Minnesota Calling or Why You Should Read Messages to the Bottom

Three years ago Laura and I went to Faribault, Minnesota to see the Merlin Player’s production of our play, The Santa Dairies. We’ve kept in touch with the director and some of the performers.

That’s characters Sandy Hawes, who has the ‘Santa calling’ and Martha, one of the Hot Dish ladies.

At the beginning of September I received a text from Julianna Skluzacek who directed The Santa Diaries in Faribault. She asked if Laura and I had a new Christmas play. We didn’t have a new play and knew we couldn’t do something in a month. I replied, “Sadly, no.”

Then a week or so later I reread the text more carefully and sent an email:

Julianna, I just reread your message and realized you said 2018. What do you need? Laura and I would love to collaborate on something. Mala Burt

Julianna replied:

I’m looking for something that is like “Santa Diaries” in that it has a great love story, funny, some kids maybe but not necessary. I would need a title by October as that’s a deadline for a Paradise publication for 2018. Do you have something you could turn into a holiday show?

Laura and I talked. We had a funny holiday movie script called #Santa. We thought we could turn it into a play, so I sent an email to Julianna attaching the script, synopsis and cast list.

Julianna, we have a Christmas movie script that we could turn into a play. It’s called #Santa. It’s the story of a celebrity PR “reputation manager” who is arrested and sentenced to community service answering childrens’ Letters to Santa.

And we would work with you to make any changes you’d need for your geographic area. Cast list is based on the movie script and would be pared down. This would be fun!

Then we waited impatiently. After a week or so I forwarded the email above with this message.

Julianna, I just wanted to confirm you got our email. (the one with the script, etc.)

She replied she wanted to talk, so we set up a phone call for September 28. Julianna told us that she loved the script, but had some concerns. Our script was for a racially diverse cast and the Minnesota community wasn’t very diverse. She also thought there might be some expensive production challenges.

Toward the end of the converstion Laura wondered out loud what it would be like to do a play with the Santa Diaries characters but five years later. Light bulbs ignited in our brains. Who is Timmy’s father, anyway? It turned out the October deadline was really in November so we suggested sending her a one page synopsis of the arc of a new play.

Laura and I met, brainstormed, pulled together a synopsis and sent it off to Julianna. Then we waited.

And waited. (We aren’t very patient.) I knew Julianna was in a two week production and figured she was too busy to focus on our proposal. Waiting was hard. Laura and I really wanted this to happen.

Yesterday, early in the morning, I sent an email to Julianna. I knew her show had closed over the weekend and wanted to congratulate her on that, but I really wanted to know if she had any response to the synopsis. After all, this was not just her decision. It had to be presented to the theater board for approval.

She said she’d met with the board and they’d approved moving forward with the project. Then said she’d had a dream about the play and outlined an addition she thought might work. Actually it was brilliant if we can pull it off. (It invovles some cast diversity.)

Laura and I are over the moon! Of course we will go to Faribault, MN next December to see the premier production of our play – name to be determined. We would have missed this opportunity if I hadn’t gone back and reread that original text. Read to the bottom, folks.

 

 

 

On the Writing Front

Lest you think Laura and I aren’t writing any more, we sort of aren’t. But that doesn’t mean we’re not working.

One of our scripts made the quarter finalist list on Scriptapalooza’s Screenplay Contest. We didn’t get to semi-finalist, but we keep trying. Sometime in December we are supposed to get some feedback about the script from the people who read it. That will be very helpful.

We also entered the same script in Final Draft’s Big Break contest and made the quarter finalist list. We didn’t get to semi-finalist in that contest either, but someone who was one of the judges for another category asked to see the whole script based on the log line. We sent it off that Friday afternoon (people read scripts over the weekend) but haven’t heard anything since.

We had been asked to write that movie script by a producer we know. It was on spec (we didn’t get paid to write it) and we liked it so much we registered it with the Screen Writers Guild of which Laura is a member. That means we own that script. We had another idea about how the script might be tweaked for TV and pitched it to the producer. He liked the idea and pitched it to some other producers. That project has generated some interest and now we have more research to do.

I can’t tell you any more about the project at this point, but if something begins to happen, I’ll let you know. It’s exciting, but we’ve been excited before so I haven’t bought that expensive bottle of celebration wine – yet.

Note: We thought our play, The Santa Diaries, was going to be produced by The St. Michaels Community Center this year, but despite a lot of hard work, they weren’t able to cast the male lead. Everyone else was in place.

Dancing Santa

They’ve got a year to find someone to play Will for 2017. They really want to do the show and we really want it to be back home in the community that inspired the original idea.

I’m Glad I Went

Last Night

Last night it was cool and my husband had built a cozy fire. But I’d raised my hand to substitute for someone on the Eastern Shore Writers Association Education Fund board at the Talbot Arts Council presentation of grants. Why had I done that? I’m old enough to know I need to sit on my hands when they want to rise of their own volition.

I’d been told the event started at five, but when I got there that meant wine and cheese with things actually starting at 5:30. For introverts like me standing around a milling group of strangers is on par with a root canal, but I saw some people I knew.

mala-and-Marylann-at-TAC

Marianne Stallsmith (in green) was there with her husband, Stan. They were there because their art gallery in St. Michaels, Local Port of Art, had gotten a grant. It’s next to their store, The Candleberry Shoppe. I also ran into a woman I went to graduate school with. Jo Merrill was there to get a grant for the St. Michaels Art League. She didn’t have anyone else to talk to either, so we sat together.

Promptly at 6:30 the program began. The auditorium at the Academy Art Museum in Easton was full. The program listed all the grant recipients – all fifty-six of them. I was in for a long night and thought longingly of the cozy fire and the glass of red wine I’d passed on.

The first to be honored were three teenage girls who’d gotten grants to attend arts or music programs last summer. To my surprise, there was Hannah Zerai. I’ve sponsored Hannah at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference the last two years and will again next March. I met Hannah when she auditioned for the play Laura Ambler and I wrote, The Santa Diaries. When we heard her sing we knew she needed to be featured with a solo. She has an amazing voice and last summer a grant enabled her to study musical theatre at the Broadway Artists Alliance in New York City. The next young woman was Summer Snead, a junior at Easton High School. Summer was also in the cast of The Santa Diaries, and I’ve watched her musical career bloom on FaceBook. Last summer Summer went to New York and studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She said that’s where she’ll attend college. Suddenly I was really glad I’d come to this event.

Talbot Arts Council did an amazing job of awarding the checks. Groups of people were called to the front, envelopes handed to us as we approached, a photographer from the Star Democrat, our local paper, took group pictures and we went back to our seats where I put my envelope in my purse. The whole thing was over in 45 minutes and I was back at home by 8pm, really glad I’d been asked to sub. I knew about the Talbot Arts Council, but I had no idea of all the things they’ve helped happen in Talbot County. Much of their support goes to schools so kids are exposed to art and music at a time when many of those programs aren’t as robust as they were in the past.

This morning I pulled out the envelope out of my purse and opened it. The letter inside was addressed to The Chesapeake Film Festival. I pulled the envelope out of the trash and it also said Chesapeake Film Festival.  I called the Talbot Arts Council office this morning to get it straightened out. I expect the Film Festival people got the letter and check for the Eastern Shore Writers Association. It will get mailed to the proper ESWA person.

Today

Today I’m working on the Eastern Shore Writing Association Member Directory. In the past it’s been a printed document. This year it’s going to be in a digital format to save printing costs. It will also allow us to reissue it quarterly with new member updates. I was working in the new Microsoft Word that’s part of Office 350. A bit of a learning curve, but I’m figuring it out. My friend, and fellow ESWA board member, Jo Ebling came on Tuesday night to show me how to do it. That was enormously helpful.

I’ve been tasked by the ESWA board with buying a copy of Microsoft Office 350 for ESWA. They have a great deal for nonprofits. But getting it isn’t so easy. It’s sold through “partners” who have to call you. Twice now I’ve asked to be called and nothing has happened. When you call the number on the Office 350 sales page you can get a helpful person. Then…nothing happens. So that’s on the docket for this afternoon. The next board meeting is the first week in December and I’d like to report that I’d accomplished my assignment. I bought a copy for my personal use so I’d be familiar working with it, but need the “official” copy for ESWA.

How is my writing a novel in a month going? Don’t ask. Eastern Shore Writers Association is taking all of my time right now.

Tonight I’m having dinner with Laura and another friend. It’s our monthly book club meeting. We go to dinner, have a glass of wine, and share the new books we’ve read. This is going to be fun.

 

At Christmas We Believe

I have a Santa decoration that lives in my kitchen year round.

At Christmas I Believe

The wine cork ornament was a gift from the mother of the little boy who played Timmy in The Santa Diaries premier in Easton, Maryland in 2012. For Christmas last year Laura gave me the Believe ornament which I immediately hung on Santa’s hand. We believed that our movie script would get bought in 2014. Didn’t happen, but we continue to believe that it will happen at some point. Einstein told us time is fluid… in Hollywood.

When we went to Faribault, MN to see the third production of The Santa Diaries I came home with several additions to hang on my Santa.

Santa I Believe for blog

The red ball was a handmade ornament by Stephanie Weiss who played Martha in the Merlin Players production. The Santa riding a reindeer hanging below the red ball was a gift from the local thrift shop. Laura and I were perusing their wares and the gal at the counter was so thrilled to meet us she asked us each to choose an ornament to take home as a remembrance. The big Santa hanging on the right was in the large basket of Minnesota goodies that the Merlin Players Board of Directors had put in our room at The Loft.

The only problem now is that it is getting difficult to open the cupboard to the right of the Santa. It’s where the plates and bowls are stored so I am in it several times a day.

Any inconvenience is worth it, however, as I see these reminders every day and remember the joy of each production of our play. It’s a way of celebrating every day of the year.

As Josh Shankman says in our play, “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Kwanza or whatever politically correct holiday you people celebrate. It’s all good!”

Laura and I send our wishes for joy, peace and love in this very special season of the year. Re: selling a movie script…there’s always next year. At Christmas we believe.

Thank You, Merlin Players!

Laura created an Animoto Thank You for the Merlin Players!. They did a fabulous job with our play, The Santa Diaries, and made us feel like part of the theater family. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Paradise Theater Marquis

I Have a Santa Diaries Dream

In the dream I was in Minnesota for the Merlin Players production of The Santa Diaries. But something was very odd. The play was being held outside and it wasn’t cold. December in Minnesota and the grass was emerald green, as if brand new turf had just been rolled out.

rolls of turf

Chairs were set up on the grass facing a huge stage with multiple elaborate sets. I overheard actors complaining about how they had to run to get between the living room, and the bedroom sets, and I remember being confused because the Christmas weather seemed to be missing.

Apparently I was there for a rehearsal and the actors were amazingly good. And with those sets I knew this was going to be an outstanding production. I guess Laura was going to miss it, because she wasn’t in this dream.

But then, I needed to find something. Don’t you just hate it, in dreams, when you can’t find something it’s really important to find? I don’t remember now what it was, but I do remember running around trying to find it.

Finally it was opening night. As is true for all my dreams, it’s really all about me. There I was, ripping through my suitcase, throwing things on the bed. OMG. No clean underwear! That part of the dream was flat out disappointing. Couldn’t my writer’s unconscious have come up with something more original than no clean underwear?

In my dream or in my waking life, I’ve never worried how the Merlin Players would treat our play. And in the scheme of my writing life, not having clean underwear is no biggie.

The dream may have been anxiety about Minnesota weather, so when we go to see the play in a couple of weeks, I’ll make sure to pack winter clothes–and plenty of clean underwear.

Rehearsals Begin in Minnesota

Rehearsals for The Santa Diaries have begun in Faribault, Minnesota. Laura and I will be going to see several of the shows.I hope the photo below is not what we will have in store for us as we will have to drive from Minneapolis to Faribault. When we go someplace Laura is kind enough to let me drive. I’m one of those people who likes to be in control. This works out well because when we go to Baltimore for theater Laura doesn’t like to drive over the Bay Bridge. I don’t have a bridge issue.

snow in MN

One of the cast members, Michael Lambert who is cast as Will Hawes in the play, sent us a newsy email which I posted on The Santa Diaries Project blog. Take a look.

If we were closer we’d attend some rehearsals, but now we have to decide if the opening weekend or the closing weekend would be the best time to see some of the performances. We’re waiting to hear from the play’s director to help us make a decision.