Category Archives: Theater

About An Unpleasantness at Lonesome Gulch

I didn’t blog a word about this one. I just got caught up in what was going on, and by the time I recovered, it had been over for a couple of weeks. And unless you’re connected to me via Facebook, you had no idea what was going on.

So here’s what went down. I wrote another VBS play between January and May of this year, directed it between June and July, and ended up taking a part when I ran out of actors and performed in it during the first week of August.

And it, namely a wild-west themed production called An Unpleasantness At Lonesome Gulch, was worlds better than my first VBS show, The Terrible Misfortune.

Not that Misfortune was bad. It was a hoot and people loved it. But when I wrote it, I just put it together, trying to put little Biblical lessons in each episode that hopefully the teachers could use as object lessons. Not to mention that our associate minister built a pirate ship out of a haywagon that included masts and rigging and a working wheel and rudder. Lots of things for the extras to do when the main characters were busy onstage.

But I was determined to do things righter with Lonesome Gulch. We had a VBS planning meeting in either late December or early January, can’t recall which, and I told the crew my master plan. I wanted to write a VBS play that would directly mesh with the lessons being taught so the teachers could use it to draw a direct parallel from the play to the Bible lesson if they wanted. All I knew was that I was going with a wild west theme for the play, and I needed the overall theme and the daily lessons.

They rewarded me with those very things at the meeting, and while it was a challenge to fit The Creation, Jesus’ Ministry and Miracles, The Crucifixion, and The Resurrection into an Old West town, I think I pulled it off. And some of the actors were thrilled to find out that there was more to their parts than simply The Good Guy or The Doctor. For example, The Mayor of the town represented the Pharisees – devoted to the law but wanting to put his own spin on things. The Bad Guy represented the Roman Empire, and the slimy sidekick who kept whispering bad ideas into his ear was none other than Satan. The Doctor represented non-believers, and the guy in the white hat was you-know-who, the son of the man who built the town. And the guy named Pete was… well, you can probably figure that one out.

Like any production, it had its ups and downs, but in the end it all came together much like Geoffrey Rush’s character in Shakespeare In Love said it would. “It’s a mystery!” It’s the magic of theater, that’s what it is.

Directing these plays the last three years (we did “The Terrible Misfortune” two years) has really put a bug in my ear to direct something at the local community theater. I really enjoy doing it, moreso than acting, I think. And in my last role, as Bob Ewell in To Kill A Mockingbird, I gave a performance that I don’t think can be topped. At this point, I’m not sure I want to even try. But we’ll see what the next season brings… and there is the prospect of being in a Shakespeare play at some point in the future, something I have long wanted to do.

So I’m slowly looking at scripts to see if there’s something I’d like to direct. Probably a farce, since both VBS shows bordered on farce. I’ve also flirted with the idea of writing my own farce. Yeah, I did try to write a Christmas show, and it turned out so bad that I have it under lock and key until I can operate on it and make it better. There’s less decorum in a farce, and it is a lot more forgiving since the audience applies extra dollops of Suspension of Disbelief to the nonsensical goings-on. I don’t know I’ll actually do it… but it could be loads of fun. Hey, maybe I should do a Shakespears play…

Anyway, the immediate plan is for me to whip the two existing VBS shows into shape, put them into book form, and make them available through Lulu.com to other congregations looking for an unusual show without having to buy the same package everyone else in town is using. Following that, it’ll be time to start working on the 2009 production, which is going to have an outer space theme with the working title “The Incredible Adventure of the Frozen Man.” Yeah, I’m starting earlier this year.

And in between that and the launch of something else coming up soon, maybe I will have the time to start moving ahead on directing a play at the local community theater. We’ll see.

Me, as a pretty unpleasant fellow

JCF as Bob Ewell in "To Kill a Mockingbird"

We opened To Kill A Mockingbird this weekend to two consecutive standing ovations. I would have played the picket fence in this show, but I’m elated to have the part of Bob Ewell. We have three more shows next week – Saturday is already sold out.

This Awful Weed

With all of the noise of the fair out of the way, and slogging through September (always a busy month, and is probably the toughest month for writing – well, maybe next to December), my intentions were turning toward getting that stupid Christmas play finished and out of my way so I can either go on to something else or get out of the biz entirely. They got a jump start over the weekend.

In the company of my in-laws, my wife and I went to see the local community theater production of Joe DePietro’s Over The River and Through the Woods. I had no idea what to expect from the show, being unfamiliar with it and the author (other than DePietro wrote the Off-Broadway oft-produced hit, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change). Three things happened while I was at the theater:

First, as I always do when I go to the theater, I got the theater bug again. This time, the bug told me I really had to get the silly Christmas play done (although I am planning to audition for To Kill A Mockingbird later this season).

Second, the play we saw told me that my instincts for the Christmas show were in the right place. The show is a bittersweet comedy about a young man leaving his extended family for a job on the other side of the country. The first act is very funny, and the second act is more dramatic and emotional. This is exactly the structure that A Father Christmas has. It doesn’t so much mean that I’m chasing a hit here (although I could always hope, I suppose) as it tells me that I’m on the right track with the way I’m writing the play.

Third, after the show I talked with one of the cast members who is also on the board for the theater and asked about when they would want to see scripts for the 07/08 season. She told me I should have the script in by February. Of course I thought that this was way too much time, that I could have this thing written and put to bed by Thanksgiving – but on the other hand, I told myself I could have the play done by Thanksgiving of 2005, and look what happened there.

So anyway, even though I was intellectually motivated before, I am now emotionally motivated, I have validation of what I’m doing, and I have a deadline. What more could I need? Time, of course. Which I’m going to steal, bit by bit, as necessary.

I even stole a bit of time last night to do some work. The details are below. I hope I can fill in even more details over the next few weeks. I’m on the downhill side of writing the play, and it should pretty much write itself at this point. As always, time being the issue.

Time to practice my thieving skills.

A Father Christmas
Act Two, Scene One
Pages, 9/17/06: 2
Total pages: 111

Listening:
Now I’m all alone
No one left to help
Chip the stone
And now this awful weed
Begins to grow

(via iTunes shuffle play)

In Which The Terrible Misfortune Sets Sail and Doesn’t Do So Bad As All That

So The Terrible Misfortune is history – for another year, anyway. By the end of the play’s single run, there was talk of doing it again next year, and speculation that another congregation might use it for their one-day VBS as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Friday. Rehearsal. The same principles who showed up on Wednesday showed up Friday, so the cast was written in stone. The associate minister continued to make improvements on the ship – it now had its name painted on the sides and back in a perfectly piratical font (which turned out to be the stencil set the grabbed because it was on sale at WalMart). Cannons were painted on the side. The Union Jack/Jolly Roger switching mechanism was in place. We got through the entire play, in order, beginning to end, even though squadrons of mosquitoes were beginning to arrive by the end. Oh, and my mother came. My wife parked a car near the stage with the passenger window opened and she sat in relative comfort watching as my words were brought to life and I played the part of the narrator. The minister – who played the pirate – said that was one of his two highlights of being in the play: watching a proud mom watch her son at work.

There was also one of those happy accidents that you only get when directing a show. When the Pirate captain and some crew members walked on stage, the captain made a sudden stop and the others piled into him. It was so funny I told them to make that part of the blocking for the scene.

Saturday. Performance day, but first, one more run through. Some cast members were feverishly (and with my permission) making crib notes on file cards to take on stage with them. If we’d had four or six weeks to rehearse, I would’ve had a cow, but with only a week, and only a couple of days since the cast was set, I had no problem doing it. At my request the assistant minister put up a tiller for the youngest cast member to work for her onstage business. Parts were ragged, but other parts worked quite well.

And then, performance.

The way the play was designed, there would be a 10 minute episode, then the attending kids would break and go to Bible lessons. Come back for an episode, then more lessons. While there wasn’t preaching in the play (well, not until a mention of the Bible at the end), there were object lessons in each episode that could be used at the teacher’s discretion.

So the first episode went well. It’s that learning curve thing. Through repetition in rehearsals and the simple act of learning lines in order, Episode One went quite smoothly. I dropped a paragraph of my opening speech, but I put it into my introduction of Episode Two and the audience was none the wiser. Similarly, Ep Two went quite well. The minister noted something he hadn’t expected – some of the smaller kids in the audience looked fearful when the Captain talked and threatened his crew. Hmmmm.

Episode Three and things got kind of shaky. The day was getting long, people were getting tired, and we were sailing into that strange grey-skied territory where the lines weren’t learned quite so well. A couple of lines were dropped, but everyone recovered, and I gave praise to all for getting through. Episode Four, the wheels began to wobble and the train threatened to come off the rails, to mix a metaphor. While I listened, the dialoguing cast got lost and then vamped their way back to where they needed to be, dropping a page of text in the process, almost making the minister late for his entrance.

Episode Five. Well, we all got through it, although quite a bit of it was vamped, and the minister decided to ad lib during the scene where the treasure was revealed to make jokes about some of those in attendance, yours truly included. The big moment of the end was made even bigger when the mother who volunteered to act got most of her big line out: “Three cheers for…” and promptly forgot the name of the character to be cheered. So she said, “YOU!” and pointed. Big laugh. She was laughing so hard that tears were coming out of her eyes. I think I might write it in. The minister said that was the other highlight of the play’s run.

And as for the kids that were afraid of him, the minister talked to one afterward, and she told him that her favorite part of the play was when the captain cried (he blubbers when he sees what’s in the treasure chest and realizes he’s not a very good pirate after all).

The assistant minister was talking of doing the same play next year with a longer rehearsal time and more advertising in the community. The minister’s mother-in-law talked about doing the same thing at their congregation, a one-day VBS with a play, and I volunteered the script if they wanted it. A number of people in the congregation thought it was really neat that I was able to write something like that. Since our congregation is primarily blue collar, I don’t think that most of them really have any idea of what it is I do, whether it’s writing for a living as an advertising copywriter, or writing fiction for myself.

Also, and perhaps most importantly: this writing was for God. And it felt good.

And strangely enough, I have an idea for a sequel to this show.

But for now, my eyes are drifting up to the top shelf of my computer desk, at a maroon binder. Inside it is A Father Christmas

Listening:
So you take her to the pictures
Trying to become a fixture
Inch by inch trying to reach her
All the way through the second feature
Worrying about your physical fitness
Tell me how you got this sickness

(via iTunes Shuffle)

I Think I Could Get Into This Directing Thing A Lot

A whole lot. A whole fat lot.

We rehearsed last night for the first time on the hay wagon that has been skillfully and adroitly converted into a pirate ship by our assistant minister. It comes complete with three sails, a bow, a secret compartment, a ship’s wheel, a flag that changes from a Union Jack to a Jolly Roger, and places to hang backdrops that become the hero’s home (Episode 1) and a desert island (Episode 4). Coming soon to the ship: the name on the bow (“Terrible Misfortune”), a breakaway panel for a sight gag, a tiller (yeah, I know, but our youngest cast member was thrilled when I asked to have it put on just for her), a big backdrop, a few finishing touches, a removable plank for walkin’, and maybe some cannons painted into the sides.

We did scenes 4 and 5 first, since we didn’t get through them last time, then went inside (darkness and mosquitoes had set in) and did 1 through 3. The cast came together, and even though it’s rough, rough, rough, I can see where it’s starting to gel. With only a week and four rehearsals, it looks like it’s going to work, even though the performance will no doubt be rather ragged. If we had another two weeks to rehearse, it would be great. But we’ll make do. Next year we might have a month to rehearse, and might even be doing the same play – but that’s a story for another time.

What I can’t believe is how much fun I had directing this thing. It was fun on Sunday night, and I had a blast last night. Some of it was the joy of serving the Lord, I’m sure, but it was fantastic watching the cast start to work together and take initiative with their characters, bringing my words to life. Talking to the assistant minister about the ship set and what remains to be done with it. Throwing in sight gags and bits of business (like the tiller) for individual cast members. Just being around a bunch of enthusiastic people with great ideas of their own for making this whole thing work.

I’ve decided that this directing thing is all the fun of theater without having to memorize lines and go out in front of an audience. I don’t know… if it’s this much fun when I get the Christmas play to the community theater stage, I may never go back to acting.

I am now so incredibly psyched to get A Father Christmas finished and to the play selection committee that I can’t stand it.

This is great stuff. Great. Just great.

And in the meantime, between some Synergy songs popping up on the iPod Shuffle and my discovery of Sufjan Stevens, I’m ready to start listening to albums again. Maybe more on that later, too.

Listening:
Sangamon River it overflowed
It caused a mudslide on the banks of the operator
civil war skeletons in their graves
They came up clapping in the spirit of the aviator

(via iPod Shuffle)

The Show Must Begin

The Terrible Misfortune is finished, completed with a session on Saturday (Episode 4) and then Sunday afternoon (Episode 5), in time for casting and first rehearsal Sunday night after evening services. The total page count is 47, and I think the two scenes are about of equal length, with 5 being the larger of the two. I’ll likely do some cutting as we go, especially to Episode 1, because there’s a lot of stuff in there where I was just feeling my way along until I got a handle on the material.

Having a list of actors made things go faster in the end, as did the simple fact that, the closer I get to the end, the more I have inside of my head for the project. The cast helped because as I went on, I found myself writing parts for specific people, and it just flowed.

Because this balloon goes up on Saturday, I combined casting and first rehearsal together. Instead of having people read for parts, I gave individual parts to those who had parts written for them, and then had actors switch roles around until I settled in with whom I wanted where… mostly. I thought my cast would be too big, but I’ve got a couple of surplus actors, and a stage so small that I don’t have room for the roles I do have, let alone set dressing. Must think about that.

We ended up getting through three of the five episodes before the bewitching hour took half the cast. The ones on permanent assignment have their scripts. The next rehearsal is Wednesday night. I’m wondering if it can all come together in a week without having some folks with scripts in their hands for the final performance, but I keep trying to comfort myself with the words of Geoffrey Rush in Shakespeare in Love; “I don’t know how it comes together, but it always seems to. It’s a mystery.”

Or words to that effect.

(And to think I want to do this again next year, with a longer play, a big set, and paying customers. What am I? Crazy?)

Listening:
Beatrice, she got a phonograph
and it won’t say a lonesome word
Beatrice, she got a phonograph
and it won’t say a lonesome word
What evil have I done
what evil has the poor girl heard

(via iPod Shuffle)

Some Pages

A Father Christmas
Act Two, Scene One
Pages, 3/25/06: 4
Current Total: 95

What can I say? Trying hard to keep the streak alive. The defense finished with the antagonist, and just put the protagonist on the stand. He’s explaining what he does for a living. Basically, he’s an insurance salesman. But of course, the play isn’t about insurance.

Listening:
Well I know, I know, you’ll probably scream and cry
That your little world won’t let you go
But who in your measly little world
Are you tryin’ to prove to that you’re
Made out of gold and can’t be sold

(via iTunes shuffle play)