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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Under new management

As of our October meeting, award-winning playwright and longtime Drama Lab member Sue Bachman has taken over as director of our group. I've thoroughly enjoyed my involvement over the last five years, but it's time for me to pursue other opportunities.

I'm not going away. I'll still pop in to our monthly meetings from time to time, but I'm going to focus my energies on launching my new project, Screaming Meatball Theatre Company. Each month or two, this group will present a public staged reading of my latest play at Library 21c, and I hope to involve as many of our Drama Lab actors as possible.

From this point on, Sue will be your contact for the Drama Lab. She's the one who'll be sending out a reminder before each meeting. She's also the one you should contact if you want to reserve a play reading slot or if you just want to let her know that you will or will not be attending a meeting.

Note that for the near future, meetings will continue to meet on the second Monday of the month at 7pm, but we've moved our meetings to Studio K (Kathy Paradise's private acting studio), 3307 N. Institute St. When you get there, don't ring the doorbell (unless you really feel a need). Just go through the wooden gate next to the garage and enter the studio from the backyard.

I want to thank all of you for your support over the last five years, and I look forward to seeing our group continue to thrive and grow in the future!

Todd

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Love and death

There was a fall-like nip in the air as ten of us gathered for last night's meeting. That actually wasn't a bad turnout considering that many of our regulars were traveling or in tech for Our Shorts Are Showing. We were fortunate in snagging one new writer, the talented Hannah Rockey, who has been involved with many theatre companies in town, and one new actor, Brian Mann of THEATREdART. We had four plays on the slate and managed to get through them all in just under two hours.

We opened with Chuck Cabell's short play DATE-2-MATE. This is a very funny comedy about a married woman who thinks she found a posting from her husband on a photo-less dating site. She asks her friend for advice and the friend motivates her to win back her husband by showing him more attention. Everyone thought the piece flowed very well, and the three quick reversals at the end were a big hit. Some suggested that the play be shortened a bit, while others thought that it might be better if the friend acted out of a hidden agenda at the beginning.

After that we read the first two-thirds of Hannah's short drama 1/16 of an Inch, which she's writing for her Master's Degree. It's a very theatrical piece, with monologues, mimes and projections all being used to explore the many different facets of suicide (the title refers to the height off the floor that one victim needed to raise herself to stop from being hanged). This one too seemed a little long, and there was some debate whether the use of the mime was effective or confusing. But everyone agreed that the piece was extremely powerful.

Next up was the beginning of my full-length youth comedy, The Enchanted Bookshop. Here we're introduced to Margie, a mousy book store owner whose books come alive at night. People thought it was funny and well-paced and that the exposition did a good job of explaining the magic without being too wordy. There was some discussion whether Margie should use more visceral descriptors as she waxed poetic about her love of books.

We finished up with a rewrite of the end of Tim Phillip's romantic drama The Many Men of Tara. In it, Tara confronts Chip about his seeming lack of interest, and Chip finally confesses that he does like Tara but that he thought she wouldn't be interested in him because he's a mechanic and an alcoholic. People liked the many funny lines. It was noted that the ending was not dynamic but featured a nice fadeout instead, which was fine. Some people did say that it might be better if Chip were less direct since people tend to speak obliquely about themselves.

No update on the intergenerational theatre workshop. Last I heard, we're still on for October, although I'm waiting to find out the room and the specific dates.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Back to school

As local students head back to school this month, our members have too, in a way, with last night's meeting featuring a couple of older scripts that were recently finished or polished anew. We read four plays in all.

Attendance was decent, with 12 people showing up. However, one member was recovering from throat surgery and another was there just to listen, leaving only 10 people to perform (9 if you exclude the writer, who usually listens). This made it tricky when we got to my play, which had a whopping 19 parts. But we made it work.

We opened with the latest entry in Sue Bachman's series of popular Stella & Mavis plays. This one was Stella & Mavis at the Casino, and it had the same rapid-fire wit and hilarious misunderstandings as the previous entries. Everyone agreed that the dialogue flowed very naturally. Much of the discussion centered on additional gags Sue could add, including a risque mishearing of "Blow on my nickels."

After that, we read a couple of scenes from Grant Swenson's adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, titled And Your Little Dog Too... The play places Toto at the center of action, portraying him as a kind of hip jazz musician from the 1950's. In the first scene, a rewrite, Toto interacts with the three farm animals who later become Brain, Heart and Courage. The audience liked the characters but felt that the mouse did not seem dumb enough here (she's the one who transforms into Brain).

In the second scene, taken from Act Two, Heart gives an inspiring speech to motivate the townsfolk to help them fight the Wicked Witch. The audience agreed that the speech was very inspiring but felt that it should be simplified to reflect the more straightfoward language that Heart would use.

Next up was Jeff Schmoyer's reality show parody, And the Winner Is... It was a play that Jeff had been working on for a while and he was finally glad to be able to bring to the group. In it, a husband anxiously waits for a reality show to announce its season winner, only to have the announcement interrupted again and again by wacky commercials. Jeff was worried that the play didn't have enough of a plot, but the audience assured him that it didn't need one (as I've always found, humor covers over a multitude of sins). The audience did suggest, however, that Jeff up the tension by making the wife more sneaky in her attempts to change the channel.

Next up was the finale of my fairy tale comedy Wicked Is As Wicked Does. Here, the Wickeds make one last attempt to stop Prince Intolerable's wedding to Snow White by poisoning the drinks they toast with. One person liked its brisk pace, but it soon  became obvious that there were a couple of flaws with the piece. First, it felt satisfying for the ending to focus on Magic Mirror when he wasn't that important to the plot. Second, and this is a biggie, the other princes basically got away with murder, suffering no punishment even though they tried to help Prince Intolerable feed the dwarfs to the dragon. These will be fixed.

After the meeting, everyone stuck around for about 20 minutes to discuss the latest on the Intergenerational Theatre Workshop. Joye Cook-Levy will manage the workshop for TheatreWorks, while Mitchell High School drama teacher Holly Haverkorn will supply the students.

All meetings will take place on the UCCS campus, not Mitchell as originally reported. We will meet one night a week for six weeks starting in early October, concluding with a staged reading or script-in-hand performance at the Kraemer Family Library in late November or early December. When polled, the Drama Lab folks said that Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday would work best.

Joye, Holly and I agreed on a theme of "violence in our community" as we felt that it was extremely topical and should allow for some meaningful exchanges between the generations.

Joye had proposed that the writers work together on the plays, with the actors not getting involved until much later in the process. However, the Drama Lab folks felt strongly that the actors should be involved from the beginning and that the writers should work with them rather than the other writers. I promised I would take this back to Joye and would arrange a meeting for all involved, if needed. (Update: Joye responded to my email after the meeting by agreeing to run the workshop the way the Drama Lab folks prefer.)

We got out of the meeting around 8:45pm. That was a lot of ground to cover in an hour and 45 minutes, but we did it.

I hope to see everyone at our next meeting on Monday, September 12--which just happens to be our 5th anniversary!

And they said it would never last.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Double trouble

As I said in my newsletter this month, the Drama Lab doesn't go on vacation in the summer. But some of our members do! Last night, we had just two scripts, although we had a respectable turnout with 12 people attending. The good part? We got out by 8:15pm.

We opened with two more scenes from Tim Phillips' romance drama, The Many Men of Tara. Here one of the men told Tara he wanted a committed relationship with her, forcing Tara to lay out her own desire to stay free and unfettered. The audience agreed that all of the characters were very likable. There was some discussion about the best use of Amadeus, a dog which made an appearance in these scenes, but everyone liked how he helped reveal the characters' personalities.

After that, we read a couple of scenes from my full-length comedy Wicked Is As Wicked Does., in which the four "wicked" characters from the fairy tales team up to block Snow White's wedding to Prince Intolerable. One scene was at Little Red's wedding planner office and the other was outside the lair of the dragon Grimstad. People thought the play was a lot of fun. I was concerned that one of the spells would seem contrived, but the consensus was that with magic, you can get away with a lot.

We meet again on Monday, August 8, hopefully with more writers and more scripts! See you all then!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Meat and potatoes

Although we had a smallish meeting last night, with just 10 people attending, we had some of our meatiest discussions of the year. And that's because we had some impressively meaty plays. We read five plays in all.

We opened with the beginning of Tim Phillips' relationship drama, The Many Men of Tara. In it, a woman is pursued by an actor, a professor and a doctor, although in this early scene, much of the interaction is with a dog named Amadeus. The audience agreed that the play was fun and that the dialogue meshed and flowed very well. One audience member suggested that Tim tweak the actor's monologue at the start of the play to make it foreshadow more.

Next up was the first half of Chuck Cabell's one-act philosophical drama, Restless.  Here we have three men who died in different centuries trying to figure out whether they're in heaven or hell. The dialogue was fascinating and made some interesting points made about how heaven and hell might both resemble large bureaucracies. However, some commenters warned Chuck about getting too preachy.

We followed that with the end of Sue Bachman's relationship drama, Taking It All Back. It's based on a real-life couple she knew who broke up and then reconciled after the husband cheated on the wife. While one scene didn't seem to go anywhere, people thought that the tenuous agreement the couple settles on at the end was quite powerful and beautiful in its honesty. Special kudos to Buck Buchanan and Mary Sprunger-Froese, who squeezed every ounce of emotion out of the final scene.

After that, we read some more of Grant Swenson's science fiction comedy The Earth Experience. This play takes place in a future century when the Earth is turned into a planet-wide amusement park. In these scenes, the scientists tasked with overseeing the planet discover that their boss added code to launch an extinction event, only to conclude that the Earth is the greatest incubator ever, nurturing life no matter what's thrown at it. Everyone felt that the characters were well-drawn and that the story moved along at a nice clip.

We finished up with the beginning of my dog-themed mystery very tentatively titled Sherlock Bones. Here we meet the three doggie detectives: a lazy bloodhound, a by-the-book German Shepherd and a hyperactive terrier who's afraid of everything. The audience thought the set up was well-done, giving us a strong sense of the detective's personalities while providing plenty of laughs. Much of the discussion centered on the character of the dog catcher and what role he should play in the story.

The meeting ended around 9:10, and the writers all went home with lots of ideas for improving their works.

I hope to see you all at out next meeting on Monday, July 11!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

New opportunity

It was a busy night last night. With fourteen people attending, we got through seven plays (or parts thereof), the most we've had in a while, and we spent some time at the end of the meeting discussing a proposed new theatre project with TheatreWorks.

We opened with the end of Sienna Swenson's action comedy Secret Island. The adventure was wrapped up neatly as the kids quickly solved the remaining math problems as well as the puzzle of the rocks themselves. Everyone thought the play was very good.

Next up was a rewrite of Grant Swenson's sci fi comedy The Earth Experience, which was first read at Springs Ensemble Theatre's New Short Works Festival last year. In it, Earth is turned into a theme park overseen by hard-nosed atmospheric engineer Eve, who wants to keep it pristine and peaceful, and the fun-loving temp Adam, who wants to make it more exciting. One person thought it was a little unclear who the protagonist was, but several people said they couldn't wait to see what happens next.

We then read Tim Phillip' drama Tam Lin, based on the legend of a Scottish Casanova who is enslaved by the Queen of the Fairies and enlists a young woman to break the Queen's spell. Tim added a dash of A Midsummer Night's Dream, naming the Queen after that play's Titania and tossing in Robin Goodfellow as well. People felt that the Queen's dialog was a little stilted and that Tam Lin could have been more conflicted with regards to his beautiful captor but agreed that the play was a lot of fun.

After that we read a scene from my small town comedy Trouble in Paradise Junction that we somehow missed the first time we went through the play. Here the townsfolk gather to watch the first episode of the reality show being filmed there. People liked how the dialogue from the previous scene was manipulated by the host to drive a wedge between the townsfolk, but one commenter felt that the tension would be greater if Martha--who's humiliated for being a bad baker--was actually a good one.

Next we read two short comedies reprising the characters of Stella and Mavis, two addled old ladies who first appeared in a skit at the Six Women Play Festival. It was a real treat as those ladies were first played by Sue Bachman and Sallie Walker and they were again played to perfect comedic timing by Sue and Sallie here. Sallie wrote Stella and Mavis at the Doctor and Sue wrote Stella and Mavis at the Polls. They both did a great job of capturing the kooky banter of the original.

We wrapped up with the beginning of another Sue Bachman play, this one a rewrite of her relationship drama Taking It All Back. It's about an older lawyer who dumps his loving wife in order to marry his mistress, only to be sent reeling when the mistress rejects his marriage proposal. People thought the emotional tension was very intense and were surprised that although the man treats his wife cruelly, by the time his proposal is rejected, they found themselves feeling sorry for him.

After the meeting, we stuck around for about 20 minutes to discuss the new opportunity that TheatreWorks Education and Outreach Coordinator Joye-Cook-Levy and I came up with during our meeting two weeks ago.

I started off by explaining that the Drama Lab's longtime champion Drew Martorella is under pressure to make sure that all groups meeting on UCCS property is aligned in some way with the university's mission.

What Joye and I are proposing is an intergenational theatre project between: 1) Drama Lab writers and younger actors, and 2) Drama Lab Actors and younger writers. The younger actors and writers would be supplied through Joye's school connections and would consist of two groups: high school students and college students. Each writer would be assigned a group of actors and would meet with them on a regular basis for several weeks or months in order to develop and rehearse a play to be read as part of an evening of staged readings at the end of the semester. The high school/Drama Lab plays would be one reading (say in fall) and the college/Drama Lab plays would be another reading (say in spring). All plays would be 10-20 minutes long.

My original thought was that all of the actors that are assigned to one writer would be a similar age (either young or old), but our group last night agreed that each should be mixed as that will be a much more meaningful experience for all involved. Also, one writer said she would prefer to work on an existing play for this project rather than a new one. I'll take both of these suggestions back to Joye.

It should be noted that this project is completely voluntary and is in addition to, not instead of, our monthly play readings. You can opt out of the project and still participate in the readings as much as you want.

The next step is for Joye and I to hammer out some of the details needed to launch this project at the start of the coming school year. I'm excited about the opportunity and I hope everyone else is (or will be!) too.

See you all next month!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

New talent

We continue to get lots of new talent in our group. Last night was no exception. We had fourteen people show up, including two new actors, Ira and Joan, and one new writer, Sienna Swenson, who at the age of eight happens to be the youngest writer we've ever had. And we got through five scripts, which is more than we've had in a while, but since the discussions were kept short, we got out by 8:45pm.

We opened with a rewrite of Tim Phillips' Celtic warrior drama, Boudica and the Galatian. In it, Queen Boudica is pressured to poison herself by an ally after their revolt against the occupying Romans fails. The audience felt it could be trimmed quite a bot and that some of the language was anachronistic but overall thought that the story was very powerful.

After that, we read the last three chapters of my large-cast comedy Trouble in Paradise Junction. Here we see Joe desperately trying to prevent the town from being humiliated on national TV, only to have teenage Wilbur save the day instead when he inspires the townsfolk to turn down the riches offered them by the network. There were a couple of places where audience members were confused by the action and some thought the play might be too "cinematic" to be produced easily.

We followed that with the first two scenes from Sienna's action comedy Secret Island. The story is about a group of schoolkids who visit an island on a field trip and discover a fascinating puzzle made out of rocks. Everyone agreed that the play is a lot of fun and that it did a great job of working math into the storyline--something that schools are always looking for.

Next up was a Grant Swenson's short comedy Hoarders. Here an elderly man invites one of those hoarder shows into his home, only to reveal that his wife is hoarding stocks instead of junk. In the end, the husband, with the help of the show's production assistant, convinces his wife to sell some of their stock and start enjoying life. People liked that each of the three characters show a distinct arc and felt that the dialogue was charming without being trite.

We finished up with Trade Secrets, the latest entry in August Mergelman's series of short plays exploring different theatrical traditions. This one is a burlesque take on the stories of Three Billy Goats Gruff and Little Red Riding Hood. The protagonist is Drip, a "top banana" who likes to hit on attractive women from his perch on a park bench. The audience thought it was very funny and did a great job capturing the flavor of that era's humor.

See you at our next meeting on Monday, May 9!