Tag Archives: theatre

Inspired by Hemingway – My new play

That title’s a little misleading. My new play is called “For sale – Baby Shoes – Never Worn”, not “Inspired by Hemingway”. Look, maybe I should just tell the story I’ve been telling everyone about this. Whether it’s true or not…I don’t really want to know. This is what I heard:

Hemingway was dining with Dorothy Parker and her infamous Vicious Circle. Naturally they talked about writing and at some point Hemingway asserted it was possible to write a compelling story in only six words. Challenged to prove it, he grabbed a napkin and scribbled  “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn” and won the bet.

Hemingway is figure who towers in the mental landscape of writers. Many idolize him, ascribing almost mythic powers to him. I didn’t take much to the stories that he wrote, except (if it’s true) for this one. Those six words both tell the story and send your mind scurrying to fill in the other parts – whose was the baby, why did it never wear the shoes? Was there ever a baby? Who bought the shoes, and why must they be sold on? I have certainly spent more time thinking about those six words and all they imply than I have about the rest of Hemingway’s output.

It struck me one day that it would be neat to take the idea at the heart of those words – a dream lost, let’s say – and make a triptych of plays on that theme. Each one would take two words as the title, and the three plays performed together would make up the whole story, as well as carrying the theme. I even wondered who might write such a play. Seriously, it was a day and a half before I realised it might well be me.

The production I’ve written is not as ambitious as Hemingway’s short story. It could be performed by two actors, one male, one female. Staging could be minimal, with mainly hand props and black backdrop. Each actor would play the same character in two of the plays and another character in a third play.

Published for the first time on the 29th May 2013, the play is available through Lazy Bee Scripts. You can read the whole thing online for free, or pay a small fee to download it. I haven’t run it through with any groups here, so I don’t have any pictures of it yet – I’d love to hear from someone willing to stage the World Premiere. Let me know at dtrasler3@gmail.com if you have a production planned, or you’d like more information.

Later edit: This play HAS now been performed: By Kilmuckridge Drama Group. I borrowed the pictures of their performance from their Facebook page and added them to my gallery. They got the staging spot on.

Bard on the Beach – Shakespeare in the Summertime!

Image

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.

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.

Hello to Farewells

“A Time for Farewells” performed by FEATS

Kicking off the New Year, I had to resist the urge to write about resolutions, or latest projects, or review the failures/successes of 2011. Well, if not those, what? By far the most popular viewing on this site is the gallery of pictures for “A Time for Farewells“. Not my first play, maybe not even my favourite play, it’s nonetheless very popular around the world.

“A Time for Farewells” produced by Titirangi Theatre in New Zealand

Before getting into WHY it may be so popular, let’s have a brief summary of the plot for those who haven’t read it (and if you want to read it, you can find it HERE).

Alex is a batchelor lad until he meets Sarah. She’s not looking for love, she’s looking for a mechanic to fix her car. The play features episodes from Alex and Sarah’s life, interspersed with the couple themselves discussing their relationship. It’s clear there’s some sort of ending here, that this isn’t a loving nostalgia session, but an autopsy on a finished relationship. The play covers high and lows of their life together before bringing the audience up to date and letting them in on the event that Alex and Sarah are preparing for.

The original production, at RAF Halton, with Mark Blackman and Sue Fox as Alex and Sarah.

I like to think it’s a positive play, that the underlying message is hopeful. But I don’t think that’s what brings people to perform the play. There are some very practical reasons why this is a good one to pick, particularly for One Act Play Competitions.

Firstly, the set is simple. In the original set we had three stage blocks on the left hand side of the stage that could be rearranged to represent whatever location was needed. On the right hand side of the stage we had a bedroom set – actually, just the bed. The right hand side is where Alex and Sarah are when the play opens, that’s “now”. Everything that takes place in the past occurs on the left hand side. We had a doorway between the two, but I don’t believe that’s really necessary. So the set is simple, and doesn’t require any special effects or furniture moving during blackouts.

The cast is small. Aside from Alex and Sarah, there are only two other characters, and they really only appear in cameo. It’s essentially a two-handed play, and those two actors get to really stretch their acting muscles as they run through the life this pair have had together.

There’s comedy. I think that’s inevitable in the plays I write, since there’s very little I can take seriously, but in this case it’s important. Alex and Sarah make each other laugh, and the play is about recognising the valuable parts of their history together and holding on to them – the laughter and the tears.

Finally, it’s about people. The proof that this play is universal came with the success of Alan Leung’s production in Hong Kong. Though we had to have lengthy email conversations to sort out the peculiarities of English idiom (Alan was translating into Chinese, an unenviable task. Apparently the Chinese don’t have an equivalent for the phrase “Under the thumb” when it comes to henpecked husbands…) The Hong Kong production did so well in the competition that it was restaged later on, a tremendous complement.

One of the posters for the Hong Kong production

And after all the positive things, what about the flip side? Is there anything I would like to change? Well the one thing I hadn’t considered when I was writing the play was costume. Alex gets by well enough in a variety of shirtsleeves, but poor Sarah has to go from “stranded business woman” to “bride” to “holidaymaker by the pool” and so on. Most groups have found their own ways around my lack of vision there – in the original production Sue Fox managed to find herself a simple business-style dress that unbuttoned quickly, and went for and equally easy to don wedding dress. There have been other, equally inventive solutions, as the pictures show.

The relationship between Alex and Sarah seems to be one that people can believe in. Perhaps it’s also one they can relate to. Of course, I’m delighted that the play is so popular, and hope there are many more performances of it around the world. If you have a production planned, or if you’ve taken part in one, please let me have some photos to add to the gallery pages.

If you have any questions about “A Time for Farewells”, either about the writing or the staging of the play, feel free to drop me a line at dtrasler3@gmail.com. You can read “A Time for Farewells” and all my other published plays at www.lazybeescripts.co.uk

Humble Pi

Pi Theatre's homepage. Go check them out, theatrelovers!

There are days when you make silly mistakes, aren’t there? We’ve all done it, I’m sure. Well, the other day, I made a classic mistake. You’ll know from reading my letter to the Inland Revenue that I’m prone to sarcasm and verbal attacks when irritated, and when I was at a fairly low ebb (gloomy about the struggle to complete the latest play, if you must know…) I received an email from Pi Theatre.

Now this was not spam mail. I signed up for their newsletter a long time ago. They were asking for money, it’s true, but they were asking for donations to help fund a workshop to develop a play by a local emerging playwright. It’s one of the things they do there. However:

I didn’t read the email properly. I glanced at it and took in that a theatre company was asking me –  a cash-strapped, under-performed playwright –  to cough up cash so a bunch of actors could fanny about making up another incomprehensible mish-mash of a play that pleased no one but themselves when certain playwrights have a whole bunch of plays in their back-catalogue that are just WONDERFUL.

See, hardly a balanced, sane response, was it? I’m utterly, utterly ashamed. If I had only gnashed my teeth in frustration and shouted at the computer, that would have been bad enough. But no. I wrote a sarcastic, cruel and rude rejoinder.

And sent it.

Pi Theatre have a brilliant general manager called Becky Low. She would have been within her rights to cut me off from their lists, respond with a rude email of her own, badmouth me around the theatre community and make small dolls in my image to stick with pins. She didn’t.

Instead Becky wrote a careful, calm and grown-up response that had me red-faced and cringing. She was exactly as courteous and professional as I hadn’t been.

I wrote back with a much more considered apology, and thanked her for her time. She was kind enough to wish me all the best with my current projects and encourage me to stay in touch.

So, if you’re considering taking in some theatre in the Vancouver area, may I recommend PI Theatre? They have a good roll of productions, and they work hard to encourage new local playwrights, like Sean Devine . And they’re forgiving and understanding of old, crochety ones.

While we’re on the subject of Theatre, those lovely folks over at MonsterVintage are still interested in your input about using their stock of vintage clothing for costumes in Community Theatre productions. Obviously, being based in the US would be preferable, but they are wondering which plays out there would be best suited to their range of clothes. Take a look at their website and either contact them direct, or leave you suggestions in the comments below. Thanks!

All the latest from Lazy Bee Scripts!

Me, when I used to blow the trumpet (aided by Photoshop...)

It’s considered bad form to blow your own trumpet, at least where I come from, but it’s ok to allow other people to sing your praises. So, sparing my blushes, I’ve decided to reprint the latest Lazy Bee Scripts Newsletter (The Buzz) which happens to include some mention of the latest full-length play by…ahem…well…ME!

Most of the following information can be found via theWhat’s New by Categorypage of the Lazy Bee Scripts web site 
The Royal Shakespeare Company‘s Open Stages Project
Open Stages is a collaboration between the RSC and community theatre groups.  As part of the project, the RSC has teamed-up with the National Drama Festivals Association to introduce a Shakespeare category into one-act and full-length play festivals in the UK.  The category is intended to cover Shakespeare plays and material related to the plays (this could include historical drama with Shakespearean connections, modern language interpretations of the plays or plays commenting on the plays.)
Hang on a minute!  Weren’t all the bard’s plays on the long side?  So where do you find one-act Shakespeare plays?  That, of course, is (one of the places) where we come in.  Bill Tordoff has been working his way through the canon, creating abridgements of the plays  These preserve the original plots, characters and language, but condense the plays to durations of between thirty and fifty minutes – ideal one-act festival length.  We have published 24 plays in this form along with a lot of other material relating to Shakespeare.
As an aide to people searching with this particular purpose, we have created links to summaries of the Shakespeare material.  (From the web site home page, follow the links to the One-Act Plays and Full-Length Plays main pages.)
Why not take Hamlet to a one-act festival?

Scripts for Kids (Schools or Youth Theatre)

  • Geoff Bamber has been busy. More accurately, we have been catching-up with our backlog of his scripts. In the last couple of months, we’ve published The Pied Piper of Hamelin – A Question of Rats, a highwayman romp called Stand and Deliver [Kids Play] (to distinguish it from a pantomime of the same name), Smugglers, and Oh, Mr Shakespeare!, all comedies, and the relatively serious Five Days in May, dealing with the relationship between three secondary school children, one of whom is confide to a wheelchair.
  • A Journey to Oz is Richard Coleman’s rhyming (non-musical) version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.
  • Whilst it may seem a little early, we’ve added a couple of pieces to our Christmas selection. Firstly, Bill Siviter offers God’s Messenger Department, an irreverent approach to the nativity (the story is all there, but the perspective is unorthodox and so likely to appeal to older children). A cast of 16 or more.
  • Then there’s A Double-Decker For Santa Claus by Olivia Arieti which leans to the secular side but takes a moral approach along the lines of A Christmas Carol (only without the ghosts!)  A cast of 6.
  • Maria’s Mask by Andrew Weaver is a play with suggested songs (that is to say, we don’t supply music, but the script includes suggestions for appropriate songs). A haunting, lyrical love story overlaid with knock-about comedy! A story of a ghost haunting the theatre where she used to dance.
  • On the more educational side, there’s Sue Russell’s Divali Assembly, a piece for a full junior school class, with a good balance between straight information delivery and drama around the Indian festival of lights. Sue’s Pirates Ahoy! is also surprisingly educational, covering a history of piracy.
  • Peter Bond delivers Androcles and the Lion as a short rhyming fable for a cast of 8 or 9.
  • A Forty-Minute Antony And Cleopatra is Bill Tordoff’s latest Shakespeare abridgement (as discussed above), and comes complete with literature’s second-most famous snake.
  • What would happen if a teacher was supplanted by a fairy with a magic wand? That’s more-or-less the premise of Ambition by Tony Best, a simple, short comedy play for a cast of four or five.
  • Nicholas Richards delivers broad-brush, knock-about comedy set in a restaurant in Everything All Right, Sir?  This is a flexible piece with two alternative ways of staging (and castin) the protest by the kitchen staff!
  • The King’s Spell by Sherrill S. Cannon & Kerry E. Gallagher is a class-sized play for elementary schools, embedding mixed-up versions of well-known nursery songs.
  • According to Louise Arnold, Everybody Wants to be a Cat.  It’s a short play about friendship for a cast of 6 to 9 actors.
  • Finally, in this section, there’s James O’Sullivan’s Once Upon A Time In Fairyland, a comical twisting of some well-known tales.

Musicals

  • Gerald P. Murphy’s The Fish and the Ring – The Musical is a one-act musical fable for kids – that is to say, it is designed to be performed by a school or youth theatre company. A fable about meddling with destiny. (For a company of 17 actors or more.)
  • The Pirate Queen by Tim O’Brien is intended for performance to a audience of children by an older company. A time-travelling musical with a healthy dose of piracy thrown-in! (Requires at least 29 actors.)

Sketches & Very Short Plays

  • I’m Famous is a Gerald P. Murphy adaptation of an Anton Chekhov short story, for anyone who thinks that celebrity culture is a recent invention! (2M, 2F)
  • Carol Kline’s Bud and Jewel – Busted and Bud and Jewel – Predictable could well be the start of a character comedy series. I do hope so. A well-drawn, bickering middle-aged couple.
  • Damian Trasler has produced Looking for Mr Evil (an interview for a galactic dictator) in his own right and, with added puns by David Lovesy, Shakespeare Re-imagined. Each one is a comedy sketch with a cast of two.
  • Every now and again, I tie myself in knots trying to characterise a piece. This is a case in point. What is Jonathan Edgington’s Quanto Sei Bella? A Short drama? A light romantic comedy? A play about relationships with a mild dose of magic realism? An interesting piece for 2M, 1F.
  • Windmills and Millstones by Louise Wade explores the life of fictional characters in the great maybe – before they have been committed to the page. (Minimum of 2M, 2F)
  • Mike Smith has contributed two delightfully odd shorts. There’s Lost and Found where the starting point is a pair of matching ‘small ads’ from a newspaper (1M, 1F), then there’s Point of Departure which sets off from a chance remark as a passenger leaves a car (1M, 1F, 1 Either – the cameo by the passenger who lights the fuse then stands well back.)
  • All Your Future Endeavors is a ten-minute bitter-sweet comedy by Molly McCluskey for a cast of 1M, 1F, in which an employee being ‘downsized’ after 20 years is not going to go quietly.
  • Multilayered is the word for Polytel by Nicholas Richards. We’re watching a couple discussing Polytel, the new revolution in technology… No, wait, we’re watching the filming of a commercial for Polytel, and the actors are rebelling against it… No, wait, we’ve been watching a short film arguing against modern technology… Haven’t we? (3M, 1F)
  • Peter Stallard didn’t think we’d publish Diary Of A Squirrel Hunter on the grounds that the irony is so heavy that it might be mistaken for extremely bad taste!  Essentially it’s a monologue, with an offstage police voice at the end.
  • Coming Home by Roger Woodcock is set in a private room in a nursing home.  A short, poignant drama in which a father’s failing memory throws up some surprises for his son. (2M, 1F)

One-Act Plays

  • At the beginning of March, we published Watch This Space [Comedy Play] by Karrena Dewhurst. (The bit in brackets is to distinguish it from the [Pantomime] with the same title by TLC Creative.) Karrena’s piece is a comedy, set on the bridge of a spaceship. This was followed-up by her friend Leo Finn who added to the comedy with Watch This Space Too, set on the same spaceship and largely using the same set of characters. Six characters in each case, including the voice of FRED the ship’s computer. The first script runs to a shade over 20 minutes, the second to a shade under.
  • George Freek’s Catch As Catch Can is a comedy, which is not what one expects from Othello. An alternative history, playing with our preconceptions of Shakespeare’s characters. (4M, 3F)
  • We published Baby Sparklers some time ago, but it’s listed here as a new script because Frank Gibbons mounted his own production for a drama festival and found that it was running slightly over the 50 minute limit, and therefore he revised it down to 45 minutes. A nostalgic evocation of childhood in the northwest of England. (4M, 4F).
  • Stewart Boston’s Problem In Judaea is an Easter Play, which gives some clue as to who is causing the problem. Three sets, but designed for minimal staging. (Needs 12 or 13 actors.)
  • A Trifle Unwell by Jane Lockyer Willis is difficult to categorise, but offers plenty of scope for characterisation. Set on the periphery of a party. (1M, 3F)
  • Duncan Battman has delivered two new plays. The Substitute is a long but dramatic monologue delivered by Frank, an ex-footballer who is now confined to a wheelchair. As he packs up his room he relates the ups and downs of his life, right up to the startling conclusion. Consequences, by contrast, has a cast of four (3M, 1F). A very theatrical presentation, without being melodramatic. A young policeman and his older sergeant discover a dead body, along with a letter that casts new light on a long-closed case.

Full-Length Plays

  • Geoff Bamber’s The Second Friday Of The Month is a farce in two short acts. Dan meets the psychologist who lives in the flat above him on the second Friday of each month, but their routine is broken by the arrival of some of Dan’s diverse acquaintances. A clever, funny play, exploring some rather unconventional relationships. (3M, 4F)
  • Merely Players is, surprisingly, Damian Trasler‘s first solo full-length play – and it’s brilliant. It morphs from light back-stage romantic comedy into a murder mystery and back again. Starting with a bare stage, under the guise of tidying the theatre’s store of props and costumes, the characters accidentally build the set of a drawing-room murder mystery, which then comes to life. (3M, 2F)
  • The Ghosts Of Halfway House by Richard James is a play for Halloween (or a play for whenever else you want a ghost story) with a single, haunted, set. (4M, 3F)
  • Sarah Reilly’s A Mug’s Game Poses questions of inner versus outward beauty (in the guise of a dinner party with drunken revelations). (3M, 4F)
  • A very dark tone is struck by Jessica McHugh’s Fools Call It Fate in which threads of tangled lives are interwoven with scenes in a form of purgatory. An intriguing, challenging and very well constructed play with lots of depth to the characters. (Needs at least 9 actors, of whom at least 3M, 4F)
  • Nursery Crimes – The Catnap Kidnap Caper is a full-length addition to TLC Creative’s popular Nursery Crimes series. A daft detective story set in the worlds of Fairytale and Nursery Rhymes. Think of it as Charles Perrault meets Raymond Chandler. Not a pantomime, but in the ‘family entertainment’ category. (10 characters, of which 5M, 3F).
  • Likewise, A Taste of the Orient by Vivienne Wilkes is a family show which could fill a similar slot to pantomime in a theatrical season. Includes two optional storytelling sequences (with roles which might be mimed by younger cast members). Large cast (at least 8M, 13F, with lots of chorus roles)

Pantomimes

  • Peter Bond’s The Magic Tinderbox is a panto based on a Hans Christian Andersen story (although the conventions of pantomime means that the story moves quite a way from the original, containing, for example, considerably more pizza.)
  • Rapunzel II – Back To The Tower by Sian Nixon also moves a fair way from the original story, but also contains appropriate dollops of pantomime fun and mayhem.
  • Our latest version of Cinderella comes from Mark Jack, and, because of the distinct period setting, is identified as Cinderella [Sixties] – Groovy!
  • Then there’s Peter Pan – see below

Peter Pan with a new pantomime edition, a few remarks about the Peter Pan range seem to be in order…

  •  Peter Pan (The Panto) is James Barry’s full-length British pantomime treatment of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. Whilst it’s done in a modern panto style, the story remains faithful to the original. Includes flying sequences.  (Needs a cast of at least 16)
    In the original professional productions in Aldershot and Winchester, the initial flying sequence was done with the actors behind a gauze onto which a video sequence was projected so that the characters appeared to be flying over and around a London cityscape.   We will shortly be able to offer the video sequence as an optional extra, and I’ll put a demo video (from the Winchester production) on the web site as soon as I can sort the technology out.
  • For companies looking for a version of Peter Pan without the flying, Richard Coleman’s Captain Hook’s Revenge is very popular. (All the flying takes place off-stage, mainly indicated by the sounds of collisions with trees). Richard has also written a short rhyming version called Rhyming Captain Hook
  • Then there are the musical treatments – firstly a musical ‘prequel’, in the form of Hook and Peter Pan – How it All Began (Songs by Helen Dooley and Bob Walsh, book by Giles Scott). This was published in December, and we are just in the process of compiling a backing CD for it.
  • The second musical version is George Douglas Lee’s Stinkerbell which takes a much less reverent approach, and we meet the brother of Captain Hook who also lost a hand, but had it replaced in a slightly different way.  Ladies and gentlemen, meet Captain Plunger.
I wanted (this is me again, by the way!) to add links to all these plays individually, but that would be horribly time-consuming and make the page very blue-heavy. Do feel free to use the easy search facility on the Lazy Bee Scripts website to track down any of these fascinating and extremely performable scripts. Remember, they can all be read online, complete and free of charge, then all it takes is a short process to have the complete script downloaded to your computer.

Real Theatre: “The Trespassers” at The Vancouver Playhouse

Tickets, programme, brochure....

Today’s secret is a biggie, one so shocking, I really had to think about confessing or not. Folks, I don’t go to a lot of live theatre.

I know, a lot of you just fell off your chairs, or stormed out in indignation. “Why, this fellow claims to be a playwright and script reader, yet he does not regularly attend stage performances of a theatrical nature! Disgraceful!’ Please, calm down, mop up your coffee and I’ll explain.

When I was small, my father wrote plays for our church. They were (and are) very good, and I got to act in them. Since I was around the house a lot, I got to help with making the props and scenery. I acted in Dad’s plays all through my youth, and then joined a Youth Group that also put on Pantomimes. I joined a couple of village Community Theatre groups, one of which performed “Charley’s Aunt”. See me in that production below, second from right.

TOADS - The Old Alresford Amateur Dramatic Society

When we took up our nomadic RAF lifestyle, I joined the Royal Air Force Theatrical Association (RAFTA), and entered a couple of their One Act Play Competitions. This was my first attempt at writing. Of course, along the way, my wife and I attended many performances of many great things at various theatres. So, to be fair, I’ve had a lot of experience of live theatre, both on and off stage.

Perhaps I should have said I don’t get to see as much live theatre as I feel I ought to. This last week I got to go to “The Trespassers” by Morris Panych at The Vancouver Playhouse, thanks to my brother and sister-in-law’s generous Christmas present of a gift certificate. Mrs Dim and I picked the production almost at random, and I did not have high hopes.

You see, I dread the theatre sometimes. People so often write plays to communicate with melodrama, to wring the last drop of angst out of a dire situation. Sometimes, yes, that’s effective, or moving. Often it’s excruciating. In “The Trespassers”, we were promised a “poignant, thought-provoking and sardonic drama”. I would have said they missed out FUNNY. Not clown funny ( or clown CREEPY, more like) but with genuine wit and warmth. The lead character has a condition, but we don’t get medical analysis, or hand-wringing over diagnosis and treatment. We see Lowell is different, but since he’s our guide and narrator, we take him as he comes and see the story through his eyes.

You want to know what it’s about, well, go see it. If you’re in the neighbourhood, you still have time, it runs till the 16th of April. What I want to talk about is the brilliance of it.

A single set, with one central exit on the back. Light bulbs overhead that could simulate the peach orchard when necessary. A stool on one side of the stage that was Hardy’s shed from time to time. A table that was in Lowell’s house, or Roxy’s house, or the interrogation room of the police station. What was brilliant about the staging of this piece was that there was no attempt to define individual locations in space or time. The police officer (while in the interrogation room, we assume) would ask a question and Lowell would begin to answer. But because he was relating what had happened in the past, the characters he was talking about would interrupt him, explain things. One part I remember vividly was a section where the police officer had no role in the scene, but he was still onstage. He simply sat on a stool to one side, but when Hardy talks about the view from the orchard, pointing off into the distance over the audience’s head, the policeman looked back too, as if he was watching like we were. Which, in a sense, he was.

What excites me so much about this play and its presentation is that I read so many scripts each month that don’t do anything as challenging as this. I wondered if I had read this piece, would I have been able to envision it as clearly? Morris Panych (an experienced actor, writer and director)has written a play about a complex series of experiences leading up to a difficult choice. He has five characters interacting, creating multiple locations and months of passing time without set changes. Watching the play, it’s easy to overlook the simplicity of the set, but this play could be performed in a school hall, or a church – you don’t need any moveable flats, you barely have any props, the only special effects were for grace touches.

I doubt I’ve managed to convey the point I wanted to make. Too often, we view plays as a kind of movie. We forget what theatre IS, what it can be, that audiences at a play will accept quite radical and strange ideas because this is theatre. I didn’t want to stand up during the poker game and yell that they were playing cards on the interrogation room table. For that scene, it WASN”T that table anymore, it was in Roxy’s house. Everybody knew that, everybody accepted that, and we didn’t need anyone holding up a subtitle s card to explain the change of location.

No, I don’t go to live theatre often enough. And if plays like this are everywhere, then I am really missing out.

What was the last piece of live theatre YOU saw? Did it challenge you, or disappoint?

Setting the scene

Even with a minimal set, the description is important. As is the sofa.

It’s dark. There’s just the rustle of whispered conversation in the auditorium. Then the lights come up and the curtain swishes aside to reveal….What? That’s a pretty big question, and one that’s been very prominent this week.

Reviewing scripts for my publisher has kept me busy for the last three years, at approximately eight scripts a week. At such a volume of material, it’s inevitable that a pattern of errors or common mistakes should emerge, and this week the top offender seems to be a lack of description.

It’s something that’s easy to excuse. The playwright sits at home, imagining their play running on the stage. They concentrate on the characters, on the dialogue, but probably have a vision of the staging too. The thing is, they don’t want to be too proscriptive : if you say “There must be entrances here, here and here, and the heroine must recline on this chaise longue here…” aren’t  you restricting the Director’s creativity? Isn’t it better to just say “Curtains open on a living room” and describe the characters coming and going?

Well, no. If you’re hoping to sell your script, you should be aiming for your writing to conjure up an image in the prospective director’s mind. To do that, you need to describe each set at the top of the scene. That way the director knows what the room looks like as the characters move around it. It doesn’t matter that the director is envisioning a blue sofa instead of a paisley one. It doesn’t matter that he/she thinks a drinks cabinet is six feet tall instead of a little cupboard. What’s important is that when he/she reads ‘Charlie crosses to the sofa” it isn’t the first time the sofa has been mentioned. This is important because up until that moment the reader will have a scene in their heads. You mention, perhaps, a study. For me, that means a chair or two and a desk for working at. I’ll also imagine oak panelled walls. Sorry, can’t help myself*. Anyway, my personal view of a study doesn’t include a sofa. So, when I read that Charlie crosses to a sofa, the sofa appears BING! in the middle of my imaginary study. It’s annoying and surprising. You don’t want someone reading your script to be annoyed.

“But what about the stifled creativity?” you cry. Fair point. This is, indeed a tightrope you have to walk. Your first step here is creating a vision in the reader’s head that means they can see what YOU saw when you were writing the play. They don’t have to get every nuance, but they should understand the physical reality of the world you have built. Their challenge is to translate that vision into the performance space they have. So, in writing for the community theatre where facilities are often more limited, you may want to restrict the number of trapdoors you mention in the stage, or flying entrances, or holographic monsters. But don’t skimp on the description – tell the reader what you see, and do it at the top of the scene so they start with the correct picture in their heads.

*In case you’re wondering, my study doesn’t have oak panelled walls. They’re a kind of yucky green colour. There’s no sofa either.