Write on Wednesday – Countdown – October 31, 2018

A FaceBook post from a cast member in the new play, A Christmas Wedding, that blocking for the play was complete got me thinking about how playwrights turn their babies over to directors, cast and crew.  It’s an open adoption of Laura’s and my work. We’ll get to see how the baby is raised but someone else is now doing the heavy lifting. Getting the show on its feet and ready for the curtain to go up. It’s a thousand details and, I expect, some sleepless nights for the director.

dancing kids

When I think about those details a wave of anxiety (okay a small tsunami) washes over me before I remind myself that every single one of the people involved in the new show and the original want each performance to be the best it can be.

We, the playwrights, have a vision and the words we’ve written must stay the same. That’s in the contract.  But that’s where any control we might have ends. Each director has a vision, an interpretation of our words and how they instruct the actors to say them. The blocking can make a difference and put a slightly different spin on the characters. The set and costumes are part of that spin. Every production is different and that makes each unique.

Of course my writing partner, Laura Ambler, and I are going to see the shows. We have a busy December planned. On Friday, November 30 we fly to Indiana. That night we’ll see the opening performance of The Santa Diaries in Crawfordsville, Indiana produced by the Sugar Creek Players and performed in the Vanity Theater. Directed by Keith Strain  and produced by Kym Bushong.

On Friday, December 7 we fly to Faribault, Minnesota and that night will see the premier of A Christmas Wedding: Santa Diaries Two performed by the Merlin Players at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Julianna Skluzacek is the director.

And on Friday, December 14 we fly to Bath, Maine to see Chocolate Church Arts Center’s opening performance of The Santa Diaries, directed by Dennis St. Pierre.

At each venue we’ll see two performances. It will be exciting to see our babies all grown up. Laura and I are filled with gratitude to all the people involved in producing our plays, and humbled by the dedication of time and talent that goes into each production.

To paraphrase Tiny Tim, “God bless you, every one. You are awesome!”


Big Eyes and Birdman: Playing Catch-up Before the Oscars

Laura and I have been playing catch-up, trying to see lots of movies before the Oscars. Sometimes we go alone, sometimes together and sometimes we get our husbands to come with us. In the last three weeks we’ve seen:
Big Eyes, big eyes

The Imitation Game, Imitation game


Citizenfour, citizenfour

Birdman. Birdman

and Into The Woods. I couldn’t capture the poster for Woods. The website rolled out pictures of all the characters and wouldn’t stop.

Laura also saw St. Vincent, but I waited too long and it was gone by the time I was ready to go.

Citizenfour really made us think about the reach of government into our private lives and the way the dots of our lives can be connected. Then Paris and Charlie Hebdo happened and I wondered if maybe that reach was okay if it could stop such horrible events. It’s a thorny question.

Our local theater has a Thursday program that brings films that might not be big draws to the local 14 year old boys who want Transformers and Super Heroes movies. Usually a film is shown at 1pm, 4pm and at 7pm. We like the 4pm showings as we can get out of the movie and, if we haven’t eaten too much popcorn, go to dinner nearby.

We saw Big Eyes and The Imitation Game back to back in Annapolis (an hour away). It reminded us of a mini film festival. Laura and her husband have attended the Rehoboth Film Festival for at least 10 years and my husband and I have gone for the last four. That allows us to see films that don’t come to Easton or Annapolis and we usually rack up at least 12 movies in three days.

My husband and I didn’t go to that film festival in 2014. One of the attractions has been that the film festival was held in a huge movie complex with 15 theaters. Several of the theaters were set aside for the public, but the rest were turned over to the film festival which meant we could easily see three or four films a day for three days.

A big tent was erected in the parking lot with food, drink, and festival t-shirts, posters, etc. It was just steps away from the theater so everything was in one place. We loved that once you parked you didn’t have to move your car; you didn’t have to be outside very much (Festival is in November) and could see more films. Our tradition was to see three or four movies and then go out to dinner to discuss them.

Last year the big movie theater decided that 2014 would be the last year the Rehoboth Film Festival could have the big venue and not as many theaters as before. Some movies would be moved to the local high school. At that point my husband and I decided not to go. Too much car jockeying, trying to find a place to eat, rushing to get a seat, etc. We didn’t think it would be as much fun. We’ll see what happens in 2015. Laura and her husband went for one day. They’d registered for the whole festival, but business intervened. When you run a charter jet company, you fly when you get a request.

We still have movies to see before the Oscars. The Golden Globes gave us an idea of the ones we really don’t want to miss. Boyhood is at the top of my list.


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.

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.

Everyman Theatre

The show now at Everyman Theatre, Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks is incredible. Only two actors, Kenyatta Rogers and Eric Berryman, are on stage and carry the show to it’s stunning, but inevitable, conclusion. Parks won a Pulitzer Prize for this play, which was first produced in New York in 2001. This is its first Baltimore production.


Since I had been to Dara Marks workshop the day before I saw this play, I was thinking transformational arc.  At the end of Topdog/Underdog there is no redemption, but I remembered Dara saying there doesn’t always have to be; this was a tragedy after all. It would have made me feel better if there had been some ray of hope for these brothers, but their backgrounds, life experiences, and lack of opportunities made the ending an almost forgone conclusion.

The day I saw the play was Mother’s Day. We were in the new Everyman Theatre on Fayette Street in Baltimore so there is more handicapped accessibility. A family brought their elderly mother and parked her wheelchair across the aisle from us.  A nice outing for mom, right? As soon as the play started the woman dropped her head and slept through the entire show. I was glad because the language in the play, while authentic, would have scorched the ears of any woman her age. And the subject matter was not uplifting. That family would have been better off taking mom to brunch and giving her a blooming plant.

Plays are story telling and whatever project Laura and I are working on, it’s always about story. Any time we can observe how someone else makes it work is instructive, so we watch TV, go to the movies and to the theater. We hope it will make us better writers and story tellers.TopDog/Underdog at Everyman had lessons we will use.

Turning The Santa Diaries Into a Movie Script

Laura and I are turning The Santa Diaries play into a movie script. This story was always meant to be a movie, but the opportunity to write the play showed up and we jumped on it. It got the story arc in place. For the past couple of weeks we have been working on the screenplay and the transition from play to movie script has been challenging.

A play has to be written differently because the audience can’t see facial expressions as well (no close-ups in a play). Thus more of the play’s story has to be in dialogue. More telling and less showing. For the screenplay we can “show” more and have significantly shortened some of the dialogue chunks. For example, in the play Josh was always on his phone doing business with New York and LA. On stage we couldn’t jump to LA without doing a scenery change. It would have slowed down the action.

In the movie script we can easily cut to another setting so we have added several new characters that inhabit an office on a movie lot in LA. This spices up the movie. Being in the same place all the time gets boring. Where we relied on the play’s audience to fill in some visual cues using their imagination (“…the ninja assassins have become vampires. The director wants lots of blood.”), we can now show vampires and spurting blood – in a humorous way. This is a Christmas movie, after all.

Movies can close in on faces so some scenes in the play that had something of a slapstick quality are being toned down. We don’t have to answer every question because the expressions of the actor hold the answer when the camera zooms in.

The process is feeling quite liberating.

We worked for several hours on Friday, called in a lunch order and sent my husband to pick it up. That gave us an extra half hour. Laura had to go back to her office to work at her day job and I rejoined her a couple of hours later to work some more. We should be finished in a few more days and the script will be ready for some fresh readers who will tell us what still needs work.

Life After Santa Diaries

I wrote this post two months ago, but had problems with WordPress. Then life intervened and somehow the post got lost in the shuffle. Anyway, here goes…

Life went on after The Santa Diaries. On the way home from the last performance on December 23rd a deer ran into the side of my car. I didn’t hit it; it hit me! Lots of damage to the driver side, but I was able to drive home where I had to crawl out the passenger side. Of course the next day was Christmas Eve so although I could contact my insurance company, the repair shop was closed. We took the car in on December 26th but the appraiser wasn’t in and then it was the weekend and then New Year’s Eve. You get the picture. Mullikins Body Shop said it would be ready January 14th. Yesterday (the 14th) they told me maybe on January 16th. I’m hoping.

I had not anticipated the let down of the play being over. Bang! It was gone! I should have thought about that and made some plans. Christmas helped. My husband and I had Christmas dinner with Laura and her family.Laura’s dinner was fabulous with lots of her family’s traditional dishes. I made the desserts — an apple pie and a Key Lime pie. The apple was not my best ever, but the Key Lime (Laura’s request) was amazing. In retrospect it was good to have some down time to recharge our batteries. We’d been working on adrenaline for awhile.

Now that life is settling back to normal, Laura and I are putting the play back the way we want it. The ending was changed by the Avalon at the very last gasp and we didn’t like the way the time line was altered or the dialog pulled from the movie Scrooged. Henley Moore took photos for us, but  we’re still waiting for those. Henley, where are you??? When we get them Laura will put together a trailer of the show using stills. We wanted to do some taping, but weren’t allowed by the Avalon. Not sure why.

Once the sales package is put together we will decide how we want to approach other community theaters about the play. I met Joy Staniforth at a recent networking gathering hosted by Mindie Burgoyne. Joy, who owns the Joie de Vivre Gallery in Cambridge is on the board of the Dorchester Center for the Arts and may have some contacts for us. Interestingly enough, Salisbury, Maryland has one of the oldest community theaters in the United States.

We will plan how we want to market the play and work on that. In between we will begin writing the Santa Diaries movie script which was always part of the plan. Writing the play got the story arc in place, but we can push the envelope in a movie script.

So, yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and there is life after The Santa Diaries.

This Is Like Childbirth

Mala writes: We’ve been blogging about the progress of The Santa Diaries play on http://www.theSantaDiariesProject.wordpress.com and not posting here so I thought I’d give you an update. The play is now nine days away and I am on a roller coaster of emotions and anxiety. Some parts of the play are fabulous, some still need work. Will the sets and props be ready? Will people be able to hear the actors? Will the live dog poop on the stage? Laura and I are not in charge of any of this and for me, someone who likes to be in control, this is hard.

Then I watch this trailer for the play and get excited. It’s one of the most dramatic scenes in the play and we have such good actors playing the parts of Jessica and Will.

This morning during my yoga class it came to me. Watching this play come to life is like childbirth. By the delivery date you just want it to be over and you fall in love with whatever you get (and forget the pain). On December 16, when the matinee is over and the cast is taking its bows, Laura and I will be produced playwrights and the proud parents of The Santa Diaries.

Hurricane Sandy? The Show Must Go On…

With only 47 days until opening, almost everyone made it to rehearsal yesterday (Oct 28, 2012). Director Tim Weigand was late because he was at Talbot County’s Office of Emergency Services watching the track of Hurricane Sandy and making disaster preparedness videos for the local cable channel. I think the people who came had already completed their storm prep before arriving at the Avalon. We all hope the storm will pass our area without too much damage and Tuesday night’s rehearsal will happen as scheduled. There is still lots of work to do.

One of the longest scenes in the play is when Will (the male lead and LA star) holds auditions for the community play. Everybody in the cast is on stage and the majority of them are kids. Trying to keep everybody focused is a real challenge. I am amazed that nobody is yelling, but from the back of the audience I want to collar some of the older kids and tell them to listen up and help corral the youngest. Being present on stage is crucial and is being drummed into everybody, but it’s a hard thing to do.

Cecile Davis worked with Talley Wilford and choreographer Cavin Moore on a variety of blocking options for this complex scene. Moving people about and then expecting them to stand quietly while she gives instruction about how to do it better is difficult. Some people have to be at the front of the group at a given time and that requires shuffling of the cast. The stage at the Avalon is not large and if people are too far front they are not visible to those in the balcony. Lots of things to consider.

Portia Hughes plays the part of Marley, the imaginary come-to-life stuffed animal (dog) belonging to Tim Darling. This is a great role with lots of physical humor. Portia came prepared for her hands-on-knees role with kneepads. Good thinking, Portia.

We are beginning to hear some discussion about lighting issues. There are times when certain stage areas of a scene need to be spotlighted, and then another and another in quick sequence. People have to be in place when that scene begins and stand quietly until the spotlight is on them. I am beginning to understand why there is a technical week at the end of the rehearsal process. I might be biting my nails at that point.

After most of the kids were released around four in the afternoon, the rest of the cast went up to Stolz to continue rehearsing. They are all to be off book in a week or so and only some are there at this point. Tim Weigand talked about the importance of pauses in dialogue and not rushing ahead. Timing for laughs is something the actors may not really get a handle on until the play is being rehearsed on stage and there are people reacting in the audience.

The actors are getting more comfortable in their roles and Tim, Cece and Tally are encouraging them to try different “takes” on their characters until they find the one that really works. This has to feel risky, but feeling safe enough to try is crucial. There are no mistakes at this stage of the game.