Write on Wednesday – Why Watching Nova Makes Me Feel Like a Cockroach – February 20, 2019

Nova programs evoke strong responses in me. This week the husband and I have been watching a program about rockets.  I’d probably rather watch a cooking show, but when it comes to rockets the power of the human brain is awe inspiring. I can comprehend how someone, at some point in history, invented the wheel. But the engineering and sheer hubris in inventing something that goes into space is mind boggling. And I love seeing women in those rooms of engineering geeks.

A year ago I posted after watching a Nova episode titled Black Hole Apocalypse.

Here’s the log line from the PBS website: “Black holes are the most enigmatic and exotic objects in the universe. They’re also the most powerful, with gravity so strong it can trap light. And they’re destructive, swallowing entire planets, even giant stars. Anything that falls into them vanishes…gone forever.”

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I love Nova programs, but sometimes I feel like a dog listening to a human. Blah, blah, blah, Ginger. Blah, Fetch, blah. Especially the programs that are based on higher math. Math was never my strong suit. At Goucher College I was allowed to take an astronomy class instead of college algebra to fulfill the math requirement. Enough said! Note: I’ve never quite forgiven Goucher for taking away 27 semester hours of art credits when I transferred there from University of Maryland.

But this Nova program really made me aware of how many galaxies and stars and planets there are in the universe. Billions, trillions, way too many to count if we could see far enough. Our planet is an insignificant speck of dust among millions/billions of others. And it occurred to me that we are pretty much the cockroaches of the universe.  Somewhere out there another Mala Burt is writing the same book I’m working on. We think we’re special, but almost certainly are not. Note that I have enough ego to hold out some hope.

Alexander Pope said it best in his poem An Essay on Man.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed: The soul, uneasy and confined from home, Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

Pope probably wouldn’t have written that poem if he’d been able to watch Black Hole Apocalypse. Despite Nova, I have enough hope to be thinking about  starting seeds for my always optimistic and hopeful garden. But that’s another post.

Write on Wednesday – Recent Center Stage Baltimore Productions – February 13, 2019

I’ve seen two terrific plays at Center Stage Baltimore recently.

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A Wonder in My Soul

In late December I saw A Wonder in My Soul. I came out of the theater thinking this was one of the best plays I had ever seen at Center Stage. Written by Marcus Gardley and directed by Daniel Bryant, the play is about two black women who open a beauty shop in their neighborhood. Many years later the neighborhood has changed, and Pen Lucy and Swann Park are behind in their rent; the building where their salon is will be sold.

The playbook talks about the importance of beauty parlors in black communities. I remember when I was in school getting my Master of Social Work degree, we often talked about the fact that beauticians provide therapy for many of their clients.

This production was in the Pearlstone Theater at Center Stage. This is a proscenium theater although it doesn’t have a curtain. I’m always looking at staging. In this play the salon had two styling chairs, a loveseat in the reception area of the stage, a door which led to outside and a slightly lower apron area on which some “flashback” scenes were performed. The door was clearly the entrance to the salon and when people left the stage, they opened the door and walked through. It defined an action more clearly than just going off stage.

All the actors were wonderful, but Kalilah Black and Harriett D. Foy were exceptional.

Our tickets always seem to be the last performance in the runs. I need to try to change that. I would have gone to see this show twice – or more.

Fun Home

Then last Sunday I saw Fun Home, a musical memoir based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. The book and lyrics were by Lisa Kron and the music was by Jeanine Tesori.

Billed as a play about a dysfunctional family, I wondered if I even wanted to see it. I get enough dysfunction these days watching the news.

It was another stellar show. A closeted gay father raising three children with his increasingly angry wife. One of the daughters is gay but only understands that when she goes to college. Oh, and the father teaches literature at a local college, but runs a funeral home on the side. Hence the title of the play, Fun Home.

In this show the gay daughter is depicted as a ten-year-old, a college student and a woman in her forties. It was the actress who played the ten-year-old who caught my eye. Molly Lyons is her name and she’s nine. Someday I’m going to see her on Broadway.

Fun Home was performed in the Head Theater which is a thrust theatre—a stage surrounded by audience on three sides. The fourth side serves as the background. Hydraulic lifts in the floor raised and lowered part of the sets. If only the community theaters that produce the play I wrote with Laura Ambler (The Santa Diaries) had those kinds of options. Another staging tool that could be translated to community theaters was a slightly raised platform with furniture that was rolled onto the stage when the scene took place in the living room. Faster than having stage hands carry furniture on and off stage. A similar platform on the other side of the stage was a kitchen area that rolled on and off. Of course this only works if you have off stage areas that will accomodate the platforms. Many community theaters don’t.

Watching live theater is enjoyable (I go with some girlfriends) and educational. I always come away with some ideas about improving the plays Laura Ambler and I write.

Write on Wednesday – Read Your Work Out Loud – February 6, 2019

I’m getting ready to send my novel manuscript out to an editor. I had been over the print copy, penned in revisions, deletions, changed the order of some scenes and then spent two weeks making all those changes on the computer file.

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But I knew there was something I still needed to do. I needed to read my manuscript out loud. All four hundred plus pages of it. I’d never done this before with a long manuscript, but I kept reading that this step was an important editing tool.

It took me a week, and lots of glasses of lemon water, but I was glad I’d done the work.

  1. I found multiple errors that I’d missed when I marked up the manuscript pages.
  2. I found I could better assess the pacing of scenes.
  3. I found places where characters said something they couldn’t have known because it hadn’t happened yet.
  4. I found spelling errors that Word had overlooked.
  5. I found inconsistencies in dialogue for characters.
  6. I found character “tells.”
  7. I found that I still liked my story.

My advice: Read your work outloud. It’s an editing tool worth the time and effort.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – Maine Welcomes The Santa Diaries – December 18, 2018

Maine wasn’t as cold as we expected, but it does get dark early. It was a short flight from Baltimore and by the time Laura Ambler and I landed at the Portland airport and were in the rental car (complete with ice scraper) it was getting dark. It was an hour drive to Bath. We checked into our hotel, found a place to eat dinner and walked to the theater to see the opening night show at the Chocolate Church Center for the Arts.

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Thom Watson, the producter, told us before the show that the light board had gone out that afternoon and they were using dimmers and spots. The show must go on and it did to a full house. We were entranced.

Chocolate Church Center for the Arts is a wonderful theater space. The bones of the original church are still there, and it has great acoustics. We were told that on Friday afternoon two hundred school children kids had attended a performance of The Santa Diaries, many of them seeing their first live stage performance. The photo below was taken before Saturday’s matinee. The light board was back up.

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The director of the show was Dennis St. Pierre, an Actors Equity  and Screen Actors Guild member with 20 years of professional work in the theater, tv and music industry as an actor, singer, director and producer.  He is currently the interim Executive Director for the Chocolate Church Performing Arts Center and recently created an Arts Education program that allows for collaboration with local school programs. It was that program that brought all those school kids to see The Santa Diaries. What a wonderful gift to the students.

In the opening scene of the show, cute elves deliver packages to Sandy Hawes who believes he has a calling… to be Santa.

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The large cast exemplifies a line in the play…”It’s community theater. Anyone who wants a part, gets a part.” The photo below doesn’t show all the adorable elves who occasionally escaped their wranglers backstage and made an early entrance!

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Chocolate Church did something clever to facilitate scene changes. They created three wheeled set pieces: a left and right window and a center piece that was the fireplace in Sandy’s living room (not seen in photo above). Each of these set pieces could be turned around to show something different on the other side. And for the finale (the community theater renovated after a fire) Christmas lights were turned on to show decorations in the actual theater. The audience went, “Awwww.” It was beautiful.

Before the show on Friday night we walked around the quaint main street of Bath. There was  a snowman with a fire in his belly and kids were roasting marshmallows. With lots of adult supervision, of course. The only thing missing was lightly falling snow.

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If we had stayed longer we would have attended the free community carol sing at Chocolate Church, a tradition on the last Monday evening before Christmas. And we would have spent more time at the Maritime Museum where the Christmas tree was made out of lobster pots.

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At home, on the Chesapeake Bay, we have crab pot Christmas trees .

After three traveling weekends it was lovely to be home and put away my suitcase. Requests for perusal scripts have been coming in from theaters around the country, so it will be interesting to see where The Santa Diaries finds community theater homes in 2019. We already know one production will be in Tennessee.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – Gratitude – November 21, 2018

This week I finished the first revision of my novel. I am full of gratitude to Mary Ann who read and commented on all the things that needed to be fixed. The plot points that never went anywhere, the parts where I was writing in “screenplay” and forgetting that my reader can’t see what’s in my head, and, especially, for letting me know what worked. If you’re a writer, you know the importance of that last thing.

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The stack is almost two inches tall. Four hundred and twelve pages in fifty-two chapters.  It is going to be set aside for a time while a do an editing project for my husband. And travel with Laura Ambler to our Christmas shows in Indiana, Minnesota and Maine. And bake Christmas cookies. Then I will dig back in and read the manuscript with fresh eyes for changes, deletions and polishes before it goes to Mary Ann again for another pass.

Tomorrow I will be taking appetizers and two apple pies to our family Thanksgiving get-together.

I wish everyone safe travels and a lovely holiday. Hug those you love and even the ones you don’t because of what they post on FaceBook. Remember the ones not at the table this year and be grateful for family — even when that’s hard.

 

 

Write on Wednesday – Lyrics In Books: Your Questions Answered – November 12, 2018

A couple of years ago Laura Ambler and I wrote a movie script about Adam Lambert and his time on American Idol in 2009. It was Season 8 and Adam was the runner-up that year.

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The script was about some Glamberts who were determined to attend the final show in the competition and meet Adam. As we researched the songs he sang on Idol we were stunned at how the lyrics spoke to the personal issues in our characters lives. So we put some of them in the script.

Later we realized we couldn’t shop the script unless we had permission to use the song lyrics. And we never could quite figure out the rules. Until this weekend when there was a blog post on BookBaby that tells you exactly what you can and cannot do in your writing.   Kudos to Scott McCormick  for pulling it all together and making it clear.  I printed out the post and put it in my file with the script which will probably stay in the drawer. (I’ve published a number of our scripts on Kindle, but not that one. We’d get sued.)

P.S. While I was trying to find a photo of Adam Lambert I could use (this one came from his FaceBook page) I discovered that Adam has been touring with Queen for the past six years as the band’s frontman. I guess if I was a Glambert I would have know that.

Laura and I had just seen the movie Rhapsody this week. It was amazing! Adam is a great singer but no one will ever be as good as  Freddie Mercury.

Adam played a cameo in the movie. The blink-and-you-miss-it moment happened during a scene where Mercury (played by Oscar deserving Rami Malek) is at a truck stop on Queen’s first-ever North American tour. He calls fiance Mary Austin (played by Lucy Boynton) from a pay phone for a quick check-in while a suitor (Lambert) is waiting for a public restroom hookup in the background.