would not be posted on your website OR you could have put, much like the Barnyard Players in Kansas City have done, “this submission is limited to people within 300 miles of Rochester, MN” or anything similar.) Writers have had the words abused, as I said, and almost every writer can attest to seeing it happen, or actor, or whatever. And in light of last years incidents with the transgender casting of Olenna without David Mamet’s permission and the incident with DGA president Doug Wright’s play, Hands On A Hard Body, and the rearranging of words, songs, scenes, etc without permisison and the arrogance displayed there (the director reportedly said “But you have to admit I made it better” to the writer) and in follow-up investigation on TUTS in Houston, I hope all of you can see why many writers are defensive and take up this cause as being quite personal. Words Players is not the first to have had this happen nor will it be the last. It was just a perfect combination of events, bloggers, and writers taking up a cause that was quite important to us. The continued silence on the issue, the deleting of posts criticizing the call for submissions (and I saw some of those that were deleted and they were not in any way “bulling” or “vulgar” or anything else.) fueled us on, encouraged us to make our voice heard louder and louder until the Dramatist’s Guild, Doug Wright, Playbill and Broadway World had no choice but to hear us. And at that point you did what you had to do.

I understand why Mr. Driscoll granted an exclusive with Playbill, but I would have loved to have seen him reach out to those that first started this call, particularly Donna Hoke and Howard Sherman.

I know this was long, and I appreciate anyone taking the time to read it and hopefully the critics of #playwrightrespect understand where we come from.

Reading their letter to the Dramatist Guild, I can sympathize. They describe a collective environment where writers, directors and actors helped each other. I love that style of theater. I love workshops, and I love that kids spearheded this.  My first couple of plays were done in the same guerrilla style “hey my dad has a barn, lets put on a play” style. Hell, directing Legally Blonde, I had no budget; props, costumes, set decoration came from actors closest, homes, or out of mine or my co-director’s pocket (and I wasn’t working much so that made it difficult). I understand where they are coming from, but that doesn’t make it any less right or wrong, how it was suggested it would be handled. There is growing up as a theater and growing out and then there is remaining stagnant. I hope this was simply a sign of growing pains.