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Hello? Hello? Is your radio on?

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It’s not often I’m contacted by the media, but a week or so ago, I did get a call. CBC Radio had seen an article about my juggling workshops in the paper and wanted to talk to me about them. Ten minutes later, they decided that, no, they actually wanted to talk to me about me, and the strange life I’ve lead. Fair enough, I thought.

The call was from CBC’s North by Northwest, a magazine programme that runs on the weekend. They interview a variety of people for a variety of reasons, and now it was my turn to talk about life, emigration and playwriting.

It was a Sunday morning recording session, and I made my way to the studio on the skytrain, enjoying the various landmarks that loomed out of the fog. I was met in the lobby of CBC by my hostess, Sheryl MacKay. She took me through to the studio where we’d be chatting and got me a drink while I tried to relax and stop worrying about saying something really stupid. At least this was going to be recorded and edited before broadcast!

Sheryl was very calming, and I found it easy to talk to her. I wanted to mention the brilliant work SMP Dramatic Society had done with the TLC pantomime “Knight Fever” , which I’d seen with my family just the day before, and I wanted to mention TLC in general, and the appraisal service I run. Oh, and there was my collection of e-books, and the one I haven’t finished yet but which SHOULD be out at the end of the month, and…oh, we’re out of time?

I think I kept my head and was interesting, rather than insane. Life has been, as you’ll know from previous entries, a serious of bizarre events and co-incidences and lucky breaks. Mrs Dim says we’re blessed, and looking around at the Weasels and my plays and the friends we have now, it’s hard to argue.

So, if you’re at a loose end this weekend, why not tune in to CBC and listen out for North By Northwest? I haven’t found out exactly when I’m being featured, but it’s quality programming, so you should enjoy it anyway.

January’s Juggling Workshops

Burnaby Now Picture

Picture courtesy of The Burnaby Now

UNFORTUNATELY, THE WORKSHOPS HAVE HAD TO BE INDEFINITELY POSTPONED. IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN LEARNING TO JUGGLE, PLEASE CONTACT ME BY EMAIL AT dtrasler3@gmail.com

On January the 24th I’m starting a new series of Circus Skills workshops. After the success of the kids workshops in November, I asked the Community Office at Stoney Creek to help me set up workshops for the local community.

There’ll be six sessions, each an hour long and beginning at Seven pm. I’m able to accommodate a maximum of fourteen students, and will be teaching a range of skills.

Juggling

For absolute beginners, I’ll be teaching basic three ball juggling. This can take as little as ten minutes From there it’s a short hop to more three ball tricks – there are THOUSANDS of those – or on to four or five ball patterns.

If you’ve got some experience with ball juggling, we can move on to club juggling. It takes a little more practice and technique but is very visually appealing. There’s also the opportunity to learn to pass clubs between two, three or four people.

Spinning Plates

Exactly what you think they are – plates that spin! Easy to master, but getting them spinning is just the beginning. There are a number of tricks to get to grips with, as well as the challenge of balance and carrying multiple plates.

Devil Sticks

Also known by the more appealing name of Flower Sticks, almost everyone has seen these props in action but few remember the name. A centre stick is kept aloft by two handsticks, appearing to defy gravity as it spins. It can be tricky to master, but is well worth the effort

Diablo

These also have another name – Chinese Yo-yo. Unlike yo-yos, they aren’t attached to the string, which is good as the most popular trick with a diablo is throwing it high into the air. Since the library ceiling isn’t too high, we won’t be throwing them up much, but there are dozens of other tricks to learn on the way to diablo mastery.

Poi

Developed by the Maori in New Zealand, poi are decorative and entrancing to watch. Two weights on lengths of string, they are swung in intersecting patterns but never tangle…Well, they SHOULD never tangle.

Unicycle

Another perennial circus prop that many people wonder about, the unicycle isn’t as difficult as it looks. Once you’re in possession of the basic rules, all it takes is a little regular practice and you’ll be as comfortable on one wheel as you are on two. Just remember that freewheeling isn’t an option!

For more information about booking places on the course or arranging private lessons, contact me through dtrasler3@gmail.com

When is writing right?

Recently I’ve been receiving some inspirational blog posts through my email. They’re from a writer who takes a very hard line about the business. I’m not going to quote this person directly, or make reference to their website, but the upshot is that they believe that being a writer, if you’re doing it properly, is the centre of your life. That anything else needs to take second place to putting your words down on…well, paper, screen, whatever you use.

From a certain point of view, I can agree with that. If you’re using your skill as a storyteller to write fiction for sale, or your ability to create interesting features to generate income from magazines, then yes, it’s a business. Like any business, you need to take it seriously and put in the effort it deserves. If you do the washing and ironing, then clear away the dishes and do the grocery shopping before you can start the day’s writing, you’re already behind. I get that.

Where it gets problematical (although I think that’s a made-up word) is that not everybody is in that position. I’m inspired by the example of James Moran, who wrote the feature films “Severance” and ‘Cockneys vs Zombies”. He held down a full-time job, but still wrote over twenty drafts of his first script because getting it exactly right and as good as he could was essential to realising his dream of being a screenwriter. He mentions in his blog that he would come in from work and start writing, he would write at weekends and at night because this was what he wanted.

Our favourite excuse, as writers, for NOT writing is : “I don’t have time”. Very few of the many, many writers in the world have writing as a full-time employment – by which I mean, the only thing they have to do during their work day. I’m luckier than a lot of people – my wife has a good job, and I only have to get the kids to school, then keep the house clean and running until they get back. The rest of my time can be spent writing. Except that the writing doesn’t directly add to the household income, so I actively pursue work that isn’t writing during the time I have FOR writing so that I can earn enough to allow me to remain at home and….not…write. Which brings me back to those emails.

There’s enough guilt in my life, thanks. I feel guilty that I can’t spend more time with my children. They have volunteer readers in their classes, they have adult volunteers on their field trips. I’m rarely involved with any of that. My house could do with more care and attention, but that would take some research and skills that take time to develop. My dog should have two walks every day, not just some days. My friends back in the UK should hear from me when things are ok, as well as when I’m grumpy, and my parents would probably like an actual letter to go with the emails. Maybe my family would appreciate me learning another meal to add to the seven I know how to cook. So, while I agree with the thrust of these emails – “If you’re a writer, then you should be WRITING! Writing is the most important thing in your day, don’t be ashamed of it!” I will still put family first. I know that means I probably won’t rise to the top of my profession, that I won’t outsell J.K. Rowling (and, given that I’m a playwright, that’s not surprising) but that’s a choice I’m making.

The sour grapes side of me wants to point out that the individual sending me these emails doesn’t have kids, and is “returning to the writing business”. They make their living as a writer by telling other people how to be a writer and working as a “Social Media Writer” for a large company. I don’t know what a Social Media Writer is. It might be a person who writes about Social Media, or it might be a person who writes about that large company ON social media. I don’t know. Either way, it’s not my place to judge their worth in telling ME how to be a better writer. Like I said, the core of their message is fair enough. Whether I want to take that advice to heart is up to me.

So here’s what I say about when to write. Write what you want to write, when you want to write. Write stuff you love writing, stuff you like to read. Write the stories that unroll in your head and drive you to your desk because they won’t lie still till they’re pinned to the page. Write because you have to.

You’ll be a writer because you write. If you want to be a rich writer, or to earn any money from writing, well…Then you need the discipline, the time and probably the guilt so that you FIND the time, no matter what else is going on in your life.

Disclaimer: Despite this appearing on the internet and probably leaving enough clues for a determined researcher, this post is not an attack on the person who is sending out the emails mentioned. They are entirely entitled to do what they’re doing, and I admire their standpoint even if I’m not standing there myself. If I really get upset by the emails, I have the option to remove myself from the mailing list and will do so if it becomes necessary. If anyone wishes to rush to the defence of this individual, please do so with courtesy and good spelling. If the individual feels persecuted and wishes me to retract any or all of the above post, I’d be happy to discuss it via email.

Heading into Fall…

Getting to grips with Autumn…

Autumn is typically a time of looking back, of hunching shoulders and preparing to draw down for the Winter. But this year, I’m feeling unusually optimistic about the coming months. The Appraisal Service has been busier than ever, and I beta read the fun “A Mystic Romance” and the challenging “Jump Drive“. Both of these last were projects I picked up through the social network G+, an invaluable source of advice and interesting information.

As you can see from the drop down menus at the top of the page, I have also dived back into Circus Skills workshops, reaching out to local school and the Parks and Recreation programmes in my local area. Circus Skills are easier to pick up than you might think, and there’s quite a range of things to learn. I have a trunk full of kit from my days as a semi-professional juggler, and I spent several years in the UK running workshops and Adult Education classes in juggling and circus skills.

One of my early workshops at Winchester, UK. See anyone you know?

If you have any questions about my proofreading services, or about Circus Skills, or you just want to learn more about G+, then drop me a line at dtrasler@shaw.ca, or leave a message in the comments.

Now I have to go and rake up the leaves. What have YOU got going on this Autumn?

The latest Lazy Bee Releases – new scripts for theatre groups!

Most of the details behind the information in this newsletter can be found via the “What’s New by Category” page of the Lazy Bee Scripts web site - http://www.lazybeescripts.co.uk/Whats_New.htm

Scripts for Kids (Schools or Youth Theatre)

  • We Have Character by Sherrill S. Cannon & Kerry E. Gallagher is a performance piece for young children, giving a rhyming exploration of well-known children’s books, with simple parables drawn from the characters.
  • Geoff Bamber’s The Willow Tree is a humorous one-act play for kids, based on the legend of The Willow Pattern Plate (one of the few stories in which the hero is an accountant). Geoff has also written a version of King Lear with a plot entirely recognisable from Shakespeare’s tragedy, but also with a lot more laughs. Written for kids, but could also be fun for grown-ups. (A cast of 9M, 3F and 2 of Either.)
  • Meanwhile, Richard Coleman serves up a comic compilation of chivalric characters in Camelot – The Knights of the Square Table – a rhyming romp round the realm.
  • Whilst Nicholas Richards wrote his two short pieces specifically for this year, the subject matter has lasted a long time and will continue, so we are happy to present A Brief History Of The Ancient Olympic Games and, for those with only fifteen minutes to spare, A Briefer History Of The Ancient Olympic Games.
  • Murder at the Music Hall by Laura Sanderson is a melodramatic spoof of a country house murder mystery for a youth theatre company. (The forty-minute show might be extended by interspersing Music Hall acts with the action.)
  • Linda Stephenson’s Bradley No Mates is a one-act play for a school company on the theme of bullying.
  • The Editing Room by Christine Harvey takes place in a TV studio where a group of production staff are editing and manipulating the participants in a reality TV show, whilst the staff themselves are being manipulated by the studio boss…
  • In addition to the script for The Not-so Ordinaries, Jon Boustead has created workshop material – games and exercises – as an optional extra to help the acting company develop their performances.
  • Herb Hasler’s Full Circle is an intriguing short comedy set in an American high school – an ideal vehicle for school or youth theatre. The long-suffering school principal is left to resolve a dispute amongst five students.
  • Doing Shakespeare by Louise Wade is set in a high-school drama studio in which a disruptive student is brought into a Shakespeare production.
  • Crossing The Line by Pete Benson is a drama either for a youth theatre or a mixed company (two of the characters are grown up). A group of children discover a wounded criminal in a barn. He has a very specific need for help. (At least 5M, 3F)
  • As might be guessed from the title, Tony Best’s play Amy’s Brief Visit To The Garden Of Earthly Delight is aimed at actors of high-school age. A bold play, dealing with peer-pressure, and teenage bravado.

Shorter Shakespeare  (Bill Tordoff’s abridgements of Shakespeare plays – the original plays in the original language, reduced to one-act play length.)

  • A Forty-Minute Henry VI Part 1 is an adaptation, rather than an abridgement – in this case Bill felt that it worked better with the verse form used throughout. The content is summarised by the subtitle: ‘The Wars Of Henry VI And Joan Of Arc’.
  • We’re back to abridgements for A Fifty-Minute Henry VI Part 2. This time the subtitle is ‘Cade’s Rebellion’ and after the wars with France are over, Henry encounters trouble within his own court and without.
  • A Fifty-Minute Henry VI Part 3 takes us into the Wars of the Roses with the Duke of York rebelling against the weak Henry VI.

Sketches & Very Short Plays (with casts of more than one character)

  • Life Goes On by Frank Gibbons is a Collection of 19 comedy sketches (ranging in duration from 4 minutes to 9 minutes and encompassing 44 characters, though just about playable by 3M and 3F). Sketches about life, love, work and cream cakes (in no particular order, though with a few common themes). All of the sketches are available individually. (As usual, the collection allows the set to be purchased at a discount to the sum of the individual components.)
  • TLC Creative are usually Damian Trasler, David Lovesy and Steve Clark. This time they’re joined by Brian Two for a collection of ten short comedy sketches with theatrical themes, ranging from show selection to first night nerves. The Talky Bits was originally created to be part of a dance or drama showcase (usually the part done front-of-curtain whilst the main set is being changed!) Nine of the sketches are available individually. (The collection has 37 roles – play able by a cast of 7 – at least one of which is female.)
  • Theatre is also the theme of The Accident by Herb Hasler is a play within a play for which the props and costumes have been lost and the actors stage the play using other actors and their stagehands as scenery… (4M, 2F, 2 Either)
  • Unearthed is a very short ghoulish mystery by Alan Robinson involving Andrew, his sister and a hole in the ground.
  • For the full effect of the comedy, Tom Jensen’s Mr Perkins needs to be played very straight. A cast of four or five, one of whom is the beneficiary of a will.
  • In complete contrast, Close Family by Iris Winston is a powerful short drama for a cast of 1M, 3F. (The sensitive subject can be deduced from the title.)
  • Robert Black’s Underneath At Archie’s is a short domestic drama for 1M, 1F in which household renovations are the trigger for a couple to find out things they hadn’t previously realised.
  • We’re back to the comedy for Hunting Yetis by Andy Haynes, a ten-minute play for a cast of two, only one of whom is a yeti.
  • Peter Zurek’s Name for a Baby is a wicked comedy sketch for a cast of 2M, 1F (not including the baby).
  • Camelia is a young artist, anxious to sell her work in Sophie Chapman’s ten-minute comedy Desperate Gallery (1F, 2M, 2 Either)
  • Charles Stott’s Cholesterol is a short for three men in a pub, contemplating life and especially diet.

Short Monologues and Monodies
Monologues come in a variety of forms, from simple recitations to Monodies (plays for a cast of one, usually with more in the way of set or props). Here we have several variants…

  • Cheryl Barrett demonstrates two different approaches to solo pieces. What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? is a short, bitter-sweet piece for a cast of one lady in her sixties. Then there’s Best Foot Forward, Darling, a rhyming monologue for a choreographer whose protegees, Monica and Jasper, have just gone on stage. (He addresses his acid remarks to the dancers and to an unseen companion in the wings.)
  • Best Served Cold by Alan Robinson is a ten-minute play for a gastronome, so the set is simply a table, chair and napkin.

One-Act Plays (by length; not necessarily by structure)

  • There aren’t many stage realisations of the zombie apocalypse. There may be good reasons for this, but Damian Trasler takes an unexpected approach with Love in the Time of Zombies a relatively serious treatment for a cast of 2M, 1F
  • Amy Sutton’s A Human Write is a fascinating one act drama that uses mime and rhyme to take us into the mind of a struggling writer. (Somewhere between 11 and 25 actors.)
  • George Freek’s It’s a Farce does exactly what it says on the label, with a plot of mistaken intentions, clever dialogue and physical comedy. (2M, 4F)
  • Elsewhere on the web site we have a range of serious and not-so-serious nativity plays for children. Archie Wilson’s approach in Hollingsborough Children’s School Nativity Play is a send-up of the genre, intended to have grown-ups taking the roles of the children performing the play (plus the exasperated teacher and an offstage voice). (5M, 4F, 3 or 4 Either.)
  • The Wound by Graham Jones is a one-act thriller set in a newly-opened small hotel where one of the guests appears to pose a threat. (2M, 3F)
  • Alan Robinson’s Red Card is a short play for three young women looking for Mr. Right – and expecting to spend Valentine’s Day not finding him!
  • A different approach to the same search can be found in Profound Moments by Johnny Grim which features a quartet of modern single ladies who gather in a pub for a night out.
  • A young actor finds an unexpected and disturbing visitor in his dressing room after a triumphal performance in Julia Lee Dean’s Mirror Image (2M, 2F and a stage hand)
  • The People’s Act of Literature by Rupert Haigh has life imitating art and art imitating life as two men in a cafe grapple with the nature of theatre. (2M, 2F)
  • Louise Wade’s Duffy’s Law is an exploration of childhood relationships and their later echoes (2M, 2F).
  • Roger Woodcock presents a comedy play in a funereal shade of black in the form of Darra’s Coffin which takes place following the death of the proprietor of a traditional undertaker’s. (4M, 2F)
  • In addition to the monologues somewhere above, we’ve published two new plays by Cheryl Barrett. Trapped In The Web is a one-act comedy structured as four monologues in which the participants (1M, 3F) discuss their various Internet obsessions. For My Final Act is a character comedy set in a retirement home for stars of stage and screen. (2M 6F)
  • A Spy With A View is a comedy thriller by Robert Scott in which holidaymakers David and Vicky are trapped in their hotel room by the weather. The monotony is broken by the delivery of a mysterious briefcase… (1M, 1F, 1 Either)
  • In the previous newsletter, I announced the publication of Albert and His Women by Richard Hills. This time it’s Albert and More Women (which is an independent piece, but features the same middle-aged son and his old reprobate of a father). (2M, 3F)
  • There’s a different Albert in Janice Sampson’s comedy drama of that name, and he’s being mourned by his family who watch his last address to them on video. (2M, 3F)
  • Joan Greening’s The Book Club of Little Witterington is a comedy featuring the four female members of the club whose regular meeting is disrupted by the arrival of a village newcomer.
  • We’ve been catching-up with Liz Dobson’s output by publishing five new plays. In Going Places we meet Melanie in her kitchen on the day of her divorce from Simon. (2M 4F) Setting The Record Straight is more serious fare, set in a day room at a nursing home where Stuart is visiting his Aunt. (1M 3F) A Relaxing Night In turns out to be anything but, when an unexpected visitor brings news of an accident. (2M, 3F) Watch Your Back is a comedy for 1M, 4F (and an offstage voice), set in an office typing pool in the early 1970s. Finally, Neighbourhood Watch features a committee with an unexpected approach to their public-spirited calling. (2M, 3F, 1 Either)
  • Paper Trail by Seán Lang is a moving one-act drama, split between two eras (with the stage likewise split). Angie has travelled to the UK, hoping to research the circumstances the left her in an orphanage in Australia.
  • Family history is also the topic of Day of Days, a drama by Allan Williams. Maggie has some news for Tom. Unexpected news. News of his long-distant past. (2M, 1F)
  • An American hospital ward is the setting for Jonathan Goodson’s comedy, The Spy On Ward Four which concerns itself not so much with Oswald’s recovery from his heart operation, but on what is going on around him. (2M, 2F)

Full-Length Plays

  • Peter Ayre’s drama For Your Tomorrow sees a slice of 20th century history (going back to the Second World war) through the eyes of the aging, forgetful Albert and his family. (Up to 9 actors; minimum 3M, 3F)
  • Different echoes of the WW2 can be found in The Box by Alan Tibbles, a comedy with a single kitchen setting for a cast of 3M, 4F, which reveals the contents of a mysterious box hidden in Granddad’s shed.
  • The Volunteers of Hilary Mackelden’s comedy of that name, work in a charity shop. Sorting through the donated clothes and bric-a-brac, something unexpected turns up. (Eleven characters, of which 2M, 8F, 1 Either)
  • Taking the retail experience further upmarket, Customer Service, by Avis & Herb Hasler takes place in a department store where the staff and customers deliver mildly surreal comedy, bordering on farce, with lots of prop gags. (Twenty-nine roles, but playable by 3M, 3F.)
  • Reasonable Doubt by Angelic McMurray is a courtroom and crime drama in two acts, played backwards, so the audience see it the way the jury sees it, and then the way it actually happened. (Seven or eight actors of whom at least 3M, 3F)
  • Beware of the Agapanthus is a well-crafted comedy from Robert Brown which starts gently and gathers pace as the chaotic situation develops. (3M, 6F)
  • Written in response to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Open Stages Project, Sally Kinnell’s A May Dream sees a collection of Shakespeare’s Rustics pursuing their own plotlines outside their plays, leading to the unmasking of a villain. (A large-cast piece, but plenty of opportunities for doubling.)

Pantomimes
British panto tends to use a core of staple stories. Around that there are shows on well-known themes and then others where writers use the pantomime form woven into original stories. Our new publications include excellent examples of all three.

  • Frumps-a-Daisy by Susan Vesey is a sparkling one-act pantomime with familiar panto tropes set inside an original story.
  • Archie Wilson treads the familiar ground of Arthurian romance to bring us King Arthur – The Panto with lots of audience participation, slapstick, corny jokes, heroes and villains.
  • Bob Hammond gives us another version (our eighth) of the rags-to-Lord-Mayor-of-London saga (whose innocent title we can’t mention because it gets blocked by school e-mail filters). This one gives prominence to the (often adversarial) relationship between cats and rats.
  • Another title we can’t mention is Mark Seaman’s rip-roaring fast paced panto in which Robin Hood has to rescue a couple of orphans from the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham
  • Scot Todd brings another twist to Sherwood Forest with Robin Hood and the Knights of the Flatpack Table. It has the usual heroes, villains and kidnappings, but with the added bonus of a witch and a couple of imps.
  • A later and more heroic incarnation of the law officer is brought to us Wild West-style in Hilary Mackelden’s original panto The Sheriff Of Council Flats
  • Andrew Yates takes a familiar story on to its next episode – it should have been happily ever after, but what really happened next? Find out in Cinderella Two – The Sisters Strike Back
  • The Four Musketeers by Pat Wollaston brings the pantomime treatment to Dumas’s French romp. All of the essential ingredients of panto are here with a knockabout Dame as D’Artagnan’s mother, plenty of slapstick and corny jokes and the all important opportunities for audience participation.
  • Lorraine Mason delivers our fourth version of Beauty and the Beast which, whilst maintaining the flow of the plot, introduces lots of opportunities for audience involvement and hilarity.
  • We are taken into the Italian Renaissance for another original pantomime in the form of Leonardo da Panto by Simon Nunan, featuring the scheming Machiavelli and villainous Cesare Borgia, amongst others!

Family Shows

  • Occasionally, we publish scripts that would fit in the pantomime slot in a theatrical calendar, whilst not quite being pantomimes (usually missing some of the staple pantomime characters). So we’re talking about family shows which will entertain all generations. One such is Ian McCutcheon’s Windy Hollow, a wonderfully enchanting tale of woodland folk who allow us humans a glimpse into their world.

Other Things

  • The latest in our line of interactive Murder Mysteries is Cold-Blooded Murder by Ian McCutcheon.
    (By the way, we’re working on making the Murder Mysteries easier to find and sort on the web site. More of that in the next newsletter.)

And that’s it for now – but as usual there’s plenty of material coming along.

A BRAVE new world…. at the movies

Don’t call us Princesses, Bub…

Sometimes it seems that Disney invented Princesses. From Snow White and Cinderella, through Sleeping Beauty right up to Jasmine, Ariel and the one I haven’t met in “The Princess and the Frog”, Disney have been selling dreams of dresses and wonderful weddings to little girls for generations.

Wait, did that sound a little negative?

See, there’s a lot of debate about image these days. What’s a good role model for your little girl to look up to? Did Snow White escape a tyrannical stepmother, or just take a part-time job as a housekeeper until her mealticket showed up? And Sleeping Beauty? What was her contribution to the relationship again? Male, Prince, looking for someone…er..unconscious?

And now here we are with Disney Pixar and they’re doing what they do best, building gripping stories with interesting characters. It’s become a cliche that the first few minutes of “Up” are a better love story than most other full-length movies, so what have Pixar got left to tell us?

I took the two Tiniest Weasels along to see “Brave”. They have more than a little in common with Merida. Both have taken karate classes, are fair shots and not afraid of getting their hands dirty, and they were excited about the film. They’d seen trailers and heard about it from friends. I hoped Tiny Weasel wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the climax of the movie, which I’d heard was pretty intense. But my weasels are tough, right?

Merida competes in the competition to win her hand in marriage.

Right. The film is beautiful. It makes Scotland look fantastic – wild, mythic…SUNNY! We’ve been to Scotland. It was a wonderful experience, I loved it, but it rained. Biblical rain. And did I mention midges? I digress…

I don’t think anyone’s pretending that “Brave” is a historical documentary, which is why I had to ask Middle Weasel to wait until after the movie for my explanation as to why the carvings showed the same Celtic Knotwork she’d seen in Dublin. It’s got plenty of comedy, broad enough to reduce both weasels to helpless giggles, and crude enough at times to make the young girl behind us say “Ewww! that’s GROSS!” (Which is another cliche I thought people didn’t actually use. Live and learn.) But when the excitement turned to tension and drama, Tiny Weasel climbed across the seats and into my lap. She knew there would be a happy ending, but getting there was really scaring her. Middle Weasel was together enough to follow the action and offer some words of comfort. Or poke fun at her, I couldn’t really hear.

So what message did they take home from the movie? I honestly have no idea, they’d had fizzy drinks and sweets, they were talking so fast and with such bad Scottish accents they made no sense. But what I hope they saw was something like what I saw. A young woman having to see things from her parent’s perspective, having to find a way to help her parents hear HER voice too. Understanding that she has to make her place in the world, not just complain about the choices made for her.

Looking forward to adding this one to our library. Merida is our kind of princess.

Bard on the Beach – Shakespeare in the Summertime!

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I’ve mentioned before how shockingly rare it is for me, a playwright, to actually go to the theatre. Well, one of the features of the summer here in Vancouver is the excellent Bard on the beach productions. Three years in a row we have missed out, but this year, with my parents over from the UK, we were GOING!

Since the show we were booked in for was “The Taming of the Shrew” we opted to take all three weasels. We’d primed the younger two by letting them watch Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, and youngest weasel had also taken part a class presentation of that play too. I was still a little nervous, since it was likely to be a long show…but I need not have worried. The production was hilarious. Funny because of the performers, the handling of the lines, the physical comedy. The acting was impeccable, moving from broad comedy to heartbreaking emotion. It was so gripping that the time flashed by and all too soon we were on our way out again.

The show proved that you don’t need an all-singing, all dancing mobile set to produce an epic show, you don’t need holograms, or explosions to show an audience a good time, and Shakespeare doesn’t need “translating” into modern speech to appeal. Youngest Weasel is eight years old and she loved it.

There’s a big question about the play, though. If I had read it, I think I would have had real problems with Kate’s speech at the end. You know, the one that goes “Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, thy head, thy sovereign, one that cares for thee…”. From the text you may think that Petruchio is just mercenary, using some fairly brutal brainwashing tactics to bring his young wife to heel. But in this production it was clear that he was smitten with Kate from his first sight, and his “schooling” was aimed to bring her to the point where she could love him as much as he loved her. In the play, they really stretched the point where Kate reaches out to Petruchio and asks him to take her hand, until the whole audience was practically begging him to reciprocate. When he did take her hand, he kissed the palm with such passion I could feel my wife melting three seats away. As a result, I viewed Kate’s speech with a different slant, though I feel it would have been better directed at both halves of the newly-married couples. The best relationships are built on mutual respect, after all, with each partner trying to love and serve the other more.

We’ll definitely be back for more next year.

Writing women right.

Do female characters get a bad deal in the movies? It’s a point that’s been raised quite a lot recently, since Joss Whedon helmed the Avengers movie, and he’s known for producing stories with strong female characters. Well, he is, and he isn’t. Because the problem here isn’t Joss Whedon or which Marvel super heroines he didn’t include, it’s defining what people mean when they say “a strong female character .”

The guru of all things screenwriting, Lucy V Hay of Bang2Write has devoted a lot of time to this very question. Like a lot of contentious issues, it’s often easier to say what a strong female character ISN’T. Lucy’s a great person to talk to about this because she’s articulate, she’s educated (in screenwriting terms as well as general education) and she’s passionate about the subject. For example, many people cite the character of Sarah Conner (from the Terminator films) as a strong female character. Lucy argues that they are mistaking physical strength with strength of character. Taking a male action character (like John Maclane from Die Hard) and recasting him as a woman does not make a strong female character. She makes some more good points about Sarah Conner’s character flaws too. Back to Lucy in a minute.

In “Avengers Assemble!” we have three female characters, essentially. There’s Pepper Potts, who’s only briefly around, but shown in those moments to be a central part of Tony Stark’s life – quite a shift for the egocentric playboy. What does she DO in the film? In the biggest scene she has she demonstrates that she can stand toe to toe with Tony and see him for who he really is, and she overrules him to allow Agent Coulson to make his pitch. Bearing in mind that so often the role of the superhero’s girlfriend is to be captured and scream a lot, she’s doing ok. In the first Iron Man film, Pepper is shown to be exceptionally good at her job, in control of her emotions and able to keep her head in a chaotic situation. She’s not given the option in the same way here, but she’s not just eye candy.

Second, and in the biggest role, we have The Black Widow. This is where the main controversy rages because, duh, she wears a skintight suit for most of the film, she looks real pretty and she doesn’t have superpowers or a tech-stuffed suit of armour. Is she an embarrassment to her sex because of these things? I don’t think so. When we first see her, she’s apparently being interrogated by some bad guys. Tied to a chair, unarmed, in evening dress, and they even know exactly who she is. Then we discover that she believes she’s interrogating THEM, and BAM! She’s out of the chair and the men are incapacitated. What I saw was that she used their preconceptions of her to manoever them into the position she wanted, extracted the information she needed and was physically capable of defending herself and escaping. She didn’t need rescuing, or superpowers to escape, just superior training and confidence.

When she’s sent to retrieve David Banner, she shows common sense and emotion – she’s willing to lie to him about the amount of backup she’s brought, and she demonstrates understandable fear of the damage he could do. There’s no macho bluster, but she’s not screaming and standing on a chair either. She holds her own in the big fight, and when Captain America is handing out the roles each hero will take, he doesn’t tell her to stand at the back and roll bandages. She gets to defend the population, and later elects to go after the big shiny portal thing herself. She has a big decision to make and you can see that it is hard for her, but she makes the right choice, the logical choice at the right time. She shows, IMO, strength of character.

The final female character to look at is Agent Hill. Since she’s in uniform, I viewed her as a female in a military organisation, something with which I have had personal experience. My wife’s experience in the Armed Forces, and that of the other women we have met, says that when you’re in a male-dominated environment where your feminine nature is seen as a disadvantage, you have to be better than the men to be accepted. Better, in this case, in military terms. When Agent Hill is informed that another agent has been turned and is helping Loki escape, she snaps into action, not questioning or hesitating (from my viewing of the film, though other opinions exist) and even fires on the agent in question. She is efficient and calm and maintains focus, even when under attack. Would a male character have respoded the same way? Well, they SHOULD have. Should we expect a female character to act differently in this role because she’s a woman? I don’t think so. Women have fought (and are still fighting) for equality in many areas. A female CEO is not unlikely, and she may run her business in a different manner to her male equivalents, but she is still required to make that company a success. You may change the manner in which you do things because of your gender, but the reults need to be the ones expected of you. In a military organisation that means following orders, reacting quickly and keeping your head. The same goes for male or female.

The main issue might be that action films do not present a good format for showcasing the feminine aspects of a character. In the Resident Evil movies, Alice is strong, persistent and determined. She’s female, but are there aspects to Alice that wouldn’t be demonstrated by a male character? I don’t think so. Steel Magnolias shows a whole group of strong female characters. It shows how women can provide support for one another within a group, how they can share details and emotions that men would traditionally find hard to open up about. In that movie, you could argue that it was the maternal nature of the women that allowed them to care so much for each other, to provide the group love that sustains each character through their individual struggles.

Part of the Joss Whedon mythos is that he put females into roles they weren’t offered before. He’s said many times that Buffy the Vampire Slayer came about from him feeling sorry for the blond cheerleader that was always being dragged into the shadows by the monster and eaten. He said “Wouldn’t it be great if she gets dragged into the shadows and then kicks HIS ass?” The fact that the TV series then made so many connections with regular teenage life – the feeling that you have a secret identity that no one else gets, that you’re struggling with getting to know your own body as it changes, that some people seem to become monsters overnight… Well, that was a bonus. In Firefly, Joss put Zoe in the crew as first mate and enforcer. She’s calm and competant, but military, very much like Agent Hill. She’s not dumb muscle (they have Jayne for that), she’s a sane voice for Mal to confer with, a conscience and a friend. She’s like Spock to Kirk, only with a better outfit.

So leaving out many of the more outre Marvel superheroines was a good move. The Black Widow is not super-powered, she’s human, and she’s flawed, with her dark history to overcome. She’s a real woman, albeit one that’s trained to kill (and you could say that about my wife. As long as you’re a fast runner…) and I think she’s as real a character as you could hope for in a movie about a magic box from Asgard opening a portal to allow in an invading Alien Army.

So, back to Lucy : Here she talks about things that can make a strong female character. I would argue that it’s easier to write a strong female character in a new movie, than try to write a strong female character that also conforms to existing material (like, for example, Wonder Woman.) Nobody fights minute character history changes like comic book nerds. A while back, after watching the original True Grit, I asked Lucy what she thought of the character of Mattie Ross. I had been surprised by the portrayal of the young girl as spirited, determined, and above all unchanged by the end of the film. No one tries to gentrify Mattie, to make her more of a girl. She remains hard-headed and in fact influences the two male characters that accompany her more than she is influenced by them. Lucy replied that it’s only in the last thirty years that female characters have been watered down, so perhaps we should be looking to the noir heroines and antagonists for inspiration?

Who are your favourite screen women, and why? What female characteristics are ignored or overplayed in cinema and tv today?

Other places that cover this topic: http://screencrush.com/reel-women-avengers/

http://riosfan.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/black-widow/   : The blog of the amazing Sarah Rios, who deals with The Black Widow very eloquently, and includes a segment on that conversation with Loki which I meant to talk about and didn’t. D’oh!

All photos pinched shamelessly from around the internet with no accreditation. Sorry. All Avengers pictures are the property of the movie and Marvel, I don’t own them, and certainly do not have a collection of photos of Scarlett Johansen as Black Widow.

And you could make a ton of money….

What do you say?”

He looked at me blankly, holding my shirt. He obviously didn’t get it. I tried again.

“See, you’re a dry cleaner, and I need my shirt dry cleaned. You clean my shirt, I’ll wear it and tell everybody what a great job you did. You get to practice doing your thing, and I get a clean shirt. Everybody wins.”

“But you don’t pay me?”

I couldn’t believe this guy! He wanted me to pay him? Didn’t he understand?

“Well, of course I don’t pay you. I mean, I’m helping you out here, doing YOU a favour. I ought to be asking for a cut of your future profits, because, honestly, people are going to flock to you, and it’ll be because of me and my shirt.”

It was ten minutes later that he and his brother threw me bodily from the shop. Some people have no vision.

********************************************************************

I was going to leave it there and hope everyone understood, but then I remembered that this is the world where Mitt Romney might end up President and folks think evolution is a trick of Satan etc etc. So here it is:

When you first start out as a writer, people want you to work for free. They tell you (if they talk to you at all) that it’s a chance for you to build your portfolio, to show your work, to get noticed. Or they’re like those wonderful people on Craigslist who say

“I have a great idear for a movie and i no its better than anything because ive seen all the movies and this is better. You write it for me and we’ll split the money fifty fifty.”

I made that one up, but it’s based on at least twenty genuine ones I’ve seen. And that’s the kind of offers you’ll get. “Just do the writing part and I’ll let you have some of the money.” Because, you know, the writing bit isn’t that hard, the important bit is the idea. And the money will just fall from the sky when you’re done…..

I appreciate that writing is not the only trade where people look for freebies. I would bet that every Doctor can tell you about parties where they’ve been subtly (and not so subtly) sounded out for free medical advice. But the difference there is that no one expects the Doctor to believe it’s helping HIM. Trainee doctors have to do crappy medical jobs and work ludicrous hours for which they are not paid ENOUGH, but they are paid. For some reason, probably because so many of us are untrained, writers are expected to “put in the time” for free before they can charge people.

Maybe I’m wrong. maybe the same is true of Graphic Designers. I do know at least one comic artist who is producing pages and pages of work for free in the hopes of honing his skills to the point where he can be paid for his work (www.davinderbrar.com , if you have some money to spend).

The point of this rant is not self-pity, but rather a message to writers. If your work is good, value it. That’s hard if you’re writing to earn because you have no other means of support, but in that situation you SHOULD be getting the right price for your work. Finding the market that will pay what your work is worth is hard, horribly, horribly hard, but giving it away for nothing is not the answer. It gets you a reputation for free work, not good work, and that can’t be a good thing.

The good news is that if you stick with writing, people will eventually stop trying to get you to work for free. I think the average length of time is seventy five years for men and eighty three for women, but it’s rising all the time……

Paving the way with good intentions

This blog can get a little repetitive. Here comes another post about entering the employment market…..

Life used to be about careers. You’d learn a wide variety of stuff in school, go on to specialise in college, or get an apprenticeship. Then you’d take on the first job, and work your way up.

Things aren’t like that these days. The internet will tell you that an astonishing percentage of the kids at school today will go into jobs that DON’T EVEN EXIST NOW. You know, they’ll be Herfenshirper Empowerers. Or they’ll be Blorking the VIFFs that run all our e-mookers. (Yeah, you think it’s weird, but wait ten years. You won’t know how you ever got by without your e-mooker…)

Anyway, I’ve mentioned before that careers don’t seem to be my thing. The companies I join have a nasty habit of losing their franchises, shutting down, or even burning to the ground (though in my defence, that’s only happened once and I was a long way away. With witnesses and everything.) As some of you will know, my latest company has recently ceased to be, and now the wrapping up is done, I’m out in the real world again.

I did what I usually do when the hammer falls, I went out looking (somewhat reluctantly) for other positions. I’m not highly qualified, and I don’t have a great deal of useful experience, expecially over here in Canada, since I’ve only had the two jobs in three years. I was looking for work to match my responsibilities, so something from 9am to 2pm would be fine, because I have the school run to do, and the kids do activities outside school hours.

As usual, there weren’t hundreds of opportunities out there. But then Mrs Dim made a brave suggestion. She said if I did get another job, I’d likely be starting it in May or June, and that’s right on the edge of the school holidays. What use would I be starting a new job with no holiday time built up, just when the kids were going to be slobbing around the house needing some adult supervision? Why not, she said, take the hit on my salary, admit I wasn’t going back to work until September and work on my writing projects in between?

It was a brave suggestion because it’s Mrs Dim who makes all the numbers dance in our household accounts, and me not being at work would mean smaller numbers for her. On the other hand, I hadn’t actually improved the income from my writing in the last year, and this was an opportunity to produce some new material and raise that number a bit. Plus, if I was around in the summer, we wouldn’t be spending so much on camps to keep the kids supervised.

So it’s a different kind of adventure for a while. I have to be more businesslike and organised about my writing, and I have to keep my eyes open for new work opportunities that may occur. I have to remember my jobs around the house and not let them slide because I’ve got stuck at the keyboard, and I have to limit my social media interaction, because after a while it’s not networking, it’s procrastination.

I’m glad I found a wife who is brave enough to give me this time, and I hope I don’t let her down.