Tag Archives: Community Theatre

New sketches available (at last!)

Frog Man's mild-mannered alter-ego, the millionaire playfrog....

Frog Man’s mild-mannered alter-ego, the millionaire playfrog….

The Amazing Adventures of Frog Man and Amphibian Boy

The Non-Emergency Call

Minimum Security Holiday

For all my talk earlier this year about knuckling down and producing more stuff, I feel like I’ve been running behind. April was the month for editing “Eddie and the Kingdom 2”, and while I’ve done the proofreading part, I haven’t managed the re-writing, or finding a cover artist. Should be publishing it, actually am not…yet.

But this week I got a welcome series of emails from Stuart at Lazy Bee Scripts saying that three of my most recent sketches have been published, giving me the necessary kick up the ambition to get on and complete my latest one act play idea this month.

Yes, I may be building a stormtrooper helmet too….

It will look better when it's finished, obviously...

It will look better when it’s finished, obviously…

…but I’ll be knuckling down to work on “Under the Hood” any day now.

Ooh! Something shiny!

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My Guest Post on Novel Publicity .com!

This week I’ve had the honour of being guest blogger on the Novel Publicity Website. Novel Publicity can help authors with Design, Editing and, of course, publicity. Check out their website for a full description of the services they offer, or find them on Facebook and G+. Or, take a minute to read

MY FIVE TIPS ON WRITING FOR THE STAGE

The Theatre.* In many ways it seems as mysterious and closed a world as that of top-flight novelists. Yet writing a play isn’t something that needs to be left to serious types in cardigans who smoke pipes, or flouncy ruffled-shirt-wearing Theatrical Major students with angry diatribes about INSERT CURRENT TOPIC HERE.

YOU can write a play. Here’s a secret: it’s not hard. You may not be the next Chekhov, or the next Pinter, but so what? Some people go to the theatre to be entertained, and there’s nothing wrong with writing a play that’s entertaining rather than challenging or a searing indictment of this, that, or the other.

So what are the top five things you need to know about writing for the stage?

1. It’s drama. If your script is about two guys in a room arguing about their college theses, then you need to find a way to get some movement, some action into the situation. There’s nothing wrong with a single location, but you have to remember that you don’t have close ups or flashbacks or cutaways to rely on, like they do in TV programs. You need to give the audience something to WATCH as well as something to listen to.

2. Location, location, location. Think your story through and do an outline. Then look at it and imagine how it can be presented on stage. Changing locations is certainly possible, but if you present a potential director with a way of accomplishing the location change, they are more likely to buy and produce your play. For example, if you want a couple to start an argument in the kitchen and continue it in the bedroom, can you have a split set, with one half of the stage being the bedroom and the other half the kitchen? If you then have to move to the wife’s office, can the bedroom set be changed while the couple are back in the kitchen? Set changes can be tough, and most audiences won’t sit in blackout for longer than thirty seconds. Try using scenes in front of the curtain to cover a full set change behind the curtain.

3. Consider your actors. A play I wrote got sent back to the drawing board because I hadn’t realized I’d put the leading actor onstage for every single scene. Writing for Community Theatre, like I do, it’s best to give actors some time off the stage to catch their breath, glance over their lines, have a break. Equally, don’t expect them to breeze offstage in a wedding gown and return thirty seconds later in a business suit. They’re actors, not Clark Kent in a phone booth.

4. Have a read through. Plays are all about dialogue, and there’s no better way to check if your characters sound like real people than having real people read your words. Read-throughs can be great fun, as long as you check your ego at the door. Remember, you’re listening for errors, so don’t cringe when you find them–make a note! And listen to people’s opinions of the play too. They can tell you if the character they were reading has nothing to do in the second act, or if they felt that the plot has a hole. You don’t have to accommodate everyone’s idea in the next draft (unless you’re writing a commissioned piece, which is a whole other can o’ worms…) so you have nothing to lose by listening and thinking about what you hear.

5. Join a local theatre group. Yes, you may prefer writing to treading the boards, but I’m going to wave the old adage ‘Write what you know.” It’s a tricky phrase, as I’m sure you already know, but in this case it can be very helpful. Writing a play can be enormously liberating. You can accomplish all kinds of things on the stage, but the only way to find out what is possible is to be involved in plays. Going out to the theatre is a good start, but it can be expensive. If you join a local theatre group there are several advantages: They’ll be pathetically pleased to see you. You can ask questions about plays they have already performed and what made them good choices. You get a stock of people who can read through your work. You get a stock of people who can PERFORM your work. Your new group may even be willing to take one of your scripts to a one-act play competition, which could provide you with an AWARD to brag about. It happened to me.

So, those are my tips. The big secret is that writing plays is easier than writing a novel. When your protagonist is going to the drinks cabinet for a scotch, you don’t have to write:

“Tired from the constant battles with Cynthia over the custody of their pet otter, Alex slunk to the drinks cabinet and poured three fingers of dark, aromatic scotch into the crystal glass his Grandmother had left him.”

In your play, you just write “ALEX goes to the drinks cabinet and gets a scotch.”
See how easy that was?

Yes, there are formats you should use, but like any writing, that’s down to research. Make sure your character names are consistent, put a brief set description at the opening of each scene and note any exits or entrances your characters make. Once you’ve finished writing, add a cast list to the head of the piece so a prospective director knows how many people of which gender they’ll need to produce the play. You’ll be well on your way.

About this post’s author:

Damian Trasler has been a published and award-winning playwright for ten years, working mostly with TLC Creative (www.tlc-creative.co.uk ) and published through Lazy Bee Scripts (www.lazybeescripts.co.uk). He runs a Script Appraisal Service in conjunction with Lazy Bee and more theatrical musings can be found on his blog, www.dtrasler.com. He also raises three daughters while his wife has a proper job.

*I’m an Englishman living in Canada, so the “r” and the “e” are going that way round. Deal with it.

Community Theatre and costumes: Monster Vintage has a message!

Check them out at http://www.monstervintage.com Tell them you came from here!

I’ve been away, blog-wise, for a while now. Despite my absence, people come, they look at the blog and they occasionally leave messages. All those tags are still dragging people in off the internet like little Interdictor Cruisers on a hyperspacelane*

But this week I got a very interesting email from Annie Rose at Monster Vintage (www.monstervintage.com), an online clothing store. She had realised that her store is the perfect place for Community Theatre groups trying to source vintage clothes for certain plays. Her problem was that she didn’t know which plays, or how to reach out to the people in Community Theatre who might be able to take advantage of this idea.

I guess she found me because I drop “Community Theatre” in almost every post and tag cloud, since I would also love to be on talking terms with Community Theatre groups around the world.

So here’s the deal, folks: Whether you’re here to try and find the script for my remarkably popular play “A Time for Farewells“, or just looking for scripts, or writing tips, or you got here by accident, look up the details of your local Community Theatre group. Add those details to the comments section below. If you can, get in touch with them and ask them to come and look at this post too, and maybe leave their own comments. Because the lovely Annie has dangled the prospect of a giveaway on this very blog, but we really need to show her the market is out there. I think there’s a chance that between us we can turn this blog into a useful theatre hub – somewhere that playwrights (like me, like TLC Creative and many others) can find theatre groups who might want new scripts, or bespoke scripts, or might be willing to read new plays that need the corners knocked off.

I read too many playwright blogs that simply track the misery of trying to complete the magnum opus, or gloat about the latest fantastic review in the village paper of the self-written, self-directed, self-funded play. I know there are others out there like me, and I know there are thousands of brilliant, devoted and dedicated Community Theatre groups who would love the opportunity to improve their script base and take advantage of another source of good costumes.

Plus, I have to say, the clothes at Monster Vintage are COOL. (And you know what? No one is paying me anything to say this. I genuinely think we can all help each other here. Isn’t that what Social Media is for?)

*This is a Star Wars reference, and proves that I mostly write this blog to amuse myself.

The Inconstant Gardener

Removing another barrow-load of weasels from the garden....

Everybody’s blogging. There’s hardly any room left in the blogosphere. Whatever subject you can think of, someone’s already doing a blog on it. There’s probably a blog on that and how it affects several other subjects you’ve been considering too. You want to blog about Underwater strip mining? There’s probably one out there already.*

The point is, if you want to succeed with your blog, it’s not going to be as easy you thought. Everybody wants to start a blog, set down their words of wisdom and have crowds flock to them. Surely, just the right tags and my genius will be passed organically person to person around the entire international-world-wide-multiweb? Unfortunately, the true secret of blogging is that it’s just as much work as any other bloody thing you want to try.

Take the other day. Time, circumstance and exploding computers had reduced my regular blogging to once in a fortnight. Thus the stats for the day were at six. Only six visitors? The shame! Devoting an hour to reading my subscriptions (the blogs I follow, if you like) I commented (and commented relevantly – very important!) and followed the trail of other commentors. If they read the same blogs as me, they share some of the same tastes. I read THEIR blogs and commented there too.

Just an hour, and hardly an hour’s work…If I had tried to explain to someone else that reading and commenting was work, they’d have laughed in my face. But over the next few hours, as I checked (yes, I’m that obsessive) I saw my visitor stats rise. That solitary hour, engaging with other people, taking an interest in what they had to say, had brought more people back to read my words than all the tags I had posted previously. It WAS work, reading, writing, thinking, revising, trying desperately to spellcheck each comment even though you KNOW there’s going to be one error you only spot as you press “send”.

Blogging is like gardening, in that you have to put things in to get things out. Sometimes what you put in is the regular effort of composition, setting out the thoughts in your head on the computer screen in a way that will engage the interest of others. The rest of the time what you put in is your own interest. Find other blogs that touch you, and tell their authors so. You’ll be amazed how quickly a comment you leave can become a dialogue, then a conversation, and sometimes a friendship.

For more information on improving the greenness of your blogging fingers, take a look at Kristen Lamb’s blog. Read back through her previous posts, and be brave enough to comment. Then follow the trail through Kristen’s commenters. She attracts a good crowd, and there are many interesting blogs out there. But one word of warning : Set a timer, or you could lose yourself in the blogosphere all day….

Each week I blog and forget to mention that I’m actually a playwright. I write plays, pantomimes and sketches and they are published by Lazy Bee Scripts. I have also written a neat little book in PDF form about writing plays for Community Theatre and you can buy and download it here.

*Ok, there isn’t, I checked. But you get some really weird stuff if you type ‘Underwater strip mining blog” into Google. Some people have waaaay too much time on their hands.

E-Commerce: buying with a click?

Ooh, catchy title. That’ll have ’em flocking to my blog in droves. In fact, that’s a lot of the problem I’ve been thinking about this week. Well, thinking about in the few spaces between bussing the Weasels to Weasel Camp, greeting merry Home Improvement Customers, laundering the Washing Mountain and resurrecting the long-lost Gazebo. Plus it’s hot.

As you know, I finished and made available, through the wonder of the internet, my e-book “Writing a play for the Amateur Stage” (or, if you’re in North America, “Writing a play for Community Theatre”). I knew, as it launched, that this was not going to be the end of the work. Nothing sells itself. But this is the internet, and everyone knows that selling stuff on the internet is easy. You just make a viral video, or tell a few folks, or mention it on your blog, and the next thing you know whatever you’re selling has been mentioned on “Oprah” and you have to give up your day job to stay ahead of demand, you’re appearing on reality TV shows and dating a singer…

E-Book to real book. Even I enjoy reading it....

E-Book to real book. Even I enjoy reading it....

I really, really thought about making a viral video for the book. I mean, I’m a writer, and I’ve written scripts for films before. Short ones, yes, and longer ones that didn’t get made (yet) but even so, writing a viral is a bit different. For a start, as someone pointed out recently, YOU don’t make it viral. The people who pass it on do that. Setting out to make a viral video is a bit like setting out to write a bestseller. It doesn’t get the title until it’s earned it, and that’s the bit you can’t influence. So I haven’t done that yet. Plus there’s the fact that at the moment I only have the Weasels on hand as volunteer actors, and they’re not interested unless there are special effects and lightsabres involved.

So I talked to other writers about my book. The first problem I ran into was that this is an electronic product. I handed out little cards with the cover on them, plus a neat Tiny URL (http://tiny.cc/ghfo9) that takes you straight to the sales page of our website. Neat, but useless, as you have to then go home and type the URL into something. What I needed was an iPad to demo the book for people there and then. I didn’t even try to convince Mrs Dim that an investment of $500 was a good idea to flog a book costing $10 a time. I needed to show people the book, in situations where I wouldn’t be in front of a PC or laptop. Social situations, relaxed situations. In a burst of brilliance, I realised that what I needed to do was have a physical copy of the book. Something with pages you could turn. Ludicrous as it may seem, I went off and negotiated with a Printer to get two copies of my e-book printed out and bound. It took a lot of explaining. He was concerned that the cost of producing the book would be prohibitive. I explained again that I only wanted two of them. He pointed out that the book wasn’t laid out in the traditional manner, with blank pages included, and so it was rather low on the page count. I reminded him that it was intended as a download, which made blank pages redundant. He asked me again why I wanted it printed. I wondered that too, as I gently banged my head on his desk.

A fortnight later, I have two physical books. Yes, they’re still a bit slim, and they don’t accommodate the changes suggested by Claire Sowerbutt at our last PWAC meeting, but people can look at them without a computer. They can see the product I’m trying to sell them. I’m sure that’ll help with the folks I see face-to-face, but what about everyone else? I’m not going to go out into the world and meet everyone who I think might like to buy the book. The internet should give me the opportunity to present my product to millions of potential customers, and in a way that isn’t half as intrusive as the leaflets that still come through my mailbox about getting my driveway re-covered. I saw a brilliant interview about this on BBC World the other day. A woman was talking about targeted internet marketing and saying it’s not a bad thing. She used an example of a book about Labrador Puppies. Surely, she said, it’s better that the advert for that book only appears on websites about Labradors? The people who visit that website are more likely to want a book like that. Compare that to an advert on the homepage of, say, Yahoo.co.uk, where only a fraction of the people logging on will care two hoots about dogs, let alone Labradors.

I think she’s right, but then I got to thinking about internet advertising in general. I have never, ever clicked on an advertisement on a web page and bought something I wasn’t already intending to buy. I use the internet for all kinds of shopping, from movies and music to electronic AV gear, but I don’t think I’ve been tempted to a purchase by targeted advertising. I get targeted adverts from people like “Things from another World” a comic and Sci-Fi store. They have literally thousands of products I would love to own, and their adverts turn up on webpages I view as well as dropping into my general-use email. I’ve bought one thing from them in the last ten years, and it was something I went to find online. I bought the thing I wanted and I haven’t bought anything from them since.

So what about YOU, dear reader? Do you follow the clicktrail from the brightly coloured adverts on your homepage and make impulse purchases? If you belong to a Facebook group, does it annoy you when people use the Wall to post adverts for their products? Or is that part of what Social Networking is for? I know I would be much more likely to follow a link from one of the people I follow on Twitter than I would be to open an advert. I’ve contributed to independent film production through a Twitter link (For the brilliant “Origin” by the one and only Danny Stack) but I don’t even click for the movie preview trailers on the Yahoo homepage. Answers in the comments box please!

Book, book, book…..

It's the book what I wrote...So, only….er….five months after the initial idea, and I now have a published e-book to add to my credits. Actually, that’s not strictly true, as this is a document in pdf format, rather than an actual e-book, but you get the point.

Back in January, as I may have mentioned, I went along to a Writer’s symposium, hosted by the Travel Writer’s Association of Canada (TWAC. I was there as part of PWAC. Acronyms are silly things.) One of the speakers talked about the need to build up your webpresence and your own brand for your writing, which lead me to rediscover this blog, for one thing, and to begin writing the book. She’d said that everyone is an expert in something, expert enough to write a book. And while your book might not be compelling enough to attract a major publisher in the paper and ink industry, the glory of the internet is that you can publish without the stunning overheads and publicise your product yourself.

I realised that for over a decade I have been writing plays for the amateur stage – what the North Americans seem to call “Community Theatre” which sounds less patronising – and therefore I could legitimately say something about doing that. Plus, of course, I’ve spent the last few years as a script reader for Lazy Bee Scripts, reviewing new plays and handing out advice and judgements and assembling my own set of “What everybody gets wrong, or right” rules.

The speaker at the symposium made a lot of sense, saying that the book itself is not the major feature, but you can build on the sale of the book with lectures and classes. I didn’t want to get too overexcited about that, and decided to see if I could write a convincing book first. It’s taken longer than I thought, thanks mainly to the hard work of my friends and co-writers, ensuring I didn’t settle for the first draft, going that extra mile to produce a document that’s not only worth reading but enjoyable to look at. I’m painfully aware of the number of projects that languish at the “half-completed” stage, not because I’ve run out of enthusiasm for them, but because I’m scared I’ll wreck what I’ve got by pushing on. Two plays are stuck in that limbo right now. I was determined that the book would not go the same way, and this week the final draft (number three, I think…certainly the third version to make it to the pdf stage, anyway) has arrived and been hosted, both on the Lazy Bee Website (www.lazybeescripts.co.uk ) and on the TLC website (www.tlc-creative.co.uk) . We’re advertising the book on various websites, pushing out news of it through Facebook, and later this week I’ll be attending another PWAC event where I’ll finally get to tell the other members that I have acheived something they can actually see.

So, what’s the book about? It’s NOT a “How To” guide. I don’t lay out the best way to write your epic play, there aren’t any simple five-step programmes included that take you from your idea through to staging your masterwork. The book talks about the aspects of community theatre that make it ideal for first-time playwrights, the things that you should be aware of before you begin writing. It discusses the limitations of the local stages, and how you can get around them or work with them. It talks about the different types of writing you can do for the stage, it highlights common mistakes and other issues to avoid. Best of all, it has funny pictures with hilarious captions scattered throughout.

I’ve read it about half a dozen times now, and each time I feel it’s necessary to point out that I only supplied some of the words. The organisation, proofreading, graphical work, factchecking (and occasional buttkicking) have been done by my writing partners Steve and David at TLC and by Stuart at Lazy Bee. I hope other writers will find it useful. I really hope some people who might not have considered play writing will give it a go as a result, because I hadn’t thought of plays until I was asked to write one, and they really have changed my life for the better.

And if anyone’s interested, I am available for lecture tours…..

I have to live like this so I’m able to live like this….

Nose to nose with Moose

What Moose did on Holiday...

I was going to call this post “Work/life/work balance” but then I saw the current title on a T-shirt worn by a customer at work. Much better, if more long-winded.

A long time ago, so long it was still probably before the Multiple-Weasel era, Mrs Dim and I were busy with stuff. There was work, and there were social events, and there were outside work hours commitments that we both had. So much so, that we rarely had time together of an evening. So we came up with Chinese Night. Every Friday, no matter what, we would get take-out, a decent movie and have an evening together. Six months later, we realised that however much we enjoyed the Chinese, we felt terrible the next day, and introduced Steak Night instead.

Steak Night has stood the test of time, and even made the transition to Canada. It’s actually survived longer than the demands on our time that made it so important. Even after four nights of slumping on the sofa, glassy-eyed in front of cable tv, we still got excited about Steak Night and debated hotly about what kind of movie to get.

And this is what I think of when people talk about work/life balance – I think about Steak Night. That was us, balancing our life against work with one precious night a week. It worked, more or less, getting us through the mad early days when Mrs Dim’s Career in the military was on the ascendent, and we had fencing classes, Theatre Club, Saddle Club, Families Club and so many other things to keep up with.

But now it’s my own work/life/work balance I’m struggling with. I don’t work a lot of hours at the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer, but I notice that when I’m not doing that, there’s a lot of other stuff to do. We’re renovating, so there’s the staircase to build, the flooring to arrange, the law suit to persue. There’s the regular raft of domestic duties to keep up with, sometimes complicated by the renovation (this week we’ve moved the washing machine down to the basement, which meant a mountain of washing appeared during the time it took to unplumb and re-plumb. Along with a huge bill from the plumbers. Like all renovators, we have more bills than a flock of geese right now, but it’s all in the plan. Or a plan.) That all comes under the heading of work, since I don’t intend for life to consist of washing socks, so Mrs Dim and I try to fit in time for walks, for trips out as a family (even for simple things, like walking Moose down the local trails.) We managed to give Mrs Dim a reasonable Birthday to compensate for the Mother’s Day Disaster (of which we do not speak..) so we are managing a reasonable work/life balance.

But like I said, it’s the work/life/work balance that’s been bothering me the past few days. I’m still a playwright, still a reviewer of plays, still the author of an e-book that is taking shape sooooo slowly but will be very, very good and just what you need if you’re considering writing a play for the Community Theatre Group near you. I know I am all these things, but to believe it, I have to DO some of those things. I’m not going to totally blame the outside influences of the real world – I know there are occasions when I’m in front of the computer and I fail to use them efficiently (for example, I’m blogging right now when I *could* be writing or reviewing. Reviewing is on today’s “to do” list. Blogging isn’t.) but I can’t help thinking longingly of those halcyon days only a few months ago when I would return from walking the Weasels to school and pile into some play reviewing before ticking some things off the domestic list and knowing all the time that tomorrow would be more of the same, not taken up with Greeting Duties.

This is, of course, another ungrateful whinge. The regular job is not demanding or difficult. I get time to think, I get to talk to all kinds of people and I have  new circle of friends. It allows me to keep collecting the weasels from school, and seems flexible enough to cope with the Summer Holidays and the occasional half-day holiday that the school springs on us. And let’s not forget, the wages allow other exciting things, like paying for the mortgage or weekly groceries. I need to remember that when I had all that luxurious time on my hands, I wasn’t much more productive than  am now, I just filled more time with Facebook and games. So, in amongst the phone calls, washing, reviewing and carpentry today, I shall be looking for balance.