theater for young audiences

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.

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#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.

Upcoming Interview!

Just dropping in a note here to tell you that Tuesday (that would be the 26th of May) I’ll be appearing on Sherri Rabinowitz’s podcast Chatting With Sherri, heard on the BlogTalkRadio network. We’ll be discussing my new play #JohnDoe, the new season of Sherri’s Playhouse, theater, the arts and who knows what else. Sherri and I always have a great conversation and the roads always take us down interesting paths. It’s sure to be a great time. That is this Tuesday at 10:30am PT/12:30pm CT for the live show or tune in anytime to listen in! I also have the past appearances here on my website to listen in on.

Summer Lovin’ (The Theater)

Last summer (2014) I thought was going to be my busy summer theater summer, but it looks like this year is just going to be as busy. Last year, it was acting in Into The Woods for Hays Community Theater, acting in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for Phillipsburg Community Theater, and acting and directing a show for Sherri’s Playhouse, heard on BlogTalkRadio. I then finished the summer with a stage version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. this year, I’m co-directing Legally Blonde for Hays Community Theater (my home stage), Allie In Wonderland will be performed in Stockton, KS as the inaugural play for Rooks County Community Theater, and I’ll once again be writing, directing, and acting in Sherri’s Playhouse. Plus, I need to do edits on one play and work on some others. I also have a potential commission coming up, so fingers crossed for that. I’m also wanting to make a trip this summer to Hutchinson, KS for Smallville ComicCon and to see the Hutchinson Community Theater production of It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman! (aka The Superman musical) and to Denver for Book of Mormon!

Yes I’m crazy like that, but I’m also the same guy that flew to Atlanta on a Thursday and back to Kansas on a Friday to see PageOne Studios there do Allie In Wonderland. You may have noticed there’s some pictures from that show on my website. I’ve also updated my webpage to include FREE SCRIPTS! PDF copies of some of my monologues, one-minute plays, and duets are available for download, perusal, and performance. I just ask that I’m informed of the performances. Right now you’ll find 13 original works up there. Why 13? Well 13 is my lucky number, that’s why.

I’ll try to blog as often as I can, but with a summer this busy…