Time Warp in a Red Box

I knew the box was there. I had not opened it in more than thirty years, but I remembered the color. It was red. What I didn’t remember was that it was in another box, and, of course, that box was at the bottom of the closet in my office. Out came the upright vacuum cleaner I never use, the box of computer gizmos and cords I’m afraid to throw out, the bags of yarn that I collect at resale shops for knitting Guidepost sweaters for kids, a bag of completed Guidepost sweaters that need to be sewn together, a box of my mother’s painting supplies that I might get to in another lifetime, and finally, the box that held the red box. A McGregors’ box, the size that shirts might have come in.

What I was looking for was a glimpse of myself the summer I was fifteen. We lived in Oak Ridge, Tennessee then and I babysat for neighbors, Charles and Julie Baes. It was at their house that I first read Peyton Place after I put their three children, Freddie, Linda and Sandy to bed. Julie Baes was from La Ceiba, Honduras. Charlie was a nerdy scientist, like my dad, and most of our neighbors in Oak Ridge. As I remember the story, Julie met Charlie in Miami. He didn’t speak Spanish and she didn’t speak English, but the chemistry was powerful and they married. By the time I knew them Julie’s English was just fine. That summer she was heading back to Honduras to spend three months with her family – who had never met the children. I was invited along as a mother’s helper.

What was in the red box were all the letters I’d sent home. Probably three or four a week. And a journal. I didn’t remember that. For years I have been wanting to read those letters and write about that trip. When I opened the red box I found other things inside. My passport from that trip. My high school diploma. A wedding picture of me with my first husband. Apparently as my mother downsized over the years, she put lot of Mala things in the red box. What was not there was a single picture of that trip except my passport photo. A Brownie box camera would not have fit in my one suitcase.

In retrospect, I am astounded that my parents let me go to Honduras. They put me on a plane in Knoxville and I traveled alone to Miami. I had never flown before. At the Miami Airport I managed to get myself and my luggage to a hotel where I had a reservation. The next morning I went back to the airport and met Julie and the children and we flew to Honduras together, landing first in British Honduras (now Belize) where the airport was a small building. I can’t remember if the runway was paved. I do seem to recall men with guns.

Julie’s family came from a town named La Ceiba; a small town with an unpaved center square tucked along miles of white sand beaches. More than fifty years later I imagine it is very different. I recognize nothing in the pictures on the internet.

At fifteen I was immersed in a culture very different from my waspy, midwestern upbringing. I don’t know if I had ever seen a person of color. I had completed one year of high school Spanish. By the end of three months in Honduras, I was dreaming in technicolor Spanish.

Now the red box sits in my office waiting for me to sort the letters by date and find the time to immerse myself in my past. I don’t know how many of us my age have a time in our young lives so well documented. The current young generation will have blogs and FaceBook and thousands upon thousands of digital photos. I think social media would have sacrificed some of the mystery I feel when I look at the red box.

I am looking forward to visiting my fifteen-year-old self.

David Foster, We Already Miss You

The Easton, Maryland theatre community lost one of its own on Friday, June 14, 2013 when David Foster, age 86, died. David was our Sandy Hawes in The Santa Diaries. His nuanced performance and rich voice made the role memorable. The opening montage with David’s voice over still makes me tear up.

Not that he didn’t almost give us a heart attack every night of the show. In the first scene he was up on Martha’s roof stringing Christmas lights in a snow storm. I suppose if this had been a Broadway production there would have been a lift for David, but this was community theater so at each performance he climbed a 20 foot ladder behind the rear projection screen and waved the lights around. Laura and I sat in the back of the theater clenching our fists until he was safely on the ground. Then we could breathe again.


David never complained that he couldn’t do it. As far as I knew, he never asked the director to find another way. That would have been the sensible thing to do, but David knew the illusion was important. Al Bond held the ladder steady at the bottom, but when the run was over we were all glad that David had not fallen and really broken his leg as he did in the play.

David Foster loved helping other actors and that will be his true legacy in the theater community he embraced in retirement. It will be hard to remember he’s gone; we were blessed to have him with us.

Hiring a Script Consultant

When we finished our movie script for The Santa Diaries, we knew we wanted to hire Dara Marks to help us polish it. Laura had used her in the past on a couple of screen plays. We consulted our checkbooks, took a deep breath and called Dara. We booked an appointment and sent her a copy of the script.

Laura and I have used writing consultants in the past. We hired two different editors to look at Big Skye Ranch.

Big Skye Ranch cover

It was a much better book because of the money we spent and the book went on to be a quarter finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It won international awards at the London and Paris Book Festivals and an IPPY award.

A week ago we had our four hour telephone conference call with Dara. We were nervous. What would her reaction to the script be?  It was a somewhat fitful start because the email outline she sent us got hijacked by some virus scrubber on her computer which decided to scrub at precisely the moment she was emailing us. And her dogs went bananas when the UPS man came calling, but after a few minutes of sorting things out, we got to work.

By the end we were exhausted, but exhilarated. Dara told us our script was “highly marketable, it’s got everything, a really good piece, the writing is terrific, there is a strong structure in the script.”  She really said all those things. I took notes! …and then she told us the plot needed strengthening and we could be clearer about the theme. She said the first 25 pages needed to be totally rewritten. Well, that’s what we were paying her for – brutal honesty.

The theme thing is tricky. It’s the most universal denominator and the theme drives the characters, the dialog, the setting. Theme should underscore everything in the script. It’s a little hard to wrap your head around because in the past our writing has been more character or plot driven. That’s not to say there wasn’t an underlying theme, but we didn’t spend time really trying to get that down to the bones.

In this telephone consultation we spent at least half an hour sorting out the theme. Turns out the theme is more elemental than Christmas, finding your inner Santa, nostalgia for small town life, or reconnecting with a lost love. The theme of The Santa Diaries script is “we’re all in this together.” We had not known that! Of course, the flip side of that theme is “we are alone” and that is Will’s fatal flaw. If he doesn’t change, he will be alone.

Will is isolated because he has sold out to Hollywood. He has lots of people around him, but they all want a piece of him. His business manager, Josh, whom Will calls his best friend, is a suck-up. Even his girlfriend has her own career agenda. If Will doesn’t find his authentic self (as opposed to his inner Santa) he will never be happy or fulfilled.

There were a couple of times when Dara pointed out that we were still thinking play, not movie. She was right. In the play we couldn’t have Sandy in the hospital with a broken leg. Heck, we couldn’t even get him staged in a bed in traction which is the way we wrote the original script. Sandy in a wheel chair with his leg propped up on a stool had to do. In the movie he gets to be in a hospital.

Dara suggested that we start with a clean slate for the rewrite and we did. We are now 22 pages into the first 25 (Act 1 up to the First Turning Point). After that it will be more tweaking than a total rewrite as we make sure any changes in the beginning are reflected in rest of the script. All the characters are slightly different than they were in the original play and the script we sent Dara. We hope that gives them more depth.

Will is a little softer, more redeemable. His father, Sandy, is no longer the paragon of virtue. We’ve roughed up his edges a bit. Brandeee is smarter and shrewder. We haven’t decided if Brandeee and Will are engaged anymore. It always bothered me some that Will broke up with Brandeee and moved on to Jessica so quickly.

The point is, do these changes drive the theme to its logical conclusion? We hope to have that figured out in the next month. Then the script will go back to Dara for notes. After that it should be ready to pitch. We think/hope the investment in using a script consultant will be well worth the cost.

A Santa Diaries’ Kid Goes to Carnegie Hall

One of the things Laura and I loved about watching The Santa Diaries play unfold was seeing the talented kids who were part of the show. One of them was Hannah Zerai who blew us away when she auditioned. Only fourteen, Hannah had an incredible voice. Two days ago, when I opened our local paper, there was a photo and article about Hannah.

hannah Star Dem

Hannah had auditioned with more than 6000 students from the United States, Canada and other countries for the American High School Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall. She was on of 265 students selected to perform in the choir at Carnegie Hall in New York. Wow!

Two years ago Hannah began taking voice lessons with mezzo-soprano Suzanne Chadwick at Easton’s Academy of Art Museum. Chadwick said that Hannah came to her with a “small, soft voice, having never sung before.”  Hannah said she wanted to take voice lessons after being a part of the Avalon Theatre’s Summer Fame Theatre Camp at age eleven.

The newspaper article went on to mention that Hannah had sung in our play,The Santa Diaries, when a special part was written to include her voice. Nice to get that recognition for Hannah and for our play which raised over $31K for the Avalon Foundation. Those funds go to support many Avalon Theatre projects including the kid’s summer theater camps.

We are so proud of what The Santa Diaries did to support the arts in our local community and we are proud that Hannah Zerai was part of that team effort. This summer Hannah has been accepted to the Peabody Institute’s Classical Singers Workshop and Summer Vocal Academy. We’ll all be watching you, Hannah, wherever your talents take you.