Tag Archives: play

Gallery

Waiting for Twist Stiffly – RPI Players

This gallery contains 7 photos.

I was delighted to get a Tweet from the RPI Players this week, telling me they had completed their run of “Waiting for Twist Stiffly” and enjoyed the play very much. They had the very talented Demetrius Green (photographybydegrees.com/) on … Continue reading

New Sketches on Lazy Bee Scripts

Lazy Bee LogoLike New York, it sometimes seems that my Publisher Lazy Bee Scripts never sleeps. It’s been a busy few weeks, with a whole bunch of scripts that I sent in coming to light online. Normally I wait for the Lazy Bee Scripts Newsletter – The Buzz – to come out, and paste it in this blog, but today I thought I would blow my own trumpet a little.

TLC Creative, of which I have the honour to be one third (and occasionally a quarter, since we have a new collaborator these days) has been on a creative kick after two years of resting on our laurels. Although we haven’t produced a new pantomime (yet!) we have been writing sketches and some one-act plays. Most of the sketches are appearing first, with the two plays coming soon. They’ll probably get their own blog post, especially as one ties in with an e-book I have already published.

So, here’s a list of the sketches available NOW and links to their online location so you can read them INSTANTLY and FOR FREE (and then Tweet about them in ALL CAPS!)

Finding Miranda

Miranda’s not happy being Miranda, and she wants to go and find herself.

School for Fashion

Learn how to Fashion, now that it’s a verb, with Lapita.

The Uncomfortable Announcer

Don’t let your kids read this one. A store announcer has to say some things she’d really rather rephrase.

Two Authors

The latest in a long line of collections of bad jokes, Two Authors meet and chat about their work.

I sold my Soul to Santa

It’s a shame Billy’s so bad at spelling : His letter to Santa went to the wrong entity…

The Four Yorkshiremen of the Apocalypse

Four very familiar figure contend verbally with tales of who has created the most misery, destruction and death.

The Spa

Brian isn’t keen about attending the Spa, but it turns out to be completely different to what he was expecting.

Parents Evening at Magic School

I don’t remember writing this one, and it’s funny, so I think it’s David’s. Parents of a kid at Magic school receive an unexpected report on “Meet the Teacher” night.

A Brand New Ancient Tradition

The President of the newly-free country of Sovazni will be arriving soon, and there must be a demonstration of traditional dancing. But no one knows any traditional dances… Time to “Extrapolate from known sources”

We interrupt this Revolution

It’s time for the President’s address to the newly-free people of Sovazni, but the sponsors of the revolution would like to have a quick word….

To see the very latest published scripts, visit the Lazy Bee “What’s New” page

Play in Focus: The Red Balloon

DSCF3351Prejudice is a terrible thing. It makes you ignore any evidence to the contrary, for one thing. I’m sure my own prejudices are many, but the one that causes me most difficulties is my prejudice about Modern Theatre.

I’m sure there’s an actual definition of that term, but in my own mind I use the term to cover non-representational theatre, or plays that are a little more…challenging than “Blithe Spirit” or “Dial M for Murder”.

It sounds a bit wrong, I know. And let me say, just because I don’t enjoy these types of plays, doesn’t mean I think they are rubbish, or they shouldn’t be written or performed. Hell no, go ahead! Give ’em awards, hand out prizes. Just don’t ask me to go and see one.

My feeling is that theatre is, first and foremost, entertainment. Like all entertainment, that covers a broad spectrum, and there’s room for flat-out fun, for tugging at the heartstrings, for thought-provoking pieces and , yes, for experimentation. But my preference is to come out of the theatre thinking about the performance I’ve just seen, not wondering what the hell it was all about. I’ve never subscribed to the “It’s whatever you take away from it.” school of Art. The Artist should have an intention, if not a message, and the aim should be to communicate that intention to others.

When I began writing plays, I didn’t have a message, as such. I wrote about writing, and I wrote about interesting characters, grouping them together and seeing what happened. But the more I wrote, the more I found I was tempted to push things further, to write something bizarre and avant garde. Exactly why, I’m not sure. I could see how it would go, the nonsensical monologue by a lone character on a bare stage, clutching an unlikely prop. This seemed a promising beginning, so I wrote it down. The Girl was holding a red balloon, and declaiming a rapturous speech about it.

But I didn’t know where to go with this, and the reason I didn’t know was because this was the kind of play I would hate to watch. So I put myself into the audience, and gave a character the guts to stand up and say the very things I would be thinking at such a performance. So it was that The Man takes to the stage to decry the Girl’s ludicrous speech, and she hits back at him by saying this is her big break and she knows it’s all twaddle, but it’s HER twaddle, thank you very much.

DSCF3318

From there it was easy enough to have the three characters (The Man’s wife comes along with him) discuss what’s wrong with the Girl’s balloon speech, and demonstrate the kind of performance they were hoping for. At this point I was asking the questions of myself – what kind of play did I actually WANT to write? Was I really just looking for a simple story, and if so, why not watch TV? What did I think theatre gave people that they couldn’t get elsewhere?

It was a fun thing to experiment with, and I was pleased to discover that the Man and Woman delivered a decent play in the time they had onstage. Then the Woman gets the bit between her teeth and begins to push the process further, further than the Man and Girl want to go. I had known once the process began that I wanted to bring the play full circle, but I thought I was being too ambitious. Once I had finished the first draft I asked my wife to read it through and she made some excellent suggestions that smoothed the path for the play to return to the start point.

That was probably my biggest challenge with this play: I had never had to re-write anything I had done before. My plays were short and produced almost entirely as I wrote them. This time I had to take the suggestions and go back into the script and change things. It was harder than I thought, but very much worthwhile.

This play has proved popular in the time it has been available – many groups have chosen it for the simplicity. There are only three roles, whose ages are not defined, and there is no set. Despite the title, there’s more to the props than the one balloon – at one point the three construct a play scene set in a wartime kitchen that requires at least a table, two chairs and two cups. It’s been performed again and again, in classrooms, colleges, theatres, village halls and at competitions. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a performance, and was delighted with the presentation. I’m willing to apologise for my prejudices, but I’m glad they lead me to produce this play.

Read the full play HERE

The images used in this post were from a production of The Red Balloon by the Mexico Area Community Theatre. Here‘s their Facebook page.

Play focus: Work in Progress

The original production at RAF St Athan – helped along with Photoshop

It’s been a long time since my first play – about twelve years now. Not so long ago I wrote this post, which mentioned a little about how I write. This was especially true for Work in Progress, my first play. I had joined the Theatre Club at RAF St Athan to get out of the house a bit, having spent some time as a houshusband with Eldest Weasel in her early baby days. Mrs Dim said I should socialise with people who could use entire words, so I wandered off one evening and found myself lined up for a part in the pantomime (I was Wishee Washee in Aladdin. One of my finest moments on stage.) When the panto was done, we started looking around for a play to take to the annual one act play competition. Someone pointed out that if we took a play that the group had written, we would have a shot at the award for “Best self-written play” as no one else ever entered for that. The odds seemed good, and then someone pointed out that I was pretending to be a writer (I had just sold an article to “Mother and Baby” and a short story to “Take a Break Fiction Special”) and therefore I should write the play. There are times in your life when “No.” is a perfectly reasonable answer but totally impossible to say. I dashed off a play in an embarrassingly short time and passed it around the group. Everyone seemed to like it and asked if I would direct. I hadn’t directed before, but hey, up until that week, I’d never written a play before. How hard could it be? The secret at the heart of “Work in Progress” is that I had no clue what I was doing. I wrote a play about the things that really happened to me. If you haven’t read it (and it’s available to read HERE), the play is about a struggling author who can’t get the ending of his Detective novel right. While he’s trying to write it, the characters argue with him, and drag him into the action to make him see how wooden and false it all is. By seeing things from their point of view, and seeing them as real people, not cliche cutouts, he’s able to draft a more suitable story. Yes, this is what happened to me. I was trying to write a novel, but the characters wouldn’t do what I wanted. They said unexpected things, pushed the plot in new directions. Sometimes they did dull, tedious things and I could do nothing to move them along.

From the production by Mexico Area Community Theatre (MACT) See more by them on the Gallery page

Writing plays was like being released from a straightjacket. I could forget wrestling with adverbs and the fiddly details of description and get on with the action and the dialogue. No more worries about whether the main character had steel grey hair or steel blue eyes, or cast iron trousers. None of that mattered! I was free and I could write a mile a minute. And anything is possible on stage! I had the three fictional characters dress in black and white, and their section of the stage was all tones of grey. The guy playing the author wore a loud Hawaiian shirt and we shone a coloured light on him too. When the curtain opened on the performance in the competition, there was a gasp from the audience. My happiest moment. The adjudicator raved about the bold nature of the play. He compared it to the work of Pirandello, which was news to me (but go read about him here , unless SOPA has closed Wikipedia) and he said lots of other nice things. I felt like I had got away with a huge con trick, but the play has been performed again and again, and it would be disengenuous to say I don’t believe there’s something to it. It’s not really a good idea to write about being a writer, but I think what this play is about is showing that characters can be real. Just as a reader can feel affection, or friendship or revulsion for a character in a well-loved book, so an author can find his characters being more than words on the page. If you’ve performed in Work in Progress, or have pictures of a production, please do drop me a line in the comments box and we can arrange for your pictures to join the gallery, plus adding in any links to group websites.

Taking my own advice

It’s an old cliche that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. It was one of the reasons I was nervous about handing out advice about writing plays. I knew how I wrote plays, but did that entitle me to tell other people? Fortunately, reading plays for Lazy Bee Scripts was a logical step, since I was just helping out administratively. Then I began to notice that there were some common errors in the scripts being rejected, things that seemed basic and obvious to me. If I could mention these things to the authors, they could make their plays better….

I bring up this ancient history because in this last week, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take some advice that I hand out regularly. One of the best ways to find out if a play works is to take the draft script along to your local drama club and get it read. Note: A complete draft, folks. Make sure the story has a beginning, middle and end. I know there are playwrights out there, probably some great ones, who closet themselves with a tame theatre group and workshop a storyline, in some cases for years. That’s all well and good, but to my mind the result is a group effort, and if that playwright has any conscience at all, theirs won’t be the only name in the author position on the play cover. No, if this is YOUR idea, YOUR story, then get it written down, THEN take it to the drama club. Their job will be to tell you if the story hangs together, if the characters are real or cardboard, if it’s even interesting at all.

That last point was my greatest fear. My full length play that I began way back in January, has stalled and been re-ignited several times. I threw away the first ten pages and started again with a different central character. The basic idea remained, however, and I made it over the word count that I use to judge length in Script Apppraisals.

SMP Dramatic Society are a local group who welcomed Steve, David and myself to watch their rehearsals of Fawlty Towers back in September. They’ve performed a couple of our pantomimes, and they were eager to meet us. When I asked if they could help with a read-through, they readily accepted and so last Sunday I was welcomed to a member’s house, offered a warming drink and settled in to hear the play read.

It’s an odd feeling, because it’s rare the words are voiced as you heard them in your head, but the reading was very well done, with feeling, enthusiasm and a good deal of laughter. They pronounced the script workable, but had a list of suggestions which were all positive and worthwhile. As I’ve mentioned before, rewriting is a chore I haven’t enjoyed, but this process has made that easier, and I intend to have the new draft completed by New Year’s Day – from concept to complete inside a year!

I’m writing this entry on Christmas Eve morning – our friends in Australia have already begun to Celebrate Christmas Day, our friends in the UK are gearing up for The Night Before Christmas and our weasels are thinking about going skiing before the afternoon Nativity Play in Church. Wherever you are, whenever you’re reading this, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

Writing collaboration – Is co-writing a contradiction?

David's not far away, he's really that small....
Three men, three computers, many, many, many ideas.

There are some things that you do alone – dying is the one that comes to mind. Good start, a nice cheery place to kick off. But writing is a solo occupation, usually at least. No matter how many people contribute to the initial idea, only one of you can sit down at that keyboard and hammer it out.

A long time ago, I heard that some of the American TV shows used writing rooms, whole rooms full of teams of writers, to create their stories. I couldn’t see how that worked. Now, of course, we’ve seen TV shows based on people writing TV shows (like “30 Rock” and the excellent but sadly missed “Studio 60  on the Sunset Strip” ) and we know that the Writer’s Room is a place the stories begin.
But is it a good way to work? Well, I’m not going to do a big analysis of how other people have made it work, or the famous screenwriting partnerships, because other people have already done it and I’m fundamentally lazy. Let me tell you how we at TLC manage to write as a trio.
Our big project this last fortnight was a pantomime. We’ve cracked the main canon of panto, writing Aladdin, Cinderella, Babes in the Wood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Dick Whittington, Puss in Boots. We’ve also done some more off-the-wall pieces, like the Space Panto “Watch this Space” and the Arthurian epic “Knight Fever“. This time we were turning our attention to Sinbad.
Stage one is research, and Steve handled that, reading through dozens of variations on the Sinbad story and presenting a choice of storylines for us to consider. David and I made some choices and put forward any elements we felt should be included. Steve then came up with the definitive storyline that we would work from, and divided it up into scenes. There’s a standard we use for producing panto scripts that Steve and David have developed from years of experience on both the stage and script side of panto. We have a certain number of scenes for each half, a longer first act than second, each main stage scene is followed by a front of curtain scene to allow for set changes and so on. There should be certain character types included, certain scenes that are must-haves. Each of these scenes should still, in some way serve the overall story. If the Princess has been kidnapped, the characters have to snap into action to save her, not simply go into the palace kitchens and bake a cake just so the panto can have the slop scene.
With the scene outline completed, we each take two or three scenes and write them. That’s the bit where the collaboration is suspended and we’re writing alone again.
 That’s the bit Mrs Dim had real trouble with. Although we were all writing different parts of the panto, it’s still handy to have the others nearby. Stuck for a gag? Ask David. Need a song suggestion? Ask Steve. Written something that makes you laugh? Tell one of the others and see if it makes THEM laugh. That’s an important test. So Mrs Dim, who works in a real office with real work to do, wandered occasionally through the living room to see three middle-aged men sitting with separate laptops, sniggering at juvenile jokes, surfing the web, or listening to music. It didn’t look like work. But we were doing what we needed to do – juvenile jokes are the bread and butter of panto, the web supplies both corny jokes and useful information, and if you’re rewriting the lyrics to a song, it’s a very good idea to have the real song playing so you can match the rhyme scheme and scansion.
Ultimately, we end up with enough scenes to build an entire pantomime. That’s when the other important part of collaboration comes into play. We sit and read through the whole thing, taking different parts to perform. Reading it out loud is a useful check – does that gag work as well out loud as it does on the page? Is the name funny when you can’t see it written down? Do those stage directions make sense to other people? Those read throughs are my abiding memory of our TLC writing meetings. We laugh unashamedly at our own jokes, and at those of the others, we fight to keep our own worst jokes in and kick out others when the script is running long, we suggest the worst songs to annoy David (Ask him to include “Endless Love” in one of his scripts and you’ll see what I mean) and we tease Steve about his typos.
The theory says that this method of co-writing would work with anything, but on other projects we work individually and put the final pieces up for peer review in the partnership. We produced a sketch a day for the period of time David and Steve were here in Canada, but each sketch was written by one person and reviewed by the others on completion, only a few changes being made after the sketch had been read. We’re starting a new chapter in collaboration with a planned radio sitcom idea, and I think that different format will test our collaborative powers somewhat.
A solo occupation? Yes, ultimately, you always write alone, but what you do with that writing, who you show it to and what you do as a result of sharing it is where the joy of collaborative work lies.

Writing a play for Community Theatre

Today, as a marketing ploy and because I don’t want to write another blog piece that starts “I’ve been thinking…”, I’m handing out a free sample from my book (Title above). I’ve chosen the start of the chapter about the most common mistakes made by folks writing for the Community Theatre Stage. Hope you enjoy it.

Common Mistakes

After a few years of being published, I took on the job of Script Reader for my publisher, Lazy Bee Scripts. The company was being inundated with scripts, and they needed someone to help with the initial sorting of the new arrivals. This gave me a chance to review and report on hundreds of scripts from a huge variety of writers. Scripts are sent to Lazy Bee from all around the world, by people who have been writing for years, people just starting out, and people trying stage writing after success in some other form. Before long it became obvious that the same mistakes were being made over and over again.

The Biggest Mistake

Writing a screenplay for the stage. I’m never sure if this mistake is made because the authors have never visited the theatre, or because they wrote the idea as a screenplay first then attempted to convert it to the stage. Since the primary market I am reading for is concerned with the amateur stage, where resources and stage space tend to be limited, there is little point in saying “but I’ve seen some pretty spectacular things on the West End stage”. Yes, I know you can see ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ fly out over the audience in some theatres, but you’re not likely to see that done in your local village hall or school production. Time after time I read plays that open in a living room, described in perfect detail. Five minutes later the action moves to a second, equally detailed location for just a few lines of dialogue, and then another change. If the play is to be performed on a regular small stage, the only options are to have a subdivided stage with many sets permanently erected and the action moving between them, or to have a minimalist stage with movable furniture to signify the various locations. I used a combination of these devices in ‘A Time for Farewells’, with one half of the stage permanently set as a bedroom, and the other half different arrangements of three stage blocks that became a bar, a hospital room, a lounge.

This is entirely possible, but the important thing is that YOU are the one who should decide that this is the way the play should be performed. There’s no point in writing an epic masterpiece that includes horse races, the sinking of the Titanic and an aerial dogfight and then saying “It’s up to the director to work out how to stage it.” If you’re looking for the best of all possible worlds, you’ll end up with a script that doesn’t depend on a trapdoor in the stage or some other technical device (like flying wires, back projection or giant inflatable gorillas) for a successful production. You can certainly suggest that these elements would make the production better, that they were part of your original vision, but allow for the fact that not every group will have these things at their disposal. When the prospective director reads your script, they should be able to see the play being performed on their stage in their mind’s eye. Which leads into point number two:

Incomplete or Unhelpful Instructions

I reviewed a play once that had a character coming onstage carrying a large box. Halfway through the scene, a second character pops out of the box (which is still being held by character number one) and delivers a speech. I couldn’t see how this would be possible unless one character was incredibly strong, or the bottom of the box was open and character two’s legs were screened by some handy scenery. As it turned out, some unenclosed production notes would have told me which characters were to be played by puppets – that information would have put a different spin on things.

If you’re planning on having a character disappear into a magic cabinet, it would be kind to indicate how you imagine this being done: “The back of the cabinet is screened by the mangle, and Aladdin climbs out the concealed flap in the false back…” You don’t need to include a diagram with numbered and labelled parts, but your director needs to have a clue what you’re thinking about. This is particularly important in British pantomime transformation scenes, like Cinders’ “Rags to Ball Gown” or “Pumpkin to Coach” moments. It’s all very well writing “There is a flash and a bang and the pumpkin is replaced by a shimmering coach…” but that’s leaving it all to the director. A little research will show you there are many ways of accomplishing this effect – bringing lights up behind a gauze, unfolding a special piece of scenery… Again, read a few scripts, see some shows, talk to some experienced dramatists. Then put your own spin on the process.

Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling

I know, I know, it seems really petty to complain about mistakes like this. Who cares about full stops and question marks? It’s the content that’s important, isn’t it? Language is a constantly evolving thing, textspeak is becoming a valid form of grammar, blah, blah, blah! Well yes, language does evolve, but at the moment there are still guidelines and rules about grammar, spelling and punctuation, and you can be pretty sure that nothing much has changed in the way English is written since you were at school. Delivering a script for your publisher, or even simply turning one out for your local theatre group, should still be treated with the care and attention to detail you would give a job application letter.

Grammar exists to make the written language easy to hear in your head. Commas give pauses in the sentence, full stops indicate when one idea stops and the next begins. These things are important for your words to be understood, and if people can’t comfortably read what you’ve written, they’re not going to enjoy the content. They’re not going to understand the content. They’re certainly not going to buy or perform your play. Also, if you’re not careful enough to spot errors that are highlighted for you on the spell checker of the word processor you wrote this on, how can any customer be sure you’ve been careful enough to produce a decent plot? Are there as many errors in your storyline as there are in your typing? Bear in mind that the editor or publisher is likely to be someone fond of the written word – they’ve made a business of it, after all. They are exactly the kind of person who gets annoyed by incorrect spelling, and they are also exposed to it on a daily basis. If your script contains no ghastly spelling or punctuation errors, that will be another factor in your favour.

The only exception to the rule about correct spelling and grammar is when you choose to get it wrong. Not everyone speaks the Queen’s English like an Early Fifties BBC Radio Announcer, so of course it doesn’t make sense to have Bruno the door bouncer throw a drunk into the street and yell after him :

“We’d be much obliged if you would refrain from revisiting this establishment in the foreseeable future and encourage your rehabilitation with regard to your alcohol dependency…”

Bruno would shout  “Sling yer ‘ook, drunk!”   or something worse, and you won’t need to add in the ‘h’ that he drops. But the apostrophe shows the letter has been dropped on purpose, not as a result of rapid typing, and that Bruno is not making monkey noises. In summary, your characters are allowed to speak ungrammatically, or in dialect, but for your readers to correctly interpret this type of speech, it needs to be clearly punctuated.

  
 

A Time For Farewells, as performed at RAF Halton

To get YOUR copy of the ebook rush over to the TLC website  Best of luck with your writing.